Thursday, 15 December 2016

Blackmore: Christmas Letters from Revd. Montague Hardwick Knott (1975)

The Vicarage, Blackmore, Essex. CM4 ORN

Dear Friend(s),

19- CHRISTMAS - 75

In one way, yet not the only one, this has been a special year for me. I have reached and passed my seventieth birthday. I say with the Psalmist "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life". It is with a deep sense of gratitude to God that one takes stock of one's life and traces both the mercy and the goodness without which a very different story would be told.

Going back to the year under review, there has been no general election, no special diocesan event, no overseas holiday on which to comment but in our local situation there has been much Christian involvement. The Holy Spirit has been working in the lives of individuals and the believing community. The Anglican and Baptist Congregations continue to work together amongst the young and in Christian outreach sharing in prayer and Bible study to those ends.

I have glanced afresh at a copy of last year's Christmas Letter to see if I should refer back to any item and I was reminded that the Rev. Dick Rees was called from earthly service to serve and honour his Lord in a heavenly sphere. This able servant of Christ will be missed by many yet the faith he held and the quality of service that his life revealed will surely continue in the lives of those he influenced.

In the parish a new children's department has been started called Jucos. It covers the 10-13 years age range for boys and girls. The Anglican and Baptist congregations, by pooling personnel and facilities are now able to give Christian instruction to our young people from age four to seventeen years. Blackmore Parish is in the Archdeaconry of West Ham. During the year the Archdeacon, James Adams became the Bishop of Barking, with pastoral care for the Archdeaconry. Our new Archdeacon is John Taylor, former Vice Principal of Oak Hill Theological College where I trained before my ordination in 1955. We had a Flower Festival over our Patronal Weekend and our annual Parish Gift Day showed a more generous giving than last year.

Pastor Douglas Francis and his Baptist Congregation have an old chapel with vacant land alongside. They plan to redevelop with a modern Church and flats. This could facilitate the work of Christ's Church in Blackmore and we pray for the success of this venture.

As regards the community generally, things go in an ordered way. The various activities seem to maintain their vigour. There was no Donkey Derby but instead, a Fete. The display of produce and art was of a very high order and well worth seeing. We got our name into the Press because of an effort to clean and tidy up the village. Our menfolk were pictured cleaning up the village pond.

Our school grows. We now have three demountable classrooms added to the permanent structure. The teaching and ancillary staffs work well together and the children benefit. On Guy Fawkes' night the Parent Teachers Association arranged a bonfire and fireworks display which was a great success. More than one thousand people watched and I helped the ladies sell cups of hot soup. The Local Authority invited me to continue as a manager for which I am grateful. Soon after the return from summer holidays we opened our splendid new swimming pool. It is covered and heated and has all amenities.

My holidays were taken in England and Scotland this year & provided an unique experience. I made a list of twenty six friends of long standing with whom I maintain contact through the post & who live anywhere between here & Edinburgh and covered more than two thousand miles calling upon them. I found no fewer than twenty one of them at home. Only one knew in advance of my coming. Every call brought pleasure and a revival of memories.

Some had entered into retirement and looked good advertisements for it. A young doctor I knew years ago gave me four wonderful days in his home. He is an ear, nose and throat consultant and has a lovely family. I also stayed several days with a Scottish widow and her daughter. The husband was my close friend and I was best man at their wedding fifty years ago this year. A German Jewess, whose family died at the hands of the Nazis, and who herself escaped through the care of the Dutch underground movement, came to England in 1946 and stayed three weeks in our home. I tracked her down twenty nine years later to find her looking much the same but married to a Scot and the mother of twenty-one year old twin daughters, It was wonderful to meet again and hear a thrilling story of God's movement in her life. Another friend who had given long years of competent and faithful service to an employer, not always easy to get along with, found himself inheriting half his employer's considerable estate when the latter died. I can't think of anybody more deserving or likely to use his good fortune more wisely.

After a lapse of several days I resume the writing letter. Pondering on news of the success of the Gospel Christ in many parts of the world it seems that this success is most evident in the poorer parts and in places where the active opposition to Christianity. The materialism of the rich countries seems to stifle the Holy Spirit in those places. Yet one of the greatest comforts to my mind is that the Holy Spirit is at work unceasingly everywhere, though it may not be apparent. From time to time I look at parishioners who give no evidence of concern for spiritual things, who never or rarely come to the House of God and I remind myself that from the cradle they have been within the compass of God's love. That the Holy Spirit by inward conviction and through various agencies has moved in their lives to build up an experience of God which in his good time, could lead to their conversion. I say could, for God’s salvation is free to all and if one should miss that experience it would not be because God could not but because men would not.

For this reason I try to encourage members of Christ’s Church in this parish not to be isolationists but to be outgoing, identifying themselves with the interests of their neighbours providing that doing so does not compromise Christian standards. So many about us are asking questions, they are seeking someone who will have time to listen. They are ready to be moved by a true spirit of compassion. Our blessed Lord found it so. It was not in the Church of his day that he encountered understanding and co-operation in his work for God but out in the market place or on the highway, among those for whom the Church was uncaring, I am grateful to our Heavenly Father that the Church locally has been used to win a number to Christ both from among the non-churchgoers and those who are. Of course there are tensions. Those who find change unacceptable. Those who resist at the point where they are challenged to be more wholly the unquestioning servants of Christ.

Concluding this, the nineteenth successive Christmas Letter I have written in the Study of the Vicarage in Blackmore I am mindful of the changes which have taken place. From a rural and largely agricultural parish to a mainly dormitory one. With a trebling of houses and people yet at the centre and nestling in the fields a true village with a Church that links it with the Normans. If times and places change, from our village Church is proclaimed the unchanging message of an unchanging God. He is close to every one of us. In these uncertain times and faced an even less certain future God says, "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen I will help your I will uphold you with my victorious right hand”.. (Isa. 41:10).

Holding you affectionately in remembrance I send my good wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Montague H. Knott 

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