Dear Friends,                                                                                                 1st July 2020

The Government has at last allowed us to open our doors for communal worship beginning from this weekend, 4th July. This is wonderful news. It means that in parallel with the hospitality industry, we can demonstrate the welcome and hospitality of God to all people.  However, due to the need to proceed with caution and because the guidance from the Government was not sent out until Monday morning, we are only now beginning to plan the way forward.

The House of Bishops has been applying the generic guidance from the Government into a Christian context, setting out the practicalities of opening our buildings safely and the implications for the conduct of worship.  The Guidance covers things like social distancing, hand-sanitisers, Bibles, orders of service and, where appropriate, organising a one-way traffic system inside a church building. Updated versions of the existing advice on Holy Communion, Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals and Confirmations will be made available on the national website in the next few days.

While some churches will be planning to open in the next week or so, for some, it will not be appropriate to hold regular services immediately.

Please too, be aware that when we do meet, worship will look and feel quite different from what we are accustomed to. A national working group has been set up to examine the evidence for the possible transmission of the Coronavirus when singing, and until it has reported and the Government issued Guidance on the subject, it will not be possible to sanction singing other than by a single cantor appropriately socially distanced.

However, we are rising to the challenge of how to be Church post lockdown.  As I wrote last week, the churchwardens of the Benefice will be meeting with me today to plan when individual churches will be open and I am meeting via zoom with the Archdeacons, the Diocesan Registrar and other clergy on Friday.  At this meeting we will have the opportunity to ask questions concerning these matters.

Consequently, this Sunday, we will be meeting once again via Skype at 10.00am.  If you would like to join, please email me for the code.

This weekend sees the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the National Health Service and it will be a wonderful focus for our worship.

If you are not able to join us Bishop Jackie is leading a special Diocesan service of thanksgiving, featuring NHS staff and chaplains this Sunday. It includes the reflection of a 94-year-old former surgeon, who qualified as a doctor in 1943, of his experience of the early days of the NHS.  The service goes live at 10.00am and may be viewed by following this link:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV2YkZIQMKaNRd9sjzLmV7Q?view_as=subscriber

However we choose to worship this Sunday, even as we might well hold different views about the prospect of being together, be assured of my thoughts and prayers for all of you.  Until we meet soon.

With my love in Christ,

Revd Susan Oldham

Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.

 

Dear Friends,                                                                                                 24th June 2020

Today, I am writing to you as we begin to embrace the changes to the Coronavirus Lockdown that has protected us for the last three months.  Although we are allowed by the Government to open churches for individual private prayer, the four PCCs of the Benefice have decided unanimously that the buildings will remain closed for now.

The Church of England and Diocese of Exeter are obviously looking forward to the re-opening of churches but have stated that this should only be done in small steps , which means they will support PCCs and clergy in their decisions of whether to open or not .  We need to be mindful of the careful preparations that are needed to ensure the safety of congregations, who for the most, come from the group described by the Government as vulnerable to infection from this virus.

Yesterday, the 23rd June, the Prime Minister announced a further easing of restrictions to include allowing ‘small services’ and ‘small weddings’ of up to 30 guests.  This was announced together with the news that the two-metre distance required for social distancing has also been changed to one metre plus, principally to allow the hospitality industry to be able to operate economically.

I am currently waiting for guidance from the Diocese to arrive concerning the easing of restrictions, together with the actions required to safeguard congregations and until we have met as churchwardens and planned the way forward, I am not about to announce a date when we will hold the first service.  I ask for your forbearance in this, but I am keen that the necessary precautions, (of which there are many), should be in place before we open the doors to everyone.

As we come to the end of June, The Revd Dr Mark Butchers will be leaving us with a farewell service via Zoom on 29th at 7.30pm.  Access to this can be obtained from the Bishop of Crediton’s office.

I am sure like me; you will miss his caring and careful support of the Benefice.  As he goes on to a new post as the Principle of the South West Ministry Training Course, I pray he will take with him the experiences and wisdom he has learned as our Archdeacon, which will inform and help in the development of those training for ordination in the future.

I note this week that the Government have now stopped having their daily coronavirus briefings, however our weekly epistles will continue until I am satisfied that life resumes its ‘new normal’.

As we wait to be reunited, I trust that you are able to access services online, on network television, or using the booklets supplied.  Please do not hesitate to contact me or one of the churchwardens who will pass on a message to ring you.

Until we meet once more, be assured of my deep gratitude for your faithfulness and commitment to our Saviour.

With my love in Christ,

Revd Susan Oldham

Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.

