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Jarge's Jottings 2019

"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.


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”,


22 December 2019

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


"Where did all the money go?"

“I look forward to welcoming you to St. Andrew’s as Junior Curate. The stipend is £350 p.a., less Income Tax, £1.50 per week house rent and rates, then 35p per week for NHI, 35p p.w. for Pension contribution and also expenses for postages and ‘phone contribution.

If you are single, that’s sufficient for you to have bread and Jam, but if you take your jam in the person of a wife, then that’s up to you!”

So wrote my soon-to-be Training Vicar who was noted for his straightforward replies to people, realising that his curate would have a partner in the shape of Hazel, my fiancée whom I married three months before my Ordination to the Diaconate.

True I was being paid more than the then general going rate for a normal employee, but I admit it would have been a financial struggle had we not (between us) been still making and selling clergy vestments, enabling us to live reasonably comfortably. (As I had to do at College to fund my fees for 2 years).

Money was tight at St. Andrew’s, and in those days if a parish wanted (or needed) a curate it had to find the money to pay him.  The annual Summer Fair needed in one day to raise £350 for one curate’s stipend, a mammoth task for a working-class parish.

However, help was at hand. Desperate to fill a vacancy of the parish rated “the worst in the Diocese” for its disunity and other serious problems, the Bishop had offered me the post of Vicar of Holy Trinity that at that time would not normally have been offered to a priest who was only 30yrs. of age. coming to his first benefice.

At the announcement of my appointment which surprised everyone, one priest suggested that “there is much fluttering in clerical hen houses as a result”.

However, my stipend was raised immediately to £550 p.m. so that Hazel and I went and bought an Austin 7 Saloon (£35)!

Imagine our surprise when a few months later, the Diocesan Secretary rang me to tell me that without any contribution from the parish I and all like me were having our pay raised to £1,000 per year!

How? Simply that rather belatedly, the Church Commissioners (who handle all the central funds) had brought in Accountants to check over all the Church’s assets, finding that as the income from many had not been up-dated for many years, money was now flooding into their coffers, enabling them, not only to increase the stipends, but to shoulder the cost of our future pensions which would now be payable at 65 yrs. rather than the existing retirement age of 70!

To satisfy the concerns of the current clergy, they created a “hostage to fortune” in that the pensions would be tied to the clergy stipends and would be two thirds of the Minimum Stipend.

At £1,000 per year that meant a pension of £660, plus a lump sum on retirement, to enable clergy to have money to pay towards buying a retirement home.

At that same time, the parish Diocesan Quota was only £80 per annum, clergy stipends being met in full from ancient endowments.

No one seems to have for-seen the possibility of inflation on the scale that followed. If the going rate for a stipendiary priest is now some £22,000 pus house and Council Tax, much of the Endowment Income goes to fulfil the pledge to the pensioners.

That is why our Parish Share is so very high and why we cannot afford to pay as many clergy as in the past.

We need urgently to cope with our task of providing pastoral care and outreach to the parishioners. But that is where our Church’s money went, giving dwindling congregations an impossible task. Christmas theme next week continued thoughts in the New Year.


15 December 2019

Where do we go from here?

“Haven’t you anything better to do?

I was on my way from a meeting at the Cathedral returning home to Taunton in the late 1950s and on the way I thought it might be nice to call in and see a friend, Joe Stewart who was Vicar of Burrowbridge.

On that bright summer afternoon, I was surprised to see Joe sitting in a deck chair doing the “Times” crossword!

“No” he replied; “ The answer to your question is ‘No’ and what better way could you spend a sunny day?”

“Well” I said “Surely there is someone you could visit in the parish?”

“Look” was the reply, “ I have only 350 people within it, and if I visited them too frequently, they would say, ‘What, you again?’” (It is now part of a 3-parish group).

I saw his point and drank the offered glass of cider and settled down for a chat.

So, when I took charge of the “Six Pilgrims” Parish (described last week) with a TOTAL of 675 people in 1992, I discovered that before a previous “reorganisation” there had been 3 priests caring for them!

What on earth did they do?

The answer is, very little, despite there being 6 parish churches.

As I had told the Bishop, they could be cared for very well, with my spending 1 day a month in each parish, visiting the folk there, plus 2 services on a Sunday (as they did worship and work together) and pastoral care, but able to reach them from Glastonbury (where we lived) within 20 mins. in an emergency.

Couldn’t you have ordained a Reader or have a retired priest to cope with the worship with some of the pastoral work done naturally by the congregation?” I asked the Archdeacon.

“No” he said; “ We have no policy for that kind of Ministry”. My reply of “It’s about time that we did” was not welcome.

The last of the 3 reports on ministry issued since 1950 suggested that to cope with falling clergy numbers driven by financial concerns, could not acceptable lay people (especially licensed readers) be ordained solely for the purpose of enabling Sunday worship?

They would be called ‘Local Ordained Ministers’ having a ministry restricted only to their own parish.

I know that the Bishop of Salisbury approved of this, but there was resistance by many of the full-time clergy.

You may not realise it, that until the late 1950s, only Free Church ministers were paid by their congregations; the Church of England clergy were paid almost entirely by endowments; some from as early as the 11 th century (as at Wootton when I first moved there in 1969). The dead paid our stipends!

Inflation soon put paid to that, so the stipend now has kept pace, plus the cost of housing, expenses, etc. generally, more than twenty times as much as then!

In addition, because of financial errors in the 1950s, we pensioners receive two-thirds of that figure, costing more than £18,000,000. That is why I never ask for a fee for any duties I undertake, for much of the funds meant to pay working clergy stipends are now being diverted to pay pensioners. You will see that only by cutting somewhere can the books be balanced.

As a result a question mark hangs over us “How, as inflation continues and congregations diminish are we to provide worship and pastoral care for the whole of England?”

The preferred option is to reduce the number of stipendiary clergy, but is that the right way forward? Is it wise?

When I was working at Swanmore from 2011-2013, the essential outgoings were no less than £1,080 per month.

The real weekly income was barely sufficient to pay the Parish Share of £112 per week! Insurance, heating and sundries meant that a legacy was raided just to pay their running costs.

“Where do we go from here?”


8 December 2019

Learning from the Methodists

The Bishop sighed as we discussed the probable fate of six tiny Somerset parishes that had refused to be “reorganised” involving breaking up the tiny group that had only recently been “reorganised”.

The authorities tend to think they have control over such things, expecting parishes to fall into line with their wishes; the truth is that none of this can really be carried out, unless the parishes agree. The only people who can “close” a parish church are the Churchwardens if they feel they no longer have a viable set-up.

Discovering that they felt (there were only a total of 675 people (with six parish churches to maintain), as one Churchwarden said, that “they had been abandoned because they wouldn’t agree to this scheme!” and left priest-less.

Taking a service in the interregnum I was very angry at the rural Dean’s comment that “We will leave them to stew” leading to my writing a letter (2 sides of A4) to the Bishop that I thought this attitude was unacceptable, especially in that the parishes had said that all they wanted was a priest to conduct and possibly lead them, and they would run themselves.

Because of depression caused by the work load at Wootton in trying to bring a parish from the Victorian era into the present day, I was exhausted in that like so many clergy, they hated to delegate even the simplest of tasks, so had I, to the detriment of my physical and mental health.

Not receiving a reply to my original letter, I sent another copy to the Palace, “assuming that my first letter didn’t reach you as  I have received no reply”, receiving a quick postcard saying that my first letter had been received and would receive a reply.

That came in a summons to “wait upon the Bishop” at the Palace to discuss the matter, which I duly did.

I don’t know what to do with the “Six Pilgrims” said the  Bishop, “ would you consider going there and try and solve the problems, we will meet all your expenses”?

Although I lived at Glastonbury, 10 miles (20 mins.) away I thought it would be possible and so arranged to meet the Churchwardens (12 of them!).

Like the Methodists who largely run their own chapels, leaving the Minister to conduct the worship and provide pastoral care, I presented the gathered worthies with the proposal that we would draw up a contract; they would take on all the day-to-day problems and anything that didn’t need a clerical collar, and I would provide leadership, pastoral care and the conduct of services. The rest was their responsibility.

So I relinquished all those unnecessary jobs that clergy take on and glory be (!) because I wasn’t formally licensed there were no clergy meetings that I was obliged to attend!

They were as good as their word, and my approach was to model our partnership on Methodist lines, which meant that at least I had the opportunity to be a real parish priest with time to visit and meet the people.

They had agreed that to make it work properly with 6 parishes, they would need to “ work and worship together”; so with the slogan “ One Church with 6 churches”, happily moving around and sharing everything (including fund-raising) as far as possible, and leaving me to be a priest and pastor.

I had agreed to be there for a year, not the 6 months the Bishop had suggested, for I expected there to be some teething troubles, but there were few of these, and Hazel and I had the happiest Ministry a priest and his wife could enjoy.

As I said to an astonished Archdeacon “I’m not being paid to do all this work as I have a pension and don’t need the money, instead if I had to, I would willingly pay for the privilege of serving such a united and supportive family of people”!

We need to seek to change from “going to Church” to “Being the Church” with all that entails.


1 December 2019

"Everyone is a Minister?"

“Are you the new minister?” a lady asked as I was coming out of the parish church; I was slightly abashed, for after all, surely, it was only Free Church clergy who were described as “Ministers”.

“No”, I replied, “I’m a priest;  one of the curates”.

“Oh, you’re a Roman Catholic” she said.

I tried to put her right. Being newly ordained, I was rather proud of my new status. There is nothing to be said for cocky young curates (of which, sadly, I was one).

Discussing this with Alfred, the  senior curate, he agreed with me, until we were discussing it with John, our Vicar, who quickly disabused of such pretentious notions.

“Yes, you are priests, (he said), but there is no mention of them in the whole of the New Testament, only Bishops, and if you know your Church history, you will only find them, and any assistants were the forerunners of the priesthood. Eventually they were called “Presbyters” meaning “Elders” who were called into being to assist the Bishops as the local congregations grew.

Remember, that the Early Church was very much an embryo body, meeting in each other’s houses, and it’s quite possible that the host might have presided over the worship”.

Luke in the “Acts of the Apostles” describes the first mention of other assistants in the creation of the Deacons, whose task was primarily to oversee the day-to-day running of the pastoral work.

They presided over the organisation of the distribution of the shared goods to the Christian members.

However, as John the Vicar pointed out,  Jesus described His role, as “One who serves”, also “I come among you as one who serveth”, to minister to God’s People and it follows from that, they in turn were to “serve” wherever there were needs, whether spiritual or just distribution of food, clothing, shelter, etc.

Therefore, if we are to think about the role of the congregation, not only are they to be ministered  to, but in turn they are to be “ministers”. Servants who are to follow the example of our Divine leader.

I may  be a priest, but foremost  together with you, the  gathered People of God we are “All in it together”, we are all called to be “Ministers”, servants; our Ordination is in our Baptisms, and unless we realise this and accept this role and seek to find our place within the Church where we can “Minister”, The Church has no future.


24 November 2019

"We're all in this together"

“The trouble with the Church of England” said my neighbour, John an ex-army officer, “It isn’t that we have no resources, we simply are not using what we have to the best possible end”.

I nodded in agreement, for it was (and still is, true).

We were discussing the future needs of The Church in providing pastoral care and leadership, when often there are problems that could be easily solved. These require the removal of prejudices and for common sense to prevail, especially among the upper echelons of The Church of both clergy and laity.

This was the late 1980s, when it was clear that not only were fewer candidates appearing for the Ministry, but more seriously, if we had the number of clergy really required, we couldn’t afford to pay them.

From the time that I was ordained nearly 70 years ago, there have been no less than 3 reports to deal with the problem. What happened to them?

Simply that the final one was too radical for some of the clergy to countenance?. The result? They were all left on shelves, gathering dust, which was also the fate of an earlier brilliant report on Evangelism in the 1940s, which was set aside so that the Church Assembly could discuss Canon Law revision!

Strangely, much of the opposition sprang from older clergy (including Bishops and the rest of the hierarchy) who saw them as an attack on  their positions and standing.

After I had been installed in Holy Trinity (Taunton), after a couple of years, through careful planning, good pastoral care and innovations, there were no less than 120-130 communicants each Sunday at the Parish Communion.

My curate had gone to pastures new (London’s east end) as he thought that Taunton was too soft for an enthusiastic youngish priest.

There I was, with no one to administer the chalice, meaning I had to rush up and down the altar rail, first with the hosts and then the chalice. It was expected that this would usually be done by someone who was ordained, being at least a Deacon.

I saw help coming because the Church Assembly had decided that Licensed Lay Readers might administer the chalice, provided the diocesan Bishop approved. The  Bishop of Bath and Wells, didn’t, so this relief wasn’t available, although the service was unnecessarily long as a consequence.

There was a fear that this might be the “thin edge of the proverbial wedge” and so in some way lessen the gap between ordained and lay folk.

Yet, we had at that time many parishes often with more than one Reader, so we struggled on, until common sense prevailed (too late) and provided they were authorised, anyone, not necessarily a licensed trained Reader, could assist in this important role, as they do today.

This reluctance to engage with anything that might lead to real changes, positively using our human resources in what currently might be unorthodox ways seems endemic in the Church of England.

The days when congregations could sit safely in their pews without being involved too much are past; priest and people, we are all in it together and we’ll think about that next week, if you can bear it.

How strange this is when we look at the early Church set-up. Compared with our present bureaucratic system (which was based on the political structures of the Roman Empire), in its infancy the Church was people-based.  No longer so.


We’ll talk about this again, if we may, next week. Subject “Every Christian a Minister”. GCR

17 November 2019


Now that I am the age that I am, like many of my peers, I find myself going into the kitchen and then standing, wondering “What on earth am I doing here?” then returning back to the sitting room in the hope that I can jog my memory.

I realised that I had problems when I found myself putting my under pants into the ‘frig. Instead of the washing machine!

Yet, memory is a strange thing, for I have just finished writing my memoirs, dating back to the very beginning and names and events that I have forgotten come flooding back in incredible detail.

Vividly, although I was little more than 18 months old, I can remember the stormy night when a piece of cast-iron guttering plunged through the bedroom window, my mother (with whom I had been sleeping), snatching me up and leaping over the end of the bed.

“Poor old chap! He’s going back” you may say, but I’m not “going back”, for memory is when we are able to pull events of long ago into the present, experiencing even the smells and sounds of some particular place.

When we “remember” we don’t “go back”, but rather bring the past into the present.

Looking at photos of a Durham coal mine, where as a “Bevin Boy” I worked for 4 years, as we descended into the depths, I can still smell its particular odour although it is 72 years since.

Any who were serving in the forces then, when prompted, can relive events of long ago, particularly people whom they met in challenging circumstances.

Only those who lived through those years can truly “remember”, for that experience has been etched into our memories so that we cannot forget.

When we stand for 2 mins. silence, we who lived through those years will be re-living experiences which are but stories to later generations, and inevitably, to some extent, unreal.

Sunday by Sunday, Christians “remember”, for Jesus said that by taking and sharing bread and wine we “remember” Him.

“Do this“ He said, “in remembrance of me” but it’s not a memorial action, for what we are doing is bringing that Jerusalem Upper Room of the first century into St. Mary’s, or wherever and whenever we do so.

Many who were our contemporaries are no longer with us, but Chrstians are not “remembering” a dead Christ, but one who was raised by God to be with humanity for ever, with a promise that we too may share in the benefits of His teaching, His life, death and resurrection.

Jesus said, “When two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”.

John Wesley in a hymn he wrote for singing at the Communion, reminds us that in that service, Christ is present;

“Lo, God is here, let us adore and own how awe-ful is this place”! Let all within us feel His power, and silent, bow before His face”.

I sometimes feel that many, even church-goers fail to appreciate what a privilege it is to be sharing in a service, where the central figure is the Risen Lord who comes among us, not in mighty splendour, but humbly  through the medium of simple bread and wine.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence and in fear and trembling stand,
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessings in His hand,
Christ, our God descendeth, Our full homage to demand”

So sings a very ancient Christian Greek hymn.

It is in the confidence that this Remembrance-tide, we through our prayers, and by the mediation of Jesus and His cross can be reunited with “Those whom we love, but see no longer”.


10 November 2019

"A Servant Church?"

Climbing onto the ‘bus that was taking me to Wells for the Ordination Retreat prior to my becoming a Deacon, the happy Somerset ‘bus conductress urged me to “Pass along the ‘bus ‘m’dear’”.

M’dear duly obeyed.

On the return journey, now a “Revd.” with my shiny new clerical collar, she greeted me with “Please pass along the ‘bus, Sir!”

I confess to a certain glow of pride, being thus elevated to my new status, yet realised that this wasn’t right; I had only the day previously began the first phase of my Ministry.

I had little more status in the eyes of The Church, when only after my ordination as a priest a year later could I celebrate the Eucharist or even give a Blessing or Absolution.

I could only do what I had already been doing as a Licensed Reader; true I was empowered to carry out pastoral duties (which I loved), such as regular home visiting, but little more.

