A selection of articles from our parish magazine
Issue No 104 Christmas 2021
It’s Chrisssstmassss!Thus the loud refrain in that ever popular (well, it’s played in every store) Christmas song – Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade.
The song is all about preparation and expectation and the chorus is
So here it is merry Christmas
Everybody’s having fun.
Look to the future
It’s only just begun.
And of course that is the expectation: that Christmas will be fun, filled with laughter and joy. Yet for many Christmas is one of the most difficult times of the year, and they will struggle to find joy and hope in the festive season. We will have just passed the shortest day, and thus the longest night of the year, and for many financial worries, or grief for lost loved ones is particularly heightened at this season with the emphasis on family and friends.
It is no accident that Christmas falls at the darkest time of the year, indeed many faiths have services of light at this dark time, to recall that light does shine even in the darkest periods. Christmas for Christians is one of the most special times of the year, and we spend a number of weeks preparing for the joy that Christmas is about, the birth of a child and new beginnings. A little child came into the world, a very dark world at that time, born to a young unmarried mother, in a dark stable in an occupied land. Hardly the setting for a future king, as the Wise Men found when they came to offer homage and incorrectly (and unwisely) called at King Herod’s palace first.
That child of course was a particularly special child. That child was God incarnate; God made man, who came to live with us amongst the poor and the lonely. He came because God loves us, and was, and is, the light that shines in the darkest night, dispersing the fear and doubt, when we let God into our lives.
One of my favourite readings at Christmas comes from John’s gospel and the lines “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”(John1.4-5). The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it; a phrase that sums up the hope we have in God.
I am sure we have all experienced dark times at some point in our lives, and as a counter to that we can then hold even higher expectations of those special times of year, such as Christmas, and can be disappointed when those expectations are not met.
That first Christmas, there were few expectations, there were hopes, and no doubts fears too, yet from that tiny child comes hope for a better future for all, as the light that comes into the world continues to burn.
This Christmas, we are going to recognise the struggles and the hope of this season at our last Sunday service before Christmas. We will particularly remember those who have died in the past year, as well as the difficulties that expectations to have the perfect Christmas can bring.
And next to our crib scene representing that first Christmas, there will be lighted candles as a sign of the light of the world shining to overcome any darkness we are carrying at this time.
Come and join us and let the peace that passes all understanding – God’s peace – surround you and hold you close.
A happy and peaceful Christmas to you all.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past
‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year.’ For me, Christmas always trumped birthdays. There was a magic about it, and it wasn’t just the promise of presents on the day itself. To be honest, it was the lead up to Christmas – its Advent, which for me was mostly the ‘wonderful’ time of which Andy Williams sang. It was the expectation, the preparation, the busyness: focusing on the coming together of family and friends. The whole of December was spent getting ready – decorating the house, baking the cake, steaming the pudding, preparing pickles, rehearsing carols, as well as (of course) the frenetic hustle and bustle of searching for that just-so-right gift to show to loved ones that you had seriously thought about them (even if, in reality, you had misjudged it completely!).
Now in my 50s, and somewhat jaded, the magic does not touch me the same as when I was young. Decorations go up later, less of the food is prepared in advance, the carols we sing are not so much familiar as predictable, and years back I started to forgo presents telling the family ‘Oh! there’s nothing really I want.’ There are some who will say that is understandable, as Christmas is ‘really for the kids’. But the reality is that deep inside this dulled adult, the wide-eyed child enthralled by the magic of Christmas still peers out. I am quite different to that younger version of me (as cells have died and replenished many times over), but deep in my brain my neurons doggedly hold on and tantalisingly retain the memories of past Christmases – of the hopes and dreams and promises.
It’s not necessarily that the memories hold out a ‘better Christmas’ but rather a more crowded one: Christmases populated with grandparents and great aunts and old family friends and school classes and rag-tag bands of singers and non-singers tramping the streets in equally tuneful and raucous measure. In Dickens’ novel, Scrooge is forced to revisit past Christmases, in order to review his life and thereby change its outcome. However, beyond that, there is also a common experience that all will confront with ageing. As an old man, these spectral visions present Scrooge with the remembrance of those he had known, and significantly those he had lost: those of his family, those from schooldays and from his employment, and those whom he had loved.
The meaning of Christmas lies in the sharing of ourselves with others. It is the presence of others in our keeping of Christmas that makes it a celebration. Each new gap (whether by absence or loss) brings with it a thinning of Christmas, but it is also in remembering that enables us to trigger memories, to reminisce and through that to find some connection with those no longer with us. It’s rather a double-edged sword.
‘It’s the hap-happiest season of all,’ as Andy Williams blithely continues: for we have ‘tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago’ – even if some of these are ‘ghost stories’ of those with whom we once shared that magic.
