Repent Rejoice Recognise Receive

Advent will be soon with us. Over the last two years or so I have found time to be more elastic than usual. During lockdowns I often found it difficult to remember what day of the week it was. The experience was often quite disorienting. Now, as I look back, the days of going out for no more than an hour, for a walk seem a very long time away – and yet it wasn’t so long ago.

Even the church’s rhythm of time seemed different. After all our great feast of Easter in 2020 was at the beginning of lockdown and churches were closed. It seemed as if the joy and beauty of Easter was closed to us in church, and yet we began to find it more and more in nature and life around us. Normal patterns were suddenly taken away, but there were also signs of new ways and hopes.

Now Advent comes this year, and as we settle to restored ways of doing things we also find things have changed too. Advent is a beautiful and poignant season. Suddenly in the rhythm of life the Church calls out ‘Advent’ and in our church buildings the ‘green season’ becomes a purple one, and a period of expectation, reflection and preparation arrives. In our current world Advent will give us familiar words, music and hopes, and also new and different expressions and thoughts.

In the days of Advent we prepare, naturally for Christmas, the time to celebrate the birth of Christ. In Advent we also think of the culmination of time – sometimes called the ‘second coming’ – the time when Christ comes again. And in Advent we look out for signs of Christ coming even now among us in our world of today.

This Advent at St Chrysostom’s I would like us to look again at Advent in our changed world. To help us do this I think of four simple words which I think are very important for us as we keep this holy season. To make things easy for us each of the four words begins with ‘R’.

The four words are; Repent, Rejoice, Recognise and Receive. We’ll look at Repent in the first week of Advent, Rejoice in the second, and so on. In each week I will introduce the word with a short blog post, and in different ways in reflection and prayer, alone and together we can look at the word and there will be opportunity to share our thoughts, if we wish. Listening to one another, sharing our thoughts, praying and reflecting will all have their part in this. Do join in however you wish.

Fr Ian

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What will be the shape of the Church to come?

The Church of England is constantly facing criticism from both inside and outside. All kinds of changes are proposed. With this, inevitably, goes a sense of uncertainty, especially as many differing voices seem to be clamouring for attention. Some say traditional structures and formats must give way to new directions, others feel there is stability in the tried and tested ways.

I’ve given much thought to this over the past few months, and years, not least in Covid days. Church attendance has greatly reduced in the majority of churches in the UK over the past decades. As in the past methods are suggested to reverse this, and with this goes an assumption that numbers, and financial income, must increase. I would like to challenge this assumption.

I believe the Church of England is being called to be a smaller, leaner and ‘fitter’ church. As I have remarked elsewhere a tangerine is not a failed orange, it is smaller and sweeter. Similarly a smaller church will not be a failed church. It will be a church of ‘the little flock’ – a church which is outward looking – called to be salt to the earth, a light for the world. This is not about ‘managing decline’ – a somewhat dispiriting term. Rather it is about decluttering and opening the doors.

The future church, I believe, will be an open and radically inclusive church. This means that although the Church will be smaller it will not retreat into a ghetto or become a sect or a club for like minded people. An open church will be open to all, accepting of others, and aware that others may hold differing views about faith and life. Indeed some may be part of it as enquirers, uncertain but seeking. The ‘open church’ will make active efforts to be broad and welcoming, Anglicanism at its best, and will itself be a sign of unity in diversity.

I believe the future church will be rooted at a local level. Management above the local level has to be greatly reduced, especially in the ‘top heavy’ Church of England. Living church will be formed by living Christian communities, be they formed locally as parishes or in other ways. These communities will have a duty to be in unity with the ‘episcope’ in whatever form that takes, but they will be humble in nature, and shun authoritarian and expensive management structures. Bishops and church leaders hopefully will lead as they, to quote Pope Francis, “embrace poverty and avoid becoming bureaucrats shut away in large offices.”

The future church, I believe, will be guided by committed laity and clergy. Our own Chi Rho group at St Chrysostom’s is, for me, a local example of such a potentially guiding group. Members, lay and clergy, meet regularly, committed by a simple rule of life to prayer, mutual support, and to support our local church and community. In the diverse group all are equal ordained or not, regardless of gender, length of church membership or whatever.

Service to the world will be a key feature of the future church. This will mean recognising Christ in the hungry, the imprisoned, the thirsty, the needy and serving him there. It will also mean challenging the secular world, as well as recognising God at work beyond the church, in society and in all world faiths.

