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Even though Fr Mark has announced his departure he is still developing the site.

In response to a request for us to provide a quiet area for prayer, our review of the use of the Priory Church has created this important area for those who come not as tourists, but as people who want to meet God in prayer.

In a separate development, we have updated our phone system on the site making it fit for purpose ongoing.

On the last Saturday before the General Election at least two parliamentary candidates visited the Priory’s Christmas in the Courtyard. Tonight at Evensong Canon Andrew Willie in his sermon urged us not only to be prayerful about how we cast our vote on Thursday,  but also ” to love those whose views are not the same as our own. ”

Canon Willie’s  Sermon in Full

Today’s lessons for Evensong reflect the fact that among the concerns of Advent is the ministry of St. John the Baptist.  This ministry fitted some of the Jewish expectations of the forerunner of the Messiah. Curiously, the expectations were drawn fairly widely and not fully defined.  That said, John was looked upon by many of his contemporaries as the new Elijah referred to in the book of Malachi (4:5). Hence our first lesson speaks of Elijah’s dealings with the prophets of Baal.  I’m afraid that it did not give you the full story. The next verse describes how the defeated prophets of Baal were butchered. Its omission shows that because of Jesus and the love He preached our emphasis in the 21st Century is a little different.

In fact John denies that he is Elijah; he even denies that he is a prophet vaguely referred to in the book of Deuteronomy (18:18-19)  who is told to speak God’s word to the Nations. Instead, John refers to himself as a ‘voice crying in the wilderness’.  This is more significant than superficially seems to be the case.

The book of Isaiah witnesses to the sayings of two different prophets.  The first at the time of King Heziakia writes before the exile and speaks of a Messiah as a great leader who will save the Jewish Nation.  The second, sometimes called Isaiah of the Exile, speaks of the return of the Jews from Babylon and has as his key figure a Suffering Servant.  John quotes from near the beginning of the work of Isaiah of the Exile (40:3) talking of ‘a voice crying in the wilderness’  and later speaks of a Suffering Servant rather than a military leader.  He thus shows the sort of person that Jesus will be.

The tension between being a military leader and being a Suffering Servant was with Jesus all his ministry.  It was certainly there at The Temptations when He totally rejected the idea of being a great military leader and failing to fulfil expectations, inevitably became a Suffering Servant.  

For us, the expectation is that Jesus will one day return to judge a world in melt-down.  When he does so, there will be no forerunner to warn the world of what is happening.

The world is constantly threatened by mismanagement by human beings, mismanagement in terms of war and of a vanity which makes us feel we can handle situations when we can’t.  Currently we are threatened by the phenomenon of global warming. It is in our hands to stop it with God’s guidance and help.  

This coming Thursday, we go to polling stations to elect a new parliament.  We need to be very prayerful. We need also to love those whose views are not the same as our own.  It was very strange, but soon after I was ordained two people independently spoke to me of politics within three days of each other.  One said you cannot be a Christian and a Conservative: the other that you can’t be a Christian and a Socialist. They were both very wrong.  We are meant to see that our Christian influence needs to be spread throughout society and its political parties.  

That said, I am very worried about a recent statement by President Putin.  What he said was this; that liberal democracy was dead and being replaced by a new populism.  Populism was what led to the French and Russian Revolutions. It was also behind Hitler’s rise to power and the absolute wickedness of many of his policies.  My wife and I went and looked at an exhibition of what Hitler called ‘Degenerate Art’ produced in the Weimar Republic. He used this approach to attack Jewish artists such as Hans Feibusch who escaped to this country from Germany, and so avoided the Holocaust.  Feibusch went on to decorate churches and cathedrals and his one secular work is the beautiful mural in Newport Civic Centre.

The trouble with populism is that it leaves no room for meditative consideration of problems before God.  It encourages people to go with the crowd. Hence when Jesus went into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday he was seen as a Messiah in the old sense to make Israel great again.  When the crowd understood that he was not going to do this, they shouted for his crucifixion. As for the authorities, those of the Temple connived at his death and the Roman Governor handled the situation badly.  Instead of recognising the religious truth which Jesus embodied, all he could do was ask cynically, ‘what is truth?’

We need this Thursday as we cast our votes prayerfully to consider the teaching of Jesus, and to realise that if we wish to make our country great, we must also strive to make it morally good and with regard to the proper tolerance of a liberal democracy in which all people respect the rights of others as much as they respect their own.

