“I have never been so insulted”, cried the well-dressed lady, red-faced with anger. “I don’t expect my hymn book to be given to me by a slip of a girl; I expect that to be done by someone responsible like a Churchwarden, or a Sidesman.
I won’t be coming to this church again” and off she stumped from the church, still muttering.
Let me fill you in as to why we had got to this point.
When interviewed by the PCC in 1968 (as a candidate to be Rector of Wootton), at the top of their list was the request for provision of some form of Family Worship, and as there was already a small Sunday School at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, conducted by a layman I suggested that we might turn that into a Family Communion.
Because of the fact that there was only an 8 a.m. said Communion, and unwilling to upset what obviously was a very conservative clientele, Mattins would need to continue, but moving it to 11.15.
I outlined what kind of Family-friendly service that might be; that it would be a Sung Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer and I would try and incorporate the Sunday School children (boys and girls) to staff the service with the boys (choir) and the girls as sides persons, giving them an appropriate role (the cause of my angry lady’s complaint).
This is where we find the extraordinary idea that worship where children are involved has to be watered down and as childish as possible; frankly, that is something that children in Church don’t appreciate.
I was encouraged by Dorothy L. Sayers’ book “Creed or Chaos” where she states that (in every child), “there is a little adult, screaming to get out”, and what they need is to be presented with worship that is intelligible.
The tragedy is that this is not recognised, especially in the upper reaches of The Church, but also in the rank and file of many clergy.
Having accompanied on the organ the Sunday School in Tanfield church in Durham for some 3 years, most of A&M’s hymns “For the Young”, including “We are but little children week”, or “Above the bright blue sky” were completely insensitive to the needs of a techno-savvy clientele.
Experiments are taking place throughout the CofE, and the most successful is that emerging from Dorset, where children and adults are involved in a teaching/Eucharist, where, following rules agreed by General Synod, enables children, (age 8 upwards) to receive Communion before Confirmation. This instils a spiritual routine, where the youngsters can be made to feel that they are equal and important.
In the immediate post-War years, a much acclaimed book on Children’s work was hailed as the blueprint for the future, but it was in a sense, damned by its title “Tomorrow’s Church” which we students and junior clergy seized upon, because it is Baptism that makes us Christians, NOT Confirmation.
The “Ely” report on “Communion for the Un-confirmed” supported the theology behind the practise. Every other denomination does this; Roman Catholics have done so for centuries, it is usual in Free Churches.
We (upstart ordinands and young clergy), thought we need to view baptised children as much members of Christ’s Body and were adamant that if Baptism makes us Christians, then the gateway to Communion is not Confirmation by a Bishop, but by the pouring of water in the Name of the Holy Trinity.
Every baptised youngster is not a member of “Tomorrow’s Church”, but is part of “Today’s Church” and our thinking and actions need to reflect this.
If there is no “Today’s Church”, there certainly won’t be one tomorrow.
Watching the TV over the past few weeks we have seen the heart-breaking pain of Gaza, where there has been scant attention paid to basic concerns for the plight of the Palestinians.
True, the forces of Hamas fired rockets into Israel, but the Israelites have gradually taken away by force, land that was originally ceded to the Palestinians and are now building new Israeli settlements, driving out the Palestinians.
Strangely, there has been little concern by the outside world that has mainly made appropriate noises, but no action; the USA under Trump was actively supporting the Jews.
Now, my saying this will instantly condemn me for “racism”, but this is not a question of racism, but the concern of others that people abide by natural justice.
Now, people may argue that the land was given to the Jews via Abraham (Genesis 12 ff) but in early books of the Old Testament, it is made clear that all “strangers” are worthy of death, but a study of Deuteronomy 12, we find just the opposite.
Among commands given by Moses, there is protection for widows, children, “strangers” (immigrants), and all who are poor. If a man borrows from a wealthier man, as a security, he can leave his top coat, but at eventide when it will be cold, the lender must return the coat so that the poorer may be kept warm!
Note that the “strangers” are not to be killed, but treated kindly, which is in complete contrast to earlier chapters of Genesis.
Why the change in attitudes?
To put it in numbers, Moses lived somewhere around 1250BC and died c1210 BC. Deuteronomy was written between 500-700BC (possibly) by Levites, who were priests at the Temple and whose attitudes had changed over the years.
Strange you may think, but you need to realise that although a writing may appear to be in chronological order, that is far from the truth.
Moses is credited with some of the commands, but it is clear that he had been long dead when those commands were first given as recorded in Deuteronomy.
Judaism was a “socialist” religion in that it was concerned with the welfare of the poorer folk and Christianity as taught by Jesus is fairly in the lobby of “Do unto your neighbours as you would like to be treated”.
