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Advent Update

I thought I would write a brief note with some news from the deanery and share the Christmas reflection I wrote for my own parish magazines.

Thundridge and High Cross

From 31st December, this benefice will be in vacancy following the retirement of Revd Amanda Duncan. Please pray for her in her new phase of life and for the parishes as they start planning for the future in conjunction with the Archdeacon, myself and the wider deanery team.


We are planning to change our means of communication with Synod Members, including these updates. The hope is that we will be able to be more flexible and more efficient as a result. The new system opens up possibilities of improved targeting of information within the deanery and should help greatly with the work of the task groups.

However, whilst we already have members’ permission to communicate with them, our new software is insisting that members re-grant that permission to ensure that the GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulations) are being followed. Therefore, over the next few days, current members will receive an email from the deanery (from me, actually!) inviting them to sign up again to our newsletter list! It would be greatly appreciated it everyone could follow the instructions so that we can quickly move to the new system in the new year instead of running two systems concurrently. If you have any questions or concerns (e.g. if you are not sure about clicking links in emails), please do not hesitate to contact me – I will be pleased to set your minds at rest.


My Christmas reflection is below. It was written for a predominantly non-churchgoing readership, but I offer it here in the hope that it may bring some encouragement to you, and even perhaps provide some helpful thoughts for your conversations over the coming weeks.

Finally, all that remains is for me to wish you a very happy Christmas and to assure you of my prayers for the coming year.

Revd Mark Dunstan
Rural Dean

A Christmas Reflection

There was a girl called Ellie who needed help.  I don’t know the full story, but for one reason or another, she found herself facing the start of her teenage years without the support structures that are normally in place for children her age.  She was told that help was coming, but she was sceptical.  Fearful, even.  She wanted a particular kind of help, and she knew she wasn’t going to get it.  She was painfully aware her situation was not normal (it was common, but not normal) and what she wanted more than anything was to be normal.

The saddest part of her story was perhaps that it was her experience of “normal” that had let her down.  And yet she longed for it.  The thing she craved wasn’t best for her, but she was reluctant to trust the promises of others, and her broken heart beat most strongly when she dreamed of normality; even if that meant returning to what had crumbled around her. 

In the end, the help that had been promised – the help about which she was so unsure – proved to be anything but normal.  As the door opened and she saw into the house where she would spend the next part of her childhood, her eyes fell and focussed on a skateboard propped against the wall.  She clutched her own skateboard to her chest and looked at the man who had greeted her.  He had seen where her eyes had alighted and, with a smile and a nervous laugh, waved a bandaged wrist towards her, saying, “I skate a bit, too.”  The help she was being offered was exactly what she needed.  And what should be normal.

Some of you will recognise this as being the story of this year’s Christmas advert from the retailer, John Lewis, albeit told from a different perspective.  I note there’s a Christmas tree in the house and decorations in the office and street, there’s what appears to be a Christmas party and the wrapping of a Christmas present, and it’s a feel-good advert, but in truth, it could equally well have been put out at any time of year.  This is not a Christmas advert telling a Christmas-related story; it is just John Lewis telling us “We’re making a long-term commitment to support the futures of young people from care” in a bid to make us feel positively disposed to spend our cash in their shops over the weeks approaching Christmas.

But let’s look a bit closer… The advert is actually very Christmassy.  The story’s hero is the man with the bandaged wrist.  He’s going to be Ellie’s foster father, or maybe even adopt her into his family.  The whole advert is about his dedication in preparing for her arrival by learning how to skate.  He knows the way to build a good relationship with Ellie is to meet her where she is.  Working tirelessly night and day, he endures the mocking of others and the pain of many falls just so he can come alongside her and empathise with her.  His efforts to learn to skate are born out of love for a child with whom he has no “normal” ties; a child who has been broken and needs healing, affection and support.  At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God set his affection on us, stepped into our world at great personal cost to meet us where we are – to come alongside us and empathise with us.  In Jesus Christ, God invites us to step, by faith, into his family; not a “normal” family, but one with inexhaustible love at its heart.  Will you accept God’s invitation this Christmas?

May this Christmas be for you a time of joy, of hope and of peace.