 

 

 

As well as celebrating Christmas with services in the Priory Church we will spend December taking out the Good News.

Carols in our Care Homes

Sunday afternoon (December 8th) at Avenue Road Nursing Home at 3pm, followed by the Holywell Community hosting mulled wine and mince pies at Holy Trinity Vicarage with more carol singing with the Almshouse residents.

Sunday, December 15, there will be carol singing at Cantref Care Home, Brecon Road, at 3pm and Belmont Road Care Home at 4pm.

Ecumenical Walking Nativity

Meeting at the Salvation Army Hall, Victoria Street on Saturday, December 14, at 1.15pm we will  walk to St Mary’s Prior, ad-libbing the story of the Nativity as we go. Christians from across the town will be  dressed as any of the characters in the story, or just warmly. We will be joined by donkeys from Vision of Hope.

Christmas Carol Walks:

Starting at Holy Trinity Church on Wednesday December 18, at 6.30pm to sing carols through the town outside pubs and restaurants. The walk will end in the Hen & Chicks.

Christmas Gifts

Having sent 100 shoe boxes  full of gifts off to Pakistan and Easter Europe, we are now collecting for teenagers in Monmouthshire who have recently come out of care.

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Brother Seb with some of the 100 shoe boxes

It has been announced today our Vicar, Canon Mark Soady, will  be leaving us for a parish in Lancashire in March next year.

Fr Mark will become Rector of Tarleton and Rufford (subject to the usual health & legal checks) in the Bishop of Burnley’s Episcopal area in the Diocese of Blackburn. The living is under the patronage of St Peter’s College, Oxford.

In a separate development Fr Mark, Outgoing Prior of the Holywell Community, has been appointed Secretary to the Committee of Anglican Religious Communities in England.

Fr Mark said:

On the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th) I will have served as your Vicar for eight years – the longest I have been living and working anywhere as an adult. There is never a good time to move and I shall be sad to leave Abergavenny, but it will be good for me to have new challenges , and for you to be challenged by my successor in different ways. In this way we will grow and deepen our faith.

 

Commenting on the news NSM Curate Fr Jeff said:

We shall miss Fr Mark’s example of dedication and hard work, to say nothing of his preaching. His sermons are always brief, but often contain a challenge to the listener. Although clearly a busy man, he always finds time to give comfort, support and guidance to those who require it.

A deeply spiritual Priest, his greatest achievement here has been his founding of the Holywell Community. The setting up of the Community required vision, and an ability to plan, organise and to obtain financial support.

During December & January St Mary’s Priory will be one stop on a trail around Abergavenny arranged by MENCAP – The voice of learning disability.. The project which looks at social networks is funded by National Lottery Heritage and supported by the Welsh Government. Each point will have a audio unit on which visitors can hear oral hsitory interviews, conversations between friends and partners.
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MENCAP says “ We want the public to be exposed to the lives of people with learning disabilities. To reflect on their pwn friendships and how they compare to people with learning disability”.

St Mary’s Priory Church will host one of over 20 remembrance services which will take place across the UK, as part of a global movement to remember the unacceptable number of lives lost and broken on our roads. Those bereaved by road crashes will be joined by politicians and representatives from the emergency services. The services are also an opportunity to thank first responders, the police and medical professionals who deal daily with the traumatic aftermath of road death and injury.

The service here at 3pm on November 17th, is jointly organised with Gwent Police. Canon Mark Soady is both Vicar of St Mary’s Priory and Lead Chaplain (East) for Gwent Police.

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Road deaths and injuries are sudden, violent, traumatic events, often with a lifelong and life changing impact. Each year, millions of newly injured and bereaved people from every corner of the world are added to the countless millions already suffering as the result of a road crash. The burden of grief and suffering experienced is all the greater because many of the victims are young, because crashes can be prevented and because the response to road death and injury and to victims and families is often inadequate, unsympathetic, and inappropriate to the loss of life or quality of life.

The scale of the problem is such that:

  • 24 million people are killed every year globally
  • Between 20 and 50 million more suffer non-fatal injuries on the world’s roads every year
  • In Britain, 1782 were reported killed in crashes in 2018.

