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Rector's Letter, February and March 2021

Dear Friends,


2021 and the Covid-19 pandemic drags on. I had plans to write a positive, optimistic letter, but that doesn't seem honest, somehow. It seems to have been a dark start to this new year, with the snow and ice on the ground only seeking to add to the general gloom. There is light at the end of the tunnel, with the vaccines on the horizon – indeed, some of you may have already had your first vaccine. But the reality is that life is unlikely to return to 'usual' for a while yet. There is a hesitation within me in these times to watch or listen to the news. 


The figures behind the headlines are at times mind-numbing, reflecting the health and financial crisis we face. It is important to remember that these numbers are not mere statistics, they reflect real people, real suffering, and it can all seem overwhelming. It would be easy to switch off the news and stay content in my own burrow. Yet I know that if I am to live my life as a Christian, I must somehow listen, or read, or watch the news. If I don't know what is going on in the world, it is difficult to know what to pray about. This does not mean I watch the news on repeat. That would not be positive for my mental health – it’s not going to be positive for anyone's mental health, to be frank. It means once a day I look at the headlines, read the stories. That's part one.


Part two is the prayer bit, and that is the part which is more difficult. What do we pray in times like this? We can pray for those key-workers, those in the NHS. For those in positions of leadership whom we have tasked with making decisions on our behalf. We can pray for all those who are ill. We can pray for those who we know and love, that they remain protected in all ways. All of this is important. These are prayers of intercession.


There are prayers of hope. Hope that this really is the light at the end of the tunnel. Hope that the lessons we have learnt over the last year about the importance and value of community will not be lost. Hope that the appreciation built for those who often work in low paid, undervalued jobs will not dwindle away with the dwindling of the virus.


But perhaps more important is to acknowledge. Acknowledge that in these days and times, many of us are experiencing various types of loss and sorrow, small and large. Whether it be loss of friends or family, an inability to see others, a confining of life to four walls. The loss of the freedom we are used to. A struggle for mental and emotional stability in the swirling turmoil. How do we pray when we acknowledge that? The Bible has within it prayers for such times, prayers of lament – there is a whole book of Lamentations. A lament is a cry of sorrow or grief, a way of coming honestly before God, instead of frantically praying for things or people. I don't understand the why of the pandemic. But I see its effects on friends, family, community, self, and I sorrow and I grieve. This I bring before God in prayers of lament.


This year, Lent starts on the 17th February. It is usually a time to take stock of our lives, to confess, to redirect ourselves. It’s a time of preparation, of examination. A time of lamentation, leading to a time of hope and resurrection. We have a God who listens to our prayers, and despite what we may think and feel, he brings comfort in the dark times. He speaks light into darkness. I don't know how you are feeling, emotionally, physically, spiritually at this time.  But speak to others about it. Speak to God about it. Place it in his hands, not for a solution, but to share your inmost hearts and desires with him. In this will come – in due time – joy, and hope, and peace in believing.


With every blessing,

Vittoria


Rector's Letter, December 2020 and January 2021

Dear Friends,


So, the drawing room floor is festooned with bits of paper and ribbon, and I have a pile of packages to post. Only the presents for my parents yet to wrap. It can only mean one thing – the middle of November has arrived! I quickly learnt in my first year of ordained ministry that Christmas shopping and wrapping didn't happen if it wasn't done before December. Life speeds up too much. So I set myself the target of finishing the shopping and wrapping by the beginning of Advent. Not the Advent as we know it, but what the Celtic and Orthodox Christians call the Greater Advent – the 40 days leading up to Christmas, which begins on the 15th November. 


If it seems odd to start celebrating Advent in November, that is probably because subconsciously, Advent seems almost an extension of the Christmas season. Slowly the carols seep into our worship as we move inexorably towards the 24th. Our nine lessons and carols, telling the story which leads to Christmas, takes place mid-Advent. The Christmas fairs are held towards the beginning of December, and the nativity plays in the middle. Christmas cards arrive from the start of the month, mysterious packages are smuggled into the house, debates take place as to when is too early for the tree, and so on.  A lot of traditional activities during this time look likely to be cancelled this year. I wonder how you feel about that?


I am fortunate in having been brought up with Advent traditions, rather than Christmas traditions. In my family home, we celebrated the feast of St Nicholas, putting our shoes out on the night of the fifth, and if we had been good, finding a small present tucked into them in the morning. We had St Lucy's day – Santa Lucia, as my 






father calls it – usually while singing the song (if you don't know it, you've missed out!). An early breakfast and the re-telling of the story. We had our Advent candles at home, when we were old enough not to set the house on fire. The Christmas tree went up usually as close to Christmas Eve as was manageable. 


