Notes from The Orchard 2013

More Notes from the Orchard -1


December 2013


At the start of another liturgical year  the First Sunday in Advent in the Year of Our Lord 2013 - these Notes are making a new beginning with the addition of the word 'More'. . .


It seems that  in our country at any rate  fewer and fewer young people are following in the footsteps of Jesus, who proclaimed himself to be not only the Son of God but the Way, the Truth and the Life.  It is rather good to hear the BBC decided to serialise C. S. Lewiss The Screw Tape Letters.  This book seems almost more appropriate today than when it was originally published, perhaps because people dont really change.   Unless we are firmly anchored in our beliefs we tend to be blown along by winds of fashion and change, able only to go helplessly with the flow at a time when anchors are definitely not cool.


Just look around at the faces of the people you pass in the streets: occasionally you will see someone who looks lit up from the inside but for the most part people rush by with a worried look on their faces, oblivious to anything but getting to wherever their destination may be.  Couples sit silently in a caf, a train, a park bench concentrating on little screens in front of them or gazing into space and not into the eyes of the person with whom they are spending time.  Children copy their parents and when out in a family group sit quietly, engrossed in a virtual life, too busy to learn how to make friends, build relationships, develop compassion . . .


Over the centuries since Jesuss birth there have been many philosophers, thinkers and idealists who have proposed ways of living intended to be the solution to all our problems.  From Marx to Hitler, Mao to Keynes and from earlier centuries they have all failed.  Some might say that includes Jesus himself but a close inspection shows that what he says is pure common sense.  Others agree that while it might be the most practical advice available it really is too hard to put into practice!


The words of Jesus are truly the staff of life, the way we should be living:  Love God and Love one another the way I have loved you.   You dont really believe in God?  Find it impossible to get in touch with him?  Jesus said that no one could come to the Father, as he called God, except through me.  Well, we can get to know Jesus through his words and we can talk to him, maybe even send e-mails  no matter they come back or disappear into the wild blue yonder  hell get the message and he will answer.


Then again, its easy to talk to a baby in the sort of language a baby will understand and laugh and smile with you.  Jesus is very small at Christmas  a time when it would be difficult to find him unapproachable.  Imagine you are there, just peeping round the corner in a traditional representation of his birth in a stable.  Say hello, shut your eyes and see what happens. . .


Happy Christmas!



Sarah Bell




Notes from the Orchard 13


November 2013



This months article is a bridge between the first series of Notes from the Orchard, initially set up and written to mark the Year of Faith which was opened in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI, and the start of the second series 'More Notes from the Orchard'.  The Year of Faith finishes on 24th November with a ceremony overseen by Pope Francis I. It has been a year of celebration for many Christians, especially Catholics, to celebrate the Faith that all Christians receive at their Baptism.


November is the month when we think of the dead. Remembrance of the dead has been observed by the Christian church since very early days and by the 4th Century AD was established on a formal basis. Primarily it was to honour the martyrs who had died a usually grisly rather than deny their faith.  Eventually, where Christianity became the established religion, there were less martyrs but an increasing number of good and holy people recognised as saints and remembered and venerated in hamlets, villages, towns and cities. Very soon there were far too many to allot each one their own special day and finally, in the first half of the 8th Century, Pope Gregory IV instituted the Feast of All Saints to include all saints and martyrs who did not have their own individual day.  All Saints' Day was to be celebrated each year on 1st November.


As the years went by, the Christians of the time wanted to have a special day for their own un-canonised relatives who might be languishing in Purgatory. A Frenchman, Odilo, the Abbot of Cluny, chose a special day to pray for the community members who had died but may not yet have reached the high point of Heaven, and that was the day after All Saints Day. Initially it spread through the monasteries, but it caught on quickly and by the beginning of the first Millennium was established as a special day of the year. The Roman Church officially recognised it in the middle of the 18th Century and the day is known as All Souls Day.


November, being probably the gloomiest month of the year in the Northern hemisphere (apart perhaps from February) and also coinciding with the end the First World War with all its attendant horrors, is most frequently represented by the poppy which was chosen as a sign to represent the blood of the soldiers who first died in World War I and subsequently all other wars in which this country has been involved. The month itself has now become firmly and generally associated with the sorrow of death and remembrance.


Those who are fortunate enough to be blessed with a belief in a loving, just and above all merciful God find the whole concept of death less difficult to deal with than those who have not been granted the gift of faith.


