St James The Great
Old Milverton, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Here is our January update, giving details of what’s happening in the coming month. As you know, the monthly Update is now our regular way of keeping in touch with you all, replacing both our magazine and the quarterly newsletter. If you would prefer not to receive these emails, please let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will remove you from the list.
Whilst we are all still having to be very careful, it’s really good to hear that some of you are now getting your Covid vaccinations – one of the few advantages of being amongst our more mature members of St James! Don’t forget, though, that we are still following all the Covid-secure guidelines at church, so masks still need to be worn and you need to continue to ‘book in’ if you are hoping to come to services.
Are you a family that normally celebrates New Year? And did you know that Auckland, New Zealand, is the first city to celebrate the New Year and Honolulu, Hawaii is the last to celebrate it? In my house, it was always of secondary importance to celebrations of my husband’s birthday on New Year’s Day and nowadays I usually find myself spending New Year’s Eve at home trying to soothe a cat who’s terrified of fireworks. However I know that for some folk, it’s a time of celebration, family get-togethers and first footing!
Fireworks play a big part all around the world, with the world’s largest firework show of New Year’s Eve being held in Sydney, Australia. Though the show lasts only for 12 minutes, starting at the stroke of midnight, the beautiful extravaganza attracts people to be a part of this celebration from all over the world.
A typical Spanish custom is the tradition of eating grapes at New Year’s Eve. You need to eat a grape for every strike of the clock at midnight. This is symbolic of good fortune and luck for each of the twelve months in a year. (We’ve tried it, on a holiday to the Canary Islands many years ago, and it’s not as easy as it sounds.)
For the Greeks January 1st is also Saint Basil’s Day, one of their forefathers. It is a day for gift giving, telling stories and leaving presents at midnight in children’s shoes. Every Greek family bakes a cake with a silver or gold coin hidden inside. The cake slices are passed to everyone and whoever gets the coin is believed to have a lucky year ahead.
New Year in Japan is called “Oshogatsu”. During this special day the Buddhist temples ring their bells for 108 times, a tradition that is meant to “cleanse” the new year from negativity and bring forth abundance and happiness. Japanese people usually take time to clean their homes and use traditional decorations such as pine branches and plum blossoms. Many people choose to visit nearby temples during New Year’s morning, to salute the new year and to pray for the year to come.
New Year is the perfect occasion to start things anew in Mexico. Traditions include burning scarecrows to symbolise leaving the old year behind and opening up their front doors to welcome the new one, but my favourite is a tradition of throwing buckets of water out of the window to signify getting rid of “old things”.
Throwing water out of their houses is a tradition that’s also followed in Thailand. Another peculiar tradition consist in smearing other people with talc. The talc symbolizes the sins or wrongdoings of the past year, and they get eventually washed away by water (presumably thrown out by a Mexican neighbour!)
As you’d expect, Italian traditions involve food. Even though many restaurants now have expensive and complicated menus, the most traditional food is “cotechino and lentils”. Cotechino is a gelatinous pork sausage, usually boiled, and always served with a side of lentils. Another typical food is “panettone”, a sweet bread usually consumed during Christmas and on New Year’s Eve, which includes raisins and candied fruit.
New Year traditions in the Philippines are concerned with what to wear. Here, round shapes are considered lucky and a symbol of prosperity. For that reason, people often eat dishes that have a round shape, wear clothes with polka dots, and keep coins with them. The circle reminds many folk of the shape of money, so it’s an auspicious sign to bring good finances in the new year.
This year, I suspect many of us will have a very different new year but however you choose to celebrate, may I send you all my love and best wishes that 2021 may, eventually, be a much better year for us all.
A New Year Carol
Here we bring new water from the well so clear,
For to worship God with, this happy New Year.
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;
The seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.
Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her toe,
Open you the West Door, and turn the Old Year go.
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, …………..
Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her chin,
Open you the East Door, and let the New Year in.
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, …………..
Access to the Parish Room: Whilst we are not unlocking the hall before each Sunday service, the key is always available from one of the churchwardens should anyone wish to make use of the toilets.
St Mary Magdalene’s Outdoor Christmas Tree Festival: If you haven’t been up to St Mary Magdalene’s yet to enjoy this year’s trees, the festival continues until Monday 4th January, so do go and have a look. Quite a few have lights on them, so late afternoon might be a good time to visit. Thank you to the team from St James who decorated our contribution
Cleaners needed! Some of our stalwart team of church cleaners have had to step down recently: might you be able to help by joining the rota? We work in teams of two and it shouldn’t be more than a once every six to eight weeks commitment. If you think you could help, speak to Lesley Rayner or one of the churchwardens please.
