I can't get the image out of my mind: a little child at his mother's side listening to her tell Lyse Doucet, (BBC) just how awful it is and how terrifying it has become to be a woman in Afghanistan now that the government has fallen to the Taliban. Lyse Doucet is everywhere it seems, just as it is impossible to escape being confronted by images and stories of desolation and despair. The bombing this week seemed inevitable. I have to confess that when I heard the news I thought, "well, that's no surprise, is it?" What a sad confession? Have I become immune to the threat of terror? I worry that I have.
When the twin towers came down on 9th September 2001, almost twenty years ago, I recall hearing politicians remarking that the world will never be the same again, and I also recall thinking, "wasn't it ever thus?" We are very poor at reflecting on historical precedents. Someone once said that all that remains is change. One very local example: eleven centuries ago (or thereabouts) Alfred was King of Wessex, holed up on Athelney and biding his time to fight back against the Danes which he did in Edington in 878 (you all know that, though). From that battle and Alfred's ousting of the Danes, and with many twists and turns down the centuries, we have a United Kingdom with a sustainable system of governance. It all seems to obvious and inevitable doesn't it? But it wasn't easy. Along the way there was dreadful fighting across the tribes of Wessex, Mercia and the rest, invasions from northern France, murders of Archbishops and executions of queens and kings, a civil war. And I haven't even begun to consider Scotland.
We too are the product of tribal conflict and it is a long road from such a state to the present day where we have come to rely on trust, respect and accountability to guide how we rule ourselves. It is often challenged, but it is a resilient means of social organisation because it relies on trust, respect and accountability. I am deeply thankful for this, and I am equally sorrowful and lament that it is not the same, yet, across the whole of humanity.
This is not in anyway at all a criticism of Islam. Islam is a righteous, sincere and profound faith tradition, born of the same roots as Christianity. It is all the more desperate that the teachings of Islam are being perverted by the jihadist tendencies. My prayer is that those who join dreadful groups such as ISIS-K et al. can live to see there is a way to freedom and reliable social organisation through reasoned adherence to their faith. Just as Alfred's tribal violence has led to present day resilience, I pray that Afghanistan's people can grow into a reasonable collection of governance: based on trust, respect and accountability. I pray for the small child. His mother and all those whose families struggle in the distant land of Afghanistan. It will clearly take more than the twenty years since 911 to achieve stability, and it is not worth giving up. Not ever.
Some advance notice: All Saints (1st November) and All Souls (2nd November) will both be marked on 31st October this year. As each is a distinct feast day, we shall be holding two distinct services, and both be Benefice services: All Saints at 10am in North Curry and All Souls at 5pm in Burrowbridge.
Liturgically and theologically All Saints is a moment to celebrate the saints in heaven, known and unknown, and is a more general acknowledgement of the lives of those who have gone before as disciples of Christ across the millennia. All Souls is a much more intimate moment in the calendar, when we remember those known to us who have died recently. The last time we gathered for All Souls was 2019, before covid and before funerals were required to be so curtailed. During the pandemic so many of us lost loved ones and were unable to mark their passing in the desired way. All Souls will be a time to acknowledge this, to give thanks for all those who have died and to mark the moment appropriately. The service is open to any who grieve the loss of anyone dear to them, across all four benefice parishes.
Thank you to everyone who organised and provided a fine welcome at the charity concert last Saturday in North Curry. The concert was in aid of the North Curry "Appeal of Bells" and featured stunning performances, in particular the re-imaging of Vivaldi's Four Seasons by Fenella Humphreys (violin) for violin, percussion (George Barton), accordion (Iñigo Mikeleiz Berrade) and double bass (Ben Griffiths): an entrancing sound that gave everyone a great deal of enjoyment. And funds were raised!
The season of harvest is upon us. Our four parishes will be celebrating harvest as follows: Lyng on 5th September at 6.30pm, Burrowbridge on 26th September at 10am, North Curry also on 26th September and also at 10am and Stoke St Gregory on 3rd October at 11am.
I have already publicised the bible study we are doing next month, beginning this coming Thursday in fact. There has been a little rethinking about the times and venues. I picked the date from mid-air: it seemed the only way to get things underway. However, I have since discovered that because there is so much going on beyond the churches on Thursdays (still getting the hang of this...) I have decided to on the study twice on a Thursday. This will hopefully enable people to come along according to their own schedule.
So, the sessions will run at 4pm in North Curry (in church) and 7pm in Stoke St Gregory (in the church room). Yo can mix and match, come to one (or both!) and change from week to week. I hope that will be flexible enough for people.
Just to remind you what the study is all about, the Epistle of James has much to offer as to how we view the world as Christians. In these times of global turmoil and the ever impending onset of climate change, we need to be aware of how our faith directs our behaviour. James writes about the rich and poor, the powerful and powerless, the need to follow Christ and live in "The Way" as the early followers of Jesus described themselves. As COP26 looms over the horizon, it is worth reflecting how we, the Athelney Benefice, are part of this bigger picture.
What you need to do in preparation for the study sessions:
Not much. And nothing is obligatory! However, if you can, please do have a look at James's Epistle. Also, if you can, please do give some thought to how you step out into a world of challenge and turmoil. Also, also, if you can, please pray for how we learn together. Other than that, just turn up.