Sunday 27 December 2009

The Feast of Stephen

Silence for the past few days; simply because we have been in Wales with our family over the Christmas Holidays. But a visit to South Wales would not be right without seeing friends; and among those we visited were Bishop David Thomas and his wife Rosemary. Those who follow such things will know how disgracefully the Welsh bench of bishops have behaved, by refusing to appoint a successor to Bishop David as Provincial Assistant Bishop to care for those opposed to women's ordination (and who were assured of an 'honoured place' within the Church in Wales. So much for promises. Bishop David is recovering well from a recent illness, and is still trying to give what support he can to those who, even after his retirement, pray for 'David our Bishop'.

As the snow melted, the Vale of Glamorgan managed to look very beautiful, and the sun came though from time to time though ice persisted on sideroads and pavements - and Sigginstone, aka Dresigin, aka also Tresigin, where we were staying is very much up a sideroad!

Thanks to the kindness of Canon Graham Francis, Vicar of St Mary the Docks in Butetown, I was able to celebrate midnight Mass at one of his other churches, SS Samson and Dyfrig, in Grangetown. The photo on the right is of the high altar reredos in that church, a lovely piece depicting the visit of the Magi.

The next morning, it was back into Cardiff, this time to St Mary's, which has a secondary dedication to S Stephen the Deacon and Martyr. Here is Fr Graham called to the bar after Mass on St Stephen's day, Serving at the counter is his wife Eleri. It was a great treat, having a sung Mass on St Stephen's Day.

We were at the St Stephen's altar and here, in diaconal mode, is Fr Ben Andrews, assistant priest in the parish caught in mid furniture-moving mode after Mass.

After all the pretty pictures, perhaps you are ready for some words - and since you have preached or been preached at over Christmas, you might be ready for something about Stephen, who often gets neglected. Here is (more or less) what I said at his Feast in Butetown.

The one who stands firm to the end will be saved - Mtt x.22

The new curate arriving from S Michael’s Llandaff, freshly ordained, will spend the first few months in the parish telling people what he can’t do. Well, he’ll explain, I can’t bless, and I can’t celebrate Mass, and I can’t absolve anyone’s sins. 'So what CAN you do', people ask, and he says, 'Well, I do a lovely funeral'.

All this is because he is a Deacon; and so was Stephen. He and his colleagues were set apart, ordained, to look after widows; and not just any widows, in particular the Greek-speaking widows in the Jerusalem Church. It happened like this. There were more and more people becoming disciples, that is, being baptized and becoming Christians; some were Hebrews, some were Greeks - and there was a row. So disagreements in the church are nothing new. This one blew up because some of the Greek speaking converts thought that their widows were being neglected and the Jewish widows were getting too much attention. The apostles gathered the rest of the disciples together and said “Our job is to preach… we shouldn’t have to leave spreading the Word of God to serve meals to widows! So you find seven likely lads, and we will give them that task.”

That’s how Stephen, and Philip, and five others, were chosen for the work, and the apostles laid their hands on them. That was the first ever ordination of Deacons in the Church.

The Holy Spirit, though, has a way of not being bound by man-made rules. If the Apostles thought serving at tables was beneath them, they had better discover once more just whose apostles they were. Jesus had taught them, after all, that “I am among you as one who serves” … and to show he meant it, he washed their feet. Now, he said, you are to wash one another’s feet. In so short a time after the Resurrection, the Apostles seem to have forgotten all this, and decided they were above menial tasks.

So Philip is credited with being the first of the disciples to win an African convert – the Ethiopian eunuch who was in the service of a Queen. You probably remember the story, how after being called to get up into the Ethiopian’s chariot, Philip was asked what there was to prevent him being baptized; and so Philip, the Deacon, who was chosen to serve dishes and clear up afterwards, began the work of converting Africa. Any of the Apostles would have been delighted to have such a feather in their caps – but the Holy Spirit had other ideas, and used a Deacon for the task.

With Stephen, the Holy Spirit is even more amazing. Do you recall how James and John had gone to Jesus asking for the chief seats in the Kingdom? He had replied ‘You will indeed be baptized with the baptism I am baptised with; but to sit on my right and on my left is not mine to give. The seats are already assigned.’

The Church must have remembered this when it decided December 26th was to be St Stephen’s Day. Who could be more worthy of the place next to Christ’s Birthday than Stephen, who was first to shed his blood for Jesus? None of this had been foreseen when the disciples put forward Stephen and Philip and the other five to become deacons. It was only after his martyrdom that the Church realised just what an amazing person Stephen had been. Oh yes, he was a man “full of faith and the holy Spirit” but they could hardly think that he would be ahead of the apostles, even ahead of Peter and James, in laying down his life for the Lord.

Even more extraordinary is the influence he had on the church. If Stephen and Philip were unknown quantities, what about Saul of Tarsus? No one could have thought that such a hard man, one who spent his life persecuting Christians, could possibly become a disciple, an apostle even. But we know that he did; and part of the reason for his conversion was his witnessing the stoning to death of Stephen the Deacon. As a result, Stephen is a great encouragement to the newly ordained, and those preparing for ordination, and it is because of this that he was chosen as the Patron Saint for a seminary in Oxford. He is a great example to everyone teaching or training at St Stephen’s House, a reminded that the Holy Spirit of God is not limited by our human gifts or failings.

It is not only those who are ordained, though, who should honour Stephen. He reminds all of us that the most menial jobs in the church are the ones Our Lord honours most. Your appointed task might be cleaning the brass or removing the stains from the thurible, or delivering Christian Aid envelopes or helping with coffee after Mass. Those jobs don’t limit us. They prepare us for what God really wants us to do – which is to witness to other people of God’s love for us and for everyone.

You have to sympathise with the Apostles - of course they did not have time for everything, and of course they were right to think that their task was primarily preaching. When Moses returned from taking the seventy out to meet God in the wilderness, some people were scandalised that two of those who did not go with him were also prophesying. That’s not their job. Just as, on discovering that Philip and Stephen were preaching, some will have said ‘It is not their job’. But Moses knew better, and replied, “I wish all God’s people were prophets”.

Here in Butetown, I wish all God’s people were preachers; not just the clergy, because people will always say “Ah, but he is paid to say that”. But all of you; the witness to the gospel of lay men and women can reach far beyond the church building. Don’t let anyone put you off. Every Christian has the calling to reach out to other people with the good news of Jesus Christ – we don’t always do it in words, our actions speak louder than words. May the example of Stephen inspire you to brave witness, for as the Christmas Angels said, the good news is for all people.


This little tablet is why I always feel at home in St Mary's. It is one of very few memorials to those who took part in the Russian Convoys during the 39-45 war. My father served on destroyers and I can still remember the 'whoop,whoop,whoop' of their sirens as they entered or left the port of Greenock. His health never recovered from those terrible trips to the Arctic, to Archangel and Murmansk, in bitter winter weather (not helped by going directly from there to the North Africa landings at Oran). After long spells in hospital he was discharged from the Royal Navy with a disablity pension just a couple of years after the war ended - aged only 36.

