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:
Thursday 13th August
Doris and Warren Buffett, photo credit www.thetimes.co.uk
Yesterday (Wednesday), The Times had an obituary of Doris Buffett, the elder sister of the investment king Warren Buffett. Although she was rich in the end, she was raised in poverty and had a domineering mother, who always put her down. In 1951 as a newlywed in Colorado, she was trying to learn about good housekeeping. An older neighbour, Josephine, taught her many useful skills, giving her some self-esteem for the first time. “What can I do for you?” she asked her teacher. “Nothing at all” said Josephine – “but someday, when you are able, help someone else”.
It chimed with something that her father Howard, a stockbroker, had taught her. “You are not required to carry the whole burden, nor are you permitted to put down your share”.
Not many of us will be able to give away millions of pounds to help others. (Nor will we perhaps have to flee to London, dressed as a nun, to avoid an ex-husband’s lawyers wanting to serve a writ, as she did in 1983…). But Jesus reminds us, when he praised the widow who gave her pittance to the Temple treasury (Mark 12: 41-44 or Luke 21: 1-4), that all of us are called on to help each other. Saint John Chrysostom says: “God does not appreciate the smallness of the gift, but the greatness of the affection with which it is offered” (Homily on Hebrews 1: 3-4,
https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/240201.htm). Many already give with great affection and thank you for all that you do; thus, the Kingdom draws a bit closer.
The Widow’s Mite from S Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, photo credit: www.fathervenditti.com
Wednesday 12th August
Kate Davson’s funeral will be held today in Rye where she lived before coming to Canterbury. When conditions allow, a service of Thanksgiving will be held in the Cathedral.
Kate was a talented person, internationally known and active in two quite unrelated fields - fine porcelain and ecumenism. She became very involved in the world wide ecumenical movement and was elected as President of the International Ecumenical Association. She recounted how gaining agreement at certain international meetings was as challenging as it must be with United Nations gatherings!
Lock down with increased streaming of church services across the Christian denominations has served the cause of ecumenism to some extent. I have Baptist friends who are great fans of streamed Morning Prayer with the Dean and his zoo. I gather this service now has an international following across denominations.
Do we take ecumenism - shared Christian faith across the denominations - seriously enough? I am not sure we do. Before lock down members of our Bible Study group planned individually to worship in a church of a different denomination followed by group reflection on these experiences. Sadly it was not yet possible. A few years ago I was present at adult baptism in the summer sea in Tankerton - a great experience.
Not everyone knows Baptists have only adult baptism of believers. There is so much to be involved with in your own denomination that regular contact with and learning from Christians in other churches is not a high priority. In Canterbury there is a bewildering range of churches, many meeting in schools and colleges. There are ‘Christians Together’ activities in Canterbury such as the Good Friday service, Street Pastors and more.
Kate was an outstanding person, a distant relative of William Willberforce MP who played a huge part in the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. As part of the legacy of Kate’s tireless international work in ecumenism it would be fitting if at our local grassroots level we find ways in the ‘new normal’ to learn more about and engage with fellow Christians in other denominations in Canterbury.
Tuesday 11th August
I enjoy trying the concise crossword in my newspaper but avoid the cryptic one. It’s too frustrating. I stare at the clues but can make no sense of them. I haven’t got the patience to persevere. Would I succeed if I didn’t give up so easily but persisted in trying to get into the mindset? Is there a mindset which finds this type of puzzle easier, and if there is, is there any point in trying if you haven’t got it?
The disciples were understandably puzzled by Jesus’ ministry and teaching. Why follow? What
would the outcome be? What should they do as those who somehow had to stick with this
enigmatic figure? Despite being often bewildered, they and the crowds were compelled by his vision of the potential for human society and individual relationships to be life giving rather than destructive of human dignity. The resurrection narratives, themselves a mystery, express the belief that this vision and potential survive beyond his physical presence.
We could ask what Jesus saw in each of the disciples. Is it a question of a curious disposition, a
mindset, a bit like the cryptic crossword solvers who are prepared to persevere and find a meaning in the strange clues?
The desire for justice and dignity is a mindset which most people share. Christian communities
reach out to this, sharing the diversity of where we are in our attempts to puzzle out the response of faith to all manner of events around us.
It doesn’t matter whether we try concise or cryptic. The urgency is to give the puzzle a go.
Monday 10th August
Our recent visit to Malvern gave us the opportunity for plenty of socially distanced walks across the Malverns themselves and also Bredon Hill across the Vale of Evesham an outlier of the Cotswolds.
The countryside in Worcestershire has influenced many writers, artists and musicians but when you are there it is very difficult not to be moved by the beauty of the scenery as you look down on the views and the sweep of the countryside. You are supposed to be able to see three cathedrals from the highest point in the Malverns – Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford, although you need good eyesight to do that. Yet it is the undulating landscape and the natural phenomena like the Welsh mountains or the River Severn that catch the attention rather than man made structures.
The landscape of the Malverns was formed millions of years ago with rock forced up out of the
earth’s core through the sea to be part of the first land masses in the country. It is very old but still very precious, in a sense unchanging but liable to change as the climate warms up. It was God’s gift and yet easy for us to take it for granted. When I stand at the top looking down, I wonder whether future generations will still have the same view- last time we were there the floods had caused worse damage than had been recorded before, even allowing for improved flood defences.
I could leave my thought reflecting on God in creation but while we were there we heard the news of the explosion and devastation in Beirut. Hundreds of people killed and many more injured, homes and livelihoods devastated, apparently due to chemicals left in warehouses. Nobody presumably set out to kill others but human actions led to devastation and death in a moment. We have that power to destroy and the ability to change the world around us. Mostly it is more slow and unnoticed but Beirut is a reminder of how fragile things are and the responsibility that we have in our actions- how fertiliser becomes an explosive and how what helps crops grow has left a city in ruins.
Saturday 8th August
This week has been, for me, one of delight and horror. Delight at being able to spend time with my grandson whilst his parents moved house. We spent over three hours walking on Clapham Common. There was so much to see, and George had decided that he was not going to sleep so we burbled and cooed our way round the ponds and past the children’s play area and under the avenues of trees. Of course, he did fall asleep on the way back. The pleasure was doubled for me as I gazed at the trees and the ducks and talked to George who is very vocal and responded as I spoke to him. I was reminded of the time, as a health visitor, when I met one of my mums on
Stamford Hill and spoke to her baby. The four month old responded gurgling as the mother tapped me on the shoulder and said “You do know ‘e can’t talk don’t ya?”
Whilst I was enjoying my day Beirut suffered an absolute disaster with many killed and injured. As the stories emerged there was desperation in the voices of the survivors. My friend Judy was a trustee for Embrace which works in Lebanon and she had been there on a visit to some of their projects. She said that conditions were poor then with hospitals in dire straits and this situation has worsened with the Syrian war and the rise of so many militant factions in that part of the world. We are onlookers in the face of such destruction and we must applaud the action of the
French President Macron in going to visit so quickly after the event. There are many who are asking “Where is God? Why did He let this happen?” But we know that God is there with all those who have been affected. This disaster is manmade but through our prayers and giving whatever support we can, the people of Lebanon will know they are being held in love and compassion before God.
Christ has asked each one of us to see with his eyes, to help with his hands, to care as he does for all peoples throughout the world. We are coping with a pandemic in safe homes, with access to good healthcare, and to easily available food so let us reach out and love our neighbours as ourselves.
Friday 7th August
Living in tension
These past weeks for me have been all about tension. Practical tension like trying to balance good sound in church with good sound for people joining us online at home, like trying to balance my dislike for wearing masks for too long with my need to do things. But I have also been very aware of the theological tension that we live with, a fact that came up in our Bible study this week as we thought about how God balances forgiveness and justice. We can see good things happening at the moment and encouraging signs of growth, community and love. But we do not need to look far to also see devastation, grief and pain. We live in the tension between feeling the hurt and despair of the world and knowing the hope and love of God.
I do not have answers of how to live well in this tension, of how to make sense of it. But it encourages me that the Bible is full of people struggling to live this tension of knowing God but still questioning how bad things can happen. Of trusting God but seeing crooked people succeed over the honest ones and not understanding it. People in the Bible and people throughout history have had these struggles and knowing I am not alone in these tensions encourages me and helps me keep going – I hope it helps you too. A poem by William Brodrick that was part of our early morning Monday Zoom prayers summed this up for me and I leave you here with his words to ponder:
Once you’ve heard a child cry out to Heaven for help,
and go unanswered,
nothing’s ever the same again.
Even God changes.
But there is a healing hand at work
that cannot be deflected from its purpose.
I just can’t make sense of it, other than to cry.
Those tears are part of what it is to be a monk.
Out there, in the world, it can be very cold.
It seems to be about luck, good and bad,
and the distribution is absurd.
We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair,
faith and doubt, life and death,
all the opposites.
Thursday 6th August
Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) was one of the pioneers of researching the transmission of electrical power without using wires. One of the curiosities of this idea can been seen when a neon tube light is brought close to a high voltage power cable. Suddenly, the neon tube will burst into life without the usual starter motor, wiring, or light switch that would be needed in a domestic setting. The tube will glow and give light in what might seem to be a miraculous way – or course, what is happening is that the tube is making use of the electro-magnetic power given off by the high voltage cables. A few years ago, the artist Robert Box ‘planted’ a field near Bristol, that had overhead power cables, with 1301 neon tubes; these tubes glowed just with the waste power from the cables. The picture at the top of this piece is of that installation. It must have been quite something!
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, when we remember how Jesus took Peter, James, and John (His closest disciples) to a high mountain. There He was transformed and spoke with Moses and Elijah. You can read about it in Matt 17: 1-13, or Mark 9:2-13, or Luke 9: 28-36. Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets, and Jesus of course is greater than both. All three are described as shining like the sun and being as white as the light. They were filled with some special power, a bit like the neon tubes in the field near Bristol. It was a foretaste of the Kingdom, where we trust that God’s power will be revealed in wonderous ways.
None of us knows what will happen to us after we die. However, I wonder whether the new life which we hope will be ours will be like the neon tubes and the power cables. Despite the death of our earthly bodies, we will have new life because of God’s love for us - and for all people. In some way, the gracious and generous love of God will allow us to have life, just as a dead neon tube comes to life near a high voltage power cable. I hope that may be the case; it would be wonderful. Yet, even more wonderfully, that new life does not have to wait until our death. Today, and every day, we can draw on God’s energy (if we choose to do so) to help His Kingdom come, His will be done on earth as in heaven. We can be transformed in our lives if we get close to Him through prayer. Then, similar to the neon tubes, we may be able to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to give light to His world.