It was a parish where the priests were called “Father”, which implied that I had to have a father-like concern for everyone whom I met, and it was a title that I thought should be earned, rather than arbitrarily bestowed.

Incidentally, thinking about that, I remember a fellow priest, calling on our large Council estate, the door opened revealing a rather large rebellious lady. She greeted him, with “Oh, it’s you; I’m not calling you any B****** Father”, to which he replied, “You may call me Mother if you wish, as long as you are polite!” She slammed the door in his face and wrote a letter of complaint to the Bishop for him “being rude”!

It used to be commonplace that clergy were treated with great respect, the higher they rose in the clerical “pecking order”. Not so much so now and perhaps that is just as well. It belies the words of our Master, “I am among you as one that serveth” as He carried out the menial “Slave’s task” of washing the guests’ feet.

There is a favourite Hymn where we sing “Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you”, but how much do we carry that out when we get outside the confines of the church?

I remember a newly appointed priest, who at his first meeting with me and a fellow priest, bade us stand and sing that hymn and I have yet to meet a more dictatorial “Priest in charge”, for he liked to remind us (his colleagues), that he was boss!

Fine singing it, but different if you have to go out and live it.

Our Free Church friends describe their pastors (people who care for sheep) as their “Minister” and it was a while before I realised that this was the right title, for we clergy are here to “Minister”, to “serve” God’s children (of all ages).

Paul reminds us often that we are to be Christ’s Body here on earth to carry out His work, the first of which is to proclaim the “Good News” of the Father’s love, for ALL.

We, priests and people are here to serve the community in which we are set; although many of us do not live in Brading or Yaverland, we are gathered as the Church, to be Christ’s Body wherever we are. We are all called to be “Ministers”.

The question we need to ask is “ How can we be Christ in our communities, where we daily meet those for whom Jesus died, even if hey don’t know or appreciate it.?

People outside The Church are often asked to “help” (usually with money) but do we ever seek to find ways in which we may help our parishioners?

Priests and people are, like Jesus, to be “Among people as ones who serve”. He performed His greatest act of service for our benefit as He hung on the Cross, where He, the Lord of all, became servant of all, bringing salvation.

Think and pray as to how, we here can be “Like Christ to them” as the hymn says.


3 November 2019

"I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come"

It was kind of an animal charity to send me condolences when my beloved collie Ness died rather suddenly, and with it came a poem designed to comfort me.

Beautifully written, but it described heaven as a place where dog and owner will be joyfully united, a meeting for which the dog has waited and now reunited they walk through to eternal doggy (and owner) bliss.

Unfortunately, a meeting for which there is no theological or Biblical justification, much as I would love it to be so.

There is the problem that Ness was the last in the line of dogs we have owned, so where do Bumble, Rupert, Joe, Lottie our previous dogs fit in?

We are constantly trying to think (and say) that when we enter Eternal Life it will be similar to what we are living now, but we need to face up to the fact that whatever it is, it will not simply be like this life continuing for ever and ever.

In more respectful days, as a curate taking funerals, while the cortage passed through busy Taunton streets, people stood in silence and men removed their hats as a sign of respect.

Why respect?

Simply because the owner of the body lying in the coffin now knew something that the onlookers didn’t; namely, what happens when you die.

Jesus gave no details of the after-life that supports so much funereal thinking.

He tells His disciples that when we die, we do not “marry nor are given in marriage”” even if we may have had more than one partner.

The truth is, that as St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, carefully explains to the enquirer as to “What sort of body shall we have”? Suitable for an eternal environment is the answer.

The Apostles’ Creed simple states that there will be “Resurrection of the body”, but this does not necessarily mean we shall in the eternal realm have exactly the same body by which we now live, move and express ourselves.

It does mean that we shall be individuals with the kind of body suitable for eternal life, “We shall all be changed” says St. Paul “in the twinkling of an eye” and a change for the better.

Jesus gave us no clear indication, talking of “sitting with Him at a heavenly banquet” but cannot be understood as a prophecy

Paul (2 Corinthians 4, v16 - 5, v5) talks about our present bodies, as being like “tents”, fragile, temporary dwellings for the human Spirit on our earthly sojourn, but death is the moment when the fragile and temporary is left behind, to be clothed with a body where we may retain our individuality and suitable for an eternal existence.

Jesus is at His most explicit as John records in his Gospel, chapter 14, when He talks about “Going to prepare a place for us” and “He will come and take us to Himself”.

Drawing on common practise in His time, people travelling on a journey would employ a servant (a “dragoman”) to prepare the way, ensuring that they arrived safely and refreshed.

He talks about “many mansions” for our dwelling, but that word can simply mean “Places of refreshment” indicating that there may be further journeying after we die, for who among us will be fit to face God as we are?

In the picture that Jesus gives us, in our post-death journey, we shall not be alone, but accompanied by Him, who like the dragoman who accompanies his master, leads us towards our eternal destiny, so that we are not alone.

That is why we Christians have a responsibility to pray for our departed loved ones, who may still be journeying to “The life of the world to come”.

Through such prayer we can be linked to those for whom we pray, “whom we love, but see no longer” and to me, that is a great comfort.


27 October 2017

"I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins"

”She (he) doesn’t go to Church but is a real Christian” is the kind of statement that you may hear about a good, thoughtful member of the community, but it is mistaken.

Suppose I buy myself a tent and the necessary camping equipment, even light a fire by rubbing two sticks together and other activities that Scouts and Guides may take part in, that doesn’t thereby make me a Scout or Guide.

You can only become so if you have undergone the Admission ceremony with all its vows that are supposed to direct your future behaviour.

That makes you a member of the Baden Powell family.

This idea that doing Christian things but un-baptised makes you a Christian is completely incorrect. It is Baptism with water and in the Name of the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28, vv16-end),  the way in which the first Christian Converts and millions of faithful folk since became committed followers of our Saviour and members of His Body, The Church.

The old Baptism service (1662), when signing the child with the sign of the Cross reminded it “that he (she) should “fight manfully under His banner against sign, the world and the Devil and to continue Christ’s soldier and servant until his (her) life’s end”.

Paul, in his Epistle to Timothy, tells him to “ Fight the good fight”, which indeed, the Apostle eventually did, even unto death.

That makes me wonder why when we sang “Stand up, Stand  up for Jesus” last Sunday the modern version became very weak and inoffensive (to be PC, of course) so that any mention of the Christian life being a constant fight against sinful tendencies is unacceptable.

Yet, if your experience is similar to mine, all my life has been a fight to cope with the sinful tendencies within me, which sometimes I have managed to master (with Divine help) also as a Church fighting on behalf of everyone else, especially the marginalised folk in our Society. Where does the Christian stand?

Over 720 homeless people, many young, died sleeping in our streets in 2018 and I for one am waiting despairingly for the Archbishop or some senior clerics to condemn this lack of priority for their plight.

Of course that means delving into the political realm, but Jesus had no such compunction, criticising the Jewish leaders in no uncertain terms.

We cannot stay quiet when we see injustice and greed are ruining people’s lives.

The Church (in all denominations) should be the guardian of the people (God’s people), concerned as Jesus was, with the people’s plight.

Baptism is the route by which we join God’s Army, becoming the hand, eyes, mouth and ears of Christ’s Body here on earth (as St. Teresa said).

Baptism is not simply a nice ceremony enabling families to meet up with a suitable feast afterwards, not realising that they are making a solemn commitment as they become (for better or worse), part of Christ’s Body here on earth.

It is a commitment for us as individuals or as a Body, to challenge our selfish and sometimes callous Society to a new way of thinking in regard to God and our neighbours.

Looking to Jesus we see, not a pious “do-gooder”, but one who came to set us free from Guilt (through His cross) and was prepared to die for the unworthy as well as the worthy. Always ready to condemn where there was injustice and indifference to the needs of others, regardless of whom He offended.

Hans Kung in his book “On being a Christian” says that the enemies of The Church are “not the outside forces of evil, but those who claim to be Christians who fail to live up to their Baptismal Vows.


20 October 2019

Rediscovering "Catholicity"

One thing that Church history teaches you is that if you wish to see radical changes to the Worship, Ministry and Teaching of the Church, it is useless to look to the elders and hierarchy, including Bishops for leadership.

This was shown in the 4 th century of The Church, when a vital Synod was discussing and wrestling with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, over whether Jesus was truly equal with God the Father.

They were near to adopting a Resolution suggesting that He wasn’t, which denies much of what Jesus said about Himself as recorded in the Gospels.

A young priest named Athanasius, at that time only a Deacon (a minor Order), stood and gave such clarification, that it swayed the others (Archbishops, Bishops and Senior Clergy) to oppose this and from this valiant stand earned him the title of “Athanasius contra mundum”, which when translated is “Athanasius against the world” hence the title given to this 3 rd (and barely understood) Creed and its champion.

Brave individuals have weathered the storm of abuse and condemnation in the defence of the Gospel truths, to point out the contemporary Church’s failings, and despite of all the opposition from high places have won the day.

Such too was Martin Luther, who by condemning the Papacy and all its works laid the foundation of the Reformation in the 16 th century, transforming the whole existing structures. He lit a flame of rebellion that eventually swept through the Christian Church, and the creation of our own Anglican Church.

This was followed by the Wesleys (Charles and John), who, whilst Anglican priests were dismayed at the slackness and lifelessness of their Church and lack of Missionary zeal and finally, because of the opposition and lack of approval from the English Bishops separated from their own wing of the Church.

They were “High” Churchmen, wishing to put the Eucharist centrally in Sunday worship against the laziness and lack of enthusiasm among all levels of the clergy.

Finally, in desperation, in 1831 a small group of Oxford-trained parish priests met, believing (rightly) that the Anglican Church needed to review and renew its worship, but looked to the Roman Catholic Church as the only model.

Strange, because prior to the Reformation, many priests and congregations had looked to English examples of good and restrained ceremony, many adopting the customs of Salisbury Cathedral (called the “Sarum Rite”).

They believed passionately that we needed to look and realise our position as part of the whole “Catholic” Church; worship became colourful and attractive to many, not least to the working classes, and this new approach brought great gains in numbers of people attending.

Yet, candles on the altar, vestments and ceremony were condemned by the Bishops and by Parliament which legally had a role to play, usually restrictive.

Technically it was claimed that lighted candles on the altar (no more than two in number) were illegal, unless they were needed to enable the priest to read the altar book! Two curates at St. Michael’s, Swanmore in the 1880s had their licenses to officiate taken away until they obeyed.

Two priests in the East End of London were imprisoned for the same reasons, yet with the sacrificial actions and faithfulness of this handful of clergy (called the “Oxford Movement”) standing against all the forces of Church and State, the tide turned and a revival built up in our own Church that brought us in line with the beliefs and traditions of the whole Catholic Church. Yet, even in my younger days, vestments, candles and especially incense were tabu to many of the older members of our congregations, condemning these as “Popery”! Do we need a new uprising at parish level within our Church, for history shows that the dynamic leadership we now need rarely has come down from above?


13 October 2019

" I believe in one Catholick and Apostolic Church"

“It’s getting more like a Catholic Church every day” complained a disgruntled worshipper when leaving St. John’s, Sandown after I had (at the request of Bishop Phillips in 1963) presided over a Sung Communion, complete with vestments.

“I’m so glad, because that’s just what it is” I replied but with a dismissive toss of her head she flounced out of the church, not giving me a chance to quietly explain the truth of my reply.

Try as you may, you won’t find the word “Protestant” anywhere in the Book of Common Prayer, because we are indeed part of the whole Catholic Church which includes predominantly, the Roman Catholics, so called because they owe allegiance to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.

Then there are the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches who split away from Rome in the 11 th century also the “Old” Catholics and are stoutly independent.

Coming along in the procession is our own Church of England with the Church of Wales, the Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Church of Ireland.

Now, where do the other groups such as the Methodists, Baptists, United Reformed fit in?

They are “Free” Churches that order their own affairs within the limits set by their own Articles.

To be “Catholic”, we need to be in conformity to the 3 Creeds, then to have the 3 Orders of clergy, i.e. Bishops (essential) Priests and Deacons, The two “Christ ordered” Sacraments being The Mass, Communion or Eucharist, and a firm approach to the nature of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Baptism.

The word “Catholic” means “Universal” so a Catholic can be of any race, nationality, anywhere and whenever, so it is a Universal religion for everyone.

As I wrote previously, for Roman Catholics, the ability to trace the “laying-on of Bishops’ hands" back to the time of St. Peter is a necessity, although something historically questionable.

There is credible evidence that this line was not in fact broken at the Reformation, which Rome will not accept.

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church was outlawed for a great part of the post-Reformation years, its members not being considered as English citizens until the 19 th century.

Unlike other churches, it claims to be the only true Church and anyone not confirmed by an RC Bishop is ineligible to receive Communion at Mass unless they convert and are received into that Church.

After the Reformation, the Church in England swung by a militant body of Protestants, anything retaining Roman Catholic ceremonies and practises was outlawed; the style of worship was alien to the general public and the Church of England saw its buildings neglected, the services dull, with long sermons and poor pastoral care.

When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the Church of England was described as “Drawing her skirts around her so that she can die with as much dignity as she can muster”. It was corrupt in many ways and the result was in that same year, on Easter Day in 1837, St. Paul’s Cathedral (apart from the clergy) could only muster 6 (yes, 6!) communicants.

There was a brief Evangelical revival at the end of the 18 th century, which faded at the beginning of the 19 th century, leaving a vacuum.

As there was no leadership from the bishops or most clergy, something was needed. Like previous revivals, it sprang, not from the Bishops and clergy, but from a tiny group meeting in an Essex rectory, also in 1831, who were convinced that the only way forward was to recall the Church’s Catholic (but not Roman Catholic) heritage, about which we will think next week.


6 October 2019

"One ... Apostolic Church"

Did Jesus Christ intend to establish a new Church when He was commissioning His disciples? That seems a daft question to ask, but is it?

If you study Church history, Jesus gave few directions to His followers about how they should continue His work.

True, He appointed Peter to be the leader of this small group (not the best choice at first sight because of his impulsive nature), but a direct ‘commissioning’ only appears in St. John’s Gospel 20, vv19-23.

There Jesus having breathed upon them as a sign, presumably to invoke the Spirit, lays hands on the gathered disciples, giving them an explicit command and authority to forgive their fellow men (and women’s) sins.

That together with the command to “Mission” (Matthew 28, vv16-end) are the only clear statements.

Note that there is nothing to indicate that they had any exclusive authority to preside over the Lord’s Supper, which is obviously normal within a very short time after the Resurrection. Indeed apart from Paul’s account of the former (1 Corinthians 11, vv17-end) which if the Corinthian Christians had behaved more reverently, much we would never have known.

That gives many a clue to the nature of The Church that was developing gradually under the guidance of the Spirit.

Incidentally, those of us who were ordained priest by the 1662 Prayer Book prior to Common Worship, etc., received the laying-on of hands by the Bishop to absolve people from their sins and “to faithfully dispense the Word and Sacraments”.

Unlike Rome, the newly ordained in most other denominations (including our own) are not presented with a chalice, signifying this pre-eminence in the Eucharist, but rather the emphasis is on the faithful pastoral care of those committed to their charge.

Indeed, with the growth of The Church in those early formative years, it is probable that there was no sense of setting apart men (and women?) for the purpose of worship-leading.

The whole Gospel is basically dealing with “Sin” which according to Jesus’ words and actions abolishes that sense of guilt that mars the lives of countless human souls.

In this age of bewildered, anxious people, this neglected Ministry in our churches is an essential tool in pastoral care, (as I have found over 60+ years of Ministry). If better understood and administered such confession would save many a soul from unending misery.

The sermons and addresses that are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, apart from emphasis on the Cross and God raising Jesus from the dead, give us little insight into the greater teaching of the basics of the Faith.

Jesus laid hands on the first disciples; presumably they in turn did so to their successors in pastoral and priestly leadership.

There is a theory (essential to the Roman Catholic scheme of things) that beginning at Peter and the eleven, one could trace that succession down through two millennia, providing a tangible physical descent from the hands of Jesus Himself, thus giving the candidates a continuation of authority and teaching.

This is called “The Apostolic Succession”, whereby, only clergy who had been in this “mechanical” succession, tracing back through Bishop to Bishop down the ages, can be truly said to be guarantors of the purity of the Faith.

However, a quick look at Roman Church history with its sad tale of renegade, immoral and opposing popes, each claiming to be the true successors of St. Peter, shows that here it cannot be accurately claimed that this chain hasn’t been broken.

More importantly, regardless of these considerations, there is little doubt that the Church of England is part of the “Catholick” Church as the 1662 Prayer Book clearly states. We’ll see how this matters in next week’s Jottings.


29 September 2019

The Holy Spirit: A Confusing Creed

The Roman Empire as it declined in influence, was divided into Rome and Constantinople, with an Emperor in each, and a Church divided on doctrines. A “Pope” each, as well!

Trying to fathom out the doctrine of the Holy Trinity after changes made in the Nicene Creed, (the one we use at the Eucharist) the final split came in a dispute that had been simmering for six centuries over three words.

