The Six Parishes of the Saxon Shore Benefice

"The United Benefice of Hunstanton St. Mary with Ringstead Parva St. Andrew,
Holme-next-the-Sea St. Mary the Virgin and Thornham All Saints,
with Brancaster St. Mary the Virgin, with Burnham Deepdale St. Mary
and Titchwell St. Mary, with Choseley",
which is the official name of this Benefice, is rather a mouthful and so the name
"The Saxon Shore Benefice"
was chosen for these churches on the north west Norfolk coast.

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Our Rector

Contact details:
Rev. Susan Bowden-Pickstock
The Rectory,
Broad Lane,
PE31 8AU

Tel: 01485 211180

The Revd Susan Bowden-Pickstock is the Rector of the Saxon Shore Benefice of six Churches here on the north Norfolk Coast.

Photo - Susan Bowden-Pickstock

She is an ordained Pioneer Minister in the Anglican Church. This is a relatively new type of training which combines traditional theological training with an emphasis on relating to our current culture and helping church and community to meet. Susan grew up in rural villages in East Anglia, and has been a person of strong faith sinc small child:

          ‘I remember a conversation under cherry blossom when I was about 5 when it all made
          sense in my head that God was there, and I was loved, and that was that.’

Her previous working life includes ten years as a Registered General Nurse: journeying from Guys Hospital in London, to Papworth, Newmarket, Addenbrookes, and finishing as a GP Practice Nurse in Cambridge. She then worked for fifteen years within the BBC in local radio as a ‘Faith and Ethics Producer.’

Photo- Susan Bowden-Pickstock

Susan is married to Philip and they have four children at various stages of secondary, university education and employment: careers are currently being formed as a chef, in psychology, in medicine, and in any and all water sports and computer games…. Family life has been the greatest joy, in all its wonder, muddle and chaos.

She has always taken Iranaeus seriously when he said ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive.’ and cannot resist the challenge to explore a new dimension of living. She therefore also has RHS qualifications in general horticulture, as well as an honours degree in Literature and Religious Studies. Her childhood dream to be an author was fulfilled in writing a book on horticulture and spirituality called ‘Quiet Gardens: the Roots of Faith?’ and hopes one day to write more.

She has taken a few random opportunities in life including exercising racehorses at Newmarket, Photo- Susan Bowden-Pickstock sailing on a tall ship out of Stockholm, spending time with monks in Rome, travelling with the family to Australia, Canada, Scandinavia and Italy and gaining (with a team of others) a Chelsea silver-gilt medal.

Susan enjoys almost anything but particularly, cooking and eating, gardening, hill climbing, horse-riding, cycling, swimming, reading, cinema, theatre, and photography.

She would like to own a giraffe (but only on a plot of land big enough, of course!).

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Two recent sermons from our Rector

I was very struck this week by a story in the life of Jesus.
It was the day where Jesus' is walking from one village to the next with his disciples after a really busy day where he fed 4000 people, encountered the Pharisees and Scribes testing him and healed a blind man. Clearly the crowds who gathered at each of these occasions would have wondered out loud to each other: who is this man? and so Jesus says to the disciples later on who do people say that I am?
I don't for one moment think Jesus was unaware of who people said he was, but I do think that he wanted to use this to then ask them: 'and who do you say that I am?'

For this is the question for us. Who do we say Jesus is. As Christians we follow Christ, but who is Jesus to us? It is very easy to have a distorted image of God. So I am really pleased that for the next two Sundays we have the chance to look at two of the most important qualities of God.

And today we learn the quality of God from our Psalm:
Psalm 136
1    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,
for his mercy endures for ever.
2    Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his mercy endures for ever.
3    Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his mercy endures for ever;
4    Who alone does great wonders,
for his mercy endures for ever;

God is merciful.
When Jesus says to us: who do you say that I am? we can say: you are merciful.
And when I checked for the definition of mercy I learnt that sure enough in order to have mercy you need to be in a position of power.
So it's not surprising that Psalm 136 starts by reminding us the position of God, in the titles that are used of God: 'Lord', 'God of god's' Lord of Lords' ....not just someone at the top of a tree, a lord, a god with a small 'g' but the One at the top of The Tree.. the God of god's and Lord of Lords.
It is only someone who holds sway over someone else who can show mercy, because mercy is 'compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person within ones power.'

Of course those in power are not necessarily merciful ... I don't need to remind you of a litany of names of those in our world who have held and do hold great power alongside great ruthlessness. Power corrupts they say and absolute power can corrupt absolutely. And we all know how this dynamic works across institutional structures, those with the power can misuse it. It is the reason why we are so appalled by IS ....because they show no mercy.