 

Speaking at the main morning service on Remembrance Sunday at the priory Church Fr Tom Bates Sub Prior reminded us that “Remembrance: re-membering the events that happened and counting the terrible cost that was paid is what it is truly about, because if we have learnt nothing from the past then it has all been in vain. “

He said:

An 89-year-old Holocaust survivor has been assigned police guards for protection after receiving hundreds of threats.’ reported the BBC. ‘Liliana Segre, who was sent to the notorious Auschwitz death camp was subjected to a barrage of abuse and anti-Semitic hatred.’

It would be easy for us to presuppose that this piece of news was from a bygone age. Perhaps the period following the second world war. But it wasn’t. This was a news story run by the BBC, not forty or fifty years ago following on the coat tails of the Holocaust, but on their news app this week.

And what prompted this tirade of abuse? Mrs Segre called for the Italian parliament, where she is a life senator, to establish a committee to combat hatred: An extraordinary commission in Italy to combat all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, incitement to hatred and violence on ethnic and religious grounds. In short, a commission to stand up for what is fair, ethical and good and to seek to make a 21st Century European country a better and safer place for all people to live. It was this aim that made her the target of 200 hate messages per day. Not in the past, but now, in the world in which we live.

The racism that led to the Holocaust has roots stretching far back in time. It is about ethnic cleansing, greed, and fear. It’s very easy for us to look at some of the atrocities which have been committed in conflict and in times of war and say ‘how could something like THAT ever happen?’ or ‘how did people allow that to happen?’ One of the lessons that the Holocaust teaches us is never to get used to an injustice. It was the Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller who wrote:

‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.’

It is a warning and wake up call to all of us never to walk on by when we see injustice in life.

I’ve recently finished an excellent book by Holocaust survivor Heidi Fried in which she writes ‘An injustice is like a grain of sand in your hand; on its own , its weight may seem insignificant, but injustices have a tendency to multiply, they soon become so heavy that you can no longer bear them.’

It’s easy to see Remembrance as being about nostalgia. To look at all the uniforms we see on the Festival of Remembrance and feel sentimental. To think of Spitfires and taking pride in our national identity. To think of a time when boundaries and enemies were more obvious: an age before cyber terrorism and modern hate crimes. But to view the purpose of this weekend as purely nostalgia is to have completely missed the point.

Remembrance: re-membering the events that happened and counting the terrible cost that was paid is what it is truly about, because if we have learnt nothing from the past then it has all been in vain. Through remembrance we are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and paid the price for the freedom we enjoy and the fair and ethical society we want to live in, in which nobody, regardless of their background or ability is discriminated against or diminished.

Writing specifically about the Holocaust Fried writes ‘I finally realised that I had survived so that someone could tell what happened…if no one tells the story of the Holocaust it will be forgotten, and what is forgotten may easily be repeated.’

Archbishop Desmond Tutu fought for justice for black people in apartheid South Africa, and after Apartheid he chaired the Peace and Reconciliation Commission to build a future for his country. There is a Zulu term ‘Ubuntu’ which is a sort of word for humanity. It means ‘I am made who I am, by you being who you are’. If you are homeless, if you are hungry, if you are degraded and suffering then I am diminished as a person, because who you are is a part of who I am. Suffering and hatred in our society makes us less than the people we are created to be because no man is an island: we are all bound up with one another. This is certainly something that Jesus saw and modelled in his ministry as he brought healing, wholeness and peace to those around him.

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You and I are diminished by the story of Liliana Segre in the news. That such a thing can happen in our society is very frightening indeed and a cause for great shame. We are made less than the people we were created to be by the hatred and intolerance in our society. When we display racism, hatred and prejudice we diminish not only others, but ourselves and those around us, and the society we belong to which has given birth to that hatred.

Remembering is about showing we have learnt where hatred and intolerance got us in the past, and the lives it cost us, so that we never ever have to pay that cost again. Remembering is important for all who have a vital role to play in shaping the future and deciding what the society of tomorrow will be like. Even if we feel powerless there are simple things we can do like using our democratic right to vote in the election next month. We can ensure that apathy and frustration with the current political situation doesn’t allow hatred in by the back door, and have our say in what the society of tomorrow will look like. Will it be a society that learns from its mistakes, or one that keeps making them again and again? Will it be a place to live where people speak out about injustice and stand up for those who are made less than God intends them to be? Will it be a Society that remembers with honour, or forgets at its peril?