It is sad, that at the Brexit vote, the anti-immigrant lobby enlisted the worst of anti-immigrant and refugee arguments and racism have reared their unpleasant head again.
Strange to say, the Church of England through its Arch-bishop has failed to question some of the doubtful moral decisions in this dispute.
Jesus, undoubtedly had no sense of the Jewish racism, but was open to all manner of people, even the hated Samaritans, and his partying (as described in Mark 2, vv13-17) showed Him ready to enjoy the company of Society’s outcasts.
Paul also, makes it clear that we are “all one in Christ Jesus”, and the Gospel (Mark 15, v21) tells us that a coloured man, Simon from Cyrene (together with Rufus, his son) because of Jesus’ weakness carried the cross to the place of execution.
The Church has finally played its part at last by recognising the contribution that other cultures and values have made (or should make) in opening the priesthood (and Bishoprics) to other races.
As a vicar of a parish church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, it was necessary to preach on this mystery every year.
(The authorities had noted that this could be a problem, and so decided that rather than trying to explain this mystery, instead the day should be used to preach on the Sacred Ministry as a kind of ordinands’ recruitment drive. For some it was a blessed release, but I felt conscience demanded that at least I should give it a try).
But the truth is that probably none of you reading this have much real grasp of what the Holy Trinity means.
We sing happily about “Three in one and one in three”, but “how” or “why” and how can it be?
If you turn to the “Athanasian Creed” in your Prayer Book, you won’t find it very enlightening; “The Father incomprehensible, The Son incomprehensible. The Holy Ghost incomprehensible”, or as one Methodist Minister put it, rather quietly, “The whole d*** thing incomprehensible”.
Following ancient custom and doing the thing properly, we obeyed the Prayer Book’s directions and sung the whole thing in procession, candles, incense and all!
(To celebrate the patronal festival, after time for a coffee, we embarked on a coach to take us all to Sidmouth for a picnic lunch and a Jolly” on the beach. I was accused by a local Minister as “leading my people to hell by our behaviour”.
Thinking of Jesus’ “jolly” among undesirables (Mark 2, vv15-18), I’m sure that He was with us on Sidmouth’s beach and afterwards for a High Tea).
Let’s return from sentimental “day-dreaming” and return to our subject; the idea that the Spirit is a third character in the Divine story.
Jesus makes reference to the Spirit, in that He is a guide and strengthener in our spiritual endeavours, but only appears in bodily form (that of a dove) at Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3, 21-22), it seems, by studying all the times that the Spirit of God is mentioned, that the Spirit is more of an agency by which God conveys His messages and will to mankind.
The idea that there were 3 persons in this unity was a hotly argued premise and led eventually to the Church in Eastern Europe dominated by Constantinople to separate and become the Eastern Orthodox as opposed to Western Christendom centred on Rome and the Pope, a sad division that still is not healed.
The Bible is clear that the work of the Spirit is spread between God the Father (uncreated) and God the Son, (be-gotten) so in Galatians 4, v6, He is referred to as the Spirit of the Son, equally the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8,v9).
Jesus Himself defines the work of the Spirit clearly (John 16, vv13-15) that “He (the Spirit) will take it of me and announce it unto you” and that given Biblical evidence it seems clear that the Holy Spirit proceeds fromthe Father and the Son and not as an innovator, but rather, an “enabler”.
“When the Spirit cones, being the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you into all truth”.
As I said, in passing last week we have to differentiate between the roles of each of these figures; Jesus says that the Spirit will speak only what He hears. Jesus, born of the Father, speaks the truth of God by His incarnate life which comes from the Father.
Hans Kung (“On being a Christian”) tells us that it is clear that this seems to be not a union of three equals, for the Spirit can only “announce” and clarify truths that “proceed from the Father AND the Son”.
So, there you are; so much Biblical testimony, but perhaps rather than argue about “How?”, we should simply accept that we can share in the Divine Mystery that is the Holy Trinity in our own Christian journeys.
It’s a pity that the word “Ghost” was used in the 1662 Prayer Book rather than the word “Spirit” for from my youth (8yrs. old plus), I could only think of the 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity as something (some one?) in a ghostly white robe, but not as an individual Being.
In Luke, (11, v13), Jesus tells the disciples, that the Father will give them the Holy Spirit if they do, but ask Him.
Is it as simple as that?
We need to dig a bit deeper and find more.
Paul speaks of the “Fruits of the Spirit” which are: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control.
However, the German theologian, Hans Kung throws in the idea that the work of the Spirit is to enable the intentions of the Father and the Son, suggesting that the Holy Trinity is more a “duality” (two) rather than three.
Indeed because of disagreement on this part of the Nicene Creed (which we recite during the Eucharist), the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Church parted company in 1054 over one word in the discussions.
