O God our help in ages past

O God our Help in Ages Past has long been associated with Remembrance Sunday, a hymn to be sung when we remember the dead of war, a hymn to be sung when we are aware of the frailty of life and we need to express a deep longing for comfort and protection.  It is a hymn of contrasts; the past and the present, the shelter and the storm outside, the eternity of God against the brevity of our own, on this earth at least. It is also a hymn of community; OUR God not MY God.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defence is sure.


Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

Isaac Watts

It is ironic that this hymn should have become so much part of the Establishment since its author, Isaac Watts, was an 18th century Congregationalist minister and therefore  outside the establishment of his time.  He would not have been allowed to teach at Oxford even though his book on logic was on the curriculum. As a Protestant he sought to make the Bible and liturgy accessible to the ordinary person in the pew and thus paraphrased a number of psalms in the light of New Testament teaching. O God Our Help in Ages past is a paraphrase of Psalm 90; ‘Our eternal home ‘ was born of his New Testament faith.

Watts’ versions of the Psalms have stood the test of time. A hymn which speaks of the transience of life will be celebrating its 400th centenary next year. (Listen to a recording, here, made in Westminster Abbey.)

I am drawn to the hymn  for the majesty of its tune and the language. It makes me aware that I am part of a much bigger picture even though my own life may be brief.

And because we sing it on Remembrance Sunday I often think of two of my  great-uncles who were killed in the First Word War, one fighting for the British and the other  fighting on the other side for  the Austro-Hungarians  and thus I think of the futility of war.

Something to think about.

How do we live so that we value the gift of life, however brief?

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Vocation through haberdashery

Fr David Warner, Vicar of Mossley

For most of my life, I’ve loved clothes, writes Fr David Warner, who offers this charming post for our church blog. Not everyday clothes, but uniforms and particularly vestments. As a child, I remember the sight of albs and surplices flapping on the washing line, like disembodied servers and choristers waving around.

Since I was ordained (and I confess even before that) I’ve collected vestments. I’m strictly an amateur – I love eBay, as it throws up extraordinary items, for a fraction of what they must have cost. Much of the older needlework simply isn’t produced any more. I wonder about the stories of these stoles, chasubles and copes. Whose were they? What joys and sadnesses have they witnessed?

Most of my kit is much older than me, and was received as gift, sometimes on the understanding that I too will pass it along. I try to do this – to pass on stoles to new priests and deacons, to lend people things for special occasions – each of these adds to the story these vestments are part of.

There’s some fairly obscure stuff – a black humeral veil isn’t needed that often, but one day it will come in handy and I’ll be ready! I live out this vocation as a priest, in part, through these clothes and certainly in them: like a teacher’s whistle or a nurse’s watch they silently witness all that the priest encounters. Vesture is symbolic, is holy, is part of what we are because it’s integral to what we do – the offering of praise and worship – an outfit for every occasion reminding priests and people that the Good News of Christ must be part of every aspect of life from birth to death and beyond.

This isn’t about being rubrically strict about what is worn and when, but about unfolding the mystery of God’s love in every part of life, it’s about God being present: the short sick call stole has been there at every bedside I’ve been privileged to sit at, the oil stock has done its job at the font, the altar and the deathbed. The small portable font has allowed me to give dignity and maybe even honour to the baptism of those about to slip from this world, and the cope which is worn on wedding days shows the glory and beauty of love. I will use them until it’s time for the next priest to pick up the baton, the stole, the aspergillium, the chasuble or the cope.

Just as the stones of our churches cry out in memory of all they have witnessed, so our vesture does too. It inspires us to hand it along, as we hand along the God News that is our duty and our joy, our life and our light.

We welcome guest posts in our church blog, such as Fr David’s. Have you something to share? Just get in touch.
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Bearded Ebor:

In a previous post on the beards of the clergy we commented that the bishops of the Church of England today are not giving the clergy a definitive lead on the style and use of beards.

We therefore thought it might be helpful to look to the past, and look for guidance from Archbishops – this time from our own Northern Province (York) of the Church of England. Does looking at the beards of previous Archbishops of York provide insight on suitable styles for beards for the clergy today?

First of all Edmund Grindal, a farmer’s son from St Bee’s in Cumberland. Grindal was Archbishop of York from 1570 to 1576, having been moved there, it seems to avoid him making trouble in London. In York diocese he found the clergy to be woefully ignorant, they found him to be over strict and punative. He compelled the Chapter of York minster to be more active in the diocese, the Chapter carefully ignored him. Eventually he was made Archbishop of Canterbury. Here he is with a somber and full reformation beard, perhaps an inspiration to the protestant minister of today?

