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Jarge's Jottings

"The times, they are a'changing"

You will hardly believe this, but when I first announced that we, at Holy Trinity, Taunton in 1957 were going to hold a “Family Service” on a Sunday afternoon, it provoked criticisms and queries from officialdom.

“What’s the problem?” Simply I was diverging from the fact that anything that wasn’t in the Prayer Book was technically “illegal” and so we were breaking the law. Had I not promised to “use this Book and none other, except that permitted by “Lawful authority” (i.e., The Bishop)?

None of the official services were immediately understood by a newcomer, hence the enquiry from the Palace (at Wells) as to “What was George Rayner up to?”

A “Family Service” hitherto, was only provided in a tiny number of parishes, one factor being the difficulty in producing something imaginative, but helpful regularly, particularly if they have no goal to which they lead.

The Palace replied that the Bishop would so allow, provided that they were limited in number and required that at the end they were designed to enable newcomers to understand the Communion Service, enabling them to graduate to the Parish Communion.

In my training parish, the morning Sunday School, taking place at 11 a.m. attended the Sung Mass monthly, during which one of the 3 clergy stood in the central aisle and talked them through the service.

With the rules prevailing at that time, only the elderly and infirm, together with the priest, received Communion. This wasn’t very successful, for to receive Communion, one had to be confirmed and come at the 8 a.m. Said Mass

Asked by Archdeacon Caroline in 2011 to see if we (hopefully with the Holy Spirit’s help) could breathe life into the failing parish of Swanmore, St. Michael’s,  we tried the same technique, but although widely advertised, it was an abject failure.

Sunday morning football, or shopping at Tesco (or wherever) were now the claimant for attention on a Sunday, and God was forgotten (that is, if they ever knew Him) and this is because The Church has since the War failed to communicate the Faith to its parishioners.

Enter a Dorset priest who launched a “Family Concept”, designed to reach out, not to individual children, but to whole families and planned around the Communion Service.

Following a light meal (something familiar to “Alpha” groups) the meeting works around the Communion itself, and is proving efficient in teaching the faith through the only worship ordered by Our Lord.

Of course, initially they won’t understand it (but, do you?), taught carefully and in simple language even very young children can take the basic ideas on board. I have witnessed such a gathering in a Care Home for Down’s Syndrome children and the rapt attention that they gave, showed that we are able to “apprehend” the meaning if not “comprehending”.

The Early Church’s worship was centred round two meals; first the Supper which enabled all to meet as a community (something that is being done monthly at St. Mary’s) and then after a pause (during which extra lights were brought in to signify that something vital was to take place) continued to the Eucharist.

The Roman Catholics can worship on Saturday evening (which might be a good time to institute a gathering on those lines) for in The Church Calendar, Sunday begins at evening on Saturday.

I’m chucking out ideas, for the truth remains, that unless we consider drastic changes, and this Jotting is designed to invite you to think about the future, for the world is changing fast, and The Church and its worship must do so too.

GCR

19 January 2020

"Tomorrow's or Today's Church"

“I didn’t enjoy that service for one moment. I shall never come here again”; the lady was furious as she came out of St. Edmund’s, having attended the first Sung Communion held there since, probably, the Reformation.

“Why?” I enquired. “Was it the vestments and servers?”

“No, when I come to church I expect my books to be handed to me by a gentleman, and it was a young girl that did so, and I cannot accept that!”

I tried to explain to her, that we were trying to encourage the youngsters by giving them a job to do at the service, but she was having none of it.

“Children should not do important tasks when there are men to do it; I resent having my books handed to me by a girl and I certainly won’t be coming here again!” So, off she flounced, red in the face with indignation. However, at least, she didn’t threaten to complain to the Bishop.

This illustrates how some people see children in church; they are lesser beings, but a book published to great acclaim in the 1950s suggested that children were a “Church in waiting”.

It was entitled “Tomorrow’s Church” and was designed to  encourage a new approach to Children’s Work, which we had never treated so seriously and methodically as our Methodist friends,

It wanted to make the way we approached the subject more important and the theme was that these youngsters were the “Church of Tomorrow” when even then the average age of congregations had risen, something many thought dangerously low.

It was seized upon by many clergy who seemed to think that it would bring a new approach to Children’s Work. When ordained, I was heavily involved with the Church’s Education, and so this had been a relevant factor in my approach, but I was not alone in thinking that the whole idea was wrong.

Together with like-minded students at College, we criticised the book because we thought it had the wrong approach.

If the youngsters were baptised, and therefore Christians, surely, they were as much “Today’s Church” as the oldest and most important.

At that time, it was still customary for youngsters to be excluded from Communion until they were confirmed at about 14yrs of age. Anyone who has really tried to understand youngsters know that at that age, they are subject to many conflicting emotions with puberty, and almost incapable of making a solemn decision of this nature.

