Was Elizabeth’s pregnancy planned? The idea of an old couple, an old childless couple, planning a pregnancy sounds crazy, but of course it was not their idea, Someone Else had planned it, they had to make His plan their own.
Zachary’s mutism was perhaps a gift, not a punishment; time to reflect, writing the essentials on a clay tablet, time for patience. Did he need nine months of patience after all those years of waiting, of prayer, of resignation? Perhaps he did. This time he had the promise visibly being fulfilled in Elizabeth’s swelling womb; she herself was filled with joyful acceptance and sang when her cousin appeared, complete with her own unlooked-for but now expected little one.
Zachary it was who had the task of telling everyone the name of his son: his loss of speech seems to have led his neighbours to believe he had lost his mind as well. John was certainly a gift for his parents, but also a gift for the people of Israel. But caring for his parents in old age? No: the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel. (Luke 2.80)
God used Angels to take the Good News of John and Jesus to their parents, parents who were together and who loved and supported each other. But sometimes pregnancy can seem like a disaster, not a gift. I’d like to share these words of Susannah Black which are from the transcript of a discussion with Paul Mommsen and Zito Madu at The PloughCast. Ms Black is exploring some of what being pro-life means, and trying to get away from the discussion being focused on the right of the mother versus the right of the unborn.
Tap on the link for the full transcript.
One of the transformations of ways that I’ve gone about being pro-life has been to move from a discussion of the right to life, away from that and away from a rights-based discussion to just like, “What is the good here? Is there a good in the existence of human beings? Is there a good in a human baby however and wherever, whether or not that baby was planned and is that a good that we can do our best to make room for?”
It’s not about whether or not abortion should be legal, it’s about what it means to be a woman who has a body that can carry children, what it means to find yourself pregnant, what it means to find something happening in your life that you did not plan, and what it means to honor that gift even if it’s a really difficult gift to honor.
I guess one of the things that I am committed to as a pro-life person, is doing my best to, as a woman and as a friend and politically as well, making it easier for women to experience, even unexpected pregnancies as something that they can say yes to, and as something that they can experience as gifts.
Pope Francis’s Intention for Evangelization: – The Beauty Of Marriage
Let us pray for young people who are preparing for marriage with the support of a Christian community: may they grow in love, with generosity, faithfulness and patience.
I think we could pray also for those who do not have the support of a community when preparing to marry or live together. The couple whose wedding these flowers celebrated had family, friends, work colleagues all around them, and still do, now that they are parents. So many people, not all of them claiming to be Christian, gladly did big or little things to make the day go with a swing, but more importantly, they were friends in the times before and after that one day. The couple themselves, as well as their circle, are growing in love, with generosity, faithfulness and patience.
But sometimes growing in love can feel like one step forward and two back. Those virtues will always be needed, so let us pray for all young people who are preparing for marriage!
Earlier this month the regulations for recording marriages were changed; after centuries of pen and paper, it’s going digital. Rev Jo Richards of Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter marked the occasion with this post and special prayers.
Marriage Registers: There are significant changes in the Registration of Marriages – this will no longer take place during the marriage ceremony – be it in a church/chapel/registry office or licensed venue. Rather the couple will sign a Marriage Document (or Schedule) during the service. This is returned by the minister who conducts the service within 21 days, to the General Registry Office (GRO) – it is from there that the couple have to get their marriage certificate and where the marriage is now electronically registered, rather than being given the certificate on the day. The marriage certificate is also somewhat different with the inclusion of mothers – since their inception in 1837 only father and father’s rank/profession were on the document. Now the mother’s details are included, along with their occupation. It was this that triggered the changes – along with the GRO going electronic. Needless to say we have had training both by the GRO and CofE for marriages that will take place from today onwards. The other change is that the new certificate is portrait (previously landscape) and we can include up to 4 parents (e.g. step-parents) and 6 witnesses. We do however have to have a ‘register of marriage services’ book. This will be a special book, as we have for burials, baptisms and confirmations. This is just filled out by the minister, again as per other occasional offices. This is also an historical moment, and I attach the prayers that I said in St Dunstan’s on Sunday, to acknowledge the closure of the two Registers there, and I will do likewise for both St Peter’s and St Mildred’s this coming Sunday. We are permitted to keep one Register in church for historical reasons, and the other returns to the GRO. We no longer provide replacement certificates, again all through the centralised GRO. There is no change as far as Banns are concerned – what is called ‘marriage preliminaries’ remain the same, and the marriage service is the same – rather than ‘signing of the registers’ it will be ‘signing of the marriage document’ – and will be a lot quicker – one piece of paper rather than three! And we can still take photos!
