The Link

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the magazine of the West Buckingham benefice was published online only for much of 2020.  It reverted to print form from September to January but from February 2021 it has returned to online only.  The cumulative Thoughts for the Month and News from Water Stratford have been shown here for convenience.  Some reports have overlapped with the useful links and recent events pages but it seemed appropriate to publish as much community material as possible during these troubled times.  Thought for the Month was written by a number of people across the benefice while we were without a Rector.  Our new Rector, Revd Paula Smith, was licensed on 13th October 2020 and, as well as writing Thought for the Month from December, she has also recorded several messages, the links to which can be found HERE.

May 2021
News from Water Stratford
It was another strange Easter, with services mostly online. (The online provision has, however, been very good, both locally from Revd Paula and from the Oxford diocese.) For the National Day of Reflection in the week before Palm Sunday, our church was opened and palm crosses were available there for people to collect if they wished. Small Easter eggs bearing the inscription 'He is Risen' and booklets telling the Easter story were given to the children. For Holy Week, the cross made by Chris from our Christmas tree (a reminder that the Babe of Bethlehem became the Man of Calvary) was mounted on the church gate, and to celebrate Easter Day Sarah added flowers. In the foreground around the notice-board, the native daffodils planted by Teresa added to the sense of renewal. 'A host of golden daffodils' planted by volunteers throughout the village (a great initiative of the Parish Meeting) have been a cheerful sight at a time when spirits probably needed lifting. Alleluia!
Thank you, Howard, for repairing and repainting the church gate and lantern. It is now possible to latch
the gate and the lantern should no longer rattle in the wind. The project called for some ingenuity – we
are glad you found it interesting!
The PCC has decided (with the usual provisos about infection rates etc.) to reopen the church from
Sunday 16th May. This will be the day of the traditional Rogation Service and Walk, which will be an
outdoor service unless the weather prevents this. Congregations are now allowed to sing outside! Please wear suitable footwear. As always, dogs are very welcome. The next service, Pimms and Hymns on Sunday 20th June at 11.30, will also be outside, in the churchyard, weather permitting. Then there will be a Lammas (celebrating the first loaf of the new harvest) service on Sunday 18th July. Sarah has created a flower and cleaning rota for the remainder of the year: for May, Philippa will arrange flowers and Jean and Sarah will clean. Thanks to those who have opened and closed, cleaned and decorated for occasional permitted services during the past year. It will be wonderful to have our church in regular use again and to be together in the real world after so much time in the virtual one.
We are sorry to bid farewell to David, Julie and Alexander after many years in the village, during which
time they extended their picturesque cottage into an attractive family home. We have benefited from their company and talents, most recently as part of the team producing face-masks even before they were mandatory. One year they made a giant Christingle for our Carol Service; the red 'ribbon' around the 'world' was made – of course – of electricians' tape! We wish them very well for the future. We warmly welcome several new residents to the village and look forward to meeting them as life returns to some sort of normality.
Samantha must have spent many, many hours compiling 'The Link' over the past years, a task she has
undertaken with great efficiency and good humour. On behalf of everyone who enjoys reading it, a huge thank you.

April 2021
Thought for the Month
Hello everyone, I do hope you are all well. I am enjoying the longer daylight hours of this month; I find it so much easier to fit in getting out for a walk and getting a few jobs done in the garden!

And yes, I have got lambs that I was waiting for, the fields around me have filled with lambs and their mums these past few weeks.  It has been so amazing to watch how in the first few days the lambs hardly settled, gambolling about, running here and there, but now they are following their mums, heads down nibbling at the grass; although they still do get to up to a few antics and I have to drag myself away from watching this tranquil scene.   I did not realise this sight would bring me quite so much joy and pleasure.

Life is certainly changing around us and everything is opening up, the flowers, the length of days, life the in the fields, and with April coming from aperire, the Latin verb ‘to open’ this seems so fitting with us all longing to open up our lives again.  What joy it is to be making some plans to meet up with others, I do hope you have been able to make such plans and organise catch ups with family and friends outdoors.    I have plans that I hope will have happened by the time this message goes out, but as with the dawning of the seasons, things do not always go as we had hoped or planned, a familiar theme of this year, no wonder they say patience is a virtue!

Locally our churches have begun to open our doors more regularly and over this month of April we hope to start having ‘in church’ services again, please look locally for updates re this.  And all the churches within the benefice are preparing for Easter as I write, all preparing to participate in various ways to celebrate this great day when we remember Jesus rising from the tomb bringing eternal life for all.  And of course, with all this talk of Easter we know that the season of Lent is over – we can refresh ourselves with the things we may have denied ourselves, the chocolate, the sausages, the glass of wine.  Or maybe this year you took on doing positive things to improve yourself or to help out with others and are now considering which ones to take forward.

Whatever your circumstances we are coming to a time of great hope as a country, as a local community, after a really hard year; particularly hard for some with loss of loved ones, loss of work and pressure of life in lockdown, you have all done such a great job in supporting and helping each other, that will need to continue.  But there is now also much anticipation and excitement, and maybe a little trepidation too, as we begin to meet up again, as shops begin to open, as we get a haircut! Please go forward with caution and with thanks for all those who are trying to keep things safe for us but let us all find joy and pleasure in the simple things of being together and of seeing life coming to its fullness around us.

I look forward to meeting up with you soon, as always please ring if you would like a chat,
Many blessings to you all, Revd Paula.

