Watching a documentary last Sunday evening on “The rise of the Roman Catholic Church”, I couldn’t help wondering what Jesus, born in a stable to obviously poor parents, or His disciples, together a homeless wondering band, makes of the vast enterprise that has arisen from a group of “Nobodies”?
Watching, it was clear that there was little relationship between the Church of St. Peter, St. Paul and the other early apostles and the slick business-like organisation, not only of the Roman Catholic Church, but even of our own Church of England.
What is obvious, is that both are built upon secular organisations, which as far as the CofE is concerned has at its head a competent business man.
Each (and indeed, the other Christian Denominations) have within them the elements of “business”, with a constructed hierarchy, each with their honorific titles.
We view the Roman Catholic set-up, with concern, where the Pope is titled “The Vicar of Christ”, whose authority is absolute, defining what Christians should believe for salvation. He is supported by a vast pyramid of officials (all with honorific titles), of which the local base is the parish priest and congregation, and above it all is God, the Managing Director.
This won’t do, for the whole of Jesus’ Mission was devoted to defining our relationship with Him whom we are to address as “Our Father”. Such a close relationship that Jesus can not only address God as “Abba” (a term of endearment similar to “Daddy”), but that “every hair on your head is numbered”, implying that our relationship with the “Master of the Universe” is one of “freedom” where we can individually have access to the Godhead without the intervention of a priest.
When we see Jesus in action, we are also glimpsing the “openness” of the Father, for He sits down feasting with a crowd of folk who could by no means be considered “desirable” members of Society, but treating everyone with concern and courtesy.
Between 2016 and 2017, I spent more than 6 months in St. Mary’s Hospital (knees with infected bones) and throughout that whole period, we never saw the Chief Executive on the wards, so that he had no personal relationship with the staff or knowledge of the problems they encountered.
This is the common and understandable complaint regarding our leaders. Many MPs and certainly prominent politicians seem to have no idea how ordinary people live and what are their needs, hopes and aspirations.
To some extent this can be said of our Church leaders; it is fine for Diocesan “experts” to draw up wonderful plans, some without prior consultation with the parishioners and those most affected.
However, when you consider the multitude of people who inhabit this small planet, you may ask how God can possibly fulfil this role to be close to His Creation and particularly what we consider His highest creation, humanity itself?
This is where our vision of God is too small; when we consider the vast, unimaginable Universe with its reliable order, there is no way that we can begin to understand the immensity of the Godhead.
To enter our world and our lives, it is clear that God had to come in recognisable form, as a human being and living among us, chose the most humble of families to whom to be born.
if God came among us with all His Glory, we would be unable to approach Him; as the son of a village carpenter who mixed with every level of Society, He demonstrated that we are equally valuable to our heavenly Father, no matter who or what we are.
“For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind and the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His Word; and our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of Our Lord.” (Faber)
Not an unapproachable despot, but a loving, forgiving Father and friend to whom we can be joined in love.
When I tell you I have always turned my sock tops down since 1950, you are bound to ask, “What was that all about?”
Quite simply, when I entered Cheshunt College there were sharp (but friendly) divisions between “High” and “Low” students, but you knew exactly what other students’ ecclesiastical position was. You simply had to look at their socks! I haven’t got out of that silly student habit, even now.
The “Low tendency”, pulled their socks up (when ordained they mostly favoured high clerical collars too).
Stupid, and one might have expected such silliness from fresh-out-of “Uni” young men, but most of us were “mature” in age, if not in behaviour; trying to regain our lost “teen-age” years.
Read some of Isaiah, and you find there what God thinks about fussy ceremonies and ecclesiastical correctness. Jesus, obviously thought the same, particularly concerning religious ceremonies that were meaningless and unacceptable without the social commitment.
The prophet tells us that God didn’t want the sacrifice of countless creatures (including people’s children) to demonstrate His importance, but rather that we look after the under-privileged people around, feed the hungry, support the poor and widows, house the homeless and welcome the “strangers” (immigrants).
Many outsiders regard The Church (of all denominations) as insincere for they see that often theChristian Churches are divided, and wonder where the Christian love is.
It is possible, as many Christians do, to imagine that their denomination’s image of God is the only true one, fitting into their particular box.
The Roman Catholics are sure that God favours them, barring everyone else from receiving Communion at their Masses, because only the Pope and those owing allegiance to him are true successors to St. Peter, the first Pope (or Bishop of Rome).
