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Jarge's Jottings 2020

What Freedoms?

Alright then, how has Jesus set us free, and what does it say to us 21 st century Christians?


From the moment He began His public ministry at about the age of 30, Jesus embarked on a conflict with accepted religious rules of the day.

Almost immediately, (Read the first chapters of St. Mark’s Gospel) He had broken the rules regarding “uncleanness”, by touching and healing a Leper; but what was unforgivable was the healing of the paralysed man by pronouncing forgiveness of his sins.

“Forgiveness” was something only God could give and for a carpenter’s son to act as if He was God was blasphemy, for which death could be the only suitable punishment.

To add insult to injury, we find Jesus sat in a sinner’s (Matthew’s) house eating and drinking with outcasts of Society, after He had called His host (a hated tax collector) to be a disciple.

That was only the start, for on another occasion He had invited Himself for a meal to a tax collector’s house, showing everyone that He made no distinctions of class, race or status.

We also find Him, restating the way in which we should share the good things of life, rather than restrict them to groups or races, setting people free from any concept of apartheid.

He failed to comply with the complicated scheme of hand-washing and fasting that Judaism demanded and healed and spoke to Gentiles (non-Jews).

St. Augustine wrote “Love God and do what you will” as a dictum for behaviour that sounds an excuse for anarchy, but we may forget that if we really love God, our actions will be such as will please Him.

The only rule that matters declared by Jesus is “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself” a dictum that was expanded by Paul in his letters.

But the greatest freedom is “freedom from guilt”: It is not always realised, that one of the most destructive influences on people’s well-being today is a feeling of guilt, which produces more unhappiness than anything else. It can be the cause of mental and psychological conditions that no medicines or treatment can cure.  

An American Doctor Iken who specialised in mental problems wrote in her book “New concepts of healing” that “If patients in American mental hospitals could be convinced that their sins could be forgiven, 60% could go home immediately”.

The greatest freedom that Jesus offers to humanity, is “peace”; peace with God and peace with our neighbours. That can only be received if we accept that in Jesus and the Cross are the roads to an inner peace.

Depression and damaged mental health are great problems of modern life and we have as The Church, inherited Jesus’ command to “heal the sick” and we can provide help in dealing with the spiritual vacuum in most people’s lives, even by only offering a listening ear.

We, The Church and the medical profession need to accept that many conditions are due to our mental and spiritual state for which there is no cure, but acceptance of the forgiveness that flows because of The Cross and the Love that it demonstrates.

As a priest, over many years, I have listened to confessions and can testify from the result of hearing failures confessed and absolution given and received, that Jesus can set people free both physically and mentally.


20 December 2020

Enter the Freedom Fighter

Christmas Carols are rightly, very popular and we are getting used to “Christmas Songs”, with “Little Drummer Boys” especially if you listen to Classic FM.

However, they differ even from the spate of Christmas Carols that were spawned in the Victorian years that were predominantly “Bible Based” and Oh, how they differ from medieval carols which realistically include direct references to the ultimate fate of this pretty baby boy, that is, “The Cross”.

Yet, within a few weeks of the baby’s birth, a wise old man, Simeon is warning His mother Mary that “A sword will pierce thine own heart also” that will be a consequence of His part in the “fall and rising of many in Israel”.

Not the best thing you want to hear on what should have been a joyful occasion in Joseph and Mary’s lives.

Clearly, in some way this innocent child is going to be more of a worry than a blessing in later years, as indeed, He proved to be.

Within a short time after the beginning of Jesus’ Ministry, we find Him in conflict with the civil and religious hierarchy in the matter of Sabbath observance when He heals a man on that holy day breaking the Laws that Moses (Mark 2, vv18-28) had .laid down so many years previously and was meticulously observed by the Jews.

Jesus had contravened two basic rules both over Sabbath observance and His dismissal of the need for fasting which obviously wasn’t welcomed.

It is clear from the opening tone of Mark’s Gospel that almost from the beginning so much that was precious to the Jews was being challenged by this fiery young man from Nazareth who, eventually will need to be dealt with.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that John and Mark both omit any account of His birth; for them it’s the public ministry that is of concern and the shadow of the cross hangs over Mark’s account almost from the beginning.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” is certainly not the description of Mary’s Son once He embarks on His Father-given mission; He seems ready to defy the authorities whenever He feels that it is contrary to the true Spirit.

Indeed, one might describe His mission to be that of a “Freedom Fighter”, clearing away all the accretions that had been added to the Law, instead proclaiming basic teaching that indicated the true nature of the Godhead and the Father’s priorities.

Whilst He observed the Mosaic Law, He did not hesitate to refute the Pharisees’ complaints by saying “But I say unto you” as if He was superior to what was sacred to His hearers.

Religious observance, particularly in the matter of worship can easily become divorced from the true spirit, where it becomes a system in itself and elements grow up from what was basically a simple endeavour.

Study the pernickety rules described in Leviticus and compare that with what Isaiah (Chapter 1) has to say on more than one occasion, through whom God says that He doesn’t require animal sacrifices, but rather obedience in service to the less fortunate, the sick, the poor, the homeless, even to “strangers” (immigrants) who were detested by the Jews.

Christianity is essentially a “Social” religion, in that it is concerned with how it affects our relationship with God and with one another.

Jesus sought to clarify that relationship and despite the extreme opposition He encountered, pursued that goal to the very end, The Cross.


13 December 2020

Next week: “The freedoms won”

Minor Prophets: Haggai & Zechariah

I expect you’re getting a bit tired of reading these characters like the prophets who flit through the Bible; they seem to spend most of their time attacking the constant “back-sliding” of the Jewish people that infuriated God. They had enough sense from time to time to heed the leading of these prophets, who were as individuals, “nobodies” but because they were privy to God’s thoughts, influential.

Running through their teaching, their main targets were:

The disloyalty of the people whom God had chosen, and for whom He had done such wonders. The event that loomed large in their memories, was the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea; that enabled the Israelites to escape the bondage of Egypt and is the major theme that runs through the Old Testament. They also remembered the great deliverance of the “Passover” (when the angel of death “passed over” the houses of the Israelites whilst the same angel killed all the first-born of the Egyptians) which runs in the whole tradition.

The prophets were constantly warning the people of the terrible consequences of their behaviour which was angering the Lord.

The failure of the people to conform to the social teaching of the Lord, was a factor that runs like a thread from the very beginning in Genesis to the teaching of Our Lord Himself.

Worship of the One, true God was not to be solely in sacrifices and religious ceremonial, vital these might well be, but in the way in which people treated each other; in “loving their neighbours”.

This “Social” contract is a vital part of the prophetic Ministry and studying the writings of these men (and women sometimes) the physical welfare of God’s People is fundamental. At the heart of all this is the Lord, who through the Temple as His dwelling-place is present among them. 

The Prayer Book General Thanksgiving prayer sums it up with “That we show for thy praise, not only with our lips but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness”.

Not all of the Minor Prophets have anything to say that is immediately new or helpful. But they are speaking to the Society of their day, amid the confusion that had arisen from so many military invasions of the Middle Eastern countries during this period.