What do you do to mark and celebrate the Advent season? Is it just a rush towards Christmas Day?  Perhaps you already have your own Advent traditions. Why not share them with your faith family, so that we celebrate together? I will miss my usual Lucia Breakfast this year – my usual source of speculaas and cinnamon buns is Lidl or Aldi, and I am still being careful around shops. But my candles will be lit, and Lucia will be celebrated, in the knowledge that my parents in Port William and my friend Eva and my godchildren in Belgium will be lighting candles and celebrating along with me. This year will not be normal. But for that reason, we should treasure it. Amidst the anxiety of Covid, the disappointment of not seeing family and friends, there is space to be.


Perhaps this year – when we cannot have the same trappings and trimmings – is a good year to start celebrating Advent. The start of a new year, a time to reflect, to assess, to think and pray about what is important. What is God planning for you in the coming days, weeks, or months? What are the angels whispering in the night? What promises lay contained within you? Where and when will be your Bethlehem? All too often these thoughts get drowned in the Christmas cacophony. This year, let the enforced quiet reign. Breathe. Explore. Expand. And welcome in the hope, the joy, the peace, and the promise of Christmas refreshed and renewed in faith.


Wishing you every blessing at this season and in the New Year,


Vittoria


Rector's Letter, October - November 2020

Dear All,

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7


I am writing this on a damp September day. One of those early autumn days when the whole world seems to drip, and as you walk along it feels as though a damp flannel is being wrapped around you. I have abandoned the task of digging up the potatoes for the day (far too soggy for that) and retreated inside to write this letter.


This time of year always feels bittersweet. I love autumn – the colours, the crisp mornings, the crunch of leaves and scents. It's a time of promise, of fruitfulness, of things coming to fruition and other things ending. It's time for a new term at school or university – and yet we are approaching the end of the calendar year. A time for thanksgiving. For harvest. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing situation with Covid-19, harvest will not be able to be celebrated in the usual way this year. No 'We plough the fields and scatter' sung lustily, or bring and share harvest lunches. In some ways I am quite glad. I don't object to either the hymn or the idea of lunch. I'm all in favour of both. I hope, however, that if we cannot meet in the same way to give thanks, it perhaps will bring to mind what we are actually thankful for. Instead of losing ourselves in tradition, it gives us time to pause, to examine, to think, to highlight to God what we are thankful for. 


Earlier in the year we were all thankful for the NHS – yet the government in Westminster seems to have forgotten that when it comes to pay rises and playing the blame game. We were thankful for the small local business which stepped up to the mark, provided home delivery, and helped to make sure our most vulnerable did not suffer. Yet many have gone back to their old routine of shopping in the supermarket instead of continuing to support the smaller firms. Thankfulness in times of need has been forgotten in pursuit of money and convenience. Saying thank you is good. Demonstrating that thankfulness in a visible way, through support, through buying things, through promoting whatever it is, is even better.

So what are you thankful for? I have realised over these strange times what odd things I am thankful for – apart from the obvious! I am grateful for the knitting yarn – not only for the dreams of what I could make with it, but also for the rainbow of colours I see. More, I am thankful that I have been able to acquire the gifts and skills necessary to use it. When I knit or crochet this is the harvest of so many peoples time and energy – all those people who have helped me learn the gifts and skills necessary.  How do I demonstrate my thanks for this harvest? Apart from by making items, I share my skills, I teach, I pass things on.

I am thankful for my sense of smell. Scent is incredibly important to me. Freesias, roses and sweet peas are some of my favourite flowers because of the scent. Marcus kindly brought me a bunch of sweet peas at the beginning of September, and I realised it was the scent which was so important to me. This was part of his harvest, his time spent. If I think a little further, I am thankful not just for the sweet peas, but for the thoughtfulness and care that represents.  It makes me thankful for the church communities to which I belong. How do I demonstrate my thanks to you all? By continuing to serve, to appreciate, to love you all. I don't say it often enough, but I am profoundly grateful to you all for your love and support.

I am thankful for the fact that my mint has gone completely out of control in my garden, as it's providing a source of late pollen to the honey bees (although I wasn't at all thankful for the bee that stung me a week or so ago). I look forward to the cold dry days of winter when I will be clearing the old mint stems from that corner of the garden. And I will express my thanks to the bees by making sure there are plants in my gardens to feed them over the coming year.


Wrapped up in all of this for me is thanksgiving for my faith, and for my God. My faith is one of those things which drives my love for nature and the environment. My faith is integral to my crafting, to the product of my hands. My faith is integral to love of my people. And my faith stems from a loving, merciful, gracious God. I give thanks for all those people who have instilled this faith in me. But most of all I give thanks to God.


