Saturday 24 October 2009

Praying for Unity Today

A sermon for the 30th Sunday yr B, preached at the Church of the Ascension, North End, Portsmouth

[L] The Sanctuary at The Ascension, North End, Portsmouth

[R] Image of Our Lady & theHoly Child, the Church
of the Ascension, N End

Many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet Mk 10.48

There are frequent references to crowds, and often to scuffles in the crowds, around Jesus. When they brought young children to him, for him to put his hands on them in blessing, the disciples tried to shoo the parents away.

Some of the Ascension children

Zacchaeus couldn’t reach Jesus for the crowds and had to climb a tree to see him. The woman with the issue of blood thought the crowd would hide her when she touched Jesus’ garment. And even in the desert, where he had gone for some peace, they saw him get into the boat and rushed round the shore to see him in their thousands.

So what hope did a blind man have of getting to talk to Jesus? But the day arrived when Jesus was going out of Jericho, and Bartimaeus heard the throng milling around the place where he was sitting by the town gate, begging. Not an easy time for a blind man – the risk of being trampled, suffocated by the press of the crowd.

As the noise grows louder, Bartimaeus realises that Jesus must be almost there; it is now or never. So he shouts out as loudly as he can, Son of David – Jesus – Have pity on me. That phrase found its way into Christian worship very early. Kyrie Eleison: Lord, have mercy: Lord, have pity. In the worship of the Eastern church it is a constant refrain, and here in the West we say or sing it at the start of Mass.

There are a few phrases like that in our prayer together that come directly from the Gospels; before Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you; but speak the word only and your servant will be healed” That was first said by a Roman Centurion, asking for healing for his boy. Then in the old prayer book there is a similar phrase; ‘we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table’: that was the woman of Canaan, asking for healing for her daughter … ‘even the dogs’, she said, ‘may lick up the crumbs under the table’.

So our worship is not an invention of Archbishop Cranmer at the time of the first Prayer Book in 1549. Rather, like all the missals and prayer books before, it drew on scripture to find the right words to say in God’s presence.

But blind Bartimaeus was not muttering a quiet prayer; he was shouting at the top of his voice - and he repeated it, ‘Son of David, have pity on me’. Those words, Kyrie Eleison, Lord, have mercy, have often been set to music; but too often they are made to sound very polite, quiet and pleading. They should not be marked p for piano or quiet but fff for fortissimo, very loud indeed. They deserve a great orchestral crescendo, a huge wave of sound – for that is how it was when Bartimaeus cried out hoping against hope that he might be heard in the great throng of people.

Do you remember another story of someone crying out: [Lk 18 1-7] “Jesus spoke a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, who feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubles me so, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge says. And shall not God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?”
Perhaps our prayer needs to be more like the prayer of the blind beggar, or the widow pleading for justice. It may be that we give up too easily, supposing that God is not listening. No, he is teaching us; telling us that if we really want something we must be at least as insistent as a man asking to have his sight back, or a woman crying out for justice.

For many years, we have been praying for Christian Unity. It was in my first year as a newly ordained Deacon at St Mark’s, North End, that we went to a joint meeting in Portsmouth Guildhall - and for the first time since the Reformation the Roman Catholics were permitted by the Vatican to join in the Lord’s Prayer with other Christians. To tell that story now sounds as though it comes from the dark ages; but it is within fifty years. We prayed for Unity among Christians, and tried to do it our way; we made schemes for Unity with Methodists and with the United Reformed Church, and the schemes came to nothing. Then we worked at joint statements between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church, and every time we seemed to have some agreement there would be part of our church which backed off, refused to agree to what everyone else had said.

Now, in this last week, it is as though a dam had burst; suddenly there is a real prospect for union between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Many Anglicans will not like this, at least not at first. But once some pioneers have shown the way, there may be many who will want to avail themselves of the offer which the Holy Father is so generously making towards us: for which Jesus himself prayed, ‘that they may be one, that the world might believe’

It has taken a long time; but fifty years is only a short time in the history of the Church, and in God’s eternal plan it is the blink of an eye; ‘for in thy sight a thousand years are but as yesterday’ …. If you prayed in the past for Unity, then pray now as never before. Be as bold as blind Bartimaeus, shouting out to the Lord at the gates of Jericho. Be as persistent as the widow, making the unjust judge listen to her. Lord, hear us. Kyrie, Eleison

A Flying Buttress, aka Jane Barnes, with another pillar of the church, Dorothy Worsfold, who has already steered the Ascension through two periods without a parish priest. Pray that a faithful priest may soon be found for that lovely Portsmouth parish.