News from Water Stratford
LYN RANDALL 17/10/38 – 17/01/21
Water Stratford lost a popular resident recently when Lyn Randall died, having lived in the village since 2006. Lyn worked at the National Westminster Bank from the age of 16 until taking early retirement from his final position as Bank Manager when in his 50’s. He was married to Miriam in 1961 in Chipping Sodbury and had two daughters, Ruth and Emma. The family lived in Essex until Lyn and
Miriam moved to Buckinghamshire in 2001. In earlier years, Lyn was a keen hockey player who represented the Witham district in Essex, and ever sporting, he later threw himself into learning to ski after his retirement and became very accomplished. Lyn was an active member of the local community wherever he lived, and was very much involved at Buckingham Golf Club where he sat on committees, organised matches and competitions and was Seniors Captain in 2005. He made many friends there and the golf club has observed that he was an “iconic figure” at the Club, “well liked .... and noted for his sartorial elegance.” Lyn was a devoted grandfather to Georgia, Isabella, Joshua, Christina and Harry, always making time for fun and games and holidays. Lyn’s funeral took place at St Giles on 1st March 2021 and he is buried in the churchyard. He will be sadly missed as husband, father, grandfather and friend.
Ruth Good (Lyn's daughter)
Lyn served on the Parish Meeting as secretary for 8 years, until about 5 years ago. In this position he was excellent, such a hard working member of the parish. Personally, Lyn and his wife of nearly 60 years were demons at quiz evenings, many an evening in a pub with their village friends, Lyn's knowledge was far-reaching and often a winning formula! Outings by minibus to super restaurants were also high on the agenda for them and villagers – lovely memories. He shall be greatly missed. We send sympathy to Miriam and her family.
A friend
It's a long time since some of us received a Valentine's card! So it was a delightful surprise when a beautifully hand-made one dropped through our letterboxes, with an offer to bake and deliver sweet treats during half-term as a way of sharing love around the village. Thanks to Anna, Eleanor, Joe, Teddy, Isla, Ottilie and Henry, and to the adult supervisors, for delicious treats delivered in artistically-designed packets, and for the Valentine's cards too. I'm told the young people enjoyed making everything, so the project was a win-win. Many thanks to Nicky for masterminding it.
March 2021
Thought for the Month
Hello everyone, March is here and Spring is definitely around us as we see daffodils blooming and dancing in the breeze, what a pleasing sight it is to see Spring arriving.  I have yet to see any lambs, but I am sure I will during this month, one of the many great joys of living rurally.  And we are raising our heads too, from the winter lockdown, slowly as this month and the next progresses, I know many of us are really looking forward to meeting up with friends and loved ones, and children are looking forward to getting back to school too.  And many people have been saying to me that they are hoping to take forward some of the positive things that they have started during this past very difficult year, such as new hobbies, new routines (including the daily walks) and friendships that have been made, maybe you find yourself thinking that too.

I know in the church many people have enjoyed the online worship, and we will need to look at how to continue this contact when our services go back in church.  I know a lot of grandparents have got involved in reading bedtime stories over zoom to their grandchildren, or helping with schoolwork, it seems there have been many positive things that we will want to try to take forward.  Positivity is something that is really good for us all at the moment and we are finding it in all sort of places, such as being really pleased to share our age and get our invite to have a jab in the arm!  Who would have thought that?

In the church we are in the time of Lent, and more people this year are taking up positive things to do as they reflect on the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus was in the wilderness.  Traditionally during this time people give up things, but many people think we have been a bit of a wilderness for the past year, and we know life has been incredibly difficult for many.  So, more people this year are using this time to think how they can find positive things to do, to live their own life more abundantly and to help others around them too, now, and as we go forward.  I think this is a good idea too.  Let us look for the positive things that make our lives, and those around us, more abundant, things which bring fulfilment as we reflect on God being with us.

Please continue in your great work of taking care of each other and enjoy creation waking up around us in leaps and bounds, the lambs will definitely be doing that! I really look forward to us all meeting up over the summer, possibly, hopefully! Please call me for a chat if you ever want to,

Many blessings to you all, Revd Paula

News from Water Stratford
On behalf of the whole community of Water Stratford, I would like to say a huge thank you to Graham, for all the work he has put in to looking after our parish footpaths and bridleways, over the past few years.  Graham has decided to stand down from this task, his efforts to keep all our lovely pathways clear have on the whole been very successful, his help and assistance will be greatly missed. He and Gerald, who also worked and walked many of the paths, will be hard to replace. They gave a great deal of their time, placing/replacing signs, directional arrows, dealing with R O W people. It was and is appreciated.  A sincere thank you, gentlemen.

February 2021
Thought for the Month
Hello everyone,
Here we are in the depths of winter, but when it seems not much is going on in our lives, February is in fact a month of activity.  This past week I have seen snowdrops out in bloom, banks of hardy primroses bringing in much colour and daffodils standing tall waiting for warmer weather before they think about blooming, signs of spring and new life are coming around us.  In amongst the trials we have had this winter, it is wonderful to see that creation is keeping true to form and as we begin to hope and look forward to getting out a bit more, its beauty is waiting for us.

February 2nd is Candlemas in the church calendar, and I will have taken down my Christmas tree on the eve of this celebration, enjoying the pleasure and comfort of what it symbolizes in my home as long as possible this year.  Candlemas is when we celebrate the baby Jesus being presented in the temple in the church calendar; the light come into the world and is the time we traditionally bless our candles in our churches.  Indeed, in the past candles for the homes within the parish would be blessed too.  Signs of new life bringing hope and light into the world, very apt for us during this winter and pandemic.

And of course February is the month of love, when we traditionally tell those who we secretly admire that we love them on St Valentines Day, February 14th. This may not be a day that gets much attention in your household but this past year we have been asked, and have taken up in a big way, to show love for all those people around us.  Showing our love anonymously by conforming to the restrictions put upon us to protect those who are vulnerable and our services that take care of them, the NHS of course, but all the services that are still at work and by loving ourselves by keeping in good health.  And I know from speaking to people that many new friendships have been made during this past year, and February is the time to reflect on these relationships.

Of course, this year also sees the start of Lent in February, beginning 17th February this year, the time when Christians reflect on the 40 days Jesus wandered in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil. Throughout the Benefice we will be organizing some groups or activities to help us on this journey this year; details will be coming out!  So rather than a month of nothing happening, there is quite a lot happening around us in nature and in our calendars.  As John Addington Symonds writes in his poem In February
‘The birds have been singing to-day,
And saying: “The spring is near!
The sun is as warm as in May,
And the deep blue heavens are clear.”
Not every day is so perfect in February, but there will be some like this, as we have already seen in the past month of January. Please continue to take care of each other, look out for signs of new life around you, recognise and nurture friendships old and new, and think of how you may join in with the journey through Lent this year. As always please ring me if you would like to chat.
Many blessings to you all, Revd Paula