Christmas in Wartime
It’s funny how some of our Christmas traditions are ancient and others are really quite modern. Of course, our pagan friends delight in reminding us that the Christmas tree is actually a tradition that predates Christianity, and then there is the age-old debate about whether Jesus could have been born in December or not. In comparison, Father Christmas’s jolly red jacket and trousers were actually an invention of the Coca-Cola company, only popularised in about 1900, before which Santa was always dressed in green!
I’m always interested in hearing the stories of people who have lived through different times to our own, and I often remember the older generations of my own family being slightly bewildered at the sheer amount of stuff that we children got given at Christmas. My grandfather, himself a child during the Great War, recalled being given an orange – no doubt quite a delicacy in those days, and also dutifully swapping sixpence with his brother, which saved them both the need for buying the other a present. I’m not sure they got much more generous towards each other in old age, it must be said!
The first half of the Twentieth Century brought with it a great deal of difficulty for many of our families, no matter where in the world they lived. There were two terrible wars, the Great Depression and the terrible influenza outbreaks to deal with, all in a world where most people really were very poor. How lucky we are to not have to worry about whether we can afford to visit the doctor if we are ill (and long may it stay that way, if I may say so!). I sometimes look at my house in Chingford, built in 1930 – the time when most of South Chingford was built – and I wonder what the first people to live there would have seen. They would have just come through some terrible times, and had some equally testing ones to come, but no doubt there was much merriment and joy too, amidst the hardship.
At Christmas in 1914, as many of you will already know, the troops in the trenches on both sides downed weapons. This was not an official truce, but one just led by normal ‘Tommies’ and ‘Gerries’, where a football was kicked out into no-man’s land and soldiers from both armies played each other, no doubt having a really good time. It must have been a surreal experience, amidst the terrible bloodshed of the trenches, and even more strange when, the next day, the fighting recommenced. People who they had met on the football field only the day before, they were now back to fighting on the battlefield. Needless to say, the authorities hated it and made sure it never happened again: because of course, it wouldn’t do to have the soldiers feeling any compassion! Their job was, sadly, to do or die –the poor young men from poor families, sent to be so much cannon fodder.
Being separated from loved ones at Christmas must be very hard, especially when you are away at war. The Imperial War Museum archive has many film reels from the Second World War, showing how Christmas was celebrated on the Home Front and within the armed forces, also not forgetting how POWs managed to celebrate Christmas too. Stories abound of great ingenuity in the use of extra rations (we shan’t mention the black market!) and of people showing very genuine kindness to those who had been bombed out of their homes. Maybe there was more kindness and community spirit back then, I don’t know, but even now I find sometimes people who don’t have much, seem to share what they do have more readily than those who have a lot.
If, like me, you’re interested in history, you can have a look at some of these fascinating films on the Imperial War Museum’s website. They’re a great window into the past, and it’s good to remind ourselves occasionally that these days, whilst we’re not facing a Christmas at war, somewhere in the world, people will be. My prayers go out to anyone facing difficulties this Christmas, and my trust is that the real message of Christmas – which is one of peace and of hope for the future – isn’t lost in the crises of life that can occasionally be overwhelming.
Sacrificed for Christmas
Christmas is meant to be a season of peace and goodwill, yet for many animals it is a time of extreme suffering and exploitation. Each year during the Christmas season, millions of factory farmed animals will be killed so that we can celebrate this joyous season. Millions of turkeys, pigs, ducks and geese are killed to meet our demands. They will suffer miserable short lives in factory farms in order to mass produce and fatten them in the shortest time. At the end they will endure a horrendous death in a slaughterhouse. Contrary to some peoples opinions, research has shown that birds are creatures with feelings. In a book entitled “The Minds of Birds” by ornithologist Alexander Skutch, he refers to the behaviour of birds who have lost their young. He relates how, for hours and days, “I have watched bereaved parents continue to take food to nests desolated by predation”.
In the wild, a turkey hen will fight fiercely to protect her young from predators, which shows maternal instincts and intelligence. Turkeys are very sociable birds who prefer company to isolation. Research has shown that turkeys demonstrate their need for social interaction and when one is removed from its group, it becomes very distressed and very vocal until returned to the group. In their wild state, it has been observed that turkeys are competent learners and can remember locations visited only once. In addition, they have an array of communication skills e.g. vivid plumage, elaborate courtship, strong social ties, a protective maternal nature. Not so different from us humans.
