Solvitur Ambulado – It is solved by walking

The turf labyrinth at Holmengrå

The turf labyrinth at Holmengrå

Fr Ian writes

Before I went on one of my ‘pilgrimages’ in my sabbatical I decided to prepare by walking a labyrinth. I’d not always felt they were for me. However, a book on pilgrimage suggested it, so I thought ‘Why not?’ Fortuitously I found the church where I had been a curate has introduced a lovely inlaid one in their south transept. I walked it. The twists and turns, the silences and the pauses, had a profound and slightly disturbing effect. They prepared me to be open to spiritual things on the journey I was to take.

Surprisingly labyrinths became one of the features of my journey in Norway. I’d always associated them as a modern reworking of an ancient symbol. In fact the labyrinth is found in many different cultures at many different times. At Holmengrå near Varangerfjord in the far north of Norway I came across a turf labyrinth which, it is believed, was made about 1400 by indigenous Sami people.

Then in Oslo I walked (in part) the amazing large 20th century labyrinth of Gustav Vigeland in the wonderful Vigelands Park.

Walking the Vigeland labyrinth in Oslo

Vigeland labyrinth in Oslo

The important thing about the labyrinth is that it is a simple path (not a maze) going nowhere. The slow walking is the point. The focus on the walk and the pause in life is what it is about. It is a laid out path but it is not a laid out spiritual experience, it encourages one to walk and encounter new spiritual realities and insights.

A few weeks later I came across a portable labyrinth at Gorton Monastery and talked with Simon, the volunteer who had made it. He has kindly offered to help us make a canvas portable labyrinth which we can put out from time to time. Rosie, our parish assistant is going to help this come about.

Portable labyrinth at Gorton Monastery

Portable labyrinth at Gorton Monastery

Solvitur ambulado – ‘It is solved by walking,’ – a saying often attributed to St Augustine of Hippo – What ‘it‘ is depends on who we are and where we are. We’ll discover more about the labyrinth as time goes on. I’m looking forward to walking our labyrinth in Church. I know it will enrich my spiritual life and the spiritual lives of others.

Posted in Anglican, Anglo Catholic, Catholic, Christianity, Faith, Manchester, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Spirituality, St John Chrysostom | Tagged | Leave a comment

WW1: Teaching our children to be peacemakers

We will be offering some thoughts and comments from members of St Chrysostom’s congregation about the World War One commemorations in the coming months. Thank you to Sandra Palmer for this one, to start us off. Sandra is a retired lecturer in Education.

I have long had mixed feelings about the wearing of the red poppy on Armistice Day.  On the one hand I want to honour those people who have lost their lives in war or who have suffered as a consequence of war;  on the other hand I do not want to ennoble anything about war.

Ceramic Poppies at the Tower of London

Ceramic Poppies at the Tower of London

Commemorating World War One is a particular problem for what are we commemorating?  It can be argued that World War Two was a necessary evil to stay the hand of the horrors of Nazism but there are no clear goodies and baddies in World War One. Germany is often presented as a marauding power hell bent on conquering Europe but Christopher Clark’s well received book Sleepwalkers paints a very different complex  picture.  I see the build up to war  as being like a game of cards between countries and alliances, with bluffs and double bluffs but  it all went terribly wrong – and on the whole it was the ordinary soldier who paid the price. Ironically it was said to be the war to end all wars. Instead it spawned many of the wars to come, include those that currently fill our screen.

Surely the best way to commemorate the First World War would be to teach our children to be peacemakers, winning their hearts and minds for peace through stories ,sayings and symbols appropriate for their age. Michael Morporgo’s War Horse, a book for Key Stage 2 children, powerfully tells of the impact of the first war on the lives of soldiers. Sadly there are many children in Manchester who have their own stories to tell as they are asylum seekers, the victims of war themselves.

Childrens handsP4C, Philosophy for children, is a good starting point as children are taught how to listen to one another and respect each other’s opinions when they discuss sayings about war and peace, some of which might come from the scriptures.  Conflict resolution exercises help children learn to learn how to use words not fists to resolve arguments.

School assemblies/ worship can reflect the sorrow and the pain of war in the prayers, and reflections. And at a very simple level they can look at how we can greet one another peacefully . Salaam Alaikum –Peace be unto you .

But above all we need to teach children to accept difference and to see the ‘other’ as their neighbour., loving him or her  as they love themselves.

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A candle for Winnie, A candle for Keith

Winnie Johnson deathToday, 18th August, is the anniversary of the death in 2012 of Winnie Johnson. Winnie was known throughout England as the mother of Keith Bennett, the child victim of the moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Despite extensive searching Keith’s body has never been found.

