July Pastoral Letter

Dear Friends

When I was a student in Geneva in the early 1970’s, I lived in a student college in Celigny, a small village about 20 Kms from the city. Also in the village lived Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Burton spent a lot of time there, and occasionally came to dine with the Principal of our college.

Our pub was the Hotel de Soleil, but Burton favoured the Cafe de la Gare. As was fairly normal, on the day of his death he had spent a convivial evening with the locals and his guest and fellow actor, John Burt. At closing time, they crossed the railway and went home to the Burton house, where he suffered a massive stroke and died.

The next night, le patron of the Cafe had a special offer in place. Here was the very bottle from which the famous man had partaken his last drink. Perhaps the customer would like to sample a glass. Of course, in the circumstances….it would be necessary to charge a little extra- mais oui!

The miraculous thing was the number of subsequent evenings on which the same offer was made to any new face that entered the bar. There were two suspicious circumstances. Firstly, it was inconceivable that Monsieur Richard would leave a glass behind in a bottle of good wine. Secondly, the level of wine in the bottle never dropped. Nor did it seem to go stale with the passing days. Un vrai mystère!

When I think back to that fascinating time, it occurs to me that the bottle of red wine could be referred to as “the gift that kept on giving”.

It’s an interesting phrase. It brings together concepts of giving and receiving for example. There’s no direct biblical quotation that has Jesus saying it is more blessed to give than to receive. But the Apostle Paul is quoted in Acts, as he says farewell to the Ephesians “the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” So it’s a quote by Luke, of a quote by Paul, of a quote by Jesus. But I think we would be happy enough to recognise something that our Lord would be likely to have said. Another Beatitude really.

In the context, Paul was drumming up the Ephesians’ generosity to the weak and poor. Who in the equation would be receivers? And it’s often seemed to me that giving and receiving are both difficult things to do sometimes. In the same way that it is sometimes much harder to be a guest than a host.
In the current Covid 19 crisis – and it IS current no matter what the crowds on Bournemouth beach imagine – there have been many examples of good and bad coming in the form of good and bad behaviour. Vast numbers of people have served their fellow citizens in professional roles or in volunteer positions. And done so uncomplainingly and bravely sometimes. While on Bournemouth beach……..

But speaking to people around the congregation and elsewhere it is obvious that there are huge numbers of quiet acts of care and love that far outweigh the selfish ones.

So the gift that keeps on giving, what of that? In the turmoil of these times we could think of several words on which to alight. So I offer you this thought. In every act of picking up the phone, extending an offer to bring shopping, or go to the chemist. In every time spent listening to someone struggling with the loneliness which has often been the companion of lockdown. In these things there is love – the gift that keeps on giving. And the First Letter of John reveals to us the Christian response to Covid19, and the myriad woes of this world.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Grace and Peace

John