Friday 18 December 2009

Eric Waldram Kemp, Bishop R.I.P

The farewell to Bishop Eric managed to be both large-scale and intimate. Despite the snow, which prevented many from being present, the Cathedral was comfortably full , and the singing stirring. The music began with the organist playing selections from the Gilbert & Sullivan Operas, and ended with Wagner. That caught something of the man; a quiet English sense of humour, and a European seriousness. Representatives from other churches - Chartres Cathedral, where he was a Canon, Orthodox and Free-Churches, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor - witnessed to his wideranging friendships and his concern for Christian Unity.

His successor as Diocesan, John Hind, presided at the concelebrated Funeral Mass, along with the other Bishops, Archdeacons and Area Deans of the diocese. His children spoke affectionately of his reading to them at bed-time, and themselves read to us from the end of the Lord of the Rings. Occasional interjections and squeaks from assorted grandchildren lightened the whole proceedings. Richard Eyre, who had served as Archdeacon during Bishop Eric's episcopate, gave an address which ranged from his Lincolnshire childhood through the influence on him of Pusey House and Oxford, his service as Chaplain of Exeter College then as Dean of Worcester and eventually to his consecration as Bishop of Chichester.

For myself, I shall miss him hugely. My memories of him go back to my undergraduate days when he was President of the Oxford University Church Union - a power in the land in that distant time. I learned all I ever needed to know about chairing meetings from his handling of the Committee of that body, and later of the Executive Committee of the English Church Union of which he was President. He was Chairman of the Council of St Stephen's House during my time there as Principal. My senior by twenty years, he was always a model of what a priest and a bishop might be; and he was unfailingly supportive and helpful whenever I turned to him. He will be greatly missed.

Requiescat. Jesu, mercy. Mary, pray.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

'Inalienable' Again

Crostwick is northeast of Norwich, on the road to Coltishall. This was its Vicarage (above) now a Hotel. Royal Air Force Coltishall (now also redundant) was an important part of my life as a young Fighter Controller. The Rector of the Horsham Benfice now lives in the next village, Spixworth. The other minister listed there is a Methodist lady.

How well our predecessors built. The Vicarages and Rectories of England were great treasures, part, you might say, of the Patrimony of the Church of England. They were often built by the Incumbent himself, or by the local Patron of the living. Now dioceses treat them as their private property. This is Mogerhanger, another parsonage 'surplus to requirements', and pictured as it was undergoing a make-over.

In this week's SPECTATOR there is a review by Lucinda Lambton of Anthony Jennings' 'History of the English Parsonage'. She writes of 'a teeth-grindingly scandalous state of affairs partly brought about by the grotesque mismanagement by the church and its diocesan boards, and partly by the egalitarian misapprehension that these beautiful and historical architectural treasures .. somehow cut the clergy off from their poor parishioners'. '"The great 20th-century sell-off" as it is described by Jennings, will be to the church's eternal detriment' says Lambton - and who could argue with that?

The Church of England is not alone in its vandalism, of course. Wales has been at it as well. A former student of St Stephen's House has brought lo life and most wonderfully restored the Old Vicarage at Norton, near Presteigne - not as a parsonage, but as a very superior B&B.

You can find it described on his website at
Perhaps you are not too late to book a post Christmas break? And you might spend some of your Christmas book-token on Anthony Jenning's book (published by Continuum at £25): then from the comfort of a chair by a log fire in the former Vicarage (built by Gilbert Scott) you may douse your natural good nature with what Lucinda Lambton calls "Jennings' collection of diocesan anti-parsonage quotes".
Happy Christmas.

High Victorian Gothic at Norton, sympathetically and beautifully restored.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Hurst Castle

One of our favourite spots on the Solent, just five miles from home, is Hurst Castle. Approached by ferry on a Summer morning, it looks delightful.

When the winter sun is low over the Salterns, the ancient saltpans from which Lymington made its fortune, the prospect is altogether more threatening.

Charles I was moved here from Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight around this time of year in 1648. He was allowed to walk on the shingle spit which connects Hurst to the mainland; but it must have been a bleak and dispiriting prison, not least because after his failed escape attempts from the Isle of Wight he knew his next prison would be the Tower. Even today, seen across the Western limb of the Solent, you can get some idea of its isolation. In the image above, the lighthouse stands out, a 19th Century replacement for earlier lights on Hurst Spit. Where the land falls away on the right are the Needles, Westernmost tip of the Isle of Wight. Less than a mile of water separates the Island from the mainland here. Behind the lighthouse is the grey bulk of the Castle, built by Henry VIII to defend the approaches to Southampton from French or Spanish attack. The stone he used to build it came chiefly from Beaulieu Abbey... so he was not only into re-forming the church, he turned ploughshares into swords and monasteries into fortresses.

The land was especially wet today, and here is Jane, known affectionately as the Flying Buttress because she propped up a flying bishop, picking a cautious path along the causeway.

This afternoon, the light was changing every moment, and the calls of birds were all around; oystercatchers, curlews, gulls, ducks and wading birds of every sort. Then, as we headed home a great flock of Plovers flew over. They are on some endangered lists; here on the former saltmarshes they are flourishing - a hopeful sight for a dark and chilly time of year.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Advent 3

What a depressing read Mgr Faley's comments on Anglicanorum Coetibus make. Fortunately they are well addressed in The Anglo Catholic blog (see link to the right of this post). If we did not know better we might almost think that the English Catholic Bishops were trying to undermine all that the Holy Father has done with his initiative; but of course, that is not possible .. is it? Well, here we are in Advent, with Gaudete coming up so I am risking posting my sermon in the hope that no-one reading it will decide to stay away from Holy Trinity Winchester saying "Been there - done that".

Sermon for Holy Trinity Winchester, Advent III 2009

Rejoice in the Lord alway and again I say rejoice

If you have ever been in a church choir, you will find today’s epistle is enough to set bells ringing in your head. The sentence at the beginning of Mass started it ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ and once you have heard it sung, it is unforgettable; the bell anthem, they call it. By using the sound of bells, Purcell tapped into a particularly Anglican tradition, and associated the word which gave today its name with the joyful ringing of church bells; For today is Gaudete Sunday… Gaudete, Latin for Rejoice.

Now Advent is generally about fasting and preparation; but a different sort of mood prevails from the Fast of Lent. Though we do not sing Gloria in Excelsis – that is the song heard by the shepherds which the angels sang, and we wait for it until Christmas midnight - we can sing Alleluia; the A word which is forbidden through Lent. Sometimes we complain about the shops anticipating Christmas – and in Lymington our next door neighbours had their lights rigged up in November. But still, they have a point. Christmas can’t help spilling over, whether it is because we have so much preparation to do, or just because with term ending a week and more before Christmas they are bound to put on their nativity plays in Advent. This Sunday, recognising that note of thanksgiving, that pressure for starting early, gives us a pink candle instead of a purple one, even puts priests into this fetching shade.