As we celebrate the birth of the Christ child this Christmas season, animals will feature very much in the nativity plays we will be going to. I believe that the incarnation did not happen just for the human race but for all God’s creatures. If this was not so, why include them as being present at the birth of Christ in the stable. The Rev. Professor Andrew Linzey quoted “There is something distinctly odd, even perverse, about an incarnational spirituality that cannot celebrate our relations with other creatures”. Let us not forget all those animals who will again be sacrificed this festive season so that we may “eat and be merry”. All animals deserve to be treated with respect and be treated humanely and it is up to us all to make sure this happens. If you care, I urge that when you go to buy your turkey or pork for your Christmas dinner, you buy those that have been bred and reared by reputable farmers. Look out for those approved by animal welfare organisations. They may be marginally more expensive but you will know that the animal you put on your plate on Christmas Day will have had a better life.
A Time to Remember
Since our last issue we remember those who we had sadly lost.
- Caroline Benyon: Born, 14 January 1948; Died, 6 August 2021; Stained Glass Artist
- Ken Smith: Born, 2 May 1931; Died, 5 September 2021; Churchwarden, Secretary & Treasurer, Youth Club Leader
- George Fletcher: Born, 3 September 1929; Died, 5 September 2021; Churchwarden, Secretary, Electoral Roll Officer
- Jean Miller: Born, 23 March 1952; Died, 12 September 2021
Over the past year we have lost a number of people who have been important to us. Below, we reflect on just a few of them.
PAT FRY (1948-2001)
Pat Fry was a tireless worker at St Edmund’s who never threw herself into the spotlight, but rather carried on without fuss. As Pat Vacher, living in StJohn’s Road, she grew up at St Edmund’s when Ernie Byles was Vicar. She was confirmed in 1960 and joined the Electoral Roll ten years later. As a Spurs supporter, she met her future husband, Colin, at a club event in 1969 and married him in 1971, at one of the last weddings conducted by Mr Byles, before he left the Parish. Nevertheless, Pat’s roots brought her family back to Chingford in 1978, when Eric Ford was Vicar, and settled in Normanshire Drive. Pat and Colin had two children, Andrew (born in 1974) and Kate (born in 1979), who both joined the Junior Church and then the Church Choir. Pat began to take an active role at St Edmund’s when she re-enrolled on the Church Electoral Roll in 1984: serving on the Parochial Church Council (1985-91, 1995-2015), heading the Junior Church (1995-2002), and holding the position of Church Treasurer (2001-15); as well as assisting with fundraising, after service refreshments and helping out in the choir when needed. In later years, ill-health forced her to withdraw from active involvement, but this much-loved member of our church family died earlier this year. She loved music and was always one of the first on the dance floor with Colin at parties. She touched the hearts of the many people she knew, not only at Church, but in her outside interests too. There are plans for a stained glass window in her memory, in the side porch used by the Junior Church when they join us for Communion.
KEN SMITH (1931-2021)
Ken Smith was undoubtedly a stalwart at St Edmund’s, taking on many of the key roles over many decades and influencing the direction the Church took. Though a member of the smaller 8am Sunday congregation, he was well known across St Edmund’s, often blunt but always deep-down caring. Arriving in Chingford in 1957 Ken and Brenda initially attended Evensong. Ernie Byles, the Vicar at the time, provided them with help with the adoption of their two children, however that came at a cost in 1965. Ernie recalled the favour by asking Ken to take on the role of treasurer to sort out the hole in Church finances caused by the spending of the Griggs Bequest twice! The fact that Ken was neither confirmed or on the Parochial Church Council was not a barrier, as Mr Byles told him he could arrange both quickly. Ken was Treasurer for the next 36 years (barring a couple of breaks spanning just 4 years) but, despite this, he still found time for a brief period as Church Secretary (1985-7). As Treasurer his mantra was “Time, Talents, Treasure”, the three ways the congregation could support the Church. Despite being a money man, there was another side to him, and he also spent some years running a Youth Club with Barry Boyce (1981-4) as well as youth discos. His need to be firm and frank sometime led people to misunderstand him, but those who knew him well knew his heart was firmly rooted in St Edmund’s well-being. Ken was on the selection panel when Christopher Owens was appointed as Priest-in-Charge and, after so many years of dedicated service caring for the Church’s financial stability, he became Churchwarden in 2000 – a role he held until 2009. It was mainly the practical side of the Church that Ken thrived on: fundraising, fabric and the Friends of St Edmund’s. Many of his interests could be seen in the things he did, he ran successful book fairs in the 1980s and 1990s and, more recently, a jigsaw stall at the Christmas Market. He also took over management of the halls in 2002, building up a strong relationship with its many hirers, so that when the Church celebrated it centenary in 2009 he was able to arrange a showcase of their work. He stood down from this role in 2011, to become just a regular member of the congregation. He always expressed a hope that the panel in the large window in the Lady Chapel alongside where he sat might one day display a roundel in his memory. It is hoped that this long-held wish will now be realised.