The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were spokesmen for those who wished to see the ruined temple at Jerusalem restored. Work on it had been halted at the end of a forty year period of Exile because of Samaritan opposition, but it represented the heart of Judaism.

The sight of God’s House being ignored, whilst the people around had built themselves fine houses was an indication of the spiritual and moral decline that had brought them poor harvests and defeat in battle.

This must make us stop and ponder, as more and more churches are ceasing to be centres of worship and are closing, giving a witness to the World that God is being ignored as we turn away to false values.

King Josiah who was only a boy when he became King of Judea, in order to be able to control the worship of the true God was opposed to pagan worship and removed all the local shines, so that sacrifice to the Lord could only be offered at the Temple.


6 December 2020

Meet Micah:

It’s not surprising that we have a group of Major and Minor Prophets all crammed into a period when both Israel and Judah were under threats from the growing powers of the Assyrian and Babylonian forces.

Samaria was the capital city of the Northern Kingdom of Judah and this fell (after a 3 year siege) to the power of Assyria in 721BC and the invading powers turned on Judah (the Southern Kingdom) leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and a 40-year Exile when the leaders of Judah (including the King) were taken into captivity leaving behind the ordinary people living in the ruins (that included the Temple).

The Minor Prophets flourished and their messages were a mixture of condemnation of the worship of pagan gods, forsaking the Lord who had brought them safely out of the bondage in Egypt, to bring them victory over enemy forces for many years.

The condemnation of the pagan worship and the severe failure to follow the commands of the Lord in the social care of the poor, which runs like a thread from Genesis onwards. This theme of the need for Social reform appears, reappearing in Jesus’ teaching and example.

Hence the Minor Prophets’ message swung between the Jew’s behaviour in defiance of the laws (contained in Deuteronomy).

This shows in the divisions of Micah’s messages, which alternated between condemnation of the Jews’ failings that had brought down disaster on the nation mingled with Hope of a brighter future.

Micah’s message can be summed up as follows, each beginning with the word “Hear”: Chapters 1 & 2 (including a lament over the disaster of Jerusalem), 3-5, and 6-7.

The Prophet condemns unjust leaders, defends the rights of the poor against the rich and powerful, but holds to a promise of peace and stability.

Micah’s short, but valid guidance in chapter 6, ends with: “He has showed you, O man what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God”?

Wise words; but only that kind of behaviour can bring peace, justice and security for all people.


1 November 2020

More Minor Prophets: 3. Jonah

Was it a whale or a big fish? It doesn’t really matter if you realise that the big fish never existed!

Jonah was supposedly born in the 9 th century BC, but the actual story appeared much later, probably in the 6th or 7th BC.

Now, why should anyone produce such a story, unless there was a good reason to do so?

Jonah seems a straightforward story, but it was published when there was a great change in thinking about the nature and character of God, striking a different path from the earlier writings where He is seen as a dominant ruthless Being, delighting in massacres of the Israelite enemies.

This  (6 th or 7 th BC) was a period of great revisions of thought of the nature of God, seeing that Isaiah, Hosea and their contemporaries were discovering aspects of His dealings with the Israelites, particularly His concern for the poor, despised people around them.

Very earlier in Genesis we find Him (Genesis 4, vv8-7) protecting the murderer Cain from a lynching which sounds extraordinary against all the blood-shed being recorded in these early five books of the Old Testament.

In Deuteronomy amid all the laws described for the smooth working of Society, we find several places where the plight of the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and even immigrants and refugees, are to be cared for by the Chosen People of God.

So what is the purpose of this strange book, if it is an extraordinary fiction?

Modern Biblical scholars, after perusing the whole history of Jonah have concluded that it is a “missionary” pamphlet, urging the Israelites to reach out to neighbouring nations, spreading the message of reconciliation with God.

Let’s take the story to pieces in more detail.

Jonah, a devout Jew is commanded by God to preach repentance for their sins to the people of the capital city of Nineveh which was corrupt and immoral, which if they did, they would be forgiven.

Jonah is shocked that God should even consider such a generous act, as he didn’t want the people of Nineveh to share in the mercy of God.

So off Jonah goes West in the opposite direction to Spain rather than East.

God frustrates him, by causing the ship to endure a violent storm, and Jonah offers himself as a sacrifice to appease God’s anger and as a result is swallowed by this great fish (there is no mention of a whale) and this fish brings the prophet to the shore, whence he is forced to obey God’s command and so off he goes to Niniveh.

As a result of his preaching, the people from the King downwards (including the animals) repent, wearing sackcloth as a symbol.

So God generously absolves them and they are delighted, but Jonah isn’t. This was what he had feared, that God is a generous, forgiving Being and the people of Nineveh were experiencing God’s loving forgiving nature.

Jonah was very cross and sat down in the heat watching to see if anything would happen, but Nineveh basks in its salvation and the prophet complains to God who rebukes him and explains his actions.

God causes a tree to grow up instantly, but then strikes it so that Jonah is deprived of the cooling shade. He again complains to God about this, the Divine response is: “ You pity the plant for which you did not labour, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity that great city in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle”. The animals share in God’s generosity likewise!


25 October 2020

The Minor Prophets: No.2 Hosea

How would you feel, if as a faithful prophet of the Lord you heard Him commanding you to seek out a prostitute, marry her and have children by her? Incredible. But you will find this described in the book of Hosea (chapter 1).

You can imagine how Hosea might have felt. Such a thing being asked of a holy man?

However being a committed servant Hosea did just that.

He sought out such a prostitute, named Gomer, married her and she bore him a son (Jezreel) and a daughter, named “not pitied” for the Lord would have no pity on Israel, because of their forsaking the Lord their God.

These were all part of a sign that He would have no pity on the people of Israel, for their abandonment of the Lord, worshipping pagan idols, yet the Lord had done so much for them over the centuries. It was a kind of adultery for they had abandoned the One who cared for them and loved them.

Gomer left the prophet to go off with other men, receiving gifts from them, until they tired of her and sent her away.

What should she do, but to seek refuge with her husband and contrary to every rule, instead of repelling her, Hosea took her back and forgave her.

This led to Hosea pondering over these strange events and realised that it was an acted message from the Lord that the reason that he had taken her back, not once but several times, was that he LOVED her; despite all she had done there was a bond between them.

Hosea must have pondered over this, for often prophets used simple illustrations like this to proclaim their message.

If I, a mere sinful mortal, have been able to accept Gomer back despite all her failings, then God must be a loving Being and will forgive returning penitents for surely I cannot be holier than God?”

A great deal of the prophecies that follow, warn of the disasters that will come to various nations and groups that continuing in their godless ways will bring nothing but disaster.

There is an indication of this especially in chapter 11, when after all these warnings, there was a love from the first:

“When Israel was a child I loved him and called him out of Egypt.

The more I called them the more they went from me; yet it was I who taught them how to walk”

What a lovely thought; God taking the hand of humanity to lead His Chosen People along the right path.

There is another lovely passage (chapter 14), where the Lord promises that despite their constant back-sliding, returning to their pagan gods, that all that is needed is to reassume the previous harmonious relationship, the covenant (agreement) made so many centuries ago with Abraham will be renewed.