It is not just that Purcell’s music makes us think of this epistle as a song. It is there already in the words. Not, perhaps, in the rather clunking version we read in church this morning: ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord. I repeat, what I want is your happiness’ ….. Well, you have it there on the service sheet. But when you get home compare it with your Bible in the old Authorized Version: instead of ponderous prose it becomes poetry, and quotable: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanks-giving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”.

Whether in the modern version or the Authorised version, the message of today’s epistle is the same. Be happy! And why are we to be happy when things around us are said to be so grim, when the national debt is weighing us down, and we are heading for a very cold spell of winter? Just this: the Lord is at hand! He really is; as near as your neighbour in the next pew, as near as the little circle of bread on the palm of your hand. He is with us, and he is coming to us, and we are going to him. So be happy. And then the epistle goes on, Stop Fretting! Or in the words of scripture, ‘be careful for nothing’.

That, of course, is one of the reasons there are modern translations of scripture; “Be careful for nothing” does not mean today just what it used to mean. It does not mean “Don’t bother about looking before you cross the road”… no, it means don’t get wound up, don’t be full of cares, don’t let anything bug you. Not the weather or the economy or our health or not having bought all the presents, or anything at all. There is no need to worry, we heard in the reading; maybe we ought to reclaim the word careful; it means just that, full of care…. But however we express it the meaning is clear.

In both translations, the epistle continues at once with BUT … ‘but in everything by prayer with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God’. In that way, we overcome worry and fretting. We hand it over to our Heavenly Father, who has our concerns at heart. Let your requests be made known unto God… see though how we are to make our requests: it is to be done ‘with thanksgiving’. If we would try to spend more time in thanksgiving, our prayers might really take off. When people say their prayer has grown dull or routine, ask them how much thanksgiving there is in their praying. At the end of each day when we look back on what has happened we are to say sorry for what has gone wrong, certainly; but even better, look back first not in sorrow, not in anger, but in thanksgiving. So nothing good has happened? Not possible. Did you continue to breathe? Then thank God for that.

Once we start listing the things to be thankful for … maybe our sight is failing, but our hearing seems to be getting better to compensate. The girl at the checkout smiled at me. The postman came with a card. The morning frost looked magical, as it did when I was a child. Let your requests be made known, certainly, ask and go on asking like the widow in the gospel story who would not stop until she persuaded the judge to hear her; but do it with thanksgiving. And when we do that, when we stop worrying and hand things over to God, when we pray and go on praying, but always with thankful hearts, then there is a result. That peace of God which is so much greater than we can understand… or, as the more poetic older version puts it, ‘The Peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through Jesus Christ.’ That sentence is so encouraging, so full of hope, that it made its way into the liturgy. It precedes the final blessing in the prayer book Communion Service.

Sometimes it takes other people to help us count our blessings; if we are to be really thankful, maybe we need to look to our inheritance as Anglican. Few other English speaking Christians have such a rich inheritance of words, in the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer or the translation of the King James Bible. It has taken a German, the present Pope, to help us count those particular blessings, what he calls the Patrimony of the Anglican Communion.

If we can move into closer unity with the Church of Rome, and still retain some of that heritage, then we shall have achieved more than our fathers in the faith ever dreamed of. If Pusey and Keble and Newman had been able to have what is offered to us, there might have been no parting of friends, and the break between Anglicanism and Rome might have been healed over a century ago. Now it is for us to work and pray that we may count all our blessings and, with thanksgiving, humbly offer them to the wider church.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Inalienable buildings

It was His Grace of Canterbury who, in an interview concerning the Ordinariate, said that C of E churches were 'inalienable'. Much the same was asserted by the soon-to-be-ex-Bishop of Southwark. These churches and parsonages were the responsibility of the Church of England, he told us, so that they could minister to the nation and spread the faith of Jesus Christ according to the teaching of the Church of England. I was thinking about this as I sat in the former Rectory of the Parish of Chesil, in the City of Winchester. After celebrating Holy Communion [1662 approx] in Lymington and preaching on the collect (regarding the Scriptures, 'that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them' ... or was it 'hear them read, mark, learn &c'?)) we dashed up to Winchester for the 10.30 Mass in Holy Trinity. There was a pastoral letter from the Bishop of Winchester to be read in church. Our bishop pastor is the Bishop of Richborough, but we did not totally ignore what the Bishop of Winchester wrote; instead we reproduced it so that every member of the congregation could take a copy and see for himself (I use the word inclusively) just why posts are having to be cut.

A cousin of mine had been staying with us for a few days, and she kindly took us to a restaurant just round the corner from Holy Trinity - the aforesaid former Rectory (see above left). From the window you could see across the street to the Chesil Theatre - formerly the parish church of St Peter, Chesil. (below right) This was alienated in the 1960's when the Diocese of Winchester found it surplus to requirements, and allowed a theatre group to take it over. It was given the church, free, the only condition being that it must restore and maintain the fabric. In Salisbury the former parish church of St Edmund (parish church at that time of the largest parish in the City) was in the 1970's swallowed up by St Thomas', and the church handed over to become the Salisbury Arts Centre. You can find innumerable similar 'alienations' - Chichester, Bristol, Norwich just to name a few of those I know personally.

Now, with Winchester so overchurched, and with such good precedents for alienation of property, we look forward to hearing that those of us who join the ordinariate will be assigned Holy Trinity Winchester. Better surely to be a Christian Church than a night-club - or even a Theatre.
So here is my effort for today from Holy Trinity:

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar S Luke 3.1

This is the start of things, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and S. Luke wants to pin it down as a historic moment. Even today, official documents such as Acts of Parliament are still dated according to who is on the throne at the time - “in the 57th year of Elizabeth, by the Grace of God Queen” and so on. Luke though is being very particular indeed. Not enough just to mention the rule of Tiberius Caesar. He goes on to say it was “When Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judaea”. Now that, you would think, is precise enough; not so – he continues ‘Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Iturea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene’ … so that is all Roman rule described in and around Galilee; but Luke is not just writing for Romans; he then gives the Jewish dating, it was “during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas”.

Some of these characters, some of these places, do not feature in the rest of the gospel. Others, like Pontius Pilate and Annas and Caiaphas, are very prominent indeed.Why is it that St Luke is so concerned to put the events of Jesus’ ministry into historical context, and to make such a list of people and places? It recalls another list at the start of his second volume, the book of the Acts of the Apostles. There he is writing about the people who heard the Apostles preaching in their own languages.

They were, he tells us, in Jerusalem devout men, from every nation on earth. The Holy Spirit came down upon these devout people, and they heard them speak, every man in his own language: Parthians and Medes and Elamites and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judaea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia….. and so he goes on, listing Egyptians and Romans, Jews and Cretans and Arabs. The Gospel is concerned to tell us that what is happening is not just some little event in a remote corner of the Roman Empire, but concerns the whole world.