Next we turn to the rosy cheeked Matthew Hutton (Archbishop from 1595-1606), a Lancashire man who had a distinguished academic career at Cambridge. He appears at first to have been a determined Calvinist, who supported protestant ministers from abroad who had not been episcopally ordained being inducted without further ordination into Church of England parishes. (A trend not often acknowledged to be within the history of the Church of England.). Nevertheless  Archbishop Hutton mellowed and became tolerant of Roman Catholics as well as extreme puritans. Perhaps his more gentle and discrete beard reflects this more accepting position.

Next up – Toby Matthew, (Archbishop from 1606-1628), who was notably ambitious as a young man, by the age of 31 he was Vice Chancellor of Oxford University. He was a determined preacher – between 1583 and 1622 he preached over 1,990 sermons, and in 1625, at the age of 81 it was noted that he still preached every week. He was a handsome and witty man, and his beard suggests he was rather content with his lot in life.

Finally we suggest for consideration, John Williams (Archbishop 1641 – 1646 – when episcopacy was abolished).

Williams was a Welshman of charm, eloquence and learning, who had a stormy life as a bishop, being a fugitive for a while and at the end deprived of his post as Archbishop. Nevertheless he was renowned for his ostentatious manner and lavish hospitality. He praised good in religion in whatever form he found it. Williams beard (and wonderful hat) suggests his extravagant and hospitable manner.


So which style of beard is your preference? – The Grindal, the Hutton, the Matthew or the Williams?

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Clothing an International Mass

Some of the congregation after our All Saints Mass – in the photo we have people from Nigeria, Iran, Korea, South Africa, Pakistan, England and Malaysia …


What we wear says a great deal about us. Clothing identifies, and connects us. It’s lovely on special occasions at Mass at St Chrysostom’s that several of our church members, coming from a wide variety of cultures celebrate their identity in what they wear.

This year on All Saints Sunday we celebrated our wonderful, multilingual congregation by having an International Mass. In our worship of God we brought our different languages into the liturgy, and we celebrated our fellowship with the communion of saints. And many congregation members wore special clothes to mark the day.

As mass began we were welcomed in four languages from among the many languages of our people. Shabana welcomed us in Urdu, Damian in Ibo and Admos in Shona – and we had an English welcome too. Bahar, read the Bible reading in Farsi, and Mi Young read the Holy Gospel in Korean. During Communion Kevin sang Emperor Kangxi’s Hymn to the Cross in Mandarin, and after Communion children of Nigerian heritage led us in singing a song popular among Nigerian Christians – ‘On the mountain’. As the procession left Mass we sang the God of Abraham litany with cantors and members of the congregation sharing out the verses among us.

From the community at Mass – to the community at a meal

The Church of England is changing, and tentatively stepping outside its somewhat conservative English box. Many congregations are recognising, celebrating and integrating, at long last, the diversity of Christians which make up the Christian church and which rightly have a share in the liturgy – the worship of the whole people of God, the Church catholic, from all continents, cultures, languages and from all times.

Christians are recovering the value of using all the senses in prayer and worship. Too often worship has been too dependent on the spoken word. Congregations – and we try hard at St Chrysostom’s to do this – are more and more recognising the variety of forms of expression among them, and allowing the variety to enrich worship in word, in music, in style … and in clothing too.

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Martin de Porres

Born the son of a black freed slave and a Spanish knight, Martin de Porres (feast day 3rd November) began life in 16th century Peru greatly disadvantaged. His father disowned him because of his colour. At baptism he was named as ‘of an unknown father,’ and so considered illegitimate, which placed him in a position of social and economic disadvantage. At the age of fifteen he applied to be a lay helper in the local Dominican monastery. He was assigned menial tasks. The order recognised that he had healing skills and he began working with the sick and injured of the city.

Martin’s love and kindness was especially for those whom society counted as nothing. He himself suffered racial discrimination, he was restricted in what he could do in his own religious order by the colour of his skin. He had a special ministry to the poor and the sick, and to African slaves – to whom he  would deliver gifts of drink and food, and offering healing whenever he could. His love and care extended to animals and he has been called the St Francis of Latin America.

Martin’s personal understanding and experience translated into a care and ministry to the socially and racially disadvantaged of his society. He served the needy of his own town with a personal care.

We can be often concerned for those less fortunate than ourselves. Does this concern lead to practical help?

We pray for those treated unjustly, those who are on the margins of our own society. Does our prayer lead to action?

In our prayers may we give thanks for the life and witness of Martin de Porres, the patron saint of race relations and social justice.

