From the Rector - January 2022

Uncertain Times

kate mcf sI have struggled this month to know quite what to offer you because everything currently seems so uncertain. I am writing this in the week before Christmas, unsure whether we may be heading into a new lockdown, whether the new Covid variant is a more or less serious threat than previous variants, whether our services can go ahead as planned and whether I will see any of my wider family or not.

Most of us, I suspect, find this now recurring uncertainty very unsettling. We love to be able to see ahead and to plan, to know what is happening and when, yet for a second year we are being forced to accept being in the dark about the future.

Perhaps though, far as these feelings are from the cosyness and appealing predictability of our customary Christmas and New Year traditions, unsettling uncertainty is at the heart of the story of Jesus' birth, Jesus is born far from home, in makeshift surroundings and among strangers, and is forced to begin his human life by fleeing all that Joseph and Mary had ever known, seeking safety in a foreign land. Even the 'wise men' of our nativity stories don't know where they are going, choosing to ask guidance from the worst possible and most threatening of sources - Herod. Their search for Christ is full of the darkness and perturbing unpredictability we are experiencing now.

As we look towards 2022, a very well-known poem seems particularly apt:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."
And he replied,
"Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way."
So I went forth, and finding the hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And he led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

Written in 1908, this poem was used by King George VI in his 1939 Christmas broadcast, catching the public imagination and offering comfort and inspiration at a time of immense fear at the beginning of World War II. It holds such power, perhaps, because it acknowledges the darkness of uncertainty while promising we won't find ourselves alone there; God, who entered into our bewildering world at Christmas, will be our companion, through even the darkest times, and it is he who will lead us, eventually, to the light.

From the Rector - December 2021

Light In The Darkness

christmasI wonder how the approach of Christmas is making you feel this year. For some of us there are high hopes that, unlike last year, we may be able to spend treasured time with friends and family. Perhaps the paraphernalia of Christmas feels more special because we missed out on so much in 2020.

For others, Christmas comes with a sense of dread because of financial pressures, because meeting family expectations is difficult or because there is conflict; and for some people it comes with an unspeakable sense of loss, because someone who should be at the heart of Christmas has died, is suffering with mental or physical illness, or is unreachably far away. To put on a false Christmas smile or salute people with inane Christmas greetings, feels more than cruel in such circumstances. We truly are ‘in the bleak midwinter’ of which the carol speaks.

If you have feelings such as these, perhaps we should return to another famous but particularly ancient carol written 1200 years ago:

O come, O come Immanuel, And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

I believe that the first Christmas came about because the world was mourning; Christ came into the world because people were living deep in the sorrows of separation, conflict and loss; and Christmas became our midwinter festival because it is in the times of darkness when we most keenly feel our need for light.

If Christmas does seem particularly dark for you this year, I pray that you might find flickerings of light piercing the gloom; and I urge us all to notice the people around us, not just family and friends, but neighbours and acquaintances who might be feeling the darkness particularly bitterly, and to offer them the light of our kindness and our attention.

And if you wish to pray a prayer this Christmas, I offer you this one to pray with me:

Lord, In the beginning when all was very dark,
you said: ‘Let there be light’.
And there was light
and life throughout the universe.
And when the human race was exhausted, tired and weary,
in the darkness of anxiety, confusion and loss,
into that darkness you came as light in Jesus Christ.
Once again it is dark, not just dark at midnight but dark in ourselves:
dark with doubt, dark with fear.
Come, Light of Life, lighten the darkness in our lives with your word of love.
Lighten our hearts with the joy of your promised coming.
Lighten our world with the hope that faith in you brings.

The Rev'd Kate McFarlane

From the Rector - November 2021

For Your Tomorrow We Gave our Today

kate mcf sNovember is, of course, the month of Remembrance. For Christians it begins with All Souls, remembering those most dear to us whom we have loved and lost, and continuing in the national and international commemorations on Remembrance Day. This year November also sees the immeasurably important UN Climate Change Conference, COP26.

As we begin to understand the severity of the climate emergency, and to appreciate the vested interests we must battle in order to make any meaningful changes, perhaps we should be remembering, and giving thanks for, the dedication and sacrifice of those who are paying the ultimate price for their commitment to protecting life on earth. 227 campaigners were killed around the world in 2020, a record number of people murdered while working to protect our planet and its rich diversity. Since the Paris Agreement on climate change was signed in 2015, on average four activists have been killed each week, though even this is likely to be an underestimate because of growing restrictions on journalists and free speech.

These statistics are made up of people like Fikile Ntshangase, a South African grandmother who campaigned against a coalmine in KwaZulu-Natal province and was shot dead in her home; Oscar Eyraud Adams, an indigenous man murdered in Mexico for protesting when his crops dried up after the community water source was diverted to richer areas and a Heineken factory; and Gonzalo Cardona, a Colombian biologist committed to saving bird species from extinction.

kohima epitaphSo perhaps this November we can remember not only those who have died in war but those who are now dying in conflict related to the climate emergency, giving their lives for the future of our planet, defending our shared future. The famous Kohima Epitaph seems utterly apt: 'for your tomorrow we gave our today'.