The bond is Love, and this is Hosea’s great break-through and why he so important to successive generations.

Remember that amid all these marital tensions, there is the constant prophesying against Israel’s enemies, especially Assyria who later invaded Israel. For most of the prophet’s ministry the leading members of Society were taken to Babylon, where they remained for 40 years, before returning when Cyrus as Governor instructed Nehemia (chapter 2) to return to Jerusalem and start repairing the shattered walls of the city and the exiles could return home.

Hosea is significant, for he was prophesying between 760-720 BC; it is the oldest of all the Hebrew scriptures using his own words. He seems to have accepted the doctrine of monotheism (only one God) as did his contemporaries Amos and Isaiah.


Next week: “A Fishy story; Jonah”

18 October 2020

Enter our “Minor Prophets: 1. Amos

To suggest that our next two prophets are “minor” is extremely inaccurate, for while they don’t leave behind long messages, despite Amos not being an accepted member of a prophetic group, they should be reckoned as “very important” characters. Amos and others brought to their ministry a great and important (and generally accepted) awareness of God laying the foundation of two important aspects of God.

This week we are looking at the first of these two, Amos who was not a member of any prophetic school, and living in Judea was an alien voice (the Kingdom had been divided into two separate states, Israel and Judea).

Bethel in Israel was the site of its royal sanctuary and Amos having travelled over the border from Judea, was very unwelcome.

It is interesting that he is the first prophet who sought to present his own approach personally, and his preaching was direct and bound to annoy the rich and powerful. So much so, that he was thrown out of the royal sanctuary at Bethel.

He was basically a tender of vines, a “Vine Dresser” and also a shepherd,  of rustic stock, who as a result had long periods watching over the sheep, enabling him to think of what was happening around him and probably contemplating the vastness of the Universe. He was obviously intelligent and literate.

His chief contribution was his contention that there weren’t lots of Gods as the contemporary world believed, but only one who was ordering the whole of Creation.

The Hebrew God was master of the Universe and nothing occurred without the will of the one great God.

This was the moment when we find that Monotheism (that is, “One only God”) took a tremendous step forward theologically. Scholarship shows that far from being an ignorant rustic, Amos had a deep and rich awareness of the nature of God, with an ability to think deeply.

Amos, being from Judah, found himself in Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and by his preaching, upset many (including the King) by his frank description of the debased Society of the day.

His description of the rich ladies, describing them as “fat cows” did little to endear him to the ruling classes, nor his condemnation of the state of the poor (who could be sold into slavery, for the price of a pair of sandals).

This “social” criticism becomes a continuing theme which, on examination of Deuteronomy indicates that it was God’s will that the poor should be housed, fed, and cared for including “strangers” (refugees). Our present government might take note of this, an attitude that Isaiah condemned (as noted previously).

Amos’ preaching contains various condemnations of other nations, whom the Sovereign Lord will punish for their disobedience. Which eventually He did, as a reading of the prophecy will show.

This “Social Gospel” theme runs throughout the Old Testament.

Spend an hour or two reading the whole prophecy; you will not find it dull, but it will give insight into the Society of 750 BC.

Next week; Hosea “A God of love?”


11 October 2020


“THE PROPHET” was the name given to Isaiah as he dominates the prophetic scene; some calculate that his prophetic ministry spanned some 64 years.

This covered the period before the Exile that followed the Invasion for nearly 40 years. His early prophecies were directed towards the poor obedience of the people of Judea to the Covenant agreed with God long ago and that their behaviour towards the poor and disadvantaged fell far short of that required by God. In the early chapters, Isaiah was pointing out that worship. however grand it might be was no substitute for social justice. This Divine imperative has already been foreshadowed in the early writings of Genesis and much later in Deuteronomy.

The Exile took place after the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (560 BC approx..) when all but the working class, slaves, etc. had left. This Exile lasted until when under the Persians (more invaders) Cyrus the Great restored the Jews to their earlier positions, even providing the material resources and labour to rebuild the ruined Temple with foundations laid in 537 BC.

Isaiah was a prominent voice during that period, urging the people to look ahead to a new and brighter period, when we get all those references to the future joys.

Instead he gravitated between threatening by God for the Jews’ disloyalty, with idols and numerous doubtful pagan  gods. directing them to a pathway of social justice, where the hungry were to be fed, the homeless to be housed, even Gentile strangers were to be welcomed. Between Isaiah and other contemporary prophets such as Hosea and Amos, this was a period something like that which accompanied the Victorian Oxford Movement revival, in the Church of England which set out to follow similar social reforms, something that was the theme of St. James (1 James, chapter 2).

Isaiah comes to the fore when we come to his vision of the future during the period of the Exile. With the recovery of their holy city, better things lay ahead. Above all, his description of the “Suffering Servant” prefiguring the Passion of Our Saviour and much of his poetry that emerges throughout his writing is prophecy at its best.

Useful Bible references: Isaiah 1 Idolatry; 12-13 future hope; 47-48 Israel rebuked; 53-54 The suffering servant; 55-56 God’s mercy for all; The teaching of the prophet offers new hope for Israel.

Much written as beautiful poetry and worth studying when there’s nothing on the TV! Encouraging as to the future, (suitable for meditating in these difficult times).

Next week: Amos (a true Socialist) and Hosea (discovers the caring God of love).


4 October 2020

Here Come the "Big Guns"!

Sorry, but we need to set the stage for what was a traumatic time for the Israelites.

King Solomon managed to trouble the people before he relinquished the throne, and his two sons disputed who should be king, which led to the formation of Israel as a separate state, with Samaria as its capital, to be joined by 10 of the 12 tribes of the Jews; only 2 tribes remained within Judea, its capital Jerusalem. Both the people of Israel and Judea became enemies and eventually the Assyrians launched an invasion of Israel, destroying Samaria (hence the hatred between the two countries)

True prophecy begins with a trio of prophets, operating around the ministries of Isaiah, Hosea and Amos; and their role, is not so much to foretell the future; but looking at the political scene around them and the various alliances, can see what the consequences will be for the “Chosen People”.

Isaiah whose life and prophecies lasted for some 40-60 years, began with the reign of King Uzziah around 740 BC,

Uzziah (who was one of the good monarchs of Judah) was desperately ill, but Isaiah encouraged him to trust in God,  giving him extra years to live.

God’s call to the prophet happened in the year that King Uzziah died (see Isaiah chapter 6) giving him the task of warning the people of Judea (centred on Jerusalem  under now King Ahaz) that they were to listen to the word of God warning them to change their ways, obeying the true God rather than the  idolatrous Gods to whom the people had turned.

A joint invasion of Judah by Syria and Ephraim failed to capture Judea and so, although when the Assyrians entered the fray, Jerusalem was saved until with the final victory, when the Babylonians there began the exile in Babylon of the ruling classes which lasted for 40 years.

The Judean exiles were enabled to return under the reign of King Cyrus (the Great) to rebuild the shattered Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. He provided all the building materials to rebuild the Temple. Ezrah’s task was to recall the Judeans to a new relationship with God, whilst Nehemiah oversaw the building work.

