We are livestreaming service throughout the week - to find details of when the service are and how to access them go here
Each Day this week we will be putting up a Thought for the Day from one of the ministry team:
Wednesday 3rd June
A good friend, the late Rev Pamela Lloyd of this parish, converted their garden shed into a lovely small chapel, a place of peace and quiet enabling her and others to concentrate on listening to God as well as speaking to Him. I baulk at the prospect of clearing our shed but I am using my spiritual mentor Henri Nouwen’s ‘You are the beloved’ to help me to become more of a listener in my personal prayers.
The prolonged lock down is a positive opportunity for some spiritual 'spring cleaning'.
Trevor, the previous Bishop of Dover, once spoke to our Men's Breakfast group. He outlined a typical day in his working life that started early on with about an hour listening and not speaking to God - petitions came later. I and others felt we were not up to this, managing ten minutes on a good day before wandering thoughts break in.
The Bishop explained you have to work at this listening over time. requiring some discipline. He is right!
Nouwen observes that if we just sit quietly waiting for God to speak to us 'we find ourselves bombarded with conflicting thoughts and ideas'. Too true in my experience. To counter this Nouwen advocates choosing a simple word or phrase that 'repeated frequently can help us to concentrate, to move to the centre of our being, to create an inner stillness, and thus to listen to the voice of God'.
Personally, I find this usually works. Yes, I become so relaxed and centred that I may "drop off" briefly, but emerge with a profound sense I have been in the presence of God. As Nouwen says this practice 'can be like a ladder along which we can descend into the heart and ascend to God'.
Maybe try it if you don't already do so. The lock down can have some real benefits. Read 1 Samuel 3:1-10.
Tuesday 2nd June
About to mow my front lawn, one of four open plan in front of four houses, I cast a critical eye at the garden next door, a wilderness of long grass, nettles, various wild flowers and weeds. Later I read a newspaper article saying it would benefit the environment if we all stopped mowing our lawns and allowed wildflowers and their habitats to flourish. But somehow tidiness, appearance and control in the front garden seem more important.
This is a minor context, but we do face the huge question of our response to care for the
environment and climate change as we come out of our necessary and all-consuming preoccupation with the pandemic. Will we be able to maintain the urgency, to learn lessons from the different level of pollution which circumstances forced on us? How will we balance global economic and social well-being with the climate change agenda?
Next Sunday focuses on the threefold relationship which we associate with the concept of Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, creation, ministry, and inspiration. This relationship illustrates a positive approach to the environmental issues we face. Care for creation only happens if we are inspired to find active, practical solutions which are inclusive of all global communities.
Trinity is about the interconnected relationship of creation, action and vision which enables the
natural world and all of us to flourish. Next door’s garden has at last been tidied up. The neighbours and I congratulate ourselves on the tidy lawns. There are much vaster implications of climate change, but even in small things, control for our immediate gratification doesn’t seem to figure in the equation we find in the Trinity.
Monday 1st June
Currently Clare and I are having a theatre night each week. The National Theatre have a vast number of recordings made as part their NT live programme which live streamed plays into cinemas. Now in lockdown each Thursday one of those recordings is available on YouTube and like our Sunday morning service you can watch it “live” in this case at 7pm or you can watch it at any time in the following week. We like to sit down at 7pm knowing that others are doing the same. We make a treat of it having an interval ice cream and not doing anything (except clap for the carers at 8pm).
There have been plays that we had meant to see at the theatre and some that we wouldn’t have
gone to London to see- everything from Treasure Island to Antony and Cleopatra. We’ve really
enjoyed them and look forward to our Thursdays, seeing things we thought we would never see.
Some feel like that about church services with all the streaming going on at present. We can watch services from all around the world and all around the world can watch our services. For some people it may be the first service they have attended for a long time and for others they are drawn into experiences they wouldn’t have been able to share like the Lanfranc service at evening prayer last Thursday at the cathedral.
The church, like the theatre, is something living and best experienced live but the responses to
streaming have been very positive and whatever happens next, the idea of recording and
broadcasting will add a new dimension to church life and the way we communicate.
Yesterday was Pentecost when we thought of the disciples filled with the spirit who spoke to as
many people as they could in their own language, today in our own age we are realising again the power of communication and seen how the message of the gospel can be broadcast in diverse ways to diverse people. The spirit at work as we broadcast and as others receive- a different world but one with many possibilities!
Saturday 30 May
We are being asked to face a “new normal” even as the restrictions imposed by the pandemic are relaxed a little. From next week it will be possible to meet family and friends (not exceeding 6) in our gardens and enjoy a barbeque or picnic. Shops will be opening, and we can buy a new car, or a new dress provided you don’t try them on. (if you test drive a car it will need to decontaminated and sanitised when you return to the show room). I wonder if that is really what any of us want. Already people locally have told me they won’t be going shopping, and no-one has mentioned getting a new car. Our anxiety levels are high and likely to remain so, until we can have confidence in the government assertions that the testing and tracing are really working and that a vaccine is available.
I suspect that the disciples were also extremely anxious the first time they ventured out following the gift of the Holy Spirit. Would it really work? Would people listen when they shared the good news of the risen Lord Jesus. After all it’s one thing to be told that all will be well but its not until it’s been tested that they could be sure. Time and again that is the dilemma that we have all faced. And we are facing it again. For the disciples there was the crowning moment when they faced the crowd of three thousand from all parts of the known world and spoke to them. They must have been thrilled when they realised that everyone of those present heard the good news in their own language, then they knew the Holy Spirit was at work. All their hopes were realised, and their fears disappeared.
It's not quite like that for us but we have the certainty of knowing that Christ is with us. That the Holy Spirit is very present in the current crisis, and we can offer hope to others and the surety that they are known to and loved by God in all that they are going through. We need to continue to greet others, to show care and encouragement to everyone and build the future with that kindness for all as our picture below shows.
Friday 29 May
This week in our Zoom Bible study we explored what it means for us to be made in the image of God. This present situation has brought out the best in a lot of people but it has also highlighted the human tendency for greed and selfishness. If humans are made in God’s image that means that EVERYONE is made in God’s image. How would the world be if we really saw that? If we saw our neighbour, the person in the shop, the people we see on the news on the other side of the world – what if we saw all of them as God’s image – special, unique and showing us something of God? Would it change the way we acted and spoke? Would it make us more compassionate, more loving, quicker to serve?
A crisis always gives people a chance to show who they really are. What is this crisis showing of the church? Are we following the ultimate example of how what it means to be human - Jesus – by looking at others and seeing in them the image of God. Are we reacting in humility and compassion – looking at the image of God in others and reacting from love? Or are we veering towards selfishness and greed – protecting ourselves and our own interests above others? This is a challenge for each one of us, and for the church as a whole as we react to our current situation and plan for the future.
Thursday 28 May
Last weekend, a chum emailed about where was God in the Covid-19 epidemic? He quoted David Hume, the 18th century philosopher who in turn was quoting Epicurus, a Greek philosopher from the 4th century BCE. 'Is God willing to prevent evil but is unable? Then is he impotent? Is he able but not willing? Then is he malevolent? Is he both willing and able? Whence then is evil?
Trying to answer this is akin to trying to square the circle – so these are just some random views. I think that God has set up the processes of creation - atomic structure, the laws of physics etc; and then He allows His creation to develop in its own way. This is part of the process of Free Will. God does not force us to love or obey Him, nor does He interfere with the rules of the universe to stop tsunamis caused by tectonic plates moving, or families dying from Covid-19. Were it otherwise, we would in fact be slaves, because we would realise that we had no sensible option but to do God’s will. And if God frequently changed the laws of physics at His whim, then we would have no idea about what sort of universe we lived in; it would be a capricious, unknowable nightmare in which we would be trapped without control. That way we would remain children subject to a parent’s whims. God is more generous and allows us to develop and make mistakes; but the downside is that the system also can go wrong, just as growth can sometimes cause cancer. Of course, miracles can occur, but they remain outside the pattern of everyday existence.
That said, Epicurus and Hume make a fair point. But I take comfort in realising that (a) I cannot know everything, (b) somethings are unknowable, and (c) some propositions can be mutually exclusive. The doctrine of the Trinity is an example of the second (there are myriad examples of the first!). Logically, it does not make sense; but as a representation that God is love, it works on an emotional and spiritual level; and sometimes that is more than enough.
Another example comes from when I was trying to study A level Maths many years ago. I was introduced to the idea of i, the square root of -1. I never have been able to understand this; every negative number multiplied by another negative number produces a positive number. Therefore, it is impossible to have a negative square root. However, my daughter Bekki and several others involved with engineering and electronics, have told me that the concept is very useful and produces many practical benefits. So, I have learned to accept that some people can make good use of an idea which makes no sense to me.
We also have St Paul’s blessing for such an approach. In 1 Corinthians, he quotes scripture: I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing all the learning of the learned (1 Cor 1: 18 – 25). Later, in Ch 3: 18 – 21 he says, The Lord knows wise men’s thoughts: he knows how useless they are… This is not to deny the truths of science – I am no creationist! – but certain things cannot be known, just as I understand that quantum theory says that one can know a particle’s speed or location; but not both at the same time.
So, I think that God could be omnipotent but, from His love for us and His creation, he does not choose to be so as the consequences would be more difficult than the problems He would be trying to cure. It is akin to the way that Jesus emptied Himself (Phil 2: 6 – 11) for his earthly mission. It is all done for love of us. That is quite a thought!
And, of course, Epicurus did not have the knowledge of the resurrection to help him square the circle. By the resurrection and the promise of life eternal, God will eventually wipe away every tear. He truly is a deus ex machina. In the words of Moses’ blessing in Deut 33:
27 The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and that should help us to keep Covid-19 in perspective, for which we can offer grateful thanks to our heavenly Father.
