Pastoral letter from Richard Steven, The Rectory, Herstmonceux Tel 01323 833124

e mail: ra_steven@hotmail.com

Dear Church Members and Friends,

 Here we are at the gateway to a new year. What can we be sure of in the days ahead?

My Mum had a short poem in our living room when I was growing up. One of its lines said, “at least we can be sure of spring”, and that is quite true. If anyone knows this poem please let me know as I would love to be able to read it again. It is always good to have something to look forward to such as spring, something that is sure to happen. It helps if it is not in the too far distant future.

There is also something from our faith that we can be sure of in the uncertain days ahead. God’s Grace is available. The word grace appears 170 times in the New Testament. This word ‘grace’ means free and unmerited favour. 

One of the best-known Christian hymns is ‘Amazing Grace’. This hymn speaks initially about God saving even the worst of us from our sin, and of course that is the main reason Jesus came to earth, but the hymn doesn’t stop there it goes on to speak about how God can continue to assist us with this amazing grace as we go on throughout our lives. Here is a bible verse that clearly indicates this. ‘Let us approach God, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Hebrews 4v16). God lends to men and women like us, who need an energy other than our own to face and deal with the various issues and problems that life brings. The only thing, other than not knowing that these riches are available to us, that restricts us from receiving them, is to fail to approach God to ask for his help.

John Newton who wrote ‘Amazing Grace’ had been a terrible person in his behaviour by anyone’s standards during the early years of his life, while working in the British slave trade. However, he discovered that God still loved him when he called out for God’s help and salvation when aboard a sinking ship in a mid-Atlantic storm. He and the crew survived, and Newton had also experienced an immediate and sound conversion experience of God’s mercy and grace. After 16 years as a reformed character, he was ordained as a Church of England Priest for the remaining 43 years of his life. During these years he wrote ‘Amazing Grace 'and other well-known hymns such as ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’. During the last twenty years of his life Newton became an ally of William Wilberforce, leader of the Parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade. He lived to see the British Passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which enacted this event.

A very good biography on his fascinating life and God’s amazing grace is called ‘Newton the Liberator’ by John Pollock. I have a copy that I am quite happy to lend out: please ask. The photo of stained glass at the top of the page is from the Church in Olney, Buckinghamshire where Newton served as Vicar.

May you have a very Happy New Year as we look forward to Spring and also more of God’s amazing grace.