For all these people maybe it is worth looking at the lovely world around us: the continuity of nature, with the seeds of the plants which go on, year after year, to rise transformed after Winters death into new life in the warmth of Spring. Such patterns do suggest that life goes on. Jesus talked about the sparrows, and commented that we were worth much more than those little birds which in his time sold for two a penny, and yet here they are with us, hundreds and hundreds of years later! Jesus came to rescue us from the shadow of death. If the loss of those you love casts you into the true depths of despair, just call on Him for help and He will come to your rescue. You may have spent years scoffing at the idea of heavenly interventions and so on, but if you are so downcast, what can you lose by sending a message to Him? You may well discover He really does speak the truth.


The comedian Dave Allen used to say at the end of his shows,  and may your God go with you! and to that I will add and pray that mine too may always be with you  and not only in the darkest of times. . .



Sarah Bell





'Notes from St. Francis' will be returning to Milford Parish Magazine from the December issue 2013



The following series of 12 articles (scroll downwards) was written and originally published on


as my personal effort to mark the Year of Faith which was opened by Pope Benedict XVI on 11th October 2012.  

The Year of Faith, a rather generous year, was closed by Pope Francis I on

Sunday 24th November 2013, the Feast of Christ the King. SB




Notes from the Orchard 12


October 2013


This month, these 'Notes from The Orchard mark the end of their first year of life.  They arrived unexpectedly on these pages after Notes from St. Francis of Assisi, which had appeared in the Milford Parish Magazine for the previous ten years, had been abruptly terminated following the arrival of a new incumbent.


These current Notes were then started up to coincide with the declaration by Pope Benedict of a Year of Faith, celebrating the 2000 years since the birth of Christ and the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II when the Roman Catholic Church, smarting from the pain and shock of the rupture caused by the Reformation, finally decided it was brave enough to set out again into the deep (Luke 5:4) and seek more seriously to fulfil the desire of Jesus that we might all be one (John 17:21-23).  The celebratory Year of Faith  a generously sized year of 409 days!  will close on Sunday 24th November, Feast of Christ the King, with formal celebrations in Rome.


The year turned out to one of the most momentous of recent years of the Papacy, when for the first time in its history a Pope resigned.  Age and declining health together with prayer helped Pope Benedict to make his decision to go, avoiding the long drawn-out public decline of his predecessor and allowing the church at a time of great difficulty to open the way for a new leader to guide her through the morass of evil in which she has been floundering because of the actions of the few.


Coincidentally this year both Roman and Anglican churches have found themselves with new leaders who seem to have much in common in their thinking - Gods thinking maybe?


There is no reason to believe that the Church is immune from any kind of sin and is a pure and unsullied edifice although set up by Jesus himself.  Jesus was well aware that he himself together with anything good on this earth would always be a target for the wiles of Satan, the Prince of this World.  The church is not, of course, the buildings which protect its people from inclement weather:  it is built of living stones, us, the people.  We are the sinners Jesus came to rescue.  We are not a collection of saints.  Not yet.  Here on earth we can only work towards becoming the holy people Jesus wants us to be.


Too many people perceive saints to be people who look like mediaeval paintings or Victorian plaster images and about as lively and exciting.  On the other hand, those recognized as real saints, like Mother Theresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maximilian Kolbe, Elizabeth Fry, William Wilberforce and many, many others, are those who just get on with their lives precisely where they find themselves, doing their best to improve the things they can while paying tribute to the God who made us all and gave us all.  


Such people may have been put into circumstances which made them more noticeable to the general public, thus perhaps eventually being awarded the prestigious St. in front of their names but they have done no more than the mother who day by day copes with her family doing the best she can for them and for the community in which she lives, or the father who earns his daily bread and provides for his family without cheating his employees or the tax authorities and pulling his weight, like his wife, in both the family and the community around him.


We ourselves are the church, the living stones of which the church is made.  Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it  he never said it was a fortress that would be protected from attack whether from inside or without.  We have our faith to defend us and Jesuss promise that we will win.


Still, we do need good quality stones rather than crumbly ones, and as the saying goes, if you want to be happy, be good.  Being good really isnt dull and boring, though today many people think it is, and such lives generally produce first-class bricks!


Not long to wait now for the lovely autumn colours. . .


Coming soon . . .