PS For those wanting an update on the Python programming, I have since had to download some more programs including Anaconda, Pandas, and Spyder. It is truly a software jungle out there…
Wednesday 27 May
This week I have been thinking about how this new way of life has freed up so much more time. For some people it has been difficult, not knowing how to fill the day. I have not found it easy sometimes, but one thing it has done is to give a new dimension to my Bible reading and prayer time. I am ashamed to say that sometimes they were very rushed ; there were places to go, things to do. Now there is none of that and I can sit quietly with no distractions. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago prayer is not all about talking; now I have more time to listen.
One thing I am very passionate about is the ministry of prayer for healing and wholeness. It was very disappointing that out the 5 sessions planned in Lent on that topic we only managed to hear 2 of them due to the lockdown. But this time of reflection has given me the opportunity to think more about this ministry. It is a vast subject and not one to cover in 200 words. Anyone who attended last years’ Lent course will remember me telling how I would not be here but for the prayers of 2 people in this parish over 50 years ago. I do truly believe that God always intervenes if we pray in faith. Maybe not in the way we were expecting, but he never leaves us without comfort and reassurance in some way. There has been a lot of sickness and death in the past few weeks and there must be many people wondering where God is in all this. I don’t pretend to have the answers but I do want to say that God is very present in all that is going on. Maybe we cannot see it right now. The important thing is to keep the faith. God does never leave us and in the times of silences when we listen, he will speak.
Keep listening and praying.
Tuesday 26 May
Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ includes a scene where domineering Mrs Pugh finds Mr Pugh reading at table. ‘Persons with manners’, she observes in a wonderful Welsh accent, ‘do not read at table, Mr Pugh. Some people have no more manners than a pig’. ‘Pigs can’t read, dear’, the poor man replies, but of course Mrs Pugh has the last word. ‘I know one that can’.
Now that we access services without being physically present or visible, we can multi-task during the liturgy. Do ‘persons with manners’ allow themselves to eat breakfast, fetch a cup of coffee or flip around screens during the reading or the prayers, or the sermon! Concentration wanders wherever we are but we don’t have to focus in the same way at home with many opportunities for distraction.
Our current circumstances highlight the question what is ‘gathering’, as in the saying from Matthew 18 ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them?’ What is it that makes us feel gathered and focused so that we experience the ‘I am’ in the midst of us? This question applies Irrespective of lockdown or what we used to experience as the ‘normal’ situation of liturgy or meeting together.
Gathering may take different forms, but as we move towards Pentecost, we reach for the experience of what is in the midst of us. Wherever we are and despite our tendencies to distraction we share the individual and communal hope of the Pentecost hymn to be the place ‘wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.’ It is this dwelling, not physical circumstances, which truly gathers us together.
Monday 25 May
One of the great traditions in Manchester is the Whit Walks. Once it happened on Whit Monday the day after Pentecost but now always on Spring Bank Holiday Monday- well until this year.
Twenty five years ago I took part in the Whit Walk. It was an incredible experience as churches from Manchester and Salford walked in to the city centre- many had banners like the TUC banners carried by a dozen people and some had choirs and marching bands- the roads were closed and crowds cheered us on. A lot of the clergy were robed leading their congregations towards Albert Square in the centre of the city where all the different processions met, and every so often at a road junction another church or two would join your procession and walk with you.
Many places have walks of witness on Good Friday where churches gather together but the whit walks are pretty special in having so many people involved prepared to show their allegiance to the church and to the Christian faith to the wider community.
I suspect that the walks are not quite so busy these days and who knows what the consequences of the current situation will be for future years but it does make us think about being identified as Christians and what other people will say. Going to church can be a pretty anonymous business and we tend not to do too much outdoors but the lockdown has put us more in the public eye. Closing the buildings has meant that we Christians are on facebook or youtube in numbers unlike ever before. People from all around the world can watch our services as we identify as being followers of Christ and can hear what we say.
That is a tremendous change and opens us to the world and the world to us in a way few thought possible even a few months ago, but while technology has altered our perceptions, the question remains how does the church or an individual show what it is to be a Christian in their own community. The whit walks were all about Manchester and Salford people in their hometown marching as Christians and showing their faith to others. Post lockdown we need to balance broadcasting to the world with being salt and light in our communities, publicly putting our faith into action.
Saturday 23 May
We are in times of great uncertainty, there are those who are booking holidays and those who calculate they will never go on holiday again and the great mass of us are somewhere in between. There is anxiety about children returning to school with both parents and teachers uncertain as to the best way forward and, in the midst of all this there is good news. My former parish has appointed a very able new rector, who will work hard with the five parish churches and their congregations following his installation later this summer. There are significant numbers of people following services on Zoom and Facebook and other media and feeling encouraged and supported in so doing. And for all of us there is the assurance that we are not alone, that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit is with each one of us.
I think we need to take time to consider all that we do have. I enjoy my walks with Rolo every day and even more I enjoy being available to other people, to listen to their concerns and to respond, where its appropriate with ideas and suggestions for them. I’m very conscious that whilst I go home to a garden and potter at my leisure this is not available to everyone. I talked with someone who is having to self-isolate and can only view the garden from the window in her flat, but this week she saw a goldfinch and was thrilled.
Rolo will be going for a haircut soon although I have yet to explain to him the precautions that will be necessary. The dog groomer will be in PPE and will bath him before she cuts his hair, he hates baths and always has but he puts up with them. He doesn’t bark or growl but trusts they will swiftly be over. And I think it is trust that we all need to have at the moment, in the decisions that are being taken by those in positions of leadership and in each other. Jesus returned to the Father trusting the disciples to do His will through the Holy Spirit and we must do the same.
The picture this week is of George, my grandson, for him the world is an exciting place and this new toy is such fun.
Friday 22 May
For anyone nervous about joining the Monday Bible study on zoom because of the word study, it is really more of a meander through Bible topics and ideas. This week we were thinking about the theme of water throughout the Bible. Water is a basic necessity for life and takes on particular importance when it is scarce. The Bible is full of stories of people in the desert or the wilderness where God provides them with the water that keeps them alive.
Our current situation has been compared by some to the times of wondering in the wilderness that we see in the Bible. In this virtual wilderness the water of life is of no less importance. Here it is not literal water (which we are blessed to have in abundance in this country and can access at the turn of a tap) but the Holy Spirit which can fill us with life. We think about the Spirit as we count down to Pentecost when we remember the Holy Spirit first coming on the disciples. In this time of wilderness and wondering, where we often feel far from the normal and like we are wondering away from all our normal markers of community and life, we must remember that we have access to this life giving water that is the Holy Spirit. We have not been left alone stranded in the desert but have a counsellor, a friend, the abradant life giving water, with us always. Let us drink in the Spirit and be refreshed and revived.
Thursday 21 May
In the last two or three weeks, I have been trying to learn a computer programming language called Python; yes, it’s named after Monty Python’s Flying Circus and often seems just as crazy. The original reason for this was to try to help me extract information from multiple spreadsheets - although what mechanically would have taken less than 10 minutes to do has now taken three weeks study (I know; I am a deeply sad individual) and I still have not run my first successful program. As with any new language, there is a strange vocab to try to master, and funny rules of grammar to learn; most of the time it makes no sense and I do not know sufficient even to try to hunt for the faults – I just hammer the desk in frustration when I get an error message yet again.
Fortunately, Bekki (my elder daughter) is paid hard cash for knowing about Python and she has been giving me some signposts - although they are usually somewhat elliptical. Do you know what an ‘environmental variable’ is? I did not until the other day; and it is not what you might guess… All this programming is a new situation for me, and I find it hard even to have a vocabulary to describe what it is about.
Today is Ascension Day, when we commemorate Our Lord’s departure from this earthly realm. The gospel writers struggled to explain what had happened. So too have artists. We know about birth and death; but resurrection and ascension are outside of our experience and so we struggle to explain them. And thus the picture below of the medieval stained glass window in the Chapel of Modern Saints and Martyrs in the Cathedral shows Jesus’ feet hanging below a cloud, as though He had been fired up in heaven like a rocket! Note that this image of Jesus is surrounded by other inexplicable events, such as the fiery chariot taking Elijah to heaven (2 Kings 2: 1-18) or the sun moving backwards as a sign to King Hezekiah that he would recover his health (2 Kings 20: 1 – 11).
I could have asked daughter Bekki to run me up the program I needed but I am learning more by trying to do it myself and getting enigmatic hints from her when in a fix. I think the upshot of the Ascension is similar. Jesus’ life and death were God’s way of showing how we should live. The resurrection was God’s seal of approval of Jesus’ life. Now we have the chance to grow and live as God wishes. And just as a gardener removes a stake from a plant which is strong enough to stand by itself, so Jesus’ absence shows we can be strong enough to grow into the people that God intends us to be – provided we get support from the Holy Spirit. The plant may still be battered by the wind but it will not be uprooted; and that can be true of our lives as well. So, let us keep working to reveal the source code for our life in Christ, and let us strengthen the roots of our growth in God’s garden, where we trust He is happy to walk (Gen 3:8).
Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
Wednesday 20 May
Apologises to anyone who has read this on the BRF website, but I thought it was interesting and wanted to share it.
We are well passed the 40 days of coronavirus lockdown. Jesus spent 40 days alone in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11-2) and Noah endured 40 days of rain in the ark (Genesis 7:12).
Yet for Noah and his family it did not suddenly end on the 41st day. Noah’s easing out of lockdown was gradual as the waters receded. In fact the flood actually carried on for another 150 days, 5 whole months (Genesis 7:24)
They needed not only faith and hope, but patience. Birds were sent out but only returned empty-beaked, until eventually one did not return (Genesis 8:6-12) It was not until the 7th month that the ark actually “landed” on Mount Ararat. (Genesis 8:4)
The analogy is poignant given some of the projections we are hearing. The initial spike of infections, hospitalisations and deaths may have peaked but there is still a long way to go.