At the Closing of the Marriage Registers
The duplicate register books are placed on view, with the blank entries struck through as required by law. This or similar might be read by the minister.
The Church has been closely involved in witnessing and solemnising marriages since the 11th century, and from the Reformation parishes were required to keep written record of all those married in their churches, a requirement formalised in Canon 70 of 1610, which remained in force until the 18th century. The Marriage Act 1836 provided for the duplicate green register books with we are all so familiar, and whose use comes to an end today. For centuries it has been our privilege as a church, entrusted to us by the state, to keep these legal records of marriages. Herein have been recorded the acts of loving commitment made by successive couples, witnessed by their friends and family and recorded on their behalf by our clergy. In years to come the legal record of all marriages will be held nationally by the Registrar-General, but we shall still rejoice to welcome couples to marry here, and pray that God will bless and support them in their unions. Today we give thanks for the duty of record that has been ours.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Marriages
Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of love and remember the many men and women who have stood in this place to make their vows to one another, and whose names are written in these registers [and those before them]. We thank you for all the joy and fruitfulness born of their marriages. We remember: Those whose faithfulness was lifelong and who are now at rest. Those who were widowed and bore long grief, or who married again. Those whose marriages, begun in hope did not bring them joy, or which ended how they did not intend. We remember also the fathers, whose names are recorder here, and the mothers, whose names are not; the friends and relations who bore witness to the weddings, and the clergy who solemnised them. Give us grace to remember all that is past with thanksgiving and with love, committing to your care and healing sorrows which cannot now be changed in this world, but which will find peace through the grace of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Records
God of order and peace, we thank you for the means by which the turnings of our lives are faithfully recorded, and for those who keep the records with diligence. For the means they offer for truth-telling and justice, and the record of memory of generations past. As we prepare to commit these records to the archives, help us to leave the past in your care, and renew our trust in your changeless mercy, that brings us life and wholeness in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The register books are closed.
A Prayer for Marriages Yet To Come
Loving God, we pray for those who will come to this place to declare their love in time to come; for those planning weddings here in coming years, those whose love is yet unkindled and the generations still stored up in your bounty that they may live and love in the freedom of your creation. May this place be to them a sign that their earthly love is a sign of your eternal love, that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and that holds us in life until we come to the kingdom prepared for us in him.
The book of Ruth is a short read, a comfort read, at least by the time you reach the happy ending. Ruth, of course, is the 30x great grandmother of Egypt, her adventures with her mother-in-law Naomi part of his family history. And she was a foreigner, not a member of the people of Israel, but still one of the people of God.
Five years ago we shared the following prayer that the English and Welsh bishops had published for Valentine's Day. It's worth transmitting again. We can pray it for other people if we are happily espoused ourselves.Prayer for those seeking a spouse
You know that the deepest desire of my heart is to meet someone that I can share my life with.
I trust in your loving plan for me
and ask that I might meet soon the person that you have prepared for me.
Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open my heart and mind so that I recognise my soulmate.
Remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this happy encounter,
so that I might find a new sense of wholeness, joy and peace.
Give me the grace too, to know and accept, if you have another plan for my life.
I surrender my past, present and future into the tender heart of your Son, Jesus,
confident that my prayer will be heard and answered.
The Valentine card at the head of the post was sent a century earlier, from a young man in Flanders’ fields to his ‘sweeetie’ in Manchester. They never married because he was killed in action; she went on to find happiness with another man, unlike two ladies I got to know in 1978. Miss M had been unhinged by her experience of loss, or so we were told; Miss P was a good friend to many nieces and nephews and added me to the list, making a beautiful quilt for our first baby’s pram; it’s now a family heirloom.
On this day for lovers, I cannot help thinking of those couples, married or hoping to marry, who are separated by the effects of covid on travel and meeting up. We all have to accept another plan for this period of our lives. And we can hold in our hearts all those who have died, and those who mourn them.
Let us surrender past, present and future into the tender heart of Jesus, confident that our prayer will be heard and answered.
James Boswell published this letter from Samuel Johnson after the Doctor died. Both men had melancholy times; Johnson more severely than most.
“I never was so much pleased as now with your account of yourself; and sincerely hope, that between publick business, improving studies, and domestick pleasures, neither melancholy nor caprice will find any place for entrance. Whatever philosophy may determine of material nature, it is certainly true of intellectual nature, that it abhors a vacuum: our minds cannot be empty; and evil will break in upon them, if they are not pre-occupied by good.