 

Dear Friends,                                                                                                 17th June 2020

On what has become for me – Epistle Day - I am writing with guidance from both the government and diocese as we begin the transition from lockdown to ‘normal’ life.

Firstly, the government has now allowed us to open the church buildings for individual private prayer.  This means though, there cannot be prayer groups, study groups, leisure/lifestyle activities, choir practice, bell ringing or tourism.

No one is to lead prayers or any other activity in church, including the incumbent.

When the building is open, it should be open at a time other than normal service times.

Organists can now practice in church but must get permission to enter the building from the incumbent or Church Warden, and their access must be coordinated with those responsible for cleaning. If the organist will be on their own in the building, then a lone working assessment should be done. An example can be found via this link:

https://www.ecclesiastical.com/documents/lone-working.pdf

Following a meeting with all four Archdeacons, we have been informed that a Covid Risk Assessment is now mandatory for each parish.  We are ahead of the game with John Thouless’ Risk Assessment, so please make use of his detailed work and amend it accordingly for each parish, but be aware, we have been advised that we do not have to supervise the opening.  I will send this document to churchwardens.

We are asked to make a long list of those whom it may be advisable to remain at home rather than coming to church.  If this is done, this group needs to be informed and the section in the government advice (section 10), can be cut and pasted to a notice.

We are asked to be particularly mindful of those in need of particular care and attention, those over 70, (that’s nearly everyone!) and those with underlying conditions.  The link for this guidance is:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-during-the-pandemic/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-during-the-pandemic

While this feels like bureaucratic overload, we are moving forward.  At least the opening of buildings is now allowed, but there is no compulsion or expectation that they should be open immediately.  We are asked simply to take small steps and follow the guidance carefully.  For now, our churches are closed.  Funerals in church can now take place with obvious restrictions and the congregation at a funeral in the crematorium has increased to 33 with no restrictions regarding the relationships to the deceased.  Graveside services are also available.

As we begin to emerge from our social distance, perhaps we can ask ourselves what has been important or less so.  I will be sending out an email to PCCs with some questions that may help us discern the way forward and make use of this unique time for us as churches.

Change is always difficult, but so often an opportunity to look afresh at who we are and what we are doing.

Geoffrey will be providing the homily for the Second Sunday of Trinity and Louise and Giovanni who are in Asti in Italy will be providing prayers for our weekly Sunday Skype service at 10.00am.  Yes, we have become international!!

Please let me know if you would like to ‘attend’, and I will give you a code to use.

Thank you to everyone who has continued to help those less able.  Thank you for your prayers and lovely reflections shared with all via email.  Keep safe and well.

With my love in Christ,

Revd Susan Oldham Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.

 

Dear Friends,                                                                                                 10th June 2020

Well, it is said a week is a long time in politics, but the same can be said for the circumstances that constitute life under the Coronavirus restrictions.  It seems that decisions are being made every day by the Government that mean we have to ‘keep our eye on the ball’, in order not to fall behind with an ever-changing landscape.

While there has been an admission that schools cannot at the moment operate as we are used to, which means most children will not now return until the autumn, non-essential retail outlets are to open on June 15th, together with Church buildings which may be opened for ‘Private Prayer’ from June 15th, (subject to the agreement of both the Incumbent and PCC).

At the time of writing, I have still not received specific guidelines, but more information is due soon.  I have provided a link with information regarding the need for temporary social distancing and hygiene measures:

Guidance on permissions for temporary works in churches

John Thouless at Dolton has kindly looked over the template for a Risk Assessment for the opening of the building and provided one for our Benefice to use in each church.

This is indeed an unsettling time and together with the protests in the UK that are a response to the shocking killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in America, there has been a statement signed by the Bishop of Exeter, Bishop of Plymouth, Bishop of Crediton and the Reverend Tanya Hockley-Still, the BAME Advisor for the Diocese of Exeter,

The Diocese of Exeter stands against racism in all its forms. We are shocked and saddened by the events in USA and support the joint statement from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

We believe that God created us all equal and are disturbed at the disproportionately high number of people from ethnic minorities who are dying from Covid-19 in our own country.

We want our churches to be at the forefront of creating a more just society, working with local government, charities, and community groups to tackle socio-economic injustices both at home and abroad.

We pray that our leaders will make wise decisions that build social cohesion.

We pray that our eyes may be opened so that together we can each play our part in transforming society and bringing God’s Kingdom here on earth’.

As the family of God, the body of Christ, we are to love our neighbour, not only in acts of kindness, but in calling out and tackling injustice where we find it.