God made a new promise of a new relationship with Noah and gave a rainbow as a sign. The rainbow is still a symbol of thanksgiving and hope.
We can learn patience from the story of Noah. We can also have faith and hope knowing that God never abandons his people. Although there may be trials and tribulation, love always wins through.
Keep the rainbow in your window and God’s love in your heart.
Tuesday 19 May
Asked to read the mysterious Ascension story from Luke for our Ascension service, I wondered how to go about this. I decided that what was needed was a background with a lot of sky. Moving the laptop camera around the garden to capture the tops of bushes and the sky, with the sun in the right place, proved tricky. Eventually I landed on just the right combination and began to record, accompanied by an enthusiastic sparrow perched on the TV aerial.
The first recording was interrupted by a siren from the man road, the second by someone moving bins around outside. The third one was disrupted when a car roared into the garage area and the fourth by a motorbike charging down the street. I gave up the idea on the fifth attempt when the neighbours over the fence, rebelling against hearing it yet again, began noisily gardening.
But then the importance of Jesus’ words ‘Stay here in the city’ came to me. Cities are messy, they have dustbins, ambulance sirens, traffic and all kinds of human activity. The message of turning lives around, showing people that actions which separate them from their potential for good and flourishing, which we are to be witnesses to, isn’t going to happen by staring into a comforting beyond.
In the end I settled for an Icon to convey the mystery. Jesus is absent in the painting. Only he isn’t, the confused onlookers, staring at his departure, have to work out how to be witnesses and make him present in their contemporary reality. Here is the excitement of Ascension Day.
Monday 18 May
Clergy often say that they wish that they had more time to talk about the things that matter, more time to say their prayers and greater contact with their parishioners, rather than spending the time in meetings and worrying about things that seem more ephemeral. The current situation has had deep challenges in not being able to visit especially those who are unwell but these three wishes have been largely met in the lockdown. I’m leading and attending more services each week than I have done in my ministry. I’m e-mailing and phoning people each week and catching up with them to a deeper level than a handshake on a Sunday morning. I’ve also been reflecting with others and on my own on topics like Where is God in co-vid? What does it mean to be church?- amongst many others. At present we have to face up to these questions because we can’t hide behind the ephemeral
This has been thought provoking and often challenging, many of the questions query my own beliefs and practices. Taking away our church buildings especially two such interesting as ours has been a challenge. I’ve come to see that worship in my study is as valid as in the building and as a technophobe, been surprised at the benefits of the technical especially in our Sunday morning services. I love our buildings and hope that next month I’ll be able to record and possibly do some mid-week streaming, and that in the fullness of time we’ll be back in church with social distancing and new guidelines. Yet I know that the streaming and the increased pastoral contact mean that the church is in practice more than the buildings and that although it has been painful, we have coped with this unique situation.
I’ve also been reflecting on the Eucharist and what it means. For 23 years I have been celebrating communion and often receiving a number of times each week- I’ve never taken it for granted and each service has been special but it has been part of the priestly routine. When we suspended the chalice at services I was saddened and it is even more saddening not to celebrate or receive. For many of us we will never have had such a break. There has been the option for me to celebrate and receive at home and potentially now in church but as I have reflected the challenge has been if the people cannot receive, can I? In lockdown, I’ve missed being gathered around the table with the people and sharing communion- to me it has shown how my theology of communion is participatory and shared, about the people of God and celebrating together while the priest presides. I’ve struggled with the thought of recording a Eucharist or of live streaming on my own, as being contrary to that understanding, which is continually developing in the current situation.
Since Easter I have talked to others and reflected about this a great deal- hearing other views and having my own challenged. I would have wanted to abstain until the day when I stand at the altar in our churches, when others are present and can receive however long that took. However as I have listened to the spirit I’m now convinced that there is a place for potentially live streaming a midweek communion next month - one which recognises the words of Jesus “Do this in remembrance of me” but also recognises the pain of not being able to share the physical elements as the one streaming and the pain of those watching not able to fully participate.
None of us would have thought we would be so challenged over fundamental assumptions of what church and our most important religious practices really mean. Yet in the midst of this terrible pandemic, I’m grateful to have been so pushed over what it means to be church and what it means to be a priest, to have faced questions that I’m normally too “busy” to acknowledge let alone to face up to.
Saturday 16 May
It seems that for many of us the waiting will continue but there are indications that a new normality is slowly emerging. It seems very strange to greet friends with a wave rather than a hug or handshake, but we will all get used to it. The continental kiss on both cheeks is unlikely ever to emerge again and future generations will no doubt recoil in horror at the thought that such a greeting was widely accepted. But the most difficult part of this new “aseptic technique” is the loss of touch. As a student nurse I was taught to dress wounds using such an approach, with forceps rather than fingers wielding the swabs to clean the skin. But at the end of the procedure I could thank the patient and gently stroke a hand or arm as I settled them back into bed.
Throughout His ministry we are told time and again that Jesus touched the person he was with. We can imagine the gentle touch on the lepers’ skin, the hand, held out to lift the woman who had bled for so many years, the kindly touch on the shoulder of the man afflicted by demons. Time and again there was that physical contact which was so freely and openly given, regardless of who the person was, their status in society or their illness. That is no longer freely available to us and it will become even more important that we devise other ways of comforting, supporting, and encouraging others.
I think we shall need to become really good at listening to people, to hearing the nuances in their speech which may be telling us the opposite of what their words mean. We’ll need to be ready to devote time and effort to this. All too often we have become used to the quick exchange before getting on with the business in hand. In future we will need to give time to the opening exchanges. Jesus listened carefully before he responded, and we must ask for His grace to enable us to do the same.
The pictures below show Rolo waiting in hope that the friendly neighbour will appear with a treat. (Sadly, he didn’t.)
And the result of my wait.
Friday 15 May
This week in our Zoom Bible Study we thought about the Gospel of the Kingdom. Gospel means good news – so we were thinking about what is the good news about the kingdom of God? I have been thinking about this, and for me the good news of the Kingdom is message of Jesus – of a God who understands suffering, of a God who is alongside us and with us, of an upside-down God who sees beauty in brokenness and elevates the weak and powerless.
In this time when hardship, uncertainty and bleakness has come so close to home for so many of us, it can make us ask how we can talk about ‘good’ news when so much seems bad. But the good news is still there, God has not deserted us and God’s kingdom is not all about power and wealth and success as the world measures it, but it is about love, and peace and generosity and kindness – things we can see around us in abundance.
Ps. As you reflect on where your good news is at the moment - I leave you with a poem written by Paul Wilton that he sent me this week:
THE GOOD NEWS
(with thanks to Canon Max Kramer
for the ideas)
The Good News
Is that the bad news
Is not the only news. *
The bad news says:
Take all you can,
As much and as cheap,
Cutting costs is the way to survive;
Never mind those who fall behind.
The Good News says:
Take what you need;
Let everyone share;
Leave enough so the world will be stronger
And no one will fall behind.
The bad news says:
The old way’s the only way.
The Good News says: That’s blinkered.
This virus shows us the old way’s short sighted;
To survive we must change for the better!
* A Christian expression.
Paul Wilton, 10 May, 2020
Thursday 14 May
· 1796 - Edward Jenner first used cowpox to inoculate a boy against smallpox; this treatment quickly spread and saved many hundreds of thousands from dying from smallpox.
· 1771 – the birth of Robert Owen, who popularised a more humane factory system and was a pioneer of the co-operative shop movement.
· 1881 – the death of Mary Seacole, who worked as a nurse in epidemics and at the battlefields of the Crimean War.
· 1919 – the death of Henry J Heinz, who established the eponymous business which provides healthy food to millions as well as taking care of its employees.
Looking at the historical events of any day in the calendar can reveal examples of great human achievement. These successes can instil both awe - and a sense of inferiority. I for one have not created a multi-national company, nor travelled across countries to help those in need, nor discovered a great medical technique. However, God is not calling us to be someone else; He is calling us to be ourselves. The parables of the sower (Matt 13: 4 – 23) and of the talents (Matt 25: 14 – 30) show that we are not expected to produce equally; but we are expected to do what we can.
One thing which we all can do is to join in today with the day of prayer, fasting, and works of charity that has been proclaimed by Pope Francis and endorsed by Archbishop Justin. Today, let us plead with our heavenly Father for an end to the Corona virus and for the discovery of an effective vaccine. Let us take time to read and immerse ourselves in the scriptures. Let us abstain from some food or drink so that we can feel sympathy with our brothers and sisters who lack food and water – and perhaps we may pass on the money saved to a charity. And let us support to our neighbours, as taught by Jesus (Matt 6: 1-4, 16: 24 -28, 19: 16 – 26, 22: 34 – 40, 25: 31 – 46; NB other gospels are available).
Even if these prayers and fasts and good works do not change the virus’s effects, they should certainly change us for the better and bring us nearer to the throne of grace; and that is something else for which to be thankful.
PS Today is also the feast of St Corona. As I said last Sunday, God has a sense of humour…
Wednesday 13 May
In this time when the pace of life has slowed right down it may be a good opportunity to spend more time in prayer.
You will have heard the story of the man who was asked what he did as he sat for a long time unmoving in a church pew. “Oh,” he said, “I just looks at Him and He just looks at me.”
Prayer is not all about talking to God, it is about being with God. If we are not talking, then what are we doing? Listening?
You will know the story of the boy Samuel who heard God’s voice, but didn’t realise who it was. Do we expect to hear God’s voice and if we do what will it sound like? And then how will we know that what we have heard comes from God? Maybe something will come into our minds, our subconscious, which we will need to reflect on. God rarely speaks with direct commands (though that is not unheard of!)
Maybe we feel that we haven’t heard anything at all, yet afterwards our attitude to those around us, a problem or a task is subtly different.
“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.” Prayer is not something we have done ourselves. It is as if by being with God we have absorbed something of his love. And in absorbing that love that we are activated in body, mind and spirit.
