Dear Friends,

                   Happy New Year! Is a fairly safe thing to wish one another at the beginning of a new calendar year. But the word “new”, when it is not wrapped up in celebration – and the novelty behind it – is one that people either love or hate.

     If the adverts are anything to go by, the people who market goods and services to us seem to think we all believe that “new” has to mean an improvement on the “old” – even if the only difference in a product is a change in colour, its desirability and price go up accordingly!

Dear Friends,
Barriers and boundaries define our lives. There are physical boundaries: geographical features that form natural limits, such as the Rivers Test and Itchen that divide and limit Southampton. At a larger scale we are an island nation with distinct coasts defined by the sea. This can affect our attitudes as result, including towards others abroad. Speaking of which, I daresay that you are continuing to lap up the coverage of the forthcoming referendum! Actually, it is a serious issue that we should all vote on, although as a member of the ministry team I do not wish to prejudice things by saying which way you should vote, except to say that I have an independent streak and also believe in consensus and working with others. And with an evasive answer like that perhaps I should be a politician!

Dear Friends,

                   As I write it’s approaching Harvest again, and with it the chance to dust off some of those classic hymns we’ve come to know and love. ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ and ‘Come, ye thankful people, come’ both rightly emphasise our need to be thankful. But as I do my yearly scan of these timeless classics one line sticks out like a sore thumb. The line; ‘all is safely gathered in’. It begs the question: ‘is all really safely gathered in?’

     The trainloads of refugees and miles of camps serving those fleeing from Syria starkly tell us that this line of the hymn just isn’t the case. For these desperate people, all is most certainly not safely gathered in. And for others, the image of a successful harvest that the hymn depicts may be a distant memory, whether the lack of harvest is a barren African field, or someone struggling to find an affordable place to live in these uncertain times. All is most certainly not safely gathered in.

Dear Friends,
During Lent this year we were reminded in a reading from Genesis 15 of God’s promise to Abram. In fact there are two promises here, that Abram will have a son (and through him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky), and secondly that his descendants will inherit the land of Canaan. Through the ensuing books of the Bible we see how God comes good on these promises, despite the seeming unlikelihood of their being achieved at the time they were made. After all Abram and his wife Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah) did not seem to be a force to be reckoned with, being but two people, and as the passages make clear, no longer in their youth. However when God is determined to do something it will be done. In the children’s song “Can you be sure that the rain will fall?” by Geoffrey Marshall-Taylor there is a wonderful chorus:- “God has promised. He never breaks a promise He makes, His word is always true.” So we find promises made to other Biblical figures coming true also, despite the odds against their being achieved.

Dear Friends,

I've had three lovely holidays recently: a week with my father in Wales, a few days on my own in London and, this last week, a sort-of-holiday at home (though catching up with church events!), sharing the Manse with two families I've known for a long time. The house has been full to the gunnels, with every bedroom in continual use, not to mention every bathroom. And it's this last week, shared with three adults and two boys (one teenage, one nearly so) that has enabled me to reflect a bit on the mysteries of family life.

When we're little, we assume every family is like ours. That's what the word family means: our set-up at home. Then, when we go to school and the world widens a bit, we see that not every family works the same way. That can become painfully obvious when two families play a game together and discover that not all the same rules are observed! Some of the habits of other families will come across as weird or downright idiotic. But the experience of living differently can introduce more possibilities into our own lives.