The Transfiguration, by Theophanes the Greek, who was noted as the teacher and
mentor of the great Andrei Rublev. It may be found in Preobrazhensky Cathedral.
Photo credit Wikipedia.
Wednesday 5th August
Next Sunday, 9 th August, is Mary Sumner Day.
Mary Sumner founded the Mothers’ Union in 1876. She was born Mary Elizabeth Heyward, the third of four children. She married a clergyman and after the birth of her first grandchild, set up a group to support mothers, rich and poor, in bringing up their children. This spread to other
churchwomen who set up similar groups in their own parishes. By 1892 there were 60,000 members in 28 diocese.
It is now a world wide organisation with groups in 83 countries. It’s vision is of a world where God’s love is shown through loving, respectful and flourishing relationships. This is to be
achieved by focusing on Christ’s teaching on the nature of marriage, the nurture of children within the faith and life of the church and helping those whose family life has met with
As a group they are also involved in women’s rights; campaigning against gender violence, trafficking of women, women’s rights in the workplace to name but a few.
Members are not all mothers, or even all women, single, married, parents, grandparents and young adults are all welcome.
We have a flourishing group within the parish who meet every month (in normal times!) and have a monthly corporate Communion service. The Parent Toddler group which meets on a Monday and Wednesday morning supports families from the local area.
Covid 19 has curtailed much of what we usually do, but we have not been idle. Throughout the pandemic we have kept up networks of support for one another and those families
and individuals in need.
Read more about Mary Sumner and the Mother’s Union on the website.
Tuesday 4th August
Visiting family in Cornwall in the Eighties I remember how at midday there was often a boom in the sky, beyond the clouds. It was Concorde passing over. Recently I watched two programmes on the development, history and eventual grounding of Concorde. The pilots had an obvious affection for the aircraft, as if it was a living entity. The aircraft, they said, ‘just wanted to fly’.
I’ve never had this perception of a machine. Machines are functional items. I just want them to
function. To the Concorde pilots and design engineers their creation was not just a flying machine but a work of art which they had a relationship with. Many of our relationships now happen via technology. This is part of the ‘new normal’ that we hear about and are trying to comprehend.
Jesus disregarded all boundaries of ‘normality’ when people were in need. He encountered many individuals personally but also In Matthew 8 v 5-13 his ministry went ahead of him, although physically he was not there, bringing relief to the household of the Roman centurion who recognised the power of the message of compassion.
Being fascinated by Concorde, I hope to tour one in its museum. As someone petrified of flying,
sitting in a plane which isn’t going to take off appeals to me! However, I shall need more courage than this to explore the Christian faith in this new world. ‘Norms’. of being together in communion in the Church family, the community and everyday relationships have comprehensively changed.
How can we spread good news which heals the dis-eases of individuals and our society? An
exciting mixture of the actual and the virtual is a good place to start.
Monday 3rd August
As traditionally the first Monday in August was Canterbury Cricket Week when the St Lawrence
Ground and the City generally were decorated for the festival and the pitch circled with marquees and flags, my thought today is about cricket.
One of the legendary names in cricket journalism in the 20 th century was EW Swanton, the Cricket correspondent of The Daily Telegraph and BBC commentator, who was also a big figure in Kent Cricket. Swanton was seen as a somewhat pompous figure and Brian Johnston said he was too posh to travel in the same car as his chauffer.
He was a churchman too, in younger years as Churchwarden at All Saints, Margaret Street in London and latterly at St Clement’s Church, Sandwich.
I, like many people, thought him someone rather distant and not really my type of person. Two
pieces of information softened my heart. First that he had been a POW of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore for four years, in one of the most notorious prisons. Second that he had opposed playing cricket against Apartheid South Africa (unlike Johnston) and promoted black cricketers around the world. A brave man and one who defied conventional views on cricket and politics.
As a curate I was loaned out to churches in the deanery including Sandwich to cover services. Here I met EW Swanton, who I was still not sure about as we shook hands for the first time. Yet each time I went he welcomed me warmly and commented on my sermon at the end of the service (especially any mention of cricket) and always said “See you next time” and “Well preached” in his deep, booming voice.
I learned an important lesson in those days- never judge a person until you have met them and God calls us to try to work with all people whether they are like us or unlike us. Perhaps what they said about Swanton was right but in those moments in Sandwich I saw the image of God in him, just as we are called to look for it in everyone we meet.
Sunday 2 August
A new month lies ahead as we plan our “staycations”. I look at the garden and am reminded of the nursery rhyme asking, “how does your garden grow?” Well there are no silver bells or cockle shells blooming in mine, but the plants are rampant. The tomato plants are rather like triffids with numerous bunches of green fruits, if they all ripen the whole street will be eating tomato sauce for ever! But I am not complaining, its been a pleasure to have the time to plant and tend to the garden which was never possible when I was working. It seems to me that nature has reasserted itself over these last months, and I’m reminded that God knows each sparrow that falls and how much more he cares for each one of us. Its an incredible concept that we, despite all our shortcomings, are so precious in the eyes of God.
We are entering a new normal, life won’t be the same as it was pre-Covid, and we shall all have to adjust to that. There are times when I feel frustrated to be unable to do the things I used to enjoy so much. As a street pastor or at the foodbank I felt I was contributing in a small way to the life of us all in our community but at present both activities are on hold. So, its time to put my thinking cap on and find other ways to play my part. I am sure that is the same for many of us. There are those who find worship more difficult because we are no longer singing together in church but keeping our distance and listening to a pre-recording of our choir. We,have to find new ways to share the joy of the risen Lord for ourselves and for others, and we will.
We have a choice, we can bemoan that which is no longer available or we can, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, participate in all that is new and work together to contribute to the normal that is emerging. Exactly what the disciples had to do after Jesus left them, they were frightened and fearful and excited at the future which lay ahead and we can be thankful that they did forge ahead and share the good news of the gospel.
As you can see below, a new Rolo has emerged, his first haircut since February!
Friday 31st July
I have been looking forward to the end of lockdown for ages, but now that we find ourselves slowly seeming to emerge from it I find myself struggling more than I thought I would. I realise that it is the uncertainty and the constant change that is making me uneasy. The initial lockdown was comparatively fast and hard. The rules were quite certain and it was easier to know the right thing to do – even if you found it hard to actually do it! Now as we edge out of a hard lockdown it is all so much more uncertain and there seem to me to be so many more grey areas about what you can and cannot do, what you should and should not do.
We look around and we see different people doing different things – which way is right? Is there a right way? What is best for me and my family?
We are now in a time of massive transition and I would guess that I am not the only one feeling this unease and worry about the many different decisions we find ourselves having to make each week – should I go here? should I do this? is that two metre?, is a mask needed here? ……
The questions are endless. I often find myself having to take a deep breath, remind myself that I am not alone and say a quick prayer for God’s peace as I make my decisions.
One thing I have found very helpful is this prayer that I found in one of my books (Common Prayer) and I leave it here with you in the hope that some of you may also find it a helpful prayer in these turbulent times of choices and changes:
“Lord, help me now to unclutter my life,
to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.
Lord, teach me to listen to my heart;
teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it.
Lord, I give You these stirrings inside me,
I give You my discontent,
I give You my restlessness,
I give You my doubt,
I give You my despair,
I give you all the longings I hold inside.
Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth:
to listen seriously and follow where they lead
through the breathtaking empty space of an open door”
Thursday 30th July
Thomas Gray, National Portrait Gallery
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave”.
Thomas Gray’s Elegy written in a County Churchyard is one of the most famous poems in the English language, and has given rise to many well known expressions: far from the madding crowd, full many a flower is born to blush unseen, the noiseless tenor of their way, and read their history in a nation’s eyes are just some of them. Apparently, in 1759, during the Seven Years’ War, before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, British General James Wolfe is said to have recited it to one of his officers, adding, 'I would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of beating the French to-morrow'.
Today is the anniversary of Gray’s death in 1771. It is also the day that the C of E commemorates William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano, and Thomas Clarkson, all of whom were active anti-slavery campaigners and who eventually were successful in outlawing slavery first in the United Kingdom in 1807, and then throughout the British Empire in 1833 (apart from India, where it continued in many areas until 1861). Even today, the fight against slavery continues, and the call of the Hebrew Bible’s prophets for justice, mercy, and freedom for every man, woman, and child is just as relevant as it was millennia ago. However, the work of these three anti-slavery campaigners is a reminder that, although the paths of glory lead but to the grave, we have an opportunity before we reach the grave to help each other and build a community based on love and mutual respect. If we want the words of the Lord’s Prayer to come to pass – “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven” - then we, like William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano, and Thomas Clarkson, have to play our part…
First Day cover from 2007 portraying anti-slavery campaigners. The first class pair of stamps shows William Wilberforce and Obaudah Equiano, the 50p pair Granville Sharp and
Thomas Clarkson, and the 72p pair Hannah More and Ignatius Sancho.
Wednesday 29th July
It is clear that Covid-19 and the lock down has been very damaging for people’s mental health. Recent figures show that 65% of people report feeling worried about the future, while many others say they now have mental health problems for the first time. This is hardly surprising given the personal, social and economic effects of the pandemic, with great concerns about the future.
We all tend to worry and feel anxious at times, part of being human. It can affect our mental and physical health if we find ourselves dwelling too much on our past - “If only I hadn’t made that decision..”; or we too often think about all the things that could go wrong in our lives in the future.
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned about the futility of worry - it cannot add a single moment to your life. Christ’s teaching about worrying can be misunderstood and probably led to questions by the disciples. Jesus was making one main point that remains hugely important to us today. As the King James version famously puts it: ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’.
My modern version of Matthew:6:34 reads: ‘So don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today’.
A key to good mental health is to take Jesus’ teaching seriously and work at living one day at a time. Of course, it’s easy to say this but not always easy to practice. Something called ‘Mindfulness’ has become prominent in tackling serious anxiety. It relates directly to Jesus’ teaching about worrying and is a well worked out practice for concentrating on one’s life today, reducing or avoiding unhealthy anxiety that is prevalent during the pandemic. I have used the NHS approved online course ‘Be Mindful’ and found it clear and very helpful. The daily practice of deep breathing is part of a mindful approach and familiar to many.