At the heart of the future church will be prayer and reflection, a deep spirituality. The Eucharist, the Mass, will be the focus of unity and indeed will create and renew unity. One of the great treasures of the christian church throughout history is the spirituality and liturgy of the church. The future church will value, take forward and develop spirituality. Similarly all the sacraments, where christians have found God to be particularly active among us, will be celebrated worthily and in a way which both nurtures and enhances vision.

There will be change. It is clear there has to be. I believe we can see wonderful signs of faith and hope for the future smaller, fitter church in several Christian churches of today – including, thankfully, our own at St Chrysostom’s!

Fr Ian

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A generous act

When I was a curate in Barnard Castle I lodged for a while with a saintly lady, Mrs ‘Mac’ Brown. She was a regular church goer and involved in many good works about the town. Each year she also organised the Christian Aid collection around Barnard Castle. Volunteers were designated streets to deliver giving envelopes to, and later to collect them. Mac allocated herself to the two streets with the poorest housing, streets where difficult council tenants were moved to. Each year she commented that some of the most generous donations came from the envelopes of those streets.

Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’ (Luke 21.1-4)

Perhaps you have noticed this too. Recently someone who at times struggles financially pressed into my hand a kind donation for our work to help the needy. I was moved, as I always am, by such an act of kindness.

The Widow's Mite

In this painting, The Widow’s Mite, by William Teulon Blandfold Fletcher (1858 – 1936) we see a simple, poignant depiction of the gospel story translated by the artist to his times, 1890. Teulon Blanfold painted natural scenes which he saw around him. Here we see a widow, in dark clothes, placing money into a church poor box while her left hand goes to her heart – a sign of piety. A more wealthy man looks on thoughfully, and the widow’s child, showing us a new generation, stands by his mother.

One commentator notes how well the floor is painted by the artist. The different tiles of different times reflect the generations past, present and to come, making up the church. The widow’s act of the Gospel is shown again in the generation of the artist, and found again in our generation.

Fr Ian

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Transgender Day of Remembrance

Some 25 years ago, Fr Chris writes, I was appointed as a Community Safety Officer by the Centre for HIV and Sexual Health in Sheffield with funding released from South Yorkshire Police (SYP).  I had a small budget to run some workshops and to promote safety in the LGBT Community.  Most of the work centred around being safe on the streets, avoiding “gay-bashers”, being confident.  SYP had seen an increase in the number of gay men who were being targeted for their sexuality. As is so often the case the “T” for Trans got lost in services being developed.

So 25 years later – as things have progressed and society has become more tolerant – we might expect to see a fall in Hate Crime, and attacks on LGBT Community.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Year on year there has been a substantial rise in the number of Transgender Women and Men who have been attacked – and killed.

In 2020-2021 there were 2,630 recorded crimes against people who identify as transgender.  This means that nearly 3000 people were targeted for attack, abuse, arson etc simply because they are different, because they do not conform to someone else’s norm, because they make others feel embarrassed.  80% of Trans people in the UK have been the victim of Hate Crime.  Some have died, and some have been murdered.  (Official figures do not exist but reliable sources state that there were 369 “reported murders of trans and gender-diverse people between 1 October 2017 and 30 September 2018” around the world.) There were 9 trans people murdered 2009-2017 in the UK.

Those in authority sometimes seem to dismiss the higher number of recorded crimes against our Trans Community saying that people “now feel able to report crime easily”.  This doesn’t sit well with me – the powers that be should always have been enabling people to report crime, and it seems to vilify those who didn’t report crime as somehow being weak.

Wikipedia defines Transphobia as “Transphobia can include fear, aversion, hatred, violence, anger, or discomfort felt or expressed towards people who do not conform to social gender expectations….Transphobia is a type of prejudice and discrimination, similar to racism and sexism, and transgender people of colour are often subjected to all three forms of discrimination at once.

Fear, discomfort and even embarrassment can cause people to behave in uncharacteristic and extreme ways – but, that does not excuse violence, intimidation and murder.

As a church we pride ourselves at St Chrysostom’s in striving or working towards inclusion at all levels – and that must include EVERYONE including those who might cause us to question what our own social gender expectations are! 

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed annually on November 20th.

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Insights from other faiths

Many years ago now, in Australia , when I was a teenager,  I sometimes noticed a local boy whose hair was tied on his head  in a top knot and I wondered why.