Sarah Bell




Notes from the Orchard 11


September 2013


In the middle of the summer holidays Radio 4 on the BBC was full of programmes about race, clash of religions and wars.  I know that many people, including me, were inclined to switch off, having decided they were boring and all down to the silly season when politicians are away from Westminster. The Beeb always has a deep desire to be controversial so, politics being largely unavailable, they plump for race and religion - those subjects so often banned from discussion at social get-togethers.


Race is certainly not a subject I would have chosen to write about, but for me this summer has produced a mix of totally unexpected events.  Prayer has always been a big part of starting the writing of my monthly articles and what has happened seems to be the good Lords answer for this month.


After a series of extraordinary coincidences, I found myself hosting a young (by Milford standards!)  Carmelite nun, originally from the Congo but at the moment studying in Rome.  Finally I met her in Seaview of all places.  The only connection was in response to a request from a friend in another country that I might send a letter inviting her to England for language studies so that she could get a Visa.  I had absolutely nothing further to do with it: the Rotary Club in Ryde sponsors students from Italy to learn English on the Isle of Wight, and Solange ended up in Seaview, where one of my daughters has a house.  I wont continue to describe the coincidences  they are almost too ridiculous.  Anyway, Solange eventually arrived here in Milford for a full weeks stay.  She is one of the most charming young people I have had the pleasure of meeting  an opinion shared by the two families with whom she stayed on the Isle of Wight.  Neither of these families were Catholic.  They were totally unaccustomed to the whole idea of nuns let alone a black one, especially when they were in fact expecting a young Italian teenager of either sex aged between 16 - 18.



Just before her arrival, I went to a local gathering and met someone who described themself quite openly as Racist  the capital letter was in the voice.  I have often met people who were happy to declare themselves bigots of one kind or another, and I am always delighted to talk to them to find out why.  Invariably it turns out that whatever group of people they are against, they havent actually met any!


Until very recently, most of the opposing faith people in Northern Ireland never met each other until they had finished trying to blow each other up.  The different Moslem sects keep themselves apart and Christians generally for the last nearly 2000 years have likewise been notorious in their animosity between their sects although, thank God, they are now improving hugely. . .


When the dissatisfied, often fired by testosterone, start throwing bombs at each other, the separate groups huddle together, hatred fanned into an inferno.  Pause, then think how this applies to so many warring factions and you will see the truth of it.  Look at Syria, Egypt, parts of Africa, the gangs of Mexico and so on.  Use your imagination and your historical knowledge.  Sadly, this is the way of the world and the people in it.


It usually starts in a very small way, from the family then to schools, to faith congregations, street gangs, the workplace, between classes, political parties, parts of a country  north versus south, for example  then nations and, if we are not careful, followed by inevitable competition between continents.


People are like the beautiful flowers of the field.  Nobody in their senses wants to get rid of them and currently the idea of changing our gardens to something resembling their impromptu beauty has become fashionable.  Each little flower is appreciated for what it is, and that is how we should see the people we meet, our neighbours.


Personally I love big, gaudy flowers  like tree peonies. My daughter, a brilliant gardener, loves all flowers, including those she accuses me of ignoring: the pissy little flowers, because theyre too small.  But look at the beauty of them, she exclaims.  I do, and then I have to revise my opinion.


People are the same: theyre all lovely, but only if you consider them one at a time.  Were often pretty dreadful in bunches and in large groups we can be horrible.


Individually, with all our quirks, were beautiful, just as God made us.  We need to look at each other through the rose-tinted glasses and the finely tuned eyes of love, somewhat in the way Jesus does.


Love does to people what water does to plants.  They flourish.


Enjoy the autumn  the colours should be magnificent this year if the wind doesnt blow the leaves away first*.



Sarah T M Bell





Notes from the Orchard - 10


August 2013


The news coming out of the Middle East, birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions, gets more and more violent.  All over the world heads of governments meet in consternation-filled rooms trying to find a solution where none seems to exist, apart from the time-worn answer which never really works: bring out the heaviest clubs, the longest bows, the biggest guns, the most powerful bombs. . .

The last half-century or so of peace, interspersed by only little wars,  came about because we all frightened ourselves with the immediate and after effects of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  That particular terror looks rather less now as it recedes into the past. So many countries now have access to such weaponry that the likelihood of it being used again is creeping out of the arms cupboard like one of those big black house spiders.