Both these occasions, in the Gospel at the start of Jesus’ ministry and in Acts as the Church began its mission, are times when the Spirit comes among us. The Holy Spirit of God is not restricted; like the wind, he blows wherever he chooses.

Why is this a particular concern of St Luke? As a young man, you may remember, had been a companion of S Paul on his missionary journeys. He had witnessed how the Good News of Jesus Christ was welcomed far beyond its origins in Israel. He had seen for himself the struggles in the early church, as the apostles had to decide whether the gospel was solely for the Jews, as some thought, or whether it was for everyone. To us, living so long after the matter was decided at the very first Council of the Church, it seems obvious that the Gospel is universal. That was not how it seemed at the time.

At first, even S Peter thought that anyone becoming a Christian ought first to bind himself to the whole Jewish law. It seems laughable to us now, that we might have been denied the faith unless we first committed ourselves to renouncing pork and shellfish and to keeping all the other dietary laws, but those were very real questions for the Apostolic church. But for these decisions, we might not have been able to say that we believe in one Catholic church – for Catholic means universal, for every-one.

The matter arose like this: [Acts 15.1f] “Certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, ‘Unless you are circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved’. Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.”

It appears to have been St James who led them to reach a decision at this Council in Jerusalem, and the Apostles’ ruling was conveyed to the Gentile Christians like this: ‘It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication’. At that Council, too, Peter had said ‘Why put a yoke on these disciples’ necks which as Jews we proved incapable of bearing?’

All these matters St Luke had heard about, or witnessed at first hand, in his early days as a Christian. So more than any of the other Gospel writers, he is concerned with the universal nature of the gospel. It may be this sympathy with the outsider that has Luke alone giving us the story of the Good Samaritan.

Why is this important as we approach Christmas? It reinforces the truth that the Gospel is universal, for everyone. As Simeon said when the infant Jesus was brought to him, he was not just the glory of his people Israel; he is also a light to enlighten the Gentiles. When the Magi came with gifts, they too represented the non-Jewish world. It is also in today’s message proclaimed by John the Baptist. John is preparing the way for the Messiah, so that “all mankind shall see the salvation of God”.

Our Church of England has, at times in its history, been aware of a universal mission. The great Missionary societies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, CMS, SPG, SPOCK, witness to the concern of our church not to be defined simply by being English, Anglican. We went across the whole Empire, but also beyond it, taking the good news. Recently there has been a danger of forgetting this, and seeming to think that being English and being a Christian are one and the same. There has also been a sense that anything 'Roman ' was suspect. It could be, now, that the offer by the Roman Catholic church to make a home for us within it, is a challenge to this narrow view of Christianity. Are we genuinely Catholic, Universal, for everyone, or are we not? This is what we shall be praying and thinking and talking about during the coming weeks as we await advice from our Provincial bishops, and begin to formulate our response from this parish to the offer Rome is making to our church.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Seeing and not seeing

One of the great things about painting, even in a very amateur way, is that it makes you really look at things. Mind you, the end result might not be much like what you saw; but it is still worth trying. This week we were aiming to paint in red and green ... the idea being, I guess to produce something Christmassy - holly & ivy and all that. But we had some marvellous red chard growing in a pot this year, so I attempted a portrait of that. Thought I'd better tell you or you would not recognise it; but it was fun to do.

In case that depresses you too much, you might prefer to see the view towards the Needles a couple of days back, when the weather was brighter than today. It is all about looking, and really seeing: 'for he spoke to them in parables; that seeing they might not see'. I think many of us just now are loking for the signs of the times, discerning what the future holds for us. It is certainly not dull.

Monday 30 November 2009

Walworth 2

Maybe you had better see the sermon, not just the illustrations, from Advent I in Walworth: for what it is worth, here it is:-

Pray for strength … to stand with confidence before the Son of Man [S Luke 21.36]

The world's biggest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, is in operation again after more than a year of repairs. The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, Cern, said in a statement on Friday that particle beams are once again circulating in the LHC, and that a clockwise circulating beam was established at 10 PM local time. There now, I knew you’d get excited by that…. NOT! If you have a long memory, it was in 2008 that it was first switched on, this billion pound experiment; and it came to a halt because of a bad connection. Then this year it was going to run, only a bird dropped a bit of biscuit into the works. Now it is going again, and we have to hope there are some useful bits of knowledge to come from it.

First time round, the papers were saying “the world could blow itself up”… now there have been too many damp squibs and no one seems worried any more. But we always have to have something to worry about. If you have long memories, and are very old, you might remember the H bomb; that was going to explode the world. Around the year 1999 people were full of predicitions of the end of the world; some, you may remember, set off up a mountain to wait for it to happen; then, they came back down again. And do you remember all the computers in the world were going to crash because their clocks could not manage with 2000?

Our children were very fond of Henny Penny; she rushed around like – well, you could say like a headless chicken – saying “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” and a lot of other animals believed her. So when Jesus talks about the end of the world, and he does, he issues a stern warning too:“Take heed that you are not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and the time draws near: don’t you go after them. And when you shall hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not yet”. We are not to be deceived, wars and famines and floods and tidal waves happen, and go on happening. The end of the world is altogether different, and it will be seen with the coming of the Son of Man in a cloud, with power and great glory.But what about the meanwhile? It is for this meanwhile, the time between now and the end of the world, that the Church is given to us. And year by year, as the old year ends and we prepare for a new one, we are faced with ourselves, and how we are to make ourselves ready.

For you here at St John’s this is a very particular time of renewal. You are marking the 150 years of this church’s life by rededicating yourselves in the service of the Saviour. How much people gave up back in the 1850’s; and all to be able to build this church for their descendants, among them you. In its time, such a modern church; reassuringly gothic, but with marvellous up-to-date touches like (as I guess) cast iron columns. What nerve; what far-sightedness!
So today’s gospel might have been written with you in mind. It tells you how you must start getting ready; pray, that is the key to it all. Pray for strength to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.

Those dear people of a century and a half ago might seem a bit strange to us; it was the time Dickens writes about, children being sent to work in factories, soot and filth and disease everywhere. Your church was started to minister to the poor and the sick and the dying in this part of Southeast London. It was for the sake of those who had never been inside a church building that St John’s was saved for and paid for and eventually built.
There are still so many outside these walls who still need the love of Jesus to be shown them. Words are not enough, we have to live in the way he wants. It begins with us, and with our life of prayer. Only when we are ready to face Jesus ourselves can we begin to show the love of Jesus to other people. Your patron saint, John, tells us “now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” We are to be like Jesus; but for that to happen, we must meet him; and to meet him, we must be ready. Meeting Jesus unprepared would be a terrible thing. We have to be ready … and today’s gospel says it, for that we need strength: “pray for strength that we may stand with confidence before the Son of Man”.