At the time I attended a gospel hall where I was taught that the only way to God, the only way to heaven, was by knowing Jesus Christ as your own personal saviour. I held that belief in my head and never in my heart and  for only a very short time. I found it abhorrent and incompatible with a belief in an all loving God. Would such a God banish the many good kind people I knew and loved   to outer darkness for eternity simply because they didn’t believe in Jesus as saviour

Since then my knowledge and understanding of other faiths has grown in leaps and bounds , partly because I have taught world religions but also because I have had the privilege of counting people of other faiths among  my friends.  Now I would immediately recognize that the boy was a Sikh.

The study and these friendships have made me think further about the competing claims to truth made by christians and people of other faiths.

At first, I followed the line of C.S Lewis in the Last Battle , the final book of the Narnia series. The children are surprised to find Emeth with them, even though he is a  Calormene , and therefore must be an enemy of Aslan, the great lion who represents Christ in the books. Aslan gently explains to them that Emeth’s values and actions show he is a true follower of Aslan even though he calls him by the wrong name. I thought that Christianity was the truth – members of other religions  were saved by Christ and might follow him but just didn’t know it . This is an appealing idea but I am uncomfortable with it. It claims Christianity is the only truth and feeds that sense of superiority that fed colonialism.

Is the Golden Rule Really a Rule? - HubPages

The opposite idea, also appealing,  is that all religions have the same truths underneath or at their core. The trouble is  all religions do not have the same core teachings… and at times contradict each other though they may have shared values or at least overlapping ones.  A belief in Muhammad as God’s final prophet is essential in Islam, but no other religion. The Qur’an does teach that Jesus is a prophet but it is very clear that he is not God, or God’s son, the central Christian teaching. Many Buddhists would say that their religion is an atheistic one. Even the golden rule ‘Do unto others what you would have them do unto you .’  is not the same where it appears elsewhere. Judaism and Islam both have negative versions of the rule. Hinduism is generally concerned with fulfilling the duties of one’s caste, the status in which one is born at birth, rather than teaching the equality implied by the golden rule.

Sadly there are fundamentalists within all religions who stick rigidly to dogma, raise barriers, and, at worse, wage wars . But what is also true is that there  are millions within each religion who seek to live a spiritual life, love one another, their neighbour and their enemy , and seek the common good.

Is it then just a matter of tolerance of everything but intolerance? It’s a start but over the years I have gone beyond respecting the rights of others to practise their beliefs as long as they don’t impinge on mine. I have learnt to recognize that acknowledging difference enables me to learn from others. I have learnt to learn from some of the insights and practices  within different religions.

Sandra Palmer – we are grateful to Sandra for this reflection in Inter Faith week.

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Not a failed orange

St Mary’s Church, Woodland, County Durham

When I was 12 or 13 I first went to our local village church. Fr Ian writes…The village was a small one, a former mining community of only about 250 people on the edge of Teesdale, County Durham.

The church, St Mary’s, Woodland, is a daughter church of a parish church, St John’s, Lynesack, about 2 miles away. It is a small building built of wood and corrugated iron, what is often nowadays called a ‘tin tabernacle.’

I went through the door that Sunday just before 3 pm, when Evensong was due to begin. I didn’t know what to expect. The first person I saw was Miss Millicent Hepple. She was seated near the door ringing the one churchbell. Miss Millicent Hepple lived with her sister, Miss Gladys Hepple, two spinster ladies who ran and lived at the village shop not far from the church.

Miss Millicent gently welcomed me and guided me to sit next to her in a pew. There were about nine or ten people in church. Now, fifty years later, I can still remember most of them by name, and I can still sense the simple but holy atmosphere of that place. The service began with a hymn and for this Miss Hepple went forward to a small organ and accompanied the singing. In fact most of the service was sung despite the small numbers. During the service I was gently guided through the service. The vicar who led the worship was gentle and devout, kind and welcoming. The whole experience made an enormous impression upon me. Although small in number the congregation was very welcoming and sincere. They were gentle and encouraging, I felt they were pleased to have me there with them.

This affirming experience inspired me to attend more often, and within that small homely congregation I first felt my call to be a priest.

The Church of England has many such small congregations. They can be part of the beauty and charm of church living out faith in some communities, for being small does not mean failure. After all a tangerine is not a failed orange, it is something smaller and often more sweet.

Of course some small congregations struggle with large expensive buildings. They may need to find more serviceable buildings, perhaps even tin tabernacles or their modern equivalents. Nevertheless a small gathering of peoples with faithfulness warmth and sincerity can so often be a place where faith is found or renewed and nurtured.

