Fr. Robert Dolling ought to be counted among the great priests of the Victorian years working tirelessly among the slums of Portsmouth attracting worshippers of all ages, classes and colours.
His final achievement was the building of the church of St. Agatha’s and here was a great sadness.
To commemorate a young man who had died prematurely, he had an altar placed in a side chapel of the church, that was to be used for services of Requiem, Prayer for the departed
The Bishop of Winchester (In whose Diocese Portsmouth was at that time), objected on the grounds that such prayers were forbidden in the Church of England, demanding that the altar be removed and such prayers to cease.
Fr. Dolling resigned and took up a less arduous post in the London Diocese, but it broke his heart. St. Agatha’s parish church never really recovered thereafter.
However, the Great War and its slaughter had so affected people, that there was an almost universal desire to pray for departed loved ones, often many `who had no known grave or resting place'. So much so, that the 1928 revised Prayer Book included prayers for the departed and suitable readings to be used at Requiem masses.
We do this in the faith that because of the resurrection of Our Lord, there is hope beyond the grave.
We pray naturally for loved ones separated from us by distance, and whilst we have no evidence of the state of the departed, yet we can pray as the 1928 prayer says “for those whom we love but see no longer”. Love is the most powerful force in life and death and we believe that it can bridge even the chasm between the living and the departed.
We have no idea what lies beyond the grave, for Jesus said little about it, but we hold on to Jesus’ words in his final meeting with the disciples; “In my Father’s house there are many ‘mansions’ if it were not so, I would have told you (John 14, vv1-7) and I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am you shall be also”.
As a choirboy, hearing those words, I had a vivid vision that somewhere there were beautiful houses for us to dwell in, but Archbp. William Temple in his commentary on St. John’s Gospel tells us that the correct translation should be “resting places”.
The word is that used for places where pilgrims on a journey needed rest and refreshment to sustain them, they were led by a man (called a “dragoman”) who like a modern holiday courier attended to all their needs and guided them as they travelled.
If you continue reading that section, Jesus is talking as if He is the heavenly “dragoman” and will take us by the hand and lead us to our destination.
If we continue with that image, we should realise that when we die, few of us, if any, will be ready to meet Jesus, so surely there will be further journeying and learning and as we would naturally pray for those on earthly journeys, they still need our loving prayers.
It has been a natural action throughout mankind’s history to seek to join with, and pray for, the departed.
It may be just “wishful thinking”, but from the behaviour of early Christians, so convinced of an eternal future that they readily embraced suffering and death for their faith, men and women who had seen and communed with the Risen Christ, we can pray, love and hope with some good reason.
“Give rest, O Christ, to thy servants with thy saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing but life everlasting.
Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of man and we are mortal formed from the dust of the earth and unto earth shall we return, for so thou didst ordain, when thou created us, saying ‘Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return’. All we go down to the dust and weeping o’er the grave we make our song ‘Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia’” (Russian Konytakion for the departed)
4 November 2018
St. Mary’s: Underneath the Food Bank box, there is a container, in which you are invited to place recyclable items for this Island charity “Ability Dogs4Young People” , training assistant dogs for disabled young people on the Island: They will welcome: ink cartridges - stamps – milk bottle TOPS – mobile phones – clothes, shoes and bags. They also have a shop in Regent Street, Shanklin (Station end).
No one among the staff at Sandown Sec. (in Grove Road) had much hope for me in my School Certificate exams.
Too often the Head’s comment was that “Rayner could do much better if he applied himself”, so much so that I wasn’t allowed to take part for another year when it’s true, I tried to catch up.
Yes, I read all manner of books, and my head was stuffed with all sorts of (to them) useless information and they had all written me off, until the results were published.
To their (and my) astonishment I had passed all the subjects, and above all had registered a result of Credits (50%) in all except French (40%) which was only a Pass.
No failures! Indeed in two subjects I had done even better, for I had registered marks of 91% in Chemistry and 93% in Art, and our Art Master (Mr. Charlesworth) said to me “Only another 7 marks Rayner and you would have had a ‘perfect’ result”.