News from Water Stratford
In the late 19th and the first half of the 20th Century, the Sikes family was an integral part of Water
Stratford's history. Family members may well be remembered by some who continue to live in Water
Stratford.  Clementina Gwendoline Sikes (Tina), the last member of the family to have been born at Water Stratford House, died at her home in Dorset in December 2020 after a long struggle with cancer.  Named after her grandmother, who owned Water Stratford House, Tina was born in 1938 and grew up in the village, attending the village school before transferring to Tingewick Primary School.  Every Sunday, she attended the church services, sitting in the front pew whilst her Granny played the organ.  Tina's love of Water Stratford was evident throughout her life.  She regularly related colourful stories of her own young life and those of her grandmother and her great uncles and aunts who lived at Water Stratford House.  In the 1930s and 40s the trains still trundled their way over the bridge in the village; traffic was limited to very few cars a day, and this offered plenty of opportunities to play safely.  The river was used as the local swimming pool during lengthy warm summer days and outings were limited to shopping trips to Buckingham in the pony and trap.  Tina was one of the last to remember a bygone age of rural life.
Mary (Tina's friend)
Richard and I were fortunate to be friendly with Tina and Mary for the last few years, for us hearing
wonderful stories about the history of our home and village has been very special, we shall miss Tina and her good humour greatly.
Tina was the great granddaughter of John Sikes of Water Stratford House and granddaughter of 'Granny' Sikes who was our churchwarden and organist for many years.  Tina created and gave us the harvest banner that hangs above the organ in memory of her grandmother and of her own baptism and childhood here.  She also helped me to compile local history for this website.  I especially enjoyed her telling how she would shoot air rifle pellets at the Old School bell to make it 'ping'.  We offer our sympathy to Mary and Tina's other friends.
It is very sad to record the death of Revd Chris Carter.  We were fortunate that he and Lorraine chose to move to Tingewick in retirement (perhaps a misnomer), and that Chris followed his calling to the
priesthood, so that we in Water Stratford were able to benefit from his ministry and friendship.  Some of us were privileged to work closely with him during the vacancy that led to Revd Liz's appointment, and valued his thoughtful, unobtrusive and good-humoured leadership.  The process of selection and training for ordination is a challenging one – rightly so, Chris believed.  He soon became a well-loved Non-Stipendiary Minister and a wonderful support to Liz, giving generously of his time and talents in leading reverent yet relaxed services, and providing empathetic pastoral care to people of all ages.  From its beginning, Chris was an enthusiastic member of the benefice choir, which has much enhanced the quality of our worship.  We remember him with affection and respect, and send sympathy to Lorraine and her family, and to the Tingewick community, in their great loss. 'Forever with the Lord.'
Sara E
Our Carol Service, led by Revd Paula, took place on the 18th December, and was as usual, a lovely
Christmas gathering.  This year, owing to COVID restrictions, it had to be a little different and was a
service of two halves.  The first half inside the church for pre-booked places, with readings, prayers and
carols’ music but no singing, and the second half, outside in the churchyard where we could be a larger
number joined by other parishioners, with readings, prayers and carol singing!  The church looked lovely with beautiful Christmas flower arrangements from Susan, Philippa and Sarah and a pretty tree from Chris H decorated in full sparkle mode by Nicky with children helpers.  Special thanks, too, to Guy for organising and putting the service together and for providing charming lanterns for the churchyard, and to Sara D for playing the organ.
A 'socially-distanced Water Stratford choir' planned to sing carols at various locations in the village, to
bring us Christmas cheer and raise money for 'Crisis'.  They had great ideas to stay 2m apart and sing
safely; it was disappointing for them and for all of us that the event had to be cancelled because of the
worsening pandemic.  However, people still made donations to the charity, raising at least £220, so all
was not lost.  Thanks to Fiona and the other potential singers, and to generous villagers.  We hope to hear our choir next year!
The service schedule has been suspended as a result of the Covid situation; announcements about future services will be on the church noticeboard.  Please contact the Rector, Churchwarden or any PCC member if you have a prayer request or know of a pastoral need.
Sara E
December 2020/January 2021
                                                          Thought For the Month
Hello everyone, I am so happy to be settling in with you all as we enter this season of festivities, when we look forward to the light coming down into the darkness – whether the light represents Immanuel, God with us in Jesus, or the light of other festivals of faith celebrated at this time of year, as the days grow shorter we recognise the joy and comfort that light brings.  The promise of hope we see in light is for all; we see it in the shining lights of Christmas trees, fairy lights, lit candles, roaring fires and smiling friendly faces.

There is no doubt this year has had much darkness in it, and this is not over yet, but we have also had much to be thankful for; the great kindness and bravery shown by many health and care workers, the kindness of friends, neighbours and even strangers who have helped us out when we have been in need, and this will continue.  This a reflection of the light, this is the manifestation of the light in the darkness and it is true no amount of darkness can put this light out.  This light has been with us throughout this year and will not leave us now.  As we make our plans for Christmas this year, or look ahead to the shorter days and the longer evenings of the months ahead, we will be finding we need to make some changes, and to be honest few of us like changes.  But we can all work at ways to make sure we all feel part of the community we live in and that if family and friends are far, neighbours are

The local church has a big part to play in this, and we will be trying to find ways to be in contact, to keep some of the services and gatherings we would usually have going.  I know other faith groups will be doing the same; as well as the parish councils and charitable groups, who are all working at finding ways to reach out to those alone and to bring to the community together in creative ways.

That is what one of the great joys of being in a rural community, we are a group of people brought together by the place we live in.  In the quiet of our homes, or in the opportunities we get to join with others over these next few months, let us rejoice in the good things that are around us.  Be it a robin hopping about in the garden, or the sunlight streaming in, a card in the post, or meeting up with neighbours or family when the chance arises.  Whatever our belief in Jesus, we all know that one person can indeed make a tremendous difference in other people’s life.  Let us all be the light in each other lives as we remember those we know who may need a smiling face, offers of support and comfort, and let us all continue to find things to rejoice and be glad in.  Many blessings to you all.
Revd Paula

News from Water Stratford


Fortunately the 2,300 daffodil bulbs didn't arrive in September, the ground was rock hard, by the time they did arrive it was the wettest October on record! Water Stratford Parish Meeting felt it was time to restock our byways with daffodils, so with the help of the Tingewick and Water Stratford Horticultural Society (Teresa, Barbara and Amanda) the bulbs were ordered including many wild English daffodils.  There is something wonderful about Water Stratford, in the midst of terrible times, so many volunteers came forward, within three weeks the 2,300 bulbs were planted.  Sincere thanks to all, it took some effort to organise and fulfil, in such awful weather, happily now completed successfully. Come the sweet spring of 2021, we shall see daffodils dancing in the breeze to help us to enjoy the beauty of our village and parish.



A Harvest service was held in St Giles on the 18th October to welcome our new rector, Paula Smith.  It was her first service with us and only the second since the church reopened and it was well attended.  The church was decorated with beautiful flowers and fresh produce and the service was very uplifting.



The second Covid lockdown prevented us from holding a Remembrance service but the minute bell was rung and the central Act of Remembrance was read inside a locked church, and many villagers observed the two-minute silence on their doorsteps. Mike


In two further sessions, a massive amount of clearance has been done.  Huge thanks to Guy and all the energetic volunteers who have worked so hard to bring about this transformation, to the benefit of everyone who visits for refreshment and those who tend graves.


In a spirit of hope, services have been planned for December and January, but may or may not be able to happen depending on the Covid situation.  For our parish these are:

       Sunday 6th December  10am        Holy Communion                  Revd Ron

       Friday 18th December  6pm        Christmas Celebration           Revd Paula

       Sunday 10th January    10.30am   Benefice Holy Communion   Revd Paula


At the end of this unexpectedly challenging year, we may be especially grateful to live surrounded by good neighbours and by lovely countryside.  Very many thanks to everyone who has offered help, from shopping to mask-making, a WhatsApp group, emails and phone calls – so many things to keep us cheerful.  The Parish  Meeting committee, PCC and others have been quietly beavering away to keep things going as far as possible – thank you. 

