Greetings from Eileen
I’ve been thinking about the long-established apple tree in the vicarage garden and the rose bush given to me at my licensing more than 5 years ago. Early last year a period of sharp frost occurred just as both the tree and the bush were about to awaken from winter’s hibernation (proper gardeners please excuse this incorrect terminology). The result of that sharp frost, just as the plants were vulnerable, was that we had no apples and no roses in 2021 when previously we have always had extraordinarily huge crops of apples and at least some roses.
(Jesus said) “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” – John 15:16
Just as we thought the coronavirus pandemic was easing and started looking forward to many things, to our lives flourishing again, it feels like a sharp frost has hit and we are wearier and more worn than even last winter and more vulnerable than before. In this context, I hope you would be heartened that Jesus says our ability and capacity to be fruitful is by God’s appointment and not by our own efforts or condition. If we ask to be fruitful, to be nourished and refreshed in Jesus’ name, God the Father will give us what we ask.
Fruitfulness is not about having many initiatives and projects – not ‘do more to get more’. It is not even about having a lot of people attending our services. Fruitfulness is enabling more people to discover the love of God through Jesus and for ourselves to discover the power of the Holy Spirit that deepens our trusting relationship with God. On Saturday 15 January about 15 from St Andrew’s, Winston and St Mary’s, Gainford, met to explore our collective thoughts of God’s Vision and our plans going forwards.
It is important that we discern how God sees everything we do and have put time and effort in. While our churches are not languishing nor declining (a description used a lot by the media about church attendance), we want to seek God’s help to bless more people in our communities and share our knowledge and love of Jesus with more people. If you have not been part of these early conversations but have been thinking about what you would like to see and hear more (or less) of from our churches and congregations, do get in touch.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins on Tuesday 18th January to 25th January 2022. We rejoice in evidence of Christian unity across the world and in our own communities. During this season of Epiphany, we remember that Christian unity was prepared even among the gentiles – kings of wisdom coming together to follow the sign of the bright star and journeying in eagerness and peace to find the Messiah, the infant Jesus, God-incarnate. Today, Christians of all cultures and traditions study God’s Word from the same Holy Bible and worship in Jesus’ name. We give thanks for Christian Unity in a service at St Mary’s, Gainford on Sunday 23rd January, 4pm. I will be joined by Fr Thomas Mason (of the Roman Catholic Church) and Rev Graham Cutler (of the Methodist Church), who is our preacher at that service.
• Join us at our Services of Holy Communion for the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany 16th January 2022
◦ 9.30am Holy Communion at St Andrew’s, Winston
◦ 10.45am Holy Communion at St Mary’s, Gainford
• YOUTH SAINTS this month will take place (exceptionally) on the 3rd Thursday 20th January. Bible time will begin at 5.45pm, Youth Saints and Creation Club at 6.30pm. New members are always welcome even beyond from our parishes.
God is with us. May Christ, who by his incarnation, gathered into one, all things earthly and heavenly, fill you with joy and peace.
Rev’d Eileen Harrop
• Funeral of John Heslop: We are saddened by John’s death on the 29th of December 2021 and our prayers are with Hilary, Sarah, and Mark, and their family. John’s service will be held on Thursday 20th January 2022 at 11.30am in St Mary’s Church followed by Committal and Burial at Gainford Cemetery, with refreshments afterwards at Gainford Village Hall. There will be a retiring collection for Cancer Research (Teesdale Branch) and St Mary’s Church, Gainford.
• Funeral of Mollie Orton (who had lived in Winston): We are saddened by Mollie’s death on the 6th of January 2022 and our prayers are with David, Mark, and Philip and their families. Mollie’s service will be held on Thursday 3rd February 2022 at 1.30pm in Wear Valley Crematorium and (in Eileen absence) will be taken by the Revd Sarah Cliff, Curate of St Mary’s Church, Barnard Castle.
• RECTOR/VICAR Eileen will be on Special Leave: Bishop Paul has granted special leave for Eileen to return to Singapore to be with her family because of her mother’s ill health. Eileen will be away from 24 January to 24 February. Travel conditions to Singapore are very trying presently, and Brian is remaining in the UK. Your understanding and prayers would be most appreciated. Cover for services during this period has all been organised. Eileen hopes to write the weekly newsletter while away.
On Thursdays our youth group YOUTH SAINTS monthly meeting. Please spread the message to friends and neighbours with young people.
Youth Bible Time is also resuming from 5.45pm in St Mary’s Church, Gainford on the same Thursday. Young people from both our parishes and others from nearby places are all welcome!
Our Growth Fellowship, formerly the Young Leaders Fellowship, is now open to anyone to join from both parishes as well as those within the surrounding area – young adults interested in developing themselves, understanding more about the Bible or those interested in joining in with a regular programme of activities (both indoor and outdoor) are all welcome. Please contact email@example.com if you are interested in taking part!
Our churches are open daily for private prayer.