There had been an uneasy standoff for most of this time over the place of the Holy Spirit in the Godhead.

“Was He a Person (equal to the Father and the Son) or merely an agency of both?”

Originally, ideas tended to assume that there were only two persons (a “Holy Duality) of Father and Son, but with the final shaping of the Nicene Creed in 381, three words had been inserted that changed it all, viz., “Who proceedeth from the Father AND the Son.

This made the Eastern Christians, centred on Constaninople (The “Orthodox”) very cross, and brought about their separation from Rome and the Western Church in 1054 called “The Great Schism” the “Great separation”.

It had not been helped by Rome claiming that its Pope was master over ALL Christians, whether East or West to whom all were to be obedient.

These differences have not been eased during the last 100 or more years, with the proclamation that “The Pope is infallible” for which there is no Biblical evidence at all.

It enabled Rome to produce doctrines, which while they may have had popular support among its followers, were not so by historical or Biblical evidence.

However, that is as it may be, we have to take note of the activity of the Spirit regarding the growth of the Christian Church from the resurrection onwards and for this there is plenty of evidence.

“It seemeth good to the Holy Spirit and to us” say the gathered apostles in Jerusalem, when they decided that the Gentiles need not observe the numerous pernickety worship rules of the Jews, only certain basics, and this was no small step forward for a “Missioning” Church.

The Spirit eased the task of the Evangelists of The Church, increasing the rapidity of conversion among the Gentiles.

The Spirit is mentioned as the motivating and guiding force throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments and seems quite arbitrary in His judgements.

This is the message that comes clearly, that God through the Holy Spirit is present empowering, guiding, strengthening, creating from the very beginning of existence.

It is of some significance that what makes the “Catholic” Church a Universal religion destroying all barriers, can be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit.

Without the breaking of barriers between Jew and Gentile guided by the Spirit there could be no “Universal” Church, therefore the Nicene Creed states that the Spirit is to be “worshipped together with the Father AND the Son”.

The Spirit is the link between God and His people and God’s People with one another; by inspiring and promoting Christian love in our relationships, enabling us to sing: “Where true love and kindness are found, God Himself is there”; the motivating power is that of “love”.

Remember that this Greek word “agape”, (pronounced a-ga-pay) in the Greek New Testament has a unique quality, for it suggests “concern and care”, treating each other as if they matter to you, loving them as much as you love yourself.

Setting all divisions aside, the truth is that the Holy Spirit is fundamental to understanding the Christian life and should be the Guide and “Comforter” (“strengthener”) of both The Church as a whole and ourselves as individuals.


22 September 2019.

The Holy Spirit: "Lord and giver of life"

Talk of the Holy Spirit, and one might immediately think of Pentecost, with the outpouring by the apostles, obviously under the influence, not of drink, but of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, in the very first verses of Genesis, we find that Creation springs from the activity of God’s Spirit, and is the source of “Life”; note it is “The Spirit of God”, and as Hans Kung, a German theologian rightly points out, that ‘ The Spirit is both the Spirit of the Father and of the Son”, the agent by whom (the Spirit is a ”He” and not an “It”) things happen.

It is interesting that what is translated as “Spirit” or “Ghost” is “pneuma” (Greek), from which our word “pneumatic” comes, an invisible, powerful force where air under pressure is able to exert great force. The Spirit is the invisible but powerful force that enables God and Jesus’ work to be done.

The book of Wisdom (to be found in an adjunct to the Old Testament, called the “Apochrypha”), identifies “Wisdom” as another expression of God’s thoughts, and although the text implies that it is a “she”, it suggests that in fact, he is masculine.

Throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, the Spirit is a cogent force in conveying God’s will to those who seek guidance and an enabling force to carry it out.

It is the Spirit by whom the leaders of the Hebrews are guided and given the power to triumph; when the guidance of the Spirit is ignored, then disaster strikes.

The Early Church was aware of the Spirit in ways which have been lost over the centuries of The Church’s existence. We give lip-service to a Guiding and Enabling force emanating from God the Father and the Son, but we are half-hearted in practise.

My training Vicar John, refused to say conventional prayers prior to a PCC meeting, because it seemed to be a prelude to meetings that very often did not convey that sense of power and ability which the scriptures would lead us to expect.

The late Archbishop Temple in his valuable book “Readings in St. John’s Gospel” warns “When you pray, ‘Come Holy Spirit’ you should know the risks you may be taking and be dismayed by the guidance that the Spirit gives, changing your ideas and plans”.

Sometimes as the hymn says “We linger, shivering on the beach, but fear to launch away”, and I believe it is the failure of the modern Church to be bold, decisive and confident.

Every parish where I have been called to lead has had it’s own problems, particularly in those that were strapped for cash and where a major appeal for funds to pay for what was needed to be done seemed daunting and impossible; By proceeding in faith, the funds came and never through years of building and fund-raising was the work ever frustrated by lack of funds or energy input by the people themselves,

The modern Church of England seems to have lost a sense of divine direction and spiritual energy and is bogged down by all the various agencies and conventions and there is no sense of that confidence shown, for instance in the Acts of the Apostles.

Where is that confident leadership from the top that we ought to expect and receive?

In the 1950s, the prospect of having coffee after Church  (which some of us thought to be one way forward in uniting a disunited parish) brought complaints by one or two to the Bishop in that “Father George was turning Holy Trinity into a Coffee Shop!” and also drawing criticism from some of my clerical brethren.  The decision was “Spirit led” for we had prayed about it and were therefore sure that it would succeed.

Not every new idea is a winner, but if is adopted because that is the way the Spirit is leading us, then it cannot fail.

“Come Holy Spirit our souls inspire” but do we really want to be “lightened with celestial fire”? 


15 September 2019

Creed or Chaos: "He ascended into heaven"

Owen, one of our choirboys at Wootton approached me after the Ascension Day Eucharist with a puzzled look on his face.

A very bright lad and an avid reader.

“Father”, he said, “I have studied what the Bible says, that ‘Jesus ascended into heaven’. Now, I have studied how big the Universe is and have calculated that going up at the greatest speed a human could survive, Jesus won’t have arrived in heaven yet!”

He was, as far as I know correct in his maths. However, the Ascension receives different treatment in the New Testament.

Luke records in his Gospel that ‘a cloud received Him out of their sight’, Mark (the earliest Gospel) gives no details, except that Jesus ‘sat down at the right hand of God’ and John doesn’t mention it at all.

Matthew gives us the account where Jesus is recorded as giving a final command to His disciples, “Go therefore into all the world and preach the Gospel”.

We have a choice; whether Jesus went up into heaven, his robes fluttering around Him, or more likely He just disappeared, possibly amid a cloud.

No matter how Jesus disappeared, those early disciples knew that Jesus had returned from whence He had come, His bodily presence removed.

This was essential, for Matthew records that there was (and is) that promise, that He will be with us (yes, all of us) until the end of time.

We have a “Catholic” Christ, meaning that Jesus is universally present to everyone who calls upon Him and in that spiritual Presence, He can be with a refugee in some squalid camp, or a millionaire in a Mayfair luxury penthouse.

Jesus goes from us, in order that He can always be with us .

He said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them” which gives the lie to the priest who said that He wouldn’t take a service because there wouldn’t be enough attending to make it worth while!”

There is more, for the being that ascended into Heaven was both God and Man, and for us that is important, for it signifies that humanity has been therefore glorified.

As the Athanasian Creed says that “ Jesus is both God and Man, but one Christ. Not by conversion of he Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into Christ" .

That common humanity has been raised to a Divine stature; the Body, born of a country maid is seated at the premier place next to the Father, wherever Heaven is (and it may be closer to us than we imagine).

It was said that “Heaven is where God is”, and that is true, for we can ourselves be in the Presence whoever, whenever and wherever we are.

In our daily devotions, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus is close to us; He isn’t “Up there” but “Down here, NOW”.

“Lo, God is here, let us rejoice and say ‘How awe-ful’ is this place” sings a Victorian hymn and we need to find time and place to become aware of this truth.

In the Dom Camillo stories, the little priest is aware of that Presence and talks to God as he would to any human being.

In our daily prayers, although Jesus is our brother and we can approach Him with boldness, yet we need to bear in mind that He is also “Immortal. Invisible, God only wise” and that hymn must make us aware in whose presence we are.

To help me with my prayers, I now have a lighted candle by me, reminding me that I am not alone; give it a try!

Ascension is not only a commemoration of Jesus returning from whence He came, but a reminder of our heavenly hope, “May  we go where He has gone, rest and reign with Him in Heaven”.

Alleluia, Amen.


1 September 2019

Creed or Chaos: "The third day He rose again"

But, of course, Jesus didn’t, for that implies that Jesus, crucified as a Man, raised Himself from the dead. The Resurrection was the action of the Father.

Peter in his preaching always said “God raised Jesus from the dead” (Acts 2, vv22-36), Jesus lived and died as a man enduring all that terrible suffering and rejection and this suffering was in God Incarnate (“Made flesh”).

One purpose of the Easter event was to justify Jesus’ claims to preach and perform actions that only God can.

The Resurrection was proof that “ God was ‘In Christ’, reconciling the world to Himself” and the figure that ascended into heaven 40 days later was both God and Man .

The Resurrection as it was and is, proves us that His life after death being raised by the hand of God is vital as it demonstrates that all Jesus’ teaching and mission were authentic, displaying the true nature of the Divine.

What does that mean for us?

If we wish to know the character of God (whom Jesus indicated that He is a God of Love  and Compassion) it is mediated to us through Jesus.

Humanity, with all its faults, has been interwoven with the Godhead and it is on that basis that Jesus’ promise of eternal life is based.

The Easter event was the Father’s Seal of Approval on the Man who was once the Carpenter of Nazareth.

Those who jeered at the suffering figure on the cross said “He saved others, Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the Cross”, not realising that as He hung there dying, He was in fact saving, not Himself, but all mankind. In His death was our life.

Nevertheless, if we are to share in God’s eternity, we need to think deeply about what eternal life for us entails.

For this, Jesus gave no definite teaching; no angelic choir, no harps or eternal singing, no wings.

When questioned about “With what body shall we come” we need to turn to the simple reasoning of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, where we are reminded that whatever body we have is one tailored to our existence.

It will not be our original bodies, for obviously they are not suitable for Eternity. Paul gives us an analogy by the different creatures being given bodies suitable for their style of life. A fish for living in and under the water, birds capable of flying. However it is essential that we have a body of some sort, for that is part of our identity, not being a puff of wind in the ether.

You might suggest that the fact that the Risen Lord has the same recognisable Body (including the crucifixion scars in hands, feet and side), that this will be the form of our eternal body. However, a moment’s thought will show that if Jesus had appeared in anything else than His human body, this would have proved nothing concerning our own eternal futures

The behaviour of the disciples after the resurrection is a testimony to the reality of Easter.

They had fled terrified from Calvary, most having already abandoned Him; yet within a few hours of Easter morning, they appeared confident, ready to share the Good news with anyone who would listen. This regardless of the enmity of the Hierarchy, both of the Jews and the Romans.

As I have said before, you cannot separate those final days, of Maundy Thursday (the Covenant meal) the Passion (the sacrifice of one who was perfect man but also perfect God, “for us people and our salvation” and the Promise of Easter Day.

We are no wiser regarding the true meaning of “Eternal Life” for mortals, but the fact that humanity was taken into God (at the Ascension) bodes well for us as we move towards our further pilgrimage (John 14, vv1-24), accompanied by Our Risen Lord.

“Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of time”.


25 August 2019

Creed or Chaos: "The Blood of the Covenant"

“You want to buy a field?” Simple, contact a Solicitor and hopefully, everything will be done, safe and secure, plus, of course, a fee.

However, if you are a Jew living in Old Testament times, you will take yourself off to a priest, together with a suitable sacrifice, and you and the vendor will make certain oaths, offer the sacrifice, and then you would be secure. By the sacrifice, God would have been brought into the equation and for fear of Divine judgement, you both would keep your part of the  Agreement.

The words “Covenant”, “Agreement” or “Testament” are all names for the same thing.

Hence, the Old Testament (Covenant) describes the Agreement between God and Abraham, as a solemn covenant, where God will be the Jews’ God, and care for them as long as they keep their part of the Agreement.

The Old Testament traces this Agreement through centuries, constantly the Jews making promises anew and then by back-sliding suffer various disasters as a consequence.

Now, why are we delving into ancient Jewish legal practises? Simply because we cannot understand the Cross and its relationship with the Last Supper, without this knowledge, for the agreement was not valid unless it had been sealed with a sacrifice whence blood would be shed. No blood, no valid agreement. The Blood is a symbol of life.

If you want to see this in action, turn to Exodus 24, vv1-11, where with Moses as leader, the Jews renew their Covenant with God. Symbolically, then the sacrificial blood is shared by pouring it on the altar and then on the people, God and worshippers are brought into a  “Blood-brother” relationship.

In the Exodus passage, the original Abraham/God Covenant was sealed ages before, but the Jews rebelled and suffered the consequences, despite having had the Law read to them to which they gave assent.

Here is where we come to consider the Crucifixion and the Last Supper.

At the latter, Jesus says clearly that He is giving a New Law which will supersede all that has gone before. It will not be “negative” with rules saying “Thou shalt NOT”, but we are to “Love one another as I have loved you”, not lengthy but difficult to fulfil. Positive, NOT negative.

We are called to love each other (regardless) with a love akin to that of the Christ who is shedding the blood by which the “New Commandment” will be sealed.

You cannot separate Maundy Thursday from Good Friday, because they are both involved in the promulgation and sealing of the New Commandment.

Paul tells us that “Love is the fulfilment of the Law” and this is a special kind of love, for it is universal, not to be reserved only for the good and holy, but for ALL who sin by refusing to “love”.

Every time we come to the Eucharist, we follow that sequence: We listen to Jesus’ Summary of the Law and assent to it, we read about the events of the pre-Christian Church and the Jews’ failure to live in harmony with God, and then proceed to recall the inauguration of the “New” Commandment and its sealing by the Saviour’s Blood. We recall the pouring of His Blood over the people, and in our Communions we become “Blood Brothers and Sisters” united in a bond of love by the Cup of Salvation.

Interestingly, for centuries until quite recently, Roman Catholics were denied the chalice, receiving only the wafer. So the important factor, the sharing of the Blood with one another and so linking the worshippers into a sacred family was omitted.

This morning, we go into the world, the Body of Christ having been linked together in love by the Sacrament.


18 August 2019

Next week, The Resurrection and its meaning for us.

Creed or Chaos 5: "The Cross is the Gospel"

Hymn writers often, because of the need to be poetic, do not always convey their intended meaning.

For instance, Mrs. Alexander’s description of the Crucifixion has many merits.

But she wrote: “ He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in”, and long into my ‘teen-age years I had a vision of Jesus, God’s Son, standing helplessly outside Heaven’s gate unable to do more than unlock the gate. Presumably, the faithful had to find their own way towards the Divine throne?

Poor demoted Jesus?

Well, no, for if Mrs. A had thought, she would have put a comma after “only” that would have made the meaning clearer.

Better still, if she had written “alone” rather than “only”, we would have had, “He alone could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in” that would have saved me pondering over it for so long.

The whole folly of the sacrificial system in Judaism, was that when people offered sacrifices of various kinds to remove their guilt and put them right with the Father, they were only giving God what was already His.

Isaiah and the prophets all pointed this out proclaiming God’s requirement, was not the sacrifice of bulls, lambs and goats, but the sacrifice of the penitent’s life, by their carrying out works of mercy to the poor, the aged, the diseased and crippled, and not least welcoming “strangers” (i.e. Immigrants).

So, through Isaiah, God tells penitents that He doesn’t require ceremonial sacrifices, but practical social action as they were to “Love their neighbour as themselves”.

Puzzlingly, reading the early Biblical chapters, you get an impression that there are two Gods; one who loves nothing better than a good massacre of Israel’s enemies, rich and poor, young and old, animal or bird.

Alternatively, you find a God who persuaded by Abraham refuses to eliminate Sodom and Gemorra, giving them time to repent and mend their ways and in Genesis is seen as “caring” by clothing the rebellious couple rather than by their fig leaves!.

Much of this problem lies in the fact that there is a collection of ancient primitive stories woven into the text by subsequent editors.

If you can tease them out, then we find the God of the New Testament Gospels, personified in Jesus the Son, shows us a caring, loving Being, who wants to be friends with His Creation and offers us “unconditional” love.

As I “jotted” earlier in the year, there is no form of sacrifice that is acceptable to God than the one that involves sacrifice in the service of our “neighbours”.

Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth is raised to Divinity, by the action of the Father “who although He be both God and man; yet He is not two, but one Christ . . . by taking of the manhood into God”.

We become confused because we have mental pictures of three participants in the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit forgetting that we are dealing with a Divine mystery, that whatever mental images we have of God, none can be seen as correct. “ Your God is too small” wrote J. B. Phillips in his book of that title and we need to recognise that.