Support for Myton Hospice 2020 has been a very difficult year for many organisations that rely on donations from the public, and Myton Hospice is no different. They need to raise over £9.2 million each year to provide the services they offer both to inpatients and through the many different ways that they support people in their own homes. The pandemic has meant that their many charity shops have had to close for large chunks of the year and man of their regular fund-raising activities have not taken place because of the need for social distancing. It’s estimated that they will experience losses of at least 2 million pounds in voluntary income for the year. It’s also clear to see that 2021 will be challenging too.
At the recent PCC meeting we agreed to make Myton the focus for our fundraising in the year ahead. If any of you have ideas for things we could do, or would be happy to be part of a fund-raising team, please speak to Carol, Michael or Sue.
“God gives us new beginnings every time, so we grow from what we’ve learned and give another chance to what we left behind.”
Thought for the month: Thank you God
In a book I was reading recently, I came across a quote from the thirteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart, who said: ‘if the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was “Thank you”, that would suffice’. That got me thinking about what my prayers consist of and I rapidly came to the conclusion that, certainly over the past year, my prayers have been more about ‘please would you...’ than about giving thanks.
Twelve months ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury in his new year’s message said: ‘Christian faith doesn’t offer us a comfortable life. Christ promises us hope, meaning, peace, purpose and joy but not comfort.’ I’m not sure any of us were ready for the challenges of 2020; the ‘dis-comfort’ of lockdowns, not seeing family and friends for months on end, and the worry about friends and relatives in residential homes. But, as I look back on the past year, I can see so many things to be thankful for from the birdsong in the spring (so much easier to hear with less traffic noise in the background) to the amazing work of scientists in finding effective vaccines and the flourishing network of letters and phone calls that have kept us all going at times.
The Bible is full of examples of people who found it possible to give thanks to God even through the tough times – so many of the psalms include verses of thanks to God for his goodness whilst still recognising that life was hard and difficult; in his letters, Paul gives thanks so often for the signs of Christ alive and at work amongst the church communities he is writing to.
‘Thank you God for this fine day’ says the children’s hymn. Whilst I’m not suggesting that we all turn into ‘Pollyannas’, with an exaggeratedly optimistic outlook on life, as I look forward into 2021, I am going to try to include more ‘thank yous’ in my conversations with God. After all, a life shaped on thankfulness is a beautiful gift: what is there in your life right now for you to be thankful for?
With love, Sue x
Sovereign God, your greatness fills the heavens, your power sustains the universe, your love supports all creation and your purpose extends to all times and all people, yet you have time for the very least of us – time for all! For that most awesome of truths, we give you our thanks and praise.
Geoff’s Eco-tips for January: New Year’s ‘Revolutions’
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
It’s a New Year, but our planet is struggling to renew itself under our constant and expanding demands. Each day, more species become extinct. Our resources of forest, fresh air, water and fertile soil are polluted or reduced. Pollution is causing disease in our bodies and minds. Our climate is becoming more unstable with forest fires, floods, severe storms and droughts. This year, perhaps we are in need of some New Year’s revolutions!
However, our faith encourages us not to despair, but to become the best stewards that we can be of God’s wonderful creation that is the earth in all its fullness, including ourselves. Fortunately, there are relatively minor changes we can make to the way we live which can make major differences to the health of ourselves and our planet.
Here are a few Eco-Friendly New Year’s Resolutions, which will hopefully inspire you to a healthier, more natural and more sustainable 2021.
1. Remember your reusable shopping bags
Most people fortunately are aware of this and already have it under control, but it’s worth knowing that plastic bags are still the most prevalent form of litter (except for cigarette butts), and at least 4 billion bags get transported every year by the wind ending up in drains, forests, water courses, beaches and oceans. These bags are known to kill around a million birds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals every year. Plastic bags are a petroleum-based product requiring around 12 million barrels of oil per year which is a non-renewable resource that creates significant greenhouse gases.
Try making a resolution to always have a reusable bag with you, wherever you go, either in a pocket, on a keyring, or in a handbag. And if you’re really into reducing your plastic usage this year, there are many ideas available - just google it. Let’s make the plastic bag industry extinct this year, not sea turtles!
2. Cooking and planning meals.
This is a difficult resolution to keep, but it will really benefit your health and the environment and it will save you money. Processed and heavily packaged convenience foods are very wasteful in terms of energy, oil and water. They are also often poor in nutrition, high in refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, preservative and flavourings.
Meal planning and batch cooking on weekends, makes cooking from scratch a practical option. Having home-cooked meals in the freezer is a real treat when you are just too tired or busy to cook. Great recipes for just about anything are freely available on-line. You could try to set a target of one or two days a week, or a batch- cooking session each weekend, and then improve from there. Take the opportunity this year to slow down and enjoy taking care of yourself.