Quakers, more than any other group, stress the need to enter into the listening silence, and the impact they have had in social reform has been out of all proportion to their numbers.
Prayer is never easy, listening is not easy either, but try it.
Tuesday 12 May
Having actually managed to secure a slot for groceries to be delivered, I settled down to wait for the delivery. A while later the phone rang. It was the delivery man to tell me that he was in the road near me but my groceries hadn’t been put in the van and would arrive later. I was irritated and asked rather crossly how much longer it would be.
Afterwards I felt ashamed of my impatience. I’m not going anywhere and have no appointments to go to, does time matter? Here is someone who is working to provide essentials and I get annoyed because my personal expectations in a very trivial context haven’t been met. During current restrictions, shut up with our own company, small things can take on an inflated significance, our own priorities get magnified. In unguarded moments the extent of our self-preoccupation comes out in our words and reactions. Unlike a text, you can’t amend a spontaneous reaction over the phone before you respond!
In Matthew Chapter 15 Jesus teaches that it is what comes out of us in a variety of ways, not just speech, that reveals our true state of mind, and what it is that mars our capacity for generosity of spirit and resources. Lockdown gives us the time to reflect on this shrewd assessment of individual human psychology.
Especially in Christian Aid Week, on a wider and ultimately long-term basis, we have the time to question where we will place priorities and response to need during and after lockdown in supporting those working at home and elsewhere who are living out this year’s Christian Aid slogan, ‘Love Unites Us All.’
You can donate to Christian Aid from the main Christian Aid website or directly at https://www.christianaid.org.uk/appeals/key-appeals/christian-aid-week
Monday 11 May
One of the benefits of the lockdown has been the need for daily exercise and walking around the area- Clare has discovered the further reaches of the parish and we’ve both found the bluebell wood. Walking up the New Dover Road has also given me the chance to rediscover a childhood memory. When I was a child my parents were keen to move from the Medway towns to Canterbury. My dad was wondering about a job transfer and we were hoping to be near the cricket.
I remember us having a brochure about a new development in the city and coming down for a viewing of the show home. My parents were particularly impressed with the show home and we all began to think about a new life in Canterbury. Unfortunately my father couldn’t get a transfer to Canterbury and was then moved to London- the house move to East Kent never happened.
With our exercise we’ve walked past that house a number of times and I’ve wondered what would have happened had my dad’s move come off and we had lived there. You may be one step ahead of me and realised that the house is on the corner of Lichfield Avenue and New Dover Road, and the new development the cathedrals’ roads in our own parish. A life that would have probably involved St Paul’s Church and growing up in the parish.
It is strange that I finally ended up a short distance from the house on the corner – it would have made my parents smile because my mum especially saw the hand of God at work in life. She had a great belief that things happened for a reason and that disappointments and sadnesses often looked different in hindsight. She would have said if we had moved when you were a teenager, you would never have become the rector of the parish, you just needed to trust in God even if it seemed a missed opportunity at the same time.
Seeing God at work can sometimes be difficult especially in the immediate- where, someone will ask, is God present in Covid 19- we would answer about God being alongside those dying, often otherwise alone, comforting the sick and supporting the frontline workers but we may seek another answer as well about the nature and authority of God in difficult times. That answer may be one that we can only see in the fullness of time as we look back on the pandemic and the lockdown and see what has changed, what has come out of this difficult time and what God is saying.
At present it may be too soon although there are some very thoughtful writers reflecting on God and the coronavirus. We may need to stand back and wait as we can never predict things or see the full picture when we are in the midst of events but one day we will understand, we will see where God was and what new things emerged from these difficult days. To keep faith alive when hard questions are asked.
That simple but
profound belief sustained my mother through difficult times in her own
life, as she navigated her way trusting God, even if she didn’t yet have
all the answers.
Saturday 9 May
I am writing this on the day the country celebrated the end of war in Europe, VE day. Mary Berry described it as a most exciting day, and there was cake for afternoon tea.
People were joyful but many were grieving, and I think that will be much the situation when we can finally declare that Covid 19 has been eliminated. We will face similar problems trying to get the economy going again, and at the same time recognising the impact this has had on the most vulnerable in our society. Will that change the way in which we live our lives? Will we continue to be looking out for our neighbours, offering help with shopping, collecting medicines, phoning to enquire if all is well; in fact, being the neighbours Jesus has asked us to be.
I don’t know, I hope so but how will I change from what was normal pre the pandemic to the new normal post lockdown. I will struggle because I’ve never been good at following rules to the letter, if something can be tweaked then I’m right there tweaking. I understand the principles for all of us over 70’s but I chafe at continuing restrictions and need constantly to remind myself that I need to “render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render to God that which is His.”
In the meantime, Rolo and I will continue to walk, enjoy the gardens we pass and the random chats we have with those we meet on the way. Well he has a lay down whilst I chat unless there is a dog with whom he can swop smells.
The video below says it all
Friday 8 May
In our Zoom Bible study this week we explored the theme of Sabbath rest, a very important theme, an idea woven into the very fabric of creation. For me sabbath is about a chance to step back and step out of the everyday. It is an acknowledgement that the world still turns without me – that I am not the centre of it all. There is an element of trust that goes into true sabbath. It is saying to God that I trust you to look after me and provide for me and my loved ones. An acknowledgement that God is control not me.
And there is also an element of resistance in the idea of sabbath. In our commercial driven consumerist world, to take that time to step back and be, to not try and get, get, get, all the time. This is a sign of resistance and can be a beacon to others who are caught up in the race to endlessly do, buy and consume.
The story of the exodus in the Old Testament when the Israelites were in the wilderness for so many years is a good story to think of in these wilderness times of uncertainty. But even in the wilderness the Israelites had a sabbath rest, a day when they did not have to work to collect but rather could live on what had already been collected.
So how do we find sabbath at the moment. A time of refreshment, of stepping back, of saying to God and showing others that we have trust that God is in control? It will look different for all of us but it is something we must endeavour to do, even in the wilderness.
To explore more on the subject yourself look here:https://bibleproject.com/church-at-home/week2-sabbath-rest/
Thursday 7 May
According to The Times last Tuesday, Winston Churchill wanted today, 7th May, to be VE Day. This was because the Allies’ military leaders had received the German surrender at 2.41 am French time on the 7th May, and word quickly spread. Churchill, President Truman, and Marshal Stalin had previously agreed for the announcement about the end of the European war to be made on the 8th May; but, on the 7th May 1945, Churchill telegrammed the other two leaders, saying that it was “hopeless” to try to keep the news secret. “Otherwise”, he said “it will seem that it is only the governments who do not know”. For whatever reason, Stalin would not agree, and Churchill had to wait.
Waiting is something many of us find difficult. We pray that X or Y may (or may not) happen. Sometimes our prayers are answered and sometimes they are not; and I for one can feel resentful and let down when prayers appear not to be answered. It is part of the mystery of our faith – just as we think that God is outside of time, yet He is someone who acts in human history, most notably in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and through the action of the Holy Spirit. Scientists think that the universe is perhaps 13.8 billion years old. The earth may about 4.5 billion years old, with early microbes emerging perhaps 3.5 - 3.7 billion years ago – and the early animals perhaps 700 – 800 million years ago; yet God is concerned with each one of us individually. Clearly, God is someone who works on a different timescale to us and must have incredible patience! With these types of timescales, waiting a bit for an answer to prayer is nothing.
That our world and universe is weirder that I can possibly imagine came home the other day while reading an obituary of John Conway, who was a professor of maths at Cambridge and then Princeton. It is well worth finding an article about him as he loved games yet contributed to many branches of mathematics. To quote from The Economist’s obituary: “In 1966 he took on the challenge of finding the exquisite symmetry which was presumed to belong to the Leech lattice, a dense packing of spheres in 24 dimensions with the lattice formed by joining their central points. He deduced that the lattice contained 8, 315, 553, 613, 086, 720, 000 symmetries, a group which was given his name and made his reputation”. I do not know what this means but am happy to take it on trust as being correct, just as I trust the complete change in the life and witness of the apostles after the resurrection as a sign that they believed the resurrection to be true.
So, if you are feeling anxious because it seems that a prayer has not been answered, try to have faith that God has heard it but sees things in a different way. Jesus said that if we have faith and do not doubt, then impossible things can happen (Matt 21: 21). And so, when some prayers do not seem to be answered, we can think we are to blame, we do not have sufficient faith, that we have failed. However, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11: 1). So, let us try to be faithful – to be full of faith in God. Our prayers will be answered: in God’s own time.
Wednesday 6 May
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”
I was watching a programme last week showing lambs being born and new ones in the fields with their mothers. It made me think of this psalm and Sunday’s Gospel. The shepherd in Jesus’ day worked differently. He spent much of his life with his flock. His own sheep knew and responded to his voice. He led (not drove) them to fresh grazing and guarded them from wild animals by lying across the entrance to the sheepfold at night as the “gate”.
Then I started thinking about the gate. A gate is the way in and out. At the moment many of us are shut in and we long to be out. There is a dichotomy here. Being “in” we feel safe, yet we also feel stifled by being within the same four walls. Being “out” we are anxious and yet free!
Jesus said “I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture……I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
This phrase sums up so much: the close personal relationship between himself and his followers, the absolute security they have in him; his leadership and guidance; his constant company and his unfailing care.
Read through Psalm 23 and see what is on offer.
Tuesday 5 May
Churches in Germany are re-opening but I was interested to hear that one of the restrictions is no singing. As someone who has sung in church choirs from a teenager onwards, I find it hard to envisage regular worship with no singing or music. It was very good to hear our virtual choir singing and our organist playing a voluntary on this week’s Sunday morning streamed service, a vital part of feeling that we are together.