For Christians, a deep faith, trust and close walk with God day by day is fundamental to our mental health. We also need to make use of resources such as Mindfulness as needed, not just for ourselves but possibly for others whom we know where there are signs of mental distress.
Tuesday 28th July
On my computer I watched the Queen virtually viewing the unveiling of her new portrait in the
Foreign Office. I thought the portrait looked both dignified and informal and I liked it. The Queen, at least in the extract I saw, was careful to pass no opinion on the quality of the portrait itself.
Perhaps royal personages don’t comment on portraits. Still, in the video and the portrait the
Queen is smiling. In Mark Chapter 10 v 17-22, a man runs up to Jesus explaining he has tried to keep the commandments all his life. What else should he do? Jesus sees behind masks of insecurity and deviousness but this man merits compassion, a genuine question, grounded in sincerity. I can imagine Jesus smiling at him before issuing the ultimate challenge to sell all his possessions and give to the poor.
Wearing masks, we rely on eye contact to receive compassion and to reach out. How do we view
ourselves and others without seeing facial expressions, a state we are not familiar with? How do we know if someone is smiling? I don’t enjoy wearing them so I am most likely looking grumpy under the mask anyway!
Perhaps someone will paint a portrait with a face mask as a historical record of the pandemic.
When we can eventually take them off we will have something to smile about, while we have them on we can remember the story in Mark. Encouraged by Jesus’ compassion for the man who really tried to do the right things, we persevere and maybe even smile behind the various layers that hide our faces.
Monday 26th July
I was recently lent a book about the history of Whitefriars in Canterbury. I was fascinated to see the pictures of the blitz and the old St George’s Church before its destruction and in its ruined state, but most interested in the pictures from the 1970s and 1980s. They showed how the area was before the redevelopment. It was how I remembered it when I was a child coming down to Canterbury but before seeing the pictures I couldn’t really think what it looked like all those years ago. Some things came back quickly like the multi-storey and the walk way past Morellis, but some of the details took a while to work out. It was also a reminder of how much things had changed even in a relatively short time in the city.
Books of old photos are always fascinating whether it be places or people. There is even a series of books called “Then and now” which show historic photos paired with a current view of the same spot, which sell very well because people tend to forget what places were once like and enjoy being reminded. “Of course” we say when we see them “that’s how it was”.
Church life has changed over the years although we sometimes feel it doesn’t but when we read in Pilgrim Post about church life forty years ago we see how different parish life is- our purpose, our geography and some of the people are the same, other things have altered.
One of the things that we know is that change has always been happening- whether twenty years ago or forty or eighty. Change continues to happen. We’ve seen through the lockdown new ways of working forced on to us in an unprecedented situation but we’ve adapted and learned. Now we are back in St Paul’s and soon in St Martin’s, we’re discovering about what has changed temporarily and what has changed permanently- how we might use technology in the future and how our faith goes beyond the buildings are just two things to reflect on.
When I came to the parish three years ago Christopher Gower wrote a beautiful anthem based on the psalmist’s cry “Sing to the Lord a new song” and in the present when we can’t sing and in the future when we can, we will be working out what that new song is and how things have changed but how they always have.
Saturday 25 July
I have experienced my first haircut for four months. It was a strange experience, me in my mask and the hairdresser with a full - face visor and no-one else in the salon. It made me think that anyone observing the scene who didn’t know about the pandemic, would be very confused. Why were both parties masked? In an operating theatre, whilst those who are standing are masked, the person having the scalpel used on them would not be wearing a mask. What ritual was taking place in the hair salon that required both parties to have their faces covered?
For many people coming to church before the pandemic for the first time there would have been confusion. They would have been unsure as to what was expected of them and even more unsure about the reaction of those around them if they made a mistake and sat down or stood up at the wrong time. Clergy are very familiar with the anxiety and uncertainty of their congregation especially when they are conducting weddings, funerals and baptisms. Its at these times that most people are grateful to be told what is expected and are given clear instructions at each stage of the ceremony. This sometimes, has to start before the service when people have to be advised to put their cigarettes out before coming into church. But the important issue on these occasions is that the congregation should feel accepted, supported, and able to participate in all that occurs.
The current advice to everyone is that the wearing of masks will be necessary within church buildings and that means that our service on Sunday will involve hand sanitisation, social distancing and wearing a mask. That should encourage those who are unfamiliar with church to come along. If they make a mistake no-one will be able to recognise them behind their mask. But the most important point will be that we have come together to worship the risen Lord and to share fellowship. We can smile at each other at the Peace but its probably better to wave gently as nobody will see our smile. Nevertheless, let us continue to care for each other and for our neighbour and to have joy in knowing Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
Do wave gently if you meet the person below.
Friday 24th July
There is something about just being together, and chatting together about anything and everything, with no pathway marked out and no agenda on the table. It is something I have been thinking about this week as our Wednesday zoom chats came to can end this week (with lockdown easing and old routines coming back into play my Wednesday evenings are now taken up with kickboxing again – I am looking forward to getting back in the gym!) These Wednesday chats have been an open time to talk about anything and everything – like the coffee time at the end of church but done over the computer screen – and they have been invaluable to many of us. Because we need to talk and communicate and we need to be able to chat about what is on our mind the big and the small.
This has had me pondering how I communicate most with God – is it in set times with my agenda of what I want to get through and ask for? Or do I allow myself time and space just to be with God and bring to her all the things on my mind, big and small. It’s great when you chat with people how the conversation ebbs and flows and meanders from topic to topic – it feels so natural. There can be silence and laughter and frustration and its all ok, it is all part of being together. How often do we do that with God? Spend time just being? Without worrying about times of silence or wondering thoughts. Maybe this week I can find some extra time just be with God and tell God what’s on my mind, the big and inconsequential – just like I would if she joined in one of our Zoom chats!
Thursday 23rd July
“He is who is near me is near the fire; he who is far from me is far from the kingdom”.
One of the sections in John Barton’s A History of the Bible (published by Penguin books) discusses what came to be included in our Bible – and also some of the writings which talk about Jesus which, for whatever reason, did not become part of the canon. Many of these writings probably were composed centuries after Jesus’ earthly life and have a limited appeal except to scholars. However, the gospel of St Thomas (which was re-discovered only in 1945 in Egypt) is a collection of sayings, a few of which may go back to Jesus himself. The quote at the top of this piece may be one of them – it was included in a sermon by Origen on the book of Jeremiah, so was known in the early 3 rd century CE. For more details about these non-Biblical
writings, please see Barton chapter 11, pages 264 – 284.
Those who dip into the contemporary version of Morning Prayer will know there is a prayer near the start which says: “As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you, now and for ever”. This used to worry me. I have never had great dramatic flames of faith. Yet fire can take many forms; and sometimes a fire is at its hottest when it has just glowing embers. Fire can be more than flames. So too, our witness to the power of God in our lives can take many forms.
“God proved them and found them worthy for himself. As gold in the furnace hath he tried them and received them as a burnt offering. And in the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble” (Wisdom 3: 5b – 7).
Opening ourselves to God can be pretty incendiary…
A detail from Pentecost by El Greco. Photo credit, The Prado Museum, Madrid
Wednesday 22nd July
Today is the day on which we remember Mary Magdalene. She came from Magdala on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee and should not be confused with Mary from Bethany or Mary, the sinful woman, who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil.
Jesus had cast out seven demons form her and she travelled with him as one of his followers. It seems that she was relatively wealthy as she helped support him in his ministry. She is mentioned by name twelve times in the gospels, but the story I like best, and probably the best known, is her encounter with Jesus after the resurrection when she mistakes him for the gardener.
She was so upset by the fact that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb that her eyes were full of tears. She only recognises him when he says her name, “Mary”. She wants to hold him, but he will not let her. This is a familiar situation at the moment. We long to hug our loved ones but we
cannot. We can only greet them from a distance. Jesus would not let her hold on to the past.
That is something we often want to do. We talk about how good things were before the
lockdown. How we were able to do so many things. It is now time to move on. We were told last week that things just may be back to a “near normal” by Christmas! So we have to learn to live another way. The followers of Jesus had to learn to live without his physical presence. We must embrace what we have now and accept that things will probably never go back to how they were, but that life can still be good if we trust.
Tuesday 21st July
Recently in the High St an enterprising character was selling face masks, anticipating the new
guidance. I thought about medieval Canterbury. Hawkers selling Becket mementos must have been a common sight. These were a cross between souvenirs and reminders of the powers of healing associated with pre-Reformation shrines. In the case of both masks and mementos, the hope of individuals is and was for health and well-being.
On the same day, walking past St Augustine’s Abbey and wondering to myself when life was likely to resemble anything like what it was before the pandemic, I thought of the huge impact in Henry V111’s reign of the destruction of Becket’s Shrine and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The inhabitants of Canterbury must have felt overwhelmed in the middle of a massive upheaval
when the Shrine, the Cathedral Priory, the Abbey and the various friaries around the city were
dismantled, literally before their eyes. This meant that the fabric of society, places of devotion,
hospitality, provision for the poor and the sick and shelter for the homeless had to be imagined
We are living through our own seemingly overwhelming upheaval. What will the future fabric of
society look like? Health and well-being for all are still a concern. Our predecessors moved forward and struggled with solutions in their circumstances. Still wondering about our future I got to St Martins on my way home. Where better to be reminded of the hymn
One the object of our journey,
one the faith which never tires,
one the earnest looking forward
one the hope our God inspires.
Monday 20th July
One of the books I studied for my English A level was The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald – the famous story of the Jazz Age and the shady millionaire Jay Gatsby. It is a short book but a lyric one and is a classic of American literature.
It hit the news this week as Fitzgerald’s books will be coming out of copyright at the end of this year and plans are underway for new editions of his works as well as prequels to The Great Gatsby, sketching the lives of the characters before they came into the novel.
I’m never quite sure about “sequels” or “prequels” to classic books, written long after the death of the original author. It always seems to be piggybacking on the famous author and their characters and plots, familiar to readers who find their curiosity aroused by the latter day versions of favourite novels.