Whatever kind of, probably unusual, Christmas you are planning (or not planning), I hope there will be happiness in it, and that next year will be easier for us all.  Perhaps we should, like the Bishop of Oxford, this year look towards Easter rather than Christmas – and, in Water Stratford, spring flowers in abundance along the verges!


October/November 2020
Introduction from Revd Paula

Hello everyone,

I have been settling into the lovely vicarage in Westbury and give a big thanks to all who have been so kind and welcoming to me.  I am really looking forward to worshipping with you, getting to know you all and sharing in the community life of the villages; please do stop and say hello to me if you see me out and about.

Before ordained ministry I worked as a psychiatric nurse, foster carer, teacher and most recently as Outreach Worker in a rural children centre.  I have four children, who have all flown the nest, we meet up regularly, well as much as we have been able to with the safety rules we have all had to abide by this year; oh and my first grandchild is due in December!

Throughout the joys and challenges of life and work, Jesus has always been my companion and guide to God, a great source of comfort and offering some answers to many questions.  This year has proven to be one of the most challenging for all of us and things do not seem to be easing up yet.  But we have each other and thankfully great rural community spirit and care seems evident through the Benefice, that is a blessing for sure.

To help me get to know each church, parish and community I am going to be in each parish one morning a week until the end of November, starting in the church between 9 a.m. and 10.30 a.m. Come along and join me for a chat, I will be saying Morning Prayer between 9.30 and 10.  This will be a small start to meet you, but hopefully a fruitful one.

Monday – Turweston, Tuesday – Shalstone, Wednesday – Water Stratford, Thursday – Tingewick, Saturday – Westbury. Meeting up in Biddlesden to be arranged.  NB Friday will be my rest day.

Peace and blessings to you, Paula.

Thought For the Month
What can religion offer in response to COVID-19?  It can be argued that during such global crises it can “offer a beacon of hope” amid “the ravages of this pandemic.”

Religion featured prominently in the early reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, often in a negative light. In South Korea, it became clear by late March that gatherings at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu accounted for 5,080 confirmed cases of COVID-19, more than half the country’s total.  A gathering of the Muslim missionary group Tablighi Jamaat, which hosts hundreds of preachers at its headquarters in New Delhi, was linked to nearly 30 percent of known cases in India.  Other Tablighi gatherings were tied to outbreaks in Malaysia and Pakistan.  Clusters of infection elsewhere in the world have also been linked to specific religious communities.

Yet at the same time, public health authorities and religious leaders were actively working together on effective responses to the pandemic.  As the need to enforce physical distancing became central to public health, adapting or limiting religious gatherings emerged as an obvious need.

And now we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to religious worship in our Benefice.  We are welcoming Revd Paula Smith as our new incumbent and have a chance to reignite our fellowship as we also become more accustomed to what we should (and shouldn’t) do to ensure safe services.

It will have been very easy to slip out of the habit of going to church due to the lockdowns.  However, life (and faith) need to continue so I hope you will all look at the opportunity of the new services now being scheduled (see the back page for details!) and take the opportunity to move forward in faith together with Paula to guide us so we will hope you will join us in safe worship.  This prayer can show us the way:

Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

News from Water Stratford
These legally required meetings took place on 12th October in the churchyard. Normally the deadline for them is the end of April, but it was extended this year because of lockdown. The meetings opened with a prayer for Revd Paula's forthcoming ministry.

Guy has decided to step down as churchwarden, a responsibility he has taken very seriously. He has served conscientiously, always mindful of his fellow parishioners and their needs, of the church's work and of the building itself. He will be much missed in this role and was sincerely thanked. Mike was re-elected as churchwarden.

Reports for 2019 were officially adopted. They were completed by April, published on this site and are summarised here. Thirteen services took place in 2019: two of Holy Communion at which attendance was relatively low (a continuing trend), ten quite well-attended 'themed' services and one funeral. In the summer Revd Liz Simpson left after a much-valued incumbency here and the quest for a new Rector began; thanks go to all the clergy and lay leaders who have contributed to this process and who have taken services during the vacancy.

Many people give generously of their time and talents in support of the church. The PCC are very grateful to Sarah and her team of cleaners and flower arrangers; to Chris H and his team of 'Link' deliverers; to Sara D for playing at many services and also to Pam R and Holly for coming to play for us from time to time; to Deborah for so successfully organizing bookings at The Old School; to the Parish Meeting for their increased contribution towards the latter building; to Sara E for co-ordinating our page in the local news magazines and to everyone who contributes material; to Mike E for organizing churchyard grass-cutting and developing the website; to Mike and Sara for devising several church services; to our visitors, many of whom leave heartening messages in the Visitors' Book (numbers can't be reported this year as the church was locked at the time of writing); and to everyone who has made much-needed financial donations, notably in response to the hornbeam appeal, or worked hard on, and contributed to, fund-raising events – there were four of these, a Bridge evening at Hunstmill Farm, a pub evening, a Centenary celebration and a re-instated Duck Race.

Major expenditure was incurred in the removal of an unsafe hornbeam in the churchyard. Minor repairs were gutter/downpipe maintenance, clearing the tower, repairing the noticeboard and the outside light – thanks to Chris H for donating a new light and undertaking the two last jobs. The Old School hedge was removed, with a final decision on its replacement to be made once the development opposite is complete. Our contribution to the Church of England was paid in full. Next year's revenue is likely to be down, the church and Old School both having been shut; overheads on both remain, so probably only essential expenditure will be sensible for the time being.

PCC members elected were Guy (treasurer), Nicky, Chris H and Di who will become sacristan and take on some of the warden's tasks. Mike was re-elected Deanery Synod representative. The meetings closed with The Grace.

To bring reflections up to date... this has been an extraordinary year in the life of our church, not just because of the pandemic, but also saying farewell to a long-serving Rector and the appointment of a new one: Revd Paula Smith was licensed in October. It has been sad to have the church locked, especially as it has always been policy here to keep it open and available, and it has been hard to have no services there and no face-to-face meetings, though there has been much activity online. Revd Paula 's arrival will mark a new chapter, and the continuing pandemic provides an impetus to rethink how things are done. The future looks challenging, but exciting.

The Remembrance Service will be at 10.50am on Sunday 8th November, led by Revd Paula. Sarah and Jean will clean and Sarah arrange flowers.

September/October 2020
Thought for the Month
'Then how heavily and abundantly was our small church loaded' wrote Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie about Harvest Festivals in his rural Gloucestershire village in the early years of the last century; it was their favourite church service of the year.  We too may think nostalgically of churches laden with vegetables, fruit and flowers, villagers raising the roof singing 'Come, ye thankful people, come,' and a sumptuous Harvest Supper to follow – all of which, sadly, are unlikely this year.