Isaiah’s ministry began in 698 BC and his opening message was that God abhorred the present sacrificial worship, exhorting the people that the sacrifice that God required was that of obedience to a concern for the outcasts, the poor, the homeless and the hungry. What was required was social concern.

This was a message that other contemporary prophets such as Amos preached .

It may raise the question as to how much of the book of Isaiah  was written by him.

The general opinion of scholars is that chapters 1-39 are the work of Isaiah himself; the remainder that of prophets who reiterated his basic teaching, but whose vocabulary and style was markedly different.

  Isaiah presents us with beautiful and telling poetry, and so we will leave an expansion of that with Amos until next week (if you can stand it).


27 September 2020

Bring on the Prophets

Now, there are prophets and “prophets” and not all of them are the same.

There are the Major prophets and the Minor prophets; the first group are people like Moses and Joshua, who were great leaders in the battle to take over the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants.

But there are the Major prophets like Elijah. Elisha, Jeremiah, Amos and Hosea, who, whilst condemning the disobedience of the Jews, threatening Divine punishment, also importantly gave us insights into another, compassionate side of God.

Reading the earlier chapters at the beginning of the Old Testament, one is horrified, not only at the slaughter of the pagan nations, but also of the numbers of creatures that were part of the vast sacrificial system, where, if it is correct saw every living creature (except fish), offered under the great panoply of sacrificial ceremonies.

Elijah and E lisha who both had to contend with the growth of pagan gods with their mixture of offences (mainly sexual) attracted the populace, and both of these prophets were condemned by the King and his cohorts (not least the Queen) seeking their deaths.

It isn’t generally realised that what had been a United Kingdom became divided.  King Solomon had fallen out of favour with God and the people. There was a rebellion and Solomon’s successor (Rehoboam) became King of Judah which only comprised 2 of the twelve tribes of Israel with its capital at Jerusalem whilst his cousin Jeroboam became King of Israel, based around the capital Samaria (922 BC) supported by 10 of the 12 tribes.

Both kings were enemies and so we find the two kingdoms opposed to each other (hence the enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews).

It was during this period that the prophets took on a different task, namely, to declare what God wanted in social reform, and indeed, His very nature.

It is interesting that the prophets Isaiah, Amos and Hosea were in action defining that God was on the side of the poor and disadvantaged and there are foretastes of this in sections of Deuteronomy.

Isaiah (who lived throughout King Uzziah’s reign (740 – 700 BC) began his attack on the religious scene by condemning the sacrifices offered as being not what God desired (Isaiah chap. 1 & 58, vv1-9).

Rather, all the current worship of burnt sacrifices (including their children) was abhorrent. The only sacrifices were those of the heart; “fasting” was only relevant if it was accompanied by social reforms.

This to some extent was echoing the teaching of Deuteronomy, which demanded that the needs of the under-privileged, widows, orphans, strangers (ie. “immigrants”) were to be priorities for any worshipper.

Elijah and Elisha succeeded in stemming the tide of idolatry, but their role was different from that of their successors, particularly those who were living through the tumult of the Exile of Judah for another 40 years.


13 September 2020

God: Cruel or Kind?

If you are going to understand the Old Testament, you need to realise that this is a work that was edited and written over a period of centuries, the last such between the 5 th and 7 th BC.

We stand back in horror when we read of the massacre of everything, men, women, children, domestic animals, when the Jews invade Canaan, killing everything they meet regardless.

However, we cannot condemn them, because in that age of religious development, there was something called a “ban”.

Everything that was living when a community was successfully conquered (with the help they believed of God), everything that was killed or taken had to be offered to the god (of whatever belief).

They were sacrifices to be offered to the deity; nothing had to se excepted. We find instances where a father such as Jepthah sacrificed his own daughter as he had promised, prior to a successful battle that he would sacrifice, whatever or whoever he first met on his triumphal return. Sadly that was his daughter.

Yet, we find passages in the early books of the OT, where in Deuteronomy for instance, all whom the Israelites encountered were to be treated kindly, even if they were “immigrants”, described as “strangers”.

Isaiah (58, vv1-9) proclaims that God does not require sacrifices of animals; what He requires is obedience to His laws. Indeed, according to the prophets, that obedience is to provide hospitality and acceptance of everyone.

Reading the OT, one is reminded that the relationship between the Israelites and God was an uneasy one, for, whilst promising to obey all His laws, they were rewarding Him for all His protection by turning their devotion to pagan gods whom they found in the conquered lands.

There is also a conflict between the prophets and the secular authorities, and in the years when the great prophets were most active, their manifesto sounds like pure socialism. We shall discover this most starkly, when we study the prophets in detail during the next few weeks.

It is impossible to suggest that every word of the OT is to be taken literally, for It is full of exaggerations. When you study for instance, the ceremonial laws given in the desert, with commands that the sacrificial altar and all that accompanies it, must be covered with pure gold; the priestly robes had to be extraordinarily rich and you wonder where materials for all this could be found in a desert.

Likewise, later, one suspects that the thousands of fighting men for the armies, together with their horses and chariots may be more imaginative figures by the recorder to enhance their king’s reputation.

As you will (I hope) realise, that you cannot judge what happened in the 2,000 years between Moses and the completion of the Old Testament (somewhere about the 6 th century BC) by our standards.

When Jesus says “But I say unto you” in response to queries abgut the Law, this is the true voice of God, superseding all that has gone before.


23 August 2020

Next time “Enter the prophets”

Noah, the Ark and the Red Sea

When is a miracle a miracle?” That’s a fair question, because of the wonderful deliverance of the Israelites, when God commanded the waters of the Red Sea to stand back while the escaping Jews crossed, and the pursuing host of Pharaoh’s army were drowned.

An event that is stamped into the memory of every Jew until this day.

But what is a miracle?

It could be fairly stated that, whilst the shallow Red Sea (Red = "Sea of reeds") was at the right moment able to be crossed in bare feet and being shallow (as in Ryde’s case) the tide returned swiftly, was this a miracle, that it happened at just the right moment to the pursuing army’s discomfort?

In other words, the event itself was not “miraculous”, but it was a miracle when it happened at just the right moment.

That does not devalue the event in the Israelites’ eyes, because the wonder is that by some divine intervention God’s People were rescued from annihilation, enabling them to continue to make their way to the Promised Land.

However, wen we come to Noah and his Ark we are in a different scenario: this is an event that is part of folk stories, preceding the possible date of the Ark as described in Genesis 6-9.

Here, we are on “dodgy” ground.

A gigantic flood is recorded in several ancient myths, particularly a Babylonian story of The Epic of Gilgamish and for this there is no other reason why God should do this except perhaps as a sample of divine caprice.

In all this, we have to realise that most of the Old Testament has been worked over by reputable scholars and these are identified by them through the vocabulary and writing style of sections.

The final editing seems to have taken place at the end of Israel’s enforced exile in Babylon when under Cyrus, the king of  Babylon, the Jews were allowed to return in 538 BC.