I am in the middle of reading a summary of the battles fought by Israel in the Old Testament: such a warlike bunch of people  does anything change?  Do we ever change?  However, what is interesting is their consistent turning to God when things get desperate.  That solution kept the Hebrews going for centuries  perhaps we should try it ourselves?

The difference is that no matter how disobedient to God they were, the Hebrews did believe in him and were sure that in the end he would  hear their cries of distress.   Are there enough Christians left to beg the God, in whom they say they believe, to come to their  and the worlds  rescue and grant us peace?

The trouble with God is that he is ever so big and unknown.  Saints who spent their lives meditating on God describe him as other. A mother consoled her little boy who didnt want to be left alone at night by telling him he wouldnt be alone, that God would be there with him. This didnt help:  I want someone with skin! wept the little boy.

And that is precisely the reason God sent Jesus to us, he who said No one comes to the Father except through me: I am the Way the Truth and the Life.  But how are we to get to know him?

Read what the Gospel writers wrote, read what the saints have written.  An occasional brush with stories from the Old Testament and the gospels wont get us very far.  We need to get to know Jesus from the people who did know him and who continue to know him and tell us about him.  We do need to give our spiritual side a refresher course from time to time.

Remember, even if we just sit hopefully and empty our minds, Jesus will find a way of knocking at the door so we can say Yes!

[Click here to say yes]*

*Go on, be brave!



Sarah Bell


Notes from the Orchard - 9


July 2013



Notes from the Orchard for June 2013 ended with a question:

Morality tied merely to politics does not seem to have been a wild success . . . so where do we go from here?

Ive been puzzling over this comment since it appeared last month.  After all, those who propounded the foundations on which our political parties are based were ─ when they started out in a life of politics ─ well-meaning and the sum of their thinking is the basis of democracy as we know it.  Sounds ideal, doesnt it?

The Beeb are producing a new history of the Greeks, starting at the end of June on BBC 2, where some of our cherished notions about the wonderful democracy, as practiced by the Greeks, will be fleshed out and presented as what it was really like to live under democratic rule as it existed during the time of the ancient Greeks.

The things we take so much for granted in our own age  free education, medical care, care for the elderly and infirm etc.  during our own history were for many centuries dealt with by the church with its network of convents and monasteries.   This of course had little to do with secular government but depended on inspiration from the words of the Gospels.  The actual moves to bring these interests closer to state control via the government were initiated by people whose motives sprang from the same sources.  Such people were also responsible for improving life for the mentally ill, for slaves, for prisoners, for neglected children and for the poor, oppressed and so on. . .

Great political movements in the art of running countries such as fascism and communism very often sprung  and still spring - from the ideas of a single dominant thinker who is driven by his or her own personal views of how the state should be run.  Human thinking, in other words, not Gods. . .

A deeper look into the history of much that goes on in world-wide politics seems to suggest that these thinkers, many of whom might well have or had a desire to make the world a better place, made their major error by dreaming their dreams first and only later trying to fit them to actual human beings.

A study of monotheism generally and Christianity in particular will show that it works better than politics  when it is not kidnapped by them!   Before delivering his message, Jesus looks at people first, sees we are a selfish and obstinate bunch who like our own way and then goes on to show us what we need to be happy and live a fulfilled life.

Jesuss message is so simple we tend to ignore it.  We dont like the Ten Commandments and think that they are restrictive to our personal freedom.  If you go to check in any encyclopedia you will discover the theologians have got there first.  The Ten Commandments are presented as a wordy-wordy basis for arguing, somewhat as the Scribes and Pharisees do so often in the scriptures.

However, a look at the simplest version you can find might be a good starting place.  Then pick any commandment and consider what happens when it is broken. It soon becomes apparent that it just makes life more complicated.  For example, take the one about bearing false witness. . .  That never sounds particularly bad, not like murder for instance.  The simplest version will come down to Dont lie. . .   That seems quite a little peccadillo and a recent survey showed that well over 90% of people in this country think lying doesnt really matter.   If, however, you try thinking about where even a simple lie can lead, it doesnt take long to realize how lying pushes everything off the rails.  Very soon we find ourselves living in a world where we can trust nobody, corruption is rampant, and were in a place where cynicism and taking care of Number One seem to be our only protection.