I wonder what Jane Austen would have thought about PD James writing a sequel to Pride and
Prejudice or Fitzgerald about his characters being resurrected?
In the years of the early church people wanted to know more about Jesus and the apostles. The gospels told the story but there was a thirst for more details about Jesus as a child or the adventures of St Peter, and into that gap came the many gnostic or apochryphal gospels that we still hear about today.
If I were an author I would guard my stories and characters because that was the story that I was
wanting to tell and all details the readers needed. The same is true of the gospels, where the
evangelists used the eye witness accounts to tell the story of salvation giving the listeners and
readers from then to now all that we need to know.
Our focus ought to be on the words of the New Testament and the stories that we have, rather than speculating on the gaps and the missing details. We tend to like biographies with the full story told and all the details given but the gospels are documents of faith and need to be
studied for what they do say, rather than what they don’t say.
So I’ll be avoiding The Great Gatsby –the early years but keeping the bible open!
Saturday 18 July
A week of waiting and decision making for us all. Should I return to my Yoga classes? They take place in a sub-basement with windows but very little airflow. The teacher is excellent but performing yoga moves in a mask and keeping safely distanced from others will be difficult to say the least. Trying to do sun salutations without perspiration is beyond me and I can hardly wear a mask which covers all eventualities unless I attend in PPE. From now on I can use public transport, but the senior scientific adviser remains unconvinced as to the wisdom of such advice.
I remain “confused of Canterbury” and so will continue to take precautions and keep my distance from others. There is good news about a possible vaccine and that should cheer us all, but it is evident that the present state of affairs will continue for a considerable time. Talking to other dog walkers is enlightening, they advise going to the supermarkets either very early or very late in the day. Hairdressers for men are in operation but some ask that the customers wear masks, so I am not sure how the hair round the ears gets cut. Vets seem to be managing well, the dog goes in on a lead, and the examination takes place. Well Rolo has never been able to describe his problems so I guess the vet works on the assumption that if he looks hard enough, he will find it.
But I think we may all have to live with ongoing uncertainty, and this can prove to be stressful for many people. Most of us like to know what is expected of us and our desire to please others means that we conform to accepted norms of behaviour. The disciples exhibited much the same response as we do. In John’s gospel Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to His Father and will prepare a place for them and they know the way to the place He is going. Thomas is the first one to question this, “We don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?” When Jesus responds saying He is the way, the truth and the life Philip chimes in with “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us” In our frailty we demand concrete answers but we know by faith that Jesus is the answer.
Now faced with uncertainty in the pandemic we are once again questioning. We want concrete answers, fool proof solutions and a salve for our anxieties but like the disciples we have to wait. They finally understood and felt certainty after Jesus resurrection and his gift of the Holy Spirit. Waiting is hard for all of us but during this time there has also been the opportunity for us to explore different ways of worshipping together, of connecting with each other, of being church in new ways. So, whilst we wait let us thank God for all He has provided and let us continue to support and encourage each other.
Rolo is still waiting for his haircut, its been five months but patience will win out!
Friday 17th July
This week in the Zoom Bible Study we looked at the idea of Sin. This is a word that sounds old fashioned and odd to our twenty first century ears. The words translated in our Bibles as sin are Khata and Hamartia, and mean to fail or to miss the goal. So sin is simply a failure to meet the goal of loving God and loving others.
There is so much that you can think about on this topic but for me the conversation that we had around this idea on Monday was interesting in two main ways:
Firstly there was a challenge. The main challenge for me was to think of what failures am I blind to? Often in the Bible, and we know from living life, you can see that people are unaware that they are committing a sin. What am I not aware of in my life, especially things that I have grown up with in my culture and my family that is so ingrained within me that I have not even thought to question? For me this has made me think about, and question, my attitudes to consumerism, race and gender. Am I missing out on the goal of living a full life of loving God and others because I cannot see where I am going off track?
Before you get too dispirited though, as I was the other day, I had my second revelation.
Secondly – there was a gift – the gift of grace. Grace is another one of those Bible words that can sound outdated and confusing. I remember being taught that grace is Gifts Received At Christs Expense. It is free kindness from God that is not deserved and does not need to be earned. This idea I think we need to take along side the idea of not meeting the goal of living the way God wants to at all times. Failure is part of life but God’s love and forgiveness is all encompassing and covers our failures.
So while so many of us wrestle with our failures and times when we do not meet the goal of being loving, whether we know it or not, we can do so in the arms of grace that tells us that we are always loved, accepted and forgiven.
Thursday 16th July
It has been six months since I retired and I am still very grateful for the privilege of being able to stop work. Waking in the morning and having time to read a newspaper leisurely, rather than rushing to work, still fills me with joy. I like calling my time my own – although conscious that really it belongs to God. So, it was with some horror that I read a newspaper report on Monday about modern slavery in Britain. It said that there may be over 100,000 slaves in Britain today! I had assumed that slavery in this country was abolished over two centuries ago, so I was stunned to read about its modern manifestations; and all this despite the passing of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. You can find a copy of the report from two charities - the Centre for Social
Justice, and Justice and Care - at https://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/core/wp-
Slavery involves British citizens just as much as people trafficked into the UK from abroad – in some ways, the report says that British citizens suffer more. “Across the country we found that British victims of modern slavery are in many ways worse off than foreign national victims when it comes to available support, as frontline agencies tend not to refer British suspected victims to the NRM [National Referral Mechanism] (pg 48 of the report).
Slavery can involve drug trafficking, car washes, agricultural work, personal services, and of course the sex trade. With the current lockdown hitting profits, there are stories of traffickers becoming more brutal to get their income.
What can you or I do about this issue? The brief answer is I do not know. However, trying to find out more about it will be a start. Secondly, reading through the report, it recommends that the voluntary sector has a definite role to play, even though many measures are down to the police and the courts.
The fourth of the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion is “To transform
unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace
and reconciliation”. Do you think modern slavery in this country matters? If so, what
are we as individuals, as a parish, as a deanery, and as a diocese, called to do?
Wednesday 15th July
In recent times, Christians were prevented from worshipping in churches because of the real dangers of Covid-19. Even if church worship had been allowed many might not have attended because of the fear of infection. With the easing of restrictions people are not yet rushing to eat in restaurants nor enter busy shops. Many elderly and vulnerable Christians may be cautious of returning to church services for a while, despite the great care taken to minimise risks of infection.
We can now appreciate just a little of what life is like for Christians in what is known as the ‘Persecuted Church’, countries where Christians are discriminated against and persecuted simply because of their faith. In Saudi Arabia and North Korea it is illegal for Christians and people of other faiths to meet together for worship. This was the case long before Covid-19. China is just one country where the state places severe restrictions on churches and other aspects of the practice of Christianity. In others where churches are permitted and services held, churches have been attacked and Christians killed by terrorists.
Despite the limitations we experience because of Covid-19 we are very blessed to live and worship in safety in Canterbury. If I hear someone arriving after a service has started I do not feel alarmed. In Syria or Afghanistan I certainly would be. I often reflect on the accident of birth.
Our parish supports the excellent international Christian charity ‘The Barnabas Fund’ that provides a wide range of support and care for persecuted Christians worldwide. If you feel that our experience of living under the threat of Covid-19 brings us just a little closer to the plight of Christians supported by Barnabas, then do find out more through www.barnabasfund.org Email is email@example.com They provide a bi-monthly magazine and daily prayer diary. The latter is a great aid to regular prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters in desperate situations.
Tuesday 14th July
It’s frustrating not being able to get into certain websites without verifying that you’re not a robot by clicking on a photo divided into squares, clicking on the squares that include any part of cars, motorbikes, traffic lights etc. The photo is often indistinct. I have to peer at it to see which squares have what I’m looking for. Is that a car, a bush or pedestrian?
How do we verify being a Christian? Is it what we say? Jesus remarked that not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom. Is it what we do? Jesus reminds us that outward actions don’t necessarily reveal what’s in the heart.
At my Reader licensing, our tutor handed out the declarations and promises; the beliefs we were
signing up to and the commitments we were making. The ceremony was imminent. ‘I can’t do this’, I said. ‘Look, Rosemary’, he replied with some exasperation, ‘just get on with it.’ And that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since, just getting on with it, grateful that all the churches I’ve been part of have been prepared to accept doubts, muddle, failures, questions and discussion; Christian communities open to wobbles in faith, exploration of texts, doctrine and church history, with the will to struggle with what they say today.
So do we need an ecclesiastical equivalent of squares to peer at and click on correctly to verify
Christian credentials? Perhaps we can learn from Lewis Carroll’s Alice, trying to share a looking glass cake. ‘Hand it around first’, she was advised, ‘and divide it up afterwards.’
Monday 13th July
When clergy get together they often talk about funerals. It is probably a form of catharsis, as
funerals are the occasion when we most want to do things well and get it right for those who are
gathered . It is definitely a sense of shared experience, a bond which allows us to understand the
emotions that are common to taking funerals and the pitfalls we face.
One of the issues in the lockdown has been that funerals have been very badly affected with
numbers of mourners limited and families often not being able to travel to a service. Add to that the social distancing at funerals and the inability for people to comfort one another in the ways we have always taken for granted, and you realise the hurt and pain that is around, which will have to be dealt with.
It has been a great hurt for many clergy that ministering to the dying and to the bereaved has been so difficult over these last three months. It has been a struggle as we reflect on the vows we made at our ordination and our wish to be alongside people in a moment of need.
Knowing what to say has been hard. Nearly twenty years ago I took the funeral of a young man who died in the twin towers in New York and who was laid to rest in the churchyard at Elmstone. I really didn’t know what to say at the funeral to the family who had lost someone they loved so tragically and in such a public way without sounding trite or uncaring.
In the end I just talked about the church building and how it had stood for eight hundred years
through the many events of history and how generation after generation had found comfort in its stones in difficult times, pointing to the God who had sustained them through their troubles.
I’m not sure if it helped and it was probably as trite as everything else, but through the lockdown
although separated from our churches, we have known that they are there and have stood through history, in the case of St Martin’s a lot of history. Buildings accompany the big events in our history - war, civil war, pandemics but also the individual events of our own lives- baptisms, weddings, funerals- they are a “friend” and a place of encounter. I’m glad we’re beginning to open our buildings again but glad, too, that they are there and offer those who come in and those who pass by a reminder in the historic stones of the God who was with us in the Norman Conquest, the Black Death, the Reformation, two World Wars and now the lockdown.