Sadly, this week, we have said goodbye to the 97th Archbishop of York - John Sentamu - who has retired after serving for 15 years as the second most senior cleric in the Church of England.  An extraordinary man who spoke of his life saying: 'I have lived through the Idi Amin brutality in Uganda, salmonella poisoning, a burst appendix, prostate cancer and three serious operations.'

He will be succeeded by Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, who will be confirmed in a virtual service next month.  The Archbishop’s farewell service can be viewed online of the Church of England’s website.

May you find God in every experience as John Sentamu told us in his farewell sermon.

Revd Susan Oldham Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.

 

Dear Friends,                                                                                                 3rd June 2020

Another week, another letter!

This week has seen the phased opening of primary schools with Reception and Year Six being allowed to return.  Families are now allowed to meet up, with up to three from each family, (of two families), at last being able to see each other in the flesh.  They are still limited to having to meet outdoors and maintain social distancing of two metres.  Sport such as racing and snooker has begun without spectators and in the case of snooker, with a choreographed ‘dance’ around the table as surfaces are continually wiped by an assistant.

Despite waiting for news from Bishop Robert, we have not been given the go-ahead to open the doors of our church buildings to the public.  Behind the scenes however, discussions and plans are afoot.  For now, only clergy are able to enter for private prayer, or those whose roles give them responsibility to ensure the safety of the buildings.

We are in the first phase, waiting for the second.  Waiting can be such a difficult thing.  How I remember longing for the days to pass by, until my birthday, when I was a child, or for Christmas.  I often wonder whether at the end of my life I will look back and there will be years of time I should have used more productively!  This is such a time to use too.

Bishop Robert has insisted that we are not to be rushed into the opening of our church buildings, despite the longing to return and for life to be as it was.  Even when we are told the building will be open for private prayer for those other than the clergy, we can decide to keep it closed until both myself and the PCC of the parish  feel it is safe to do so.  This is paramount for the safety of those entrusted with the job of cleaning and maintenance of the building.  This will be phase two and will possibly not begin until mid-June, depending on the ‘R’ value.

When finally, we are able to open the doors for small services in the third phase, possibly July, they are going to be very restrictive, with no singing, Communion cup, refreshments, or handshaking.  Again, social distancing will involve being two metres away from each other, which will restrict the amount of people allowed in the church.  This will apply to weddings and funerals as well.

However, we have to begin somewhere, and this is just the start.  Perhaps this is a time to read the whole Bible as Jennie Ashton from the congregation at All Saints in Monkokehampton is doing, or join the ‘chat-room’, with reflections from Eve Howes and poems from Gwen Jones in Dolton.

It is an opportunity to watch televised services or the many services posted online.  Our small but committed group of Skype members value the opportunity to ‘meet’ and share worship at 10.00am on a Sunday.  Perhaps this time is a time to explore and enjoy a new type of worship from the comfort of our homes.

This Pandemic will end.  We will meet together again, but for now, we have to wait.  Just as the disciples waited, we wait and hope that God’s Spirit will find us ready – cleansed, renewed, and eager to do his will.

God keep you safe.

With my love in Christ,

Revd Susan Oldham - Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.

Dear Friends,                                                                                                 27th May 2020

I am writing this week with the latest information regarding a phased re-opening of our churches,

In line and in parallel with the Government’s easing of the lockdown.  As Bishop Robert said in his letter last week, the timetable for this remains uncertain because the Government is keen to avoid a second spike in the infection rate.  However, things are moving.  It is likely the Government will allow churches to open for individual ‘private prayer’, though, not as yet for public worship, and possibly for small services and weddings from the 1st June onwards.  As the Bishop says, we are waiting to discover what, ‘small’ actually means.

In light of the new information, the Diocese has put together a booklet, ‘Preparing to open Church Buildings’ to be able to think through the decisions and actions that need to take place before a church is re-opened.

https://exeter.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Preparing-to-Re-open-our-Church-Buildings-FINAL-v4.pdf;

However, what the bishop does make very clear is that we must not rush into this but take time to prepare properly.  As suggested, we are told to take small steps and coordinate together to decide whether to open each church or not.

I have sent the notes for cleaning buildings in a non-healthcare setting to churchwardens and PCCs on a separate email.

As Bishop Robert reminds us, for some, the thought of meeting again is full of joy, but for others, this may cause understandable anxiety embracing risk assessments and the challenges of managing and maintaining the cleanliness and safety in their buildings.  For others grief and loss will be dominant – especially those who have been impacted as weddings or funeral services in the churches have been postponed or cancelled.  Few congregations have been unaffected by illness and death and it is important to reflect this in the way we celebrate the re-opening of our buildings.

Sadly, it may not be possible as and when public worship is permitted for it to include congregational singing for some months.  National guidance regarding music and worship is currently being drafted.