What a challenge and inspiration these people are. The most powerful tribute we can pay to their sacrifice must be both to use our own freedom, won for us by previous generations, to demand change from companies and governments, and to make every personal lifestyle change we can to protect and restore our precious planet.

The Rev'd Kate McFarlane

From the Rector - October 2021

Come and See

kate mcf sJust a few weeks into my new post as Rector, it already feels a different age from the March morning when, deep in Covid restrictions, I drove from Bedfordshire to Wiltshire to come and see your Benefice ahead of my Zoom interviews the following day. My first stop was St Mary's, East Knoyle where the warmth with which I was welcomed eased my nerves immensely and made me long for the opportunity to come and be the priest fortunate enough to serve such a committed and kind community. My first encounter with my other five churches did nothing to diminish this appealing first impression.

The Bible quote chosen to head your Benefice profile, which was what stirred me to apply in the first place, was the invitation (spoken by Jesus and then learnt from him and repeated by his disciples); 'Come and See' (John 1:39,46). I have always loved this phrase because it conveys such openness and welcome, a warm hospitality without demands or expectations. 'Come and see' who I am and what I can give you, invites Jesus, and we, as his disciples, can in turn make this invitation to others; 'Come and see - who we are and what we can offer you.'

As our churches begin to recover from the pandemic, this invitation should be at the heart of everything we do. We have so much to offer in terms of community, company and pastoral support and, above all, we have a precious message of hope, Gospel hope. However difficult may be the times in which we live, and however gloomy may be the stories we see on the news, we have a far greater story to tell, a 'Good News' story of God's loving, constant and faithful presence with us, of the coming of God's kingdom and of resurrection hope for us all.

So do 'Come and see' more of what our churches are offering and please do invite others so that they too can share in our Good News story. As well as our services, our Harvest Suppers and lunches are a wonderful opportunity for this, but also you are warmly invited by St Catherine's, Sedgehill, to join us on 24th October from 3.00 till 4.00 pm when we would be delighted if you would come and enjoy a cream tea, company and conversation. I look forward to meeting you there - 'Come and See!’

The Rev’d Kate McFarlane


And thank you.......

The vacancy in our Benefice put huge demands upon all the Churchwardens and Ministry Team of St Bartholomew's Benefice, especially since it coincided with the unprecedented disruption of the pandemic. We owe an immense debt of gratitude to all who have enabled our churches to continue their mission and worship through this extraordinarily difficult time.

A message of thanks from our Rural Dean, Revd Dr Graham Southgate:

During the vacancy (which lasted almost seventeen months) the home team seemed to cope marvellously well. The presence of June Lane and Jo Johnson has provided a sense of continuity; if I was June, however, I would not wish to be attending any more PCC meetings. Coupled to them has been the calm and supportive presence of some very good churchwardens, which has eased very considerably my oversight role as Rural Dean.

Many, many thanks!

From the Rector Designate - Looking Forward

I write this just ahead of the lifting of Covid restrictions in July and at this time I wonder what you have most been looking forward to.

Travel? Music or theatre events? Sporting fixtures? Ditching those masks? Or simply spending time with family and friends again?

This summer I have much to look forward to because, from 1st September, I will be the new Rector serving St Bartholomew’s Benefice and your beautiful villages. Wholeheartedly I hope that, by then, I will be able freely to visit people in their homes, attend village events and welcome people warmly to our churches for both services and community gatherings.

I will be moving from my current parish of Marston Moreteyne in Bedfordshire, a village which enjoyed its 5 minutes of fame as the home of Captain Sir Tom Moore, and will be accompanied by my husband Stephen, a Physics and Classics teacher, and my 2 sons who are 11 and 13. I am an avid but slow reader, an enthusiastic but untrained singer, an organised lover of to-do lists (which are not so beloved of my family) and a fundamentally shy person who yet loves people and listening to their stories.

Before becoming a priest I ran Christian retreats and courses for young people, served as a Justice and Peace Fieldworker in Essex and East London and worked as a school chaplain in Cambridge, only exploring ordination after my sons both started school. I have never had a long-term plan for life, and used to think of myself as wary of change, yet have been repeatedly steered and gently prompted to varied roles, new places and fresh challenges.

So back to looking forward! I look forward immensely to meeting you and to learning about and becoming part of your communities. When I feel trepidation about my new role I find encouragement in these words from the New Testament which may also encourage you as you look forward to emerging from the pandemic:

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5)

I hope that you will indeed find this autumn a time of restoration and new strength and, as I become established, I pray our churches will continue to play their part in supporting you.

The Rev’d Kate McFarlane