The lockdown meant we missed out on some beautiful Passiontide and Easter anthems and hymns. One of the hymns was ‘My Song is Love Unknown’, written by Samuel Crossman in 1664, just a year before the Great Plague. The music was apparently composed over lunch by John Ireland in 1918. Crossman’s words came before and Ireland’s music during, times of great mortality and distress.
The phrase ‘love unknown’ is very appropriate at the moment when so much of the care being given in hospitals, care homes and in the community is may be unknown to us personally. Music, whether singing or listening, is one of the ways in which the mystery of ‘love unknown’ can be expressed. Music can be analysed technically but its power goes beyond the rational. The great tradition of church music enables participation by singer or listener in an essentially unknowable dimension which we reach for in times of joy and in times of distress.
The last verse of the hymn begins, ‘Here might I stay and sing,/ No story so divine;’
Hopefully, before too long, we can join together in our churches and do just that.
Monday 4 may
A friend, who is now an Archdeacon, and I share a love of Doctor Who. He blames me as I was the one who re-kindled his enthusiasm in our days at college but he was the one who invited me around to watch the latest Doctor Who video as soon as it came out and who took me (and his wife) to see the Doctor Who exhibition at Longleat. He was also the one who had a light activated speaking Dalek, a fact he temporarily forgot when he sent a nervous curate into his study to collect a chair and only remembered when the curate shouted as the Dalek uttered a high pitched Exterminate, exterminate.
I tell you this because if you have been watching the live streaming from my study, you will notice that there is a grey blob on the floor beneath prayer bear- it is my knitted K9 –the robot dog from 1970s Doctor Who, in case you wondered.
The current situation has meant that we have been admitted into many people’s studies, living rooms and kitchens, in a way that we had never expected. For some there is probably an artful rearranging of items to present us as we might wish to be seen but for most people there is a take us as we are and an accepting of people seeing what makes us tick.
There has been a lot of self-disclosure, opening up ourselves to others. As I talk on the phone or exchange e-mails, I’ve found that we are all happier to talk about ourselves, how we are and what we are thinking and feeling.
Times of stress or threat have a way of helping us lower the drawbridge and allowing others to see us as we are. Such times have that effect on our prayer lives, as we are more open to God, more willing to take time to pray and to be honest in our fears and in our concerns.
All of us are talking more to each other and, more significantly, finding more time to talk to God. In a stripped back life, it is the most important things that remain and whatever happens in any easing of the lockdown, I hope we never forget that talking to God and talking to each other was what saw us through. As Jesus said the great commandment was to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves- which we’ve learned afresh in the spring of 2020.
Saturday 2 May
It’s been an on and off week. On with the coat, off with the coat, towels at the ready for Rolo when we return from our walk. Today Rolo reflected how many of us are feeling. He really enjoys being in the garden with me and there we were this afternoon. He watches and supervises whilst I weed and plant and has a word with any squirrel foolish enough to run along the back fence. It was bright and sunny and then suddenly there was thunder and lightning. Rolo shot into the house and when I arrived, he was anxious and panting, trying to find a place to hide that was preferably as close to me as possible. I couldn’t explain to him that there was no need to worry, that we were safe and that the lightning and thunder could not come into the house.
But you can’t communicate that to a dog and in the same way many people are now extremely anxious about the consequences and the impact of the Corona virus pandemic. There are many who have said they will not allow their children to return to school, that they will not use public transport and will no longer go to the shops apart from food shopping. We have been told that football matches will take place without the fans in the stadium, and that social distancing will be in place for many, many months.
So “normal life” will not be the former life we knew, it will be very different. In many ways that was what it must have been like for the disciples following Jesus resurrection. They were still fearful of the consequences of being known as disciples. In those weeks, before the gift of the Holy Spirit, they no doubt were “social distancing” and experiencing all the doubts and fears that we feel in our situation. Their lives subsequently bore no relation to their previous lives, they were no longer fishermen or artisans, but apostles reaching out to others in ways they had not considered in the past.
I suspect that our lives will be changed, and we shall need to reach out to others in new ways and re-think how we can enjoy being with others. Rosemary and Hannah have set up Zoom groups and I am sure there will be other ways we can stay in touch and share our lives together.
I share below with you a short video because we all know hope for the future in the Risen Lord Jesus.
Friday 1 May
This week on Monday we had our first Zoom Bible study and since then I have been thinking about what we discussed. We looked at the theme of generosity and how Jesus was able to live a life of generosity even while he lived in a time of hardship. Our mindset is important in this I think- do we have a mindset of scarcity and worry about what we do not have, or do we have a mindset of abundance and thankfulness for what we do have?
I want to live in a mindset of abundance and generosity and one way I have found to this is to get outside each day. We read in Luke 12:22-34 about how we can learn from creation about how God provides, and I have found myself thinning of this as I look around outside and see the birds and the flowers and trees during my daily exercise.
I think our attitudes can often be contagious and if we as the church can live lives from the attitude of Gods generosity, thankful for what we have been given, and trusting in God’s provision, I believe that it will encourage people around us to look at the world that way too. So let us try this week to spread an attitude of generosity among all we speak with.
If you want to look at this theme more check out the Bible Study that we followed:
https://bibleproject.com/church-at-home/week1-generosity/ and if you want to join in next week let Hannah know (email@example.com)
Thursday 30 April
In this time of lockdown, we have been thrown onto our own individual resources more than usual. The old casual meet and greet of ordinary life has gone for the time being, and our parish life has been transformed into something more remote and discrete (as opposed to discreet; I hope we have always been discreet!).
It may be for this reason that I am finding the psalms at this time particularly helpful. There is a huge range of emotions and feelings in the psalms: anger, despair, pleas for help, trust in God, thanksgiving, and praise to name just some. It is no surprise that the psalms are often quoted in the New Testament, nor that the Desert Fathers and the Rule of St Benedict had them as a mainstay of worship. There is a directness and a self-centredness in the psalms that suits these times of self-isolating.
The psalms: 150 poems reflecting our needs and our need of God. How the whole book of psalms came to be arranged in its order is unknown, although Susan Gillingham in her book The Poems and Psalms of the Hebrew Bible discusses several theories. What seems apt is that the last few of the series are psalms of thanks. As the great theologian and preacher Austin Farrer said “For if the day of judgement, or the waters of Noah, had engulfed the Samaritan leper while he made his thanksgiving to Christ, and that had been the last use of his breath, he could scarcely have made a better” (Lenten Duty, a sermon preached in Keble College Chapel, reprinted in The Brink of Mystery, (SPCK, 1976), page 79).
Today is the last day of April, and in the Book of Common Prayer’s psalter, the psalms for Evensong are psalms 147-150. The final psalm, No 150, says we should praise God with music and dancing; and the last word of psalmetry for the whole month (apart from the Gloria Patri) is ‘Let every thing that hath breath: praise the Lord’. To end with praise to God is, surely, appropriate.
The pictures accompanying this ramble are of part of a singing gallery, carved by Luca Della Robbia in the 1430s for the cathedral in Florence, which was nearing completion after nearly 150 years work. Della Robbia took psalm 150 as his theme - another example of ending a piece of labour with thanks to God. There is more about the carvings, if you are interested, at https://www.italianways.com/luca-della-robbias-cantorial-pulpits-a-dance-of-praise .
Despite all the privations of the lockdown, which are all too real, is there something today for which to give thanks to God?
Wednesday 29 April
Cleopas and his friend were walking home from Jerusalem, about 7 miles. They were dejected, they’d lost their friend and things were never going to be the same again.
As I was out for my daily walk on Sunday I thought of them. I hadn’t lost a friend, though many people have, but I knew that life would never be the same again. I looked up at the beautiful clear blue sky, listened to the birds in the trees, and marvelled at the catkins blown down in the recent winds. The latter reminded me of walks with my grandmother when we would come home with some sprigs of pussy willow to put in a vase. Then I thought of the family of ducklings I had seen on the river the day before. Last year we spent a lot of time up and down the river watching the broods of ducklings but this year I shall not be venturing along the river path as it is quite narrow. Perhaps next year will be different.
However isolated we feel, walking on our own, going back to an empty house or flat, we know that we are never alone. Just as Jesus caught up with Cleopas and his friend and walked along beside them, so he walks along beside us. They didn’t realise who he was, and often we don’t realise his presence, but be assured, he is always there. We are on a rough journey at the moment but the risen Lord will always be our companion on the way.
Jesus promised, “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Tuesday 28 April
Informal Zoom chats are a bit peculiar because they are booked in. They lose the spontaneity of chats over coffee or meals or meeting someone in the street. You have to chat NOW, for the next 40 minutes. Sometimes no-one knows quite what to say. At a recent more focused Faith chat initiated by Hannah, we discussed the difficulties of communicating Jesus’ message today because he lived in such an entirely different culture.
Sometimes Jesus taught formally to his disciples or the crowd, as a Rabbi would, but the Gospels also record more spontaneous occasions when someone asked him a question. ‘What must I do…?’ Jesus might well answer with a parable such as the Good Samaritan. Parables are not meant to be dissected so that each situation and event is symbolic of a fixed interpretation. Parables should challenge us and make us reflect on the possibility of ‘it as if…’ in our own lives.
This is a clue to communicating Jesus’ message of individual dignity and worth to our own culture. When this lockdown is over and we have spontaneous conversations in and out of church contexts we may want to explain the Gospel message of good news to the poor, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed, by telling stories of courage, insight, and goodness shown to or known by us during the crisis. Then we can effectively illustrate the point we want to make about a particular element of Jesus’ teaching by starting off ‘it is as if in the lockdown…’
Monday 27 April
When the Faith in the City report was written, it was recommended that those training for ordained ministry should spend some time immersed in the life of an inner city parish. Twenty five years ago I spent three months living in Manchester and working in Salford before the regeneration of the docks began and things changed.