We welcome everyone to join us at services in church every Sunday:
• 9.30am at St Andrew’s Church, Winston
• 10.45am at St Mary’s Church, Gainford
Our congregations now sing together in church! Provision for singing without face coverings is also available in both churches.
God is with us. May Christ, who by his incarnation, gathered into one, all things earthly and heavenly, fill you with joy and peace.
Rev’d Eileen Harrop
Our churches continue to be open daily for private prayer.
Please read the separate Covid page outlining the modified approach for each church for the details.
Click for St Mary’s Coronavirus Information
Click for St Andrew’s Coronavirus Information
The Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
God of glory,
you nourish us with your Word
who is the bread of life:
fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The First Reading
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4 And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
6 Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’
11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
For the Epiphany – 9th January 2022
Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
There is so much packed into The Epiphany narrative of the Wise Men and their travel to find ‘the child born to be the King of the Jews’. The Epiphany is one in the series of revelations and manifestations starting with God’s messages to Zechariah and Elizabeth in her conceiving of John the Baptist to the Baptism of Christ at the Jordan. This is the reason for the coming together in our Lectionary set readings of The Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ in the same week. These events fulfil prophecies given thousands of years before God revealed his glory and exposed his presence in ways discernible and visible to people, in the months preceding and after his incarnation – his human birth as Jesus born in Bethlehem.
There is unmistakeable radiance in God’s personal greetings to each person: in their dreams; by the visit of angels; by the shining of a bright light; by the determination of those who follow and their adoration; and by God’s voice in union with the symbolic vision of the Holy Spirit at Christ’s Baptism.
We take so much for granted when we sing carols each Christmas and put up our joyful symbols through the Epiphany season. It is a magical and fascinating story of ancient splendour, and many perhaps choose not to ask too many questions in case we take the shine off the mystical tale. Thankfully, the mystical tale is so powerful that it has shone ever brightly every year for more than 2,000 years.
But it is not just an ancient story and certainly not a mystical fairy tale. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that when I saw the film ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, it occurred to me that people probably find The Epiphany story rather like that. There are strong parallels: the wise men were drawn by a bright light in the sky – alright there were no mysterious musical notes and tune to accompany the sight of the light – but they were strangers compelled from different places to seek one mysterious destination. There is no evidence that the wise men had to fend off doubters or people who thought them to be crazy, but they were certainly focused on pursuing the knowledge they had gained by that star.
In the same way the shepherds responded to the incredible vision of the heavenly hosts singing heaven’s song, so too these wise men who journeyed from distanced lands responded to the incredible heavenly light of the star.
The Epiphany story is about listening, seeing, recognising God. When the shepherds saw the baby, they knew they had been blessed specially come into God’s amazing presence. When the wise men arrived at the house where Jesus the infant lay, they knew they had found the king and they worshipped him. In fact, they even knew from their reading of the sky and their knowledge of prophecies foretold what gifts they should bring. That is mind-blowing to me. That this happened has not been disputed. Today, when someone is about to deliver a child, we ask if the parents know whether the child is a boy or a girl. Without scan results, we may not know what gift to offer, might make a good guess or hedge our bets.
The Epiphany story is about listening, seeing, and recognising God. It is also about seeking God.
The wise men travelled from a long distance. By the time they found Jesus, the baby was several months old. Why did these gentiles, these non-Jews, concern themselves with the king of the Jews? Why did these highly regarded astrologers and astronomers, kings of wisdom in their orient lands, set out to find the king of the Jews? According to research, the wise men came from China, Central Asia, and Iran. Their journeys would have been fraught with risks, crossing country borders and travelling through unfamiliar terrain, meeting and having conversations with strangers. The wise men’s story fills me with joy and hope as God does not only meet people who knew the Jewish/Christian God! All of them would have had different theological or religious beginnings. But they were drawn by a sense of knowing that was compelling, so that they converged and journeyed together in peace, expectation, and wonder, seeking God together. This is also mind-blowing to me.
The Epiphany story is about listening, seeing, and recognising God. It is also about recognising God’s warning. They had decided to meet King Herod, and asked him where to find the Messiah, the king of the Jews. They listened, continued their journey, and found the Messiah. Then on arriving they knew they had found who they sought, were filled with joy, and were satisfied as they departed.
But they returned to their countries by a different way. ‘And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.’ It really impresses me that these wise men, leading their caravans of followers, did not stop responding to heavenly leading after they had accomplished their quest. They were full of joy. Whatever else they felt I am sure they would have been filled with whatever God chose to bless them with. But they still heard, heeded, and followed the voice of warning.
Are we today like the wise men? Do we listen, see, recognise, seek, heed, respond, and follow God? Or have we been so caught up in the tangible life of the world that we miss or dismiss God’s glory and his signs? All those people in the story of Christ’s birth, The Epiphany, and his Baptism, were people just like you and me, and like others today in all walks and status in society.
I pray that today, more of us, seek God’s voice; seek God’s signs; have faith to see and hear God; then keep responding and following God through Jesus to discover and share all that He has and desires for us.