And so we often come to the idea of God with a poor picture. We know authority can mean severity and judgement, and so absolute authority of God surely must mean extreme severity and justice: Big Brother watches you waiting for you to trip up...
But, please, let us be absolutely clear:

2    Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his mercy endures for ever.
3    Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his mercy endures for ever.

And how does God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit show mercy? How is God compassionate and kind? Our wonderful bible readings today let us know...
God, as the source of all things, the God of god's, demonstrated who God was through creativity, God created the heavens and the earth... in all their beauty and variety, their colour and form, all those landscapes from desert to swamp, mountain to savannah, forest, jungle, coast...
God then created living creatures to live in this wonderful landscape. Insects, birds and reptiles in all their craziness, to mammals, marsupials small and large and sea creatures...
God created all this to express who God was. and this is a God who loves creativity, variety, diversity, difference, colour pattern, complexity, and harmony.
And then of course, God created humankind, to show that God is God who exists in relationship, not just father son and Holy Spirit, but Creator and created, sharing love.

The next section of our Psalm reads:

1    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,
for his mercy endures for ever.
5    Who by wisdom made the heavens,
for his mercy endures for ever;
6    Who laid out the earth upon the waters,
for his mercy endures for ever;
7    Who made the great lights,
for his mercy endures for ever;
8    The sun to rule the day,
for his mercy endures for ever;
9    The moon and the stars to govern the night,
for his mercy endures for ever;

Creating such a beautiful and bountiful earth was a demonstration of the kindness of God because it was the place made for humankind to enjoy and to work in.

1    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,
for his mercy endures for ever.   

God made us and made us a fantastic world to live in.
However, alongside the presence of God was the force of evil which soon penetrated this beauty and spoilt it in various ways. The force of evil, is described in the guise of a serpent in the next chapter of Genesis, and brought in decay and death. It brought in enmity: discord between human and human, power struggles, pride, envy and all the consequences of these.

I wonder if you saw the two programmes about Frank Gardner?
Frank was a news journalist and 12 years ago covering a story in Saudi Arabia he and his cameraman were ambushed by Al Qaeda. They were both shot and left for dead. The cameraman did die, but Frank miraculously survived, albeit now in a wheelchair.

Recently Frank met Benedict Allen the explorer EE, and in the course of conversation Frank told Benedict about his longing to see the birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea. Cutting a long story short Benedict Allen lived with a tribe in PNG and so together they arranged an expedition that would fulfil this lifelong dream of franks to go and see the birds of paradise.

You could say that Benedict Allen had mercy on Frank Gardner, he had compassion on him and showed him the kindness of making something that was within his power happen for him. It a moving to watch the tribespeople of PNG who take the story of Frank to their hearts and carry him across the jungle paths on a constructed sedan chair, gently and with such care. And there are all sorts of set backs as frank struggles with the consequences of his now more fragile body.

So we hear in our epistle reading today from Romans:
The creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, but, the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

1    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,
for his mercy endures for ever.
23    Who remembered us when we were in trouble,
for his mercy endures for ever;
24    And delivered us from our enemies,
for his mercy endures for ever;
25    Who gives food to all creatures,
for his mercy endures for ever.
26    Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his mercy endures for ever.

Finally, months later, Frank sees birds of paradise.
The slow but sure plan of God is that evil will be defeated, the fatal stroke has been struck in the death and then resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. But the force dies slowly. And we know within our own bodies and within creation around us the rest of our epistle reading:
We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
We are subject to the laws of decay and death until the time that God wraps up this current world order and brings in the new heavens and the new earth.
And the most important word in that reading, and in the whole bible, I believe is that word 'redemption'. The act of purchasing back something previously lost.
Our post communion prayer today reminds us that the tree of life was set at the heart of the earthly paradise, and the bread of life at the heart of our redemption.
e have the first fruits of the spirit to help us through, bringing us new life, we have the bread of life nourishing us, and we have the knowledge of the new heavens and the new earth to give us hope

Do not worry! For God's mercy will endure forever. It is God in whom we trust: in God, not in Trump or the EU or Brexit or any earthly solution.

1    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,
for his mercy endures for ever.
26    Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his mercy endures for ever.

'Who do you say that I am?' Jesus asks us
'You are The merciful One' we can reply, 'You are compassionate and kind to us.
And you bring us slowly but surely to Paradise.'

          Susan Bowden-Pickstock
          Rector of the Saxon Shore Benefice
          Ordained Pioneer Minister

I wonder what comes into your mind if I ask you to think of something majestic?
Would anyone like to proffer a thought?