People are able to accept their (often sentimental) idea of Jesus Christ, but when faced with each denomination claiming to be the only “right” one, they walk away in bewilderment.
Isn’t it time that we realise that if Disunity is hindering The Church’s Mission, then we should ensure that it isn’t just prejudice or bigotry causing the divisions, for sadly often it is.
As a staunch High Churchman, for two years, between 1989 and 2001 I ministered regularly to Methodists in Somerset and found some of their views refreshing, quite happy with my Anglican robes and the way I conducted their services.
In some ways I thought that many Methodists approached their Communions more reverently than some of our own Anglican folk.
The truth is that God is not a good Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, or whatever; where, when and how we worship is irrelevant, provided we are carrying out the specific commands of our Saviour, and worshipping in Spirit and in Truth. He is too big for us to think otherwise..
Reading the elaborate sacrificial worship of the Old Testament, all we need for Christian worship is a loaf of bread, a cup of wine and lives dedicated to service of God and neighbour.
We may add other elements to enhance our worship, but all that is truly necessary is for us to love God and our neighbour, for He is too big for us to contain Him in our neat, denominational boxes.
18 November 2018
St, Mary’s: Underneath the Food Bank box there is a container in which you are invited to place resalable items for the Island charity AbilityDogs4YoungPeople” training assistant dogs for disabled young; they will welcome Ink cartridges, stamps, milk bottle tops-mobile phones, shoes, clothes and bags,
They died, convinced that they were laying the foundation of a new World Order, when there would be peace, prosperity and freedom.
They couldn’t have imagined that 100 years later, Schoolboys would be stabbing others to death, or someone would put a lighted firework in a rough sleeper’s pocket regardless of the consequences? Reported last Tuesday.
Or, that people would still be homeless, abused, or ostracised because of the colour of their skin or their nationality?
Looking at modern British Society we cannot feel comfortable, that with all our words and ceremonies their hoped-for memorial after 2 World wars doesn’t sit comfortably with the world our children and grandchildren are inheriting.
Where have we gone wrong?
Simply, because we have failed to love and proclaim the Christian Gospel
You will say, “That’s what any parson would say” and I do, because looking at the teachings of Jesus and God’s Word through the Old Testament prophets, it is obvious that “Loving God and our neighbour” is the only way of life that can bring peace to ourselves as individuals and as a nation.
Sadly, the Great War had a negative impact on churchgoers afterwards; there was a loss of faith in a good and loving God, the difficulty that both Britains and Germans worshipped the same God and prayed to Him for victory.
The Church was unable to deal with these feelings and when you consider how heartily our clergy (including Bishops) acted as recruiting agents for the forces in the Great War, some of their religion seemed hypocritical, to say the least.
The aftermath of war led to a relaxing of morality in many ways, and “a good time” was the object of those who had the money to do so.
Towards the end of the last war, in 1943-4, a report was produced of great importance, for it presented a comprehensive guide to “Evangelism”, with many ideas which had they been taken on board with enthusiasm by the clergy, would have prepared The Church to deal with the many spiritual and practical problems that would arise.
This report, entitled “Towards the Conversion of England” (One shilling!), sponsored by the then Archbishop, William Temple (a great Evangelist) was almost entirely neglected by Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (Temple died in 1944), who had never been a parish priest and spent nearly 20 post-war years creating a new set of rules (Canon Law). The “Conversion of England” took a back seat, only to be read and implemented by a minority of parish clergy (including me), who were able to transform their parishes as a result.
The congregations are decreasing almost everywhere and The Church (especially the Church of England) has an especial responsibility, for much of the morality (or lack of it) we deplore today stems from complete ignorance of what Christianity really is all about.
The majority have only vague ideas about the faith and especially, their knowledge of Jesus. The populace have got little further than thinking He was a nice gentle man who never upset anyone and who is irrelevant to the technological world of today.
The Diocese talks about spending some 9 million pounds on gearing up the parishes for this task; it’s not a question of money, but imagination, true faith and to allow the Holy Spirit to be an agent of Change (however much we may find that difficult!). We really are “All in it together”!
11 November 2018
St, Mary’s: Underneath the Food Bank box there is a container in which you are invited to place resalable items for the Island charity AbilityDogs4YoungPeople” training assistant dogs for disabled young; they will welcome Ink cartridges, stamps, milk bottle tops-mobile phones, shoes, clothes and bags.
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”.