But there is still a harvest, and many harvests.  We are privileged to live where we can see combines droning late into the night, livestock in the fields and plentiful fruit in the hedgerows, so it's easy to feel thankful for seasonal bounty and the skill and hard work of farmers who supply our food.  It's a time of year that can transfix us with beauty, sometimes in unexpected places: one evening in late October I arrived at Tesco's car park (other supermarkets are available) just as a brilliant sunset was lighting up the red-leaved bushes, so that the whole place seemed on fire – an awe-inspiring sight.

This year we might also reflect on the harvest of work in hospitals to restore health; and even when this is tragically not possible, and medical staff may feel a sense of failure, the fruit of their care is of immense value.  As young people return after so long to school and university, we may be more than usually thankful to teachers, who (we hope) will produce a harvest of increased knowledge and understanding.  A rich harvest results from the love and labour involved in 'growing people' in homes (meals and clean clothes don't appear by themselves).  Then there is the harvest from factories and other workplaces, providing us with everything from houses to haircuts.

Even this evil pandemic has yielded some good: community spirit has flourished, with, in some places (though probably not here) neighbours meeting for the first time; here we are surrounded by good neighbours who keep our spirits up and our fridges stocked.  I wonder whether there may also be spiritual fruit of deepened compassion: for the seriously ill and those we now know may suffer long-term effects from the virus; for the bereaved; for exhausted medical and care staff; for those whose jobs and businesses are lost or precarious; for so many who are lonely, anxious or depressed.  Seeing on your screen a young person not able to return to school with her friends because of a health condition, or hearing a blind person worry about the impossibility of social distancing when you can't see, opened my mind to problems I hadn't thought about before.  It can also make you doubly aware of your own blessings.

All in the End is Harvest is a wonderful anthology of writings which have been helpful to bereaved people, compiled in association with Cruse Bereavement Care, and recommended to me by Revd John Hudson, who is remembered here with affection.  It doesn't shy away from the pain of loss, 'the heartbreak in the heart of things' as W.W. Gibson puts it in his poem Lament; but there is hope too, as suggested by the book's title, which comes from Edith Sitwell's poem Eurydice:
                              'Love is not changed by Death,
     And nothing is lost and all in the end is harvest.'

The harvest season can nurture a spirit of gratitude – as can a pandemic (I have never been so grateful for a pack of loo-rolls!).  The seventeenth century priest and poet George Herbert wrote a poem called Gratitude, the opening and closing lines of which make a good short prayer, and I like short prayers.  It is sometimes used in America at services for Thanksgiving.
     'Thou that hast given so much to me,
     Give one thing more, a grateful heart...
     Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
     As if Thy mercies had spare days,
     But such a heart, whose pulse may be
                                              Thy praise.'
Water Stratford News
Church Services
At last we are getting somewhere!  On 13th September a benefice service of Holy Communion was held at St Giles, our first service (apart from funerals) since Christmas! (January/February was cancelled because of illness, March onwards because of Covid.)  We are very grateful to Revd Will Adams for coming to be celebrant and for his very good sermon about forgiveness.  It was generally agreed to be a moving service with a lovely atmosphere, and wonderful to be back in church after all this time and to have the opportunity for leisurely (socially distanced) conversation afterwards in the churchyard.  With singing not allowed, the music played beautifully by Sara D at the start and end and during Communion was much appreciated.  Arrangements for Covid compliance worked well thanks to careful planning: a one-way system in place, masks worn, seating distanced, cleaning completed by Catriona seventy-two hours ahead of the service and flowers arranged off-site by Fiona H and brought in that morning.  Communion had to be given in wafers only (not wine) and was collected at the altar by each communicant, then taken by everyone at the same time in their places – a meaningful innovation for us, but a regular practice in some Christian churches.  Thanks to Guy, Di and Sarah for a feat of organisation, and to everyone who carried out the arrangements so efficiently.

On 13th October our new Rector, Revd Paula Smith, will be Licensed, Inducted and Installed at a service at Shalstone (this being the feast of St Edward the Confessor, to whom Shalstone church is dedicated).  Normally this would be an occasion to which everyone would be invited, with a big congregation to welcome Revd Paula and a celebratory get-together to follow; but because of pandemic restrictions there will only be one or two representatives from each of the six parishes.  However, many more people will be thinking of Revd Paula on that day and wishing her well in her ministry among us, beginning as it does in such odd and unprecedented circumstances.  We hope it may be possible to record the service so that it may be more widely shared.  In the unfortunate event that restrictions are imposed to make a service in church impossible, the Licensing will take place via Zoom.

Our Harvest service will be on 18th October (St Luke's Day) at 11.15am, and Remembrance on 8th November at 10.50am.  We are delighted that Revd Paula will lead both these services and we greatly look forward to welcoming her to Water Stratford – she wasn't able to see inside the church on her pre-interview visit as, due to the pandemic, it had to be closed for three days before each funeral.

In addition, there will be a special benefice service of Holy Communion for All Saints Day on 1st November at 10.30am at Tingewick, which will be an opportunity for us all to celebrate the arrival of our new Rector and to welcome her.  Obviously all these plans are subject to change if further restrictions are imposed, so please check the noticeboard.  Plans for Christmas services to follow!
August/September 2020
Thought for the Month
The spiritual power of music
Patricia and I have been enjoying listening to Sunday Worship on BBC Radio 4 at 8.15.  On the first Sunday in July, The Rev Lucy Winkett (Rector, St James’s Piccadilly) and the composer Bob Chilcott, explored the spiritual power of music to speak to us in troubled times.  Thanks to them, this is my theme for this Thought for the Month, relating it to our own benefice and especially to our Benefice Choir.  It also provokes some wider thoughts about the effect of the lockdown on our inner selves and on our sense of spiritual well-being.

In my personal experience, music has an astonishing ability to lift our spirits, whatever the circumstances, and one of the great joys of singing in the Benefice Choir is that one is singing in harmony (most of the time!) with singers from across our benefice.  Whether we enhance the quality of the worship of those in the congregation is for others to judge, but from a personal perspective I say without hesitation that there are few more spiritual experiences than singing beautiful music, with inspiring words, in a glorious church, with others whom one has come to know as friends over the years, in a joint effort to make as pleasing a sound as possible.  We are very blessed to have a conductor (Ed) and an organist (Mike) who are both outstanding and enable us to sing not only our old favourites but also to tackle new musical challenges that bring further rewards.

Some pieces of music have the ability to transport us, individually and instantly, into a different world, or to trigger memories and feelings, be they joyful or sad.  Generally, the hymns and anthems that we sing that are in major keys are inspiring and make us feel positive, strong and confident, while those that are written in minor keys are more reflective and melancholic.