I learnt a lot about the life of Salford and its history, discovering the traditions and the problems it faced. They were proud of the past especially the artist LS Lowry and were planning the Lowry Centre, now a huge arts venue and gallery of his work, which neighbours the BBC and ITV studios. In those days there were people who still remembered Lowry the rent collector and his grumpy demeanour.
Lowry featured in many stories mostly as a dry wit with a blunt manner. My favourite was of the time a diner in a restaurant saw Lowry at another table. The man rushed over with a napkin and asked the artist to draw on it, which Lowry surprisingly did and handed it back. The man‘s face quickly fell when he saw the napkin. It was signed Fred Lowry. He said to him “Why have you signed it Fred, not LS?” To which the reply came “Many people have an LS Lowry, you are in the only person in the world with a Fred Lowry.”
Lowry was always true to himself, remaining in Salford and living the same way, even though he was a celebrated artist. The current lockdown has brought us all face to face with our own selves, as we spend time indoors and with our own thoughts. Often in life we wear a mask or put on another persona as we meet people and go about our daily business. We don’t need to pretend at present, which is in many ways liberating, although perhaps a little uncomfortable as we see the person made in the image of God and know that we are called to be true to that image.
Twenty five years ago I learnt that lesson when as someone from a very different background to the inner city I was working in, I discovered that all people wanted was to know I was sincere and genuine. Twenty five years later, for the first time in my life in a world of live streaming I am able to listen to my voice and watch myself on playback. I am who God made me to be and I am called to rejoice in that as much as I rejoice in those around me. In a difficult time, a little shaft of light.
Saturday 25 April
In it’s own way this has been a busy week both news wise and personally. The statistics on Covid 19 have been daunting and have caused grief for many families and friends. It has raised all the questions with which we are familiar, why him/her, they always cared for others and never thought of themselves. Where is God in all this? Well God is right in the middle of it all, He is there with the patients and medical staff, with the cleaners and ancillary staff, with the delivery drivers and those working in retail, with the police and the dust bin men and he is with us. There are times when it is difficult for us to see Christ in all that is happening around us but for each one of us there are also the signs of hope for the future.
The picture of my grandson, now aged four months, sat in his chair in the garden dozing with a muslin protecting his bald head. The bluebells in the wood, a wonderful, glorious, sea of blue stretching into the distance. The chat with friends (two metres away), the cheery “thank you’s” from strangers as we avoid each other. The natural world, created by God is thriving, and we are asked to take the joy of Easter Day out into our world because God loves us and in all that is happening, He will always be with us.
We need to start thinking seriously about the future, what are we, each one of us, going to do to care for the world, its plants, its animals, and humanity. We have reduced our use of cars, planes, and other forms of transport and there are many parts of the world where people are seeing the night sky and distant mountains for the first time in decades. Let us not lose such precious sightings in the future. In Genesis we are told that God blessed Adam and Eve and asked them to rule over the creatures of land and sea and the plants. To rule over is to protect and care for that for which one has responsibility.
God also gave us the ability to be creative and I share with you a stone beside my local post box. I hope you will share your smile with everyone you meet this coming week.
Friday 24 Arpil
What do we take with us on the journey?
This is a question I have been pondering for the past few days.
I have an small fluffy elephant with really crazy hair that I take with me on long journeys these days. It was given to me by a friend and it accompanies me on my travels. It has become an essential. It has been a surprising blessing as it has made me stop and look at things in a different way to normal as I work out how I can get a good picture with the elephant in it.
I have been reflecting on what I have brought into this lockdown, what is still with me now and what I want to take out of the other side. What has been holding me down and hindering me and what has been freeing me and allowing me to see things from a new viewpoint? What has been exciting and energising and what has brought me down? what has led to surprising blessings and what have been surprisingly distracting?
For me the essentials of my journey will always be God and my faith - but what else do I need to take and what can I leave behind? These are questions for us all that this time I think as we journey into the unknown and uncertain future.
Thursday 23 April
Eric Blair needed a pseudonym when he started writing; and eventually
used the surname Orwell (after the river in Suffolk), with a first name
of George because he wanted a “good, round, English name” – George
Orwell was on the road. However, on St George’s Day, we can ask whether
St George is that English. Many other countries claim him for their own
and we know very few facts about him. He probably lived in the Middle
East in the late third century and may have been martyred under
Diocletian. He became popular in England only with the crusades and then
especially in the reign of Edward III in the 14th century. As far back
as 494, Pope Gelasius I said that George was among those saints "whose
names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only
to God”. It reminds me of those many epitaphs of 20th century soldiers
killed on active service in two World Wars and lacking identification;
in Kipling’s phrase, they are Known unto God.
With so many countries claiming St George as their patron, he cannot be the focus of a narrow patriotism; and certainly the days when allegedly we thought that God is an Englishman (if they ever existed) are long past and rightly so. However, St George’s bravery, his endurance in a time of trial, his willingness to stand up for his belief in the Christian faith when such a belief was still illegal, are still admirable qualities and ones that we would do well to imitate. A life of service to God, of loving Him with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength has the approval of Our Lord (Matt 22: 37-38). Who knows, if you and I can do so faithfully, perhaps we shall be remembered by Christians in the 40th century?
Wednesday 22 April
The disciples were in lock down after that first Easter Day. We are in lock down. Both for our own safety, the disciples by choice; we have had ours imposed on us.
They no doubt went out to get food and when things got too tense, for a bit of fresh air. On this particular day Thomas had gone out, we don’t know why. Suddenly Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room and said to them “Peace be with you!” and when Thomas came back and they told him he didn’t believe them. I guess he was annoyed that he hadn’t been there! He made this bold statement, “Unless I see the marks in his hands and touch the wound in his side I won’t believe.”
Well a few days later he had the chance. Jesus appeared again and Thomas was there and he was invited to see and touch. Thomas uttered the words, “My Lord and my God.!”
We are all missing seeing other people and touching. A handshake, a hug, just the gentle touch on the shoulder are all important means of communication. But just as the disciples finally came out of lock down and overcame their fears and faced the world again, so it will end for us. But in the meantime we rejoice in the glorious resurrection and Jesus promise , “Peace be with you.”
Tuesday 21 April
When I was teaching History, we used a TV series ‘How We Used to Live’. Pupils were often surprised by the differences in their lives from the lives of young people in various periods of twentieth century history not so long ago. Watching TV programmes made before the present crisis seems like ‘how we used to live’. Did we really socialise, just go out to meet people, go to supermarkets and venues, without distancing?
We’ve all changed our perspective on ‘normality’. As people who hear the Gospel, a change in perspective isn’t an unfamiliar experience. The disciples assumed the crucifixion ended the way they had lived since following Jesus. The person in whom they put their trust, their hope that a kingdom of justice, mercy and compassion would be the norm, appeared to be consigned to history.
The Easter narratives in the garden and on the road to Emmaus provide a radical reassessment of what is ‘normal’. The disciples adjusted to the quite extraordinary idea that it was possible to go on putting their trust in Jesus’ life, teaching and ministry and believed they could get beyond the events which seemed so irreversible.
We don’t know how we are going to get beyond our present circumstances, what the new ‘normal’ will be or how we are going to live. The disciples set out beyond Easter, transforming the lives of individuals and society. How we used to live will be replaced by how we are going to live, the same transformation will need to be at the heart of this.
Monday 20 April
Being in lockdown has meant that amidst the live streaming and the phoning, I have had the opportunity to read some of the books that have laid on my shelf for a while. Last week I finished the authorised biography of David Sheppard, cricketer and bishop, published late last year.
As it covered both cricket and the church, it was clearly up my street but what came across consistently was his heart for the inner city throughout his ministry but most strongly in his time as Bishop of Liverpool, and his great belief in ecumenism, most famously in his close friendships with his Roman Catholic counterpart Archbishop Derek Warlock and the URC moderator, John Newton.
In the years since Sheppard’s death many have wondered whether the Church of England has somewhat retreated from both the inner city and ecumenism. When I trained in the early 1990s much of my training was done with other denominations and all students were required to spend a term in an inner city parish in Manchester. It was a formative time in my ministry.
Over the last few weeks since the lockdown begun each Thursday we have had an online forum for ministers in Canterbury across the denominations where we have come together to support one another in difficult times. Clergy are also finding themselves even in lockdown helping those on the margins who have found their lives badly affected by choronavirus.
Sheppard would have been pleased, if he were alive, that we are reaching out to our brothers and sisters in others denominations and amongst the most vulnerable in these unprecedented times. He would be even more pleased if one of the outcomes from the terrible times we live in, were that our common witness and our concern for the marginalised were to remain central to the life of Christians in the future, when finally things return to some form of normality whenever that might be.
Saturday 18 April
I’ve just started re-reading Watership Down. You no doubt recall the story where one small rabbit (Fiver) with prophetic gifts, tries to persuade the Chief Rabbit that they all need to leave the warren because something dreadful is going to happen. He can’t explain precisely what will happen only that it will be terrible. His brother (Hazel) is prepared to listen to him and with a few other young bucks they leave having been joined by one of the Chief Rabbit’s bodyguards who also believes what Fiver is saying. Their journey to Watership Down is not without its dramas but they arrive safely because they stay together and support each other. They hear from two other rabbits from the warren the terrible fate which befell the majority, they escaped as the others died.
The story has parallels with Moses and the Israelites, Moses was told by God what he needed to do but he needed his brother Aaron to achieve the task. We can be sure that not all the Israelites left that Passover night, some (we don’t know how many) stayed behind. Those that came had worries and misgivings especially when they ran short of food and water, but they continued. They saw the Egyptians drown having safely crossed the sea themselves. They fretted, they questioned Moses and they doubted he knew what he was doing.
In the present Covid 19 crisis there are those who question the actions of the government. There are those who spread malicious and unhelpful stories and those who disregard the request to avoid socialising. But, the majority of people have done all that they have been asked to do and those on the frontline have done so much more.