So the message of Advent, and the message of your 150th anniversary, are the same. They are about being ready to meet Jesus face to face. And how do we do that? Easy, really; just love the Lord your God with heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself. Well, no, of course it is not easy; it is a lifetime’s work.

But begin the other way round; if you love your neighbour as yourself, first you must love yourself. We all of us have things we don’t find loveable in us; our bad temper, or our greediness, or our tendency to lie or whatever. No good pretending that is not us; but face it. And face it with God’s help – the help he has given us in the sacrament of forgiveness. If we all started there, this church and parish would be transformed. Well, you can’t do it for other people; but you can do it for yourself. Make a promise to go to confession before Christmass; make an appointment with your priest TODAY. That will be the very best start to the renewal of St John’s in its 150th year.
Then, once you are able to forgive yourself and so to love yourself, start doing the same for other people. Forgive them as you are forgiven, and you will start loving them too. What a transformation that would be for St John's if it was known as the one place in Walworth where you could be accepted WHOEVER you were and WHATEVER you had done. That is what the church is meant to be; the place of forgiveness and welcome.

We are talking about having the confidence to face Jesus when we come face to face with him. It is not IF we meet him, it is WHEN. Pray at all times, he says, for strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man. It means being forgiven, and then forgiving other people; it means loving other people because we have learned to love ourselves; and from that we shall be able really to love God. No one can hate the brother he has seen, and love God whom he hasn’t seen. Simple as that.

We shall all of us be renewing our promises of baptism soon; as you do that, realise what it will involve:
Confession, so that we can be forgiven and come to love ourselves
Generosity, in forgiving and loving other people.
Praying to be ready, so that we can look forward with confidence to seeing God, because we have learned really to love him.

May this be a marvellous year for St John’s; and so it will be, if first you are committed to it, and looking forward to a marvellous year for yourself.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Walworth the Visit

Former students of St Stephen's House are working in very diverse situations. Fr Simon Askey is no exception (on the left in the picture above). Formerly a member of SSM (as Br Gary) he undertook legal training while still a monk, and has held a number of teaching posts since then. Now he has a very high-powered job coordinating the teaching of a number of Universities in England and overseas. This week he is just back from the USA and Hong Kong, and goes off again to the Far East in a few days time. In the interim he assists at St John's Walworth; and so he persuaded his Vicar, Fr John Walker (on the right in the photo), to invite me to preach for the start of the church's year of celebration which marks its first 150 years. The congregation renewed their Baptismal promises at the start of the year.
Jane and I had a marvellous time there. The church barely gets a mention in Pevsner - just the barest note that it is by H Jarvis, with some fittings by Comper (on the left, the Lady Chapel). The reality is a lively and happy worshipping community, many of the people with their origins in Sierra Leone and the West Indies though many of them have been in Walworth for twenty years and more. I also met a couple from the Philippines - they are soon to be married, he is a widower and his bride-to-be admits to being over 80! There was also a splendid number of children - all very well behaved - a good serving team, and some fine congregational singing.

On a Sunday like this it's good to be retired and able to visit places which are quite new to me; though the driving becomes more of a bore each time. Thanks to an old friend, Eileen Slatter, Jane and I were able to drive up on Saturday and stay the night in her flat before driving home to Lymington on Sunday fortified by a great Vicarage lunch. I was baptised in South London, where my grandmother lived. Holy Innocents South Norwood was the church; like Walworth it is now in Southwark diocese, though all those generations ago it was part of 'Canterbury without' - a little enclave of the Archbishop's, surrounding his former palace in Croydon. It was swept up in a tidying effort in the mid twentieth century. Now we look as though we might be getting some new peculiars, in the Ordinariate. Hurrah!

Friday 27 November 2009

Passtime Painting

There now, that came as a surprise - or a shock, maybe. But painting as a hobby is a little like the spritual life. You think you are making progress until you let someone else in on where you are - and after such a confession you realise what a long way you have to go if you are to get anywhere. The journey is worthwhile, though - so Friday mornings in Lymington are often spent in company with others who are also trying to get a foothold on the spiritual - no, sorry, the painterly- ladder.

On the left of this group is our instructor, Marita (you can find her work at She is immensely patient with us - here with David and another Edwin (known in the class as John Edwin to avoid confusion).

We have been looking at Kandinsky's work which helps explain (though does not excuse) a version of St Thomas' Lymington done as a triptych... though really I just chopped it in three to try to improve it. As you see, the experiment failed.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Goodbye Southampton

Tonight we met in the Parish Church of Romsey (Ss Mary & Ethelflaeda, aka Romsey Abbey) to say farewell to Paul Butler who is to become Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham in 2010. The great and the good were there, together with a few clergy and rather more bishops. One of the bishops was Crispin, RC bishop of Portsmouth who once told me he hoped not to receive many former Anglican priests since he would not know what to do with them. He seemed a little sad that at the same time Couve de Murville of Birmingham was bringing them over by the cartload. Two of the other bishops were from Africa; Paul is Chair(man?) of CMS.

There was some good music from the choir & organ, and some other music from a Music Group from Highfield Church - seen [above] dismantling some of their gear. I needed to be sure they were going - rather like bagpipes, such offerings are better heard at a distance. Unfortunately Jane and I had been sitting with the official guests, in direct line of fire from this group. The central section of the service (evensong, we were told) was to be three worship songs - or so the programme promised. By the time there had been reprises and choruses it seemed about as long as the Ring Cycle ... well, perhaps it earns time off purgatory.

The Bishop of Basingstoke was in attendance. He soon departs for Dover where he is to be the Archbishop's right hand person in the diocese of Canterbury. Alas I am not able to be at his farewell, but I am sure there will be many there to see him off.

Now that he is losing both his Suffragans at once, Bishop Michael of Winchester will be looking to appoint their successors before he himself retires. If you have suggestions you might like to try giving him some names. It won't do much good, though. As he told me, there are so many women priests in the diocese, and so few Resolution C parishes, that it would be very difficult to appoint a traditionalist. The reason, of course, that there are so few C parishes is that we once had Bishop Geoffrey Rowell here and so were told 'no need to take any resolutions; you can always have Bishop Geoffrey'. Now it is too late. Blackburn, London and Chichester dioceses, take note.

I have agreed to undertake a few confirmations during the interregnum to ease the diocesan's burden - though if the Ordinariate get up and running quickly I shall perhaps not be able to fulfil all those engagements.

Monday 23 November 2009

Old Holborn

They work you hard at St SAlban's, Holborn. First they had me confirming during the 9.30 mass (at which I also celebrated and preached) and we had barely turned round before I was at the High Mass at 11 preaching in the wonderful strains of Stravinsky's 1948 Mass.

So perhaps it is worth letting my three readers in on what I said in that context. Another time you might like to know why Danish churches, to say nothing of Crown Jewels, are so besotted with Elephants... but that really is another story.