The lockdown has brought out a deeper form of human solidarity then we knew before.  This has been the experience of Patricia and me in Shalstone, where neighbours have been wonderfully kind to us who are at the vulnerable end of the age spectrum.  Village WhatsApp and Facebook pages have been buzzing with supportive messages for everyone.  And the sense of collective heart-ache that the village felt for Jo and little Georgina when Simon so tragically died, was huge.

Despite all the tragedy caused by Covid 19, I believe that we are now more aware than ever of what a beautiful world we inhabit. We smile at strangers more.  We re-connect more with old friends on the phone or online. We enjoy watching birds more and hearing their birdsong.  We appreciate more the glory of nature. We feel our emotions more keenly.  We feel more grateful for the blessings we have, and greater compassion for those who are ill or bereaved.

It is my impression that lockdown and the necessary closure of our churches has led to no significant reduction in private prayer or spiritual reflection, and online services have been attracting lots of listeners.  However, when our churches re-open, they will once again provide us with an additional source of strength.  The church experience and its fellowship will help us, not only in facing adversity but also in living life to the full, reaching out to others, and playing our part, no matter how small it may be, in making our communities a better place.

And the spiritual power of music will continue to play its part too.
Anthony S

Water Stratford News
Bill was born on the 3rd March, 1926 in Caversfield, Bicester.  His mother was a cook and his father a chauffeur to Colonel and Lady Wyndham.  He had an older sister Olive, who sadly died at the age of 34.  He grew up on the Caversfield estate and moved briefly to Yorkshire with the Wyndham family at the start of World War II, before moving back to Caversfield.  He left school at 14 years old and did an apprenticeship as a mechanic.  He then started his own business in a stable servicing MOD vehicles and cars. He went on to own two garages in Bicester and various other successful companies.  He enjoyed all outdoor sports and was a British Go-Kart Champion in his younger days.  He played golf and was the President of Buckingham Golf Club for several years.  He enjoyed shooting, fishing and latterly horse racing and went on to have 47 National Hunt winners.  He moved with his family from Bicester to Water Stratford in 1970 and over the last few years could regularly be found pottering in his vegetable garden where he grew enough tomatoes, potatoes, green beans and other vegetables to feed the whole village.  On the 18th July at the age of 94, he sadly passed away and will be very much missed by his wife Yvonne, children Rosemary and Stephen and grandchildren George, Tom, Hannah and Sebastian.
STEPHEN PRICE 31/5/1949 – 2/8/2020
Water Stratford lost a popular former resident recently when Stephen Price died after an eight year battle with prostate cancer.  Stephen and Sue Price bought a plot of land in Water Stratford in 1990 and subsequently built the lovely house known as ‘The Willows’.  Having completed the build in about a year they moved to the village with their children, Simon, Sarah and Sophie, in May 1992.  The Prices quickly became active in village life, supporting the church, becoming involved with fundraising and generally helping to organise and take part in social activities.  The success of the Summer Ball, held in 2007 in aid of St Giles, was partly due to sponsorship and prizes procured by Stephen. 

In the early years Stephen was working as a Sales and Marketing Director of Dairy Crest.  He was involved with the food manufacturing industry throughout his career and later worked for Whitworths, Glenlivet Mineral Water, and latterly, Newby Teas.  The Prices were very generous with their hospitality; close friends in the village will remember attending the weddings of all three of their children.  Perhaps the climax came when a group of us were treated to full hospitality at The Henley Festival.  Although Stephen and Sue moved to Silverstone in 2014, they came back to Water Stratford often for various social events, and Sue has remained on the church flower rota throughout.  Stephen loved skiing, and the Price family, with a few friends, would typically spend a week in the French Alps most years.  He loved music, a subject on which he was knowledgeable, and enjoyed many sports, chief among them racing and football.  As a Leeds United supporter it was very fitting that, after sixteen years, Leeds gained their place back in the Premier League a few days before he died.  A testament to Stephen’s work ethic is the fact that he was still active with Newby Teas in the weeks before he died, successfully completing a sales contract with the Co-op.  Stephen’s funeral took place on 13th August at St Giles; he is buried in the churchyard next to his father, Ernie Price.  He will be sadly missed.
Chris H
The second week of August was a sad one for the village: very unusually, two funerals and burials took place at St Giles within three days, the closest interval possible under pandemic restrictions, which also meant they had to be private occasions.  On 10th August it was moving to see villagers line the street to pay their respects to a long-standing, respected and well-liked resident, Bill Booth, as his funeral procession made its way to church.  The following Thursday saw the funeral of Stephen Price, a former resident remembered for his friendly good humour, and still part of Water Stratford's extended family. In the current absence of a Rector, retired clergy conducted the services.  Revd Maurice Stanton-Saringer, who ministered here some years ago and remembered Bill's son from his time at Stowe, took the first, and Canon Max Wigley, like Stephen a Yorkshireman, and who as a child sang in the choir of the church where Stephen was later married, the second.  We are left with good memories, and with two fine extra houses in the village.  We offer our sympathy to Yvonne, to Sue and to their families.
Thanks to Guy and his working party for achieving a major clearance in the churchyard – it had begun to resemble a scene from 'The Sleeping Beauty' with everything overgrown.  Special thanks to Howard, who returned to carry out further work in preparation for our two burials. The churchyard now looks pleasantly tidy again.  Thanks also to Sarah and Lisa and to Di, who tackled the task of cleaning the interior of the church after many months of lack of use, carefully following Covid 19 regulations as they did so.  Spectacular cobwebs were removed and the building made welcoming for the funeral services.  Thanks to Mike for keeping abreast of constantly changing and lengthy rules from the government and Church of England, at the same time as dealing with the interminable processes of appointing a new Rector.  And thanks to everyone who continues to look out for their neighbours as lockdown eases but the virus remains.
These are now allowed again, but with considerable restrictions.  Church authorities are advising a slow and cautious approach to restarting service schedules.  The PCC hopes to have services in church again soon: please watch the noticeboard for announcements.
It's not often that Water Stratford appears on national television, but the BBC's Homes under the Hammer on 17th June visited the former water booster station at the end of our village of “lots of charming little homes off the main the fresh country air of North Bucks.”  Until the mid 20th Century this was used by the Water Board to house pumps that boosted the water supply to and away from houses in this and surrounding villages, then too far away from a main supply centre.  It was fascinating to see all the heavy cast iron pumps and pipes inside, and the many dials, buttons and switches, some of which the buyers plan to use as features in their new home.  With courage and optimism they bought the property without planning permission and oversaw the removal of the industrial equipment before extending the building outward and upward to create a family home. “You can't beat the location,” announced the programme – we would agree.  We wish the new owners happiness here.