It’s just as well that we don’t have “Fortnightly Orders” for God to check whether we are doing as well as we might if, with His help, we had really tried.
So many people think that God is a “100%-er” and as a result are made to feel inadequate. After all, what did Jesus say?
“You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, and that’s a tall (indeed, impossible) order.
Yet many faithful Christians are worried by this, for strive as we may, regardless of clerical admonitions, despite all our good intentions, we fail and sometimes it’s like climbing a spiritual ladder, one day we climb one step and then sadly the next day we slip back two!
But consider what Jesus said, because it’s a form of nonsense, for if we were as 100% as God, then we would be God!
We would then be in the situation in which Adam and Eve found themselves. The serpent told them that eating the fruit would make them “as God”, provoking the sin of pride which is one of the most serious sins and the root of so much evil.
The target to which Jesus asks us to aim has to be impossible to avoid this disaster.
Yet, some clergy and some Christians give the impression that God requires us to be 100%, and typically Jesus challenges us with commands like that, typical of Middle-eastern thinking.
However, we only need to read the Gospels and look at for instance, the Prodigal Son, who must have had a poor percentage mark. Seeing him afar off, before the erring son can even say “Sorry” the father runs towards him, embracing him with utter joy.
It was a criticism of Jesus that many of His followers were from the lower classes, slaves and the like, who unlike their “betters” were aware of their needs and found in Him, one who could address Himself to those needs.
Consider how courteous Jesus could be when approached by those who knew that they had serious spiritual needs.
When the rich young man retreated in view of his many possessions, being told to sell them and give the proceeds to the poor, Jesus had looked upon him and loved him (Mark 10, v17-22) and saw him go with regret.
St. Paul was no 100%-er; “The good I would, I do not, the evil that I would not, that I do” and says that he is not yet perfect, but is trying hard to run towards the goal of perfection (Philippians 3, vv12-14).
J. B. Phillips in his thought-provoking book “Your God is too small” writes: “if we believe in God we must naturally believe that He is Perfection, but we must not think that He cannot be interested in anything but perfection (if that were so, the human race would be in a poor state).
God is truly perfection but he is not a Perfectionist; St. John tells us that Jesus “knew what was in man” and He died for all those who are far from perfect, and whose progress can only be if we follow and live following Jesus’ words, “Learn of me”.
Father Swinney (Vicar of Tanfield) announced the first hymn for his afternoon Sunday School: “We are but little children weak” and inwardly, I groaned *No, not again!”
What was I doing there?
Simply, because I was teaching myself to play the organ, and Father Swinney was the only priest who had agreed that I might practice on the lovely Harrison, 3-manual organ, at St. Margaret’s as often as I liked, and, wait for it . . . for free!
The only snag, in return, “Would I accompany the singing at Sunday School in the afternoon at 2.30?”
Despite the fact that I had to be in the pit at 5.30 a.m. every Sunday morning, returning to my digs in time for dinner (1 p.m.) I performed this duty every Sunday for 3 years!
Why did I groan?
Because of the sheer inappropriateness of his choices (most from the A&M Hymns “For the young”) which included “We are but little children meek, not born to any high estate”.
Occasionally we had (Oh dear!) “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look on me a little child”, or “Above the bright blue sky in heaven’s bright abode”.
Nowadays could any intelligent youngster in this Space Age, where there have been no sign of this paradise sing such lyrics?
Sitting on the organ stool, I wondered what image these hardy, tough youngsters were forming in their minds.
They were solid, pleasant young people to deal with and sang this damaging rubbish with enthusiasm, but I feared whether they would survive spiritually on such a negative image of Our Lord.