Winnie campaigned tirelessly to find Keith’s grave, and it was this aspect of her life which was well known in the media. However, as we recalled at Winnie’s funeral, at St Chrysostom’s, there was much much more to Winnie. She was a woman who engaged fully with life, and was an inspiration to many. Despite the tragedy in her life she was cheerful and a direct speaker. She was a member of our congregation, regularly coming to Sunday Mass on her electric scooter and sitting right at the front. She was ever the same, cheerful and frank in her manner. The local community misses her. We miss her at church.

The leaves hanging in memory of Keith Bennett

The leaves hanging in memory of Keith bennett

The hanging behind the font in Church is in memory of Keith. He loved to collect leaves and local children drew different leaves and members of the textiles department of Manchester University made the hanging. We hope soon to have a plaque placed in church to remind us of this.

Winnie’s example encourages us to pray for, and have a heart for mothers of the world whose children have disappeared in terrible circumstances. Her example encourages us to have courage, and remain faithful and strong in the face of tragedy.

Winnie’s son, and Keith’s brother, Alan Bennett, has recently confirmed his family’s determination to continue the search for Keith’s remains. There is a website with updates about the search: click here.

Each Sunday when she came to mass Winnie lit a candle for Keith. Two candles will burn in church today – one for Keith and another for his mother, Winnie. May they both rest in peace and rise in God’s glory.

Posted in Anglican, Anglo Catholic, Christianity, Faith, Manchester, Prayer | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Jersey Hermitage

During his sabbatical Fr Ian continues his quest for liminal places – places where the everyday world and God’s kingdom seem very close. He writes:

20th century stained glass window of St Hellier, at Barentin, Normandy

20th century stained glass window of St Hellier, at Barentin, Normandy

At the far south of the British Isles, and outside the United Kingdom, Hermitage Rock, St Helier, Jersey stands as a reminder of the life of St Helier, who, it is said, lived the life of a hermit on the rock in the sixth century.

The legend of this holy man, venerated in north France and Belgium as well as Jersey, tells how he spent long periods of secluded prayer. At the same time he was pastorally caring for the local people. Hellier guided his companion, St Romard, to provide for the needy among the small population. He also served as a watchman, looking out for danger coming from the sea. The stories tell how he would signal danger, allowing time for the people to hide. While protecting his parishioners in 555 he was discovered on his rock by pirates who then beheaded him.

Like many stories of saints it is easy to find flaws in the story, yet the legends instruct all Christians in the values of prayer, pastoral care, and protection for the vulnerable, key Christian virtues.

It is possible to walk the promontory to climb the rock on which the hermitage chapel was built, over, it is said, St Helier’s bed. An annual local pilgrimage is held on the Sunday close to St Helier’s Day.

Hermitage Rock, St Helier

Hermitage Rock, St Helier

We walked to the hermitage on a hot July day.  The location takes one apart from the bustle of the town of St Helier and the views from the rock over the seas and bays are wonderful. It is a place to pause and contemplate.

However, for me at least, this special site lacked spiritual atmosphere. There was no plaque to mark the holy place (only a plain cross over the door), or to assist the pilgrim. The gate for access is kept locked although one can look in. There was nowhere to mark the visit with devotion – by lighting a candle, say, or leaving a prayer. I couldn’t help feeling this was an opportunity missed. Even at a very remote place in Finnmark I had come across helpful notices to enrich the experience of the visit.

We decided to say a prayer holding two pebbles from the beach and placed them on the rock the hermitage stands on.

I was reminded that in simple ways it is possible to help visitors to holy places, and indeed to churches such as ours, appreciate the holiness of a place, and help them be enriched spiritually.

The hermitage is managed by the Jersey Heritage Trust, and the only access to the hermitage is through Elizabeth Castle where one has to pay for access. Hopefully sensitive attention and care in the future could help this special and historic place develop, and help it grow as a spiritual place of pilgrimage, a liminal place.

Posted in Anglican, Anglo Catholic, Art, Christianity, Faith, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Saints, Spirituality, St John Chrysostom | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Glimpse of Glory

The Coronation of Our Lady, Gentile da Fabriano, Italian 1420

The Coronation of Our Lady, Gentile da Fabriano, Italian 1420

St Chrysostom’s delights in and celebrates its Catholic Anglican tradition. In our tradition we love to celebrate the saints, our friends in faith, and above all Mary, Our Lady, the mother of Jesus Christ our God, the mother who prays for us and loves us in the fullness of God’s kingdom.

Madonna of the Wheat (detail) c. 1450

Madonna of the Wheat (detail) c. 1450

The Assumption is Our Lady’s principal feast, a feast celebrated by the majority of Christians around the world.