Well now, theres something to think about as we lie around and enjoy the English summer sun ─ while we thank God for the good and lovely things he gives us, at the same time doing our best to love and care for all the people whose lives touch ours as we voyage through time.


Sarah Bell


Notes from the Orchard - 8


June 2013



Judging from history, current eldest generations spend a great deal of time moaning about what the world is coming to. . . how far below their own performance are those of the upcoming generations - all of them, and what should be done about it.  Lets join the debate. . .

The changes in life-style and general values have probably changed more radically in the last 40 years or so than in any former period in the worlds history, at least insofar as human beings are concerned -  maybe the dinosaurs had it worse when the asteroid hit.

Without a lot of serious thought it just isnt possible to pinpoint exactly where things began to spin out of control but lets just look at one aspect of our life which has changed dramatically:  In global terms, across and round the world, between the oldest and the youngest, current ease of communication offers options that are almost infinite.

But when everything is available in profusion, how do we make a wise choice?  Mmmmm, lets think about that. . .

Suppose you are a little child, let loose in a sweet shop:  what would be the likely result?  I think we can safely say the experience would end in tummy ache, tears and sickness.  Little children wouldnt know when to stop.  While the consumption is delicious and enjoyable up to a point, there will certainly come the moment when everything goes awry.

When choice - any choice - is unlimited and we are unable to make an informed choice, things almost certainly will go wrong.

The information available on the internet varies from very good to very bad:  Good? Bad?  What do those terms mean to anyone who has no point of reference to decide which is which?

Perhaps it is time to look to the performance of the elder generations to see how we have done in our time.  The rise of political correctness which first came into public consciousness in the 1960s, together with its condemnation of value judgments formed the first serious attack on the Judaeo-Christian values of right and wrong on which much of our way of life in the West has grown over the centuries.  

Over the last two or three generations our children have been despoiled and infantilised.  The desire to follow the current fashionable Life Style is what matters, which designer gear, whats in, whats out.  Books, films, internet games, television - all these are becoming formulaic, Disneyfied, sequel-ed and prequel-ed.  Violence is everywhere.  Celebrity and financial wealth have become prime ambitions and if they are denied, violence and mayhem often turn into their substitutes.

But look for anything that might light a spark of spirituality in our young and you will be hard-pressed to find it anywhere in the media. . .

So perhaps we older people should ask ourselves how well have we passed on the fruits of our Christian faith to up-coming generations in our own families?  The truth is that faith needs to be caught rather than taught.  What sort of example have they seen in our own lives? Did they ever see that divine spark lighting up for real the life they led/lead in their own homes and families?

Morality tied merely to politics does not seem to have been a wild success . . . so where do we go from here?


Sarah Bell


Notes from The Orchard - 7


May  2013



So, weve not been basking in bright sunshine under blue skies.*  Well, not yet anyway as I write these 'Notes' but the wonderful thing about being human is that we have three great gifts, gifts which we tend to take for granted most of the time if we ever even bother to open them.  Their names trip lightly from our lips: faith, hope and charity.


The last of these  and supposedly the greatest  is charity/love, but people spend so much time analysing and arguing what charity actually is that it often withers on the branch before it does anything.  The first, faith, some people find rather scary on the grounds of Oh, thats for holy people, isnt it?  Im not one of those and I dont know what I believe in, really. . .  but the one in the middle is the one that, like the oil of industry, keeps us going no matter how difficult life gets.  Without some hope, any hope, life becomes unbearable and unliveable, but deep down inside each of us, even at the worst moments, there is always a little flame of hope that things must get better.


While the general plan of our lives needs to be roughly planned, the important thing is just to get through today.  When we are suffering in any way, looking ahead where everything seems bleak, try considering the solution offered by Jesus himself.  Just concentrate on today:  if you can get through that, it is not too long a period to cope with the difficulties of life because sleep should be waiting at the end of it.  Medical help is available if necessary, but then when you wake up the next morning, there is only one more day to worry about.  Eventually, you will recover. . . and hope is the best medicine.


Faith, hope and charity are not called theological virtues for nothing.  At the end of them is God.  If you dont have faith in God, perhaps you have it in a human individual who, after all, is a creation of God.  Its a pale reflection of what you could have, because the advantage of knowing God  who is only knowable through Jesus  is that God doesnt die.  He is always there.  If you are reading this and dont have enough faith to believe in God at all, try going to the NASA website to get some idea of the enormity of the universe and ask yourself whether the whole thing hangs together by accident. . . and how did it get there?


