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

e mail:

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? 

I wrote this pastoral letter last year but feel its message is ever relevant even though many of us are quite likely facing new and different issues for this new year. My Mum had a short poem in our living room when I was growing up. One of it’s 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 know 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 gives 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 restrict 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 also had experienced an immediate and sound conversion experience of God’s mercy and grace. Even the crew noticed this as he immediately stopped swearing, something he had excelled at before hand !! 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 1807 passed prohibiting the slave trade throughout the British Empire. A very good biography on his fascinating life and God’s amazing grace at work is called ‘Newton the Liberator’ by John Pollock. I have a copy that I am quite happy to lend out, please ask.  May you have a very Happy New year as we look forward to Spring and also more of God’s amazing grace in our lives and in our very needy world