Seven Churches in South Oxfordshire

From the Rector: Tuesday 23rd January 2024

Light and darkness

Dear friends

This rather bleak and storm swept week in January holds two rather different commemorations. Thursday (25th) is the feast of the conversion of St Paul, knocked to the ground by a divine revelation on the road to Damascus, whilst about the business of destroying early Christian communities, who at that time were worshipping as either house-churches or small groups within synagogues of the Jewish diaspora. Saul, who today would be labelled as “Ultra-Orthodox”, was defending the purity of his faith, by persecuting the heretical with the blessing and encouragement of the leadership in Jerusalem. God, however, had other plans, and spoke to him directly in a way that not only shattered his pre-conceptions, but also completely changed his life. (You can read more about this in Acts 9, and Galations 1:11-24).

The second commemoration this week is Holocaust memorial day, which is on Saturday 27th, being the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. My own engagement with the reality of the Holocaust began almost forty years ago as a post-graduate chemist on a chill February day in 1985. A small team of us had gone from Oxford to Munich, to assist in a fellow student’s research, which involved the use of the cold neutron source at the University. We took it in turns to mind the experiment, working in shifts over about five days. On a day off, a short bus ride took me out of Munich to the small town of Dachau, and the site of the first, (and only) concentration camp to be built on German soil. It was a bitterly cold, grey day. The camp was practically deserted. Old watch towers, high electric fences, the iron gate with “Arbeit macht frei” only slightly ajar. The kommandantur had been turned into a very makeshift museum; one room was filled with a pile of suitcases, another with shoes. A walk across the open site where the barrack huts had once stood to the low brick built crematoria next to the execution wall brought home the purpose of the place, which was to destroy life, and establish social conformity by force.

Although Dachau was not built as an “extermination” camp. It was opened by the Nazis as a “labour camp”, where the deranged, the deviant, and the socially defective could be contained by the state in times of severe economic difficulty. Jews, yes, but also communists, prostitutes, criminals and sociopaths, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, clergy, trade unionists, and intellectual opponents of the regime.  When I visited in the 1980’s Germany was still struggling to come to terms with this aspect of its past, as many of the perpetrators were at that time still alive. To their credit, they nevertheless did not raze the site, but there was tacit acknowledgement that this appalling episode in history should never be forgotten. The revelation of the truth in this instance has not come in a flash of light, rather by engagement with the pain, and the suffering, and the uncovering the stories of the victims, over several generations.The Holocaust (being the programmatic extermination of the Jewish people) proper began in 1941, in the forests of the southern USSR, not far from Chernobyl, in the Ukraine.

More of my own Holocaust journey on Sunday. Do come. In 1941, Dachau had been open for eight years. (This is not a typo) All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to turn away, and not look, and not speak up. It is what most of Germany did in the 1930’s, and whose actions most of Europe ignored, until it was too late.

Worship Services for Sunday 28th January

9.30am Holy Communion at St John’s Stoke Row with Revd Romey Poston

11am Holy Communion at St Peter and Paul, Checkendon with Canon Kevin Davies.

Midweek zoom service: Wednesday Evensong at 5.00pm  410 935 129

An early Lent

Your clergy staff team members are busy planning Lent groups which will be offered across the Team at various points in the week during Lent. They’ll be publicised both here and online, and are open to everyone. You should feel free to attend the one that is most convenient for you. Checkendon/Stoke Row Lent course will be on a Tuesday at 1.30pm, details to follow. Lent begins on Wed 14th February, and our Team Ash Wednesday Communion is this year to be held at St Peter and St Paul, Checkendon, at 7.30pm when the eucharist will be celebrated by the Revd Romey Poston.

Checkendon PCC members are reminded of our forthcoming meeting, to be held at the Old Rectory (Suzanne’s) on Tuesday 30th Jan at 8pm.

May the peace of Christ be with us all in these difficult days.

Your Rector, Canon Kevin



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