However, we still continue to meet together at 10.00am on a Sunday morning, via Skype.  If you wonder what this might be like, please ask me for a link and together with downloading the Skype app, that is all that is required to add you to our congregation.  I think those who have managed to access it have found it something to be valuable and look forward to it on a Sunday morning.

I will produce more Lectionary sheets for the next month’s Morning Prayer service at home next week.

I pray as the weeks gallop by, that we hold onto our faith in what God is doing at this time.  Let us continue to pray that we remain safe and for all those affected in any way by the Coronavirus.

As we look towards Pentecost, let us be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit as he breathes new life into us and our worship - when finally, we meet again.

With my love in Christ,

Revd Susan Oldham  Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.

Dear Friends,                                                                                                 20th May 2020

In the beautiful weather of today, surrounded by the lush greenery of spring and the chorus of nesting birds, we are far removed from the frantic work of those who care for the sick and dying in hospitals and care homes.

Let us continue to hold them in our thoughts and prayers, and as a nation, clap for them from our doorsteps on Thursday evening.

Work begins for many who have been unable to work from home and move around the country on longer journeys.  Schools are in a difficult situation and it remains to be seen whether the school at Dolton will take children from 1st June.

Let us also remember those who are struggling with finances through the loss of work or businesses on hold.

There are moves afoot to begin a phased opening of church buildings, but I am awaiting information from the diocese.   It is hoped that small services may be able to take place from July and possibly larger gatherings from later in the year.  Of course, all of it is provisional.  Should we experience an increase in cases of Coronavirus, there will need to be another look at how we go forward then.

For now, we need to be aware of the need to make sure the buildings are fit to enter when the time comes.  This will involve checks on water, airing the building, being aware of droppings from bats or rodents and mould spores.  Please check the information via the link I gave in my last letter or go to the Diocese of Exeter website for Coronavirus guidance, regarding buildings.

Life continues in our small communities with generous acts of kindness and care being a regular part of our week.

Please remember the food bank with its much increased take up.  Celia Howitt can give information on donations and deliveries to the Torrington Foodbank on 01805804762.

Ascension Day is tomorrow the 21st May; a day when we remember the ascension of Jesus Christ to be with the Father in heaven.  While the thought of someone leaving us for a long time brings sadness, the disciples were in no doubt that they had not been left alone.  As he had promised, Jesus was with them and worked through them.  He is with us too and continues to be seen in the love and care shown to the world and its people by his followers.

As the poet Annie Johnson Flint wrote:

Christ has no hands but our hands. To do His work today.

He has no feet but our feet. To lead men in His way.

He has no tongues but our tongues. To tell men how He died.

He has no help but our help. To bring them to His side.

Keep safe and well and may God give us all the peace and grace to persevere with joy.

With my love in Christ,

Revd Susan Oldham

Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.

Dear Friends,                                                                                                 13th May 2020

Following the news last Sunday from the Prime Minister, we are at last beginning the transition from lockdown to ‘normal’ life – whatever that will be.

While for many of us that is a delightful prospect, which will in time mean we can meet up with loved ones; enjoy unlimited time outdoors, or even return to work; for others it is an anxious and unsettling period.  There is relative safety in the lockdown.  It is clear, and everyone more or less knows how it works.  To begin to emerge from this place of refuge and protection is naturally going to require a measure of trust and courage.

As I reported last week, the House of Bishops had pre-empted the decision to begin breaking the lockdown with the first direction of the loosening of restrictions.

Clergy may now enter the church for private prayer as long as hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken.

It is of course essential that advice concerning the re-entering of the buildings is observed so that these activities can be taken safely, and I include a link to information concerning this matter from the national church website:

https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2020-05/Advice%20for%20Clergy%20on%20Re-entering%20Closed%20Church%20Buildings%20v2.2.pdf

My own position on this is that until I am able to share worship with the congregation, I will continue to use video conferencing resources, (SKYPE), to provide a Sunday morning service.  I am under no obligation to have to use the buildings and I am not able to access the internet from them for internet viewing anyhow.

Hopefully in the weeks to come, we will be able to have funeral services in the church, but for now we continue to use the crematorium, which has now increased the number of mourners to 18 and of course, graveside services if necessary.

Please note, I have received two reports of those known to me being purportedly sent an email by me requesting financial help for my niece.  Please, please do not respond to any such email.  This is a scam.  Should anyone else receive such a request, please let me know and delete it.  I would never make such a request.