A lion
A sunset
A volcano
Niagara Falls

Our minds and imaginations may well go to natural images. Perhaps a truly wonderful piece of architecture might do it as well? We don't tend to think of a person, we no longer live in a world where we are literally bowled over by a world leader, although some cultures might still experience that to an extent. But we no longer live with the Pharoahs.

So 'majesty' might come into our mind when we look at a mountain range. And how about a cloudscape? There was a fantastic cloud pattern this last week as I walked on the beach in the morning. Where I was there was still some blue sky and encroaching fast on that was a fantastic stretch of stippled mackerel sky with small, even, beautifully coloured clouds. And then as I turned onto the bank and came back towards Brancaster and looked beyond the sky became increasingly dark steely blue and then iron grey, almost black. It was stunning and I think I would say the vista was majestic as it spread out across the horizon.

One sight that I hope you haven't seen before is what New Zealand, Australia and Chile have battled with in the last months: the summer wildfires. I have only seen it on a documentary but perhaps if you were driving and came across these walls of fire, well ‘majestic’ might not be the first word, perhaps terrifying would precede that thought?

Interesting that our Psalm this morning says of God:
1    Why are the nations in tumult, and why do the peoples devise a vain plot?
2    The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his anointed:
3    Let us break their bonds asunder and cast away their cords from us.
4    He who dwells in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision.
5    Then shall he speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury:

Last week and this week we are looking at two qualities of The God we serve. Last week we explored the mercy of God. Our God is a force of unfailing kindness and compassion towards us whom God has created.
However, God is not two dimensional, and certainly not a slot machine of goodies given out indiscriminately to demanding children. And today our readings show us quite a different take on God.

In Exodus we hear of Moses meeting with God:
12 The Lord said to Moses, 'Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there';
15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.

Here God is darkness, a great dark cloud,.

Many many times in the bible God is described in terms of light. So it is intriguing that an aspect of God is darkness, not a bad darkness, not evil, but nevertheless God waits in thick darkness: impenetrable mystery.

The sort of picture conjured by RS Thomas in his poem 'Raptor'.

God is not easily described, , we cannot the Old testament often says 'see' God, it is not possible to take God in and lay God out as on a table, like a machine or even a body that we can dissect and say ah yes, see here, this is what God is....

God is darkness, impenetrable mystery.

And then Moses found another manifestation of God
16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.
17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain.

God is fire. Devouring fire...

We have been thinking about what we would call 'Majestic' and our reading today gives us some images of God that are awesome and speak of a Majestic Being. There is a way of thinking that I sometimes hear, where people say: 'well the God of the Old Testament was one thing, but Jesus changed all that.'

So let's take a look at our other readings today.. and they are very much linked. We heard the story of Jesus going up the mountain with Peter, James and John and they see Jesus transfigured before them.

Clearly Jesus going up the mountain has echoes of Moses going up the mountain and Matthew is always keen to let his readers know that Jesus is the new Moses, the even better than Moses. And just like Moses who when he came down from the presence of God shone so that people looking at him had to cover their faces, so Jesus does not disappear into the darkness of God, but instead shines with the light of God, brilliant light, unbearable, painful to look at. But awesome. It reduced Peter to a gibbering wreck, he didn't really know what he was saying afterwards. And then later, reflecting on this experience he had had with Jesus, Peter writes in his epistle:

'We made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, ..we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
17 For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'
18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.'

Jesus spent most of his time telling people not to speak about who they had realised he was. He emphasised again and again to his disciples that they, like he, came to serve, not be served. Jesus spoke of the humble being blessed in the beatitudes, and all that. But, that did no mean that Jesus was not God, and every now and then it was as if the glory of God, the majesty, leaked out and people got a glimpse.

As we go through the season of Advent we remind ourselves of Jesus first coming. That coming in poverty and obscurity and vulnerability. But the second coming of Jesus will not be like that. It will be majesty it will be awesome, and then and possibly only then will we understand who we are dealing with.

So let's take in today this other quality of God. The majesty of God.
Let us remind ourselves that God is not like us, we are made in God's image. And our God is thick darkness, a devouring fire, like a bird of prey, a Raptor, who glides above us and it may sometimes feel to us as if he has sunk his talons in.

But God is not malevolent, as we saw last week, in fact God’s mercy endures forever... but God is awesome:

May we be surprised by the power, the love and beauty of God who is mercy and majesty. God says to us:
'This is my Son : You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place'.

          Susan Bowden-Pickstock
          Rector of the Saxon Shore Benefice
          Ordained Pioneer Minister

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Last updated 20/07/2017
Services in the Benefice during July and August.