Protestant reformers honoured the feast, Martin Luther regarded it as a fact, and the Protestant reformer, Martin Butzer, saw no reason to doubt the Assumption of Mary into heavenly glory.  “Indeed, no Christian doubts that the most worthy Mother of the Lord lives with her beloved Son in heavenly joy.” Muslims honour Mary as ‘chosen above the women of all nations’ and some Muslim scholars teach her Assumption as historical fact.

This is a feast to celebrate glory, a feast reflecting Easter glory. The feast celebrates Mary being taken body and soul into heavenly glory and so celebrates too the destiny and dignity of the human body, and especially the dignity of womanhood. This glorious feast of Mary’s passing to the fullness of God’s glory encourages us to see Christ’s resurrection as not an end in itself. The resurrection is for us too. Christ rose so that we would be raised with him and live, not as disembodied spirits, but as fully human beings in the glory of God forever.  What Mary enjoys now, we shall enjoy when our time comes.

Our Lady of Montserrat

Our Lady of Montserrat

Fr Chris comments:

“The Assumption of our Lady for me allows a glimpse into what God wants for all of his followers.  To be able to be with our Father in heaven, rejoicing and singing:

O how glorious and resplendent,
Fragile body, shalt thou be,
When endued with so much beauty,
Full of health, and strong, and free,
Full of vigor, full of pleasure
That shall last eternally!

Fireworks, and celebration of our perceived destiny, are only a dim reflection of what we hope for ourselves, and know for our blessed Lady!”

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Celebrating a Holy Name

A religious community with which we are associated at St Chrysostom’s has recently been celebrating their name day – the Community of the Holy Name (CHN) keep as their name day the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. They keep it on the former date of August 7th, and its a special time at the convent – from where our friend, Sr Julie CHN, sends this ‘postcard’ – or rather the Chapel speaks!

CHN Chapel“It’s nearly time” said the chapel at the Convent.

“Time for what?”

“You know…., for my holiday.”

“But you can’t go away!”

“Look, when you’re used all the year round for a daily Eucharist, five offices of prayer, intercession times and sisters’ and guests’ prayer times and so on, you need a holiday.”

“But you can’t switch off, you’re the centre of stability and the centre of unity and all those other grand sounding things.”

“Ah, but haven’t you heard the old saying, a change is as good as a rest. Look, let me explain.”

CHN Convent at Derby

CHN Convent at Derby

“During the first week in August, the sisters of the Community of the Holy Name gather together in Derby to re-new their links with one another, to discuss matters of importance to the whole Community, to hold their Chapter meeting and to have a week’s retreat, led by a retreat conductor from the wider church. And so my normal routine is enriched with all these extra meetings and enlivened by the celebratory Eucharists for the feasts of the Transfiguration and the Holy Name.

In addition, I hear the echoes of conversations when the sisters are enjoying a picnic, catching up with those living in their branch houses in Manchester and Peterborough, expressing their concerns for the needs of the elderly and infirm among them or talking through decisions to be made. I listen to the decisions they make in their Chapter meeting, am inspired by the addresses of their retreat conductor and, perhaps the most precious of all, provide a sanctuary for their prayers during the retreat, when they have extra time to read and reflect, to enjoy recreation, and to be re-created in God’s image.

So, no, I do not go away, but I am moved! Lucky old me!”

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Celebrate YOUR name!


“‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.”

Unlike Alice, in her Wonderland adventure, most of us would reply to the Caterpillar’s question with our name. Usually we would give first our given name. Christians usually refer to this given name as their ‘Christian’ name. Many Christians, especially in parts of Europe and Latin America, celebrate the day associated with their Christian name. Often this will be the feast of the saint with the same name, but most names have a date associated with them – even if its not a saint’s day. Indeed there are websites (such as this one ) to help you find a suitable date if you are unsure.

A family picnic celebrating a name day at the Lewis Carroll birthplace site

A family picnic celebrating a name day at the Lewis Carroll birthplace, Daresbury

So, if you don’t know when your name day find it out, or allocate a suitable date.

Unlike T S Eliot’s cats most of do not have a “Deep and inscrutable singular Name.” Others will have shared our name. Maybe read about the saint who shares your name, or other people who have shared it. Find out about the traditional meaning of your name.

And, more importantly, why not add celebrating your name day to the list of celebrations in your life! It could be a day for individual celebration, or a family event, or a simple gathering of friends.

How one celebrates can be up to the individual – but at least cake could be involved, along with doing something a little different perhaps inspired by the name itself, and maybe add a splash of style …

Posted in Anglican, Anglo Catholic, Christianity, Faith, Saints | Tagged | 2 Comments