Our Gospel, “Good News”, is because there was “None other good enough to take away our sin”  and that is the sin of ALL the created world, including ourselves; so then God Himself stepped in and guilt (which affects all mankind in many ways) is done away, with no action on our part.

No sacrifices, no religious practises are needed, we can only point to Him in faith and confess our failings, knowing that the price has been paid, “Once, only once, and once for all His precious life He gave”. For us, whatever we have done .

What better news can we have than that?


11 August 2019

Creed or Chaos 4: "Jesus, a Bore?"

“Jesus is boring” said a ‘teen-ager to me, for which I took him to task. Nothing is further from the truth, that is, if you read the Gospels, approaching them as if you had never met them before. So many of us (including me) were brought up in Sunday School with pictures by artists, such as Elsie Anna Wood.

One stands out in my mind, of Jesus (nice, clean, white man surrounded by scrub-cleaned children and by birds flying around His head and cuddly animals at His feet); idyllic and comforting.

But, Jesus was not exactly the epitome of comfort for many He encountered.

This was a Mediterranean-skinned Jew, and while, “Yes, He valued and treated children lovingly”, His opponents, wanted nothing less than His death. Revolutionaries are not always welcome among the world’s vested interests.

Boring? Read the Gospels and the last description you would apply to Jesus is “boring”.

He was an out and out revolutionary from the beginning of His public Ministry.

Within the first three chapters of Mark, we find Him already in conflict with the authorities, so having healed a man on the Sabbath (Mark 3, vv1-6), they are convinced that this was a troublemaker needing to be eliminated.

He was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest enquirers, humble before heaven, but He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them “hypocrites” (play actors).

He assaulted indignant tradesmen in the Temple, and threw them and their belongings our of the Temple.

He referred to King Herod as “That fox”. From the beginning, He sought the company of the outcasts of Society, by (Oh, horror!), feasting with them so that He was accused of being a ’gluttonous man and a winebibber’

He obviously enjoyed the company of the ordinary folk, so that the Gospel says “They heard Him gladly”, as He proclaimed the Good News and teaching them by telling them stories.

He drove a coach-and-horses through ancient religious rules to the fury of the clergy.

He showed no proper deference to wealth and social position and when confronted by clergy, upset them in return by asking disagreeable questions they were unable to answer.

He was a humorist, for underneath some of His teaching by stories were images that must have drawn a laugh from His hearers. If Jesus is “The human face of God” then He is far removed from many of our mental images.

He feeds a multitude on two separate occasions and in order to save a family from social embarrassment turns 120 gallons of well water into eminently drinkable wine (John 2, vv1-11).

Boring?  Nothing further from the truth.

For probably, only 2 or at the most 3 years, He roamed through the Holy Land with a band of homeless disciples (travellers?) and not a clergyman among them!

He feared no one and proclaimed a message of “Good News” that “God is love”, which among the violence of much of the Old Testament, shines through in the later revisions of “The Law” in Deuteronomy, where God shows that He is concerned for everyone, including the poor and undesirable. Provision is always to be made for the poor, including the “strangers”, which is a term describing “immigrants”.

In human flesh, the Divine shows His true character and by His self-commitment, including His ultimate rejection leading to the horror and shame of the Cross and His apparent abandonment by the Father; the cry “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” is an encouragement for those who feel this in their own lives .

The Father answers Jesus’ cry and confirms His claims with the glory of the Resurrection.


4 August 2019

Next week, “The Cross is the Gospel”

Creed or Chaos: 3 "God the Son"

From an immense and incomprehensible Being, we seem to move now to another level, for we suddenly find ourselves faced with a conundrum, namely, “Who or what is Jesus of Nazareth”?

“He shall be called, the Son of God” the angel tells Mary at the Annunciation, but what does that mean?

Is Jesus an inferior being, subject to the Father’s rule, or what does He claim to be?

He claims to be the Image of His Father, so that when Philip asks Him, “Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied”, he gets the uncompromising reply, “Have you been so long with me Philip? He that has seen me has seen the Father”, and later on, Jesus says “ I and the Father are the same”.

So, there you have it.

The Athanasian Creed, seeking to define the Holy Trinity says that Jesus is perfectly, God and man; not a man pretending to be God, nor God pretending to be a man, The Divine and the Human are indivisible.

One wonders if the realisation of who He was came slowly to Jesus as He grew; one cannot imagine a 5 yr. old playing with His friends conscious that He was completely superior to them.

Equally, studying the Gospels, it is clear that as He grew older, He was led to a greater vision of His Mission.

At the beginning of His Ministry, Jesus tells His disciples on their missionary travels, to “Go only to the Jews, not the Gentiles” and yet later, He proceeds to move among the Gentiles obviously including them in “The Kingdom”. Contrary to Jewish Law, He speaks to a Gentile woman that He meets at a well, receives a drink from her and heals a Gentile Roman Centurion’s servant. He feasts with Gentiles and Society’s “outcasts” to the disgust of the righteous.

The Church’s teaching is categorical and uncompromising, and it is this: “ That Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the word, the “God by whom all things were made”.

His body and brain were those of a common man; His personality was the personality of God, so far as that personality could be expressed in human terms.

He was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be “like God” – He was (and is) God.**

As a result He has gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life, a manual worker, penniless, to the worst horrors of rejection, pain, humiliation, defeat, despair, and death.

He was born in poverty, died in disgrace, and He thought it was all worth while for His Creation’s sake, that is, you and me.

He is (as the Athanasian Creed defines) “Perfect God and perfect man; yet “He is not two, but one Christ”, by “taking the manhood into God”.

So He really suffered and died , for the truth is that when they hung Jesus on the Cross, they crucified God.

That the disciples came to recognise who He was is clear when we read the Gospels. Mark (the earliest Evangelist) begins His account “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. No “ifs” or “buts” or even a “maybe” and all that follows in that Gospel assumes that we are dealing with someone who shares the “ Otherness” of the Father with His Divine powers.

In our matter-of-fact thinking we assume that this cannot be, for it is “out of this world” for indeed, it is, and with our tiny minds, however clever we may be, in modern jargon we say, “ We cannot get our heads around it”.

We need to abandon some of the simplistic ideas about Jesus and His role that has bedevilled true understanding, and embrace the incredible drama that is the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, of which we will think next week.

If you can bear with me.


28 July 2019

Creed or Chaos 2: "I Believe in God"

In a survey of people in the street in the 1940s, when asked what they thought The Church taught about God the Father it could be summarised like this:

“He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfilment; He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgements and miracles distributed with a good deal of favouritism. He likes to be acknowledged and is always ready to pounce on anyone who trips up or is having a bit of fun, He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary”.

Altogether, not someone to be “loved” or “loving”. Reading some of the Old Testament, particularly the early history of the Jews where God is responsible for ordering the massacre of thousands of innocent people, adults, children, animals, etc. you ask where is this “Loving Father” of whom Jesus speaks?

In fact I sometimes wonder why we read some of the Old Testament publicly at all, particularly without explanation, for it gives rise to a misunderstanding of the Father.

For the majority of folk, whether religious or not, God is a father-like figure who is swift to punish people who fall out of line, and as one doubting ‘teen-ager told me, he thought God was “ a misery” and some extreme Evangelicals tend to enforce that view by their constant emphasis on "Sin" and not "Joy".

Watching Dr. Brian Cox’s series on the Universe with its intricacies and breath-taking beauty we realise how vast and beyond comprehension the mind behind Creation is.

“Your God is too small” wrote J. B. Philips in the book of that title, and frankly, our presentation of His majesty, wonder and  power is often childish as we try and project human ideas and values upon Him.

If by our worship we could create this sense of wonder and empowerment that runs through some sections of the Old Testament (particularly the prophets, like Isaiah) our faith would come alive, but we rarely do so and as a result it can be somewhat pedestrian and ineffective.

Even whilst wandering in the wilderness for all those 40 years, we get the sense that through colour, song and ceremony the Jews recognised the immensity of the Divine Majesty.

Professor Otto, in his important book “The idea of the Holy” helps to move us away from our inadequate vision of the Divine, trying always to put ourselves in a position where we can accept this mystery and immensity of the Godhead.

In our desire to make Christian worship more appealing to the unbeliever we have tended to devalue the Divine currency.

We approach and engage in our worship almost casually.

We tend to make our worship shrines into little more than village halls. We have lost that sense of “remembrancing” that prevailed when I was young, so that we should be as reverent coming into our churches for our worship as we might be when entering the Queen’s palace. Without that spirit our worship will never will come alive.

Other religions are more disciplined in this than we Anglicans, taking off their shoes and prostrating themselves in prayer whereas we are bidden to “sit”, even hen confessing our failures.

Likewise it was (and still is) a basic Church rule, that we should bow our heads “at the Name of Jesus”. The peers on entering the House of Lords bow to the throne there, while usually it is empty, it is a mark of the power of our earthly ruler. Likewise it is customary to bow to reverence the altar when entering and leaving, for it is God’s throne and He is One who is greater than anything or anyone we can begin to imagine.

We need to reassess our attitude towards our worship and our relationship with God the Father and restore that sense of the Presence and particularly when we worship.

We say “The Lord is here; His spirit is with us” and at the Eucharist, He truly is, but unseen, except with the eye of Faith. “O come, let us worship and bow down”  (Psalm 95)


21 July 2019

Creed or Chaos - "We" or "I" ?

In the desire to make everything corporate, we now begin the Creed (which is a statement of our beliefs), no longer with “I”, but “we”.

Now, I wonder if everyone who recites the Nicene Creed (the one used at the Eucharist) can join in that honestly or perhaps without thought? Do YOU understand and believe what our Creed says, or do you feel that you cannot honestly join in a statement that doesn’t chime in with your understanding?

There is little doubt that the bulk of Christians do not completely understand the tremendous truths to which they proclaim their belief in “We”.

The Creed should be a personal statement of what the believer understands, can take “on board” and implement in their day-to-day living, but how often do we hear an explanation of the Creeds in church, to which we confidently proclaim “WE believe”?

“It doesn’t matter what we believe”, some might say, but an examination of how we rely on “beliefs” in vital decisions, will soon show us that so many things, even such as casting our vote, or marrying a partner, because we believe that our vote will be important or, that we will live happily ever after, may prove to be mistaken beliefs. You can only truly test “beliefs” by acting upon them.

Similarly, when it comes to the Confession, it becomes yet another “WE”; would it not make a greater impact on our thoughts and words if they were professed as “I confess”, which forces us to examine our daily lives

The confession in Church has less (or any) force if we have not prepared in our hearts and prayer to be “Honest to God”?

Do we spend time on a Saturday prior to receiving Communion the next day, recalling that particular moment last week that we did not live up to Christ’s standards?

When I do, I am embarrassed that I am confessing the same traits in my character as I did the previous Saturday, so you feel that God must despair at how little progress I have made spiritually. Nor can we gloss over what we have thought, said or done the past week by perhaps saying “Sorry God, it’s the same as last week!”

We need to remember that in the Early Church the believers stood up before the gathering recounting how they had sinned, asking their fellow Christians (and of course, God) to forgive them. St. James in his epistle (4. v16) orders his readers to “confess your sins one to another” that they may be forgiven.

Understandably, this proved a veritable ground for scandal so that eventually it became a silent confession and the forgiveness conveyed via the priest (as we do today). Far less embarrassing!

In the next few “Jottings” I want to consider with you what YOU believe and what through the Creeds YOU are saying.

In all this you need to remember that the original Creed was little more than “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Saviour”.

As heretical ideas were abounding, so clauses had to be added to ensure that what was spoken was a reflection of the truths about Christ and our redemption that were supported by the Scriptures.

There are 3 Creeds, the “Nicene” (that we use at the Eucharist), the “Apostles”, the original simpler Baptismal Creed used nowadays at Morning and Evening Prayer and the much longer and complex “Athanasian Creed” or “Quicunque vult” that is an attempt to clarify the nature of the Holy Trinity. 

None of them are immediately self-explanatory and so if we are going to stand up and recite any of these 3 Creeds, being the basis of our Faith, then understanding them (as best we may) is vital.

Bear with me . . . 


14 July 2019

"Let my payer be set forth in thy sight as the Incense"

The proper procedure in clerical appointments was once that the candidate’s first encounter with representatives of the parish should be only with the churchwardens. Being persuaded by the Bishop “To go and look at Wootton”, to my astonishment I found the whole of the PCC Standing Committee ready to grill me regarding my intentions if I were to be their Rector.

To be honest, I didn’t want to go there, being nicely settled at St. John’s, Sandown, so I answered their questions honestly, hoping that my suggestions would be considered to be too revolutionary and “Romish” for what I knew to be a very conservative congregation.

If as a result they demurred, then I had good reason to tell the Bishop that “I wouldn’t do” and that he should look elsewhere.

So, “Yes, I would wear vestments, yes, I would have servers carrying candles; and then the question I thought would seal the matter came, when asked if I would use incense, I said, “Yes, I would if I thought it would enhance the worship and the congregation didn’t object”.

There was some shaking of heads, but to push things on, the PCC Chairman (the local doctor) said briskly, “Now we know what Mr. Rayner will do if he comes; is it your wish that we should ask him to accept the post?”. Despite the head-shaking, the positive vote was unanimous and eventually, when St. Mark’s Church was re-opened, early on, we had incense, but on a fairly inoffensive scale with few objections.

But what is Incense? Basically it is the crushed solidified sap of  the Middle Easter Olibanum or similar tree, which when heated (usually by charcoal) produces a sweet-smelling odour. Something that religious people in most of the world have used in their worship for more than 4,000 years.

Zechariah (John Baptist’s father) a priest at the Temple was offering incense at an altar set apart for that purpose (Luke 1, vv5-13) when the angel appeared to him to tell him of his son’s future birth.

As the incense burns, a light smoke ascends, thus the Psalm, “Let my prayers be set forth in thy sight as the incense and the lifting up of our hands be an evening sacrifice” being a symbol of the faithful’s prayers ascending to the heavenly throne.

In worship, it has an immediate calming effect, so much so that our College Principal (when Chancellor of York Minster) used to send vergers with censers throughout that great church, and it calmed the behaviour of Bank-holiday tourists like magic as they encountered it. I have found this effective when preparing for one of those weddings or services where one is doubtful whether the guests (after pre-nuptial drinks) will behave as seemly in church as they ought.

What else is it used for? Strangely, it has no use, apart from worship and some healing rituals and has by tradition been always seen as a sign of the Presence of God.

Hence, one of the 3 Kings offered Incense to the child as a sign that He was (and is) God.

For a while in the 60s, it and Incense sticks became one of the “musts” for the “Beautiful People” being part of the revival of a different culture.

Whereas it was forbidden from the Reformation until the late 19 th century, it is now found in many of our cathedrals and parish churches, providing an atmosphere of “otherness” helping to refocus people’s minds away from the transitory world to the real world of God and His purposes for us.


7 July 2019

(This jotting is to inform you, not suggesting that you all go out and buy incense sticks; but then, you might do so and find it a help in your prayer life)

The Beauty of Holiness

Following the bride and bridegroom, I took my place on the outer top step of Holy Trinity Church to join with them and the family for the usual photographs.

As I emerged, wearing a brilliant red and gold cope, I heard (not one of the usual wedding-watchers) exclaim, “Look, the Vicar looks like someone on the Telly!”.

The hardened watchers, to whom this was nothing new ignored her, but I thought, that amid all the arguments on what happened in the “Higher” churches, the fact that it was seen on the “Telly” gave it a certain respectability and acceptance!

Some of our more hardened Evangelical clergy espouse such fripperies, for they feel they must look ordinary, lest it “puts people off”.

Here they are wrong, for regardless of religious decline, people expect Church to be different and rightly so. There is a hymn that runs “Thou art coming to a King, large petitions with thee bring, for his grace and power are such that one can never ask too much”.

You have an invitation to the Queen’s Garden Party. Do you look out a pair of well-worn jeans (they’re more comfortable), or do you search through your wardrobe to find something appropriate, and if not, then off to the Internet to find something “Fit for a Queen”? Certainly, I wouldn’t wish to wear my shorts!

I wear a cope for services such as Baptisms and Weddings, because they are important occasions in the family’s life and I want to honour it (and God) dressed in a suitable manner.

Clerical robes go right back to early Jewish history and a study of Exodus, chapter 28, will indicate how amid the rigours of the wilderness, Aaron and his fellow priests were to have the most rich and meaningful robes at God’s command.

The Psalm speaks of “worshipping God “In the beauty of holiness”, but the correct translation is “In beautiful robes”, which makes some sense.

The use of Eucharistic vestments in the Church of England goes back from the earliest days until the Reformation, when they were considered part of the Popish heresies, but it was reported that  Queen Elizabeth I, employed priests in her Private chapel who wore them and on whose altar there were two lighted candles during the service.

From then on, the normal wear for an officiating priest was a surplice and academic hood over a plain black cassock until the Oxford Movement revival from the 1840s onwards. All rather dull, but the full vestments gradually came into use, despite condemnation from the Bishops and the imprisonment of two East London priests that raised a great deal of controversy.

