What the Rector does – Baptism preparation

What does the Rector do?

Here’s the third in my short series of blogs offering a few reflections on some of the ministry I’ve been involved with during the week. I’m choosing one aspect of each day, today…

3. Baptism Preparation

It’s always a delight to help people prepare for a sacrament, and to help them have a special and memorable day. This afternoon I met with Mi Young (Angela) and Minwhi (Min) whose little daughter Anna is soon being baptised at Church. We talked through what would happen and discussed special features. It was a special pleasure for me as Min and Angela were married at St Chrysostom’s in 2011 (see here) and I have known them for many years – not only that Angela is on our Church Council.

A key feature of church life at St Chrysostom’s is welcome. Welcome extends not only to new people but to all. In baptism we’re welcoming Anna as a new member. It’s a celebration for the whole church and taking care over the worship – allowing the words and actions of the day to speak are very important.

It is good to have personal touches to celebrations. Min is going to play the cello during the Mass, and the couple are bringing  Korean food from Seoul Kimchi, the family restaurant, for everyone after the Mass. It will be a lovely day. Unfortunately many of the godparents are in Korea or New Zealand and so can’t actually be at the baptism – others will speak for them. We are encouraging photos to be taken and the service will probably be videoed to help those at a distance to feel part. This is not only for those unable to be present but also for family, and above all for Anna, in the future.

Our church life is enriched by good celebrations and I’m sure Anna’s baptism will bring pleasure and joy to all those present, and encourage us all in our shared faith.

Fr Ian

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What the Rector does – Munamato

What does the Rector do?

Here’s the second in my short series of blogs offering a few reflections on some of the ministry I’ve been involved with during the week. I’m choosing one aspect of each day, today …

2. Munamato

Most Tuesdays mornings as the school day begins at St Chrysostom’s School I gather with about eight or so children, usually different ones each week, for Munamato, a time of spiritual reflection and prayer for anyone who comes, whatever their faith background. Many different faiths are represented at the school. You can read more about Munamato here, with comments from staff and children).

Today we began as usual forming a ring with our hands. In this way we show our equality and willingness to listen to one another. We welcomed one another by saying together Welcome to Munamato!

We looked at photos of the Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. We shared what moments of the wedding were special for us. Then together, as we thought of how the royal couple had shared their joy with so many, we thought about how we can do that. We talked about birthdays, and how we can share sweets or cake with others, perhaps classmates, at birthdays. We thought of how we can show photographs of our family events to people in our classes at school or among friends. We agreed that saying thank you to those who had helped a special day for us was a way of sharing our joy too.

Then we thought about how our differing faiths had hopes, celebrations and ideas which we could share with others and talk about.

Munamato has some of the characteristics of the nature of an Indaba group, described by Archbishop Rowan Williams as  a place “where everyone has a voice and where there is an attempt to find a common mind or a common story that everyone is able to tell when they go away from it.”

Munamato may only be a small, and relatively insignificant gathering of children in a primary school, yet it is also a special sign that often a common mind can be achieved through sensitivity to diversity,  listening to all equally,  praying and sharing insights. It is, for me a sign of the Holy Spirit at work, a sign of hope.

Fr Ian

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What the Rector does – Prison Visiting

What does the Rector do?

This week in a short series of blogs I’m offering a few reflections on some of the ministry I’ve been involved with during the week:

Visiting a prisoner: Visiting the sick, those in hospital and those in prison is a very important part of a parish priest’s pastoral ministry. Visiting in prison requires a particular care, and preparation. My visit today took me to Wymott Prison, between Chorley and Southport. Travelling there, waiting and then the procedures for entry were, as usual, quite time consuming and a little tedious. As I wait I look around in the waiting room. I am moved by the dedication of family members to visit relatives or friends. Some of the visitors are  elderly and frail, some are mothers with small children.

I find my role as parish priest visiting in prison has different aspects. I wish to check the prisoner is managing alright in the prison conditions and if there is practical help needed. Prisoners are often very isolated – the person I was visiting had not had a visit for several months.

The priest (or indeed any representative of the local church) visiting can be a sign of connection with the home area, and a comfort and a reassurance, a sign of hope. The priest is not there to judge – rather to show care and if appropriate spiritual care. Prisoners, who may be very vulnerable, often value a prayer being said with them, or the assurance that prayers are being offered. Of course much of the visit is spent simply in chatting in a relaxed way – that in itself can be a gift to the prisoner. The visit can be two way. The prisoner apart from the outside world often has thoughts or insights to share arising from the experience of imprisonment. It is surprising how much laughter there can be on visits.