Despite the circumstances, there are still moments of real joy, which included the VE celebrations and also the singing of Happy Birthday to George Lake by socially distanced people in the street yesterday on his birthday.  I am aware of so many acts of kindness and help by the communities of the Benefice and know that there are better days ahead.

Geoffrey Cleverdon will be providing the homily for this Sunday and Ralph Gent will be preparing intercessions for our Skype service.  Something to look forward to with real anticipation.

Keep safe and well and may God give us all the peace and grace to persevere with joy.

With my love in Christ,

Revd Susan Oldham

Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.

Dear Friends,                                                                                                 6th May 2020

There are this week encouraging sounds coming from the Government with regard to the beginning of the end to Lockdown measures.  At the time of writing, we still await the ‘road map’, which is to be announced on Sunday 10th, but for now I am able to report on a ‘Zoom’ meeting by the House of Bishops who met last night and agreed this statement:

While church buildings remain closed for public worship, in line with Government advice, the Bishops agreed in principle to a phased approach to lifting restrictions, in time and in parallel with the Government’s approach, with three broad stages as infection levels improve:

  • An initial immediate phase allowing very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken
  • Subsequently access for some rites and ceremonies when allowed by law, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions
  • Worship services with limited congregations meeting, when Government restrictions are eased to allow this

The Bishops agreed that the decision on the timing of when to implement the revised advice on ministers or worship leaders praying and streaming from their church buildings should be made by individual Diocesan Bishops, depending on their local situation.

The Bishops were clear once again that this is guidance – not an instruction or law – and that it will be constantly reviewed depending on the national situation.

To be clear, this is the Bishop’s agreement on how to proceed.  It will not happen until the Government allow it and we must wait for that to happen.  I will keep you updated.

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been contributing to the finances of the churches.  Following my appeal, I am incredibly grateful for those who have decided to offer a gift during this difficult time, either by single donation or by moving to use a standing order.

Thank you, though to all those who have been paying by standing order or by the Parish Giving Scheme, as a part of their continued commitment to the churches.  The offering of a regular gift is part of our worship.  I believe that in making such a gift, we honour God – a God who blesses us richly in so many ways.

Although we are hopeful of the beginning of the end of this Lockdown, I am mindful of the anxieties and concerns of people as we step forward.  Please know that this next step is going to be difficult.  While we are confined and restricted, we are in a sense, safe.

Please be aware that it is natural to feel anxious, and there may well be those who ask for prayer, or support through conversations.

While we cannot meet, we can still talk, so please don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.  If you are unable to contact me at the rectory, please ring Caroline Pye on 01805804198, or any of the church wardens who will contact me to ring you.

With this note of optimism in the air, let us keep praying for all those suffering, those caring for them and an end to this devastating crisis.

With my love in Christ, Revd Susan Oldham

Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.

Dear Friends,                                                                                                 22nd April 2020

Writing last week, I spoke of ‘Green shoots of hope’ tentatively beginning to emerge from our present situation of restrictions due to the Coronavirus. This week, I can report that though small, growth in hope is continuing.

Due to the lowest cases and death because of the virus in the Southwest, the government has begun to ease some of the restrictions. These however are contingent on our vigilance and lack of complacency with regard to necessary safeguards: for example, councils have been asked to re-open closed cemeteries and have lifted restrictions on grass cutting and the tending of graves and subject to local protocols, where a care home or NHS Trust believes it is possible, a relative may now be allowed to join a dying patient at their bedside to say goodbye.

Despite this, social gatherings are not about to be allowed now, or in the immediate future, which means our church buildings have to remain closed.
Although closed, the church continues to worship with the Skype service at 10.00am on a Sunday morning increasing in participants each Sunday. Please email me for a link if you are interested –
susan.oldham7@btinternet.com

While there are reasons to begin to celebrate, let us not forget those who are experiencing suffering during this time as a result of the lockdown.
As well as those who are sick or bereaved, domestic violence is increasing and financial burdens are causing anxiety for many. I am therefore posting information about support with regard to Domestic Violence on our Benefice website:
Devon Domestic Abuse Service: 0345 155 1074;
Victim Care – Devon and Cornwall
https://www.victimcaredevonandcornwall.org.uk/Latest-campaigns/.

I am also including the link to donate much needed funds to the Torrington Foodbank and should you want to donate, please contact Colin Porter on hardyexotic1@btinternet.com, who can give bank details for those who wish to transfer funds online. Otherwise, Celia Howitt is very kindly coordinating delivery of grocery items to the Foodbank from Dolton. Please telephone her on 01805 804762 for details.

