The Link Magazine, goes into every home in Bugbrooke, and has always been non-denominational and non-political.
The articles written by Rev.d Stephen French, have proved controversial with some members of the community, and have precipitated some feedback. The web site allows us to publish all articles and correspondence in full. Any comments should be made via the Website Feedback Page, and will be published where appropriate.
been thinking about funerals! Partly due to the fact since arriving here
in Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe (NB Alphabetically) I’ve had a rather lean patch in the amount compared
to my previous parish (70 to 80 per year), and partly because I’ve been forcibly reminded of
the fragility of life as I ponder the age of my parents.
Among my reflections I’ve compared the way in
which I conduct a funeral with the way my colleagues conduct their
funerals, however, alongside this a more fundamental point has surfaced
again, as it does with all Clergy from time to time. The funeral service
is drawn up on the assumption that the one being remembered is a
Christian. This often puts the Minister taking the service in an awkward
spot. If there is no evidence that the deceased has ever had a Christian
faith can the Minister, with integrity, give that person a Christian
service? Usually the line taken is that at this, of all times, it is right
to make the ‘charitable assumption’ - but is that really good enough?
I would never presume to judge someone whom I
have not met and do not know, nor can I know what has happened between
that person and God in the moments before death. But am I being fair to
those who are left if I give the impression that their loved one is safely
in the care of God when this may not be the case, is it better to leave
the matter open? Certainly I will ask God, in his love and mercy, to
receive that person into his presence and eternal care, but after that I
must leave the matter to him.
From what I have been saying you will have
gathered that I do not believe that everyone will go to heaven. To me that
is the very clear message of the Bible. Jesus himself talked about
separation in his parable of the ‘Wheat and Tares’, and the ‘Sheep
and the Goats’ and elsewhere. The concept of judgement is a recurring
biblical theme. Some will be judged as righteous and receive the gift of
eternal life, and some will not. So what makes the difference?
The answer that I’m given if I ask that
question is usually along the lines of living a good life, or helping
others, or being a good person… but that isn’t the Bible’s answer.
The Bible says that the only people whom God can accept into his heaven
are those who come up to his standards… those who have no sin! It then
goes on to say that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of
God”. It’s not a question of being good or not so good, but one of
being perfect, and none of us are.
So does that mean that there’s no hope for any
of us? NO, of course not! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for
us”, and that makes the difference. “The wages of sin is death, but
the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. The
wonderful good news is that Jesus the sinless Son of God, has taken our
sin upon himself. He has paid the penalty for that sin by dying on the
cross, and makes it possible for us to make a new start. When we do that
we are “accounted as righteous” and given God’s gift of eternal
life. Eternal life begins here and now as we live life with Christ each
day, and continues through the gateway of death into heaven itself.
In the funeral service we use this prayer :-
us, Lord, the wisdom and the grace to use aright the time that is left to
us here on earth. Lead us to repent of our sins, the evil we have done and
the good we have not done; and strengthen us to follow the steps of your
Son, in the way that leads to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
That prayer reminds us that there is something
that we need to do. Jesus by his death has made it possible for us to have
the gift of eternal life - we need to accept the gift for ourselves.
Stephen (Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe)
doubt you’ve heard about Moses in the Old Testament, parting the Red Sea
by lifting his staff enabling the people of God to escape to safety from
the pursuing Egyptian army. However, this is as nothing compared to what
the sight of a dog-collar does when it makes an appearance in a crowed
pub. Miraculously the crowded bar starts to move in symmetry and a clear
unobstructed path appears leading straight to the bar!
against this, rather OTT opening paragraph, I recently found myself in the
midst of a large crowd talking with a number of people. Suddenly, and out
of context with the prevailing conversation, one of those I was talking
with suddenly sat bolt upright in their chair, waved their half empty
glass in a semi-circular motion and stated firstly, they were not
religious, then with bold conviction pronounced, they kept the ‘Ten
Commandments’ and that was good enough! Immediately the other members of
the group turned and looked at me in eager anticipation of my response.
Taking a small sip of my drink (to
give me thinking space),
I simply posed the question ‘What are the first three commandments’?
about lighting the proverbial blue touch paper. There ensued a debate (of
which I was simply an observer),
which finally concluded, one of them was about not coveting your
neighbours ass, with another one not committing murder but the jury was
out on the third!
answer the group was looking for can be found in Exodus Chapter 20 (and
if I’d had my wits about me I should have asked what the first four
they are as follows : –
Worship no other gods but me.
You shall not make any graven image of God.
remaining six commandments only make sense if the first four are observed.