The tip of the 'wing' of the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is dazzling in this new view from NASA's Great Observatories. The SMC, is a small galaxy about 200,000 light-years way that orbits our own Milky Way spiral galaxy.

With our little minds there is always the danger that for us the very idea of creation puts God in a factory, a bit like Father Christmas, making all the animals, birds, insects etc Himself.  We find the idea of creating something out of nothing so strange we can either think of it as magic stuff, rabbits out of hats etc, or beyond us.  We dont need to worry: the world around us is there and we should be looking after it instead of spending our lives questioning the origin  fascinating as that is to the intellect.  If you like the idea of faith  and many people do  then ask for it!  This is the one area where you can utterly depend on a positive answer to your prayer.  Delivery times vary but keep hoping and trusting. It will arrive, especially if you try exploring the hinterland. . .


Then theres the last one: charity, love, what ever you wish to call it.  There are quite a few possible interpretations which can be called into the debate because of language and translation difficulties.  The Tower of Babel wasnt mentioned for nothing in the first book of the Bible!  Confused communication between each other, individuals, families, nations causes more mayhem on earth than anything else.  Let us just simply be kind, caring and loving to each other simply because we need to be.  Let's stop worrying about me and turn our thoughts and hearts outwards and, lo and behold, we will find somebody is also thinking about us, which lets us off the 'me' hook.


And thank God He loves us  its good to know someone does, especially when He's so powerful!



Sarah Bell


* . . . and lo and behold, the blue skies have arrived!

Well, for a couple of days anyway - there may be more later in the month. . .




Notes from The Orchard - 6


April  2013



In common with virtually everyone in the whole country I am freezing, depressed with the late arrival of Spring, wondering indeed whether will it arrive at all.  My eyes and ears are assaulted with the most depressing of news:  as I write, we have Cyprus, Syria, Mali, Central African Republic, North and South Korea. . . and so on.


In this country we have our own problems apart from the weather  the failings in the NHS, immigration, corruption, greed, arrogance, lies  and Im sure you would all be able to add items to an endless list of bad news.


Even the much vaunted secularists dont seem to be able to produce any hopeful answers to our problems.  Some assure us that politics will save us.  Hmmm. . . which ones?  Conservatives?  Socialists?  Liberal Democrats?  Communists? Any of the others?


Others suggest the ideologists have the answers, the sociologists, the psychologists, and many other -ologists, all have great confidence in their abilities to gift humanity with happiness on earth. . .


These days a strong undercurrent flows through our media in the form of a persistent, sonorous drone which comes from those who have no faith apart from their belief in the wonder of nature, of the human being. Physical life is so transient:  asteroids are going to hit our planet, our loved ones die, our houses fall apart, moths eat our clothes and rust our cars. . . and even our bodies are wearing out  oh, dear!


This is all such bad news it drains our spirits, our hopes, our dreams.


But there is good news.  Dont keep listening to the naysayers, the prophets of doom, most of whom have only a glancing acquaintance with the hope offered by Jesus. Those who mock and make fun of the Christian message have probably never read it for themselves and never looked inside their inmost selves to seek where true happiness might lie.


Just going through the motions of religion wont make much progress in getting to know Jesus either, or the point of him.  The DVD Jesus of Nazareth  by Zeffirelli is closely accurate to the Gospels and wonderful viewing. A great alternative, recommended for the serious searcher is Jesus: a Historical Approximation *, maybe followed by a modern translation of the Gospels.  With the world in its current mess, anythings worth a try!


Lets not forget Easter and the gifts of the Lord of the Gospels while we are still enjoying the remains of chocolate Easter eggs, friends, family and still, still cherish the hope of a warm and lovely Spring to come. However late. . .



Sarah Bell


PS - Good Friday 2013:  it seems we are blessed with God's choice of both our new Pope, Francis I, and Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury!  Let's keep both men in our prayers.


* This book is available in England from www.amazon.co.uk




Notes from The Orchard - 5


March 2013



March this year, for Roman Catholics, is not going to be what any of them expected.  The idea of an imminent papal election had just not occurred to most, although we all know, of whatever religious persuasion we are either born into or choose later in life, that death  like taxes  is inevitable, but retirement in the case of a Pope would never have entered into Roman Catholic consciousness.