This morning I heard the news that our Archdeacon, the Venerable Dr Mark Butchers will be standing down to become the Principle of the South West Training Course from September. I am sure, like me you will want to congratulate him for this, however, I personally, will miss his just and wise counsel. He will be leaving at the end of June and until a new Archdeacon is appointed, Revd Prebendary Giles King Smith will be acting as Archdeacon.

Bishop Robert has also appointed a new chaplain – Revd Nigel Mason who takes over after the sad death of the Revd Graham Stone.

Despite the lockdown, life continues, and Bishop Robert urges us to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE day, which will be on 8th May. Bishop Nick will be recording a service which may be viewed via You-tube.

While we continue to give thanks to our NHS with clapping from households all over the nation, this week St Edmund’s will ring a bell at 8.00pm on Thursday. This act of solidarity reminds us of being part of a national and global community. On 5th July, we will remember and this year hopefully celebrate in a new way, the birthday of the NHS, the envy of many nations. It is now more than ever, something to give thanks to God for and to help, as we observe the necessary restrictions.

With my love in Christ, praying that you will remain safe, well and trusting in God’s goodness.

Revd Susan Oldham, Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.


Dear Friends,                                                                                                        15th April 2020

On this beautiful spring day, deep within the countryside of Devon, it is difficult to believe we are in the midst of a Global Pandemic, yet here we are facing another three weeks, most probably, of being isolated in our homes.
There are, as Dominic Raab, (standing in for our recuperating Prime Minister), ‘green shoots’ – signs that indicate life, or positive hints in his daily updates. The NHS seem to be coping with the huge influx of patients needing intensive care, despite the struggle to procure personal protective equipment.
Astonishingly, Connie Titchen, who is believed to be Covid-19’s oldest survivor, left hospital yesterday in Birmingham to the applause from the nursing staff who cared for her.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has also left hospital, although needing time to convalesce and despite the shocking daily toll of those who have lost their lives as a result of the virus, it looks as if there are signs the increased numbers could begin to plateau with the restrictions in place.
Naturally these are optimistic forecasts but let us keep praying that the radical measures in place will ensure the transmission of the virus is broken.
I hope your Easter was as enjoyable as it could be. I was able to hold a ‘Skype’ service attended by 10 people on Easter Sunday morning, including a couple from Italy. This was our third attempt at meeting together in such a way and is becoming a welcome event. It is a very different experience, but I think, everyone participating feels they have ‘met’ with each other. Again, if you would like to be included, email me and I will send a link.
Meeting and being part of a community is fundamental to who we are.
Families need each other, communities rely on the support from each other and people of faith need to be together to worship and enjoy the fellowship of a shared belief.
The word communion sums up our practice in sharing and needing to remember the goodness of God. As with those over the centuries, we remember in story, prayer and the breaking of bread with wine. Simple rituals that define and feed us spiritually.
None of us can receive communion at the moment. Bishop Robert, who lives on his own has said he is observing a Communion fast; a time when he recognises that all of us are in this together, priest or not. Perhaps it will make us really value this gift for what it is – and approach it and the fellowship of each other with renewed joy, when finally, we meet together in our churches.
This Sunday, Tony Connell has very kindly offered to provide the homily, which I will forward when I receive it. I am very grateful to Geoffrey for his reflection on Good Friday and the wonderful photographs taken by Bev Thouless as she walked the ‘Way of the Cross’, also on Good Friday, which can be seen on the Benefice website.
I will be sending some links to churchwardens regarding information concerning church buildings and PCC meetings, but in the meantime, I pray you will continue to remain safe and well, confident in the love and goodness of the risen Christ.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

With my love in Christ, praying that God will keep us all safe in his strong and tender love.

Revd Susan Oldham, Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.


Dear Friends,                                                                                                        8th April 2020

I never thought that I would be writing epistles to you!  I can now imagine how the apostle Paul felt when he was writing to his churches from afar.  It is extraordinary to be forced to communicate in this way, but there is much to recommend the discipline of regular updates.

I am sure that like me, you are coming to terms with life under the restrictions.

Daily exercise which, for me is a continuation of daily walks is paramount.  Now, however I am much more likely to see deer or other wildlife as I walk the lanes and fields and the utter beauty of the countryside does much to console any concerns I might have.  Despite our best efforts, nothing alters the seasons.  Like God they remain unchanging and dependable.

Who would have thought that embarking on a journey from home - even to buy food – would need deliberation.  We are so dependant on our cars and journeying to wherever we want to, when we want to, but these restrictions are making us consider, perhaps for the first time, whether we really need to go.

Communication has become a key factor in this new landscape.  During the long years of my training for ordained ministry; the many hours spent writing essays, no one ever considered the need to learn how to broadcast services from our homes!  Zoom, Skype, all manner of media is being employed to help us gather virtually at meetings and services.  Perhaps this will continue, as life as it was, resumes.