Friday 10th July
In this weeks Bible study we explored the theme of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is in the very beginning of the Bible. The original word used in genesis is ruakh which has different interpretations and means wind, energy, breath – it is used to describe Gods personal presence with us. It is invisible, powerful and life sustaining. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers people throughout the Bible, and it is the Holy Spirit which Jesus promises to all of his followers, including us today.
Sometime though, it can seem so dark around us that we struggle to see the Spirit at work in our lives or the in the world around us. We asked ourselves the question in our Bible study, of where we have seen the Holy Spirit bringing life into the darkness that we see around us in the past few months. All of us could name numerous instances of seeing places where the Spirit, life and light has been evident in these hard times – neighbours helping each other, community links strengthening, phone calls from friends, strength to get through each day, and more. These might only be small things, but they are signs of light and hope that all added together show an amazing amount of life-giving activity happening all around us. I was encouraged, and I hope you are to, to be reminded that the Holy Spirit never leaves us and is always at work in this world even when we are not paying attention to what is going on and do not see it. If we look we can always see evidence of the Spirit at work in the world.
Thursday 9th July
Stephen Langton depicted in a Victorian window in the Cathedral’s Chapter
House. Photo credit: Canterbury Cathedral.
If you suffer from cold feet in bed, spare a thought for Stephen Langton, who died on this day in 1228. One of the earliest British cardinals, Archbishop of Canterbury, a ring-leader of the Magna Carta nobles against King John, theologian, and brother of Simon Langton (who is perhaps better known to us in Canterbury), Stephen Langton has three other connexions with us this week.
First, our churches have been closed for several months because of the Covid-19 virus; the last time this happened was in 1208, when King John refused to accept the Pope’s appointment of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope retaliated by placing England under
an interdict, so all the churches were closed until 1213. In the words of 1066 And All That: “no one was to be born or die or marry (except in church porches)”. So, things were even worse in the 13th century than today…
Secondly, Stephen Langton was probably responsible for the great ceremonial of the Translation of St Thomas Becket, which took place 800 years ago on the 7th July 1220 in the presence of King Henry III and all the good and great of the realm. The Translation involved moving the body of St Thomas Becket from the Cathedral’s crypt up to the Trinity chapel, which had been designed especially to house the remains. The great chair of St Augustine, still the seat of the Archbishop that sits between the High Altar and the site of the shrine, may date from the Translation ceremony. The Translation must have been quite a bash!
Thirdly, Stephen Langton is credited with dividing the Bible into chapters. Until his time, the books of the Bible were copied onto long rolls or vellum parchments and the words flowed relentlessly. Having chapters allows us to make better sense of the Scriptures, and to try to reflect on how they can influence our lives. So, next time you read or hear a passage from the Bible, think of Stephen Langton and give thanks to God for Langton’s inspiration to make the Bible better understood by me and by you; and also for all the prophets, writers, apostles, editors, and translators who have been inspired to produce the Bible as we know it today.
Why the connexion with cold feet? Stephen Langton was buried in the Cathedral in St Michael’s chapel, which originally had an apse (a semi-circular wall) at the east end. In the 15th century, the chapel was chosen to house the bodies of Lady Margaret Holland and her two husbands in a humungous tomb. It was given a make- over in the latest Gothic style, and the eastern wall of the chapel was made flat. And so, for nearly 600 years, the archbishop’s feet in his tomb have stuck out of the eastern chapel wall, exposed to the cold and the rain, awaiting the day of
resurrection; they must be very cold!
The tomb of Stephen Langton in St Michael’s chapel of the Cathedral.
Photo credit http://canonianblack.blogspot.com/2015/06/head-in-chapel-feet-
Wednesday 8th July
Since my thought for the day a fortnight ago everything has changed! The Cathedral is open for visitors now and it seems that you have to book to go in but I got in by telling them I just wanted to pray! So I can still walk up there every day if I want to.
I have just reread John Pritchard’s book “How to Pray” I knew John Pritchard when he was Archdeacon of Canterbury and have most of his books. He has a way of writing which meets people where they are; and his little illustrations bring a touch of humour! It is a very practical book and I have tried many of his ideas at one time or another.
Praying in special spaces speaks directly to the heart. It may be a church, it may be a bench by the river. Praying in the silence gives space for God to speak. Praying throughout the day may have to be done on the run but is no less prayer. We can punctuate our day with wonder and surprise; questions and reassurance. We can start the day with “putting on the Lord Jesus”
(Romans 13:14) and end the day by winding down with God as we review the day. We can pray with the Bible, The Ignatian Way. We can pray with the community, the Benedictine Way. We can pray with the emotions The Franciscan Way or we can pray with everyday life, the Celtic Way.
The possibilities are endless. It doesn’t matter how, where or when we pray. The important thing is that we do pray!
Tuesday 7th July
‘The play’s the thing’, says Hamlet, ‘wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King’. Except that just at the moment it isn’t. Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre stands empty. Quite apart from the proximity of audience seating, it seems totally unrealistic to expect actors to social distance in their roles. Think of the Parish Pantomime!
Liturgy is the construction of worship as a powerful drama encompassing all present. Recently
participation has been through our individual internet devices. Being part of a drama in this way is a different experience but confession, which catches our consciences, and absolution, which moves us to a fresh start, remain a vital part of liturgies, remote or in person.
The definition of the word ‘liturgy’ reveals that it originated in Ancient Greece and did indeed have connections with catching consciences. Leitourgia (a sacred ministering that always impacts those who witness it), was set up by the city-state. Citizens and residents were expected to contribute voluntarily to the finances of their state from their personal wealth, on the premise that personal wealth comes from the resources of the community as a whole and is only delegated to its inhabitants, not owned exclusively by them.
The Greek origins of the word and the working out of the drama of worship, including confession and absolution, whether live or recorded, have implications. Worship is the thing wherein we catch our consciences. If we are impacted by public worship, we reflect on what is wealth and what is our public duty to both church and state? After all, serious decisions, including supporting Christian ministry and funding community obligations such as social care and the arts, now have to be made and paid for.
Monday 6th July
This week in our Bible Study we looked at the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. It’s a book that speaks about the meaninglessness of life. What struck me this week was this idea of meaninglessness and how it is not that life hasmeaning but rather that its meaning is never clear, it can be confusing and disorientating. The video describes it as a fog that we are walking through in our lives.
I have found this a useful way of thinking about life in this past week – that as we live under the sun on this broken world, full of messed up people, our way can seem uncertain and murky, like walking through fog. This does not mean that we give up or stop going, but it means that we have to put effort in to see through the fog to see part of real picture slightly more clearly. This follows on well from last week where we looked at hope – the idea of hoping for things that you can see no evidence of and might never come to be in your life time. You do not stop hoping, just as we do not stop living and trying to find our way through the fog.
know life here on earth now is hard and unfair, and at the moment it can seem
like we are surrounded by the fog of illness, lockdown, grief, racism and more.
But we can live within the fog and work to find moments of clarity and light
where God shines through. For me one moment this week where I have seen that at
work was on TV! Chanel 4 has an amazing documentary on catch up called The
School That Tried to End Racism (https://www.channel4.com/
Saturday 4th July
American Independence Day, an occasion to celebrate all that has been achieved since the Boston tea Party. Sadly, it’s taking the British Ambassador to Washington and our armed forces to demonstrate how to make tea properly without using a microwave, pints of milk and half a pound of sugar.
Whilst there is much that unites our two countries there is also much that divides us. We can laugh about the tea, but we are dismayed by the racism that we have seen and heard about in American cities. But this should make us all think about our own responses to those of another
race or culture or creed.
We know from our own history within the church that missionaries did not always bring only the good news of the Gospel but demanded that those in other lands also accept our culture in all its aspects. There have been books and stage plays, which demonstrate this but how much do we consider our present society and cultural norms?
We have moved on since the times when there were public notices which refused accommodation and jobs to “Black and Irish” people. In 1973 Alfred Marks Employment Agency was still accepting requests for staff which stated that the company would not accept any black person for a position.
We see much less overt racism, but we still see stereotyping. More black teenagers are excluded from school than white students; they are often seen to be aggressive and teachers respond by sending them from the classroom. We need to deal with these issues positively wherever we encounter them. When I was teaching I demanded the same commitment from all my students but I would be the first to acknowledge that it is often difficult and draining especially when students do not feel that the future will be positive for them.
Jesus valued everyone he met for themselves. He never differentiated regardless of their colour or culture; the parable of the Good Samaritan tells us that. We need to cultivate that frame of mind ourselves. It is easy to move from stereotyping to patronising and that is not what is needed either. We must urge our politicians to make good their promises of training and apprenticeships for all our young people, regardless of their background and especially those young people who live in impoverished communities. We need their brains, their creativity, their desire to improve life on the planet and in society so that their grandchildren have a better
future. We need green initiatives and they can make them happen if we encourage and support
them and their teachers in the months and years ahead.
We know that God charged Adam and Eve to care for the world that He had created, and we know that God continues to create and desires all that is good for all people.
We, as His church, have the responsibility to enable the present and future generations to continue that duty of care for all the earth and everything that lives and moves in the sea and on the land.
Friday 3rd July
In the early 1990s I worked as a lay assistant in South West London, for a year. It was not far from
Wimbledon, so near I was offered touted tickets for the men’s final on the way to buy my Sunday
paper and was able to respond that I had to take evensong.
The reason my time in Wandsworth has come to mind is not just because of tennis but because as a young ordinand it was the first time I had worked with black clergy in the deanery. Although I had been at college with clergy from Africa, it was an important part of my growth as a Christian and in my training for ordination.
While I was there I went to a deanery training day where I was greatly excited that I was going to go to a voice projection workshop led by the actor who played Davros in Doctor Who (long term
readers will understand that). It was good but it was the next workshop that was really life changing. It was led by a black priest who worked for the diocese who spoke about how he had faced verbal abuse and racial discrimination as a black man and as a clergyman. When we went into groups, I was the only white person in mine and it was soon clear that his experience was shared by the others, not said in a bitter way but in a way that talked of that reality and also of the desire to change things now.
As we came back for our plenary, I was not sure how to fully process what I had heard but the leader said two things that looking back truly changed my life.