As I wrote this I came across, from a different context, this quotation of that great servant of God, Dorothy Day, and I reflected on how the ripples from that small church in County Durham have spread in many directions.

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The gift of a painting for Keith

In July this year Fr Ian received an unexpected letter from a Peter Lechmere of Chorley, in Lancashire.

Peter wrote: Last year, after reading a book entitled ‘The Lost Boy’ about Keith Bennett I painted some flowers from my garden for him. Whilst I try to sell my paintings I cannot sell this painting. I mean I wouldn’t accept any money for it. It would feel wrong inside.

Many will know the tragic story of Keith, a victim of the notorious moors murderers, whose body has never been recovered. Keith attended Sunday School at St Chrysostom’s and Winnie Johnson his mother, regularly attended Mass in the last few years of her life and her funeral was held at St Chrysostom’s. Winnie was a popular lady in the community and at church.

Peter decided to give the painting to St Chrysostom’s in memory of Keith and it has now been placed on the wall next to the main font where the curtains hanging were made by local children with the help of the textiles department of Manchester University also in memory of Keith.

In receiving the gift the Church gave a donation to the Children’s Society to help their work in caring for and protecting children.

We are very grateful to Peter for this beautiful painting, a symbol of how the memory of Keith, and his mother lives on among us.

(This post in one of a special series here on our church blog telling of unexpected gifts we’ve recently received at Church, these include a drawing of church, a poem for church, and crosses.)

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Remembering loved ones at All Souls time

All Souls' Day in Lithuania: Interesting Facts | We love Lithuania
Candles in a Cemetery in Lithuania at All Soulstide

One October a few years ago I went to a supermarket in the Naujamiestis area of Vilnius, Lithuania. I was puzzled to see on sale a huge number of long burning candles encased in plastic, with metal covers – clearly intended for outdoor use. It was clearly there to meet a demand. Then I remembered, All Saints Day and All Souls Day were soon to come. Lithuania is a strongly Catholic countries and many people would be following the popular Catholic tradition of visiting, either individually, or communally in procession, the graves of loved ones who have died. Prayers are said and lit candles are placed upon the graves. Sometimes food is shared. Together with this often goes an act of charity to help with a local need. This is done at All Saints Day or All Souls Day, or on a day very close to them.

Different cultures, different communities do things differently. The basic connection between Autumn (in the Northern hemisphere, at least), the departed and charity has been lived out in different ways. In England in the nineteenth century, especially in areas of Cheshire and Staffordshire, homes were visited around All Saints and All Souls’ tide. Memories were shared and special cakes, ‘soul cakes,’ shared. This custom survived in some places up to the mid twentieth century.

Of course for centuries the dead have been prayed for on All Souls’ Day many masses were said, indeed priests were permitted to say mass three times on the day. Such masses were general masses for the souls of the departed, rather than for individual people. More recently churches have begun to have liturgies of prayer and memorial at All Souls’ Day at which people are named – perhaps because they have died in the past year, or they may have been former worshippers or people dear to those attending. At St Chrysostom’s we hold such a liturgy and also around this time, and indeed in the month of the Holy Souls, November have requiem masses praying for those connected with us who have died.

However, looking back to that Lithuanian supermarket makes me to reflect on how part of the traditional observance of this poignant season is about visiting and it is domestic, about place, the place of final resting, and personal prayer. Families and friends visit in life, and in faith and imagination we continue to do so though separated by death.

We all individually, and as the Church of God, wish to encourage and support personal prayer and remembrance at All Souls.

In our modern transient communities it is more difficult to visit graves or places where cremated remains are. Nevertheless God has given us the gift of imagination and prayer. Our loved ones are close to us. There are many ways we can encourage prayer and charity at this time. For some it may mean going to church for an All Souls liturgy, others may join an online act of worship.

At home at All Souls time we can take time to be still and ‘visit’ – in our minds and prayers the loved one. We could place a photograph, or significant object, of a loved one who has died on a table or significant place in our room and next to it light a candle, remember and pray. We may choose to do an act of charity as a sign of love received and shared – giving a cake is a lovely example of this.

Rest eternal grant to them, Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

May they rest in peace. Amen.

Fr Ian

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Sir Arthur Lewis and #BlackHistoryMonth

Fr Admos writes: We have been celebrating Black History month in our Parish in different ways. Indeed, our own parish church does have its own history makers like the late Louise Da Cacodia, an icon of racial equality struggles in Manchester who many will remember for her reassuring smile to all who walked through our doors! Our discussions on Friday night helped us to reflect on the life of Sir Arthur Lewis, the first person of colour to hold a chair in Economics in the UK. I have the privilege of working from the building named in his honour at the University of Manchester and could not help but reflect on his life and what it means for #BlackHistoryMonth.

Its hard to imagine now how it must have been at that time to be the only person of colour working in a university with this level of seniority as things have changed quite a lot in higher education in the UK- arguably not quickly or far reaching enough. He suffered racial prejudice like all other people of colour that had arrived from colonies but in his case it is fair to say he would have felt it more in the elitist universities of his time where most academics had to have had an Oxbridge education.  Indeed at the start of his career in London it is said he was not trusted to take classes on his own and had to have another ‘white’ academic with him- presumably to make his more acceptable to the students of the time. Manchester University took a leap of faith in him and gave him the opportunity to take up the Chair in Development Economics working from the then Dover Street offices where Economics department was based. This was after Liverpool University had passed on an offer to appoint him.

Although he was a brilliant economist (winning the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979 was no easy feat), I choose to highlight a part of his legacy here in Manchester that is often overshadowed by his intellectual work. He was an academic with a conscience and indeed arriving in Manchester of the time and seeing the levels of poverty among the immigrants he was determined to do something outside the ivory tower of academia. In his analysis at the time, the immigrants mostly from the colonies (the Windrush generation) were caught in a vicious cycle that would impoverish their future generations. Many needed to work long hours on poor pay to make ends meet (Loiuse always reminded us this in of PCCs!). The dream of better paying jobs at the time was as elusive as it probably is still for many. In his analysis, the long hours of poor pay often meant their families (read children) where largely left to raise themselves in a very hostile environment. Parent would arrive home late after children had gone to bed and would need to be up at the crack of dawn (before children were even up) to start the day. In his analysis this created a vicious cycle of poverty and deprivation as the children often dropped out of school with some resorting to crime to make ends meet. With little education, this new generation found itself replacing the Windrush generation in the sweat shops scaring a living on long hour and poor pay just like their parents. Many managed to escape this vicious cycle and have made great contributions in various fields. Arthur Lewis was instrumental in helping set up the West Indian Centre in Moss Side to help the community of immigrants to organise and deal with the common issues they faced. Although this centre still exists as a focal point for the Moss side community, Arthur Lewis himself was said to have been disillusioned by the lack of structural change by the time he left Manchester.

As we celebrate Black history month, Arthur’s legacy lives on in academia but there is little change and more continuity in inner city Manchester as the attempt to break the poverty cycle continue.   The centre he helped set up continues to be a focal point for local activities and playing a positive contribution to South Manchester immigrant communities.

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Pippa’s wonderful achievement

We are constantly amazed by the wonderful variety of things members of our fantastic church congregation do. Here’s a lovely example. Pippa Allen writes:

May be an image of Philippa Allen, standing and outdoors

“On Sunday, 3rd October, I did something I have always said “no” to when asked the question “would I ever run a marathon?”

At 10.49am I crossed the start line of the London Marathon. I had a plan to get me round, I had put in the training but nothing prepares you for the “wall”.

My wall came at 24k just after I had completed half the marathon. It was too early to hit the wall, everything hurt I wanted to quit there and then. However due to sheer stubbornness, determination and my inner coach I realised I just had to focus on a goal….30k, get to 30k and then plan again.

I got to 30k and then the rain and wind came I was at breaking point again and then I heard people shouting “go soldier go!” Sergeant Major Rupert appeared carrying 36lbs who just like me was struggling. However carrying 36lbs I think I would be struggling!

So we started chatting and I realised I wasn’t the only runner struggling so together we ran / walked the last 12k and we crossed that finish line after 6 hours 39 minutes.

Today I’m reflecting on what I achieved yesterday and I am super proud of my courage, determination, resilience and stubbornness. But what I am immensely proud of is my amazing family and friends I could not of done it without their support and belief that I could do it.”

... and as a Church we are so proud of Pippa. Congratulations to her.

Now we can show our congratulations by sponsoring Pippa – who in doing the marathon was raising money for Allergy UK.

Pippa writes: My chosen charity is Allergy UK,  a charity close to my heart who have provided my family with invaluable resources, support and information since my daughter Grace was born. Grace was diagnosed with a suspected milk allergy a few weeks after she was born and officially diagnosed with a milk allergy at aged one.

So let’s show generous support by donating at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/philippa-allen2

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