Over the centuries, many attempts have been made to find the wreckage of the Ark, many since the Reformation, where Evangelical Christians (mainly from America) have discovered ancient timbers that unfortunately proved to be fakes.

Space or reader’s possible boredom may discourage you from digging deeper, but unless we realise that various forces were at work in the transmission of the events through what were very formative years, then we shall find ourselves struggling.

The first 5 books of the OT(described as the 5 books of Moses) carry the influence of editors until as late as the 5 th or 6 th centuries BC when there are elements that are characteristic of this later period. 

Fear not, because we discern the witness of the Prophets such as Isaiah, and they provide a different view of what is happening and interpreting events from God’s point of view.

What is important as I stressed previously is to discover that there is one theme running throughout the OT and that is, that through their lives the Jews are discovering that God is walking with them.

No, not all you read in the Bible is true, but it seeks to convey the essential truth of God’s caring nature until we open the  New Testament finding that “God so loved the world that He gave is only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life”.

Next week: “Is God a loving Father or a cruel blood-thirsty tyrant?"


16 August 2020

Strange goings on in Eden

Everyone knows about the fig-leaves as Adam and his wife struggle to cover their nudity; all the result of eating the forbidden fruit in defiance of God’s orders regarding this tree, “If you eat it, you will die”.

But they don’t; instead, kind-hearted God replaces their skimpy modesty covering with animal skins (Genesis 3, v20) , and, do they die? Nope.

Here is an indication, not of the blood thirsty events that follow throughout the early books of the Bible, for rather than destroy them, they are punished by God banishing them from the beautiful garden.

Here is a sign of Divine compassion.

In this story (a myth), we find primitive man exhibiting the same behaviour as we do now; not a true story, but one that illustrates the God who saves.

However, study the episode and you will find that you are following the whole pattern of temptation as we find it now, 4,000 years later.

There is for us a tempting voice, not from a snake, but from that disobedient impulse that has cursed mankind ever since.

When confronted with a choice between what we perceive God would have us do and what we are inclined to do, isn’t there an inner voice that says, “Go on, do it (whatever it is), “you won’t be punished”, or “No one will know”, “nothing will happen”. Often when we are young we succumb to the “dares” when friends urge us to defy School, Society’s  or Parental rules?.

The serpent is ideal as an example, for they can slip unnoticed into places where they should not be, and this will have happened to every one of us.

You wonder why God, starting from scratch gave us free-will, to obey or disobey; wouldn’t life have been easier for all of us, if we were programmed to do only what God commands?

Well, yes; if we are not free to do as we wish, then there is no moral value to our actions. We should do things, not because we are afraid of punishment, but because they should be a response to a loving God.

What value is there to an action that we are forced to take?

We could have been programmed, so that when we hear the church bell, calling us to worship, we could do no more than obey and trot into do so; what moral value would that have been?

Here God took a calculated risk and sadly we observe how disastrous that has been for mankind, but could it have been any other way?

We see how disastrous that becomes, when of their two sons Cain lures his brother Abel into the field, killing him in jealousy.

Cain, when asked by God, “Where is your brother?”  makes that chilling response “Am I, my brother’s keeper” , of which the answer is “Yes, and your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers too”.

If we took that to heart and lived by it, what a wonderful world this could be.

In the first five books of the OT, we shall find many sections which show God eager to punish with death by the slightest infringement of His commands, but there follows Adam and Eve, not being killed for their sin. Equally is telling is the way in which God, for fear of a lynch mob trying to kill Cain the murderer, sets a mark on him to protect him so that he can escape to another country (Genesis 4, v1-16).

Biblical scholars have identified by vocabulary and style at least four different editors to Genesis, adding to the difficulties of interpreting these early events, making life even more confusing.

Some of these five books, attributed to Moses, were probably, as I have said, not entirely historical fact, but ideas orally transmitted (by word of mouth) as the ancients tried to fathom what had been and why.

These stories may not be necessarily historically true, but underneath through them we find truths over which we may ponder.

One thing is clear, that they had deduced that God is a being of compassion as well as of judgement.


9 August 2020

Next week: “What about Noah, the Ark and the crossing of the Red Sea?”

Some Bible basics 1. Is the Bible true?

A leading Humanist created an uproar in the 1930s, when she declared that “The Bible was the most dangerous book in the world and should be banned”.

In her defence she pointed to the gruesome accounts of countless massacres of the Israelite’s enemies, with everyone (including all the children and animals) slaughtered at God’s command.

What I will try to do in successive Jottings, is to try to unravel truth from the myths and exaggerations throughout the Old Testament; so please bear with me, as some of what we discover may throw a light on what is, for many, a worrying series of books and make us wonder, “Where is this God of love, whom we as Christians, worship?

Where then, should we start? Surely, at the beginning with the book Genesis (the title means “beginnings”).

Open your Bible and look at the first two chapters and if you read and think about what you have read, you will realise that there are two accounts of Creation, both contradictory and separated by about 1500 years BC, with Abraham appearing on the scene about 1900 BC.

Early books of the OT are the product of oral transmission, and “history” as such doesn’t begin until 2000BC.

If the Bible is unerring “truth” then we wonder how two conflicting accounts of Creation appear in chapters 1 & 2.

Chapter 2 is probably from the period when certain ideas circulated around Creation itself by groups of people proposing ideas about how things were as they experienced them. Group discussions probably gave rise to the idea of man being created first. The remainder of life being created to enable that first man to survive.

Chapter 1 ushers you into a different order; God creates the world, then from the sea emerges amphibious creatures which by evolution form into primitive man (and women).

In other words, Chapter 1 is almost pure Darwinism, and compiled by religious scholars, providing us with a warning that  intermingled with historical fact, there is also the explanation of how or why things are from the ideas made from trying to delve into our past. In other words, “Myths”.

Before you throw up your hands in horror, just remember that when dealing, for instance with a child’s “Why?” sometimes our response may be to tell of a fictional child who by ignoring the “Green Cross Code” suffered injuries, or even worse.

In other. words, behind a fictional story we may find truths about what happens to us and through us.

Earnest missionaries (of the Evangelical flavour) will tell us that everything in the Bible is true, but they are caught up short, in that while everything in the Bible is “Truth”, yet accounts such as Adam and Eve are not strictly so, but the product of primitive minds trying to explain how things are as they were experiencing, and trying to find meaning.

As Pontus Pilate remarked to Jesus, at the crucifixion, when Jesus says He is bringing the truth, Pilate’s response is a cynical question “What is truth?” (John 18, 33-38)

So next week, we’ll talk about the “myths” where we learn about the nature of God, if you can bear it!


26 July 2020

SIN AND "S**"?

It happened every Lent half-term at College. The Principal would call all the married men into his study, saying “You men have been away from your wife and families for six weeks, but when you get home, do remember that it is still Lent and a time to abstain. Do I need to say more?” I suspect he was not heeded all that much!

Likewise, I and my best mate at College was John, and we both cycled together as keen bell-ringers to the nearest monthly Ringers’ Meeting in some country church. Nothing erotic about that you may say, but the Principal had ordered us to not .go out together, on the grounds that it was “ not healthy”!

