by Rector Stephne

Dear parishioners, 

This is the last Rambling Rector editorial that I shall be writing to you as your rector. I interviewed for the post in October 2006 at Emmanuel College, Cambridge who are our patrons. When I came out of the library having viewed the original of the Constable painting, which hangs there for its own safe keeping but which Brantham Church owns, I was confronted by a witch complete with pointy hat, Hogwarts style cloak and a briefcase. It was Halloween. I instantly felt at home being a Harry Potter fan! I was installed as Rector in Brantham Church in March 2007 and have been extremely blessed to be living amongst you within the Benefice of East Bergholt and Brantham for the last 16 years. It has been a privilege to be able to serve you in this time. Thank you very much for the way that you have made us feel welcome and included us in village life. We had no direct links to Suffolk before our arrival, indeed had never even visited the county, but have grown to love it. I’m delighted to say that the Church of England Pensions Board has made a tiny bungalow in Thurston available to us, and we will be moving from Brantham Rectory to Thurston probably at the end of May. Our new address will be available from the wardens should you wish to make contact with us and I will retain my e-mail address. The post that I am vacating will be advertised after Easter and they hope to be able to interview in July, with a view to the new incumbent taking up the post around Christmas. There are going to be changes as one would expect. The Benefice is expanding to include the parishes of Bentley and Tattingstone. Your new incumbent is going to be very busy indeed. 

During my retirement I plan to write books or short stories for children and am looking forward to that very much indeed. My last few months here have been made more complicated by the sudden deterioration in my eyesight, and I’m extremely grateful for the patience and tolerance that have been shown to me as I have bumbled around requiring more help than usual, particularly in the leading of liturgy. I am so grateful to my talented ministry team, including retired priests Rev Peter and Rev Roy, the late Rev David, and my wonderful wardens who have always supported me up to the hilt.

Part of the privilege of being Rector, has been getting to know both my villages, and particularly people who do not come to church. I have always regarded the whole village, whether church going or not, as part of my area of service and have done my best to help wherever I can. I have relished the contacts with the local schools and will be sad not to go in every week for assembly at East Bergholt Primary School. I did enjoy my time as Governor at the High School as well. It has been lovely watching children grow and then come to ask for the banns of marriage to be read for them. I have treasured maintaining contact with wedding couples down the years and thoroughly enjoyed getting wet as I baptise their offspring!  

Weddings are always a highlight and I remember well at one wedding rehearsal where a large spider galloped down the aisle much to my horror (I could see in those days) and that the groom scooped up Aragog and whisked him out of the church to loud cheers with no damage at all to any of the assembled throng. One bride had a wasp fly under her veil and we had to do some swift manoeuvres to prevent disaster. I also remember a bride whose headdress totally fell off as soon as she got to the front of the aisle but she didn’t panic, she just dropped it on the front pew and we carried on with the service. Each wedding couple have been given special gifts to help them remember their important day. I’ve always tried to relate the gifts to what I’ve learned about them during the wedding preparation (which I take very seriously) and the Bible reading that they chose. One groom was presented with a wizard staff and somebody else was given an invisibility cloak! Gifts have many meanings. Down the years I have met many wonderful people and heard amazing stories of how God has been at work in different people’s lives often unexpectedly. I have been overwhelmed with a sense of the presence of God while standing at the high altar about to preside at communion. My thanks must also go to all the village societies, who have invited me as speaker and encouraged me with their friendliness. When I have asked for help in crossing the road or finding an address, somebody has always come to my rescue. If I have offended you, as I know I have offended some, please forgive me. 

I have conducted far too many funerals down the years, and the Covid lockdowns were particularly gruelling as we lost too many of our much-loved congregation. The church is still feeling the effects of Covid and church attendance has been critically hit, the exceptions are Remembrance Sunday, School Services and Christmas where the church still overflows. This means that the task of looking after our beautiful churches has been undertaken by a very small group of people who have worked incredibly hard to raise the necessary funds to keep the building in good repair and now that we have to re-roof the church in East Bergholt and repair the tower in Brantham, the task is enormous.

Taking home communion to the housebound is one of the many privileges of the work that I have done. Going to the late Lady Anne, I found I had forgotten to bring my communion set. Lady Anne graciously allowed me to rummage in her pantry. We shared communion together with an oatcake and a small glass of wine. I don’t think God minded.

The Deputy Lord Lt saga where I muddled my Rogers, will live long in my memory and theirs!  I remember one young man who felt coy about being baptised. I threw water about liberally and everyone got wet. Usual events in the life of the church included Family@Church, Toddlers and coffee mornings, Open Gardens and Concerts which have brought many people through our doors.  My reputation never recovered from the day my husband couldn’t remember in which pub I was having a meeting. He went into each pub asking, “is the Rector here?”. During my time as Rector I have introduced head microphones, would have liked to have a big screen in East Bergholt (there is one in Brantham), but we now have cameras and a YouTube channel. Many people have found this facility a blessing, especially during Covid.  

One thing grieves me, that we as a community seem to have lost the art of being able to disagree well. A man, many years ago now, spat at me in the village shop!  That was a shocking incident but fortunately unusual. We now seem to take delight in verbally attacking one another, particularly on social media. Jesus showed us that it is always better to gather around a table to listen and talk face to face. As my ministry draws to a close, I reaffirm my conviction that Jesus is alive and that a relationship with Him is life changing. The pantry in the Brantham porch is being well used, if anyone would like to make a donation of groceries that would be very much appreciated.