July/August 2020
Thought for the Month
If you ask somebody what Hope means, they will wriggle a bit and then say something like ‘ well it’s what you are looking forward to isn’t for the future?’  How does that fit with ‘ I hope so’?  All English Bibles are translations from Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic versions.  The scholars translating to produce an English version would naturally be people of their time and speak as others did.  Irrespective of all that, we should use the word with greater care. ‘Hope springs eternal’ so they say – while there is life there is hope and other phrases come to mind.  Always we should be looking at the future, at the outcome and working towards that.  Life can be a walk with Jesus and the bible tells us of many people who decided to do exactly that.  You need not ask for a destination.  Just as all roads lead to Rome, so all walks with Jesus will bring us by his heavenly grace to our Heavenly Father.

Ask any prospective bride what hymns and readings she would like for her wedding and after first declaring that she does not know any, gradually some will become apparent.  The New Testament reading will almost certainly be St Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians Chapter 13, (Love is patient, Love is kind etc.).  Why this one you may ask, to which you will reply ‘It seems that this is the only reading about love’.  Turn the clock back 60 years and the bible that was read was the so-called ‘King James’ version published in 1611.  No mention of love here – it uses the word Charity, not to be thought of as Oxfam, Scope or Willen Hospice, but a broader love – a love which Jesus commended in the Summary of the Law’, by saying ‘Love God and Love your neighbour as yourself’. In other words, treat others in the way you would like to be treated.  The Greek language has a number of words for love – love of parent, love of neighbour, love of brother, love of self, all are covered by the one word Caritas meaning Christian love of humankind, charity.

Faith, Hope and Charity have often been used as girl’s names in the 19th Century. This year (2020) we know only one person with the name Charity and none at all with the names Faith and Hope, but yet I say unto you: ‘Faith, Hope and Charity. These three things and the greatest of these is Charity.
Anthony HB
May/June 2020
Thought for the Month
When God cast plagues upon the Egyptians so that the Children of Israel might escape, he did so with a purpose. He may have wished to test and reward.  In the gospels Jesus cures the centurion’s maidservant because of that man’s great faith.

In Middle Age England the Black Death killed thousands, in ports and market towns, in cities, and even in remote country districts.  Whole villages were left deserted and in places there was nobody left to bury their dead or to toll the bell.

In the 17th Century, the Plague was well recorded and regulations swiftly drawn up to minimise the impact of the disease.  Houses had to be shut up with their families within, mass burials were organised and the whole country was in a sorry state.

This pandemic was only stopped by the occurrence of the Great Fire of London.  Was this the work of God or the Work of Man?

During the last century the Spanish flu killed more people that the Great War itself, and now here we are again with a pandemic on our hands (please wash them!).  We are told that we must stay apart and make our best efforts to get together again by social distancing and other measures.  Once again there is no cure, once again we were not ready for it and once again thousands have died.

We are told that we must have faith and help each other in every way possible.  The effect has been to draw communities together, to meet the next door neighbour (only 6ft away) to give of our talents and to be alert as if there was a war going on.  There is a war going on and we don’t know when it is going to end or who it will take with it.   It may help us to be strong in faith if we follow this quote from Revelation ‘be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life’.

Meanwhile we have had some beautiful days recently.  The lambs skip in the fields and the wild flowers are a joy to see.  We don’t need to make any great decisions, we only need to carry on in faith.
Anthony HB

Water Stratford News
Lift your spirits by taking a look at two lovely video-clips of our local rural scene in late spring, filmed by Chris and edited by Pat, with accompanying poems read by Chris.  They form part of a developing collection of online material for the time of year while we are not able to hold services in church.

The railings, a historic village landmark, have now been smartened up with a new coat of white paint:
thanks to Susan for organising this improvement.

We have received a very special parting gift from Eleanor, who has now moved away from the area.  A
skilled embroiderer, she has designed and made two matching collection bags – she may have noticed that our current ones are somewhat the worse for wear, probably having been nibbled by mice!  The central design echoes a detail in our east window, with corn and grapes suggesting the bread and wine of communion; this is encircled by all the liturgical colours of white, red, green and purple, so that the bags are suitable for use throughout the church year.  Surrounding the circle are four leaves in colours which represent the four seasons, appropriate for our rural parish.  It is an exquisite piece of work.  We are going to miss Eleanor's friendship and her talents (licensed preacher, published writer, mainstay of the choir, educator, poet...) and are grateful to have these beautiful signed and dated bags to remember her by.  We wish her and her family much happiness in their new home: they are settling in during a challenging time – as Eleanor wrote in one of her poems, based on the 23rd Psalm, 'He leads me into uncertainty.'
Another form of collection receptacle was a wooden box inscribed WP 1711 CW – presumably the churchwarden in 1711 had the initials WP (CW being an abbreviation for churchwarden, also seen on
some of our bells).  This had to be sent to the diocese for safekeeping as a historic artefact many years
ago, but Chris's father had a replica made.  We look forward to dedicating all three items when we are
able to resume services.
April/May 2020
Thought for the Month
How are you coping with the strange life we are having to lead during the Covid-19 pandemic? I feel as
if I'm living in a dystopian novel.  To those of my cosseted generation, with no experience of the fear and deprivations of wartime, there are glimpses of what it was like to live through wars, or indeed the plagues and famines of the more distant past.

Our hearts go out to those who are seriously ill; and to the bereaved, many of whom have not been able to be with their loved ones at the end, and won't have the support offered by a 'normal' funeral. We are in awe of those working under incredible stress in the health and social care services.  Others too are working under unusual pressure, researching vaccines and treatments, working in the food supply chain or to keep essential services running.  Many people feel isolated and frightened without their usual support structures; families are under stress as they try to combine work with home-schooling children.  Then there are those who have lost, or fear losing, their jobs or businesses.  People have to cope with disappointment as goals long worked towards must be abandoned or postponed, whether major exams, elective surgery, weddings or sport and cultural events. 

But thank goodness that volunteers are coming forward in huge numbers to do whatever they can, and help is being offered at every level from the next-door-neighbour to the government; communities are coming together, and we are perhaps learning that it can be a blessing to receive, as well as to give: in the words of the hymn 'Brother, sister, let me serve you',
           Pray that I may have the grace to
           Let you be my servant too.
Thank goodness too for modern technology that enables us to communicate from a distance, and for the extra phone calls and emails from family and friends – some of whom we haven't heard from for a long time!  We have the benefit of information and entertainment at the touch of a button, from twenty-four hour news to museums and galleries providing online tours, theatres online plays and churches online services.  We are grateful for online shopping, and for the initiative of those repurposing businesses to meet the new needs.  The Armed Forces are supporting health and emergency services and people are working to keep running the essential services on which we depend. Engineers are adapting machinery to make ventilators and sanitiser, teachers developing ways to educate remotely, parents entertaining children kept indoors and away from friends.  Changes that would normally take years are being accomplished in days.  And thank goodness we are realising the value of those whose work has not been sufficiently valued in the past: not just the heroic staff of the NHS, but also carers, cleaners, shelf-stackers, delivery drivers, refuse-collectors, shop assistants, bus drivers... Not least under pressure are those in government and their advisers, having to digest complex information and make momentous decisions at speed: we should be very grateful to them, too.

