Stanwick Group of Churches

February Letter

Being asked to write this has given me an opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year and to thank you for all your kind words, cards, gifts, prayers and visits to my home and hospital which have been such a great support to me in recent months. These many kindnesses have come from all directions, from village and church communities and clergy, especially the many retired clergy who I have shared services with over my years as a Reader, and lastly from the Deanery Readers. Most of them are very busy people and many of them not well themselves but they still found time for me. A caring, love and support only equalled by that of my close family, the staff of the hospitals I was in and the carers who attended me when I returned home. It has been a very humbling experience.

The celebration of Christmas in our Churches is now almost at an end. We have had our Nativity plays and sung our carols. Epiphany, the showing forth of Christ to the world was celebrated at Melsonby where our worship was centred on the arrival of the Three Kings at the stable. They had looked, listened and searched the heavens for a sign and were led by a star to where Jesus was and there, we are told, they fell down on their knees, offered their gifts and worshipped him.

While we concentrated on the visit of the Magi, the worship in the Eastern Orthodox Church, that day, was centred on the baptism of Jesus by John. Before the babies were brought for baptism, a cross was dipped into the water three times and then left there and the babies were fully immersed  in the water, symbolically to wash away sin, then lifted out, symbolically cleansed and raised to a new life.

The real significance of our final Christmas service; the Presentation of Christ In the temple for Candlemas, which will be celebrated at both Melsonby and Forcett churches on 3 February, is the meeting of the old and the new Israel, between Simeon, Anna and Jesus. Candles for use in the Church during the coming year are blessed and small candles are held by the congregations to emphasise the shining light being taken out to those still in darkness.

It is a service rooted in Jewish history: the old Temple had been rebuilt and the worship restored but because God had been dishonoured, the Glory of the Lord had still not returned. One man who prayed there every day for this to happen, before he died, was Simeon and on this particular day he was there in the Temple with Anna, 84yrs old, and another faithful  worshipper. They had never given up praying or hoping and both saw their prayers answered when they saw Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus into the Temple. Simeon’s prayer of thanksgiving was recorded for all time, destined to become the much cherished Nunc Dimittis which is said or sung in our Prayer Book service of Evening Prayer.

Jesus was born into the Jewish tradition in which God was associated with the never forgotten deliverance of the past and this was powerfully present in the procedures that had to be observed, the purification of the mother after childbirth in which our service for the Churching of women is rooted, and also the redemption of the firstborn. Mary and Joseph had brought Jesus back to God for whatever purpose He had in mind. According to Jewish law every first born male was sacred to God and in a sense only lent and he had to be bought back again with the payment of a small sum of money together with a lamb or a pair of turtle doves. This is why Mary and Joseph were there and it was only when they had done all this that they could be at ease in their social and religious world

And so we have a handful of people of all backgrounds drawn together in worship and fellowship, faithful, prayerful and obedient, drawn together within His Church and sent out to build up his Kingdom. Mary and Joseph, young people needing the ministry of Simeon and Anna, along with their wisdom and experience that only age brings. Simeon and Anna needing them and all of them needing Jesus, united in belief, ministry and love, and all part of God’s great plan. His kingdom really was at hand

And so there you have it, some of the tradition and background to these two very beautiful services. Do come and join us for the final celebration the presentation of our Lord in the Temple, at Melsonby or Forcett before Lent begins. You will be made very welcome.

And finally a reminder about our benefice Charities Coffee Morning at Aldbrough village hall  on Saturday, 2  March 10.00am.-12.30pm, when there will be the usual stalls; cakes, raffle, tombola, bric-a-brac, jewellery and books etc, and money boxes  with coins for the Children’s Society will also be collected. Any contribution to the stalls or help you can give will be very much appreciated. Or just come along for a browse, a cup of coffee and a chat with friends anyway! As always, all money taken on this morning will go directly to charities, a list of those charities will be published in due course. We look forward to seeing you there.

Christmas will not have been happy for everyone although I do hope it has been a good one for most of you and that we can all confidently step into the New Year knowing that we have the light, God’s great gift of His Son to guide us and that even in our darkest moments He will be walking with us and that we are never alone. May you all walk in His light and know His Grace. 

Doreen Liston



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