Gradually, many of the pre-Reformation practises and customs returned and for most parishes they have become the norm, particularly since the publication of the 1928 Prayer Book (intended to replace 1662, but never legally approved by Parliament), which clearly authorised the use of traditional robes.

Disregarding Parliament, the CofE pressed on with the 1928 book becoming an “unofficial” rewriting of some sections of 1662 and on which much of the Common Worship services are based.

Our vestments are a link with the Early Church and have a “teaching” value as a study of the accompanying diagram shows.


30 June 2019


A Amico E Girdle I Veil M Purificator
B Stole F Alb J Maniple N Chalice
C Chasuble G Apparel K Burse O Corporal
D Ophrey H Burse L Pall P Paten


The Beefeaters in the Tower of London wear a distinctive, although archaic, dress, to remind us all that we are a  nation with a long history and tradition.

If the priest at the Eucharist wears the robes pictured above, it is because originally, Christians wore their best clothes when officiating at worship, and basically he is dressed like a 3rd century Roman gentleman!

This is a salutary reminder that The Church has an even longer history than our nation, with a contunuity, reaching back to the time of the Apostles themselves.

The CHASUBLE is basically a "poncho" type garment, usually of the colour of the Church Season.

The white ALBE was the basic under-garment of a Roman citizen.

The STOLE was a symbol of authority.

The GIRDLE was a pratctical belt.

The MANIPLE (now disused) was a relic of the towels which the clergy used to wear over their arms to remind them that they are ministers (servants), for Jesus showed His disciples, by washing their feet, that the true follower of Jesus must be a "minister" a "servant" of God and of others.

Let there be Light

150 years ago, the two curates (that’s right, two!) at St. Michael’s, Swanmore had their licenses withdrawn by the Bishop (then of Winchester) preventing them from conducting any services there.

What was their dreadful offence?

Simply that during a service, there were lighted candles on the altar that were only there for ceremonial purposes; the Church Laws it was claimed forbad this practise, unless they were necessary for the priest to read the altar book.

Otherwise, it was illegal and described as “Popery”,

Ever since the Reformation it was supposed that this was what the Prayer Book stated and anything that imitated the Roman Catholic practises was suspect and condemned.

The battle between the growing number of “High Church” clergy was bitter, with the Bishops disciplining anyone or anything contravening what they thought was against the spirit of the Reformation.

They pointed to the rule in the first English Prayer Book, which said that “The robes of the minister and other practises were to remain as in the first year of Edward 6 th’ reign” but records showed that in fact at that time, altar candles were sill in use, as indeed were the priestly vestments.

This dispute was eventually settled after the saintly Bishop of Lincoln (The Rt. Revd. Edward King) was hauled before the Archbishop Benison’s Consistory Court to defend his use of altar candles and  vestments in his Episcopal chapel.

King was found “guilty” although Benison did accept the idea of altar candles, also the mixing of a little water with the Communion wine that had been another offence and from then on there were efforts to make these “Popish” practises both legal and acceptable to Anglican congregations. These differences continued right into the early years of my ministry.

Nowadays in churches, these are all commonplace, with the use of incense, vestments and ceremonies that were still suspect in a number of parishes, even into the 1960s. I was condemned as “Romish”, when I was sent by Bishop John Philips to raise the ecclesiastical temperature at St. John’s, Sandown in 1963 to balance the worship at Christchurch.

(I introduced vestments there at the end of 1963, but on the same Sunday, the church boiler finally died and the local Baptist minister told his congregation that “It was a judgement on the Vicar of St. John’s for introducing these Popish practises”!)

Unfortunately, some of this opposition can still be found in some parishes, but probably this is as much due to the fact that many churchgoers have no knowledge of what these ceremonies mean or why they exist.

Examining the history of these Candles, it stems from the earliest years of Christianity.

In Acts, 20, vv7-11, Luke describes an incident on a Saturday evening (remember, Sunday began at late eventide), when Paul preaches too long and a poor boy, Eutychus, overcome by the presence of so many lights, falls out of a window but is rescued unharmed.

After a meal, the Eucharist began for which many additional candles or oil lamps were brought in, reminiscent of Jesus’ claim to be “The light of the world”.

There is a translation of an ancient Hymn (Our hymn book 253, 3 rd century or earlier):

Hail, gladdening light of His pure glory poured, from the immortal Father, heavenly blessed, Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord”.

This was sung as the extra lights were brought into the room for the Eucharist.

Our lighted candles on the altar remind us of the abiding Presence of Jesus, when we meet to worship Him.


23 June 2019

God's Frozen People?

Are you “alive” or “lively”?

I ask this question because there are significant changes in the use of the word according to the 1662 Prayer Book and later revisions.

I notice it, for I have used the old style language most of my Ministry where it occurs twice in the Communion Services both in 1662 and the doubtful revision of 1928 (never approved by Parliament) and the new Common Worship services.

1662 talks about our offering in the Communion service as “Lively”, and again in the Intercessions “by their life and doctrine”, the clergy must set forth “thy true and lively Word ” but later revisions talk about the true and living Word” .

Now how do you interpret these differences for they convey two entirely different attitudes to our Faith?

“Lively” suggests a different attitude to it than “Living”.

There is much difference between being a “Lively” Christian than simply jogging along as a “Living” Christian without a great deal of enthusiasm.

This difference in attitudes was underlined by a thought-provoking book written by Mark Gibbs and Ralph Morton, entitled “God’s Frozen People”.

Over 50 years ago (1965 to be precise) looking at the way in which the Church of England was going, with a fall-off in general church-going and candidates for the priesthood, these two men were so concerned that they, sat down and wrote this book.

Their object was to breathe life into the outward ministry of our Church, following on from the report on Evangelism (“Towards the Conversion of England”) which had been almost entirely neglected by the governing body, the Church Assembly.

Change in the Church was stagnant, although revised services were now in the market (reluctantly adopted under pressure by many of the Church both ordained and lay).

In addition, 20 years after the ending of the War it was clear that The Church’s finances were failing to keep pace with the cost of the Ministry, the numbers of which were falling.

This was simply because we couldn’t afford either to recruit or maintain them, putting the parochial Ministry under pressure. There was hesitancy in recruiting lest there was insufficient funds.

This had spawned all manner of ways in which it was suggested the pastoral Ministry could be maintained, with no less than 3 different Reports presented, but not implemented because they were considered too revolutionary.

Gibbs and Morton wrote this particular upsetting book because they recognised that unless the laity were brought into the whole scheme of things, the Church would wither and die.

Too long, congregations had sat back cosily in their seats, imagining that the ordained ministers should take on tasks that didn’t need an ordained person and some (like me) tried to do all manner of inessential tasks that the congregation could undertake; partly because that was how it had always been.

Some of us clergy imagined that if we didn’t stoke the boiler or some other un-priestly task, it was because either there were no suitable volunteers, or they thought it wouldn’t be done properly! Like Gilbert’s Poo Bah in the “Mikado”, as “Lord High Everything” clergyy wore themselves out unnecessarily.

Even if we don’t replace “Living” in our description, isn’t it time we considered how best we can become “un-frozen” or “Lively” Christians, or as Paul would have described it as “workers together with Christ"? Should we think about that?


16 June 2019

Worship; Can we all be in it together?

“When did the Church of England lose the working classes?” The answer is that it has never had them in any great numbers since the Reformation and we need to ask “Why?”

It is true that from 1837 and the beginning of the Victorian era there was a tremendous revival, building churches, forming all manner of Societies and groups to ease the many problems associated with moving from a rural economy to an industrial one.

However many of the parish churches built in that period seem to have been appropriated by the growing middle class, with strict demarcation lines concerning who sat where (according to their social class).

In my Victorian church in Taunton (b.1842), the middle class trades-people occupied the nave, the boys of the public school of Kings College the gallery (also with comfortable pews), and the slum-dwellers and Work-house folk the hard back-less forms in the gallery.

True, The Church affected more people’s lives then than for many years previously, with various clubs and groups, especially Sunday Schools, to which the children were “sent” whilst the parents occupied themselves in more secular activities.

For many, the growing number of “High Churches” with colour,  music and ceremonies, much of which was decried by the Bishops of the day and viewed with suspicion, attracted people who normally had no colour in their lives.

Churches like St. Michael’s, Swanmore, with its vestments, candles and even incense and plainsong chanting became an attraction to many ordinary families (the latter being comfortably used by all classes and types).

Many do not realise that it was customary in some parishes to have a “Mission Hall” to accommodate those who were not so welcome at the parish church. All Saints, Ryde had one in Prince Street, Ryde, and my own Taunton parish church was built to cope with the town’s numerous slum dwellers,

The sad truth is that we lost the ordinary folk through the Reformation, when so much that went on socially as well as spiritually was centred on the parish church, where everyone was involved and took part in so many of the religious occasions.

Processions were frequent with all the company joining in, often carrying candles, and people learned much of the Faith by the worship activities in which they were engaged.

In an age when few could read or write, the stained glass images, the statues of the saints (often related to trade or work activities) with the craft Guilds and the mystery of the worship itself, all made an impression on the working people who saw their church as their spiritual centre, coupled with the jolly supping of after-Mass Ale (brewed by the Churchwardens).

For the pre-Reformation churches, worship was not only solemn, but joyful participation of everyone. Consider now, if you perhaps advertise a service for families where there is to be a procession with candles to some particular place in the building, you will be surprised at who and how many will attend.

There is the story of the Bishop, taking part in a High Church Mass enquired “Why do the boys hold the candles?” “Simply” replied the priest “Because the candles hold the boys”.

Worship is not something done on our behalf by a select few by others; where possible it needs to be an occasion when everyone can feel they are contributing to the best of their ability, gendering a sense of “Joy”.

An old hymn bids us sing “Oh day of rest and gladness, Oh day of JOY and light”. Are our Sundays like that?

Perhaps we need to consider our worship and how we can create a greater sense of congregational participation?


Suggested reading: “The stripping of the altars” which traces the effect the Reformation had on English worship.

9 June 2019

The "4 Cs": 4. C for Communion

Having recently (March, 1949) been licensed as a Reader to the parish of All Saints’, Ryde, I was let loose on an unsuspecting Evensong congregation to preach my first sermon.

At that time, the 9.30 Sung Eucharist was the least well attended service on a Sunday, far eclipsed by what people called the “Proper Service” of Sung Morning Prayer, despite the 9.30 having been originally instituted in the late 1920s by the then Vicar, Hugh LeFleming, who was considered to be “Very High”.

As a result, a brash 23yr. old, I preached on the text “They all with one accord began to make excuse” and expounded why the people might consider they ought to attend the 9.30 service.

Primarily, because it was the only service specifically established by Jesus, whereas both Matins and Evensong were “man-made”, by the inspired Archbishop Cranmer (who incidentally in the Prayer Book established that his aim was to make the Eucharist the main service of the day). This was reaffirmed finally by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which assumed that Matins and Evensong would proceed and follow the Sunday Communion.

Incidentally, there are only three references to sermons at services, strangely, the Eucharist, the Wedding and Ordination services! No such provision at Matins and Evensong; but a sermon or homily at every Communion Service and to conform I have always preached a (short) sermon as prescribed!

In the post-Reformation chaos, the Communion Service was demoted, often only celebrated as little as four times per year and did not begin to occupy the place that Cranmer had intended until the mid-1800s with the Oxford Movement.

On Easter Day in 1837, there were only 8 communicants at St. Paul’s Cathedral apart from the Cathedral clergy and choir which signifies the low status of the Communion service in the Church of England at that time.

Yet, rightly understood, the Communion is not only from the Gospels, but it IS the Gospel, the “Good News”, for it enshrines all the great Christian verities.

It is a gathering of people who, by setting at its heart the Cross with its good news of our redemption, enables us to be “friends and children of God” and brothers and sisters “in Christ”;  confirmed by our sharing this sacred meal of bread and wine, that by the power of the Holy Spirit becomes none other than life-giving Presence of Christ Himself.

St. John (chapter 6) is a discourse on the significance of the bread and wine and we need to remember that when he wrote this, he was quite old. The Lord’s Supper had been celebrated for some 50 years, enabling him to reflect on its full meaning and importance.

It is clear that the words of Jesus in that chapter were not  accepted by all the disciples, so that some of them abandoned Him; yet, when it is presented to modern congregations who have received suitable instruction it can be an evangelistic force.

Even young children find it intelligible in its simplicity.

That is why in “Evangelism” we are bound to teach and enable people whom we encourage to join us, eventually to share in the Communion, the Christ-given service that “joins us to one another and to God”. To do otherwise would be to fail to offer them full participation in this Divine Society, whose earthly focus is the altar of the Lord.

Being now enabled legally to offer Communion to quite young children after basic instruction without Confirmation some striking impact is being made to accommodate complete families and good teaching material is being produced to assist to that end. Encouraging results have been reported for this approach which is worth thinking about and that therein is some hope for The Church’s future Mission. 


2 June 2019

The 4 "Cs": "Church and Community"

St. Paul’s, Weston-super-Mare, the church where my Somerset family worship, considers that it is a poor attendance if less than 300 folk of all ages come to the 11 a.m. “People’s Service”!

Although, to be honest, it would not be my choice of worship and has little resemblance to the Church of England in style, they certainly “pull them in”, despite the sermon being rarely less than 45 minutes! I was bound to ask my son Denys, “What is the attraction?”

The music is mainly singing Choruses, supported by a Group (with very loud drummers), few, if any traditional hymns, and everyone is handed a coffee as they enter to take with them to their seats.

Yet it attracts a wide range of worshippers, professional people such as doctors, solicitors, executives and middle class together with life’s failures such as drug and alcohol addicts and all the social problems that seem to beset seaside towns with their variegated communities.

“That’s the answer”, Denys said. “ People look around the town and note that within it is a community of Christians who are seeking to carry out Jesus’ commands; to heal the sick, feed the hungry, proclaiming the Gospel to the poor and disadvantaged, ministering to the elderly and young families alike. The young people are taught to assist with this work.

People see “The Gospel” in action through The Church as it seeks to make a positive difference to people’s lives”.

St. James (Jesus’ brother) in his forthright Epistle reminds us that “Faith without works is dead”! (James 1, v22-3, v1-end.

That is why, from the beginning, Christians sought to act in loving service to the sick and needy and were foremost in  ministering to the outcasts of Society (with whom Jesus delighted to mingle and eat).

It is because of this that similar churches, mainly evangelistic in style are prominent in the list of communities that seek to fulfil these commands.

Note the impact that “The Church on the Roundabout” at Newport has on the people that pass it daily and its obviously welcoming exterior.

The truth is, outsiders could see us as self-centred. Too often The Church is pleading for help from the community in which it is set, but rarely asks that Community what we Christians can do for them. In every community, no matter how large or small, there are lonely, elderly people, hungry or financially poor families, people with problems of guilt, youngsters who are disillusioned and anxious for their future, driven to despair or self-harm.

“Do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices, God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13)

This has been the Church of England’s failure, where despite its privileged position as “The Established (Official) Church” in years past it has not always been very concerned with issues that affect people’s daily lives.

However, a cautionary note: whilst we should all desire to help those who need it, if we were to embark on a burst of philanthropy, simply that it might encourage people to join us for worship, it could echo Archbishop Thomas a Becket’s words in “Murder in the cathedral” (T. S. Eliot); “The last crime is the greater treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason”.

If we seek to do good to others it must be for their own worth; it needs to be for love of people, conscious that they are all valuable to God, for whom His Son died.

We, all of us, need to be proud of our Anglican heritage, but we need to be more proud of humbly following the example of Jesus and the saints who put people’s welfare (physical and spiritual) at the heart of God’s message of love.


26 May 2019

"C" is for "Community"

In the dark, far-off days of the 1950s, with the awakening of some clergy that “Outreach” would need to be a priority, reaching out to a generation that had lost faith in almost everything. Movements arose, one of which was “Parish and People”..

This was intended to transform the relationship between priests and the people committed to their care.

This was the moment when a new name for the weekly Sung Eucharist appeared, “The Parish Communion”. The Communion should be the spiritual and “renewing” point, each Sunday.

A Parish Meeting was to bring priest and people together to be partners in the Divine enterprise and to think less of the idea of “Going To Church”, but instead “Being The Church”. Every member should consider themselves part of the parish team, discovering talents and knowledge they could put at God’s service.

The common idea at the time was that everything depended upon the priest, supported by the PCC which seemed almost to be apart from the congregation. Yet in the Early Church there was this sense of being altogether, the decisions being taken by the whole gathered people rather than by the PCC and priest.

Together with this sense of sharing in the worship by God’s people, which needed to involve participation by as many as possible, there was set aside time and opportunity for instruction and social  gatherings under the title of the Parish Meeting.  

The Church was to be a Community where everyone as a valuable member could make their individual contribution

This regular (Monthly?) gathering was to be the opportunity for instruction in the Faith as well as a social gathering, especially when it included food and eating together.  Remember that in the Early Church, most worship began with a meal where eating together was a bonding community activity .