One third of the world is made up of Christians, and of those, half are Catholic.  Jesus asked his apostles to Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations. . . which obviously has not yet been done.  Theres still a lot of work to do, by all his followers.


If we look at the history of Christianity, we can see that as the poor sinners we are, we havent done brilliantly in delivering the message that Jesus brought to us: Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34-35)  Too many Christians squabble among themselves, too many think they are superior to other children of Gods creation and fail to understand that Gods wonderful gifts scattered liberally throughout the universe are for all of us and are designed to draw each of us human beings to Him in love.


Many of the paths we walk are dictated by accidents of birth, but God is waiting for each one of us at the end of our lives when He will be there to greet us.  We can only do our best.


Sometimes it seems to me that we are here on this earth to learn to love but sadly, sadly, some of us do not find ourselves in any position where we can learn this.


The lucky ones, maybe you and me, need to spread the message of love brought by Jesus who was sent by God, and we have been given the chance to follow him because we were lucky enough to have received his message by birth, inspiration, whatever. . .


Jesus did give authority to Peter. (Matt.16:15-20)  It is also true that there have been bad Popes but the great majority, like Pope Benedict XVI, have been good men trying to do a terribly difficult and demanding job.  We all need to pray that the next Pope will be a true follower of Jesus Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, who will send out the wonderful news of the Gospels and turn our poor. dear world towards the face of God.


God will warm us with His love so that we may share it amongst all of us here on this lovely planet, in order that we may love Him and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him, together with all those that we have loved, in the next . . . which of course is why we shall celebrate in great style the Resurrection on the great feast of Easter on the last day of March.


Happy Easter!



Sarah Bell




Regarding the current Elephant in the Room:  a personal comment from the Editor:


The sexual scandal in the Church is not just the Elephant in the Room  it is more of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and I cannot ignore it, particularly in the light of the resignation of the Cardinal Archbishop of Edinburgh.  I have to say something here and now.


When the first public exposure of child abuse came to light in Cleveland in the UK I was living with my husband in Singapore.  The whole story seemed totally unbelievable.  As the years went by, more and more revelations, not just in a small area of England but all over the world and in particular the western part of it, began to look something like a tsunami vast enough to dwarf even the real one of 2004.


In the last few days, the condemnation of a member of the Liberal party for inappropriate behaviour  another euphemism to join all those others which abound these days in so many areas, presumably to prevent the possibility of using explicit definitions which might incur legal liability  raises many questions, about which I am beginning to worry more than the physical sins committed, one which is potentially more disruptive.  Why is the thought of witch-hunting beginning to hammer at my mind, and who are all these people who are sitting in judgement?


For a long time, during the recent period of sniffing out sexual   well, misdemeanours is too slight a word  we will have to say sins, however unfashionable that might be, when anyone suspected of some sexual deviation has been hounded by people who are now themselves under suspicion of questionable behaviour, that is to say the BBC and other visual media, together with the paper press.


More worrying than any peculiarity of inappropriate behaviour is the rise of witch-hunting, which parades itself under the guise of seeking transparency and truth.  Truth?  In a country where a fairly recent poll discovered that well over 90% of its people didnt see anything wrong in lying?  If this is so, who are we to judge truth? As they say, Lets be clear about this . . .  Hmmm.


We are, we humans, terribly physical and driven by what is necessary to keep the worlds population in balance. Alas, we get it wrong: the sexual urge and its satisfaction is very pleasurable but we too often forget the main reason for it is to ensure the continuation of our species.  Bees get pleasure from collecting the delicious nectar that makes honey, but their twin jobs at the base of everything are pollination and producing more bees.


Sexual deviancy or over-indulgence is not attractive, but it is not what will kill the world.


What will deprive it of life are the spiritual sins of greed, envy, hate, falsehood  all the sons of pride, the father of egotism and selfishness and the prime sin of our first parents, the lovely Adam and Eve who had everything and threw it all away for what they thought was more exciting and wonderful.


What will save the world are the all-embracing virtues of love and kindness which, in todays light, seem boring, inhibiting and uncool.  Those virtues, together with the acceptance of the knowledge that there really is a God, and a God who cares for us as a good father, who sent his own son  our brother  to show us how to live life to the full, it is those virtues, love and kindness, that really will save the world.