I only recount this as it illustrates how sexual activity became the major sin, as far as one can tell from Early Church history. It could not be claimed to be something about which Jesus was unduly concerned.

Sex gradually became a cardinal sin after the fourth century. It tormented some of the Saints to an obsession and springing from that was the need for priests to be celibate; something that still exists in the Roman Catholic Church and probably is the reason why there was much anguish when Anglican clergy (with wife and children) were allowed to become RC priests with the Ordinariate.

Interesting that in Genesis (1, vv27-28), the newly created man is told to be “ fruitful and multiply”. How, without sex?

Early in St. Mark’s Gospel, (2, vv15-17) we find Jesus sat down among a crowd of undesirables, among whom were probably prostitutes, drinking wine and doubtless accompanied by a song or two and much merriment.

You have the classic case (John 8, vv1-11) where the Scribes and Pharisees bring a wretched adulterous woman to be judged and punished (death by stoning). No doubt about her guilt, but Jesus suggests that “He who is sinless should throw the first stone” and convicted by their own consciences, we find just Jesus and the woman alone. “ Hath no man condemned thee?” and on her answer “No man, Lord”, He says “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more”.

Note, Jesus doesn’t say she hasn’t sinned, but He doesn’t condemn her.

The sin in adultery, was the breaking of a solemn undertaking, a betrayal of marriage promises (the same way in which God is portrayed as making a marriage between Himself and the Hebrews, and breaking that covenant and abandoning Jahweh, was a form of adultery).

Yet, what did Jesus decry? Religious hypocrisy, creating Laws that were man-given and not God-given, failing to treat the poor and outcasts with some respect, and (our old friend), Pride.

Lust can be more than simply sex; other tendencies can be a priority where they became an obsession, coming between ourselves and God.  Alcoholics, gamblers, drug addicts have an unhealthy lust for their addictions.

Nowadays, we talk about “Having Sex”, reducing what can be beautiful between a man and a woman to almost a commodity. That is a sin, because it can be an action which is not an expression of love, but of lust.

Rather we should describe the sexual act as another description, “Making Love”, a physical expression of that commitment, for sex without love is misusing a God-given gift. That is lust.

We have devalued it, and we are spiritually poorer as a result.


15 March 2020

Let's have a word about sin

One of my grand-daughters disliked the church she usually attended, because the sermons were always about “Sin”, and she thought there was more to preach about than that. Indeed there is, but there would be no Gospel if sin was not an important aspect of being human.

The Gospel is more than that, for if there was no sin, the Cross would not have been needed; no Good News that God offers us the antidote to sin in the life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ..

But, what is sin? It is “self”, where what we want do, is contrary to the behaviour that God has set down, not just in the 10 commandments, which is full of “thou shalt nots”,  but in the positive teaching originated in the Old Testament and repeated by Jesus, to “Love God with all your heart, mind soul and strength, and your neighbour as yourself”.

Over the centuries theologians managed to isolate seven variations, that they considered were terribly serious.

Why “seven”? Because seven is a sacred number and they had to fit them in, although they do sound a bit artificial.

Now what are they? Good Question.

Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath and Sloth.

So let’s begin  with what has been described as the “Mummy and Daddy of all sins” and that is PRIDE.

Why is that? Because it was Pride that led Adam’s wife to fall for the serpent’s challenge, suggesting that God was just being awkward, and “Why shouldn’t she try it?”

So she does, and fatally, persuades her husband to do so also.

Pride leads people into all manner of actions, where we want to do what we wish, and see any curb on our decisions as an infringement of our ability to do so, come what may.

The temptation of Eve is something that is mirrored daily in our lives. The Genesis narrative is classic, where there is a temptation and voices (within or without) tell us “Go on, nothing will happen if you do this”; situations where we go along with it, because we don’t want to appear to be a “sissy” because we didn’t want to appear to be soft, or inadequate. So that in some way we shall be diminished.

In my youth (a long time ago!) in the playground, and if something was suggested we might do against school rules, and you held back, it was most hurtful to be called a “Cowardly Custard” (we were less nasty in those halcyon days) but that was sufficient to go on to obey  those  voices and finish up suffering for it.

Certainly, when urged to kiss a girl in the Infants’ Playground at Mount Street Infants’ School, “Go on, no one will know”, authority did “know” and resulted in my being publicly slapped on my wrist in front of all the School!

Pride in individuals is bad enough, but when we rise to the level of National Pride, that’s when confrontation and conflict become literately fatal and, of course, more sinful.

Next week, we’ll talk about “Greed”


8 March 2020

FASTING: If you are giving up things for Lent, do remember that Sunday, being the weekly Feast of the Resurrection is never a “Fast” day, so you can have a sherry (or whatever), before lunch, if you wish.   

"Lessons from Acts" (A personal thought)

“You’re ill, man” said the (then Archdeacon, “ You must go!” “When?” I asked, “ As soon as possible” was the reply).

That worthy gentleman had heard that I was suffering from depression, verging on a nervous breakdown, and this was the cause of his concern.

“I won’t” I said, “I want a year to try and prepare the parish for a new Rector and then I’ll go”. That was in the days when I had a “freehold” and thus could stay on regardless of Archdeacons or anyone else, except the Bishop.

There was little sympathy and I felt as if I was disposable and needed to go without a fuss.

There were so many bits and pieces of jobs that I naturally undertook (as did so many parish priests) and possibly because I didn’t want to feel dispensable and if I didn’t do it, who would?

The Archdeacon departed, with me having promised to leave at the end of a year. It was only when I began to look around the parish that I realised there were tasks that any layman could do (if I could find them) and that did not require an ordained minister.

The truth was that I had (in 1981) six years earlier had a bad year and that was the beginning of a gradual decline.

The depression deepened after attending a clergy meeting where a Cathedral Canon addressed us, saying (and this is what worried me)

“You clergy are very expensive items and you must ensure that you are giving us your moneys-worth”.

I asked myself, “Was I doing all I could, what more could I do?”

All this time, I was struggling, but carried out all my duties and services during this period.

When eventually I left Wootton at the end of 1987, I resolved that I would, in future, only do what needed a priest to do, and the rest had to be the responsibility of the congregation.

I should have read Acts 6, vv1-7: “It is not right that we should leave  preaching the word of God to serve tables” and so the disciples appointed seven good men, Deacons to deal with the practical matters such as  distributing food, clothing etc. to the needy.

For two years, after retirement, there being numerous retired priests around the area, there was little demand for my services apart from helping at the Cathedral and so, at the Superintendent Methodist minister’s appeal for help, I was enrolled on the Methodist Plan.  I studied their set-up, where the running of the chapels was left to the local officials, leaving the Minister to be a spiritual leader, rather than an ecclesiastical dogsbody.

I felt we could learn much from the original Methodist set-up and that Ministers should “minister”, and priests left to be priests and not to be concerned with the day-to-day running of their benefice.

Too often some congregations have behaved as if they were “passengers” on the Church ship, leaving the priest to do all manner of jobs which they could well do.

Sadly, some of the Methodist (Class) system seems to have withered, but if The Church is going to prosper, our people must see themselves, not as “passengers”, but as fellow seamen, leaving the clergy to steer and lead the crew, which is what Methodism did and can still do and we must do also.