Are you the king? …… Yes I am a king. [S JOHN xviii 33 & 37]

There are downsides to every job; and perhaps the biggest downside to being Monarch of Great Britain is having to open Parliament. The Queen was at it again on Wednesday; tedious enough riding in an unsprung ancient coach and wearing a crown which, she has said, quite ruins one’s hairdo. Far worse than any of this is delivering a speech written by a politician with the aim of boosting his party’s poll rating. How it must irk, to sit on a throne saying “My Government…”

But then, that is one of the things about constitutional monarchs; they have to let other people tell them what to say. Until the mid nineteenth century, Kings of Denmark were absolute monarchs. Their word was law. Here that had died out when Charles I lost his head in Whitehall. It came very late to Denmark, but when it did the result was even more thorough-going than here. The Queen might complain about wearing a heavy crown; all his life the Danish King is not allowed to wear his. It is on display among the crown jewels in Copenhagen, but the only time it comes near the king is at his funeral; then it is put on the coffin. The Danes say it is the only time when it is safe to let him wear it.

So there are monarchies, and monarchies.
Which is where today’s gospel matters so much. The question put to Jesus by his judges was “Are you the king of the Jews?” He would not answer that directly, for he would have been misunderstood. Instead he tries to get them to see what his kingship is about; and it is not a this-world kingship at all.

The proposals by the Papacy concerning a special deal for Anglicans has some marvellous things about it. The one place where it really falls down, though, concerns the trappings of bishops. In the explanatory document, the so called ‘norms’ of the ordinariate, there is this sentence:
‘A former Anglican Bishop who belongs to the Ordinariate and who has not been ordained as a bishop in the Catholic Church, may request permission from the Holy See to use the insignia of the episcopal office’.

Now it may be that that is a concession for the sake of the people who have been used to treating Ebbsfleet and Richborough and Fulham as bishops. It certainly should not be a concession for those men themselves. Once they have become married priests in the Ordinariate, even if they have a special office, they will not be bishops. If the Holy See wants them to dress up like bishops, in the way that some others do, mitred abbots for instance, then it should instruct them what to wear; not give them the responsibility of seeking it for themselves.

The experiment of flying bishops made for difficulties about ecclesiology – how could the bishop of a province be in only partial communion with other bishops? But then, that problem was not created by the flying bishops; it was there from the moment our church decided it had the authority to ordain women as priests, while at the same time saying that anyone had the right to refuse their ministry. Alongside those difficulties, though, there were great benefits which came from the experiment. None of these bishops had great establishments to maintain. They were given the means to live simply, in modest houses, with no staff of chauffeurs and gardeners and pa’s, no cathedral, no chapter. Many of those in their care came to value this; it seemed a new sort of episcopacy. It meant, for instance, that during an interregnum the bishop would drive a hundred miles or two, and would be happy to stay overnight with one of the parishioners, just in order to consult with the parish about their future and what sort of priest they wanted.
For the bishops themselves it enabled them to get to know the people in their care, not just churchwardens and PCC representatives but their families and children. It was easier in this way to learn the job of being a shepherd – and even a shepherd king. Putting on the crown, the mitre, seemed no longer to distance him from people; the mitre and crook and ring were symbols of office, and made him the king’s representative. And one PEV's demountable crook in its leather bag was referred to by a perspicacious Verger as "the tool kit".

The Imperial State Crown, the Crown of St Edward, the Orb, the Sceptre, none of these belongs to the Queen. They are about delegated authority, and the anointing at the coronation shows us all whose delegate she is. It is an anointing she shares with priests and bishops; and with all the holy common people of God in their Baptism and Confirmation.

So when he is asked are you THE King of the Jews, Jesus does not answer; but when they rephrase it, when after he describes his kingdom Pilate asks “You are a king then”
Jesus answers Yes, I am a king. A king in a different sort of kingdom from any we know on earth.

The kingdom of heaven is not like the kingdom of Elizabeth I or Elizabeth II, nor the kingdoms of Denmark or the Netherlands. All these will pass away. One of the most endearing stories about Queen Victoria is that her favourite hymn was “The day thou gavest Lord, is ended” … she must have imagined the sun constantly rising on some new outpost of Empire. As the flag was lowered at sunset in Canada it was being unfurled in India. She also knew, to her great credit, that Our Lord’s throne “shall never, like earth’s proud empires, pass away”, though it is unlikely she thought the demise of the British Empire would follow on her heels quite as swiftly or completely as it did.

But the Lord’s kingdom is not of this world, and is not subject to the fall of empires. Among the crown jewels of heaven none is greater than that of woven thorns, bejewelled with the Saviour’s blood. His rule is service, his robe of state humility. Whoever would be first in His Kingdom must be last, whoever would rule must be the servant of all. Perhaps, after all, the Holy Father will let former Anglican bishops set aside their jewellery, and put all their efforts into building up the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Friday 20 November 2009

Archiepiscopal Infallibility

One of the stumbling blocks to unity with Rome, so it is asserted, is Papal Infallibility. Yet if reports of ++Rowan's address in Rome are correct (and who could doubt Ruth Gledhill) the Archbishop of Canterbury is claiming something even stronger for himself. According to Ruth 'yesterday the Archbishop made clear that there would be no turning back the clock on women priests in order to appease critics.' Now, his predecessor in Office said that women's ordination was reversible. In this he was staying true to the Eames Report and the decisions of the Lambeth Conference. It was because of this that some of us, with great difficulty, remained Anglicans, hoping that there might yet come a time when the experiment of women as priests would be shown to have failed. In this Rome meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury has made it clear that the matter is settled; and since there has been no Synodical debate on this, it must be that he has resolved the matter by personal fiat. How envious the Holy Father must be, hedged about as he is by definitions which declare him infallible only in very special and limited circumstances. Unlike him, Rowan is always right.

This means the Archbishop of Canterbury is selling his Suffragans of Ebbsfleet and Richborough down the river. He is telling all who believed that we were in a period of reception, until there was agreement by the whole Church, Eastern and Western, that we had better give in or go. That was just a smokescreen to get the legislation through. Now the time for compromise is over.

Well, thank you, dear Rowan. It is good to know where we stand - though really that has been becoming daily more apparent since the volte face of the Manchester Commission. When you come home, please encourage the General Synod to go for a single clause measure, and start preparing the financial package which will enable priests to move on as quickly as possible. It was lovely knowing you - except that in reality, none of us did.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Church Buildings

Once again a bishop has asserted that Parish Churches cannot be alienated: Nick Baines did not use precisely those words [which come from Archbishop Rowan's interview], but the gist was the same. [See when he was responding to Ed Tomlinson.]

So perhaps we need to get this straight; those churches which were left after the depradations of Henry VIII, mainly parish churches, continued to be used by the Church of England as parish churches. Some monastic churches like Sherborne Abbey and Tewkesbury Abbey [pictured above] were bought from the Crown by the parishioners - in Tewkesbury's case only after pressure which included the demolition of the Lady Chapel to show just what might happen if they did not pay up.