GEORGE FLETCHER (1929-2021)
There couldn’t have been anyone who didn’t like George Fletcher, with his quirky wit and warm-hearted personality. He was always upbeat, with a mischievous smile and a humorous quip. After settling in Chingford with Iris they starting attending St Edmund’s. George was elected to the Parochial Church Council in 1963 and, despite only having two year’s service, Ernie Byles chose him as his Churchwarden in 1965. Although he only served a single year in that first term, ten years later he again found himself as Churchwarden, this time serving for seven years. George would never put himself in the spotlight, but was always there when help was needed. When his fellow Warden, Charles Loeber, died in office, he quickly took over the Church Electoral Roll from him until a replacement was found; similarly, in 1982, he briefly took over as Church Secretary. He was dependable and would be at fundraising events and socials with his family, and represented St Edmund’s on Help-on-Call and the Royal British Legion Service Committee. Apart from a few brief spells, George was part of the Parochial Church Council until 2005. When Iris became ill, he devotedly committed himself to her care until she passed away in 2015. The last six years gave him a new lease of life, during which he even applied for his first passport, allowing him to travelled around northern Europe. He lived an active life, a very practical man, whether that was in cleaning the church brass, or in the modifications to the wheelchair he pushed Iris in around the parish, or dressed in overalls and pushing his wheelbarrow on the way to his allotment.
Voices of Blue Christmas
On a cold winter’s night an unmarried couple, whose relationship had already been tested through questions of parentage, sheltered alone in a stable where their child had been unceremoniously born. Their only company was the resting cattle settling down for the night. Strange wandering nomads from the outskirts had passed by to look in on their plight, before they were forced to fleeing for their safety as refugees in a foreign land. A powerful king had ordered the massacre of innocent children, convinced that this new-born threatened his position. This was Christmas, and for many across the world, it hasn’t changed.
My Christmas memory is as a child walking through the snow on Christmas Day to Church. Children always took one of their favourite toys to show during the service. Then walking back home to await the arrival of my Nan and Pop.
Where do I start? Christmas 2021! As I think of this my eyes fill with tears. Normally Christmas is my favourite time of year. As soon as I can, I start singing and playing Christmas carols. December gets very busy with the countdown to Christmas. But as December approaches I have mixed feelings going through my head. As I step into the shoes of a truly magnificent woman, my mum, who passed away February 21. She was so very organised and made sure myself and my brother always had a great Christmas. Then once the grandchildren all came along she then made sure they all got what they wanted. This year I have already started my Christmas shopping and helping my dad to. This is a big relief for me to have a focus. The dates are coming in and I’m trying to keep busy. Keeping my mind on my mum. But deep down inside it will be a very different Christmas without my mum. But lucky for me I have a family around me and a daughter I need to keep happy.
Sadly our children,
family and friends are not near!
Guy & Sheila Davids
I celebrate Xmas spiritually in all its Christian values, but I’ll find it very hard this year to enjoy the superficial merriment as I had no Xmas last year with my twin sister Pauline in hospital. I never saw her again after December 18th as she passed on with Covid on 14 January 2021. I’ve found it hard to bear with no visits to her or the Chapel of Rest, or any ritual for a funeral. I’m so grateful for the Church and the bereavement group and my Church and my faith to give me strength.
Christmas times are sad for me when I remember past Christmases with all the people that I have loved and are no longer with me. I try to keep busy during this time and picture them all being together with God in heaven. This gives me my comfort.
My memories of past Christmases in the 1960s: being a student nurse and midwife wearing cloaks (red side out) and carol singing around the wards, then knitting of dozens of pair of booties so that each baby had a small gift on its coat on Christmas evening! My hope for Christmas 2021: that we may embrace the true meaning of Christmas.
1999 was the only Christmas I spent away from my family, when I went to Fuerteventura with a girlfriend. Sat on a table on Christmas Day with a couple we had nothing in common with and whose views we found offensive, it brought home to me how important it is to spend the season with the people who are most important to you. Arriving home on New Year’s Eve and meeting up with my family on Blackheath for the Millennium celebrations emphasised just how depressing that Christmas had actually been.
We love Christmas and waiting to see the whole family together.
It’s a sad fact that more deaths occur in the winter months, and it’s not just down to the cold or poverty. Two years ago, on the Sunday before Christmas, a good friend and former work colleague, Des Hancock, sang in the choir at his local church’s carol service; afterwards, going home, he went to bed but did not wake up on Monday. The magic of Christmas lies in the sharing of the festival with family and friends, and sadly it becomes increasingly impoverished with each passing year.