We are indeed in very strange times.  As I write, our Prime Minister is personally battling against the Coronavirus in St Thomas’ Hospital, London.  This virus has no respect for status, age, gender, or race.  Let us pray for his healing and deliverance.

However, there are very heartening stories.  I heard that drug gangs in Johannesburg, who for the first time ever, are enjoying a truce brought about by the need to work together to help each other’s communities.  Their unparalleled skills in the distribution of drugs are being used for the distribution of food and other necessities.  Our politicians are being nice to each other!  Communities all over the nation are enjoying a sense of togetherness, even while being apart, in the many acts of kindness and caring.

It is interesting what suffering does for people.  For some, the suffering is just so bad, there is no way back from the pain and it is not for anyone to judge them.   For many however, suffering can actually teach us something profound, which can lead us to reflect on who we are and how we can be better people.

The Easter story is central to the faith of Christians.  It is a story of terrible suffering.  It is a story of a willingness to walk into a dangerous situation for the good of the other, for the utter love of the other - stories we see reflected every day currently in the work of bus drivers, nurses, doctors and care workers.  It is a story, however improbable, of a hero who was a nobody, from a backwater in Israel who challenged the status quo and was punished for his radical ideas.  Punished for daring to demonstrate how we should be.  Punished for us.  However, this story doesn’t end in the apparent failure on the cross.  This story shows us the extent and breadth of a God who loved us to death and rose from the dead to show us his power and glory.  It is a story which has transformed the lives of billions.

This year, Easter will be a very different event.  Yet although we are apart, we remain together in our shared faith and belief.  I hope you will be able to access the many services online or our Skype service on Easter Sunday at 10.00am.  Keep safe, keep apart and keep local.

With my love in Christ, praying that God will keep us all safe in his strong and tender love.

 

Revd Susan Oldham, Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.


Dear Friends,                                                                                                        1st April 2020

Well April has arrived! Spring is becoming a wonderful reality, but still we find ourselves observing Government advice and remain locked down in homes and communities as never before.

I am heartened by the news that panic buying is beginning to abate, which speaks of people accepting the situation and settling down to a new rhythm of life. Hopefully, this seclusion is allowing the spread of the virus to be slowed down, which gives precious time to those fighting its consequences.

In Devon, there have not been the amount of cases or deaths, thankfully. We are about two or three weeks behind London. While we see scenes of NHS staff working around the clock and hear sad news from the capital, let us pray for all those affected, for those on the front line and that those working for a vaccine will have a breakthrough.

Last Friday, I conducted a funeral service at the crematorium in Barnstaple. It was a very sad event made much worse by the restrictions on the mourners allowed to attend. From now on, funeral services will take place either at the graveside or in a crematorium and will be very simple and restricted to those directly associated with the deceased.

Together with the restrictions imposed is a concern for the future of our churches without the normal income from weekly services and fundraising. Can I once again ask people to think about setting up a standing order if they have not already done so. This need not be a large financial commitment, but what is normally given, and will help to prevent us from defaulting on our Common Fund, electricity and other payments. Please contact me or Churchwardens for more information.

On a happier note, I trialled a Skype service on Sunday morning – and yes, you can turn up in your PJs! If you would like to join in, I will be contacting people with a link and will have a trial run on Saturday morning at 10.00am. Please just contact me by email and I will send you the link if you wish to ‘attend’.

I would like to remind you though that there are far better resources available from both the Diocesan and the Church of England websites. Bishop Robert will be streaming a service from his chapel on Maundy Thursday. A Good Friday service will be led by Bishop Nick and all three bishops will be involved in a service for Easter Sunday.

Bishop Robert in his latest letter has reminded us that today is the day we remember the poet John Donne. In one of John Donne’s sermons, he says,

‘No man ever saw God and lived.’ And yet, I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him, I shall never die. What have I ever seen in this world that hath been truly the same thing that it seemed to me? I have seen marble buildings and a chip, a crust, a plaster, a face of marble hath pulled off, and I see brick bowels within. I have seen beauty, and a strong breath from another tells me that that complexion is from without, not from a sound constitution from within. I have seen the state of Princes and all that is but ceremony. As he that fears God, fears nothing else, so he that sees God, sees everything else: when we shall see God, we shall see all things as they are.’

As Bishop Robert writes,

‘In this time of enforced solitude when we find ourselves contemplating our vulnerability and mortality, perhaps it is time to go deeper, to look beneath appearances and find in God in our stability, our hope and our joy. It is God who teaches us how to see.