3. Organic Options.
Organic food is generally more expensive (unless you grow it yourself!), but it is good value being more nutritious and free from GMO’s and pesticides. Even better, if it is locally grown, it is supporting your local economy and incurs lower ‘food miles’. Your own organic vegetable plot (no matter what size) is perhaps the best way to eat ecologically.
4. Eating meat – reduce quantity, increase quality.
The heavily industrialized way in which most meat producing livestock is raised is inhumane, unhealthy and extremely unsustainable. Mass produced corn or soyabean is a source of greenhouse gas, air and water pollution whether it is fed to livestock for meat or direct to people – this makes no difference. However, a continued grassland ecosystem is biodiverse and puts carbon back into the soil increasing its fertility. This is the prefect habitat for raising healthier livestock in an ecological way, but it cannot be achieved on the mass scale that is possible by destroying this habitat to grow grains to feed livestock using intense and extremely harmful farming methods. Restoration of grasslands to replace intensive crop production has been shown to have enormous environmental benefits in terms of carbon offset. A very good way of encouraging this to happen is to create a demand for grass-fed beef and dairy.
Make a resolution this year to buy grass-fed, pasture-raised meat, dairy and eggs whenever you are able to do so. This will support the small farmers and the environment by encouraging pasture restoration. Cost is an issue, as it is more expensive to sustainably produce clean, safe and healthy meat. However, you can offset this by trying some of the ancient ways of survival on grassland ecosystems – eat less of it and use the organs, bones and fat (all highly nutritious) to enhance vegetarian foods.
5. Carry a re-usable water bottle.
Things are getting better on this front, but disposable single use plastic water bottles are still a big environmental issue. If you’re still buying bottled water, make a resolution to get yourself a re-useable water bottle to take with you whenever you are out and about. You could try keeping a filter jug in the fridge for drinking at home and to fill your bottle whenever you need.
6. Budget fashion.
The budget fashion industry is highly polluting, mainly as a result of big stores selling cheap clothing that may only be worn for one season. To meet this demand, farmers in Asia and India destroy fertile lands, polluting them with toxic chemicals and exhausting groundwater resources to intensively cultivate huge areas for GMO cotton. These are mainly in poor areas, where local people go hungry, unsupported by locally grown food.
Much of this fashion also usually involves the petroleum-based, toxic synthetic fabric and dye industry, using large quantities of fossil fuels and also sustains an inhumane sweatshop environment for poor workers all over the world. This year, we could consider all these issues when buying any new clothes that we need.
7. Toxic cosmetics.
Whatever you put on your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream! Check the labels on your cosmetics, just as you might do on food products, so that you are not putting toxins into your body through your skin. This year, choose eco-friendly and non-toxic personal care products and cosmetics. If you are really keen, a lot of items such as toothpaste, deodorant and soap are easy to make at home from a wealth of internet recipes.
Apparently, many beautiful women swear by practicing ‘oil cleansing’ for facial skin and the ‘No Poo method’ for hair care. I have no idea what these are, but they appear to reduce product use and they might be interesting to google!
8. Drying your laundry.
Drying laundry in an electric drier is a pure waste of energy, so its obviously best to limit this to the bare minimum. Needless to say, our winters are not good for drying washing outside, so if you don’t have a good folding drying rack for indoors, the New Year would be a good time to resolve this.
9. Walking, cycling and car usage.
Reducing car usage is probably the most effective way in which we can help the environment. If you can walk or cycle, this helps on all levels – certainly your health, the environment and your finances all benefit. Walking and cycling is not an option
for us all, but just cutting down on car journeys, say even for one or two days per week will make a difference. Public transport has been difficult since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but hopefully 2021 will see a return to times when we are able to consider this option as a safe one to further reduce car journeys.
10. Domestic cleaning.
Household cleaning products contain some of the most toxic substances we are regularly exposed to. Unlike food stuffs or cosmetics, ingredients in cleaning products do not have to be disclosed and many are untested for safety. Watch out for especially toxic products which contain chlorine, ammonia, toluene and petroleum distillates. Toxins can not only be absorbed by the skin, but more harmfully, breathed in as toxic fumes in an enclosed indoor environment. A large proportion of cleaning products are made from petroleum and these can continue to be toxic in soil, water and the environment for decades.
Why not benefit your health and the planet by trying more green cleaning products this year? These tend to include common ingredients such as water, white vinegar and baking soda along with natural plant-derived ingredients and oils. Again, for the determined, using internet recipes, you can easily make your own green cleaning products, which is cheaper and might even be fun?
Wishing you all a very healthy, safe and happy New Year. Geoff