Since then, the Church of England has disposed of many of its buildings. Some are cared for by Redundant Churches bodies. Others have been sold off, to be turned into restaurants, private houses, libraries (St Peter's Oxford) and even a Hindu Temple (St Luke's Southampton). So, inalienable they are not.

The continuing ownership of the remaining parish churches, including many like Fr Ed Tomlinson's St Barnabas' Tunbridge Wells, is with the parish. This is, unltimately, because the State says so. Before the Reformation they were often almost private property - hence even now a few surviving cases where a lay Rector has the duty of maintaining part of the building, and hence too the remaining vestiges of Private Patronage. If the State were persuaded that the Church of England no longer genuinely represented or served the whole nation, then it might decide to disestablish and disendow it, and hand the proceeds out to others - while taking a large share for itself, as Henry VIII did. Edward VI made his depradations look very charitable, by endowing schools - with money he and his father had taken from numerous monastic schools and colleges. No doubt a 21st Century government would have little difficulty in persuading people that the church's money would be better spent on Hospitals or Universities.

In short, it would be to the advantage of the Church of England to hand over some of its buildings to the Ordinariate, or to rent them at a peppercorn rent, rather than give the State ideas about nationalisation. It would appear very dog-in-manger indeed were it simply to hold on to buildings for which it had no use.

Clearly there must be talk and negotiation on this important matter. In the 1970s in the Parish of Farncombe we began a sharing agreement with the local Roman Catholic church. They had asked about using our school as a Mass centre. The parish church seemed to me, Rector at that time, more appropriate. So between our 8am celebration and the later Sung Eucharist, there was a Catholic Mass. The friendship and understanding which developed between our two congregations was marvellous. It did not happen quickly; the bishops, of Guildford and Arundel & Brighton, took some persuading. Yet today, thirty years on, I understand the 'experiment' continues and flourishes. Surely we can develop solutions at least as generous for those who are leaving the Church of England, giving them somewhere to worship, and letting the Church of England proceed unhindered with women as bishops?

Monday 16 November 2009

Refuting the Bitter Pill

Since the news of the Ordinariates, there have been several snide and uncharitable comments, none more than in 'The Tablet'. They have annoyed Roman Catholics as well as Anglicans, and there is a particularly good piece at the website "The Cause for the Canonisation of John Henry Cardinal Newman". It is a good piece in its own right, and deserves wide attention:

Sunday 15 November 2009

After the Storm

We have been blown about these last few days; tossed to and fro and carried about, you could say, by every wind of doctrine. So after nature's gale yesterday, the sky this evening on the Solent coast came as a great consolation, a reminder that after the storm there is calm. Some have already come to see the disappearance of the lifeline which the C of E had promised us as a great relief; for others, it has plainly been a shock. Fr David Houlding was given a roasting by Damian Thompson for expressing his disappointment at being betrayed by the Manchester Group. Some of the comments on that blog were so vituperative it is hard to think they were written by Christians. The fact is, it is very easy for those on the sidelines to remain calm and reasonable; for us, whose very foundations of faith are being tested, it has not been so easy.

In his blog, Fr Aquilina was also shaken: 'The C of E seems [it] cannot hide any longer its real intention to unchurch those who like me hold dear what Christians held always and everywhere across the centuries'. And Fr Trevor Jones was saddened by the passing of the church he had loved, "Tell me it is a dream" he wrote," this cannot really be happening to the Church of Hooker, Laud, Keble".

At the cost of sounding like the last chorus from the Life of Brian, I really do think the clouds are breaking and we get a glimpse of a marvellous future. The church we shall belong to will be truly a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It will contain within it the treasures of a glorious past - Hooker, Laud, Keble - and also Newman and Pusey and Kemp and Ramsey; and the promise of a more glorious future. As the Church of England plc makes it clear that it wants to clear out its traditionalists to make way for the great new liberal agenda, so the Church of Rome offers us a welcome more generous and heartfelt than we could have ever expected.

It is going to take time, and prayer, if we are to explain to our people just why this is a time for decision, and bring them with us. Our Provincial Bishops and the Bishop of Fulham and the handful of other orthodox bishops, are giving a lead. We have the duty to support them - and thank them for all they have done on our behalf so far. There is a long way to go yet, but ... well, I might as well say it: ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE!

Saturday 14 November 2009

BBC News

The CofE is dropping its plans to make provision for those opposed to women bishops, according to today's BBC lunchtime radio news. There was no hint of where this 'news' came from. It does not appear to be a press release on that dire CofE website. So who is supposed to have decided? The Manchester Group? But they (like man) can only propose; Synod (like God) disposeth. But it cannot be the Synod, for it has not met. The Archbishops? The only authoritative statement they have made this year has been about swine flu - and the diversity of resulting practice makes one doubt their Graces' capacity for deciding anything. Maybe some better informed blogger than me has the answer - though it is not on Ruth Gledhill's page yet.

And if there IS no provision, that will open the door for many to claim constructive dismissal from a church which has changed clergy terms of employment retrospectively ... "obedient to the Bishop and his successors" indeed!

[PS: So now we have it, thanks to Fr Ed Tomlinson; it is, after all, the Manchester Group which has decided not to support anything but authority delegated from Diocesan Bishops - and we all know how generous those gentlemen have been to us in the past.

The paragraph from the Manchester Group's Press Release which is most relevant says:
The effect of the Committee’s decision is therefore that such arrangements as are made for those unable to receive the episcopal ministry of women will need to be by way of delegation from the diocesan bishop rather than vesting.

Hurrah! Now we can get on with the serious business of applying to the Holy Father for shepherds instead of having to rely any longer on the CofE's ravening wolves.]

Monday 9 November 2009

Wales, Wales

Remembrance Sunday we spent in Cardiff. It was our first free Sunday in some weeks, and we attended Mass at St Mary the Docks, aka St Mary's Butetown, of Shirley Bassey Fame.The altar was prepared by the Churchwarden, who also led the act of Remembrance at the Crucifix outside the Church. We waited for the beginning of Mass on the arrival of the celebrant dashing from another of the parish's churches (in Grangetown) where he had been delayed because of the Act of Remembrance there.

We were made very welcome, as ever - the celebrant was Fr Ben Andrews, Curate of the parish - the Parish Priest, Fr Graham Francis was returning from a cruise; no doubt he chose to go on one this weekend when the Gospel was about the Widow's Cruse that never failed...

Once in the depths of the slums of Cardiff, St Mary's is now within hailing distance of the great new John Lewis store, part of the gargantuan redevelopment of a once charming city. St Mary's is a stronghold of the faith, in a church which has consistently betrayed its traditionalists - most recently by the refusal of the bench of bishops (all six of them) to appoint a successor to the greatly loved and much missed Provincial Assistant Bishop or PAB, David Thomas. PAB in Welsh means Pope.