Of course we should think of everyone suffering so much at this time.  But we should also focus on the
selflessness, courage, compassion, patience, inventiveness and sheer hard work we are seeing. St Paul
      Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
      whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Philippians Chapter 4 verse 8
Good advice – and smiling is good for the immune system!
Water Stratford News
All churches have to be closed until pandemic restrictions are eased, so our church is now locked. This is an exceptional circumstance – we normally think it important to keep the the church open. However, the churchyard is still available and, at this time of year especially, is conducive to quiet reflection – the
primroses have been a spectacular sign of hope in dark times.

The church remains active online: communication continues by email, and items from the Easter service which would otherwise have taken place at St Giles can be seen (and in some cases heard!) here. In addition, a service is livestreamed by the Oxford diocese every Sunday at 10am; this can be accessed at any time on  'When, without voice, my soul prays in any place, My whole being becomes a church.' - Eric Milner-White.

The Annual Vestry Meeting and the Annual Parochial Church Meeting were scheduled to take place on
27th April 2020, but face-to-face meetings are currently not allowed. Therefore on 19th March the Bishop of Oxford signed a legal extension for these meetings until 31st October 2020, so the existing wardens and PCC will stay in post until at least then. However, in order to keep open democratic processes, on-line interaction can take place as follows:
Anyone wishing to stand for election as churchwarden or to the PCC or be added to the church electoral
roll should email . You must either be a resident of the parish or attend St Giles
Any matters which you wish to raise concerning the church should be emailed to
The annual reports for 2019 that would normally be presented at the APCM will be published on the
village website once they become available.

This was scheduled for May 1st 2020, but has had to be cancelled as a result of pandemic restrictions. It will be re-arranged once it is safe for everyone to congregate in the Old School again.

There has been no shortage of goodwill and neighbourliness here; we've been offered help with shopping and other tasks, a WhatsApp group has been set up, emails have gone to and fro. Lists of useful information and details of goods and services now available have been circulated and can be found here.  On Thursdays at 8pm the now rather quiet village comes alive as people show their appreciation of health and other key workers by clapping, banging saucepans, blowing whistles and shouting, while dogs join in with barking – a heartening sense of us all coming together while apart.

These will, for the time being, not be distributed in paper form, but online at and (and on this page!).
March/April 2020
Thought for the month
In March we learnt that once again, we did not have anyone apply for the post of Rector of our Benefice.  This is deeply disappointing, and yet feels less significant amidst the arrival of Coronavirus. With updates from the Government coming thick and fast, and the numbers of confirmed cases increasing all the time, it is a worrying time for those who are vulnerable or who have loved ones who may be vulnerable.  And now we have learnt that all services must be cancelled until further notice. Times like this can feel dark and scary.  Darkness is often used symbolically to represent the triumph of evil over good. Think about Churchill’s speech following the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II, where he referred to the situation as our “darkest hour”.

And now we are in the period of Lent, with Good Friday approaching.  The crucifixion would definitely be described as the darkest hour.  How on earth could anything good come out of this? It almost certainly would have seemed that evil had won the battle over good.  And yet, here we find light and hope. In John’s gospel, the story of the crucifixion and resurrection is told, but there is another story that is mostly overlooked.  It is the story of a woman, a courageous woman, a strong woman, a faithful woman who never gave up hope.  It is the story of Mary Magdalene (who was not incidentally a prostitute).  She stayed with Jesus during his darkest hour at the foot of his cross when all the other disciples apart from John had run away in fear.  She wasn’t intimidated by the crowds and the soldiers as they mocked Jesus.  She didn’t allow her fear for her own life to separate her from the man she loved, and who she knew was the Son of God.  Even after his death Mary Magdalene remained faithful. She went to the tomb even though it must have felt futile to do so.  She stayed loyal and hopeful, and did what we do when we care for someone.  And she was rewarded by seeing the risen Christ.

During this time of anxiety about Coronavirus, let us be like Mary Magdalene.  Let us not desert our friends and neighbours.  Let us think about those who are in isolation and think what it is we can do for them, both practically and emotionally.  The following was sent out from the Diocese and I think it sets out perfectly how we should behave at this time:
Calm: the opposite will lead us to do things which might impact seriously on others – like panic buying.
Caring: those who self-isolate, (those in high-risk groups, or who have been in contact with the virus) need to know that we care about them.  Phone calls, messages, letters, cards, food left on the doorstep are all signs that we care.
Considerate: let’s look-out for one another, and act collectively to prevent the spread.  It isn’t just about me, it’s about us
And of course, Christ-like: let’s live hopefully, love generously and pray earnestly – and let’s bless each other by the way we behave.

Lastly, at this Easter time let’s remember the hope that comes from John’s Gospel when he says of Jesus that he is 'the light of all humankind, a light which shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it'
Water Stratford News (modified in light of subsequent events)
Many will remember the lovely Christmas tree in our church last year.  Having supplied the tree, Chris has now turned it into a cross, as a reminder that the Babe of Bethlehem became the Man of Calvary. It is hanging on the wall opposite the south door, a striking sight as you enter the church, and if you look carefully you can still see its origins as a fir tree.  This idea is taken from one I saw at the church of St Brevita in Lanlivery, Cornwall, where the churchwarden is the person through whom my husband and I met.  They in turn borrowed the idea from Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, where our marriage banns were called!
At the time of writing (15th March) a benefice service of Holy Communion was planned for Easter Day, 12th April but, like services everywhere, this has had to be cancelled.  There will be live-streamed services available from various churches and details of these will also be on this site in due course.  You may be interested to know that advice from the Church of England on 15th March was to give communion in one kind only (bread only, no common cup) and stand instead of kneeling at the altar rail to avoid touching this, to avoid hand-shaking and hugging, not to pass round plates/bags for the collection, not to offer refreshments and to provide facilities for hand-washing/sanitizing before services.  This last is not easy with no sanitizer available in shops and a church without a water supply! However we would do our best to comply; if you were able to bring your own sanitizer or hand-washing bowl, we could provide hot water, soap and paper towels.  It is not often these days that we are able to hold a service in our own church on this most important festival of the Christian year, and we were very much looking forward to celebrating the occasion.