Despite the “Ely Commission” agreeing that it is Baptism that makes you a Christian, when General Synod finally agreed in 2005 that children, baptised but unconfirmed may, (after suitable instruction) receive Communion, nevertheless it was left to individual Bishops to make the final decision for their Diocese only.

The Methodists admit young children to Communion when they are deemed suitable, The Eastern Orthodox administer Communion (with a spoon) at Baptism, the Roman Catholics at about 8 yrs. old. It appears it is only the Church of England that treats young worshippers in this rather dismissive manner.

“All-age” Communions would be more pastorally satisfactory, if they were in fact truly “all-age” Communions with young children being treated, not as “Tomorrow’s Church”, but as they are by baptism “Today’s Church”, enabling whole families, young and old, to share in the “Great Feast” rather than simply having possibly, a pat on the head and a prayer.

This will prove relevant in next week’s “Jottings”.

GCR

12 January 2020

"The Day the Devil triumphed?"

It was July, 1994 and the Devil rubbed his hands with glee! His surprised assistant enquired, “Why?” The Devil replied “You’ll never believe this but wonderful news; the English Parliament has passed a law to allow shops to open on a Sunday and you can bet that within a few years, everything will be open on Sunday; Shops, Cinemas, Horse Racing, and Football. Oh, there’s endless attractions that will eventually come gradually into place and Sunday will never be the same, thank goodness!”  To take place in August, 1964.

It was rumoured that the Prime Minister had suggested a compromise to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but apparently he had refused to accept the idea of a Continental Sunday, where nothing should commence before noon. However, it seems The Most Revd. George Carey was not disposed to budge and so it was “All or nothing” and in the end, it was “Nothing”.

The floodgates have opened and with every manner of activity open to people of all ages all day Sunday (except the limited hours for large superstores) is it any wonder that congregations suffered, without any positive fight back from the Established Church.

This added to the impact that the explosion of Family Cars on the roads in the 1950s had made, (So much so that when as a curate at that time, children would come at Easter, telling me they wouldn’t be in church on a Sunday as “Dad has just licensed our new car until the Autumn and we shall be off to the seaside until October!”

Trouble was that they didn’t return; the bond had been irrevocably broken.

Now, moving to my first benefice, Holy Trinity, I discovered that there was a Sunday School run by a very uncooperative elderly lady in the afternoon at 2.30 at which little else was done but read Bible Stories to the children. She would never allow them to come into the church from the nearby Day-school, “They were too young!”

Our partnership (or lack of it) ended when she departed in high dudgeon with the parting ripost “Interfering young Vicars” leaving me and her charges.

At the time, the Diocese of Bath and Wells had an imaginative scheme called “The Guild of St. Michael”, designed to inculcate in our children the habit of attending the normal Parish Communion. This was proving a great success which we adopted, but this brought the cry “Apart from the sermon, the children won’t receive any regular teaching?” However, we had plans for that.

Simple. We held Sunday School on Wednesday evenings, when we taught them in as helpful a way as we could; at the end of which they joined in singing the Evening service of Compline (plainsong) followed by suitable refreshments. They loved it!

Under the Guild’s membership rules they were required to promise to attend the Sunday morning service, encouraging their parents to accompany them, which gradually together with other endeavours, they did.

The Pope, when he allowed non-fasting Communion, enabling Communion Services to be held in the evenings opened the door for the Saturday Evening “Vigil Mass”. Now growing encouragingly.

When I introduced regular Evening Communions in the 1950s (long before the Pope!) my fellow High Church clergy suggested that I had “Gone all Evangelical” until the Supreme Pontiff said it was OK, then, so did they! I did it for pastoral reasons and there are no Fasting Communion rules in the Book of Common Prayer.

There are ways in which the Devil can be dealt with, but it will require imagination, readiness to change and perhaps recourse to the Early Church History to establish new kinds of good habits to do so.

GCR

5 January 2020                                                                                                       

"Where do we go from here?"

One thing is clear looking at statistics, the Church of England, apart from a few encouraging signs of growth (mainly among Evangelistic congregations), with a weekly attendance of now less than a million people (of whom few are youngsters), that we shall no longer be able to claim that we are “The Church of England”, rather we shall be an ecclesiastical “side-line” that cannot speak on behalf of the nation.

However this is nothing new, for in the 1830s, people in high places were forecasting our demise, so that one thinker wrote “The Church of England is drawing her skirts around her, to die with as much dignity as she can muster”.

Yet within two decades there came a steady growth of numbers, mainly because a small number of clergy, dissatisfied with the rot within our leadership, started the Oxford Movement that sought to  bring colour, vigour and a spirit of  rebellion among their ranks, despite their condemnation by Bishops and Archbishops.