Thursday 22 October 2009

The Generous Church of England

The Archbishop has said that church property cannot be alienated. That was in answer to a question at the press conference with Archbishop Vincent Nichols. I wonder what expression crossed the face of the Archbishop of Westminster at that moment? Perhaps he recalled how just such alienation had happened before in England. All religious houses were alienated, or if you prefer nationalised, within a very few years, by Henry VIII to fund his wars and his palace building programmes. With the end of an absolute monarchy, no doubt Elizabeth II By the Grace of God &c could not act like her predecessor. There is no reason to suppose, though, that the Crown in Parliament could not do so. In the 19th Century it dissolved many of the twenty-four Irish bishoprics (and so triggered the Oxford Movement). In the 20th Century it disestablished the Welsh Church. In the 21st, it might well decide to disestablish and disendow the Church of England. Many of our bishops still live in cloud-cuckoo land, where the Cof E has a priest in every parish, and where everyone living in England has a right to be baptized, married and buried by that Church.

So, for instance, the Southwark bishops (You can see some of them here) have said: ‘We do not envisage our parochial structure with its parish churches changing, and we continue to have the responsibility of care for everyone in our parishes’.

What dreamers! The reality is that in many parts of England that old parish system has broken down. Whole swathes of the countryside are left with only a part-time, unpaid person trying to give the impression of ministering to five or ten or more parishes. In the towns, parish boundaries are increasingly ignored – not least by ‘church-plants’, often encouraged by bishops to the dismay of the local Vicar. Whereas once you could only be married in the parish where you or your intended lived, now you can find the feeblest of links with some church and be married there because it is pretty, or has better catering facilities – to say nothing of being able to have a woodland burial or marriage in a Hotel or a National Trust Property.

So it is time for the Churches to take an initiative. If the Church of England wants to be dog-in-the-manger and refuse to part with any of its ancient buildings (except when it can sell them to property developers) it will only hasten the time of its disestablishment. But what if it were to be truly generous, and allow other Christian bodies to use the church? That has happened already with various church-sharing schemes, but it could be hugely expanded. Or what if it were to say, to a priest seeking reconciliation with Rome, “By all means continue to use the church where your people feel at home – and since we can’t afford to maintain it, how about having it on permanent loan?” Now that really would be a blow for Christian Unity.

The Church of England also has the possibility of acting with generosity to those who feel obliged to leave – or it can face what has happened in the USA. There battles have been over church property. Here, it might rather be over compensation for constructive dismissal. If a young priest with a family simply cannot continue in a church which has changed its doctrine; if he cannot in conscience make vows to “The Bishop of x and his successors” when such successors might be female, then that church has the moral responsibility to do what it can to recompense him for loss of home and earnings. If the church does not recognise the problem, perhaps Parliament will.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Two Archbishops clutching at a straw

Today Canterbury and Westminster published a joint statement. Now, one of these Archbishops is seen by the other’s church as having Orders which are null and void (so the Papal Bull ‘Apostolicae Curae’) and conversely the other is seen as a subject of a Bishop of Rome who “hath no jurisdiction in this realm” (Article 37). So what was it that drew these two men together?
It was the announcement * by the Holy See of the extension of the pastoral provision for former Anglicans, already operative in the USA, to ‘groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church’.

There was a time, not so long ago when it appeared that the whole Church of England might have been just such a group. The Holy See’s announcement recalls this: ‘The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) produced a series of doctrinal statements over the years in the hope of creating the basis for full and visible unity. For many in both communions, the ARCIC statements provided a vehicle in which a common expression of faith could be recognized. It is in this framework that this new provision should be seen.’
Now, though, events in the Anglican Communion have made it clear that there is no longer any real desire for unity. ‘In the years since the Council, some Anglicans have abandoned the tradition of conferring Holy Orders only on men by calling women to the priesthood and the episcopacy. More recently, some segments of the Anglican Communion have departed from the common biblical teaching on human sexuality—already clearly stated in the ARCIC document "Life in Christ"—by the ordination of openly homosexual clergy and the blessing of homosexual partnerships’. In recognising the problems, Rome is also recognising that there are still some of us who DO long for corporate reunion.