This is the time of harvest, of thanksgiving. What harvest are you celebrating? How are you giving thanks?


With my thanks and blessing,

Vittoria

Letters Archive

posted 11 May 2020, 14:50 by St. Thomas' Church Aboyne   [ updated 27 Jul 2020, 13:42 ]

Rector's Letter August - September 2020

Dear Friends,

Well, the coronavirus drags on. I've just been reading through my letter in the last Tattler, debating what to write to you since last time. I plucked up the courage to cut my own hair at the beginning of June, and have a hair appointment booked in for the first full week of August, so that Leona can repair the damage! The garden still flourishes madly, and in the last few weeks I've had the joy on entertaining some of you in the summer house (big enough to fit you in, sheltered from the breeze, still outside). Little dribbles of normal life are filtering back in to my routine. And it's good and scary, and wonderful, and feels a little like balancing on a tightrope. There is the 'what if?' fear, and that in counterbalanced by being able to have a cup of tea with someone. The reality is that for those of us in the medically high risk category life will not return to full normal for sometime yet, even as we watch the rest of Scotland move on. We are in a slightly odd half-way house.


I wonder how you are feeling in at the moment? A little fed up with the whole thing? Impatient? Afraid? Wondering what will happen next? Feeling rather disconnected from people and from the rest of the congregation? There is the whole gamut of emotions, and that is perfectly acceptable. We will all have contrasting feelings at different times.


I'm reassured by two things. Firstly the fact that throughout the Bible, people experienced the same emotions, from joy to fear to feeling overwhelmed by events. Secondly the fact that God was with them in all those times and those emotions. I often remember the story of Elijah, who having experienced a great triumph over the 450 prophets of Baal, having witnessed God prove that he was indeed was God, was intimidated by the threats of Jezebel and ran off into the desert, emotionally and mentally exhausted.  Despite the fact that the power of God has been proved, he is still afraid. Fatigue, emotion, fear, all contribute to that. God, in his mercy, doesn't tell Elijah off for being a wimp, or even say – why are you afraid? Why are you hiding? Don't you think I can protect you? Instead he (or rather an angel of his) provides Elijah with sustenance and rest, so that in due time Elijah is able to start his journey with God again in strength and faith. It's worth noting though, that when Elijah has stopped, has been refreshed, and is ready to go onwards again, God does not speak in mighty thunderbolts, but in silence. If you want to read that part of Elijah's story, you'll find it in 1 Kings 19.


The lesson, for me, is clear. This time has not easy, and continues to be uneasy. No matter what your emotions at present, know that God is with you. If you are tired and exhausted, God understands, and will sustain you. If you are ready for the next stage, God is walking with you. If you are eager to surge onwards, be prepared to stop and listen to God in the silence. 


It is difficult when we are all at different stages in our processing of the last few months. We are called to listen to each other, to respect where each other are at, to encourage each other. We are called to be the angel – the messenger – of God, bringing sustenance when needed, making sure the place of rest is safe. And ultimately, we are called to listen to God. Where is he guiding you next? What is he saying to you? Listen to the sound of silence.

With every blessing,

Vittoria


Rector’s Letter, June - July 2020

Dear Friends,

May you live in interesting times is supposedly an ancient Chinese proverb. It isn't, but it's quite a good one, isn't it? We are living in interesting times – and it's really not that comfortable. I don't long for cafes, restaurants and pubs. But I long to go for a walk by the sea, and to be able to go to food shopping for myself. And for a haircut – Leona, I miss you! I've already trimmed the fringe, successfully, but my hair is now longer than it's been for over twenty years. Will I be able to last out until July at the earliest, or will I have a go at giving myself a trim? Decisions, decisions!

Despite being in the shielded group, I seem to have been quite busy. The house shows this. The study is relatively OK. The kitchen needs a tidy. My ironing pile grows exponentially. And you'll be pleased to know that my wilderness zone in the garden is going great guns. Today I made nettle and sorrel pesto. It looks like blended Kermit, but it is delicious.


How are you all coping with lock-down ? For many it will have been a big change from your busy lives to a slower pace of life. Some of you will have filled the space with household projects from spring cleaning to tackling the garden. I wonder how many of you have actually stopped to enjoy the bit of extra space? We live in a very performance based society, where who we are is judged so much on what we do. If you aren't doing, the world seems to say, then you aren't worth much. We have become so used to occupying our time. I often think it's because when people stop to look at themselves and inside themselves, without other distractions, they are disturbed by what they find. If your raison d'etre is to live to work, who are you without that work? If you react instinctively, automatically to 

situations, then being in a place where you have the luxury to examine those instincts and emotions is valuable. Why do you get annoyed when people do this or that? Why are you restless when you can't get to the shops? What is that all about? Self-control? Choice? Discipline? Is there something that has happened which is affecting you? 