Judgment without knowledge of all the facts is the best that we, as people, can do but at its worst can engender a terror beyond reckoning. Witch-hunting is not a pretty sight and it travels paths which lead to disaster. Go study some history!


And may God have mercy on us all, sinners that we are.



STMB  Editor

26th February 2013




Notes from The Orchard - 4


February 2013



December gone  in a final wrap of expensive pretty paper all screwed up and binned, cards remembering old, new, but all dear, friends.  January gone  in a gale of wind, snow and rain and annual bills  so fast!  February  short month with the chance of snowdrops and early daffodils and this year, early Lent. . . oh, dear!


Lent: theres the refrain: What are you giving up for Lent?  What am I giving up for Lent?  Mmmm.better do something.  Chocolate?  Booze? Cigarettes  well, not so many people smoke these days  sugar?  Thats out a bit too, but how about puddings? Yum, yum!


What the point of giving up?  We might end up slimmer, healthier, fitting, feeling good about our ability to do the mind-over-matter bit. . . But who benefits?  We are coming back to the rather sad priority of our time. All together now:


Me, me, me!


Viking Woman Singing Animated Clipart


or rather better


We, we, we!


Viking Woman Singing Animated Clipart


Forget Give up!  Forget the up and go for the give.


I find myself embarrassed to hear how little money, for example, has been given for the refugees from Syria.  At the moment some 3% of what is needed in spite of appeals from the UN.  I am thrilled to hear that our Government has made some contribution to Jordan, a small country which is faced with an overwhelming number of Syrian refugees  roughly one tenth of its total population with more crowds  pouring in every day with few possessions to their name.


So often have I heard people comment that they dont have any trust in the charities who ask for help.  In these cynical times too many people assume they are being cheated.  Perhaps it is time to remember the biblical advice to Cast your bread upon the waters. [ Click here ] and maybe say a prayer, as you send off your contribution from what you might have saved by sacrificing some earthly delight for Lent, with the quiet comment to yourself that the people to and for whom you are giving the money need it more than you do.


Alternatively you might follow some prayers for Lent.  Try here [ Click here ] perhaps, or go hunting on Google.  Or even join a local house group for the period.  There would probably be some notices up in any of the local churches.


Don't have enough money to give away?  Don't have an inclination to pray? Well, maybe you could give some extra time to friends who need you or to your family. . .


Whatever, Lent means that Easter, Spring and the light they both bring are on their way.  I saw my first catkins yesterday - such a lovely, bright, hopeful green.


Hurray. hurray, hurray and thanks be to God!



Sarah Bell


Lent begins 13th February this year

and Easter Sunday is 31st March

when the clocks change





Notes from The Orchard - 3


January 2013



It is quite difficult to think of stepping out into a Brand New Year when Christmas decorations and cards are still in evidence in many households, but here it is, waiting to be welcomed with the booming chimes of Big Ben:


The Year of Our Lord




What are we going to do with it?  Shall we go forward with hope, perhaps freed from the shackles of things gone wrong in the past, or do we find ourselves handicapped by chains of guilt and unhappiness,  unable to face the future with any kind of confidence, optimism or sense of adventure?  Are we hampered by silken threads of duty, perhaps turned by time into dusty cobwebs?  Is there any light at the end of the tunnel ahead?


The kind of problems we all meet through life, suggested above, can be soothed with the ointment of friendship.  Loneliness in the western world is much more prevalent today when many of us live in isolation without the support of close family ties within easy or any reach.


You, who are reading these words and feel you are blessed with family and friends, might think of enlarging your special group by adding new people.  Visit people who live alone, offer to help in groups where lonely people are trying to get themselves back into society, perhaps after bereavement or a change of life circumstances.  Remember too that it is not only older people who find themselves isolated: young people, of whom many pensioners are afraid, do respond to a smile.  The vast majority of them are just like the rest of us  they too want to be loved, appreciated and held in some sort of esteem.


If you do nothing else during 2013, do more than merely glance at the people you pass in the street, stand with in a queue or sit beside on a train.  Look at them properly, then think of them as children of God, just like you.  Give them a smile that comes from the heart as you recognise a fellow traveller on the road of life.  Who knows what problems you might share? A smile may be a small thing but its a start that opens doors, both for others and for you.


I wish you all a wonderful year ahead, full of friends old and new, and if you are blessed with the gift of Faith, thank God . . . its probably the best ointment of all.  Pass it on by the way you live!




Sarah Bell