Today in the queue of those waiting to leave was a young lady who had been visiting a boyfriend. She was angry and weeping. In strong language among the tears she was saying he had been horrible to her on the visit. An older lady prison officer on duty quietly came across and comforted her, saying ‘They can be like that at times, they don’t often mean it…’ The two chatted and the young lady’s tears stopped, and the two parted, going off in different directions, probably never to meet  again. However, in the willingness of the prison officer to step a little out of role and chat for those few minutes I had seen the Holy Spirit at work.

Fr Ian

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Miriam …Who said ‘Yes to life’

“Music, words and images brought us closer to Mary and one another.  We were of different theological outlooks – truly ecumenical. Great Joy!”

” A wonderful evening in honour of Our Lady. The singing was beautiful – the Armenian soloist, the Charpentier soloist and the singers with When Mary listened to God’s word.”

“As I spend these few days preparing for attendance at a Bishops Advisory Panel for selection to train for Priesthood, the evening was particularly special as I draw spiritual strength from Mary’s example and her prayers. Thoughts of the evening will no doubt help me through these coming days.”

“….absorbed in the wonder of the music, pictures and words.”

Those are just a few comments about our May evening, Mary: Inspiration and Challenge. It was, indeed, a beautiful event. Building on a tradition we have developed of drawing together words, images and music from different times and cultures this year our particular focus was on Mary from different parts of the world. We heard poetry and words from Guadeloupe, Lourdes, La Salette, Akita, Kibeho and more. Our images came from many different places and times.

We listened to music from Latin America, China, and Europe. Memorable music items included Tatevik Hakobyan from the Armenian Church singing an ancient Armenian Anthem in honour of Mary:  Praise of Tiramaiar (by Astghik Stambultsyan), Sarah from St Chrysostom’s sang a beautiful piece by Charpentier (Sub Tuum Praesidium), we heard recordings of an exquisite anonymous  Ave Maria sung in Chinese (click here to hear this) and a haunting anthem to Mary, Hanacpachap cussicuinin sung in the ancient Inca language, Quechua.

Click here :Mary Inspiration and Challenge to see the programme of the evening.

We were a diverse group of people from many different faith backgrounds , drawn together, challenged, and inspired by Mary.

We recommend such an evening on Mary for an ecumenical occasion.

As our evening closed we heard words from a poem Mary, Mary by the American poet, Alice Tarnowski:

O Lady of Guadalupe, Madonna of Czestochowa,
Queen of Patriarchs, Mystical Rose,
Do you sometimes long to cry out to
the complaining sons and daughters of Adam and Eve:
‘Stop! Be silent! Hear me!
I’m Miriam, the Jewish girl of Nazareth
Who said ‘Yes’ to life.’

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Finding God in prison

A large maximum security prison was my ‘parish’ for seven years.

Most of the prisoners there had committed serious violent crimes, a good number were life sentenced prisoners, some were terrorists, a significant proportion had committed sexually related crimes. Many, if not most, came from socially deprived areas of England. Alcohol and drugs were a common feature in the background of a majority.

There were very challenging, at times harrowing moments, and there were very inspiring times too. My personal faith was challenged intensely, and from being almost broken it changed and was re-moulded.

Elizabeth Fry, the great Quaker prison visitor, write: “Much depends on the spirit in which the visitor enters upon her work. It must be in the spirit, not of judgement but of mercy. She must not say in her heart I am more holy than thou, but must rather keep in perpetual remembrance that ‘all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.’”

In the prison chaplaincy, outside my office hung a simple poster showing Christ behind bars. Beneath it were the words ‘You visited me.’ (Matthew 25.36). A constant and important reminder that the christian can find, and serve, God in the prisoner -in the marginalised, the sick, the hungry, and the needy.

At times zealous evangelical christians would come into the chaplaincy, with passionate intensity ‘bringing the Lord’ in to prisoners. Their focus was converting sinners. At times one or two of the men would respond to their message.