Of course, Rome has not totally despaired of eventual unity with the Anglican Communion, but it is on the back burner, shifted from the centre of Rome’s concerns to somewhere on the periphery: ‘At the same time, as the Anglican Communion faces these new and difficult challenges, the Catholic Church remains fully committed to continuing ecumenical engagement with the Anglican Communion, particularly through the efforts of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity’.

This is the straw at which the two Archbishops are clutching. From their statement it seems they are trying to minimise the possible effects of the Apostolic Constitution. In it the Holy Father has introduced a canonical structure that ‘provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony’. (you can find out how this works in the USA in two earlier blogs of mine, 'Anglican Use' and 'Anglican Use 2'.)

Could it be that Canterbury fears this because it could mean he loses the greater part of those who would call themselves catholic Anglicans? And could it be that the Cardinal Archbishop is equally afraid of such people joining the Catholic Church in England but being in the pastoral care of someone other than one of his bishops? For, as the Holy See has proposed, ‘Under the terms of the Apostolic Constitution, pastoral oversight and guidance will be provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate, whose Ordinary will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy’. That seems to go even further than the Pastoral Provision in the USA, where personal Prelature is exercised by a Roman Catholic bishop and not a former Anglican.

My, what exciting times we live in! And how well timed, to come in the same week as the Assembly of Forward in Faith! The two Archbishops only speak of those “who have made requests to the Holy See”, so minimising the possible effect of the Apostolic Constitution. But who knows if there might not be one more group making requests to the Holy See? And what if Forward in Faith were the core of such a group?
The announcement from Rome concludes ‘the Personal Ordinariates established by the Apostolic Constitution can be seen as another step toward the realization the aspiration for full, visible union in the Church of Christ, one of the principal goals of the ecumenical movement’. I wonder if the two Archbishops see it quite like that?

* Full texts may be found at:-

Monday 19 October 2009

God's Gifts revisited

Reservation of the Sacrament is not as well understood as many priests suppose.

In this newly published booklet, "God's Gifts for God's People", Fr Robert Beaken makes a very persuasive case for the practice of Reservation. He also will lead many from the practicality of reserving for the sick, to understanding how the Blessed Sacrament can be a focus for devotion and a way to deepen the prayer life of the faithful.

Where words alone are not enough, the well-reproduced illustrations show the diversity of practice - Tabernacle, Hanging Pyx and Aumbry - in cathedrals and parish churches. This will prove a great teaching aid to many parish priests, and should be in every tract case.

Details of the price and publisher are on a previous blog "Reserving the Sacrament"; just scroll down to find it.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Brighton in Dream Time

St Paul's Brighton

So you want a Catholic Anglican Church? There are half a dozen to choose from, all in easy walking distance here in Brighton. How unlike almost any other place in England! It takes forty minutes (mostly on the Motorway) to arrive at our place of worship, one of only four traditional catholic CofE churches in the entire diocese of Winchester. So this weekend was a great treat, to be able to walk fifty yards from Fr Fayers' gracious Vicarage to say the office in St Michael's, and then to go not much further down the hill for mass in his other church, St Paul's.

It was their anniversary of Consecration; the first preacher in the pulpit of St Paul's was Archdeacon Manning ... before he became a Cardinal. My sermon was also about change in the Church.

Jesus said, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” (St. John 4.21)