My dear Sir, mind your studies, mind your business, make your lady happy, and be a good Christian. After this, ‘tristitiam et metus Trades protervis in mare Creticum Portare ventis.’*
‘If we perform our duty, we shall be safe and steady.
Life of Johnson by James Boswell.
Jesus put it this way:
And when an unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith: I will return into my house from whence I came out. And coming he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is made worse than the first. So shall it be also to this wicked generation.
Luke 12: 43-45.
‘Be preoccupied by good’ sounds like a good Advent motto to me! Spelt out for Boswell quite clearly: mind your studies, mind your business, make your lady happy, and be a good Christian.
*While in the Muse’s friendship blest, Nor fear, nor grief, shall break my rest; Bear them, ye vagrant winds, away, And drown them in the Cretan Sea.’ Horace, Odes, i. 26. I.
I love you because I love you; I see you ‘once a week’ because I cannot see you all day long; I think of you all day long, because I most certainly could not think of you once an hour less, if I tried, or went to Pisa, or ‘abroad’ (in every sense) in order to ‘be happy’ … a kind of adventure which you seem to suppose you have in some way interfered with.
Do, for this once, think, and never after, on the impossibility of your ever (you know I must talk your own language, so I shall say—) hindering any scheme of mine, stopping any supposable advancement of mine. Do you really think that before I found you, I was going about the world seeking whom I might devour, that is, be devoured by, in the shape of a wife … do you suppose I ever dreamed of marrying? What would it mean for me, with my life I am hardened in—considering the rational chances; how the land is used to furnish its contingent of Shakespeare’s women: or by ‘success,’ ‘happiness’ &c. &c. you never never can be seeing for a moment with the world’s eyes and meaning ‘getting rich’ and all that?
Yet, put that away, and what do you meet at every turn, if you are hunting about in the dusk to catch my good, but yourself?
from The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846
A few words from Robert for a change. Elizabeth must have been quite a talker in their one visit per week, his head seems to be reeling, but the love is plain enough.
This fisherman and his wee daughter stand on the quay at Mallaig, the Scottish port famous as the embarkation point for the Isles of the Hebrides. Many fishermen never came back home from the sea, leaving their families in a precarious way,
The tower beside the statues is modern technology, making the fishermen’s lives safer; good communication of weather problems can persuade the boats to come in in good time.
Peter knew fear on the lake when the waves came right behind the storm and he expected the boat to go down. Jesus walked out across the water, and for a few moments Peter did so too. Like someone learning to ride a bike, he panicked and disaster nearly followed. Some time later it sunk in that Jesus would never abandon him. As his second letter says: (2:9)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
We hear no more of Peter’s wife after Jesus heals her mother except for one mention in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (9:5):
Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas*?
Did they have children? Did the whole family go to Rome in Nero’s time? Certainly Peter’s wife seems to have spent some time as a missionary with him. In those days there was no GPS, no radar, radio, coastguard stations, or even life jackets; no private suite cabin. But Jesus would never abandon them.
Peter came to repentance the instant he abandoned Jesus; a few weeks later he was sent to feed his sheep.
Leet us not be afraid to live the Gospel of Love, preaching it by the example of our lives, as did Peter and his wife. Lord hear us.
On the occasion of our Ruby Wedding, Mrs Turnstone and I took a walk around the country park belonging to Fredville House. This is still working farmland, but the trees have been planted over the last 300 years and more to create a pleasing classical landscape. Our walk took us through the park and back in by one of the gatekeeper’s lodges, then returning to the park and out by another lodge. We were now in Frogham with its redbrick cottages, but we pressed on along a short stretch of the North Downs Way, past the new, far from lowly cattle shed and into the village of Barfrestone. We caught a glimpse through the hedge of the house where we met, the Old Rectory, then visited the graves of L’Arche friends, and into the old churchyard, admiring one stone in particular, noticing the gardener and St Thomas over the door of the ancient church of Saint Nicholas. After a picnic on the grass, one last look at the rectory, and home to Canterbury.
We were on our Sunday walk and sat on a bench in Doddington churchyard to break bread together. As the last crumbs were brushed to the ground I said, Let me see whether there are any good carvings here. As you see, I was not disappointed. Beautiful lettering, my daughter observed as she took the photos, and that lovely strawberry sprig; an epitaph speaking of a long life together well-spent.
What will they want to say about you or me? Loved, respected, dedicated? Not that it matters to us what’s said when we’re gone, but we know some things we are good at: if we are graced to earn our living by them. so much the better, but we may rightly be more dedicated to work we are not paid for. Family and community life are callings for almost all of us: let us dedicate ourselves to them daily, in deed if not in word.
Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? Matthew 25:37.