“People talk of racial tensions and different races, but there is only one race- the human race and we are all members of it”.
“If being in the image of God means anything- it means that we are equally in the image of God
whatever our ethnicity and equal in the eyes of God”.
Once you hear that, you can never unhear it or understand why anybody doubts it is true.
Thursday 2nd July
Feeding500: photo credit Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The other day I wanted to check the precise wording of a Biblical quotation about a miracle of Jesus feeding a vast number of people. So, I reached for a handy Bible and turned to St Matthew’s gospel. No, it was not there, not in the feeding of the 5,000 (Matt 14: 13-21) nor in the feeding of the 4,000 (Matt 15: 32-39). It was not in St Mark’s gospel (Mark 6: 34-44, the 5,000; or Mark 8: 1-9, the 4,000); nor was it in St Luke’s account (Luke 9: 10-17 for the 5,000; the 4,000 miracle is not mentioned). And so, eventually, I found the wording I wanted in St John’s gospel (John 6: 1-14).
As an aside, this exercise reminded me that my knowledge of the Scriptures is not as strong as I hoped – and remember, here I was dealing with one of the most well-known of Jesus’ miracles; this was not a recherché part of Numbers or Lamentations! Also, I had thought that in the various accounts about Jesus’s life up to Holy Week, the only one common to all four gospels was the cleansing of the money changers from the Temple (and even then, the dating differs between the first three gospels and that of St John). Yet here, with the feeding of the 5,000, we have another miracle in all four gospels. More humility and study on my part I think!
An interesting book about miracles was written twenty years ago by Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans; it is called The Meaning in the Miracles. He suggests that the feeding of the 5,000 is a way of showing that Jesus had resonances of Moses and Elijah, the figureheads of the Law and the Prophets; yet, of course, Jesus was greater than both. It chimes with Jesus being the Word of God that can feed us daily. And it has echoes of the Eucharist, where Jesus gives Himself for us and offers us salvation and peace. This is seen especially in the account in St John’s gospel where the miracle is followed by a long section about Jesus being the bread of life (John 6: 24-58).
What where the words I was seeking? In St John’s account, at the very end of the feeding the disciples are told to pick up the leftovers ‘that nothing be lost’. That phrase I find very comforting. At times, we all can feel abandoned, or useless, or sad, or depressed. We can think we are no better than something that has been thrown away, something of no value. Yet we have Jesus’ assurance. He has and will continue to act so ‘that nothing be lost’ – and that includes you and me. Thank God.
LoavesAndFishes: One of a series of 26 mosaic panels illustrating the life of Christ in
Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna – a church older even than St Martin’s! Photo
credit: Holly Hayes / Ed Stock Photo.
Wednesday 1st July
For those of us able to get out in recent weeks, the singing of blackbirds has been a real pleasure. It is most noticeable early evenings when a male sits on a rooftop or TV aerial and delights us with its powerful, beautiful song. It is particularly noticeable now because very sadly one rarely hears a song thrush whose numbers have declined dramatically. The male blackbird may be singing to attract a mate, assert its territory, or just for the sheer joy of singing.
But July will be a poor month for singing. The blackbird stops until next spring, together with the cuckoo who flies off to winter in Africa. When I played golf at Canterbury we were enthralled by the range of melodies of a colony of nightingales each spring. But nightingales stop performing in June. And to make things even worse, we are strongly advised to avoid singing when church services resume in July!
Birds feature frequently in the Bible. A raven was the first creature to leave the ark. The Reverend John Stott, former Rector of All Souls church in central London, wrote a lovely book ‘Birds our Teachers: Biblical lessons from a lifelong bird-watcher’. Each chapter has a biblical theme he associates with a particular bird. Inevitably he refers to Jesus’ mention of birds in the Sermon on the Mount. ‘Don’t worry about everyday life….Look at the birds, they don’t plant or harvest or put food into barns, for you heavenly Father feeds them’ (Matthew 6:26). Stott says this text can be misunderstood. God does not feed birds directly - they have to forage for what he provides through nature and through human bird feeders.
Similarly with us, we cannot sit back and do nothing, leaving God to do it all. Neither manna nor quail will drop conveniently from the sky. Where would we be without supermarket deliveries in the prolonged lockdown? Jesus warns us about the futility of worrying, not a known characteristic of birds’ behaviour. Meanwhile, we can enjoy the variety, colours and songs of some birds this month and, as Stott says, what they can teach us about some great biblical truths.
Tuesday 30th June
I’ve joined an adult education online course, ‘The Road Not Travelled’. This takes 5 pivotal events in history including the Battle of Hastings, the assassination of President Kennedy and the end of the Cold War and discusses what would have happened if the outcomes had been different.
I like the idea of this hypothetical history because you can speculate on how lives, circumstances and decisions can affect the course of events. You can also gauge the impact of events which did happen by considering what didn’t.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday recounts Jesus describing the inconsistencies of his generation who were restless and dissatisfied. They criticised John the Baptist as too aloof and Jesus himself for being too sociable (and, horror of horrors, with tax collectors and sinners!). Jesus then makes the very profound statement that ‘wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
We are now investigating serious inconsistencies in the lives of individuals and societies past and present. Seen in hindsight the magnitude of some of these inconsistent attitudes to human life, flourishing and the natural environment, are truly dreadful. The consequences are far reaching in destruction of the environment, misery, injustice and tragedy.
Ways forward will be our own legacy. How will we be assessed? Which decisions in a ‘The Road
Not Travelled’ session fifty years from now will be assessed as the vindication of wisdom? I shall
enjoy discussing the five topics on the course but there are pressing contemporary matters. How do we fill in the ending when Sunday’s Gospel says to US, ‘Look at this generation, ’they are like…’
Monday 29th June
Clare always keeps a diary to record the things that we have done – things have been pretty quiet recently but it is interesting to look back and see what we did in past years. Did we really do that we ask each other or was that really 15 years ago?
Last week the diary reminded us that last year we had gone to the Isle of Wight for a few days. We went primarily to go to Osbourne and to Farringford, home of Alfred, Lord Tennyson but also to visit one of our favourite pubs, The Spyglass Inn, in Ventnor. While in Ventnor we went to Bonchurch just along the coast on a quest.
My parents went to Ventnor for their honeymoon in 1965 and visited a pottery where they bought a dish. Forty years later they went back for their Ruby Wedding and bought a white lion from the pottery. When they died and we cleared the house out, the dish and the lion came to live with us, because of the story behind them. The lion now lives on the window sill in our lounge and looks very splendid.
When we got to Bonchurch we looked for the pottery. It was to our surprise still there – a large shed with one man making pots on a wheel. As we bought two mugs, I told him my story and he told me about how he had been the potter there for over forty years and how his father had been there from the 1950s until the 1970s. It was strange to think of these two stories coming together- of him meeting my parents and his father meeting them in 1965- that he had made the lion and his father the dish in that very spot where we were standing.
As I came away I realised I had made a pilgrimage to a spot which was very special to my parents and now that became part of my own story too.
In our lives we all carry our own stories, inherited or lived, we all have our places of pilgrimage. It is part of what it is to be human to make these connections, these spiritual links. The lockdown has made more aware as we are cut off from these special places and more understanding of those who will be keen to make pilgrimages as the easing continues, to churches and other sites that have great meaning to them.
I look at the lion, the dish and the mugs and play the story in my mind of three trips Ventnor and of the story of the pottery on path to the sea.
Friday 26th June
This week in our Zoom Bible study we were looking at the idea of hope. Hope is interesting in the Bible because for so many people that we read about, their hope is something that they do not see the outcome of in their generation, or even in their children’s generation. It is something that helps them to wait and to not fall in to despair when things are hard, but it is not the promise of a quick rescue or a happy ending. Indeed, hope is only possible in hard times or trouble, because it is about looking forward and waiting for something different.
What struck me most in the video above was the difference between optimism and hope. Optimism (or pessimism- which is often my natural state of thinking) is something that is based on possibilities and odds. We are optimistic, or not, based on what we think is likely to happen. Hope, however, is deeper than this and is not based on what we see as possible or probable, but is rather based on God. Hope comes not from circumstances but from the character of God. So whether we are optimistic or pessimistic about the lockdown restrictions and the news we read or see, our hope is based on a loving and faithful God who is always with us. Our hope can stay strong whatever happens in the near future.
Thursday 25th June
“Our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end and life is returning to our streets and to our shops” said the Prime Minister on Tuesday. Hurrah! That is certainly good news. But do we want just to resume the old way of life and forget the lessons we have learned during the lock-down – such as the importance of community, the preciousness of life, the need to ‘fill the unforgiving minute’ (to quote Kipling) - for we may not see tomorrrow’s minutes? Certainly, hundreds of thousands have done their best to support neighbours; all the volunteers who signed up for the Royal Voluntary Service alert system are a symbol of widespread community spirit.
Yet we know that millions are in fear of losing their jobs, or their homes, or both. The call on food banks has increased sharply;. and the Black Lives Matter protests show that BAME people feel ignored and undervalued.
There is work to be done. Rather than just going back to the old ways, we have an opportunity to make a fairer society. In the confession of our weekly Eucharist, we quote the prophet Micah (who lived roughly about the same time as Isaiah) when we talk of wanting to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6: 8).
To mash together two quotes attributed to Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” and “whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”. So, what can we do both as individuals and as a parish to use our recent experience to bring God’s Kingdom a little bit nearer?
The prophet Micah as depicted in Chartres Cathedral. Photo © Dr Stuart Watling, www.medievalart.org.uk.
Wednesday 24th June
As someone pointed out the reopening of churches for private prayer coincided with the reopening of Primark! Excitement for many people! I haven’t missed Primark but I have missed being able to go into a church building to pray.
Of course we do not have to go to church to pray. We can pray anytime, anywhere, and I do. But on Tuesday last week I walked to the Cathedral and was allowed In, to sit quietly and pray.
I love living so close to the Cathedral and in normal times regularly walk through the precincts on my way to St Paul’s. I also used to pop in to the building to wander round, marvel at the beautiful architecture and lovely stained glass windows (there are none in the nave!) and just soak up the atmosphere.
What a different experience it was on Tuesday. No tourists, no wandering round, just the silence of the big empty building. Yet it didn’t feel empty. It was full of the memories of past pilgrims, past events and most of all the spirit of God.