Whoever wrote about Jesus being “meek and mild” obviously had never pondered over the Gospels, where in His dealings with ordinary folk who needed healing and compassion, He could be so gentle and courteous. However, when you consider His condemnation of the hierarchy of His day, of the danger of reliance upon riches, or seeking advancement in Society, of the way in which by His very bearing He could walk unscathed through an angry mob. By the way He steadfastly set His face to Jerusalem, knowing that He was going to a painful, ignominious death, apparently in the world’s eyes, a failure.
As Jesus strides through the Gospels, here is no namby-pamby Individual, or a “push-over” but someone who (as St. John says) “Knew what was in man”.
Sadly, I think so many of these un-real presentations of Jesus in hymns (and prayers) and Victorian art have permeated through to adulthood and this buttressed by some of the sloppy Victorian and Edwardian imagery that attracts a negative response from the outsiders.
How the Jesus of the Gospels can be dismissed by some as weak, inoffensive, a “Creeping Jesus” is beyond me.
Here is a Man, who is walking steadfastly towards death in complete but unwilling, (see Gethsemane) obedience to his Father.
We sometimes hear concerning a person “He/She was a real saint: he/she never saw any harm in anyone and never spoke an ill word against anyone in all his/her life”.
If that is “saintliness”, reading the Gospels, Jesus was no saint. He taught people not to sit in judgement on others, but never failed to speak out against injustices.
He was not blind to the evil that people did or encouraged others to do and spoke the truth, rebuking people such as senior Clerics in high places whenever it was right to do so.
Jesus was a realist and no easy-going “goody” who never saw evil or wrong in others. Where He thought people were not sincere in their religion, He did not hesitate to call them “hypocrites” (play-actors).
To speak the truth was more important to Him than to make His hearers comfortable. Jesus Christ “meek and mild”? No fear, but He was loving, compassionate, wise and sympathetic. He was Love in action, but never at any time, “meek and mild”.
“Please draw a picture of what you think God looks like”.
That was the subject presented to a class of primary children at our Church School, and I wondered what their teacher would find, given their lively imaginations.
Among the images which echoed the latest science fiction shows on the TV, there was a preponderance of faces of elderly gentlemen, with long bushy beards.
Having attended a School Eucharist the previous day, where one hymn described God as “The ancient of days”, which only confirmed the idea of God being a rather elderly gentleman, I was not surprised.
Couple this with a group of ‘teen-agers” who were asked “Does God understand the Internet?”, who all answered “No” in a show of hands and then when they realised how foolish that was, burst out laughing.
Now if I were asking you the same questions, to “Draw God”, or being examined on the Almighty’s computer knowledge, what would be your opinions?
One of our problems when trying to explain the Christian faith to the average Church out-sider, is that for the majority, God is a product of misinformation or no information.
Think about it. Much as I love the traditional language we often use in worship, many phrases or words are completely alien.
For instance a Collect that begins “Prevent us O Lord in all out doings” puzzles folk, thinking that God wants to prevent us from doing something (mind, that’s a popular idea of religion, that God is always saying “No”), whereas it means “Go before us”; just the opposite!
Yet, we (if understanding aright) prefer the “quaint” idea that God is somehow different, needing to be approached with different language skills (suitable for a King) and to a great extent they are right.
God is different, because we believe Him to be the One who is the Creator of all that is given yet we try to confine Him within our own human (and inadequate) understanding.
If the mind boggles at the Internet, where at the stroke of a computer key we can latch on to knowledge of almost everything around us, how much superior is the mind that is behind the intricate and extraordinary wonder that we call “Creation”?
As the poet Addison wrote “The spacious firmament on high, with all the blue ethereal sky, And spangled heavens, a shining frame, Their great original proclaim.
The unwearied sun from day to day, Does his Creator’s power display, And publishes to every land The works of an almighty hand.
What though in solemn silence all Move round the dark terrestrial ball, What though nor real voice nor sound, Amid their radiant orbs be found; In reason’s ear they all rejoice, And utter forth a glorious voice; For ever singing as they shine, ‘The hand that made us is Divine’."