For Christians, we are faced with another challenge. How do we be church without meeting in a building, without seeing each other face to face? How do we build a relationship with God? Pause a little. Breathe. What can you hear? This is when most writings on prayer would tell you to embrace the silence. But the world is so rarely silent. You can withdraw to a silent place inside yourself, where world is subdued, but that takes practise. Acknowledge what you can hear or see. A couple of days ago I was sat working when all of a sudden there was a mysterious rattling, rustling sound. Yesterday, the same thing again. A mouse? A rat in the walls? Today I focused. I paused in my busyness and listened and looked. There, in the corner of the window frame outside, trapped by a spider's web, was a small autumn leaf. Fluttering against the window in the breeze. I have considered going outside to remove it. But I have decided to leave it there to remind me to stop. To pause. To listen and look. To try to sense what is going on. To allow God to speak into the space, full of interruptions as it might be. Perhaps the interruptions are themselves the voice of God.


We are entering the season of Pentecost, the time when we are particularly asked to invite the Spirit into our lives, to move and stir us to greater faith, greater action. To risk our lives being interrupted by God. Whether you have enjoyed lock-down or hated it, whether you have achieved great things or small, this Pentecost season I encourage you to stop, to notice, to be interrupted, and allow yourself to be stirred and blown by God, wherever he may take you.

Every blessing,

Vittoria


Rector's letter April - May 2020


Dear All,


Today has been another day of doom and gloom. Both in the news and in the weather. One of my Lent resolutions was to go for a walk each day – at least 30 minutes. To take time out, to pause, to be with God. Part of the drive for this is my own health. But a larger part was an awareness that I am starting to resume my old habits of whizzing from post to post, of busyness. This is a deliberate slowing of my pace, a time to meander and just be. I have explored more of the local area, I have walked with people and on my own. I have spent time thinking. I've been watching the seasons change around me. It has been good. So even in today's glumness, when – to be frank – all I wanted to do was pull my duvet over my head and stay in bed – I put on my walking boots and went for walk by the river.


The news today has been full of the latest details of the coronavirus and how we should or should not be reacting to it. This is combined with the graphs showing the fall in the stock markets, and various orders barring entry to different countries. There are stories about people stock-piling, those being quarantined, and so it goes on. I, like so many others, am in the 'vulnerable group', due to my suppressed immune system. What will happen next? It does not lead to an optimistic mood. How are we meant to respond to it all? In my walk I found myself calming, considering. I choose to distance myself from the knee-jerk reaction and look both inwards and outwards .


As I write this, a missive has come from the College of Bishops stating that the holding of services and church events must stop until further notice. How do we do church when we can't go to church? Do we see this as time off? What should our reaction be as Christians?  How about this one - 'Love your neighbour as yourself'. It really is as simple as that. If we look after the vulnerable and the weak, if we protect them, then we have more chance of getting through this together. We are called to look inward – what does my faith require of me – and outward – and where can I apply that faith. Where can we demonstrate the light of Christ in practical terms. Make sure those who are isolated or elderly are looked after. Offer what services you can to help, even if is only a phone call to a friend or neighbour who is alone. If you are self-isolating, please let me or one of the vestry members know. Likewise, if you need help, please do call. 


We are approaching the light of Easter. What systems will be in place, what precautions will be needed, whether we will be meeting together, I do not know. What I do know is that whether we meet together or not, Easter will still be celebrated. The risen Christ is still in this world. We are his hands and his feet, his voice. 


Every blessing,


Vittoria



Rector's Letter,  August - September  2019


Dear Friends,

The Rectory garden is not usually immaculately manicured, with

the exception of the grass. Peter comes and mows it for me, for

which I am profoundly grateful - it's one of those jobs which is now a bit beyond me - thank you so much, Peter. However, even by my

standards, anyone visiting might notice that the border to the north of the house is even wilder than usual. This is not just due to laziness on my part. This year I have deliberately chosen to leave it to go wild, in an attempt to encourage the birds, bees and butterflies. 


I have to confess, it seems mostly full of ground elder and nettles at the moment. The more eagle-eyed visitor will also notice a small wooden blue heart on display. Birds and bees and butterflies... it seems as though bee borders and butterfly beds are being planted left, right, and centre. It has suddenly become fashionable to care about the environment. The topic is one which is being raised in the news, spoken about by those we meet. Being eco-friendly is the new 'in' thing. 