With my love in Christ, praying that God will keep us all safe in his strong and tender love.

Revd Susan Oldham
Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.


Dear Friends,                                                                                                         25th March 2020

On Monday evening we heard the news from the Prime Minister that the government is imposing even greater restrictions on our daily lives in a bid to protect us all from the onslaught of the Coronavirus.

Sadly, our church buildings will now be temporarily closed until further notice.  Even I will not be able to say Morning Prayer in them as I did last Sunday.

There will now be no weddings, baptisms or any type of ceremony held in them.  Funerals are exempt, although severe restrictions apply.

This is very hard news for all of us and for some very frightening.  If you need to contact me, do not hesitate; susan.oldham7@btinternet.com/ 01805804264.  Or contact the churchwardens or those who have kindly offered to keep you updated with church news, who will contact me for you.

Despite the restrictions, we remain the family of God, although dispersed on a Sunday morning.  I will be producing more Morning Prayer and Lectionary sheets for use at home.

I intend to live-stream a service of Morning Prayer at 9.30am on Sunday – the day when we were due to gather as a Benefice, so if you are able, perhaps you would like to join with me.  This is going to have its limitations but will be on Skype.

Another positive initiative is to light a candle on each Sunday evening at 7.00pm during this Coronavirus crisis, as we did last Sunday.  We are encouraged to light this candle, placing it in a window, remembering and focussing on our hope in the light of Jesus Christ.  A light which can never be distinguished.

This Sunday, our focus of prayer will be our wonderful NHS and the hard-working professionals and volunteers who are maintaining our nation’s network of medical and social care.  A short meditation by Prebendary Jackie Taylor, will be posted on the Diocesan website to help focus our prayer.

In the days and weeks ahead, the diocese will be expanding digital output for those who have devices to access them.

There will be more video content, which will include video service and more films for Holy Week and Easter.  In addition, they will be making Holy Week audio content available.

There will be a series of new reflections from Easter Day onwards.  Apparently, work is underway on an updated app, audio and email resources.  Details will follow in time.

There are also mental health reflections available to help people who are feeling lonely, isolated or anxious.

I will be sending out a homily for the fifth Sunday of Lent and want you to know that during this very difficult time, I hold you in my prayers and commend to you the collect for the fourth Sunday of Lent:

O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers,
that by reason of our frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright:
grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers
and carry us through all temptations:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

With my love in Christ, praying that God will keep us all safe in his strong and tender love.

Revd Susan Oldham

Incumbent of the Benefice of Dolton, Dowland, Iddesleigh and Monkokehampton.


Dear Friends,

As you are all well aware from the news reports, cases of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) are on the increase and it is likely that this will continue for the foreseeable future. It is essential that we do not panic but continue to be guided by official advice from the government and Public Health England. This is true in our own lives and as a Mission Community. It is also important to take steps to protect those who are most vulnerable not just from the risk of infection but also from becoming lonely and isolated.

The levels of risk are constantly being assessed and guidance from the Diocese of Exeter and the Church of England being provided to clergy. Following the latest guidance, the following procedures will be in immediate effect;

  • If you feel unwell, please stay away from church and seek appropriate medical advice.
  • Please wash your hands regularly, especially before coming to church.
  • The collection plate or bag will not be passed around during the service. Please place your offering on the plate as indicated by the sidesperson or churchwarden.
  • Please exchange the peace verbally (no physical contact) with those closest to you, with eye contact and a smile.
  • The common cup (the chalice containing the wine) has been suspended until further notice. The Eucharist will be received in one kind (as bread alone) into hands only.
  • Distribution of the Eucharist will be done with the priest at the centre of the altar step and the congregation standing, forming an orderly queue.
  • Tea and coffee etc after the service have been suspended until further notice.

I realise that during this time some people will need to or choose to, self-isolate. I have therefore prepared an order of service of Morning Prayer for use at home and accompanying readings. These will be available in church or via email. Please let me know if you wish to receive this via email or if you are unable to collect a copy from church.

Forms will be distributed at church over the next couple of weeks asking for your contact details and how you wish to be contacted either during this outbreak or in general. This will enable me to keep in touch with people and keep people informed of any changes to services etc.

At the moment the situation is constantly changing, as is the associated advice.  I have decided to cancel the Lent Group, but services and other meetings will continue unless there is a need to suspend them.

At this time it is important that we look out for each other and support those who are most vulnerable. If you are feeling isolated, lonely or vulnerable throughout this time or know someone who is, please pick up the phone and give me a call.

Blessings

Susan

The Revd Susan Oldham 01805/804264; susan.oldham7@btinternet.com