Having worshipped God at Sinai the Jews we are told, “sat down to eat and drink”, a normal component part of the worship in Old Testament times.

Eating together has a sacramental aspect, it is a sign of fellowship, for using the words of the Catechism, it is a far cry from the Puritanism of the post-Reformation for it can be “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”.

Jesus, seems to have loved a party. Criticised as being “a wine-bibber and a friend of sinners”, He was different from the traditional Jew, but very much a man who would approve of the concept of “Parish and People”   


19 May 2019

ME I am battered and bruised after a fall last Sunday, but I haven’t broken any ribs and thorough tests at St. Mary’s indicate that I am still basically up together! Thank God.

The 4 "Cs": No.1 "Communication"

It’s some while since we had a flurry of meetings and plans for “Outreach”, seeking to bring the Gospel to our parishioners, including a summary of what we should be doing to implement our Bishop’s great plans (which includes borrowing a large sum of money to implement them). Yet there seems to be no great missionary activity going on in the Island around us.

Which brings me to one of my “High Horses” and I want to talk about the “4 Cs” of Outreach, and remembering that I am also a trained printer, brought up in a pub, served 4 years in the coal mines, I have always used these influences to impinge on “Mission”. Therefore, we turn to the essential that is “ Communication” for which The Church exists.

So much so, that for years I carried around from parish to parish a complete printing plant with which I could produce teaching that I hoped would reach out to the general population, of whom the greater percentage are completely ignorant of the Gospel and the Christian Faith.

Therefore, at the top of my list comes “Communication” which comes from a Latin word which means “to share”.

Matthew records at the end of his Gospel that Jesus at the Ascension gives a command to His gathered disciples “You then, are to make disciples of all nations . .  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you to the end of the age”.

Are we doing that? Have we an excuse for not so doing?

Never before has so much technology enabled us to produce printed matter so cheaply and efficiently, and in every parish I have worked, the plan has been to open a line of communication between The Church and the people we are called to serve.

That is where many parishes fail, for they do not even bring the people’s attention to the great festivals and observances to enable them to know exactly what Christmas, the Cross, the Empty Tomb signify.

Acting in faith, over many years we were enabled to send a Parish paper (tabloid style) into every house in each parish as we did in growing Wootton (still going strong after over 40 years), that I used to describe as “The silent visitor”.

It got through the letterbox and was able to say what needed to be said, in understandable language and it had its effect (not always pleasing everyone, but then Jesus wasn’t worried about that either).

It doesn’t need tremendous financial cost with the ability to produce acceptable communications very economically.

Unless we teach our local community the truths of the Gospel, we are depriving them of the benefits that faith brings to us in good times and bad, depriving people of the recipe for peace and stability, which are the fruits of the Gospel.

If our faith means anything positive to us who are The Church, we have a duty to our neighbours to ensure that they may not miss out because of His Church’s lack of energy and thought.

In the 1940s, surveys showed how little the average person in this country (which was supposed to be “Christian) knew about the Christian faith and this knowledge is even more minimal, even non-existent for the majority in this 21 st century.

Might we consider as a first step in Evangelism, the issue of a suitable broadsheet prior to each of the Church Seasons, explaining what it is all about?

During my short tenure as Hon. Priest-in-charge of St. Michael’s, Swanmore (2011-2013), we did just that and by the time I left there, “The Messenger” as it was called had begun to change people’s perception of their parish church for the better.

“C” is for “Communication” and we are Christians because over the years, people have shared their faith with us to our spiritual benefit; ought we to be doing the same?


12 May 2019

Caring for Jesus' Sheep and Lambs

My student friend, John Scott and I came out of the College bicycle shed with our bikes, (no students with cars in those days) ready to go off to nothing more exciting than a Bell-ringers’ meeting.

As we did so, we were accosted by our College Principal, and motioning us to stop, he said “You two men are together far too much to be healthy; I don’t expect to see you going out together again”.

With that, off he went.

We looked at each other, wondering what might be erotic about joining with ringers of both sexes, with nothing more exciting than a bout of Grandsire Triples, a tea, followed by a service for Ringers.

However, we obeyed, simply by going off separately and meeting further down the A10 to continue our afternoon.  So, he never saw us going out together again.

If he had known that John and I shared accommodation, (with separate bunks) at Youth Hostels, whilst on a cycling holiday of East Anglia, we would probably have been instantly expelled!

Now, why am I considering this subject? Simply because on “Panorama” last Monday evening, there was worrying evidence regarding the way that the Anglican hierarchy had tried to suppress any accusations of clerical (and other churchmen’s) abuse.

Certainly, our College did its best to make us aware of the temptations that might befall the clergy and in our community of 35 students there was never a hint of inappropriate behaviour.

Yet, at the same time, there was much pressure on clergy regarding their marital status.

I had to take Hazel to meet the Principal, before he would give permission for us to become engaged; fortunately, he did approve of her and the engagement, but with the proviso that we weren’t to marry until I had completed my College Course, plus at least 3 years as an Assistant Curate, making up to 5 years before we could tie the knot.

Looking back over 65 years of Ministry, clerical life has changed dramatically, and for those of us who were ordained in the dark ages, as you can see, we were made very aware of the terrible responsibility that accompanied the priesthood.

Listen to this; “Have always printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they (the people) are the sheep of Christ, which He bought with His death, and for whom He shed His blood. And if it shall happen the same Church, or any member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault and also the horrible punishment that will ensue”.

(from the 1662 Ordination Service for priests)

Looking back over the years, considering the many and varied people I have encountered, I have tried to live up to those standards.

When dealing with people I have met (including many boy choristers and servers), I have tried to remind myself, that who or what ever  people may be, they are beloved by God and for whom, His Son died.  Not always easy.

What the Panorama programme showed, is that standards have slipped over the years in many directions and at times, the Church’s concern over its image has taken precedence over the needs of those who have suffered abuse.

Our clergy need our prayers, that their Ministry (with its own peculiar temptations), be one of Love and Service, so please hold them in your prayers daily.


5 May 2019

Putting us to the test?

Recovering from our Easter celebrations, we turn back to the “Pattern Prayer” for the final thought:

As a child, I wondered why, when God wants us to be good, we pray that He won’t tempt us to do something naughty, but on its face value that is what we have been praying for the last two millennia.

The modern version prays that He will not “put us to the test”, as if God wishes us to do difficult things, or resist irresistable temptations, just to prove we are good “soldiers and servants”.

Sounds a bit like school when we were goaded to do silly things, just to prove we were one of the gang.

Poor “Bunger” Young who doing a dare during the school lunch hour at Sandown Secondary School, fell into the large water-filled pits at the brickworks that used to be behind the Broadway, trying to cross it over a 6” plank.

When asked by the Headmaster why he had done such a thing, his ”dare” was dismissed and accompanied by “six of the best” because all of us involved had broken school rules.

Is it likely that God would impose tasks upon us, just to test us out?

Yet, it is a common idea that we suffer in all manner of ways because we have done something wrong and this is our punishment.

We cry, “Why do I deserve this” when calamity upon calamity enfolds us.

Some pilgrims try to make their journey more “holy” making it more difficult (and painful) by putting peas in their shoes or travelling the last stage on their knees.

It should be made plain that God doesn’t wish us to suffer more in this life than we need. After all, Jesus spent so much of His Ministry, alleviating their pain or problems.

Where there was no bread, He fed the 5,000; when people had been in pain or difficulties He eased them and taught others to do the same.

It may well be, that some calamities fall on us, because we have lived or done things which have caused our difficulties, often despite warnings or good advice.

The good God by His divine alchemy often turns what appears at first sight to be disasters into blessings. The Psalmist says “I t is good for me that I have been in trouble, that I may understand the loving kindness of the Lord”, and Paul tells us that God will not test us beyond our resources (1 Cor. 10, v13). In other words, He doesn’t ask the impossible of us.

J. B. Phillips translates it “Keep us clear of temptation and save us from evil” which is an entirely different thought.

It is commonly assumed that God sends suffering and misfortune either as a punishment for past failings or a way of testing our obedience that as a result we shall become better Christians.

If you think about it, God doesn’t need to act like this, deliberately putting obstacles in our way.

Daily life sends enough of these, for the Devil is constantly attacking and misleading us. (Yes, I’m convinced there is one, Jesus thought so too so I am in good company).

Temptations are much different in this generation than in my youth and I am sorry to say even more effective; the influence of the Internet, the media and the general breakdown of accepted moral standards challenge today in ways we older folk never experienced.

Our “Pattern Prayer” gives us a template setting out our priorities, which is essentially “God first, ourselves last”. The Lord’s Prayer is brief, reminding us that the length of our prayers is no indication of their worthiness. Jesus said so.

“Good prayer is like a bikini; it may be brief as long as it covers the two essentials!


28 April 2019

Careful with the commas!

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says at the door, “Look it up”.

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation,

Panda. Large black and white bear-like mammal. Native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves”.

So writes Lynn Truss in her amusing book on punctuation.

What’s that got to do with Easter Day?

Well, let’s take a simple sentence which is apposite for today.

“Jesus Christ is risen.” Written like that, with only a full-point at the end, it’s a bald statement arousing no emotion; an unbelieving hearer might say “So what?” and go about his or her business unmoved. Let’s take that sentence and play around with punctuation.

Suppose we add a “query” ?

Jesus Christ is risen?” The hearer raises his or her eyebrows and says, “Pull the other one. Convince me by pointing me to the Gospel accounts. I would like proof”. So let’s try again.

“Jesus Christ is risen!” with an exclamation mark. Happy Orthodox Christians run through the streets with candles, singing and shouting the glorious news. Note that if I hadn’t put a comma there, it would have implied that the bystander saw and heard candles singing and shouting. An Easter surprise indeed.

Then again, we come to the punctuation that few of us have any idea what it does, which is the “Semi-colon ;”

We all can understand the full-point, the query, the exclamation symbols and the semi-colon helps to you to take a breath, before going on in the sentence, expanding the previous thoughts.

In other words, when you come to a semi-colon, it tells you that it’s not trying to bring the sentence to an end, but opening the door for an expansion of the thinking. In other words, our cry of “Jesus is risen;” is leading us on to related thinking.

Now if we follow on, we are not asking a doubting question, nor shrieking with unalloyed joy, or making a bald statement of fact, but more or less wanting to put a word of explanation to what has gone before.

While someone may say “So what”, in this case, it implies that as a result of the Resurrection, other ideas may follow, as they should.

Instead of a semi-colon, we could use a word, “therefore”.

“Jesus Christ is risen”, therefore great ideas follow on, giving us clues if we believe, as to what lies ahead in our future.

I’m not speaking only of life beyond the grave (the “promise of Easter”), but it should affect our whole outlook on life, and how we need to tailor it to express and demonstrate that resurrection faith.

Over Easter-tide, it might be well to think about our own ideas of what Jesus’ resurrection means to us and how as a result, we need to adjust our thinking and behaviour.

We needn’t run through the street shouting with joy, carrying our lighted candles, but each one of us needs to contemplate what that empty tomb signifies.

However, we do need to show by our life-style that the Easter message gives us reason to hope and rejoice, and make our lives such that the Risen Jesus is within us. As Paul writes, “If you are risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, not on the earth, for your life is hidden with Christ in God”  (Read and meditate on Colossians 3, vv1-17)

A happy and blessed Easter to you all.


21 April 2019

Something for Nothing?

We have all been brought up to think carefully when we are offered something at a ridiculous price, or even for free, on the grounds that eventually, someone has to pay a price somehow.

That is why I drew your attention last week to the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer that can imply that God’s forgiveness is conditional on being ourselves willing to forgive others.

That sounds fair enough until you begin studying what Jesus had to say about it, particularly in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

The starving younger son, having wasted his father’s money in a short life of debauchery, returns home and on the way rehearses a plea for forgiveness for when they meet.

It is clear his father has been constantly on the lookout, watching to see if his wayward son will return.

Before the boy has had chance even to meet his father, the latter is running towards him with outstretched welcoming arms. No word of condemnation for his son’s behaviour, no waiting for the rehearsed confession and penitence, but the fatted calf is prepared for a banquet (much to the elder son’s disgust) of thanksgiving for the beloved son’s return.

Here, surely Jesus is saying that God’s love is un-conditional for that is why we have the Gospel (Good News), with its good news of the Cross as the means by which are able to approach the Father.

Many Christians, especially among fundamentalist believers, teach that God is so angry at humanity’s sins, that He must be pacified by the sacrifice of His only Son.

That might well be, but the whole tenor of the Old Testament prophets’ teaching regarding sacrifice is that God doesn’t want blood of creatures shed in order to pacify Him, but rather that penitence should show itself in good social works, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked and welcoming “strangers” (immigrants).

I could not have been alone in asking my wife (or she of me), “Do you love me?” with an affirmative response, but suppose we press the matter further and ask “How much do you love me?”

The answer might be “very, very much”; we may be foolish enough to press further and enquire whether that love is “unconditional”.

That’s a difficult one and the truth is that no one loves “unconditionally” but God Who is love.

Peter, having failed Jesus by denying Him must have felt awkward when he met the Risen Lord (John 21, vv15-end), but Jesus’ question is a simple one “Do you love me?”

Peter splutters a bit and replies in the affirmative, “You  know that I love you” and Jesus says “Feed my lambs and feed my sheep”. Rather than pronouncing absolution to the failed disciple, Jesus, asks the same question three times, and goes on to give him a job to do, to this failure trusting him with an even greater challenge.

God’s love is unconditional, for the Gospel is simply, “God  loves you”, whoever or whatever you are and accepts us without conditions and this is where the Cross comes into the equation.

The Cross is not only a reminder of how cruel mankind (and womenkind) can be, but how loving God is, for this is no mere man hanging, spit-covered, thorn-crowned, but God Himself and it is to this Cross that we turn. Our relationship with God enables us to plead because of that one tremendous act of His self-offering.

It is difficult for us to grasp, but we are dealing with Divine mystery. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” and we turn to that definition in the Athanasian Creed that Jesus was (and is) “Perfect God and perfect man; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by taking of the manhood into God”.

“There was none other good enough to pay the price of sin” wrote Mrs. Alexander and she never wrote a truer word, for we are thinking of the sin (not sins) of the whole of humanity from the beginning of time, for which, paradoxically, God pays.


14 April 2019

"Forgive Us Our Trespasses" (Debts)

for Passion Sunday, April 7th, 2019

  Read Matthew 6 to find the background to all the teaching:

My earliest acquaintance with “trespasses” was in relation to notices which told me not to “trespass” which I understood to mean going through gates or on land to which we were forbidden entry.

At 8 years old, I couldn’t understand where God came into the picture, because as a small obedient youngster I didn’t dare do so; I feared “prosecution” (whatever that meant.) but I understood it meant being reported to the frightening policeman.

Actually, “debts” is more accurate for when we do, say or think that which would be alien to the spirit of Love, we have incurred a “debt”, for which there must be some recompense.

When we offend in this way, unless we say “Sorry” (and mean it), putting right anything that has injured the other party (including God) then the darkness of such behaviour hangs around us.

There are certain problems regarding our response, for if we feel a sense of guilt, then this can darken our lives and is the instigator of much unhappiness with anyone with a conscience.

I have spoken previously regarding this factor in our personal lives which can lead in extreme cases to self-destruction and this has to be dealt with in some way.

The whole of the Christian Gospel is concerned with relationships, between God and ourselves and that with other people.

“Forgive us our debts”, then, but let’s consider this more.

The parable of the “unjust servant” (Matthew 18,vv23-35) is probably a compilation by Matthew in his Gospel of Jesus’ teaching on the subject and is interesting. Clearly there are two meanings in the Lord’s Prayer; 1. That we ask for forgiveness of God because we have already forgiven others “as we (have?) forgiven those who have offended us in some way”, but it can also mean 2. “Inasmuch as we have forgiven others”. In other words, Jesus says, that our forgiveness is conditional, in that we cannot expect God to forgive us if we have not a forgiving heart towards those who have offended us.

Yet, Jesus in other teaching implies that God’s forgiveness is readily there because of the Cross; yet we cannot expect to receive treatment from God that we are unwilling to offer others.

The heart of the Gospel teaching is reconciliation, the relationship we have with others ; “at-one-ment”, which means making “At one” those who are opposed to each other. (We’ll talk about this next Sunday).

I look back over my own ministry, where the refusal to forgive someone who has offended, has divided families and friends bringing much unnecessary unhappiness. Beneath this refusal to forgive lurks that old and dangerous sin of “pride” which is serious and spiritually dangerous.

An appraisal of our own behaviour should be an essential part of our daily devotions and certainly prior to our confession in our worship. That is why a regular, honest self-examination of our actions and motives is basic to our Christian way of life, painful though it may be at times.


7 April 2019

"Give Us"

Originally, I spoke of the “Lord’s Prayer” as “The Pattern Prayer”, for I keep company with those who believe that Jesus didn’t expect this to be repeated several times a day, but it was a guide-llne as to how, and for what we should pray.