In fact, the remaining six cease to be commandments and become promises if
the first four are honoured. If you, as Jesus said ‘Love the Lord your
God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with
all your strength’, you shall want to honour your Mother and Father, you
will not want to commit murder, commit adultery, steal, bare false witness
or covert that which belongs to your neighbour. Without the first four,
the remaining six only really become possible by laws, legislation,
restrictions and fear.
not saying observance of the first four will make life a bed of roses, for
all of us are less than God intended. However it leaves us with an
interesting dilemma. If we do not recognise the reality of God revealed to
us in Christ then we have to redefine the statement that forms the basis
of these few words and say ‘I keep the last six commandments and I think
that is good enough’ or, we start finding out what it means to keep the
first four and therefore make the final six fulfil their transition from
being commandments to promises.
a few well chosen words cannot answer all the questions that have been
posed and perhaps you want a chance to ask those questions. During the
month of September at Bugbrooke Sunday School Rooms on Church Lane we
shall be having an ‘Alfa Course’ taster evening. The evening will
start with a meal followed by a chance to hear about the Christian faith.
Finally over another drink and in a non-threatening atmosphere of
friendship and mutual searching there will be a chance to ask questions.
If you enjoy the evening, there will then be an opportunity to come again
for a few more weeks as we search and learn together about what it means
to follow God. For more detail please contact me on 01604 831621.
Stephen French, Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe.
gathering the ingredients, set the heat to come on about the end of
November or the beginning of December (September/October
if in the retail trade), to
reach its peak by the 25th December, and cool off by 6th January at the
large helping of
Christmas adverts imploring you to spend more than you can afford, at the
same time as offering the chance to borrow enough to get yourself out of
large pinch of
Radio and T.V. Times so that well ordered viewing times can be arranged.
This can also be flavoured with a hint of 'Oh No! not the Wizard of Oz
fluid helpings of
‘spiritual’ compound, of the alcoholic kind. Liberally mixed (according
with lashings of tonic and dry.
few sprigs of "what
can we get for Aunt Flo, that looks like a million but only costs a few
pounds" and a "Oh Mom, I want this and that and also if possible
medium, going on large, disagreement
as to when, and how long, the "outlaws", sorry the
‘in-laws’, are going to stay.
mix the whole thing together and place in any home to simmer for just over
one week. At the end of the prescribed time, take out of the "any
sized home" and dust down with comments like "never again",
"these scales must be wrong" and finally serve with "put
that tie Aunt Flo bought me back in the box, Uncle Fred can have it for
his birthday, he's colour blind anyway".
hope that this recipe has struck one or two humorous cords, but on a more
serious level, have you ever wondered why the Christmas Spirit, Peace to
all people and best wishes for the New Year, starts to fade at about five
minutes past midnight on New Years day. Then by twelfth night all the
goodwill is taken down, with the decorations and the tree, and packed away
for another year.
serves as a focus for us to recognise how much God loves us. He sent His
only Son to live and be among us. That is the starting point of goodwill,
for it is God's goodwill to us. When we pack the goodwill away, we also
leave Christ, swathed in swaddling cloths, in the manger. In the crib,
Christ is no threat and can do no harm. But like every other child, Christ
grew and matured, out of, and away from, the crib. The
Christmas goodwill gets packed away because we don't allow the Christ
Child to grow up, come out of the
crib, and take His place upon the cross.
do enjoy Christmas with all its trappings, the highs and the lows, the
tradition and the indigestion, but allow the true spirit and goodwill of
Christmas to continue beyond 6th January. Let Christ grow, leave the crib
and take up His place on the cross – and in your life.
you all the Goodwill of Christmas 365 days a year.
Stephen French – Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe
religions are the
same’ How many times'
have you heard this said? Perhaps you say it yourself!
true that on the surface there are many similarities, especially when you
look at the moral teaching of the various world religions. Dig below the
surface though, and you find that there are quite radical differences.
They first appear as small cracks but then become unbridgeable canyons.
largest of these is the answer to the question "Who is Jesus?"
I'm not going to even try to work through what the other religions say
about him. Instead I'm going to let his own words speak for themselves,
and leave you to make up your own mind.
says (Gospel according to St John Chapter 14 verse 6), "I am the
way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father, except through
saying that he is "the way", Jesus is not saying I am a way, or
one of a number of ways. He is saying quite exclusively "I am the
way". He does not merely direct and point, he takes us by the hand
and leads us. He strengthens us and guides us personally each day. He does
not tell us about the way. He is the way.
