The Vicarage, Blackmore, Essex. CM4 0RN
19 - CHRISTMAS - 76
I've just completed my first year as a septuagenarian and it has been a good year, thanks to the providence of God and the friendship of many. My heart echoes the words of the hymn writer "How good is the God we adore, our faithful unchangeable friend”. Each year as I come to the writing of my Christmas Letter, I feel humbled as I consider how faithful to his promises God proves himself to be. If you have been on my mailing list long enough this will be the twentieth of my Christmas Letters to reach you. I cannot speak of my outgoing to you without making grateful acknowledgement of the response my letters evoke. Sometimes a few on a Christmas card and sometimes a newsy letter. All are so welcome and make more meaningful my prayers for you.
The start of 1976 found me very much the poorer for the loss of my dear friend and Churchwarden, Geoffrey Ford, who went home at the end of last year. Through the years Geoff was a true and dependable yoke-fellow in the work of the Church. David Whisker, a younger and equally dear friend, has become Churchwarden in place and works creatively with Peter Hunt, my Lay Reader and colleague and co-worker in the ministry of the Word of God. An impending change for me is the handing over of the editorship of our parish quarterly, Friends. For sixteen years I have had the interest and pleasure of writing up our quarterly and with Oct-Dec. issue Friends came to an end. With the Jan-Mar. 1977 issue the parish quarterly becomes 'Contact', the joint editors will be Zoyla Hunt and Sandra Keetch. This spreading of the load will be a good thing and there are lots of ideas in the air.
Our Baptist friends seem encouraged and are hoping to improve their facilities by the development of their parcel of land. They hope to erect a block of flats for retired missionaries or pastors and a general purpose building of church and ancilliary apartments. For some years now the Anglicans and Baptists have worked jointly in outreach. Now we are worshipping together on two Sundays in each month. The Junior Church, Adventurers, Jucos and Covenanters the age range 4 - 17 years. We are encouraged by the interest shown especially when teenagers make a clear cut profession of faith in Christ and show it in their lives. A highlight for the Covenanters is the annual Aqua Camp. I was able to join them for an overnight stay. The site at Marlow was a large field beside the Thames. Nearby were water-filled gravel pits where sailing and water-skiing were the order of the day. The tented camp was well organised and the weather perfect.
Other interests continue, Women's Fellowship, Mothers' Union, Group Bible Studies. Our Baptist friends are encouraged by the attendance at their Youth Service on the second Sunday in each month and in the Parish Church we generally have a full house for the Family Service on the first Sunday of the month. We are trying to encourage these young families to come also to a shortened Family Communion on the third Sunday. It is wonderful to see how the Holy Spirit is working in the parish. Nominal Christians are coming alive with the life of Christ and it makes a difference to the quality of their lives and the effectiveness of their testimony.
I see another sign of spiritual advance in the increased giving of the congregation. This has meant that the Church's giving to support Christ's work in this and other lands has shown a marked increase this past year. We continue to face church repairs. Earlier in 1976 repairs to the tower were completed and now we face repairs to the south wall of the nave. The District Council cuts the churchyard grass regularly and other voluntary help keeps the churchyard tidier than ever I've seen it. Before turning to the secular side of parish life I would mention the Blackmore Young Wives' Fellowship. I always receive a warm welcome when I am free to attend. Membership seems to have dropped but varies according to the subject. The programme offers variety but seems always to have general interest.
Earlier letters have spoken of our fine Village Hall upon which so much community activity is centred. Now we are blessed with additional facilities. The old primary school has been modified and a branch library has been built on. The School building is now the Youth & Community Centre. The Church already makes use of it and the local Youth Club will resume using it. The Village Hall is in great demand and we welcome other accommodation to ease the pressure. The Sports and Social Club, the Blackmore Players and our successful Play School all make great use of the Village Hall. In fact, during the summer vacation we ran a Summer Play School for 150 children. It was a great success. In January we started the Jericho Sixty-Plus Club with 40 members. Our other over sixty-club the Stondon and Blackmore Old Folks Club goes steadily on. At the latter I conduct a fifteen minute devotion once a month. It consists of a Scripture reading, a mini-talk, a hymn and a prayer.
The County Primary School is one of my special interest. It is a privilege to serve as a manager, to find we have dedicated teachers and other staff which make it a well-run school. And then there are the children. They help to make Blackmore the wonderful place it is. We are fortunate to be in a Green Belt area. The parish centres in the village with some 1500 out of our 4000 population and around the village are fields. Outlying parts look towards the village and this gives a wonderful sense of community.
Two valued young friends invited me to stay with them Italy for two weeks in February. The husband works for the European Space Agency and they had a home a few miles outside Frascati where they now reside. Rome was 25 miles away and I was able to explore it to my instruction and pleasure. I also visited Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum. I completed my holidays in September with a trip starting in South Wales and moving through the southern counties back to Essex. Two weeks of calling on friends of long standing which proved enjoyable. This concludes my survey Blackmore and of Blackmore's Vicar and his doings for another year. I hope you will find items of interest and subjects for prayer.
Looking at the conclusion of last year's letter I see wrote of "uncertain times with an even less certain future Humanly speaking, I see no reason for a change of sentiments. As a nation we have been spending money we have not earned. We borrowed against expected future wealth and are in danger saddling the yet unborn with the cost of our feckless behaviour. I am reminded of a ship with its engines broken down and tide carrying the vessel unresisting towards the rocks while the crew questions the authority of the captain and makes demands for more pay, more leisure and improved retirement pensions. Meanwhile the passengers look on with no manifest sense of urgency or power to change their situation. The Psalmist (107, 25f) pictures the scene in these words, "a mighty wind began to blow and stirred up the waves. The ships were lifted high in the air and plunged down in the depths. In such danger the men lost their courage; they stumbled and staggered like drunken men - all their skill was useless. Then in their trouble they called to the Lord and he saved them distress".
If only the men of this generation would call to the Lord.
In another place the Psalmist (4, 6 & 7) says, "There are many who pray: 'Give us more blessings, Lord. Look on us with kindness'." Such are those who consider only their bodily needs, their earthly desires. The Lord Jesus charged men to seek first the Kingdom of God for God would take care of their material state. So the Psalmist continues, "But the joy that you have given me is more than they will ever have with all their corn and wine". To advance in years framing one's attitude to the world around and one's understanding of what the future holds, from the Bible is open to every Christian. And to be taught by the Holy Spirit to hold material things with an ever-loosening grasp is the wisdom of every Christian. While to move onto life's highway at the beginning of each new day in company with the Lord Jesus, enjoying his presence and experiencing his power is just a wonderful prelude to heaven itself. May all this be a growing experience with you.
In sending the Season's Greetings, I assure you that you are remembered with affection.
Montague H. Knott.