Genesis 1, v 2-30, describes the Spirit as “moving on the face of the waters” and it would seem from that, the Spirit is the agency by which things happen to fulfil God the Father and the Son’s will.
Clearly, the Spirit can be given through the laying-on of hands, or breathing upon the recipient, something very evident in the Early Church (John 20, vv21-24).
The Spirit’s work can be seen in our lives if we are prepared to trust Him (not “It”) and it is in personal guidance that He becomes effective.
There is a children’s hymn, “Trust and obey” and that is wise advice, whether on an individual or corporate scale.
The Christian life has to be one where faith is paramount; we need to believe that if we are led along a possibly ‘rocky’ path that God’s purpose for any of us is ultimately for our good and the good of all Creation.
Opportunities to further God’s work in proclaiming His love, have been missed because it has seemed that those trying to do so, have hesitated and failed to reach out.
So many meetings have been held, but no result because it was thought to be “too risky”, or “it may upset some people”.
As I have told you, our relationship with God has to be one of “Trust”. Archbishop William Temple in his commentary on St. John’s Gospel wrote:
“When we pray, ‘Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire’ we had better be sure that we wish Him to do so, for He may lead us along paths that seem to us to be risky and undesirable”.
The Church of England’s failure since the last war is that we have had various reports of the need to plan for, not just a shortage of clergy, but equally of the money to pay them.
Clergy are having to cope with impossible tasks; unless there is a bold and adventurous plan, whereby we use our human resources wisely and trust in the Holy Spirit, not only to maintain a pastoral ministry, but to reach out to the un-Churched.
This “cutting-back” is going on all over the country and is not the answer; we are on a road to decline and extinction if we fail to seek and implement the Spirit’s guiding.
We are forgetting that the Spirit is here, not only to guide us, but by the title “Comforter” is not to be like a nanny, but it means “strengthener”, so that if we listen to the guidance, we shall also be enabled to carry it out.
“Come, Holy Spirit and quickly” for the time is short!
You may remember that I have told you that intelligent tests collected in the mid-40s directed at ‘teen-agers, revealed great gaps in the interviewees’ knowledge of the basic tenets of Christianity.
In answer to the question “Who was the Prodigal Son” the reply was “Which band is he in?” and there were similar gaps when it came to asking about Jesus.
We can put this down, partly to the fact that Religious teaching pre-war, both in school and churches was often of poor quality, conducted by well-meaning but ill-trained volunteers, and using out of date methods.
For over three years, whilst coal-mining as a “Bevin Boy” I played the organ for the vicar’s afternoon Sunday School, and found myself accompanying such ditties as “We are but little children weak” or “Above the bright blue sky” sung with great gusto by miners’ burly sons but none of them proceeded to Confirmation because there was no encouragement or reason to do so.
Another survey found that in the 1940s, 50% of babies born in England were baptised, of these some 16% were confirmed, but of these, 3 months later, fewer than 5% were still worshipping within the Cof E.
In my training parish, we usually presented 25 youngsters annually on whom the Bishop laid his hands, but of these we were doing well if if more than 3 were coming to Communion 3 months later.
In my final year at College (1952), a book considered to be a “ground-breaking” contribution to the debate was published entitled ”Tomorrow’s Church”, urging more attention be paid to the younger generation including bright ideas, but we of the post-war ordinands thought the title altogether wrong. Why?
Simply because that younger generation was still treated as inferior in the attention paid to them by The Church.
We argued that because of their Baptism, they were full Christians and ought to be treated as such, admitting them to Communion at as early an age as possible.
In those days it was only the CofE that required this additional rite. The Roman Catholics had always given Communion to 8 year olds, the Easter Orthodox babies are given Communion (with a spoon) at Baptism, the Methodists allow the very young. We seem to be the only group who erect a barrier.
Under the Bishop of Ely (‘Ted Roberts once Archdeacon of the IoW as chairman), a positive report was submitted to General Synod, allowing Communion prior to Confirmation, but the decision was left to every individual Bishop, whether he/she would consent to this.
As a result, it has become an ecclesiastical mess.
At a meeting about “Outreach” some years ago, we were informed that approximately 50% of parishes in our Diocese had NO children worshipping regularly.
As we pressed for change we felt that the book title should have read “Today’s Church” and my experience has shown that unless we have parents and children worshipping (and receiving Communion) together, we shall have no one here to continue the witness in very few years.
As I wrote last week, experiments have taken place and have been successful.
Two or three years ago, the Easter Day Eucharist at St. Alban’s Abbey was full of families, with youngsters receiving Communion, giving them the sense that they were equally valued. Interesting that a priest who had pursued this policy in his own Dorset parish is now a Canon of the Abbey, so clearly it does work.
I’ll have more to say on this subject next week; all I am trying to do is to draw attention to the problem, possibly offering food for thought.