When I was asked to rescue 6 little Somerset parishes, I insisted that we drew up a contract that defined exactly what they could expect me to do (being a priest and pastor) and what they, the People of God should do.

It was a “releasing” experience, when I found that I could at last be free, leaving anything that didn’t need a priest to the laity.


1 March 2020

"The Elephant in the Room?"

You’ll hardly believe this, but when I took charge of my first “living” in 1956, the Parish Quota to the Diocese was £80p.a. the Vicar received no refund of his expenses, such as postage, telephone, etc. and until then the parish contributed nothing to the stipend, which was £550p.a.

The stipend was funded by the interest on Endowments given by wealthy parishioners and so the parish got their priest for free!

Some of these Endowments were substantial and until 1976, no  demand was made upon the parish. The dead paid the clergy.

The Clergy all had to pay into a Pension Fund, which when I was a curate (earning £350 p.a.) was another demand upon my slender purse. I fell into arrears during my curacy and the moment I was an incumbent, with an increase in income, the arrears were collected from my first monthly pay.

Then, it was “all change” and two things happened that changed the whole structure of pay.

First, the Church Commissioners (who handle all the clergy pay) had the Accountants to examine the Church of England finances and discovered that the income from these endowments was far smaller than they should be, mainly, because no in-depth study had taken place over the years. Many rented properties of which this comprised most, were still paying the same as they had done many years previously.

Wootton was particularly fortunate, for in 1087 when the parish was founded by the DeLisle family it included most of the land in the parish, plus rents from other parts of the Island. Until 1976 I used to receive rent (£26 p.a.) for two fields in CHALE GREEN!

These were sold and under a formula, 5% of the Income from the capital sum received (£44,000) when they were sold to build the Spanners Close group of social housing, my stipend rocketed. Because of previous sales, my stipend when I went there as Rector was already £1800 p.a. against the minimum sum of £1000 p.a.

This was obviously unfair, and the Endowment income was shared between the poorer parishes, and although I was over paid, they kindly didn’t cut my pay until Inflation took over and the “minimum” steadily increased until we reach clergy pay that is twenty times that of the £1,000 p.a. in 1976!

Second, the unwise decision to overhaul the Pension Scheme for it was decided that we needn’t contribute to our pensions any longer and the future pension would be allied to the Diocesan Minimum and to be a Final Salary sum of two-thirds of the going rate.

At £1,000 p.a., the pension would be £660 p.a.

That was fine, but as the stipends have steadily risen over the years, because of inflation to a level no one could have forecast, so have the pensions, and although with the decrease in the future number of pensioners (the dark angel is removing us) this demand will not be quite so great.

The “Final Salary” proviso (guaranteed to all those previously in the Pension Scheme) and the removal of clergy contributions brings us to the stage when we need to ask “Can we sustain the cost of our church buildings and at the same time pay huge sums in our Parish Share to pay stipends?” With falling congregation numbers and continuing inflation, who is going to maintain them?

Alison and I discussed this recently and despite representations to the Diocese, this is the “Elephant in the room”, for with mainly older people contributing and young families mostly unable to set aside the sums required  . . . where do we go from here?


23 February 2020

"How do we make our worship rewarding?"

In 1958 as a young priest, but Vicar of Holy Trinity, Taunton, I found myself part of a Mission team; the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt. Revd. Cuthbert Bardsley had decided to launch a district-wide Mission for outreach in the whole Croydon area.

No small undertaking for it was heavily populated with a mainly commuter clientele.

Our team comprised me, John (my training vicar as leader) and Alfred, vicar of a newly formed parish, and we were assigned to the parish of St. George’s, Shirley, with a fairly modern, “middle of the road” scheme of worship.

Each of us had a particular role; John was the Mission Preacher, Alfred to apply himself to the younger folk (mainly Scouts and Guides), and I was to deal with the music.

Lasting a week, a Mission service every evening, plus parish visiting by the team which was soul-destroying because being a commuter area, most were away in the City during the day.

The Evening Service was well attended, John preached and all seemed to go well, and we came away, feeling that we had made some impact.

One young ‘teen-ager, David was enthusiastic and accompanied me on the visiting, and spoke about the dullness of the worship there, hoping that it  might give the parish a new start.

A few weeks came a sad letter from David where he said: “You may not be surprised to know that after you had departed, some newcomers joined us, but after a couple of Sundays they were seen no more. Everything (he said) has gone back to where it was before, nothing has changed and strangely no one seems particularly disturbed at that”.

For a Mission of that type (and since then, I have been involved in four such ventures) and the underlying problem at Shirley, was that they had not prepared sufficiently, ensuring that what they were inviting people to, would be positive, possibly exciting and challenging and offering a spiritual dimension. In other words, the seed fell on unprepared soil and so nothing took root.

It was clear in discussions with the congregation that a fair number were anxious for change, but we as missioners felt that the parish priest wasn’t wildly enthusiastic for change, nor were the older members. Yet, the truth is as a wise parish priest at All Saints, Ryde said to me years ago, “I f you get the worship right, you’ll get the rest right” and in my experience that is true.

Worship has to enable us to meet God as reality; what one theologian called the “numinous”, confronting the majesty and mystery of the Divine.

Our worship ought to express that “awe-fullness” of God, which means that not only does it convey His “approachability” “Where we cry, “Abba, Father”, but  not forgetting His Majesty.

The rise of the Ultra-Evangelical churches with their large congregations fill us with envy, but there is another side to this.

A diet of long sermons, repetitive choruses, and no structured worship cannot satisfy everyone. There is little scope for congregational participation and if we study Christian and Jewish worship, from the beginning there was a desire to demonstrate the majesty of the Father by the music, the robes of the leaders and the whole reverential approach.

If it is not a positive experience, newcomers won’t come again.

We need to evaluate our own worship. Do you find it satisfying, uplifting, giving you a sense of peace and purpose; Joyful to start a new week?

If it doesn’t, what would improve its impact on you?


16 February 2020

"The loss of Sunday, what can we do?"

“Life is grim”, or so you would think if you looked around you at people you see, in the street, in shops, etc., for you don’t see many happy faces. Christmas shoppers rarely look as if they are enjoying themselves.

These are anxious times when no one seems to know what the future holds, excepting gloom and doom.

Brexit, Global Warming, Rising Prices, Housing Shortages, and so there is little sense of the years ahead being a wonderful opportunity for us to become a nation of happy and contented citizens.

The number of people suffering from depression rises, even among the very young, yet most have no want of physical possessions; but we see the symptoms that all is not well, by the number of youngsters who become suicide victims, or at least self-harming.

It may be that as Alison said in a sermon fairly recently, the more we become possessors of so much “stuff”, the less contented we are.

It was thought to be a great act of liberalism, when the Sunday Trading Act came into being. It demolished the barriers that separated one day out of the seven, giving people time to take a deep breath prior to the beginning of another week.

Sunday was considered so precious that when I was down the pit, I received £1.50 a Sunday shift instead of the normal £1 (1947 wages of course). Yet “double; even “time-and-an-half” have disappeared.

