The Vicarage Blackmore Essex CM4 ORN
19 Christmas 81
In November of last year the Alternative Services Book came officially into use and takes its place alongside the Book of Common Prayer with which the people of our land have been familiar for three hundred years. At the presentation of the offerings of the people in the Service of Holy Communion the minister and congregation say in the new rite: "Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour and the majesty; for every-thing in heaven and on earth is yours. All things come from you and of your own do we give you." These sentiments are drawn from King David's ascription to the Lord his God as recorded in I Chronicles, chapter 29. They express my own feelings of wonder and gratitude as I begin this 25th Christmas Letter from my study in the Vicarage at Blackmore.
It is my hope and prayer that the year 1981 has gone well for you too. In saying that I do not mean that you should have had no cares, no frustrations, no times of testing. Sometimes in Christian experience these are the means God uses to bring us into spiritual well-being and the first requisite to physical well-being so often is spiritual well-being. I can think of some who this year have experienced sickness, surgery, bereavement, who on reflection would say, "This year has brought its good. Things have gone well for me." They have found that God gives reserves of courage, endurance and hope. They have found that God is alive in people bringing through them his provision for the occasion.
To turn to happenings in the Parishes of Blackmore and Stondon Massey during the year now drawing to its close. The cure, or care of souls is demanding, rewarding and a joy to my heart. Our small but loyal congregation at Stondon Massey has been encouraged on four special occasions when the church was filled. The Deanery Christian Aid Service in May, The William Byrd concert on the first Saturday in July, the See Stondon Church Exhibition and Gift Day on 12th September and on Sunday 27th a Civic Service. Our District Town of Brentwood is twinned with Roth in Bavaria. Each year we exchange visits. The group from Roth with their hosts, our own town and parish councillors and our usual congregation heard an excellent sermon from the Rev. John Fleetwood. We have been able to complete roof repairs to St. Peter & St. Paul Church at a cost of £2600. We are renewing the wiring next at a cost of £1000 and plan to follow with sundry repairs to the church windows which will cost another £680. Stondon's church, which dates from 1115 A.D., well repays the care shown it by the congregation.
Maintaining the fabric is a continuing challenge where the Priory Church of St. Laurence is concerned and again the loving care of the congregation is in evidence. For the first time in 800 years water is being layed on. We are over-due for a Quinquennial Inspection by the Church Architect and I anticipate a further programme of works to be carried out. Two or three times a month we can count on a full or almost full church for services but this is not a church-going age. We had a Confirmation Service with Holy Communion at which the Bishop of Barking officiated earlier in the year when ten adults and teenagers were confirmed. It was one of the full occasions. The activities maintained jointly by the Baptists and ourselves: youth work, bible studies, prayer meetings and shared worship twice each month, continue. After more than ten years serving the Baptist congregation Pastor Douglas Francis resigned. He is missed. I am ably and greatly assisted in serving the two parishes by a retired colleague, The Rev. John Fleetwood, my Lay Reader Peter Hunt and my parochial church councils. Other lay help covers secretarial duties, the writing up of parish registers, the maintenance of the churchyard, cleaning of the church and its brasswork, the arranging of flowers and not least spiritual tuition.
A link between our two parishes is the bi-monthly news-letter 'Interaction". The "Minister's Letter" gives me a chance to convey the Christian message to parishioners I would not be able to meet in person. And the section "Niblets of News" enables me to present items of general local interest. I get numerous indications that Interaction is read quite widely. Our village activities continue, cultural, dramatic, educational and sporting. Our District Councillor Joan Hobbs had serious surgery earlier in the year but recovered to become Vice-Chairman of Brentwood District Council. Next year she will be Chairman. She is a regular member of our congregation. Bad weather over the Spring Bank Holiday spoiled much of our programme for the Village Fayre Week-end. The Blackmore Parish Gift Day left something to be desired as regards weather but parishioners were generous and brought gifts amounting to £580. In both parishes the Harvest Services and the Harvest Supper and Barn Dance were well supported and greatly enjoyed.
A splendid work is being done at nearby Barrow Farm where the Mitchell family have a school of riding for the disabled. With help from all around they have erected a fine indoor riding school. Speaking of schools the Head of our local Primary School has inspired and brought into being an excellent adventure play area with all manner of equipment. Parents were generous with their help. A lot of muscle went into the enterprise. At the other end of the age range a number of parishioners have died. Most I had known over the twenty five years I have been in Blackmore. Their going left me as well as their families with a sense of loss. On a happier note our principal organist Brian Scott who … is on the way to recovery and hopefully will be in harness again soon after Christmas.
I think I speak for the vast majority in our country when I say that two events during this year have brought a lively interest and real pleasure. Of course, I refer to the marriage of Prince Charles to the Lady Diana and confirmed news that the Prince and Princess of Wales are to become parents next year. There is so much that is wrong in the world, so much dangerous brinkmanship in industrial and international relationships that the marriage and the baby come like shafts of light piercing a sky full of dark clouds.
Even as I wrote of the royal babe my thoughts turned to another babe whose birth we shall recall before the year is out. Already preparations are in hand for the Christmas Services. For me the Season never looses its mystery and its wonder. Every month I hold the newly born in my arms when they are brought to be baptised. Sometimes I think of the aged Simeon for thus he held the Son of Mary and as he looked on the face of the infant Jesus he saw a potential that would fulfil all his pious expectations and flood his soul with peace. Then I wonder what potential God has built into the little one in my arms. What potential for self-will and God neglect. What potential for loving, serving, suffering as our holy Saviour did. We ought all to ask ourselves how our potential has developed.
Most of us prefer plain speech, ambiguity can be misleading. I refer you to the closing passage of chapter 16 of John's Gospel. His last hours on earth had come and Jesus was concerned to strengthen and encourage his disciples for what lay ahead. For three years he had shown them that he came from the Heavenly Father. Being divine he took humanity that through him humanity might be transformed and given the very nature of Jesus, the Christ, and made the spiritual children of God. John tells how the disciples said "Ah, now you are speaking plainly ... we believe that you came from God." Jesus said "I am not alone for the Father is with me ... in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
May the peace of God which passes all understanding garrison your mind and heart this Christmastide and throughout the New Year 1982.
With gratitude for your friendship and Christian affection.
Montague H. Knott