The rebels’ aim was to regain the Catholicity of our Church and not simply something that seemed to be merely part of the National Government. Rather they were to be the true successors of “One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Saints and Martyrs”.

Despite the opposition of the Church leaders and the Government, even leading to prison sentences for priests who used candles on the Altar, and even more reprehensible (horror of horrors) used incense during services, the Movement flourished.

During the next 100 years, until after the Great War. The Victorians with a new sense of adventure meant that within that span, more churches were built than during the past 500 years.

Church Schools were built, serving almost every community in the land; Mission was paramount, both in this country and overseas and “Hymns, Ancient and Modern” became familiar to our dependencies in the Empire.

Between the wars there were fresh initiatives. Some clergy sought to align our teaching and worship practises more to answering the disillusionment and social problems left behind by two World Wars.

Parliament had a strangle hold because of the Protestant tendencies of many MPs who refused to assent to the new Prayer Books, passed by the Church in 1927 and again in 1928, as for being “Too Roman Catholic in style”.

Finally we adopted sections of the new books despite the politicians’ objections, but there was little change in Worship and Ministry nor attempts to place our Church on an “Out-looking” basis. It has spent more time talking to itself rather than to the outside world.

In the 1950s to enable Family Worship, I was quietly reprimanded by my Bishop for holding “Family Services” that didn’t rely on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and were to be “of a temporary nature!”

With this brief history, you will realise that there must be many changes in our Church if it is to survive.

Clergy and people will need to be adventurous and soon if we are going to “Convert England” the aim of the late Archbishop Temple who unfortunately died before his great plan of Evangelism for the 1950s could be carried forward and was quietly forgotten.

Instead the Church Assembly spent 10 years discussing “Canon Law”, the rulebook of how clergy should behave!

God bless us all as we move into the 2020s and pray and work that we may move forwards, rather than backwards in the coming years!

Thank you for the beautiful cards and gifts I was given at Christmas and the kindness of offering me physical help as I need it. I am entirely dependent on others to survive on my own these days.

GCR

29 December 2019

"The threat of the baby"

You cannot think of that tiny new-born baby being a threat to anyone, yet almost immediately, King Herod saw him as a serious threat and sought to destroy Him before he could upset anything.

Old Simeon, holding the baby as He was brought to the Temple to fulfil the Mosaic laws, instinctively knew that this was a special child, who would face dangers as He grew and prove a threat to all the powers prevailing in Jewish circles, both religious and secular.

If this indeed was the long-awaited Messiah then nothing could remain the same.

There was that veiled prophecy that “a sword would pierce Mary’s soul” as the shadow of the Cross would emerge as the child grew to be a man; “This child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel”.

Jesus indeed is a serious threat. Not only to the religious leaders, or the King and his like, but to Society and its values, not only then but even now.

It is significant that the Cross dominates St. Mark’s Gospel; even from the second chapter the opposition is clearly defined, as this man immediately breaks the sacred Laws, those regarding the Sabbath, but also those that define what company one should keep.

If we study the Old Testament prophets carefully, we will find that amid all the accounts of wars and massacres (all in the Name of God), there is a gentler and more socially minded God whom we find particularly in Deuteronomy,

This clearly shows that God (speaking through the prophets also) demands social justice, fair trading, concern for everyone, particularly the disadvantaged; He is concerned for the plight of the “strangers”, that is, “immigrants”, Gentiles from neighbouring lands.

From Genesis onwards, and as I have said, through the prophets, we see this humane God seriously concerned about the welfare, even of sinners.

Although Adam and Eve have sinned, nevertheless, God the Father is concerned for their welfare, by making clothes for them to cover the nakedness. Cain, who murdered his brother Abel, has a cloak of protection cast over him, lest people try to avenge Abel’s death by lynching Cain.

You might have expected the opposite, for this is not “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” and this “gentle” side of God is reflected through the Old Testament, but also in Jesus’ teaching about caring for our neighbours, by supporting them when they are going through tough times.

Jesus earned His condemnation by the vested interests, they concerned only with profit, no matter who suffered. The turning over the tables of the money-changers is a direct challenge to the financially interested, who are concerned with profit rather morality.

Good reason for many sections of Society to want rid of this socialistic meddler, who was followed by the “common people” who “heard Him gladly” but not by those who from the beginning saw him as a threat.

I suggest if Jesus were around today, perhaps a large proportion of people would find His teaching (and The Church’s) as unacceptable as did the Pharisees, the Tradesmen and all stood around and shouted “Crucify”,

 GCR

22 December 2019

May I wish all my readers a Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Contented New Year.

Jarge

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