We were very generously offered a copy of the Diocesan Newspaper, Croeso, which had, we were assured, a picture of the Archbishop of Wales on every page. Somehow we managed to resist the offer. We did enjoy the open-air rendering of Land of Our Fathers (in Welsh) before we all sang God Save the Queen (in English). The memorial in the church to men who had taken part in the Russian Convoys I found especially moving, since my father had been mentioned in dispatches on one of those most terrible of Naval operations. It was during one of those convoys that my mother and I had gone to Greenock from which his destroyer sailed - and there, before he got back to port, we were bombed out (for the second time in the war). Ours will be the last generation with such first-hand memories of that conflict.

Apostolic Constitution 'Anglicanorum coetibus'

Today the text we have been waiting for has been published by the Holy See.

In one particular paragraph some of the difficulties raised by priests before its publication have been allayed; but not all.

III. Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman Rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.

This makes it clear that the Roman Rite will be available to those within the Ordinariate; and so will allay the fears of those clergy for whom Anglican rites have little appeal. But the same paragraph begs another question which I hope will not go away. It speaks of the need to maintain "spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion". For me, one of the greatest gifts of our Communion is the fact that our priests may marry. My wife is not a problem to be negotiated; she is a gift to me and to the Church, and my vocation to the married state is no less important to me than my vocation to the priesthood.

'Anglicanorum Coetibus' goes a little way to admitting that our priests may continue in the married state: in VI para1 it says "In the case of married ministers, the norms established in the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI Sacerdotalis coelibatus, n. 42 and in the Statement In June are to be observed." That is to say, married Anglican Clergy may be ordained in the Catholic Church in certain circumstances.

This does not, though, affect the general rule of celibacy: VI para 2 "The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See."

We should recognise first that it is a very great concession by the Holy See that ANY married former Anglican clergy may be ordained, and we should be very grateful indeed for this. The question for me is how far the 'derogation ... on a case by case basis' will actually be applied. It could be the thin end of a wedge permitting a gradual acclimatisation of the Catholic Church to a married priesthood - which, of course, it already has in some of its Eastern Rite variants. Or it might mean that this is something which will die out within a generation.

I believe the Holy See is serious about wanting to bring the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of our Communion into the fullness of the Catholic Church. We should not suppose that all of what we want to bring with us will be appropriate or valued or acceptable immediately. Certainly, though, there is a need for prayer for mutual understanding; between those Anglicans who will want to accept this generous offer at once, and those who will hesitate; between those who will join the Roman Catholic church, and those who will feel obliged to stay attached to the see of Canterbury; and above all, perhaps, between those who will seek to become part of the Ordinariate and those already in the Roman Catholic Communion who might find us a bitter pill to swallow.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Edwin John Charles Davis, priest. R I P

Oxford again today, but a very different occasion from last week. At St John’s New Hinksey, where he had been parish priest for ten years from 1981, we gathered to celebrate the solemn funeral Mass for Fr John Davis. Throughout my time at St Stephen’s House, John had taught Old Testament – and a great deal more. In particular, the sheer joy of being a priest, and the vocation to hospitality. The congregation in St John’s was a witness to his very varied ministry. So too were those in the Sanctuary. The first lesson was read by a French Monk, Dom Christopher Lesofski OSB, who had lodged with John while studying in Oxford. For the Ecclesiastes lesson, the reader was the Rev'd Andrew Brown, Minister of the Unitarian Chapel in Cambridge, who had studied the Bible under John at Harris Manchester College. The choir, which sang Fauré’s requiem most movingly, came from All Saints Highfield, where John had ministered during his retirement in Headington. The preacher was another old friend and former student of St Stephen’s House, Fr Charles Card-Reynolds FSJ, parish priest of St Bartholomew Stamford Hill.

As John had requested, Fr Charles’ sermon was not a eulogy, but a proclamation of the Gospel, calling us to pray for the departed. Fr Charles did, though, give us the wonderful picture of Fr John’s meeting with our Heavenly Father; who would be first to say to the other, “My dear”? For me, it recalled that most lovely of poems by an Anglican Divine, George Herbert's “Love bade me welcome”…

‘And know you not’, says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

And so did we; we shared the Eucharist in thanksgiving and prayer for John, and we met and talked over a great buffet. How he would have enjoyed it all! And who is to say he did not, and does not, with Angels, and Archangels, and all the Company of Heaven. Requiescat.
This picture of John came to me from Chris Gillibrand; John was reading from the Song of Songs (what else!) at Chris' wedding.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Oxford & Beyond

A good and very varied weekend, with rather too much driving (almost like being a flying bishop once more). It began with a ninety mile sprint to Oxford. The extra ten miles were after being warned on the Traffic channel of a collision on the road north of Newbury.

The reason for the trip to Oxford was a very happy event; the celebration of the first 125 years of Pusey House.

Pusey Librarians have always been a convivial band here are two who happily live up to this reputation: left, Fr William Davage, Priest Librarian and Custodian of the Library, and right, Fr Barry Orford, Priest Librarian and Archivist.

On Friday evening there was a dinner for friends and supporters of Pusey House. The Principal himself, Fr Jonathan Baker, presided with customary wit and elegance throughout what must have been an exhausting weekend. Here he is seen just half-way through the celebrations, during the reception after the Festival Mass on Saturday, with High Mass for All Saints and a Solemn Requiem for All Souls still to come.
Present at the dinner and at the Festival Mass on Saturday were many old friends. There were trad bishops: +Keith Richborough (rt.) was on good form, as was his brother of Ebbsfleet , seen here (as the Tatler might have said) in animated conversation with the Preacher at the Anniversary Mass, Fr Robin Ward, Principal of St Stephen's House.

Other former Seminarians of St Stephen's House (besides, that is, Fr Davage, Fr Orford, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Preacher and the Principal of Pusey House himself) included (right) the Blogger Blogged, Fr Hunwicke who, warned of my approach, almost managed to hide his glass.

At the glorious Festival Mass, the preacher excelled himself. In the peroration of his sermon, Fr Robin Ward looked forward to a time when Pusey House might be operating in a rather wider field than the present narrow confines of the Church of England. We all left with a sense that the history of the Puseum had barely begun - there are great things still to come.

Jane came up on the train (delayed, of course) and after the Mass and more Pusey hospitality we took off for East Anglia.

There yet another SSH Alumnus, Fr Jeremy Dowding, Diane his wife and son Tom welcomed us to Thorpe-le-Soken.... about as far as you can get from Fr Jeremy's homeland of Wales without falling off the edge of the map. We concelebrated and I preached for All Saints, we enjoyed a great luncheon, and the faithful Barnesmobile brought us back to Lymington without incident, completing a four hundred mile round trip. Just one more weekend which I shall think about when people say "Don't you find retirement terribly boring?". Boring it is not. Tiring, maybe, but boring, never.