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Elections, Funerals and Gardens

Ovingdean News July and August

Well Summer is here and whilst the last thing we need is a heat wave, a little bit more sun and warmth would be welcome! 

General Election 

This edition of Ovingdean News will be hitting your mats a few days before the General Election.  We are living in changing times filled with opportunity and challenge and as I look forward I have mixed feelings about all that is to come next. The D Day anniversary in June reminded me of the extraordinary sacrifices made for me, my family and this nation and I have a renewed sense of personal and civic duty to make the most of all we have. I feel so grateful to be living in a country with a progressive democracy and I encourage you to use your vote, for whatever party you wish to support, on the 4th of July. 

Planning your funeral 

Over the past few months many people have spoken with me about being buried in St Wulfran’s Churchyard and funerals in general. I thought I would take the opportunity again to set out the arrangements in this edition of Ovingdean News as many people feel quite anxious about the organising of a funeral after their passing. 

If you live in the village, live elsewhere but worship at St Wulfran’s, or you have another qualifying connection then you are able to have your funeral at Wulfran’s Church. To be absolutely clear we are here for everyone in the village and you don’t need to have been a worshipping member of the church to have your funeral or burial (see below) at St Wulfran’s. If you would like a priest from St Wulfran’s to take a funeral at the crematorium this can also be arranged.  With regard to burials we have a beautiful, peaceful and spiritual churchyard where again any resident from the village, worshippers at St Wulfran’s and people with other qualifying connections can be laid to rest (burials and interment of ashes). Full details can be found on our website:

Planning a funeral can be a very important undertaking for many and I am always happy to meet and talk through arrangements, music, hymns or songs, readings and other wishes for a service. I can give you a copy of these plans to keep with your will, share with your next of kin and / or funeral director.  

Some reflections on gardening and God’s Kingdom 

I read an excellent essay by the theologian Debie Thomas recently about the parable of the sower and the mustard seed in Mark's Gospel (Mark 4:26-34) and thought I’d share some of her reflections here. In this story Jesus explains what the Kingdom of God is like through two short parables. Debie says they are intended to stretch our imaginations far beyond any place we’d take them on our own. What is the kingdom of God like? Are you sure you want to know? Okay, brace yourself: the kingdom of God is like a sleeping gardener, mysterious soil, an invasive weed, and a nuisance flock of birds. In the first parable a gardener scatters seed on the ground, and goes off to sleep. The seeds fend for themselves (or, as Mark puts it, “the earth produces of itself”), and when the grain is ripe, the gardener harvests it. In the second parable, someone sows a tiny mustard seed in the ground, and it grows into a gigantic bush, large enough to offer birds shelter in its branches.

The gardener in Jesus’s parable sleeps and doesn’t slog or micro-manage.  He doesn’t second-guess. Instead, he enjoys the rest that comes from leaning into a process that is ancient, mysterious, cyclical, and sure. He trusts the seeds. He trusts the soil. He trusts the sun, the shade, the clouds, the rain. But he never harbours the illusion that he's in charge; he knows that he's operating in a realm of mystery.  Which brings us to the soil. According to Jesus’s parable, the kingdom of God is both productive and hidden, both generous and mysterious. 

In Jesus’s second parable, a sower sows a mustard seed in the ground. The joke here is not only that mustard seeds are tiny, but that the people in Jesus’s day didn't plant mustard seeds. Mustard was a weed — and a noxious, stubborn weed at that.  So what is Jesus saying when he describes the sacred and the holy as a tiny, insignificant mustard seed? What does it mean to take an invasive, spindly weed — a plant we’d sooner discard than sow — and make it the very heart, the very structural centre, of God’s kingdom?  Who and what counts in God’s economy? What is beautiful? Who matters? Where do we see the sacred?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the speaker of this parable — Jesus himself who comes to earth as a tiny and forgettable “mustard seed.” A backwater baby born into poverty on the edges of the empire. Or that the people who first follow him when he grows up are a bunch of raggedy fishermen, women with little power or autonomy and corrupt tax collectors. Is it really the case that God’s kingdom rests on folks like these? Yes. Absolutely yes.

The last image in this set of parables is that of nesting birds finding shade in the branches of the mustard plant. It’s a pretty image on its face, but it, too, as it turns out, is a joke: first century farmers are unlikely to have wanted this. Birds eat seeds and fruits. They wreak havoc in cornfields.  Birds are why farmers put up scarecrows. Debbie says Jesus isn't a scarecrow kind of gardener. Why? Because the kingdom of God is all about welcoming the unwelcome. Sheltering the unwanted. Practising radical inclusion. The garden of God doesn’t exist for itself; it exists to offer nourishment to everyone the world deems unworthy. It exists to attract and to house the very people we’d rather shun. Its primary purpose is hospitality, not productivity. 

Here is what the kingdom of God looks like: slow, mysterious growth. Periods of fallowness. Plants we can neither control nor contain. Weeds that run wild and still nourish. Hungry, raucous birds. Feasts we might mistake for waste. Gardeners who take naps. All of this is good news, but it isn’t always easy news. It's tough to loosen our grip, to trust and accept mystery, to seek God in the commonplace, and to embrace the unwanted thing as beloved.

But whatever our temperaments and our circumstances, the challenge remains to scatter seed and rest in God’s grace. To embrace even the weeds, and allow them to become havens of rest. Can we lean into this other worldly kingdom? Can we let go? Can we trust that the God of the inscrutable seed is also the God of the magnificent harvest? May we learn to do so.

Have a blessed and happy summer followed by a rich harvest. Love Fr Richard 

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