We have to trust, to prayerfully ask for guidance for those in positions of leadership and to support and encourage everyone with whom we have any contact. We can smile across the street, raise a hand in cheery greeting, stand two metres away and talk whilst Rolo inspects their dog and their shoes and continue to write, email, phone whenever we can.
Friday 17 April
I’ve been thinking about perspective this week - how we see things, how things are. As someone who likes to travel and likes taking pictures I’ve had some fun over the years playing with perspective. making things seem smaller or bigger than they are.
How far away we are, what angle we are at. These things can change how we see things.
This week I’ve been wondering about what perspective we are putting onto the current situation. I found a quote the other day in an old notebook that said “Don’t tell God how big your storm is, tell the storm how big your God is.” I have no idea who originally said it but it has made me think about how I look at things. Am I looking through the perspective of trusting God or from a perspective of fear? Am I focusing on God or only on the news reports?
I turned then to the book of Job. Specifically to the end chapters where God speaks to Job. His words make Job say this: “I’m speechless, in awe—words fail me.I should never have opened my mouth! I’ve talked too much, way too much! I’m ready to shut up and listen.” It is a challenge to us all I think sometimes, to be quiet, to sit and listen to God, to focus on who God is and not on the situation we find ourselves in. But that I think is where I find myself this week. Ready to change my perspective, ready to shut up and listen to who God is.
Thursday 16 April
What did Jesus look like after His resurrection? Undoubtedly different: Mary Magdalene on Easter morning thought at first He was a gardener (John 20: 11-18). Likewise, the people walking to Emmaus that first Easter Sunday did not recognise Jesus until He broke bread (Luke 24: 13-35). This is not surprising. Some years ago in Holy Week, I read a fascinating article in the Church Times by an A&E consultant, which described the trauma caused to Jesus’ body by the process of crucifixion. It was a harrowing account but two things were clear. First, by the end of Good Friday, Jesus was dead; the Romans were too efficient at executions to be deceived about whether someone was faking death. Secondly, for Jesus to be resurrected, His body had to be alive in ways that we do not understand; and the post resurrection accounts in the Gospels and St Paul’s letters display that confusion. However, as (according to NASA) we do not know about the 95% of the universe which comprises dark matter and dark energy, we can be relieved that we do not understand much about our world, including the resurrection!
To my mind, the image of Jesus after the resurrection can best be seen in the change in the behaviour of the disciples. Before the crucifixion, they were muddle-headed, hesitant, and often afraid. How many of the disciples stood by the cross on Good Friday? (Spoiler alert! possibly only one (John 19: 25-27). Matthew (Matt 27: 55-56) and Mark (Mark 15: 40-41) mention that only some women followers were brave enough to be witnesses, while Luke (Luke 23: 49) says that Jesus’ friends ‘stood at a distance’).
After the resurrection, by contrast, the disciples were full of energy - ready to challenge the Jewish authorities and also willing in the end to die horrific deaths as a witness to their risen Lord. This huge change in their lives is, to me, one face of the risen Jesus.
Artists over the centuries have picked this up, for they often depicted Jesus in the dress and environment of their own day. (I know this was partly a lack of historicity but I think it also reflects a deeper understanding of Jesus’ universality).
So, the challenge for us is how to show the risen Jesus in our lives so that others may see something of His risen body. Likewise, we should be alert for signs of Jesus in others.
This is all a bit dry so, to end, here is an image of Jesus on etched glass, made in the mid 1970s. It was a prototype for some secondary glazing at the Cathedral which didn’t happen, but I love the movement and the vibrancy of Jesus’ blessing. I can imagine Him saying “In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world” (John 16: 33). Happy Easter
Wednesday 15 April
Thought for the Day
Mary Magdalene met Jesus on that first Easter morning. Initially she thought he was the gardener. How wrong she was! And yet how right too. Wasn’t Jesus the gardener of the new creation on that first Easter morning? A neglected garden had become overgrown with weeds of all kinds, weeds of oppression and injustice. What God had done on that happy morning was to start again. “In the beginning God created…..” (Genesis 1) “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1) Here was the new Adam in the New garden. Creation was beginning again.
Easter this year had a very different feel to it. I hope you found some good services on line or on TV, but whatever you did, we could all share in that resurrection promise of new life.
At this difficult time we await the new creation when this deadly virus has been conquered. What will this new creation look like? Things will never go back to being what they were. People will have changed, priorities will have changed.
We look forward with anticipation to that day when all things will be new. It will come and we can rejoice together again.
“If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
That seems like a promise to write in our hearts.
Tuesday 14 April
The online Holy Week and Easter liturgies from the Cathedral and Bishop Rose were set in some beautiful gardens in spring. Immediately striking is the birdsong. Would such ‘interference’ be allowed in a studio or would an irate producer edit it out? The birdsong was very moving and somehow inspiring as an accompaniment to the personal reflections and the words of the liturgies.
The final verse of Edward Thomas’s poem ‘Adlestrop’ recalling a June train journey through that station in the Cotswolds in 1914, recreates the stillness and natural harmonies of the countryside as the train pulled in.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
WW1 was to break into this stillness for Thomas personally as for the world around him. The Poetry Foundation* speaks of his achievement in understanding the ‘disconnection, alienation, and unsettledness’ of the world as it was becoming.
The liturgies and reflections in the gardens provided for me a break from the ‘disconnections, alienation and unsettledness’ of the situation we find ourselves in. The power of liturgy and reflection to express human aspiration and some comfort in times of trouble in a natural setting helps hope to spread ‘further and further’. Like the birdsong, some sense of stillness, and even the possibility of joy, returns.
Monday 13 April
Normally on Easter Sunday clergy lock the door of the church, tackle an Easter egg and go off for a few days rest and relaxation. Clare and I had planned to go up to Malvern for a few days before returning for the APCM and during that time we were going to have a short excursion to Buxton, to visit my favourite cheap bookshop and more importantly to see the Derek Jarman exhibition in Manchester (which we had already seen in Dublin).
Now we know that we will be in Canterbury on Easter Monday- normally the break comes at the just the right moment when the busyness is over and the Lenten discipline transformed by Easter Day, the baton can be laid down. This year is such an extraordinary time, excluded from the church on Easter Day and unable to be away is sad but for me the sadness is tempered by the different rhythms that I’ve discovered. Prayer is not a prologue to the day but at its core, the little things that were raced over are now savoured and daily life is about timings and regularity. In the midst of the lockdown I’m living a fairly monastic life and finding unexpected joy within it, a glimpse of what makes the religious life tick.
One day the restrictions will be lifted and we will all back to a degree of normality- yet each of us will have had new insights and seen things differently in these difficult times. We will have found the blessings and will be challenged to see what these blessings might look like as we return to previous patterns and routines.
Saturday 11 April
The whole country has been exhorted to stay home, not to go out unless it is absolutely necessary, and the police have been instructed to strongly advise those who do, to return home as soon as possible.
That’s how it must have been for the disciples that Saturday, they must have been experiencing all the emotions we feel when grieving for those we love who have died. They were as angry, confused, depressed and sad as the 30,000 families worldwide whose loved ones have died and that is only the ones we know about. No doubt there are countless others who have not made the “official statistics”.
We know what tomorrow will bring, the joy of hope fulfilled at the resurrection, but for many there will be only the aching loneliness of regret without hope for the future. And that is where being church comes into its own. We can offer comfort and support to all those we know who are feeling lost, bereft and alone at this time.
Now is the time to send that letter or email, to make that phone call or text. Easter Saturday is a time of reflection and thanksgiving, for all we have received and enjoy, so let’s share it wherever and however we can.
Friday 10 April
Yesterday we watched with Jesus. It might have seem dark and scary but we knew Jesus was with us. Today we watch as Jesus is killed. And suddenly the watching yesterday seems safe. Now we are bereft of the anchor of Jesus. Swept away in the sea of uncertainty and despair.
But we call this day good. We call it good because we are always looking forward. And this Easter we are following the movement of society as well - as the picture below which i saw on my walk yesterday says #betterdaysarecoming.
We are looking forward to Sunday, we are looking forward to new life, we are looking forward to hope and new beginnings.
Yes it is scary and it seems overwhelming and sad. But Sunday is coming...
Thursday 9 April
“Lights! Camera! Action!” is the proverbial director’s cry when starting to film some drama. Maundy Thursday is full of drama and action; or, at least, most normal Maundy Thursdays are. Usually, all the diocesan clergy, and many Lay Readers, would take part in a Eucharist service in the Cathedral with their bishop. Up and down the country, there would have been living sermons demonstrating humility, such as foot washing or shoe cleaning: ‘the greatest among you must be your servant’ said Jesus (Matt 23: 11). Her Majesty the Queen would have distributed Maundy Money (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Maundy) to 93 men and 93 women – one of the very few times when she goes to recipients (for, normally, people go to Buckingham Palace or another Royal residence to receive an honour), so she would have been active. And, indeed, on the very first Maundy Thursday, Jesus Himself was active, not just in washing the disciples’ feet (John 13: 1-16) but also instituting the act of Holy Communion by which He is still recognised today.
This day also marks the 75th anniversary of the brutal murder of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietrich_Bonhoeffer) by the Nazis on the personal order of Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was a true martyr – the original meaning of the word in Greek was a witness – someone whose whole life and actions embodied his belief in the resurrection of Jesus, and who recognised the demands that the resurrection place on all of us.
Today, because of the coronavirus and the restrictions that it has caused, there is little action that we can take. However, we can prepare for when times revert to normal. I must use this time to reflect on what future actions I will take to show God’s love; I must prepare for my walk-on part in God’s drama. Will you be ready for when He says to you “Lights! Camera! Action!”?
Wednesday 8 April
Patience is a virtue,
Virtue is a grace,
Grace was a little girl
Who wouldn’t wash her face.
Do you remember this rhyme?