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The repetition of the rosary

Judy Ford, a north west England author, kindly offers this extract from her novel Organ Failure . A group of young adults are discussing the repetitive nature of the rosary:

‘And reciting Hail Marys over and over again? What’s the point of that?’
‘Tell him about your mantra theory, Dom,’ Peter urged the young man.
‘I’m not sure you can call it a theory exactly,’ Dominic hedged, reluctant to share his thoughts in front of the whole family, and especially Jonah, who seemed , in his present mood, determined to misunderstand anything and everything to do with the Catholic faith. ‘It’s more just an idea I had to explain …,’ he paused and went rather red in the face as he realised that everyone was hanging on his words, ‘well, to explain why saying the Rosary seems to – to … sort of work, even though logically it doesn’t make a lot of sense.’
‘Well there’s something I can agree with you about at any rate!’ Jonah said heartily; then in a tone of gentle mockery, ‘Go on. This is fascinating.’‘I – I – I think the point is …,’ Dominic began, now very flustered and feeling that the reputation of the entire Catholic Church depended on him, ‘the point is that – that there isn’t any point in praying to God in words. I mean, whatever words we use, He knows what we mean already. And anyway, praying isn’t just about asking God for what we want, is it? It’s about being in the right state of mind to – to – to hear what He’s saying to us and – and – well, I told Peter that repeating the same prayers over and over again, in the Rosary for example, is just a way of stopping us thinking about other things and sort of … opening up the channel to God, if you like.’
‘But then what’s the point of using words at all?’ Jonah objected, but sounding interested now rather than hostile. ‘If it doesn’t matter what they are? If they’re just a tool to stop you thinking about other things?’
‘I don’t think it’s quite that the words don’t matter,’ Dominic said slowly, thinking hard. ‘In fact, probably the words do matter a lot, but not so much for communication as for … for creating an atmosphere, maybe.’

16th century Spanish rosary

‘You might get on better repeating the Our Father over and over,’ Bernie suggested. ‘Then you don’t have to come to terms with the whole business of praying to Mary.’
‘If it’s all just about creating an atmosphere,’ Jonah argued, ‘why use words at all? Why not play some calming music or go for a walk in the countryside?’
‘Or contemplate a religious picture?’ Lucy teased, ‘or a statue.’
‘Yes, why not?’ Dominic answered, more confidently now. ‘That’s the point I was trying to make. Different people find different things helpful, but one isn’t better than another.’
‘And I’ve been to a few prayer meetings in my time that have been every bit as repetitious as the Rosary,’ Bernie remarked, determined not to allow Jonah to persist in any claim to intellectual superiority for his own brand of religion. ‘There’s always someone who insists that we just want to thank you Lord, and we just want to lay before you Lord …, and we just bring into your presence Lord …. And it just makes me think Oh Lord!’
‘Yes,’ Jonah laughed, remembering the lengthy extempore meanderings at the prayer meetings that his father had expected him to attend as a teenager, ‘and then there were the ones who always really, really wanted to say everything. I suppose you’re right, Dom. Each to his own.’

This post is in an occasional series on our blog about the rosary. In the first post Fr Ian wrote on The Comfort of the Rosary. Mycah, a Lutheran young lady, wrote on the Discovery of the Rosary. Fr Ian wrote on prayer beads in The sharing of the Rosary. Paul Pritchard from St Chrysostom’s, the leader of our rosary group wrote on The Joy of the Rosary. Mtr Tracey Carroll wrote on The Touch of the Rosary. We included a passage from Sabine Baring Gould on The assistance of the rosaryDo contact us if you are interested in contributing to the series.
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The assistance of the Rosary

Sabine Baring Gould, from an oil painting by Charles Head

Sabine Baring-Gould, a remarkable, and very prolific priest of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, is perhaps best known as the author of the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers. He wrote at least 1,200 other works, including a lovely ‘period piece’ The Golden Gate – a book of prayers, which he published in 1873. In it he talks of the value of the rosary. He writes, of course, in the style of his time.

“The use of a rosary of beads is a valuable assistance. The Arabs use them to assist their prayers, and they have found of great help to devotion since their introduction into the Christian Church. A prejudice exists against them as distinctly Roman; but such they are not, as they are employed likewise in the Eastern Church.

It often happens that we feel a strong desire to pray, and that we soon exhaust our petitions without having satisfied our desire. In such cases the Rosary is of great value. The mind cannot always frame suitable expressions of its wants, and is not always sufficiently disposed to meditate.

Early 18th century German rosary

The rosary then applies the need by affording brief subjects of meditation and prayers, the best possible, and of no great length. If it were tried we are confident that its use would be realized. The loss of the beads has been one most serious to the devotional character of the English poor, who, not having minds of sufficient activity to elaborately meditate, from want of some such help have given up meditation, and almost abandoned prayer. The Rosary is a great assistance in forming a habit of prayer.”

This post is in an occasional series on our blog about the rosary. In the first post Fr Ian wrote on The Comfort of the Rosary. Mycah, a Lutheran young lady, wrote on the Discovery of the Rosary. Fr Ian wrote on prayer beads in The sharing of the Rosary. Paul Pritchard from St Chrysostom’s, the leader of our rosary group wrote on The Joy of the Rosary. Mtr Tracey Carroll wrote on The Touch of the Rosary. Do contact us if you are interested in contributing to the series.
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