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.

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The Articles

  1. Thoughts on Funerals - From June 2006

  2. How Many Do You Keep - From October 2006

  3. Christmas Recipe Surprise - From December 2006

  4. Pause For Thought (Full unexpurgated version) - From February 2007

  5. Change - submitted May 2007

 

The Letters

  1. December 2006 Letter

  2. February 2007 Letter

  3. March 2007 Letter no. 1

  4. March 2007 Letter no. 2

Link to Bugbrooke Church section

 

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Thoughts on Funerals - From June 2006

I’ve 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 :-

Grant 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.

Grace and Peace

Stephen (Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe)

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How Many Do You Keep? - From October 2006

No 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!

It’s 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’?

Talk 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!

The 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 were), they are as follows : –

1. Worship no other gods but me.

2. You shall not make any graven image of God.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4. Remember that you keep holy the Sabbath day.

The 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.

I’m 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.

Obviously 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.

Grace and Peace

Stephen French, Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe.

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Christmas Recipe Surprise - From December 06

Before 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 latest.

Ingredients

One 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 debt!

One 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 again!'

Many fluid helpings of ‘spiritual’ compound, of the alcoholic kind. Liberally mixed (according to taste), with lashings of tonic and dry.

A 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 this".

One medium, going on large, disagreement as to when, and how long, the "outlaws", sorry the ‘in-laws’, are going to stay.

Now 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".

I 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.

Christmas 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.

So 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.

Wishing you all the Goodwill of Christmas 365 days a year.

Stephen French – Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe 

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Pause for Thought! - From February 2007 ( unexpurgated)

 ‘All religions are the same How many times' have you heard this said? Perhaps you say it yourself!

 It's 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.

 The 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.

 Jesus 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 me."

 In 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.

 Then 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 done that. 

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 fullness.

 Having 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.

 Grace and Peace

 Stephen French, Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe.

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Change!  (Article submitted May 2007)

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 consequences. 

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

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Letter Published in December 2006

Dear Editor

 I 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 partisan material.

A Concerned Villager

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Letter Published in February 2007

Dear Editor

 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 granted.

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 SOW."

 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.

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Dear Editor, (Letter received March 2007)

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

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Dear Editor (Letter received March 2007

 Nothing 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 money".

 However, 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".

 Jesus 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.

 Jesus, 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 "Contrary".

 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 Kislingbury News).

 The 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 around us. 

 I once 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.

 Stephen French Rector of Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury and Rothersthorpe  

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