Dear friends,

Rather remarkably, Lent is now almost upon us – beginning next week on Ash Wednesday, 14 February, when there will be Masses with the Imposition of Ashes at 9.30am and 6pm. Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence, when we should try to abstain from eating meat, and restrict our intake of food to no more than one full meal and one other light meal or snack. Thus begins the season of Lent, which rests on the triple foundations of almsgiving, fasting and prayer.

As previously highlighted, our Lent Appeal this year will be for WaterAid, utilising their “Jars of Change” initiative. This Sunday, please collect a loose-change jar, into which (over the coming six weeks) to place the money you save, for example, by going without something for the forty days of Lent. The money collected will be used by WaterAid to reach vulnerable communities around the world, and to provide for them simple, sustainable solutions which keep clean water flowing, whatever the weather.

WaterAid will also be the beneficiary of our monthly external giving in March: for the remainder of February, we will continue to collect also for St Luke’s Hospice.

Did you know that, since the beginning of the year, in just over one month, an astonishing 82 public services have been celebrated in our church? This represents a considerable investment of time on the part of the clergy: as the pew sheet details, beyond Sunday a daily rhythm of prayer and intercession is maintained by a faithful few each week. More astonishingly still, since 1 January only at three of these services (two celebrations of Morning Prayer, and one of Evening Prayer) has the officiating priest been on his own, without a congregation. It is surely a sign of the robust spiritual health of our parish – and a cause of hope – that we are able to continue this daily round of prayer – but, perhaps during Lent, more of us will feel moved to come to church more often? As I have encouraged previously, the expectation must be that we all prioritise Sunday Mass each week (noting also that the Saturday evening 6pm Vigil Mass also fulfils the Sunday obligation); where we cannot be present on Sunday, let us also carefully consider whether we might instead attend a weekday service – all of which are also, of course, live-streamed online. During Lent, the Wednesday 9.30am Mass will include the beautiful Stations of the Cross devotion.

I have also recently been drafting the 2023 Annual Report for the Charities Commission: it is good to look back on an unmistakeable year of blessings, and to give thanks to God for fresh momentum animating so many areas of parish life. Last year, average Sunday attendance increased by 25% on the previous year: our prayerful ambition this year is to maintain this growth, and to increase attendance by 10% (to 61: note that average attendance thus far, after five weeks, is at 57). Likewise in 2023, regular giving doubled: please continually consider whether your contribution in support of our ministry and mission can be enhanced each year – and thank you, wholeheartedly, for your steadfast and generous support.

During Lent, as we contemplate our own personal disciplines and sacrifices, let us take to heart St Paul’s words in this Sunday’s second reading, that, ‘[w]hatever [we] eat, whatever [we] drink, whatever [we] do at all, [let us] do it for the glory of God… [and] try to be helpful to everyone at all times, not anxious for [our] own advantage, but for the advantage of everybody else.’

Following the reintroduction of the chalice at the Communion of the people, we are now looking for additional chalice assistants, who will receive the Bishop’s permission to serve as ministers of Holy Communion. If you might like to volunteer for this ministry, please see me.

And, after Mass this coming Sunday we will dress the church for Lent, swapping the green fabrics of Ordinary Time for Lenten purple and violet. If you are able to spare a few minutes to help us with this task, please come back into church after we have enjoyed our usual refreshments!

With my best wishes and every blessing for a holy Lent,

Fr Richard