The disciples had asked “Teach us to pray” and it’s a very short lesson, giving us a series of headings indicating priorities and subjects, and if you have thought about it, the prayer is divided into two distinct sections, which we can simplify as “God’s priorities” and the other, ours.

Now we have reached that dividing line, for we cease thinking about God and His priorities, which if they were followed would enable a peaceful and ordered, loving Society to exist.

If God’s Name were to be revered and His commandments obeyed, then His Kingdom would come; these are priorities but now we turn to our basic needs, both physical and spiritual.

This is not a natural order, for left to ourselves we would probably pray for our (and others’) physical needs, forgetting that all is of no avail, unless we put God in the prime position as the source of all Being.

Thanksgiving does not always come naturally to us, for we tend to see only the little picture and not the whole of God’s sway, nor do we always pray for spiritual guidance.

Our daily dependence upon food is obvious, but that we are to do so daily is enfolded in the words, which properly understood, means “Give us this day, our bread for today”.

“Lord for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray” we used to sing in Sunday School, stressing that our daily existence depends upon God and our contact with Him needs to be a daily event in our spiritual lives.

“Be not anxious” says Jesus reminding us that our Father has a deep concern for our welfare, and day by day we need to recall and pray,  giving thanks daily, for our practical needs.

We would be upset if our diet only included “daily bread”, for the request covers all manner of sustenance, but bread itself has its own significance.

The Early Christians took this also as meaning food for our spiritual needs. In order to fulfil that prayer, after the Sunday Eucharist, they were allowed to take away sufficient of the consecrated bread that they could communicate themselves during the next six days. A practise that didn’t survive much beyond the first century AD, but nevertheless is significant.

Included in all this should be our concern for those who work and sometimes struggle to provide for our physical needs, often living precariously with a hand-to-mouth existence.

During the war, we were very conscious of the risks that our brave sailors faced daily in order to provide fish for our tables; today, despite there being no fears of submarines, fishing is still an occupation that carries many dangers. Sailors and fishermen still need our prayers today.

All this is encompassed in that single prayer “Give us” but inherent with asking there must be he “thanking”.

How often do we say “Grace” before or after a meal? In our household as children, we were not allowed to get down from the table until we had done so, something very common pre-War, which has ceased to be heard in most households.

The value of a prayer is not to be considered by its length; Jesus had words to say about “vain repetitions”. By using the ”imagining” I suggested recently, you do not need to seek for flowery language. We are talking to a loving Father, who will enable our needs, so brevity is not less spiritual when we pray in Faith.

Using it as a guideline, following Jesus’ thinking as presented in the Gospels, the “pattern prayer” enables us to pray simply but trustfully, effectively. Next week we turn to “Forgive us”.


31 March 2019

The Kingdom, what, where, when?

G. K. Chesterton (the famous author, but a firm Roman Catholic), once wrote, “ It isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but simply that it hasn’t been tried!”

Looking around the world certainly, the Christian Faith seems not to have achieved desirable changes in our Society that bear all the marks of the failed systems that confronted Jesus 2,000 years ago.

In the USA, once boasting the highest percentage of church-goers (I didn’t say, necessarily, Christians), mass shootings and blatant racism flourishes and the gaps between rich and poor have widened. There, here and throughout the world, people are worshippers of Mammon, the God of money (the “love of which” according to St. Paul, “is the source of all evil”).

Note, Paul says “the love of”, for money is a neutral thing in itself, but rather the selfish ways by which it is gained, and how it is used, make it a source of much evil.

We pray “Thy Kingdom come” of which Jesus had a great deal to say , but never defined what, where and when it has, or is to come.

When we “love our neighbour as ourselves” then the Kingdom will come on earth, but it doesn’t and hasn’t because too many worship the God whom they see in their mirror, sin (self).

Yet, the Kingdom exists, and everyone who is baptised and commits to the Law of Love centred on Jesus is a member.

Every Kingdom has a manifesto, laying down its principles, and this is contained, not only in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chaps. 5 & 6), but in references to the same principles expounded, not only by Jesus but by the O.T. prophets and also contained in books like Deuteronomy.  God is concerned for the welfare of the unfortunate, for widows, the homeless, the poor, the outcasts of Society and (not least), the refugees who are to be welcomed. (Luke 4, vv18-30)

The Gospel is a “Social Gospel”, for it is centred on our human relationships with each other and with God.

The “Kingdom” is within every Christian; Paul speaks of our “ Possessing the Kingdom”. Jesus says “The Kingdom is within you” for it is in every soul who places God at the centre of their lives.

Victorian hymns proclaimed the idea that The Church (the “gathering together”) is growing, until all mankind acknowledges Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. So much for their optimism and hopes, sadly, not yet fulfilled.

The fact that now there are more practising Christians in Communist China than in the whole of Europe where numbers are declining, shows that through complacency and lack of Missionary zeal, we are failing Him whose Kingdom is of peace and love.

With all the man-made disasters and tragic events facing our world, this is where a positive solution lies; by our living the Gospel.

We pray “Thy  Kingdom come, THY WILL be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. The two phrases complement each other, for we pray that the Kingdom will only come if all the baptised seek to do God’s will as already it is obeyed in the heavenly realm.

It isn’t sufficient that we pray that the Kingdom shall come, for it won’t do so unless we seek to obey these final words of Jesus to His disciples, (Matthew 28, vv16-20):

“Go therefore and preach the Gospel to all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to do and observe all I have commanded”.

The solution to all the world’s problems can be found in the revolutionary teaching of Jesus, which if it were followed could transform human relationships. How sad it is that we don’t do so?.


24 March 2019

The "Pattern" Prayer

Deprived of a Diocesan Training Grant for my 3-yr. College Course (I hadn’t been recognised as “one of theirs”), having to find funds to pay my way for 2 of the 3 years, I resorted to making vestments and robes for my fellow students using a s.h. sewing machine (£5), accustoming me to using paper patterns to get the right shapes.

This explains the origin of the Lord’s Prayer, which is often called “The Pattern Prayer” that Jesus taught (in reply to a question from the disciples).

He said “When you pray say:

“Our Father”: Jesus throughout His ministry, even as He dies on the Cross, refers to God as “Father”, but here He includes us, by the beginning words “ Our Father”, implying that God is OUR Father as well as His. Paul describes it as “adoption” (Romans 8, vvv12-17) ,

By so doing we accept that every human being we meet should be our spiritual brother or sister, members of the Family of God.

This one 3-letter word points a new way to human relationships, for if we are all “brothers and sisters”, something we reaffirm every time we speak those words, then we should treat everyone with respect.

When we pray “Our Father” we are saying that we who once were, because of our sins, “enemies” of God, are now reconciled to Him by the Cross and made friends, even children of God, so we pray as the Divine’s beloved children.

Jesus refers constantly to “The Father”, which underlines His relationship with the Divine Creator,

Jesus is not giving us a single prayer (that I feel we repeat far too often in our services), but a “pattern” of what good prayer should be, and its priorities.

Like the patterns from which I was able to cut vestments of all shades and styles for fellow students and clergy, if we followed the basic seven (yes, seven) themes of this prayer, our lives and the lives of every human being could be transformed.

The frightening behaviour of those who would harm complete strangers, sometimes with apparent impunity and certainly without cause, indicates that our social problems are linked to our failure to live by and teach the tenets of Christianity.

The problem is nothing to do with police numbers, or calling in the army to do the work of our depleted police force, but the remedy is a change within each one of us.

As Dorothy Sayers in her book, ”Creed or Chaos” says: “If I do not believe in the fatherhood of God, why should I believe in the brotherhood of man?”

By this we are not questioning or discussing the sexuality of God, but demonstrating the caring, forgiving Being who by His sheer Immensity and the nature of the Godhead and the Incarnation itself, has shown this “Caring”, that appears even in the Old Testament where so much blood is shed apparently at the command of Him who is supposed to be “Love”. God by His very nature is mystery.

We find this “Caring” nature of the Divine, right through the bloody chapters of inter-tribal wars described in the historical books of the Old Testament, coming to fruition in the prophet Hosea’s realisation that God is a caring, intimate being who “ taught Ephraim to walk, took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them, I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11, vv1-4).

Society does not need more police or the army, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which sadly as a Church, since the end of the last war we have failed to proclaim adequately, but is inherent in the first two words of the “Pattern Prayer”. Think thereon.


10 March 2019

Pictures and Prayer

“I’m surprised that you’re troubled with wandering thoughts in your prayers”, a lady said to me recently, assuming that we clergy have our prayerful relationship with God easy-going.

The truth is that not only I, but almost every Christian has this problem. Recently, to my shame I said the whole evening service of Compline whilst thinking of something entirely different and shocked when I realised what I had done.

I am not alone, for of the Confessions I heard from regular penitents, this problem was the most frequently referred to, hoping that I could help them to solve it.

As a result, I have returned to a practise of prayer that was my Intercession pattern for most of my priestly Ministry.

That is “Praying with mental pictures”.

Many of us have problems with our prayers, but this method may be of some help, particularly with the prayers that are part of our daily communion with God.

It may not work for you, but don’t worry too much if it doesn’t.

Ask yourself the question: “What is my mental picture of Jesus?” Many are still holding that Sunday-school image of a nice, probably white, young man holding children’s hands; the “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” image. It is essential that through reading and thinking, we can come to know the real human Jesus, almost intimately

First, seek Him in the Gospels, but particularly St. Mark’s, where quite tersely, Jesus is seen as a provocative young man, who “tells it as it is” but with a sense of humour. Try and build up this mental picture, for this is the key.

As a parish priest who visited as many of the parishioners as possible, whatever the circumstances, I tried to bring Jesus into my prayer, without needing to sum up suitable wording. Rather I imagined the person (or people) in their home or perhaps in Hospital or where ever, with Jesus beside them. Thus mentally and graphically bringing Jesus into the prayer.

I would in my imagination go along roads in the parish and stopping at each house where I had visited, praying that Jesus might enter into that family, whatever their perceived needs and picturing its inhabitants as I knew them, together with their Divine companion. In the process of holding this mental image, wandering thoughts were less capable of intruding.

This applied equally to cases where there were problems, and what I needed, was to bring the healer and the patient together.

Our prayers for people must issue from “love”; sometimes we shall need to pray for people who have offended in some way, but prayer that doesn’t stem from love (agape, which means “caring, or being concerned with”) will be ineffective.

In any case, once we bring Jesus into the prayer picture, we need to leave the result in His hands; it is not for us to determine the real need or the result we pray for.

This held good for me, not only for personal encounters, but also in situations (of which there are so many brought to us visually in the media) where we can bring Jesus into a refugee camp, a disaster, or whatever and whenever our prayers are focussed.

The Americans have a “WWJD” movement, which interpreted is “What Would Jesus Do?”, when faced with a spiritual problem or physical needs.

This can only be valid if the question is being referred to someone whom you have come to know through the Gospels together with our meditative thoughts.

Our problem is that we think that we can only communicate our prayers by words. If our minds are concentrating on pictures, there is less space for intrusive thoughts.

We need to realise that this form of prayer can be used in any circumstances, regardless of time or place, and even without words. It may not work for you, but give it a try!


3 March 2019

A "Healing" Gospel

A Ryde Councillor supported the refusal of a request from the Holy Trinity “Spire” for a grant towards their work, which supports all kinds of help for the homeless, the hungry, those who need counselling or help.

This Councillor justified this on the grounds that they couldn’t use public money to support a Christian group despite the fact that they are doing exactly what Jesus commanded His disciples as part of their Mission.

We are seeing a steady reduction in help for the under-privileged and infirm by both national and local Government. Whilst Mrs. May declared recently that it was the “end of austerity”, we are still seeing cuts in all manner of social work.

An examination of the Scriptures (both Old and New) shows that from the earliest days, God was seen as a champion of the under-privileged, the homeless, the hungry, with a command that even “strangers” (immigrants) should be welcomed and treated well.

If Jesus is the true face of the living God, then it is clear that there are some differences between the two pictures of God that we may have. Isaiah tells us that God does not require the blood of sacrificed creatures and elaborate ceremony, but rather demands social action in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and, caring for the sick, for prisoners and disadvantaged.

The Early Christians did so and when Jesus originally sent out the disciples to preach the Gospel, it was to be accompanied by healing and works of mercy, alleviating their needs.

The first call upon The Early Churches’ resources was to share their possessions with the less fortunate.

Even in the 1662 Communion service, the monetary gifts given by the people were predominantly “Alms for the Poor”; the cost of running the parish was to be met by the laity paying a tithe to the incumbent at Easter.

Where is The Church today in all this?

The disciples and their followers were commanded to “Heal the Sick”. Do we still consider this important, with the NHS at hand?

One of the great problems facing our generation is the growth of mental and psychological problems, especially among the young. Much of this stems from a sense of guilt, for which the NHS has meagre resources. It is significant that many of those needing healing in our Lord’s time benefitted from Divine forgiveness from which also flowed healing.

In my younger days, Prayers for healing, with Healing Services were part of the parish programme, regularly naming those for whom our prayers were desired. They seem to have disappeared over the last few decades, yet it is clear that there are so many folk, young and old who need  “healing” (meaning “whole-ness”). This cannot come from a pill or an operation, but from a spiritual realignment.

People in such need often say that there is no one easily available with whom they can talk and open their hearts.

Dr. Iken (an American doctor) in her valuable book “New Concepts of Healing” wrote (in the 1950s) that of the people in Hospital in the USA, 50% had mental problems, of whom at least another 50% could “go home tomorrow if they could be convinced that their feelings of guilt could be removed”.

Jesus was concerned with making people “whole”, and among the tasks we have as Christians is to ease the shadow that lingers over many lives. The welfare of people, both spiritually and physically must be OUR concern, for our Good News must be accompanied today (as it was in times past) with these Social and health concerns which for many, only the Gospel can relieve. That is why our “Mission” can assist those who, whilst they may need a “Food Bank” also need to find access to the “Spiritual Bank” of which all are the “staff”.


24 February 2019

"It ain't what you do ... "

"Now you have finished your 2 yr. Course satisfactorily, you have a year left prior to Ordination; what do you plan to do?”

So enquired our Co“llege Vice-Principal after I had received the satisfactory results of my General Ordination Exam.

Frankly, I hadn’t a clue, but one subject sprang to my mind, and that was the structure and conduct of the Prayer book services.

“That won’t occupy you for a whole year; why don’t you study “Moral Theology”, that will be of great pastoral help”.

What it meant was, studying human behaviour and being capable of judging the moral value of our judgements and that is important when dealing with troubled parishioners, particularly in hearing Confessions.

Provision is made in the Prayer Book for this (no, it’s not “Popery”), but essential when “guilt” is probably the most troubling emotion in many people’s lives.

The Confessional enables a penitent to have a one-to-one contact with a priest, which includes “solemn absolution”, but also spiritual guidance that can be tailored to their spiritual needs.

Among my set books was one by an 18 th century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who, whilst not a Church-goer had studied “why” we act in certain ways when making moral decisions.

His first important conclusion is that “The only thing that can be called good, without qualification, is ‘A Good Will’ “, for without that some actions may be misguided, for the prime object  needs to be to act for the good of whatever or whoever we come in contact.

We may perform good actions, but they may possibility spring from some form of self-interest and not because we wish the best for others, meaning that their moral value is lessened.

Our nation could do with a lot of “good will” on all sides if we are to be an harmonious Society.

Setting the Bible aside for a moment, Kant attempts to draw up guidelines for “good” decisions and our nation could do with a good dose of that!

When contemplating some action or another, to test its morality, Kant suggests that we ask “Could this action be a universal rule for everyone?” In other words, if for instance you feel that you wish to harm someone in some way, could you make that action permissible for everyone to perform? If not, then it fails the test of a “Good Will”.

Then, passing to social relationships, our philosopher considers how we treat people. He says that when dealing with them we need always to consider in making decisions whether we are “using” people to attain our objectives. If so, we are abusing their status and humanity. He says that “We must always see people as an end in themselves, NOT as a means to an end”.

Kant stresses there must be consideration regarding other people’s status and dignity, for each one of us is capable ot “using” others to achieve our own ends.

Now, if you have been with me so far (well done!), you may feel that if Kant has read the Gospels and Our Lord’s teaching, then he and we, will find all this enshrined in Biblical teaching, not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old.

We are to “Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbour as (much as we do) ourselves”

That is why, when the Summary of the Law is read at the Communion, to which we reply “Amen (which means “I agree") Lord have mercy” we are pledging ourselves to allow our ‘good will’ and consideration of the needs of others to guide our judgement.

You can sum this up with words from a 1930s Song (altered):

“It ain't what you do it’s the WHY that you do it”!


17 February 2019                                                         

"How shall they hear without a teacher?"

Well, that isn’t quite what St. Paul said (Romans 10, v14); he said “Preacher”, but it’s much the same thing, for what people need today, regarding Christianity is “Knowledge”.

I imagine, few who spend millions celebrating the birth of Jesus, ever equate the spit and blood covered tottering figure carrying a cross, with the sweet babe surrounded by squeaky clean angels.