Jesus says, "I am the truth". Many people through the ages have
told the truth as they see it, and taught about the truth, but no one has
ever embodied the truth. Jesus not only taught us how we should respond to
God and each other - he also showed us how we should respond. If there had
been even one flaw in his life that did not live up to what he taught,
then he would have been denounced at once. Jesus, in saying that he was
the truth, showed the truth and lived the truth. No other person has ever
Finally, Jesus says "I am
the life". The search for life, and for its true meaning , has been
the one thing that has united men and women together, regardless of class,
culture or race, since the time of Adam and Eve. Jesus here is making the
claim that he stands or falls by. "I am the life". A novelist
makes one of his characters, who has fallen in love, say "I never
knew what life was about until I saw it in your eyes". Love had
brought life. That is what Jesus does. Life with him, is life in all its
put these three "I am" sayings together, Jesus then adds,
"no-one comes to the Father except through me". He alone is the
way to God. Only in him do we see what God is like. He alone can lead us
"into God's presence without fear and without shame.
Stephen French, Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe.
Change can be sudden and dramatic or hidden and subtle. Sometimes you have to stop short because something is so obviously different. Can that skinhead standing before you actually be the same long haired son that left the house not two hours earlier? Where are the trees that were at the bottom of my garden this morning, who’s cut them down?
At other times, although change takes place, it’s only later that
we realise something has happened. Customs and attitudes are like that.
Take funerals for example. Only a decade ago you could be fairly
sure that a funeral procession would be given the right of way by other
traffic. Today the hearse is often stopped and other vehicles regularly
break up the cortege. When I was first ordained in the late eighties
passers by would stop and wait while if a funeral procession came out of
the church and would not continue on their way until the coffin was in the
hearse. Today people just
keep walking by, even if the bearers have to wait. I'm
not sure when these changes started but I do know they have happened.
The same is true of the way in which property is treated. The
same decade ago it was almost unheard of in a rural village that the
church was kept locked. Another change of attitude?
Change often seems to happen almost by stealth and where it is in
conflict with the law there's usually pressure to change it - to catch up
with the new situation. This is what we've been witnessing recently in
many of the Eastern bloc countries... sometimes at such a rate that the
new governments have become confused.
Alongside such important events some of the happenings in our own
country seem quite trivial but big oak trees do grow from small acorns. For
example, many people today ride bicycles at night without lights. It's
still against the law but when did you last read of someone being
prosecuted for it? Is this a
law doomed to disappear? And
what about the litter laws? We
seem to think it strange when someone is apprehended for dropping litter
but the law is very clear – it’s an offence. Maybe this is one law
that will make a re-appearance since there always seems to be a campaign
of one sort or another to ‘Keep Britain Tidy’!
So are these outward changes because of a shift in attitude,
because of ignorance of what happened before, or what? Are
some of the things that are happening generally wanted, or are small
pressure groups forcing the pace?
The Sunday Trading laws are a case in point. Everyone recognises
that they need some reform but does everyone want unlimited opening? The
D-I-Y and major supermarkets would have us believe that we do, but I think
the jury is still out! And in
any case, is what we want necessarily the right basis for change? That
is the basis for anarchy or some other breakdown of the fabric of society.
I remember from my history lessons something about an Emperor in
18th Century Russia who, because he wanted to increase productivity,
introduced a ten day week. After
a while he had to do away with it because the people couldn't cope. There was an increase in sickness, the death rate took an
upwards leap and productivity plunged. He
learnt the hard way that God's plan for a rest day every seventh day has a
very practical purpose.
On the other hand history also tells us that some good changes were
achieved only after a hard fight. No
one in-their right mind would want to re-introduce the type of slavery
Wilberforce dedicated his life to abolishing, or take away the .principle
of one person one vote, yet none of these things were achieved easily.
Change then is a complicated thing. It can be for good or for ill. It can happen quietly or it can come after a long fight. It
can be subtle or dramatic. It
can be engineered or allowed to evolve. It
could be said that the possibility of change is what keeps life going. Yet
somewhere there must be an over view, lest things that seem good turn out
to be bad - like many aspects of the silent revolution in agriculture much
of which has been for the good but also much has had disastrous ecological
The best judge of whether something will be improved by a change is
usually the person who made it in the first place. That's
true of the world and of those who live in it. The
God who created us is the one who has the masterplan. The
one who knows the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end. He
has even done all that is necessary to make it possible for us to return
to him after we have strayed away.
So the key to creative change is a reference to God and to his
word. Obviously the
scriptures don't give details answers to all life's problems but they do
lay out principles. With those principles, a knowledge of God himself, and
in company with others who share the same viewpoint, we are in a much
better position both to monitor change and to initiate it.
Stephen French Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe
wonder if it is now the editorial policy of the "Link" to
include articles which propagate religious messages
as well as items of news or future or past events? The parish church
has its own newsletter delivered to every household and it seems
inappropriate for the village magazine to accept material which is better
suited to the pulpit. This has caused offence and concern to some who
would not like to see either political or religious propaganda included in
what has hitherto been a balanced and excellent village magazine devoid of
A Concerned Villager
A response to the reader
complaining about the “propaganda” from the local vicar.