I sat quietly, listening, thinking and praying, thanking God for all his many blessings and remembering all those who need the peace of this place in their lives at this time.
As Jesus prepared his disciples for the time after his death when he would no longer be there for them he said, ”Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
(The Cathedral is open 4.30-8.00 weekdays and 10.00-4.00 Saturday and Sunday, entrance via the Christ Church gate. It is well managed and very safe.)
Tuesday 23rd June
Race, ethnicity, equality and justice have a high profile at the moment. A powerful experiences of teaching secondary history was studying the origins, evolution and practices of apartheid in South Africa. Innovative textbooks on current topics provided comprehensive documentation and photographs, continually challenging perceptions and encouraging the pupils to think for themselves about morality and values in the light of the evidence.
The class were very angry when they realised that the whole basis of apartheid was discrimination. This was before the end of apartheid and some wrote letters of protest to politicians urging sanctions to end the regime. Preparing lessons, I found the song ‘Freedom is Coming’ which impressed me with its conviction, dignity and hope. The lyrics of the second verse are ‘Jesus is Coming’.
How does Jesus’ life and ministry connect with the freedom in the first verse? How does the coming of Jesus through the life of Christian individuals and communities bring freedom today? Jesus’ words and actions bring freedom from fear, the fear that somehow whatever we see our identity as, it is so insecure that we perceive all the identities around us as threats. Jesus’ words and actions dispel this fear as they display the uniqueness and value of all humanity.
This is liberation, in this equality there are no boundaries or exclusions. This freedom implies building just structures and opportunities for all. Perhaps those history lessons of the eighties will prompt me and the then pupils to connect what we shared with the belief that action, accompanied by conviction, dignity and hope, can transform society today.
Monday 22nd June
A few years ago Clare and I went to Tanzania as part of a visit from Rochester to two link dioceses
At the end of our trip we stayed in a game reserve where we encountered giraffes, elephants and
When we got back we played the film and watched the two weeks caught on camera- visits, meetings, services and finally the game reserve. We got to the lions and were amazed at how close
In life our attention is often held by one particular thing to the exclusion of others. We sometimes
It is part of our faith that we see God as having the full picture- we see only partially and our minds
This week in our Bible study we looked at the theme of living in exile as seen in the above video. This idea comes from the specific Biblical story of Israelites living in exile, away from Israel, as captives in Babylon. The idea is also a very current one. While many of us feel like we are in exile from our normal lives at the moment as we live in lockdown, actually the idea of exile goes deeper than that. It is the story that asks, how can you live in a culture that is different to what God wants?
We know that we live in a world that is far from what the Kingdom of God is, but we still have to live here – we live constantly in exile, not just in this period of lockdown. The story of Daniel, who spent most of his life in exile in Babylon, gives us a good example of how we can live in the tension of what is and what should be. It raises questions that are still relevant today – how can we live and honour God’s kingdom while surviving in this kingdom? Where do we draw our lines- where do we decide to take a stand? How do we recognise the true prophetic voices that speak into our exile? How do we live, like Daniel and Jesus did, in a way that is loyal to God while surviving in a culture that seems so far from God’s ideals? None of these are easy questions – but as this is a thought for the day not an answer for the day, I will leave there questions for you to think about as you go about your day, and as we hopefully head back towards a more slightly more ‘normal’ time in the weeks ahead.
Thursday 18th June
Winston Churchill with Charles de Gaulle in 1944
We have been through a lot so far this year; and now that the lockdown is starting to ease, the remaining regulations seem even more irritating. Our patience is being stretched after restrictions unparalleled in modern times. So perhaps is a good time to remember two speeches made 80 years ago today on the 18 th June 1940. First, General Charles de Gaulle made an appeal over the BBC radio to French men and women to join with him in carrying on the fight against the Nazi occupation of France; it was the start of the French Resistance. Secondly, Winston Churchill finished a speech in the House of Commons with one of his most ringing and famous perorations:
“What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over... the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions... The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour".
We are not, thank God, at war. Yet we are involved in a battle that is a marathon rather than a sprint, just as de Gaulle and Churchill knew that they and their countries were involved in a long struggle. The second reading at Morning Prayer this morning is from Luke 12: 32-40. In it, Jesus tells us to stay resilient, to keep working to further God’s kingdom – ‘be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds alert when he comes’ (v 36-37). Yet Jesus also tells us in the same passage to have confidence; ‘it is your
Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom… an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys’ (v 32-33). What a reassurance: what a blessing! With that instruction from Our Lord, let us gather what strength we have and do what we can both to overcome the Covid-19 virus, and to further God’s work of justice, mercy, fairness for all, and love to all our neighbours.
The Last Judgment, by Rogier van de Weyden, who died on 18th June 1464.
It maybe seen in the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune in Burgundy.
Wednesday 17th June
In these dark times for the world the beauty of domestic gardens is a welcome delight. Walking around south Canterbury streets I notice the changes in plants and shrubs as new blooms appear, colours change and lovely scents are evident. This is a good year for roses in their first May-June blooming. Roses are my garden favourites with the different types, variety of colours and wonderful scents. The trick with roses is to deadhead them regularly to ensure a second
and third blooming, while fending off attacks from black and green flies, black spot, mildew etc. With careful pruning some blooms will even last to Christmas.
Caring for roses reminds me of one of the most beautiful and powerful of Christ’s images of his relationship with his Father, and his followers. In John 15:1-8 Jesus invites us to see him as a grape vine, God as the gardener, and the grape bearing vine branches as us his followers. Jesus tells us that for branches to bear fruit they must stay attached to the vine, otherwise they die and are useless. Then the gardener prunes the branches to ensure they produce
The implications for Jesus’ followers are pretty clear. Fundamentally, we must stay attached to him through regular prayer, study and obedience to the scriptures; and fellowship with other disciples. Secondly, we need to open to God’s pruning of our lives if we are to be fruitful disciples. This may be painful at times but there is a clear warning of the implications if we are not obedient to God’s pruning.
Time now for daily deadheading of the roses and search for predators and possible disease! It’s never ending but well worth the effort.
Tuesday 16th June
Recently, in the Westgate Gardens, I came to the Bingley Island Nature Reserve. The information
boards, text, and pictures show the same scene in the time of the Tannery and WW2, very desolate and polluted until it was donated to the city and reclaimed. Looking at the meadowland and vegetation it is hard to imagine it is the same place.
Reclamation is on our minds at the moment. Reclamation of our lives from the fear of the virus,
reclamation of justice from the inequalities confronting us, reclamation of our buildings for worship, community use and visitors. The question is not whether, but how and when?
The transformation of Bingley Island happened through the generosity of the Tannery owners and those with vision and the practical application to persist. The meadows need continuous managing and constant vigilance to ensure that nature and wildlife thrive. Our reclamation issues need energy and careful thought if they are going to make a lasting difference in our communities.
In Matthew 13 Jesus speaks of the mustard seed which grows from a small seed so that the birds
nest in its branches. This is not an excuse for procrastination, the work of the Kingdom starts from the moment the seed is planted or there will be no habitat to nourish life.
We need to think urgently how our reclamations can be achieved. A description of Bingley Island
explains, ‘it is one of few areas of riverside grassland that has not been treated with weed killers or fertilisers, which means that a wide variety of plant species can thrive.’ Reclamation looks for the creative option. And it is possible.
Monday 15th June
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been going back into St Paul’s for some recording and also live streaming on a Friday. It has felt very bitter sweet. I’ve enjoyed putting my cassock alb and
chasuable on, standing at the altar and knowing how much people have appreciated using the
building. It has been good to know especially with the live streaming that people are watching and our church can be “visited” by people sitting in their armchairs around the world. Yet the building feels very odd without people there and apart from my voice just the sound of
silence. There is no buzz, no expectation and no response- although at least with Facebook you do get instant comments.
People often say what is the church- is it the building or the community? For some it may be one or the other, for most of us it is a combination of the two. Our buildings have a resonance, wherever we are they are special, probably more so in our parish with our historic churches and they are familiar and almost like a friend. Church, too, is about those who journey with us and our shared experience of worshipping God. Stones and living stones if you like.
The current crisis has meant absence from the buildings but the wonders of technology have
allowed many of us to keep in touch and be church without the physical spaces or even meeting
people. We have learned much about each other and much about ourselves, for many people our relationship with God has grown and things will never be the same again.
One of the important questions being asked at present is how do we keep the new insights that we have discovered? A number of people have followed our daily services who can only access them on-line and they have felt part of the worshipping even though they are normally unable to come to the buildings.
It feels like things are moving forward- we are gaining access to the buildings and in the not too
distant future, the expectation, the buzz and the response will be there as people return to worship. The church buildings occupied by the church community again to worship God- I’m looking forward to that but in recent months we’ve all learned that the church community is a wider group- for some will take a while to return, for others being on-line is the only option- so church is the building, the people in the building and the people outside connecting with us. The three dimensional church which God is nurturing, I discern.
13th June 2020
A week of expectation, will social distancing be reduced to one metre, will everyone abide by the rule to wear a mask on public transport and in shops; and the fallout from the marches for Black Lives Matter, will there be prosecutions for vandalism?
Social distancing is to remain the same and to a large extent we’ve all got used to the idea of giving those coming towards us sufficient space so no change there. The rule to wear a mask on public transport and in shops is rather more difficult, who will enforce the rule? The bus driver or train driver can hardly be expected to police this and it would be equally difficult for shop assistants to enforce the rule. So, we must trust that common sense will prevail.
The issue of vandalism on the marches is very different, because it implies that one segment of society has the right to determine which statues we should see on our streets. This is not in any way to condone the activities of the slave traders and colonialists who took advantage of whole groups of people; and coerced them into slavery or forms of forced labour to further their own wealth or that of their companies. Jesus often questioned the interpretation of the Law by those in positions of leadership in the Temple and in his society but there is only one occasion when his actions were physical. He overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple and drove them out because their behaviour was a desecration of a sacred space. On every other occasion he took pains to discuss, argue and debate with those in authority, to persuade them with reason to change their current approach, and to engage with the spirit of the Law and its primary intention.
Black Lives Matter and we need to look to our practices and attitudes and how these can inhibit and even deny respect to others. The dialogue needs to be open and we need to be aware when we are being defensive and so failing to hear and empathise with the pain and hurt felt by others. We all stereotype others.
