Christmas, Easter and the May Charleston Festival: these are the three fixed points of my year.
I discovered Charleston near Lewes some twenty five years ago. I was a huge Iris Murdoch fan, and seeing she was appearing there as part of the Brighton Festival, I went and discovered Charleston Farmhouse, nestling below Firle Beacon at the foot of the Downs. It was the summer outpost of the Bloomsbury Group, where the painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant lived as the focal point of a whole group of artists, writers, poets & economists who made a huge impact on the cultural life of the early 20th Century. For the last twenty-nine years there has been an annual Literary Festival there, and for the last twenty-three I have joined in, going to everything as an “All-Event” ticket holder. It started off with about twenty events and now numbers over forty, so is something of a marathon, but it’s worth it! Highlights this year include Sir David Attenborough, Jeanette Winterson and Ali Smith and I can’t wait!
Every year it furnishes me with my books to read for the coming year, and challenges me to engage with Art, with History and contemporary life; it reminds me that there is so much more to life, beyond the clerical hamster wheel I often feel I’m scampering around on, and opens my eyes to the wonderful world around me, both the physical landscape of the beautiful East Sussex Downs and the intellectual landscape of the mind.
Why am I telling you all this in the Rector’s letter? Because it mirrors exactly what the Resurrection does for all of us during Eastertide. Jesus’ rising from the dead challenges us to look at the world around us with new eyes, it reminds us that there is so much more to life than just the routine surface we so often focus on. The Resurrection calls us to live in the world of the Spirit – transformed, renewed, inspired- so that we can become channels of God’s love to the world.
The Charleston Festival to me is life affirming: the Resurrection shows the life we should and could lead, filled with the joy of Christ’s life flowing through us, making all things new. Alleluia!
Love, Fr. John
“O, to be in England now that April is there”. Thus, pined Robert Browning when abroad. I have written about this poem before, but I was in England then. I am now in France and face an explosion of nature earlier and more abundant than usually experienced in England. That is why I am here, to study how the biodiversity of our planet increases closer to the equator. I never experienced visiting a foreign country as a child, but some of my friends did, and my first question on their return was: “what wildlife did you see that we do not see in England?”. The reply was a mind boggling list of birds like hoopoes, rollers, storks and cranes. Also, butterflies such as swallowtails and large green lizards. I have seen all these now and much more. Please do not misunderstand me, I love the biodiversity of England and know it very well. It is just my wish to understand global ecology that drives me to travel. Just like learning a language, it is hard to be fully competent unless you actually spend time in the country in question.
Cuckoos, swallows and blackcaps arrived here in France in late March/early April. Probably a few days earlier than in England. Also, birds such as the golden oriole and the zitting cisticola, the latter was previously called the streaked fan-tailed warbler before being renamed recently. Lizards and butterflies (including swallowtail) have been visible for several weeks, orange tip butterflies are particularly numerous as they search out abundant lady’s smock, also known as cuckoo flower and milkmaids, to lay their eggs on. Brimstone butterflies also abound searching for buckthorn and alder buckthorn for the same reason. Insects not often found in England occur, such as carpenter bees and praying mantises, also, some less welcome such as aggressive Asian hornets whose stings can be lethal. Walking through the woods and fields of France reveals sights not often seen in England such as abundant lungwort, grape hyacinth and very early purple orchids. I visited the coast last week, and, when the tide was out, besides finding wild oysters, I also saw a species that I had never seen before. It looked like a coral but turned out to be a honeycomb worm colony. This animal forms colonies that create reefs, mostly in Mediterranean climates, but does occur on some British coasts.
Dr. Martyn Stenning
Bishop Martin's Letter to Parishes in the Diocese of Chichester
There are two major Christian festivals in March. They celebrate people whose response to God was tentative, but consistent.
The first commemorates Joseph of Nazareth, the husband of Mary. The second festival celebrates Mary’s experience of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus.
Christians of earlier generations found benefit in presenting the story of Easter as the culmination of Christmas when Joseph and Mary were so prominent.
They did this through a cycle of mystery plays, the most famous of which are still performed in York, telling the Christian story from creation to judgement at the end of time. These plays were a bridge between ordinary daily life and the drama of heaven come to earth in the Church’s liturgical worship.
This year, an early Easter places Holy Week between the festivals of Joseph and of the annunciation. It is one of those periodic occurrences when dates and timing become symbolic.
Mary and Joseph are two ordinary people, from the same working town, who fall in love and get married. In the middle of all that something incredible happens, that transforms their lives. They become players in the divine drama of salvation.
Their festivals stand on either side of Holy Week and they, as it were, invite us to connect with that drama through our experience today of God’s call and God’s power.
In this Year of Prayer, my hope is that the drama of Holy Week will assume greater importance in your Christian life, and in your diary.
I hope that you, like Joseph and Mary, will allow the call of God to draw you into the drama of salvation: not as a spectator, but as a player, or agent, who will attract others to its reality, as you renew your commitment to know, love, follow Jesus.
A totally amazing six thousand, three hundred and ninety-nine visitors came to The Church of the Holy Cross to see Tenth year of the Festival of Christmas Trees, and it is doubtful whether anyone left disappointed, because there were an incredible ninety-eight decorated positions to be seen and admired. The Church welcomed visitors from as far afield as Yorkshire and Hampshire and a considerable number from across the country boundary with Kent. This Festival retains the traditional methods of tree decorating, but the Sponsors are very much encouraged to be creative and innovative, and this year they certainly excelled. One very special display was titled “Santa’s Workshop” which had been several months in development while another display was a tree that had been decorated to represent a full length dress. Photographs of the Trees featured in this year’s Festival can be viewed in the Church’s website Photo Gallery, which can be accessed via the main Menu Bar at the top of this page, or see the link below. The ninety-eight displays had been sponsored by a cross section of Uckfield’s community – schools, businesses, voluntary organisations and associations, community support groups as well as individuals and families. During Friday afternoon visitors were entertained by Margaret Watson,harpist,and John Pontefract a singer and guitarist. Children could have their face painted by Pretty Fantastic Faces on both the Friday and Saturday afternoons.