It’s not easy to be patient. And all of us have had our patience tested these past couple of weeks. All the things we had planned, all the things we want to do, are all on hold. Some of us can’t go out except for a short walk and those of us who can have nowhere to go! And we still have some weeks to go before we get back to any semblance of normality.
Let’s look at some of the words that can be substituted for patience: resolution, perseverance, long suffering. Patience in the biblical sense, is not concerned with the pace of your life but the determination you bring to life. It’s all about stickability: your willingness to keep going: your readiness to take the long view in a society which looks for a quick return in exchange for minimum effort: your refusal to give in or give up. That’s patience, and don’t we need to pray for that gift just now?
I wrote this before I heard the Dean of Hereford Cathedral speak on Palm Sunday. If you can listen to the Sunday Worship service on I player or catchup you can hear what he has to say about patience.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12.
Tuesday 7 April
Before the lock-down I bought Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, her account of Thomas Cromwell. I read a portion at the end of each day. So why is it such a treat when I know the outcome?
It’s the same with the Passion story from Matthew’s Gospel in the morning service on Palm Sunday. We know where the narrative is going and look forward to the culmination of Easter Day. But do we know the outcome? The outcome of the possibilities of new life and of hope overcoming despair and grief have to become individual, local, national and international realities.
We think we know the outcome of Cromwell’s story. Perhaps the vision which he shared with Cranmer of a society with resources directed to common welfare, the common weal, (albeit in the context of his time), is one which goes beyond his own death and the principles of which we need to return to urgently today.
We are seeing this in all those committing themselves to hope through their various working lives at the moment. This is the living out of Easter through the times of tension and darkness we read of in Holy Week. Will we have both the vision and courage to work for the common weal when we come out at the other end ?
Monday 6 April
Back in the 1980s we went as a family to the Orchard Theatre in Dartford to see a matinee performance of Hamlet. It was a hot day, we were sitting in the front row and the play was long. As it progressed my mother started to feel sleepy and her head started to move forward, eventually unable to fight it she fell asleep. Then after a while she woke to find Hamlet looking into her eyes and saying to her “To be or not to be that is the question.” She never saw the actor on television again without a guilty feeling and I suspect that he was none too impressed with a woman falling asleep as he gave his all on a hot sticky afternoon.
Much of holy week is about human frailty in the face of Jesus determination. The disciples fall asleep at Gethsemane as Jesus faces his greatest challenge and others have already gone from Judas to the palm wavers.
Sometimes we can feel anger and annoyance with the disciples and the fickle crowds but I guess we know that we would have done nothing different, knowing our own frailty as much as theirs. We too would fallen asleep or sidled away.
That is why we have our eyes on Jesus but identify with the disciples as we move through Holy Week. For me that moment of identification comes on Thursday as I read Peter’s denial- he walked away but I would have done too, yet knowing that Jesus chose not to walk away but to walk on because humans are frail and need salvation.
Saturday 4 April
We are now at the end of our second week in social isolation and for a pair of raging extroverts, Rolo and I are finding it hard. As we go out for our daily exercise, I make every effort to avoid others (as instructed) but he finds this very difficult and will cross the road to commiserate with a canine friend. But, in the midst of all this, I reflected today on the reality of our situation. I can phone friends, send them quips and jokes and receive them. The internet is proving to be a boon for many because we are using it in the way it was intended, sharing, giving and receiving and keeping in touch with those from whom we are separated.
It’s the giving and receiving that’s the most important. The Pharisees were quick to condemn Jesus because he “ate with sinners”. But that was the whole point, the “so called” sinners gave Jesus hospitality, a warm welcome and took pleasure in his company and Jesus received it. In return he gave them respect and accepted them as the people they were, and he cared for every one of them. At the moment we can’t eat together but we can continue to give and receive from each other through our phone calls, chats and smiles across the road, and above all our prayers.
Friday 3 April
Staying fit. This has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks as we have all adjusted to the new way of living. One of the benefits I have found from living outside of the parish has been the journey to and from the churches each day. These have not only helped to keep me physically fit, as I have walked or cycled to church, but they have also helped to keep me mentally and spiritually fit as well. I use these journeys to listen to podcasts, worship music or just to reflect in silence. Now, like everyone else my rhythm of life has changed and I find myself having to work out new ways of staying fit in this crazy new world. My new keep fit rhythm is evolving - Physically I have been doing PE with Joe on Youtube each week day with the kids at home, mentally and spiritually I am finding times in the day to pray, to meditate and to read. It is important for all of us to find a rhythm that works for us in this new season of life for however long it lasts. If you are reading this then hopefully these short reflections are a part of your new rhythm. I encourage you all to find what works for you physically, mentally and spiritually, so that we can stay strong in these hard times.
Thursday 2 April
I have a soft spot for Samuel Pepys (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Pepys) because I feel an affinity with him. Partly because his diary (https://www.pepysdiary.com/) gives such an interesting insight into life in London during the 1660s - and I was born and raised for eight years in the City of London; partly because I was lucky to spend a couple of years at Magdalene College Cambridge (https://www.magd.cam.ac.uk/) and had the chance one evening to look at the original diaries, which are housed in the college with all the books that Pepys collected; and partly because Pepys himself was such a warts and all person. For example, he regularly complained about preachers giving ‘most sorry’ sermons, and noted that he slept during several of them. In August 1667, he even used the sermon during one Evensong to try to pick up a young lady (despite being married…) and only gave up when he saw her taking out pins from her pocket to stab him if he tried again. I am sure this never happens at St Martin’s or St Paul’s!
Pepys’s diary for 1665 is very topical currently, as that year London suffered from the Great Plague (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Plague_of_London). He mentions houses being boarded up, “a red cross on their doors and ‘Lord have mercy upon us’ writ there”. Even then, people were self-isolating, and fleeing infection if they could, and trying all sorts of remedies. We today are much luckier. Although we do not have a cure, we are better informed about the spread of the Covid-19 and the likely symptoms, and that is a comfort. Dedicated staff are busy in hospitals and surgeries to help the sick. People are still working in shops supplying our food and other necessities. We should be very grateful to all of them for their courage and service. And although we may not be able to meet face to face, we can still socialise using telephones and computers.
One thing which has not changed over the centuries is God’s promise to us, seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God does not promise that life will be trouble free, nor that it will be easy. He has not abolished the death of the body. But He does offer life beyond death, and life more abundantly (John 10: 10).
These days of enforced self-isolating give us a chance to reflect in stillness on the mystery of God’s love for us and how best we should respond to that love. Whether it is turning to the Psalms (with all their anguish being triumphed eventually by God’s power and love), or reading one or more gospels, or reflecting on one of the epistles, this is a splendid chance to “Be still, and know that I am God!”(Psalm 46: 10). Seize the day: let us pray…
Wednesday 1 April
How often do we say “Don’t worry!” But does it work? Worry is a very wearying emotion and uses a lot of nervous energy that could be put to better use, such as finding a solution to the problem. Worry alone doesn’t achieve anything.
We are all worried at the moment about the situation in the world, about our health and the health of those around us.
Jesus had some significant comments to make about worry, which he condemns as a futile activity. Surprisingly he does say “Do not worry.” (Matthew 6:25) BUT he doesn’t leave it there. “Don’t worry,” says Jesus. “Invite God into the situation that disturbs you and ask him to deal with it.”
Of course we can’t just say that and then get on with life as it was. Everything has changed and we need to adapt and play our part in keeping ourselves and everyone else safe. But we can invite God into the situation. There is little we can do, but God can and will. We can ask him to give us strength and comfort and a quiet mind at this most difficult time. Then trust in the loving God whom we worship.
Tuesday 31 March
Perversely, just as stay at home kicked in, my internet connection started failing. Initial panic, I don’t do internet on my mobile! This made me think about connectivity! How do we normally connect, how much we take it for granted? Speech, words, eyes, gestures, text, all are problematic and dependent in our present situation on technology for those who live alone and for those self-isolating at home. The Christian community connects in that intensely moving moment when bread and wine are shared and this is impossible at the moment.
So perhaps we have to look for a deeper connection to sustain us as those who take the responsibility are working to combat this disease. There must be something in the Christian narrative to ‘speak’ in this situation I thought. Into my head came the words of the Father speaking to the resentful son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15. ‘You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.’ The story ends in hope and with a party. We must wait for the party, but for now, back to the books. Alan Bennett sounds the thing, ‘Keeping On Keeping On’.
Monday 30 March:
What is a church? It has been a question that been on my mind over this last week. As the guidance from the Church of England has evolved as we have sought to cope with the coronavirus, so our perceptions of church have been forced to change.
Once public worship was suspended, the church building was still there for private prayer and for live streaming but clergy are subject to the same conditions as their congregations, the same separation.
I love our two church buildings, their history and their witness. I’ve felt the bereavement of the last week no longer being able to prayer in them as I had planned as new realities of the current situation emerge. I’ve discovered that my study is a good place to be and I’ve learned how to live stream.
Yet as I live stream from home, I know others are watching-more than our normal congregation engaging with the daily office. As I stay at home, I ring people up and talk to them, sharing thoughts and concerns – I often find their lines are engaged and people are talking to each other.
One day we’ll be back in our buildings and back together as congregations but until then I rejoice in our online services(I never thought I would say that) and our care for each other- knowing that is where church is for now. When we return may we never take things for granted again and may this experience draw us closer to each other and to God.
Monday - Friday live streaming daily: Morning Prayer at 9.15 and Evening Prayer at 16.00
Night prayer at 8pm Monday, Wednesday and Friday
Sunday live streaming: 10.30 service (non eucharist)
the live streaming can be found here:
you do not have to have a facebook account to watch.
The newsletter for this week, including the reading for Sunday can be found here
If you are looking for resources to help you pray during this time have a look at the church of England resources here
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(taken from the Church of England Website)
Following Government and Church guidance, Fisher Folk, Cheeky Monkeys and all other church events are suspended until further notice.