As a child my mother told me not to use the term “cow” in referring to the child of her friend. I protested that ‘aunty Joan often called her daughter a cow’. “That’s because she’s a Londoner” said my mother. Shortly after a new family moved into our street reputedly from London. I engaged all the children to listen carefully near the house. “If she calls her daughter a cow then we’ll know they’re from London” I said with great confidence. The poor mother must have wondered what was going on as for several weeks whenever she ventured out there would be a child loitering nearby listening. We never did establish whether they came from London.
Let us all engage in positive debate over the issue of racism and seek to build a society in which there is mutual respect regardless of colour, ethnicity or creed.
Friday 12th June
I found it hard to write the thought for today this week. Not because I have no thoughts, but because I have too many and this is meant to be just a short thought! As I have in previous weeks, I have been thinking about our Bible Study from Monday afternoon. This week we were looking at the theme of Justice in the Bible which is a very topical theme at this moment of history as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to protest for justice in the USA and around the world – including here in the UK. I am a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and, if we were not still in lockdown I would have been in London to join in with protests. As it is, we must ask ourselves as a nation, what real justice for all looks like? And as a church we have to ask what it means to live out God’s justice in the world? What does it mean to treat everyone as made in God’s image? This is a conversation that is immediate and real, and that we need to be having now.
I have been challenged in the past few months by a couple of books that explore the topic of racism in this country – if you are looking to explore this more I can recommend these:
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala and Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Let us be committed to fight for justice in all areas of the church and our lives.
Thursday 11th June
The lockdown is slowly being lifted. That should be a reason to be cheerful. However, this week seems much more serious than many recently. Partly, it is the understandable reaction to the monstrous death of George Floyd in the USA, and the violence that has followed both there and in this country, with residual undercurrents of the slave trade and racism. Partly, it comes from what is happening in the Far East, with China seeming to be testing borders with its neighbours and restricting freedoms in Hong Kong. (It is a tiny thing, but I am wondering whether to
move my debts from the First Direct bank, which is owned by HSBC, as a response to HSBC’s Board kowtowing to the Chinese authorities). Partly, it may be that, as the intense pressure from Covid-19 is lifted (at least for a while), we are able to reflect on what has happened and the losses that we have suffered.
I hope all this may give an opportunity for our society to reflect on its fundamentals and seek for better ways by which we can be a community. There should be more fairness in sharing the national cake, whether that be in opportunities for all school
leavers to reach their potential in jobs, or the resources put into social care for the disadvantaged. Recent articles and debates about the importance of mental health may be part of this. The New Testament often has the word metanoia, eg Matt 3:2 or Mark 1:4; I read on the net that it is used 22 times in all but whether that is accurate I do not know. It means real repentance – not just being sorry for something but a change of heart and mind. And there are similar calls to action in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible: Jer 4: 1-4, Ez 14: 6, Amos 5: 21-24, and Mal 2: 16-19 are examples; and the book of Jonah is all about repentance.
Our church buildings will soon be re-opening. I hope these holy places will provide spaces for us all to reflect on how we may make that change of heart collectively, and how we may seize this chance to create a better society, one based not on greed but on love. The poet Philip Larkin was not always friendly towards religion – in Aubade, he calls it ‘That vast moth-eaten musical brocade’; yet a much earlier poem, Church Going, ends with the lines:
Even with that breath-taking rhyme (surprising – grow wise in), this is a call for all of us to respond creatively to the serious atmosphere in our society today, and to proclaim the happy news that life, and life more abundantly (John 10: 10), is freely on offer to all.
Wednesday 10th June
Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the Trinity.
Much was discussed and written at the time of the early church about the Trinity. Many books have been written about it and many theology students have written essays on it and will know the names Origen, The Church Fathers, Arianism, The Council of Nicea etc.(here is some reading for you if you are bored!) Are the three parts equal? Did one come before the other? Personally
I have no problem understanding the Trinity but I know some people do. As a teacher I have used various examples to try to “explain” it: the shamrock, a triangle, water. I’m sure you can add others. One thing is sure; we as human beings will never totally understand it. But the festival of the Trinity does give us the opportunity to contemplate the nature of God and marvel at it.
In fact Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible although it is alluded to. (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-2. Matthew 28:18-20 , Ephesians 3:14-19).
So what can it say to us today. It is all about relationship. Relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Relationships are much in our minds at the moment where life has changed. Living in such proximity has in some cases put great strain on relationships, in others they have been strengthened. Some find their relationships have broken down because of isolation. But one thing never changes. God has a relationship with us, through the Father who loves us, the Son who died for us and the Holy Spirit who comes in power to live in us. This we can depend on even if everything else seems uncertain.
Tuesday 9th June
A speaker on the radio recently mentioned a collection of stories by the 14th century Italian Giovanni Boccaccio. Apparently this collection, The Decameron, contains stories told by ten young people who had fled to a villa at Fiesole, outside Florence, to escape an epidemic of 1348.
I haven’t read the translation of the Decameron, although I gather some of the stories are quite lively! but this item on the radio got me thinking about the stories we will share, not while we are avoiding the virus through encounters on screen, our equivalent of the villa in Fiesole, but retrospectively when we are able to get back together.
When we can meet up face to face, it will be a relief to talk together, instead of through the stilted medium of technology. Part of the process of adjusting to life after lockdown will be the need to recount our experiences, all of which will be different and will make up a kind of jigsaw of these extraordinary times. It will be a reassurance to discuss the similarities and particularities of our situations and try and find some meaning in what we have experienced.
The Gospel narratives of Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost have accompanied us through these experiences and helped us to travel with loss and isolation as well as renewed life, hope and inspiration for the future.
I once had a holiday in Florence and visited Fiesole. It would be easy to recount how wonderful that was. Now, post Trinity Sunday, we have to tell our own stories of faith because we are going to be asked, why have faith in the face of events like this dreadful epidemic? What are we going to say in answer to that?
Monday 8th June
The hot sunny weather this spring has reminded me of the long hot summer of 1976, waking up
each day to wall to wall sunshine. I was eight and was just getting into cricket- it was the first
summer that I sat and watched matches on television and I was learning more of the cricketers who were playing.
It was the summer that the West Indies were touring and I marvelled at their skill and their
dominance of the series beating England 3-0 over the five tests. Their greatest player was Viv
Richards who batted gloriously scoring two double centuries with fluent shots and poise.
As I look back I realise that 1976 taught me about cricket but also about humanity. I was growing up in a fairly diverse area with children from different backgrounds but on the television I saw a team of black cricketers, black spectators and black culture with everyone enjoying the cricket from all ethnic backgrounds. It felt vibrant and good to watch.
It was only later that I learned about racism and a society that treated differently those who looked different from me. Throughout my life I’ve never understood why that happens and why people find it hard to accept other human beings for who they are. What is terrible is that it happened and still does today. I learned too that many people were keen to play cricket against the apartheid South Africans without much thought for black cricketers there and in the wider world. How did that fit with the excitement of 1976?
The death of George Floyd is one of those moments when we realise to our shame that people are treated differently because of the colour of their skin. His story has been the catalyst for other stories to be told of racism and rejection in our own country as well as the USA. How does society cope with this- to me it is about our belief that we are all the image of God and all
part of one race- the human race which includes rather exclude. That goes so far but for those like me who love multi cultural cricket and who feel shame and outrage at the footage from America, God may well be saying- so what are you going to do about it?
Friday 5th June
After the bank holiday at the end of May we managed to commemorate Bede, Augustine and
Lanfranc within a few days. All important figures in the story of Christianity in England –Augustine as the first Archbishop, Bede as the historian of Anglo Saxon and Lanfranc as the reforming figure after Norman Conquest, and all important figures in the story of Canterbury and for us in the parish Augustine and Bede are a particular part of our story.
Story is important and for us as a parish particularly so. Story is about the past about where we
come from but also what we share in the present. As part of the celebration of Lanfranc, the evening service at the Cathedral included contributions from the monasteries at Bec in Normandy where Lanfranc had been Prior moving to Caen and then Canterbury. The joint historical connection is important but the sense of togetherness and the sharing in the present is even more so- the links between the sisters and the brothers in Bec and us in Canterbury is a source of strength ecumenically, spiritually and internationally. A friendship that continues to flourish and a story that has more chapters to write.
The wonders of technology have enabled us to keep in touch in new ways but amidst our anxiety, a yearning that one day we will be able to reach out physically is important, knowing that this stage in our story will one day be in the past. All of us look forward to that day. As I heard the service about Lanfranc and thought about Bec, I said to myself one day we will be there again – a commitment for the future and a yearning to write the next Chapter of the story, whenever that moment will be.
Thursday 4th June
Since I retired, I have had more time to observe the activities on the bird feeder in the back garden. The sparrows frequently flit to and fro from the nearby hedge, looking twitchy and nervous – and with good cause, as a sparrowhawk literally dropped in for lunch recently. The mid-flight, twisting, catch was worthy of Ben Stokes but I was sorry for the sparrow that was caught. As well as sparrows, I have seen blackbirds, finches, robins, starlings, tits, wagtails, and woodpeckers as well as more aggressive species such as magpies and crows. And then there are the pigeons…
I do not know why I get such pleasure from watching these birds. Certainly, they do not pay for the bird seed or the fat balls, apart from an occasional deposit on the washing. These birds reveal a complex community, what with offspring nudging parents for food, and queues sometimes forming to get access to the perches on the seed feeder (although social distancing has no chance); and there is definitely a pecking order with some groups.
This garden life seems to be a microcosm of our world. There are, of course, thousands of problems each day in the world for people to face; loneliness, tower blocks with dangerous cladding, and worries about money and employment – let alone people suffering from the horrors of war, or hurricanes, or locust invasion (the Indian sub-continent is really going through it at the moment). Yet we have been given so much: free light and energy from the sun each day; a planet packed with rich resources such as minerals and oil; the ability of plants to photosynthesize, grow, and provide us with food; and the amazing power of water to control temperature and be a basis for life. This is all gift; we have not created it. It is not the
Garden of Eden but, to quote the great Louis Armstrong, what a wonderful world! “In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” said Jesus (John 16: 33). And we know also that He also reminded us that each one of us is of more value than many sparrows (Matt 10:31, Luke 12: 7)…
Pictured: Louis Armstrong
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.