On a Sunday afternoon I ran a simple gathering in the Chapel called Come and See. Together visitors, staff and prisoners, sitting in a circle, shared their thoughts on their week, and their thoughts on a Bible passage chosen by a participant, prayers were said, we had a cup of tea. Of course in such a setting there was risk in this. We encouraged all to treat each other equally and respectfully, silences during the sharing were encouraged, and we helped one another to listen. In one part of the sharing we asked that contributions be ‘received in silence’ to prevent too quick rejoinders. Being still, learning to listen, led us to look for and find God there among us speaking to us in and from the prison situation. Perhaps because of this, we found this time of sharing developed and grew.

As attendance declines many churches are showing anxiety about the church’s future. Voices from the margins have relevant insights about the nature of church to share with churches, and  ecclesiastical authorities.

Fr Ian

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Visiting the Archbishop of Canterbury

lamb-p.jpgA small group of priests, female and male, members of the Society of Catholic Priests, recently visited Lambeth Palace. I was part of the group. We had been invited to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury who tries to meet, and to listen to, people of different groups within the Anglican church.

Notes of our meeting were taken, my comments here are simply a few personal reflections.

As members of SCP we discussed our concern that the central role of the sacraments in church life and ministry was in danger of being undervalued in the current Church of England. The Archbishop agreed and told us how through his years of ministry he had come to value the sacraments more and more. He encouraged SCP to speak out more in this area.

Connected with this we spoke of the role of priestly ministry in the church, and how many training courses and curacies while training people well for ministry were rather lacking in teaching on the particular role and nature of distinctive ministries, for example, priesthood. On this point the Archbishop strongly agreed and expressed his hope that more thorough teaching of the specific nature of priesthood would grow in the church, in training and in parishes.

We pointed out that those of an inclusive Catholic tradition such as SCP members, and members of the Company of Servers, were a significant part of the Anglican church, especially in the UK, but often are rather marginalised. It is frequently assumed that the only Catholic voice in the church is that of traditionalists who, sadly, oppose the ordination of women. Here again the Archbishop encouraged us to speak out, and challenge, to ensure our contribution was heard and honoured. He was aware of growing churches of an SCP tradition and invited SCP members to seek funding through ‘Strategic Development Funding (SDF),’ and through dioceses, to help them grow and develop their work. ‘Reform and Renewal’ he argued was for the whole church, and shouldn’t be seen as solely an evangelical initiative.

Of course it is an Archbishop’s job to encourage and support clergy, from whatever tradition they come. However, I came away a little puzzled at an incongruity. I was struck at how the Justin Welby who is said to be too managerial in style, and to have a clearly evangelical approach, came across in this particular meeting as sympathetic and understanding of an inclusive Catholic position, and clearly wanted it to flourish. I couldn’t help but feel that the impression of the Archbishop  I receive from some clergy and from the church press did not quite match  the sensitive and sympathetic person I met at that meeting at Lambeth.

Ian Gomersall

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The Image of our Queen

Let’s not be sexist about this! For the last two years a young lady has crowned Mary’s statue at St Chrysostom’s at the beginning of May. So we thought let’s try something new today… and so we did. This year Mary’s statue in church was crowned by a young adult man.

Since the eighth century (actually since the Council of Nicea in 787) the Church of God has asserted that it is lawful to have, and to honour, images of Jesus, Mary and saints. This is an ancient practice of Christians in the East and in the West. Crowning a statue is an ancient form of this honour, and is, of course, rather like the act of putting a flower or candle near a photo of a loved one. It is a sign of love.

At the crowning of our much loved statue of Our Lady Fr Chris used these words:

We have come here to crown this statue of the Mother of God. This ceremony has a lesson to teach us about the Gospel: that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are those who are foremost in serving and in love.

Our Lord himself came to serve, not to be served; he drew all things to himself when he was lifted up from the earth, and he reigned from the tree by the power of gentleness and love.

And our Lady, whose glory we proclaim today, was the humble servant of the Lord when she was on earth: she gave herself utterly to her Son and his work; with him, and under him, she was an instrument in our redemption.

Now, in the glory of heaven, she is still the God-bearer to Christ’s brothers and sisters: she cares about their eternal salvation; she is minister of holiness and queen of love.

Let us pray. O God, since you have given us Mary, the Mother of your Son, to be our mother and our queen, grant that we, who have come here to crown her statue, may attain the glory of your children in the kingdom of heaven. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The crown was placed in position and then all sang the Regina Coeli.

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