Of course, they buy Hot Cross Buns” (on sale from Christmas) but few understand why, and the figure on a cross is something alien. There is the true story of a young lady customer who said to the  jeweller “I don’t want one of those plain crosses, but one with ‘the little man’ on it”!

The truth is, that we are no longer a Christian nation, for the simple reason that there is no one as far as I can see, trying to inform people of any and every age what the Gospel really is.

Nor has there been  to any degree since the end of the last war.

You may tell someone that the word “Gospel” means “Good News”, but be incapable of explaining what that Good News is.

If you tell someone that it is “Jesus died for us on the cross and rose to life again”, fair enough, but such is the widespread ignorance, that they may well reply “Pull the other one “!

Study will show that there are diverse explanations of the cross by scholars, some of whom do not agree with the others, some of whom do not see the Father God as “loving and caring” when He allows His Son to die a criminal’s death in order to appease His anger at the world’s sins.

So, explaining The Gospel” is not simplicity itself.

Nor do many see the true Jesus, who was an outspoken revolutionary and have little awareness of who He was and why. They dismiss Christianity (and indeed most religions) as “boring”.

Reading the Gospels (especially St. Mark), we discover that Jesus was never “boring” or “respectable”; anything but! He was one who spoke the truth about Man and God, arousing animosity in all His critics.

A brave man who walked steadfastly into shame, pain,  ignominious death and in some mysterious way, that man was (and is) also, God, which baffles us, but we are dealing with a Being and force beyond our comprehension, which many (including some church-goers) find difficult to grasp.

The Evangelistic report of which I have spoken before, in its criticisms of the Church of England’s condition (writing in 1944), drew attention to the poor preaching that was (and sometimes still is) heard in our parish churches.

As Editor of the Portsmouth Diocesan “Link” (from1967-1977), I used to receive numerous copies of parish magazines, which revealed the inability of many clergy to present basic teaching to their people in a language they could understand.

Indeed, so was the ignorance in the post-war years that the report spent a chapter on “How to use the media”, including literature (parish mags., radio and TV etc.) that went into people’s houses.

Indeed, I had words with one Bishop, for he seemed incapable of writing something that the average parishioner (living on the big Portsmouth estates) could understand; remember, that in those days we published no less than 27,500 copies of the “Link” (compare that with the measly 8,500 that now comes in the form of a quarterly, high class magazine).

The Bishop replied that “He wrote for the ‘opinion formers’ of the parishes and not for the ordinary folk!”

Whenever I have taken over a parish, I have always kept the 3 “Cs” (Communication, Community and Communion) in mind as the thrust of my Ministry.

“Between me and you there is a great gulf fixed” so Lazarus (in Paradise) told the rich man (suffering in hell) (Luke 16, v26) and the truth is, that the great gulf of “ignorance” still exists, so what should we be doing about it?


10 February 2019

Could this be the way forward for families?

I sat spellbound as I watched the Easter Day Eucharist on the television from a packed St. Alban’s Abbey 2 years ago.

It was more congregational than many cathedral services, using the same Gloria, etc. as we sing at Brading, with an eminently understandable sermon, immaculate ceremonial.  The more intriguing moment was when, prior to the “Peace”, one be-coped Canon disappeared (did he need a toilet perhaps?) but to return leading, like a clerical Pied Piper a procession of children, some babes in arms, together with their parents who joined the congregation for the rest of the service, and although “wriggly”, settled down as they proceeded into the Offertory Hymn.

A further surprise was to come, in that unlike getting a paternal pat on the head as a blessing, children as young as (I would think), 8 yrs. old received Communion together with their parents and behaving reverently.

“Were they confirmed?” you may ask, and the answer is simply, “No”, but the cathedral was taking advantage of rules that were changed some years ago, saying young children could be allowed to receive, provided that they were suitably instructed. This was to be authorised by the Bishop of each Diocese, some of whom welcomed the change, others were antagonistic. But the Ely report on the matter, concluded that Communion of unconfirmed children was lawful and indeed, desirable.

“But, they’re too young to understand?” is often the cry, yet an examination of the Acts of the Apostles, shows that whole households were converted and baptised,  Despite the Church of England’s rules about admission to the Sacrament, Church history shows that Confirmation as a necessity for Communion was not part of the Early tradition. Indeed, Rome has always accepted baptism as the qualification, together with the Eastern Orthodox, for they give Communion (administered in a spoon), to the newly baptised baby!

It is Baptism that makes you a Christian and we have no evidence to think that an Episcopal Confirmation was always essential. Indeed in the Prayer Book rubrics, it says that “None shall be admitted to Communion without Confirmation or be ready and desirous to be confirmed”. When you think of medieval times when the whole of Cornwall was in the Diocese of Exeter, with communications being so poor, one wonders how long someone living in St. Ives might have to wait before the Bishop could arrive?

It is due to this policy that St. Alban’s Cathedral is able to instruct and welcome whole families at the Communion rail into the Family of The Church and this practise is growing.

We are able to hold services with a teaching element for the whole family and there is a growth of suitable lesson books available offering imaginative and participatory teaching.

Is this the way forward? I think so, from my own pastoral experience, but think and pray about it, for you may well disagree, but the lack of children and young people in our churches shows that what we are doing is not working.

However, I am only trying to give you some idea of how The Church is moving to become as inclusive as is reasonably able.

Children can accept teaching, without necessarily understanding. In answer to the cry “They won’t understand” I am bound to ask “Do YOU understand?”  Because, I don’t. “I believe and accept” for that is what Faith is all about. Experience tells me that by “believing”, I truly receive the benefits of that Faith and Belief. Think about it.


3 February 2019

Fighting God's battles with obsolete weapons!

The ‘phone rang. It was the Bishop (of Bath & Wells) Secretary. It was only my first year in charge of Holy Trinity, Taunton.

One of those moments when, like a naughty schoolboy, you wonder what would follow, rather like waiting outside the Headmaster’s study at School. I was soon to find out.

“The Rural Dean has told the Bishop that you are holding services at Holy Trinity which are not according to the Prayer Book and he would like to know what you are up to?”

Some 10 months earlier he had inducted me into my post there as Vicar and I had been horrified at the poor provision for children and their families.

An elderly, dictatorial lady ran a Sunday School in the Day School which she defended jealously, not even allowing me to take part and I knew all she did was to tell them Bible stories.

There was no relationship between her and the rest of the parish and I knew that I would need to fight that particular dragon if we were to make any progress.

We needed to encourage “Family” worship to replace a “Children’s Mass” to which only a handful of children came, but in no way could you say it was “Children’s” but only a bowdlerised version of the Prayer Book and the only person who made his Communion at it was the officiating priest!

These were the days (1957) prior to the advent of the Family Car and it was still possible to hold afternoon services to which I hoped complete families would come and gradually, with instruction, help them to understand and take part in the Communion.

Having explained it to the Secretary, she said she would explain it to the Bishop and in consideration of what I had to contend with generally in the parish, felt he would be helpful. Which he was, but with the stricture that it was not to be a permanent part of the Sunday worship programme. (Sounds a bit like the Brexit “back stop”!)

Planned to last only for a year of monthly services we hoped to cover all the essentials of Christian membership and at the end we might have added some families to the flock.

It succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and the first Sunday at 3 p.m. the nave was packed with families and it continued so for the rest of the year.

Some fell away as we “put the pressure on”, even gently, but numbers also diminished because some were transferring as we had hoped and prayed, to the morning Parish Communion, also some of the parents enquiring about Confirmation.

But that was then, some 60 years ago and times have changed dramatically.

When I was asked to rescue Swanmore, with a tremendous amount of publicity, we tried the same formula but doubtfully, because I had a gut feeling that the problem was much greater, especially for a parish that had been woefully neglected.

We held a “Family Toy service” inviting people to come with toys to distribute to needy families. We had lots of lovely toys, but only attracted four extra people! The rest brought toys which were dropped hurriedly in the church porch and the donors disappeared as quickly as they could!

I have recounted all this, because it has been clear to me (and many other clergy) that so much that worked in the past, no longer attracts or is effective and we are often trying to vanquish the well-armed Devil with out-of-date weapons.

Our “Family Services” were among the first in Bath and Wells Diocese, but their attraction has waned over the years, needing to be replaced with more revolutionary approaches. There are exciting ideas abroad and we need to have an armoury fit for the 21 st century in a very secular England.


27 January 2019

What is a 'Parish Communion'?

Close to the busy Newcastle Central Station is a small green oasis that is the churchyard of St. John’s Church, where I first encountered the “Parish Communion Movement”.

Cranmer and his associates together with the reformers of the 1662 Prayer Book tried to implement their aim, to make CofE members “regular Communion” people, to erase the then idea of worshippers only attending Mass to see the Sacrament lifted high and adored, but rarely made their Communions.

Cranmer envisaged every Sunday to be a Sacrament Sunday but there was a snag, for “pre-Communion fasting” was the rigid rule, which was adopted and few could endure waiting until noon before they could have breakfast,

St. John’s solved this by holding their ‘Parish’ Communion at 9 a.m. (the people coming fasting), and afterwards the congregation met either in the vestry, or (in the summer) sitting in the sun-lit churchyard breakfasting on a simple diet of cereal, toast and appropriate drinks.

This was the forerunner of after-church coffee, which was yet  (in the 1940s) to be in the future.

As a ‘teen-ager, I thought it was brilliant, for normally then Communion would be at 8 a.m. (fasting) to be followed at 11.0 a.m. by a fully Sung Eucharist at which only the elderly and infirm were expected to receive.

It seemed strange to me that we had to come to church twice on a Sunday morning, and when I (a brash 30yr. old) became in charge of Holy Trinity I relaxed the fasting rule which immediately had a beneficial effect on the size of the congregation, nor did we have the usual post-Confirmation disappearance of the young from their worship.

We are all accustomed to people receiving ‘non-fasting’, but when I made the change, I received criticism from all sides of the Church spectrum; “Father Rayner’s gone all low Church”, that is, until the Pope said it was OK for his flock!

The 1950s/60s saw the growth of the “Parish and People”  movement, trying to build this concept, but mainly through lethargy, lack of leadership and fear of “change”, it quietly sank without achieving its aims.

The set-up at St. John’s, Newcastle was a real “Parish” Communion, for, following on from their breakfast the people would stay to discuss parish matters and generally converse, so “Parish” meant that it was a part of an idea to weld the people into a knowable family with a real sense of belonging.

They were in a way following the same path as the Early Christians, where the laity felt that they “owned” and were deeply involved in the life of the parish, with the kind of social relationship that the Christian faith should engender.

Bringing Holy Trinity into a strong ethos that “we are all in this together” was made easier when I introduced in 1958 for (I understand) the first time in Somerset, coffee (or tea) after the Parish Communion.

Of course, it drew criticism that now “Father Rayner is turning the parish church into a coffee shop”, but it was soon followed by other parishes “taking the plunge” and now it’s the norm.

The pre-fix “Commun” is part of the word “to share” and The Church is not somewhere we go on a Sunday, but is the moment when we truly share in a divine mystery, where we share the bread and wine of the Sacrament, by which we are spiritually joined to each other and to Jesus.

When we become Christians we do not “go to Church”, for we ARE The Church and we need to BE “The Church” wherever we are.

“We break this bread to SHARE in the Body of Christ” and our response is:  “Though we are many, we are ONE Body”.

St. Paul has much to say about the “Body” concept of the Living Church. By Baptism and Communion we are joined to be “Jesus among us”. “Christ has no Body here on earth but yours” says St. Teresa. A true “Parish” Communion enables this to become a reality. 


20 January 2019

Have we a silent church?

I have been reading the life story of the late William Temple, who for a short while (1942-1944) was Archbishop of Canterbury, dying suddenly from a heart attack.

This was a tragedy for he was a great Missioner and was determined that the Church of England should be a missionary Church. He realised that England was only nominally Christian; in fact, Church attendance had already started its decline. Indeed it was calculated that in the 1940s less than 10% attended worship in the CofE on a Sunday.

There was still good attendance of children at Sunday Schools, but very few of them stayed long enough to be confirmed and active Church members.

Chaplains in the armed forces reported that a huge percentage of the men (and women) in the forces were completely ignorant of the Christian Faith, had no Church allegiance, knew little of the Bible, despite (at that time), in England, 60% had been baptised! Only 35% actually attended Sunday Schools.

I have written previously about the way in which a Report into Mission, entitled “Towards the conversion of England” was published at Temple’s command in 1944 (the year that he died) with a view to revitalising the Church to prepare for post-war problems.

Costing only one shilling (5p.) it was a mine of information and statistics, but also a wealth of good ideas, regarding “Outreach”. As a ‘teen-ager, recently returned to The Church, I (with many others so inclined), found it a source of inspiration.

So much so, that when ordained, I (and a fair number of young men) saw in it a blueprint that could have a positive effect on the Christian influence in our country. When we were in a position to do so, we began to work on its guidance, which if universally adopted would have transformed religious life, in a Society which was only nominally Christian.

Temple knew from his experience that people returning from the war when many had experienced so many challenges and horrors, would be seeking for answers and explanations, particularly where religion could take its part. 

This could have been a sea-change in the way The Church approached and presented the Gospel, of which the majority of people were ignorant.

It was not to be. With Temple’s untimely and unexpected death, his successor, Geoffrey Fisher (who had never been a parish priest, only a public school chaplain) turned the Church’s attention to the need to revise Canon Law (the Church’s rule book). He wanted to discipline those clergy, who altered the Prayer Book services and introducing such “frowned upon” practises, such as incense (which at that time was wrongly presumed to be illegal).

As a result, the highest authority, The Church Assembly, spent 10 years discussing Canon Law; any idea of Evangelism and the “Conversion” report vanished, like other such reports.

Some of the older clergy were delighted, because they had endured the war with all its personal problems and the last thing they wanted was major changes.

The parish where I served as a curate (1952-56) still maintained the same service and pastoral pattern that had been in the 1870s when the church was first built.

Present-day social problems, emphasised by the terribly bitter division over Brexit, mirror those of Temple’s day, and there are tremendous opportunities for Christians to restate the Gospel and speak out clearly of a way by which we may gain a sense of purpose and of moral direction.

What has our Archbishop and other Christian leaders got to say concerning the role of Christianity in our Society?

The Church is worryingly silent on so many social and moral problems and I for one fear for the future of our Society and its lack of Christian guidance. We need to preach the Gospel with all its challenges, for unless we do, the future looks frightening.


13 January 2019

"Where true love and kindness are found, God Himself is there" ("Ubi caritas")

The first words of an ancient Christian hymn which (singing from the New Catholic Hymnal) was a favourite with the Wootton congregation (another translation is in our Brading hymn books No.742, but not so good and direct).

Reading the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that the main thrust that Jesus in the Gospels addressed was social problems and that echoed the commands that God gave to the Jews as described in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy and the prophets.

God commands Moses that His concern is for the poor, the widows, the under-privileged (to whom Jesus turned), the homeless and “strangers” which meant “immigrants”.

Considering the stress by “Brexiteers” on the evils of Immigration, God tells His Chosen people, to be welcoming to such people as they, the Jews themselves had been “strangers” in the lands where they had settled..

There was a conflict within the Early Church between “Faith” and “Works”; some said that all we needed to do was to have faith, that we could not earn God’s favour by good works, others emphasised the place of good works by Christians.

St. James (Jesus’ brother) who whilst never one of his brother’s disciples, appears as the head of the Infant Church in Jerusalem (Acts 21, v17), and qualifies teaching of the faith, dealing with the “works” that will issue from that faith.

He argues that we are to demonstrate our Faith by our behaviour towards others and he and his compatriots immediately after the Resurrection are found to be living a kind of Communistic life, sharing with less fortunate Christians.

Pagans, seeing the Church members’ actions were provoked to exclaim “See how these Christians love one another”; do outsiders say that about us?

If Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father” and that God is the Father of all mankind, it follows naturally from that we need to see all whom we meet as “Children of God”; therefore they are our spiritual brothers and sisters.

It is clear that we, who are called “Christians” because we believe in Jesus Christ, should demonstrate this by how we behave socially towards others.

However, it is not simply good actions and attitudes towards others, without that precious component, which is “Love”.

“Where true LOVE and kindness are found, God Himself is there”; we may do simple acts of kindness for others which have no element of “Love”.

People often help unload my shopping trolley on to the check-out, without my asking, but is that because they are concerned about me, or because it speeds up the process as they wait behind me?

I like to think that it’s the former and not the latter, for within this comes the Doctrine of “Intention”.

There was a popular song in my youth that sums this up (with a sight alteration of one letter), “It ‘ain’t what you do, but the WHY that you do it”.

What do we intend or signify by our attitude towards other people for this will decide the measure of our response.

It is noticeable that the churches that are flourishing are those where the congregation by their actions and attitudes within the community demonstrate that we indeed do this because Jesus requires us to have this “inclusive” approach to others.

God so loved the world”; that means all of it, the nice and the “nasty” and we need to try to be people, who have faith, and express it by our daily lives and attitudes, inspired by Love, and then we shall find God beside and within us.


6 January 2019

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