In retirement you get asked to do some strange things. A year or so ago there were celebrations at Beaulieu; they call it Beaulieu Abbey, but it is nearly five hundred years since it was an Abbey. Today it is the seat of the Montague family, heirs to the Earl of Southampton who bought the site of the former monastery at the dissolution under Henry VIII. So there we were, in a church which had once been the dining hall of the monks, celebrating the foundation of a religious house which had been purchased at a knock-down price by an ancestor of the present owner. Quite literally a knock-down price, for the church itself was knocked down to provide stone for, of all things, a castle at the mouth of the Solent. Hurst castle was built to defend England against raids by French and Spanish who were fighting, in part, for the faith which had given rise to the Abbey; and we were keeping the anniversary of its foundation. Strange world. It will have been a terrible shock for those religious who had been monks of Beaulieu, to find themselves out on the street. From some of the more submissive Religious Houses, former monks had pensions graciously provided by the king who had unhoused them. Some of the abbots became parish priests. The world had changed.
Now what has this to do with you here at S Paul’s? If you look at the Gospel, possibly a good deal. The woman in the story was very concerned to maintain that her faith was the true one; the Samaritans had always worshipped God on this Mountain. The Jews had worshipped the same God in Jerusalem. She wanted to show Jesus that her faith was the true one. And he answered her, “Woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”
In her wisdom, the Church has chosen this Gospel to read when we celebrate a church’s anniversary. What we are being told is, ‘Don’t get too wedded to buildings; they are not what matters’. St Mark’s North End in Portsmouth was greatly loved for generations. It was endowed in the 19th C. by one Brickwood, a Brewer. Many Portsmouth clergy were preaching against the demon drink, so Brickwood decided to build and endow his own church – St Mark’s was the result. They called it Brickwood’s Fire Escape. Back in the heady 1960’s it had a Vicar, six curates and a Sister from St Peter’s Convent, Woking, working in the parish. I said my first Mass there. My wife and I were married there. Now it is the site of a rather third-rate supermarket. St Mark’s was luckier than some; at least they built a successor to it, though that piece of brutalist sixties concrete is probably destined to become landfill before very long.
We pray that may not be the fate of St Paul’s; though there was another St Paul’s, very famous in its time for its Catholic faith and practice; that was sold as a restaurant has become a very dubious Oxford drinking place. At the enthronement of the bishop before Eric Kemp, (you see how old I am) Roger Wilson said he would rationalise the churches of Brighton and make the leaner fitter church appropriate for the mid-twentieth century. That is still reckoned part of the diocese’s agenda, even though the century has ticked on.
So where did your Vicar find this depressing preacher, telling you about churches which have been demolished or secularised? When I was working as Bishop of Richborough people would ask “Where is your cathedral?”. “Here”, I would reply. A cathedral is only a place where there is a seat for the bishop. If the bishop travels around, then the church where he is functioning at the moment becomes his cathedral. We learned a great deal, and are still learning, from that experiment called ‘Provincial Episcopal Visitors’ – better known as Flying Bishops. Here in the dream-world of Chichester diocese you have not yet had to face the cold winds of reality which have blown through the rest of England. Your bishops have resisted many of the innovations which have unsettled other places. There may not be much time left for such resistance.
Already the Synod is preparing to insist that women bishops shall be accepted equally, by all, everywhere. There is talk of making little exceptions to allow poor old fools like me to continue as though nothing has happened; but the expectation of the majority is that we will all come to our senses in the end, and admit that the Church of England is not a part of catholic Christendom, and is perfectly entitled to alter its faith and practice just however it chooses, just like any other Protestant sect.
So is this depressing? Only if you find the gospel depressing. Only if you do not believe Jesus when he said “Those who worship must worship in spirit and in truth”. Do this, and the physical setting of our worship really does not matter – this mountain, Jerusalem, or Brighton. We heard in the first reading about the dedication of Solomon’s Temple; since about 70 AD that temple has been no more: but the praise given to God that day, “For he is good, for his love is everlasting” continues to resound.
If part of our church declares that it alone is the true church, and that those who do not ordain women (in the words of a former Archbishop) are heretics, that will not stop us worshipping the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.
Some will try to continue to do so within the broken shell of the Church of England. These will believe it is redeemable, that it will one day admit its errors. Other of us will reckon that things have gone too far, that lines drawn in the sand just get washed away by the tide, and that our tent must be pitched elsewhere. The truth is, here we have no abiding city. If we thought this building, and the worship in it, would go on until the end of time, or at least long enough to see us and our children out, then we may have been mistaken. Didn’t you realise that all the time, you were God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God was living among you?
So, enjoy this lovely building while you can – but be ready to let it go if you have to. Many all over the world have had to give up their churches: in Constantinople, home of the Eastern Church, the great mother church of Holy Wisdom became first a mosque then a museum, and the city named after the first Christian Emperor of Rome became Istanbul. Yet the Church of the East has been reborn, flourishing as we never thought it could in Russia and beyond. Destroy this temple, said Our Lord, and in three days I will raise it again; he spoke of the temple of his body - and that temple you are, the Body of Christ. So cheer up; God will do greater things yet for our church and nation. They may both seem very different from the days of our youth, but God really is in charge and it is Him we worship, not a building, however beautiful it may be.