For once, I am in tune with the times - or they are in tune with me. I am sure that most of you will already have been recycling, composting and so on for years. I was brought up in a household where my mother grew most of the fruit and vegetables for our meals, where it was make do and mend, where clothing was recycled from child to child, and then into rags for use elsewhere. This was partly due to lack of money, but more due to environmental consciousness, and faith.


Being as eco-conscious as possible has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It is partlyhow I was brought up. I believe in caring from the environment - reduce, reuse, recycle etc. But it is more for me than just caring for the world in which we live. It is intrinsicallyconnected with how I live my life of faith. Part ofmy job as a Christian is to look after this world in which I live. In Genesis, God sets the task of humans as being stewardship of this world. That involves both the earthly environment, and also the people and animals that live in it. It involves living as ecologically sustainable life as possible, promoting care of the environment, seeking justice and equality for all. It also entails making sure that my actions do not - as far as I am able - damage the environment in which others live. It means trying to make sure that those I buy things from get a fair living wage; that I do not support oppressive regimes. This is easier said than done, and takes thought and effort. 


If I genuinely think this is part of living out my calling as a Christian, then I have to be prepared to put the time and effort in. There are things I cannot easily do - the only methods of heating in Ballater are either logs or coal fires, oil fired heating, or electric heating, none of which are particularly environmentally friendly. I need my car to be able to do my job, and it has to be one that I can easily drive. So I do drive a gas-guzzler. But there is lots I can do. When I travel outside the local area, I try to take the train, not drive or fly. As many of you are aware, I have a small vegetable patch, where I grow my own salad and vegetables for the summer months, although the size of this has reduced in recent years. When I shop, I try to buy locally. I aim to buy fairly traded goods where possible. I try to buy seasonal food. If I buy meat, it is usually bought from the butchers, not the supermarket. All of this takes time - it is a lot quicker to dash around the supermarket than to spend the time going from shop to shop. It is more expensive.

This year I have stepped up my efforts a little. So I am trying to reduce my plastic use, and trying generally to be more aware of why I am doing things. Being a Christian should involve our whole lives, but it takes thought, planning and patience. 


What are you doing as your contribution?

Every blessing,

Vittoria


February and March 2019

From the Rector

Dear All,


In the evenings I tend to work with my legs up on the sofa, quilt tucked over me and lap-top on my lap as I type away. This evening the log burner is going, with my new fan whizzing round on the top, circulating the heat around the room. Such a small thing, but it makes such a difference. Those who have been in the big room at the Rectory will know how cold it gets. The throws on the arms of chairs and sofas are not just there for decoration. But the combination of double-glazing, the new boiler and the fan on top of the log burner means that this room gets warm. 


It is amazing what difference a couple of small changes can make. The start of a New Year is when we often dream about the changes we want to make in our own lives. We make New Year's resolutions to eat better or exercise more, to lose weight, read books, make more time for whatever hobbies. They tend to be personal, focused on self not world. Sometimes our resolutions are things that affect our daily behaviour – we may resolve to not be so grumpy, or to be more patient. I wonder what resolutions you have made this year? And – the big question – have you managed to keep them so far? According to studies, it takes an average of 66 days to make or break a habit.


I usually start the year with good intentions, which gradually fizzle out. This year I am trying to be less judgemental – of myself and others. I'm trying to be more patient – with myself. And I'm attempting to be gentler with myself. You see, all too often, resolutions are dependent on others, or on fitting yet something else into a busy life. This year I am choosing to refocus my time and energies, not on taking more on. I'm going to try to savour the moments I have, and to use them wisely; not to rush into doing, but to spend time being. 


In today's world we often define ourselves – and are defined – by what we do, not by who we are. God created us as human beings – not human doings. He does not care what your job is, or how many hours a week you work. Neither is he fussed about whether you have money or not. You cannot earn credit with God or impress God by doing more and more things. You can't buy God. His love cannot be earned, God is more accepting of us than we are of ourselves. So this year I resolve to try to remember to be. To walk with God, not rush around for him. To see myself as he sees me – to value myself for who I am. I have come to realise that when it says in the Bible 'love your neighbour as you love yourself' that you first do have to love yourself before you can fully love others. In order for us to love others fully, we must first love ourselves, and in order to know fully what love is, we must look to God.


This issue of the Tattler will take us into Lent. When we often resolve to give up sweets or chocolate, or some other luxury as a way of refocusing on God. What will you resolve to do? What small changes can you make, that will change your relationship with God? 


With every blessing,


Vittoria


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