This sort of parish magazine
nationwide carries a message from the vicar. Whether the reader likes it
or not this country's fabric, freedom of speech, values, and morals
originate from its Christian values, most of which all of us take for
We keep asking for god to be taken out of everything and then we ask
where is he when something bad happens. Here are a few things to
contemplate when we take god out of the picture. Madeleine Murray O'Hare
from America (she was murdered, her body found recently) complained she
didn't want prayer in schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you
better not read the Bible in school .. the Bible says thou shalt not kill,
thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbour as yourself. And we said OK.
Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they
misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might
damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an
expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK. Now we're
asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know
right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother some of them to kill
strangers, their classmates, and themselves.
Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it
out. I think it has a great deal to do with "WE REAP WHAT WE
I believe god is a
gentleman and if we ask him to back out he will!
So is this another thing
we are to take god out of?????
I hope and pray you print this.
from a concerned villager.
Recent 'Letters to the Editor' concerning religious pronouncements in The Link, have shown opposing versions of intolerance. Firstly, regarding the December letter, the local Church does contribute to village life and organises village events, in a way that the Jesus People do not. Therefore the Rector may claim a right to space in your columns. But his February 'Pause for Thought' may appear to be dismissive of other religions (Who is Jesus, I'm not going to even try to work through what other religions say about him, etc.) It could be useful to do exactly that.
The February 'Letter to the Editor' states that this country's fabric, freedom of speech, values and morals originate from our Christian values. In fact, historically the Church has repressed freedom of speech and discouraged reading, as shown by the persecution and burning of those who wanted to print an English language Bible that all could read. People were persecuted by the Church for proposing that the earth was round, and was not the centre of the universe. Culture was suppressed at various times in various countries, including in Italy by Savonarola, resulting in the Bonfire of the Vanities. Even the tone scale in which virtually all music apart from Gregorian Chant is written, was opposed by the Christian faith as being immoral.
The essential qualities on which tolerable life depends came not from the Christian Church, but from the distillation and general approval of thinkers and philosophers through the ages who have challenged the mind set of the period and encouraged reform. People like Tom Paine in his 'Rights of Man' did more for our freedom of speech, values and morals than can be achieved by reading the Bible. In Victorian times the hypocrisy of the day was exposed by writers like Dickens and Zola.
For non-Christians, the Bible proposes no tolerance, such as we need today in our society, which since before the Norman invasion has been a mosaic rather than a single racial group. In fact, there is so much brutality in the Bible that it would keep our community policeman working overtime.
And, as for Concerned Villager's statement ' ... God is a gentleman', when did She actually claim that? (Pause for Thought)
Our own attitude is like the comedian, Dave Allen, who always ended his act with 'May you God go with you'. We are all entitled to our own God or to none.
From Two Concerned Villagers
really changes. Every generation is the same. Young people today as when I
was a youth (and the Beatles reigned supreme), when asked about the
meaning of life or the price of the pound would reply, "I'm
-bored", "Nothing to do around here", "Got no
when suggestions are made to relieve the boredom and make some
constructive use of the time, every sort of excuse is given that makes the
suggestion unworkable or inappropriate, and so the boredom continues! The
Scots have a word for it, "contrary".
noted how people were contrary towards him and John the Baptist. John
lived his life as a hermit; he fasted and prayed earnestly by himself.
Then when he spoke publicly about the things of God, he was called a mad
man and accused of having a demon inside him.
on the other hand, came and mixed with all sorts of people and was, in
today's terms, a party goer, a fun person and a good mixer. Yet when he
talked about the things of God he was accused of having lax morals and
criticised for the company that he kept.
The people's response to John and to Jesus was
In the last
few edition’s of the Bugbrooke Link my contributions have attracted
comments in equal amounts between those who want the contributions to
continue and see them as an intrinsic part of village life and those who
at best want no further contributions published at worst savagely censored
as was my last contribution (for the full uncensored article see
response from those (or is it one person!) is ‘contrary’. What am I supposed to write about, the price of bacon on the
cheese market! I do not have
a definitive view on any subject but one of my roles and passions in life
is to talk about God and hopefully to make connections with the world
overheard a couple talking as they left a service ‘I enjoyed that, but
the Vicar overdid the religious bit!’ I tapped them on the shoulder and
said ‘I’m not here to sell double glazing!’
I sincerely hope my contributions continue to be published and
uncensored as I will continue to offer a contribution for each edition.
If they continue to divide and upset a small percentage of people
could I suggest, rather than be contrary, they simply ignore my
contribution it does not have to be read.
French Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe