King of the North – the story

In this first part of a two part blog entry Fred tells us of the life of St Oswald. (Feast day August 5th)

Born in 604 with a claim to the mostly pagan Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira (jointly referred to as Northumbria in the North of England), Oswald and his brothers were raised in exile in the Irish kingdom of Dal Riata in what is now Scotland. They were converted to their hosts’ Christianity, and Oswald remained pious for the rest of his life.

In 633, Oswald succeeded to the thrones of Northumbria and proceeded to evangelise his people. A great supporter of the Irish missionary, St Aiden, he sponsored the founding of the great monastery on Lindisfarne. He translated many Latin and Irish religious texts into his native English, and was famed for his intellect and wisdom.

Oswald lived the gospel. On one occasion, while hosting a great feast, news was brought of many beggars at the gate of his hall. He immediately distributed the feast among them, and then broke up the silver plate and had that distributed too. This event led Aiden to hold up Oswald’s arm and declare “may this arm never whither”. The arm was supposedly intact until the Great Iconoclasm of the 16th Century.

Facing a massive invasion from the pagan, Penda of Mercia and his British allies, Oswald was visited by an angel who instructed him to raise a wooden cross and have his army pray. The next day, they won a great victory against the odds, and the battlefield become known as Heavenfield.

In 642, Oswald was killed fighting Penda’s Mercians and the Britons at Maserfield, and his body was hacked to pieces and limbs rearranged on a ‘tree’ of spears, possibly at what is now Oswestry (Oswald’s Tree).

His relics and burial site, as well as the remains of the cross of Heavenfield were said to work many miracles, and a popular cult of Oswald lasted across Europe until the Faith of Our Fathers was purged in the Reformation.

In the second part Fred will reflect on St Oswald’s role in his personal faith.

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A Prayer Novena

Imagine a group of people, men and women, who have lost a definite sense of direction. They are very uncertain about what the future holds. Their guide, their leader has disappeared and they feel his absence, they wonder what to do. Before he went he told them to pray, and so that is what they do. Behind closed doors they gather in their group and pray. They pray in their different ways, they support one another in prayer, they encourage in the difficult days.

You may well recognise the story. After the Ascension of the Lord, has disciples gathered, with Mary, behind closed doors and prayed. The story is told in the Bible – Acts 1.12-14. The disciples with Mary prayed for nine days. Then, at the end of the nine days they received new strength, they were renewed in God’s love – the Holy Spirit gave them new heart and courage.

The custom of nine days of prayer began with Mary and the disciples, and continues in the Church today. It is usually called a ‘Novena’ – a word simply meaning nine days. Sometimes there are Novenas for a particular cause or leading up to a particular feast. Sometimes they are organised by churches, sometimes individuals pray a private novena.

On August 6th you are invited to join with the people of St Chrysostom’s in a prayer novena. A special time of prayer for nine days before the feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven on August 15th. 

This novena is simply an encouragement to one another to pray in the nine days, pray for our needs, for others, for our church and for the future. It is a time also to be thankful for what we have and see around us.

People can take part in whatever way they wish. Between August 6th and August 14th inclusive on our Facebook Page there will be prayers and words to help us pray. We are helping people by having prayers each morning at 9.30am led by different members of our church and based on a scene from the life of Jesus or Mary, and using a ‘decade’ of the rosary. This lasts about 7-10 minutes. At 5pm there will be Vespers each day, and at 9pm there will be prayers and a short thought for the evening, again given by different St Chrysostom’s people.

We can join in as much as we choose. We may choose to do it differently, of course – simply ‘dipping in and out’ as we wish, or maybe doing something as simple as praying the Lord’s Prayer slowly and quietly morning and evening in the nine days.

This prayer will regularly be prayed during the Novena, and you may like to us it too:

Blessed God, Holy One,

We come before you in worship and peace.

We pray for ourselves, and for the whole world,

(Pause as in silence we name our needs)

We pray for the poor, the afflicted and the mentally ill,

The desolate and the deprived of our world.

Grant us your guidance, comfort and strength.

Blessed are you, O God, now and for ever. Amen

Whatever we choose we can be encouraged that others are praying with you and for you.

Fr Ian

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An Inspiration to Parish Clergy

When parish priests are welcomed to their parish the words used emphasise the role of the priest to the whole parish. This is also emphasised, usually, in the title of the parish priest, the ‘Vicar of Wilberfoss,’ the ‘Rector of Cockfield,’ for example. The priest lives within the community, and is part of that community. If the community celebrates, the priest celebrates. If the community remembers, the priest remembers. If the community suffers – say by the effects of plague or virus, the priest suffers. In this celebrating, remembering, suffering, the priest can have a significant role in enhancing celebration, articulating remembrance and caring in suffering, and indeed, in bringing these concerns to God in prayer on behalf of the parish. This is far more than ‘service of the community’ which can run the risk of seeming paternalistic. It is embodied living Christian ministry in a parish.

This is recognised and strengthened by law, which over the centuries and to this day encourages the role of the parish priest. By law the priest is to be available for the people of the parish, irrespective of their professed faith. By law the parish priest is to pray daily for and care for the parish. By law, indeed, the priest is to live in the parish – except in very limited circumstances.

This connection with the people of the parish, the local community and indeed the land of the parish, emphasises the love and care of God for the local, the particular and the everyday. Parish ministry, a ministry right at the heart of the Church of England throughout her history, is essentially incarnational.

The Parish Church is very much a focus for much of the parish priest’s ministry. However, the priest is not simply a chaplain to a church, just as a diocesan bishop is not the chaplain to a cathedral. Involvement in schools, care homes, work with the vulnerable and needy, concern for social issues that affect the parish, are all part of the ministry of the parish priest.

Of course parishes and communities change, and some reorganisation is needed, and the wise priest will involve others in this ministry – it cannot be done alone. However, any reorganisation will have, indeed must have, as its focus the essential and incarnational nature of parish ministry.

In 1817 Jean-Marie Vianney was appointed parish priest of the remote French village of Ars-en-Dombes, it was a depressing place with a run down church and the post was usually given to poorly educated priests who could not be trusted with more. His superiors thought Vianney a suitable choice. He was to remain there to his death 42 years later in 1859.

On arrival Vianney was anxious to minister to all the people of Ars, not just the faithful few. He lived a humble life, avoiding lavish priestly dress and preaching a simple faith. He challenged the morals of the people and opened their eyes to the riches of a loving faith. Despite personal illness and the envious unkindnesses of neighbouring clergy he persevered and his care and prayer for individuals made him famous well beyond his parish. In 1858 over a thousand people visited Ars each week to seek his counsel and prayer.

Like so many of us he was a complex person. However, at heart he was a loving man who cared deeply for his parishioners and who had an ability to be at ease, and to chat helpfully,with all. His example, seen as foolishness to some, including colleague priests, is now seen as a sincere sanctity. In 1929, St John Mary Baptist Vianney, the Cure d’Ars, (feast day 4th August) was proclaimed the principal patron saint of the parochial clergy. His witness is both an inspiration and a challenge to the church and clergy of today.

Fr Ian

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Be Calm, Wise and Kind

We are living in strange and unpredictable days. The rhythm of life slowly seems to be returning to normal and then we find restrictions reappear and we hear of ‘spikes’ or ‘second waves’ of the Coronavirus and we wonder what is going to happen. We are uncertain about whether we should go to certain places, or meet with certain people. The guidance seems complicated at times and frequently changing. It is likely that this will be how life is for many months.

At the same time we are noticing things more, we are becoming more sensitive and alert to the world around us. We are appreciating small things. Many people comment on the beauty of birdsong, or the blooms of flowers. A stranger’s smile encourages us, a friendly phone call is a blessing.

At times we will, inevitably, be concerned, very anxious or fragile. At other times we will feel content or exhilarated. In such circumstances it is not surprising that many find they cannot concentrate so well or sleep so well.

The summer is traditionally a time for relaxation – to take things easy. This is a time to be still, to live enjoying the present moment and what it brings, and to be patient and still. A card on my desk reads ‘Keep calm, Stay wise, Be kind.’ I find them helpful words.

Church life has, of course, changed. Though churches are opening, and we now have Sunday Mass, it is not the same as before. We have to sit apart, there is no singing, people wear masks. I am pleased that those who attend are finding worship comforting. It is, however, different.

It has been so encouraging that we are staying together as a Christina community as best we can. We pray for each other, often by name, we connect by Zoom, social media, telephone, e-mail and even by old fashioned letters! We care. Inevitably contact will not always be as strong as it could be, but it is encouraging that some are saying that they actually have got to know some people better in these unusual days.

I am sure that in these days prayer, calm, love, care and having contact with one another as best we can are the key elements that will sustain us, and our church community.

St Chrysostom’s is a very special, welcoming, inclusive, diverse and joyful church where many people have found God, love and friendship. We will continue to have these qualities, I am sure, in the coming weeks and months as we continue to be church together.

Fr Ian

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The challenge of promoting racial harmony

A friend of St Chrysostom’s has pointed out to us an exchange on racism in the Questions and Answers of the recent General Synod. Not many will have easy access to the paperwork of this august body and so here we reproduce the relevant question, and the insightful answer given by Fr Rogers Govender, the Dean of Manchester. The question is rather convoluted, the answer is succinct and apposite. If nothing else read the section in blue below.

Mr Bradley Smith (Chichester) to ask the Chair of the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns:
Q121 In the light of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s claim in his video posted on 2nd June 2020 that ‘white supremacy’ is “endemic and longstanding” in this country, will the Council prepare a briefing for the House of Bishops on:

(a) the concept of “white supremacy”;

(b) the evidence in favour of the argument that British society manifests “endemic and longstanding … white supremacy”;

(c) in the light of its conclusions on (b), and of the potentially inflammatory nature of the term, whether the Church’s vocation not only to challenge racism wherever it occurs but also to promote racial harmony will be helped or hindered by making the charge that British society manifests “endemic and longstanding … white supremacy”?

The Dean of Manchester to reply as Chair of the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns:
A If the House of Bishops asks for such a briefing, we will certainly provide it.

But the answer is implicit in clause (c) of the question.

We cannot progress much further until white people start to understand the implications of being white, question attitudes they absorb as “normal”, and overturn lingering beliefs about racial hierarchies. The daily experiences of BAME people, who are labelled in many derogatory ways, reveal how they can be perceived as inferior to white people.

Racism is not a problem for BAME people to resolve so that white people’s ideas can remain comfortably untouched. Prayerful reflection on one’s own identity, and how one places oneself within a world view, is central to Christian discipleship.

If it takes a “potentially inflammatory” phrase to prompt change, maybe advancing God’s Kingdom on earth requires that. Promoting racial harmony means challenging any notion of racial superiority in Church and society.

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We’re open!

The Coronavirus has affected life for us all in many ways. Church had to close for several weeks, and we couldn’t celebrate Easter together. At last, on Sunday (5th July) we were able to open for Mass. Obviously precautions had to be taken and we were very careful to follow the guidelines offered to us. A kind group of volunteers cleaned and helped make us ‘Covid secure.’ We were aware that, understandably, a good number of people felt it best not to venture to Mass yet.

The day turned out to be a day of great blessing. We felt the Spirit of holiness and love moving among us. Paul, who acted as steward for the Mass has written about his experience of the day:

“I have to admit that on Sunday morning as I opened the church doors for worshippers to enter in, I felt nervous, the type of nervousness that is felt in the pit of the stomach, and it took me by surprise. I wondered whether it could have been excitement at being back in church for the first time in so long; or it was just because I was worried whether I would get everything right as a welcomer in this new world? Whatever it was about, the feeling was intense; perhaps I was being moved by the Holy Spirit? 

As soon as I opened the doors people began to arrive and whilst I was looking forward to seeing old friends, the first two people to arrive were completely new to me which was a joy. One man came to Mass that morning because he had a seriously ill child in the hospital. He wanted to be baptised. I showed him to a seat with the promise that I would get a Priest to speak with him. Mother Kate almost immediately walked through the door and of course was happy to speak with him, now I knew the Holy Spirit was at work. 

True to our values of welcome and inclusion; that man was baptised without question and he received the sacrament during the Mass. On that special day when our fast was broken, this guest in our home was invited to the front of the queue to partake in that most special of all meals and I am not ashamed to admit, I cried! My tears were not of the tears of sentiment, they were visceral, I was moved by the Holy Spirit.

Christ was present at Mass on Sunday, present in the Blessed Sacrament, present in our visitor who needed our love and hospitality and present in the gentle and affirming presence of all the old friends that did walk through the door.  Such is the strength of our community, I truly believe the old saying to be true that those not physically there were “there in spirit” so all in all it was a very special morning.”

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Black Saints Matter

A young girl seeing large billboards in the street asked her mother what they were. The mother explained that they are adverts, and what they were for. They then went into church and the little girl looked at the saints in the stained glass windows. “Are they God’s adverts, then?” she asked.

Icon of St Josephine Bakhita in St Chrysostom’s Church

Perhaps you are familiar with that simple story. Through history the Church has identified holy women and men to be particularly good examples, inspirations, to Christians. In a sense they are ‘God’s adverts.’ There are thousands of them, from all parts of the world, of differing ages, cultures and backgrounds. From them churches choose and form their own Calendar of saints to be observed. Through the years, as times change, the saints chosen can change, and often holy men and women, not officially named ‘saints’ are added into the calendar too. Saints local to a geographic area can be added too.

Selection for the church’s calendar must be quite a tricky task, and through time revisions are needed. In an earlier blog post we saw how ridiculously imbalanced the Common Worship Calendar of the Church of England is against women and non ordained people. 80% of the holy people listed are men, and most of those are clergy.

The issue goes deeper and enters the serious area of institutional racial prejudice. Here is the startling fact: Of the 329 observances in the Common Worship calendar four can be unequivocally named as black saints, five if Martin de Porres (dual heritage) is included.

That is to say of the observances  0.02% are black saints. All the named black saints are men. They are Janani Luwum, Apolo Kivebulaya, Bernard Mizeki and the Martyrs of Uganda.

If BAME people are included then the figure would include Biblical saints such as Mary and the disciples, for example, and the percentage then rises to 18% non white.

Statue of Manche Masemola at Westminster Abbey

One of the observances is to the ‘Ugandan Martyrs’ but no black people are specifically named (unlike in the equivalent Roman Catholic observance). Bishop James Hannington who died in one of the Ugandan persecutions has his own observance on another date, as indeed does Archbishop Janani Luwum (one of the four black people named).

Observances that should be considered include: Samuel Ajayo Crowther, Josephine Bakhita, Takla Haymanot, Sojourner Truth, Samuel Ferguson, Martyrs of the Sudan, Albert John Luthuli, Elizabeth Paul of Mthatha, Manche Masemola, Martin Luther King.

Black lives matter. Black saints matter.

The inspiring examples of black saints, men and women cry out to be included in the Church’s calendar. Institutional racism is deeply seated and can be subtly hidden – not least in the church.

A serious revision of the Church of England’s  Calendar which recognises that Black Saints Matter is clearly long overdue.

We are aware that this blog post raises several questions, not least of iconography, some of which we hope to explore in later posts.
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Oh, to that heart draw nigh

Mosaic of the Sacred Heart at Paray-le-Monial

“He broke my heart.” Most people reading those words will know what the speaker meant. The person has suffered deep emotional pain as a result of the actions of another. Perhaps the speaker was susceptible to such pain, perhaps they were ‘tender hearted.’

Two years ago I went on a short private pilgrimage to Paray le Monial, in central France, often nicknamed the ‘city of the Sacred Heart.’ It was here, in the late seventeenth century, in the convent where she was a nun, that Margaret Mary Alacoque received visions of the love of God, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In fact devoition to the Sacred Heart existed well before this time, however, Maragert Mary’s intense experiences led, eventually, to a development and popularisation of the devotion.

The Chapel of the Apparitions, Paray-le-Monial. At the front on the left is the (raised) grill to the convent where St Margaret Mary Alacoque knelt and saw her visions.

There are several churches and places to pray in Paray le Monial. A large church dominates the main square. Not far away is the Chapel of the Apparitions, where a convent chapel is joined with a public chapel. This is the place of many of Margaret Mary’s visions. It is a place of popular devotion, for many it is a thin place, where heaven seems close to earth.

I found it such. I was moved by the intensity of prayer by young and old. I learned the story of one pilgrim. She had come in deep sadness. She, a poor young woman, had been betrayed in love. She came, broken hearted to the place where the Sacred Heart is particularly honoured, she came to pray where, for centuries people have found prayers to be heard.

This young lady’s story is no doubt repeated through the years in this place. For me it was a reminder of Our Lady’s sorrows – the pains and wounds she had in her life. As I prayed in Paray le Monial I reflected on some of the heartache I carry and I rteflected how God, in Jesus, carroes heart ache, sorrow and pain too. In the common way we use the words the Sacred Heart is also a broken heart, and so is close to us. God’s love knowing, feeling, understanding what we feel – what is at the heart of our lives.

Fr Edward Caswall, friend of St John Henry Newman, wrote:

All ye who seek a comfort sure
in trouble and distress,
whatever sorrow vex the mind,
or guilt the soul oppress:

Jesus, who gave himself for you
upon the cross to die,
opens to you his sacred heart;
oh, to that heart draw nigh.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me.

Fr Ian

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O Sacred Heart

Two years ago walking the steep path up Beinn Lora, Argyll, Scotland I began to feel breathless and my heart began pounding. It was a surprise and an alert to be careful. After the holiday my doctor sent me to a heart clinic where I underwent some energetic tests – pedalling a machine which pushed harder and harder against me. I was ‘wired up’ and had to try to my limit. Afterwards I felt worse than I had on the walk in Scotland! Fortunately things turned out OK and I was simply given advice on how to have a healthy heart.

So often we take our hearts for granted. They are there beating throughout our lives. Within just a few weeks of conception a heart beat is heard and brings great joy to parents when they can hear it too. The heartbeat is a sign of life, constantly beating, constantly sustaining us.

Of course the heart also symbolises much more. We say words such as ‘my true love has my heart,’ we talk of being ‘broken hearted,’  we draw hearts as signs of deep love and care.

It is in these ways that talking and thinking of the ‘Sacred Heart’ brings me strength and hope in my faith. I believe creation has direction, that evolution is guided and not random. In the moment of creation and throughout time the sacred heart of God beats, sustaining and giving new life and direction to creation. ‘In the beginning’ the Bible tells us was ‘the Word.’ Christ the Word of God is also Christ the Sacred Heart of God.

The heart is a sign of  love, care and affection. The Sacred Heart is  a sign of the eternal love, compassion and affection of God for each of us and for the whole of God’s creation.

In our prayers as we imagine the Sacred Heart beat of love permeating all that is, we stop and rest close to that heart and draw others, our loved ones, friends and those in need into that love as we pray for them.

Fr Ian

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Sacred Heart – the ‘Heart of God’

One of the greatest independent Christian thinkers in the twentieth century was undoubtedly the French Scientist and Priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. His writings combine a deep life of prayer and spirituality with vision for the future and hope.

For Teilhard creation, and the process of evolution, were simply wonderful. He spoke of a God who loved and guided evolution. He described God in many ways including the ‘heart of matter, the heart of evolution.’

The Sacred Heart – a prayer card reproducing Pinta’s image

As a child Teilhard had been brought up in a devout French Catholic home. He recalled in later years his mother’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The image had a profound effect upon him and on his desk he had a prayer card of an image of the Sacred Heart by Henro Pinta. He often carried the card in his breviary, to look at as he prayed.

The artist’s image differs from many representations of the Sacred Heart in that it is less anatomical. We see the heart represented more as a ‘golden glow.’

On the rear Teilhard noted his own personal prayer to the Sacred Heart, which captured his thought and understanding.

The prayer included these words:

Sacred Heart…the essence of evolution

the heart of evolution

the heart of matter

The heart of God…the golden glow, the world-zest.

The activant of Christianity…the essence of all energy.

Heart of the world’s heart

Focus of ultimate and universal energy

Centre of the cosmic sphere of cosmogenesis

Heart of Jesus, heart of evolution, unite me to yourself.

These are powerful words well worth reading over again and again. Teilhard sees Christ as there ‘in the beginning’ of the cosmos and as the heart of the growing of the Cosmos – all that is – towards and into God (the process he calls cosmogenesis).

Teilhard’s Christ, made human in Jesus, is the outpouring of God’s love, life and light throughout time and creation. For Teilhard the image of the Sacred Heart of Christ is an image of God, the centre of all, radiating and giving life to all that is.

A biographer of Teilhard comments: what attracted him to the Sacred Hearth was its symbolic power and its superhuman appeal. The Sacred Heart . . . was for Teilhard a means of devotional escape from whatever was ‘too narrow, too precise, and too limited’ in the traditional image of Christ.”

Heart of Jesus, heart of evolution, unite me to yourself.

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