On modern calendars, Sunday has been demoted to be the last of the days, rather than the “First day of the week”, the glorious day that disciples went to an empty tomb and new life was promised to those who believed.

Without question, the seven day working week has deprived people of that oasis of calm that Sabbath Observance allowed people to enjoy, but it has also struck a blow at any form of religious observance.

No choirboys? No, they went off to the recreation ground to play football and now they are being followed by the girls.

The Pope saw the dangers and reminded us as some Church attenders knew, that for The Church, following ancient Jewish practices, Sunday actually begins according to our Church calendars, on Saturday evening. Hence, the Saturday evening Vigil Mass.

The first Christians met, for worshjp, not on Sunday morning, but on Saturday evening, for the Sabbath (Saturday) ended at dusk , and we follow that still, so last evening when I said Evensong (just me and the angels) I prayed the Collect for today.

Holidaying in Germany, my wife Hazel and I, being sat outside a café on a Saturday evening, were astonished to see a steady stream of Germans, including whole families, entering the RC church opposite for the evening Mass and I suspect there were as many doing so as would the next Sunday morning.

Recently I have mentioned the growing incorporation of whole families into a programme that teaches them the Faith and particularly taking part in the Communion and this might bring a new vision of The Church and different opportunities.

In my 3 year sojourn at St.  Michael’s, Swanmore, we had considered this to be the way forward, with a Saturday evening Service, comprising a simple meal and a teaching Eucharist, but the arrival of a new priest in charge quashed that, which was a disappointment.

It works elsewhere, so, might it be worth thinking and praying about it? We cannot fight this modern battle with out-dated weapons; our diminishing congregations are evidence that at the moment, the devil is winning. What do you think?


9 February 2020

"The family that prays together stays together"

“The times they are a’changing” is certainly true regarding “Family” participation in our worship and it is clear that traditional ways of incorporating families are failing.

One factor is that when I was first ordained in 1952, we were dealing with a population who, having been taught in our Sunday Schools had some smattering of the Christian Faith; that generation has died out and as evangelists (something we should all be), we are starting with a clean sheet.

The tendency has been to regurgitate what was done in the past, forgetting that today many have no idea who Jesus was, or indeed any contact with worship, except in the most limited form.

We have an “All-age” Communion, to which rarely do extra come, apart from the normal congregation. The problem, is, that if they come, they are presented with a service where they will be excluded from the essential heart of it as they are not confirmed.

“Messy Church” has its advocates, but if they are not intended to lead to full participation, then you have the danger of creating an “alternative” congregation who will go their own merry way.

I was surprised to read in the Diocesan magazine from one such leader that their activities were designed to form another congregation, apart from the main worship. Yet in the Bible Reading Fellowship bulletin (which is the main source of Messy Church), it is stated quite clearly that its goal is to feed participants into mainstream worship. As long ago as the 1950s.when I was part of the Children and Family Worship Section of the Education Committee, we had realised the dangers of avoiding this need to incorporate newcomers, of whatever age, into mainstream worship.

We decided to launch a new approach, where we encouraged our children to come (with their parents if possible) to the Parish Communion. Any lone child would be accompanied by a member of the congregation, and they did so.

Instruction in the Faith was done on a weekday evening, and followed the then Methodist practice of dividing them into groups according to the level they had achieved.

Annually, certificates for progress were presented by the Bishop at the Cathedral, when the nave was full of excited and happy children.

A new Diocesan Director of Education decided to abandon this, and unhappily as a result our numbers of children in church were reduced.

However this has recently been revived in a new way and is spreading where much the same set-up is established, but this time, including the parents as well, so that families learn and worship together.

Imitating Alpha groups, often there is a simple meal (befoere or after) so that the Social and Spiritual combine.

Two years ago, I watched the (recorded) Easter Communion from St. Alban’s Abbey, where among other parishes they have adopted this new approach. I was astonished to see large numbers of parents and their children join the Service at the Offertory having had teaching elsewhere. Obviously the Bishop approved. with children of about 8yrs.old and over, receiving Communion with reverence.

We were told at a meeting about “Mission” that half of the parishes in our Diocese have NO children worshipping with them.

How Jesus must weep. Our ministry to families should be a priority, so talk about it, pray about it, think about it and then see whether this might be the way forward.


2 February 2020

"Christianity and Community"

Working for four years side-by-side with hardened Durham miners was one of the great “turning” moments of my life; not that I had led a sheltered life, for together with living in a working man’s pub, “The Brewers Arms” since I was 13, had realised how completely the average man (and woman) was divorced from any experience of worship and The Church.

Thinking (as I often do) about my life experiences, it confirmed what a wise priest had told me some years previously that “The Church of England hasn’t lost the working class, but since the Reformation, it never had them”.

He was referring to the fact that with the desire to abolish anything that was tainted by Roman Catholic teaching and practise, the “old ways”, had to be condemned and eliminated.

A study of Eamonn Duffy’s book “The Stripping of the Altars” shows how the life of the community was centred around the parish church and involved the congregation in the performing of its worship.

The various crafts often had a side chapel or an altar (for which they were responsible), dedicated to the patron saint of their craft and there were processions within the worship, in which the whole congregation took part; not just the robed clergy and choir as became the norm when these were revived in the Oxford Movement 1800s, which itself led to the reawakening of the Church of England.

Processions taught that the whole Christian community was a “moving” Community, such as at Candlemass, when the whole congregation proceeded around the church, carrying their lighted candles to the four corners of the building, signifying their missionary role in taking the Good News to the four corners of the world in response to Jesus’ command (Matthew 28,vv16-end).

Sunday Schools were very much a Victorian innovation; the Prayer Book states that the children are to be taught within a normal service, that is at Prayer Book Evensong, presumably attending with their parents.

The modern “after-church” coffee had a forerunner in the “Churchyard Ales” that were provided by the Churchwardens after Mass to which medieval parish accounts bear witness.

Homemade wine that I brewed in the “Six Pilgrims” (in the absence of any available water or facilities for coffee making) was instrumental in binding the six communities together, so that they regularly worshipped together something about which the Archdeacon had said “They’ll never worship and work together”, but they did and still do.

The key to that benefice’s revival was the eating and drinking together after worship which ties up with the practise of the Early Church that met socially prior to the Lord’s Supper.

There was no separate “Children’s Church” or other gathering for different age groups, but families joined in the one Christ-ordered commemoration, learning together. Not only by what they were formally taught in the sermon, but in the participation.

During the two-plus years I struggled at Swanmore, the introduction of a Carol Service at Christmas, of which a part involved a procession to the Crib, attracted four times the usual Sunday numbers (i.e. 50 instead of 15). The following Christmas brought even more, that included many Dads.

“History repeats itself” we are told and perhaps if we looked back to pre-Reformation times, or even to the 1 st century, we may find inspiration to revive a flagging Church?

“Christianity means Community” and vice-versa.


26 January 2020

"The times, they are a'changing"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


19 January 2020

"Tomorrow's or Today's Church"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


12 January 2020

"The Day the Devil triumphed?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


5 January 2020                                                                                                       

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