The Psalmists wrote often, drawing our attention to the wonder of Creation and the even greater wonder of the Creator, yet for all that modern astronomy shows, we can do nothing (as Society seems to do) except to litter it with more and more of our space rubbish. Like careless tourists we leave it to be swallowed up by someone or something. Worse still, we are already eyeing up Space to see what we can mine from it (money) or possibly as bases for inter-galatical warfare or a new site for a Ferris Wheel for wealthy space tourists.
“When I consider the works of thy fingers, the moon and the stars that thou hast ordained” says the Psalmist.
Not understanding the greatness and unfathomable mystery that is God, means we can neither draw Him for His image (that is if we could bear the sight), nor question His computer skills, but realise that here is a power beyond our imagining who (as Jesus taught) Himself is Love.
As we meet for worship “Lo, God is here, let us adore and own how awe-ful is this sight”.
I had a very happy childhood together with my two elder brothers, Jack and Tom, Jack being the middle brother and somewhat the “odd man out” for he tended to be “bolshie”, not conforming to the “household rules”.
As a result, if anyone was being severely punished (often for being late for Sunday lunch, keeping us all waiting), it would be Jack and as a result, there grew up a barrier between him and Dad that continued until right through to adulthood.
If you thought of God as a loving Father, then as far as Jack was concerned, he couldn’t imagine it. Sadly, there was little love lost between him and Dad.
Jack, I am sure was not an exception in finding difficulty in imagining God as a “loving” father and indeed in today’s brutal world, where physical abuse of children seems to be growing, nor can many children who carry the scars (both physical and psychological) of an unhappy childhood into their adult thinking.
Reading the early “historical” books of the Old Testament, God is seen as a vicious, brutal being who commands His Chosen People to murder whole communities, including children and babes in arms, taking their land and flocks.
Yet, even in the Old Testament we find indications of another face of God.
After Cain has murdered his brother Abel, God protects him from being lynched by his neighbours, and in the writings of all the prophets, and the “Rulebooks” of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, provision is to be made for the welfare of widows, the homeless and the “strangers” (immigrants and refugees). Perhaps we should particularly remember the latter.
Read the prophet Hosea (chapter 11) and you find that there is a gentle side of God, likening Him to a Father who takes the hands of His little children, leading and loving them.
Which is the true picture of God then?
We have to have in mind this gentler side of God, remembering that trying to compare the earthly with the heavenly is unproductive.
The “Fatherhood” of God and His character are seen in the life and teaching of Jesus, uncoloured by tribal and religious differences, where we are seen as God’s lambs and sheep of whom “The very hairs of their heads are numbered”.
The God, who in Jesus, takes the little children and gathers them in His arms, warning about the terrible punishment to be meted to those who hurt or abuse them. Jesus (who is the true expression of the character of God), tells us that if we are to be accepted by Him, then we must have the attributes of children.
Not to be crawling on the carpet in our spiritual nappies, but have the trusting, open-ness, sincerity and eagerness to learn, which should be the adult/child relationship.
We speak of the “fear of the Lord”, but the word means “respect” rather than being frightened. I confess that as a youngster I was frightened of this great ogre-like Father, when I should have been helped to discover that Our Father in His magnificent greatness, loves and forgives me and in the character displayed by the Son of God is warm, approachable and desiring only that we may have the right relationship with Him.
The very first wedding I conducted as a curate was the worst possible experience, with a drunken congregation (including the bride’s father). The service began with the words, “Dearly beloved” and after the service, I stormed into the Vicar’s study and in response to his enquiry as to how it had gone, I said, “Fancy expecting me to call that lot ‘Dearly Beloved’, the way that they behaved!” He shook his head and said gently, “George, you may not have found them loveable, but God, their Father does, so much that He died for them on a cross; Remember that always”. I have tried to do so in my dealings with our Father’s children at all their ages and in all their stages, and I hope it may have made me a better parish priest.
7 October 2018
THANK YOU Alison for providing the handsome Harvest Lunch last Sunday and all who helped and brought desserts. Thoroughly enjoyable with a lovely atmosphere.