An Act of Kindness

What do you see here?

I see an elderly gentleman doing an act of kindness to another man who is sitting on the ground. The man sitting seems in great need. The scene is gentle and has something of the everyday about it.

Like me you may encounter people in need, sometimes it is very clear they have need, sometimes it is only because we know them that we know of their need.

Like me you may encounter people who gently do everyday acts of kindness. Quite often we know neither the name of the person suffering nor the name of the kind person.

Looking at another part of the painting we can ask – where is this?

Here I see country scenery beside the sea. For me the treeless landscape in this detail reminds me of the north of England or parts of Scotland, areas I know quite well. Wherever, the scene has some familiarity about it for me, and I suspect many seeing this detail are reminded of a place they have been to. Although it seems familiar I also feel it could be many places, different locations for different people.

And now we look at the whole painting, by the French Neo-Impressionist painter Maximilien Luce (1858 – 1941). Now perhaps we see which scene he is painting.

The presence of the donkey, the roadside, and perhaps the fortifications on the hill, may give us the answer – the painting is entitled The Good Samaritan. Maximilien Luce reminds us of the story, while giving it a setting which makes us question ourselves.

Where am I in this painting? How do I react to those in need? Am I a good Samaritan? and – Do I allow others to be a Good Samaritan to me?

Fr Ian

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Following the way of Francis

A number of years ago, I decided to have a big declutter of my house.  Previously I’d moved around a lot and relied on house moves to make me clear the clutter.  When I look back, I was shocked at the amount of stuff I’d accumulated, largely unnecessarily, probably because it made me feel better at the time.  It was around this time I discovered ‘minimalism’: living simply, not relying on ‘stuff’ to make us feel good, this coincided with the ordination discernment process.  

Francis by Angie McLachlan of the Lib. Catholic Church International.
(With kind permission)

Through a friend, I was introduced to the Third Order of the Society of St Francis – a dispersed order of lay and ordained people, following the life of St Francis.   Once a month, we metfor prayer, discussion and encouragement, as each of us tried, in our own setting to live Francis’ life of prayer, humility, and simplicity, all joyfully of course!  And there began my journey as postulant, novice, and now, on 3rd October this year, my life profession with the Third Order.

My commitment to the Third Order has been immensely enriching both to my daily life and to my faith.  There is much talk in society about ‘living our best life’; what I have learned is that our best life is not to be found at the bottom of a shop receipt.  At St Chrysostom’s we are often encouraged to articulate blessings: nature, family, friendships, faith, church community to name a few.  These are at the heart of living our best life, as God intended.  The Third Order has provided a gentle structure and supportive accountability that helps me to be more myself and more fully human.

I am also a member of the Society of Catholic Priests (SCP), which also contributes hugely to my spiritual life, and I am delighted that SCP are launching the Chi Rho movement for lay people.  I would strongly encourage people to join groups such as Chi Rho, for the opportunity to meet and support each other in faith, and the enrichment we gain from a simple rule of life.  In these strange times, a rule of life can help to keep us anchored through the storms and to maintain our sense of deep joy.

Mthr Kate

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Sleepless Nights

You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will God never show favour again? Has God’s unfailing love vanished forever? Has that promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has God in anger withheld compassion?” – Psalm 77:4-9 (NIV)

Sleepless nights are a part of this pandemic for me. I can float through the day exhausted by the simultaneous demands of full-time work and full-time parenting. And then when I lay my head down at night my mind is a swirl of worries over the future. What will happen to the church? What if my parents get sick? What if my daughter gets sick? What if men carrying guns show up to the next Black Lives Matter march I attend?

The things that keep me up at night are beyond my power to control. But the things that keep me up at night very much have the power to impact my life. It is reasonable to be afraid of this virus. It is reasonable to be afraid of extremists carrying guns. What is a Christian to do?

Lamenting to God over the state of the world is a part of the Christian faith. Crying out and feeling God has abandoned the world is a part of the Christian faith. Sleepless nights spent shouting at God to get off God’s throne and help us out down here is a part of the Christian faith.

These are hard days we are living in. You don’t need to put on a brave face. Not with God, anyway. Tonight, be as honest as you need to be with God in your prayers. God has heard worse.

Prayer
God! Where are you?

This reflection was written by Pastor John Edgerton, Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois, and appeared first in the United Church of Christ Daily Devotional series with an invitation to share – which we do here – with thanks!

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Seeing Angels?

Have you seen an angel?

Seeing angels in stained glass at St Chrysostom’s

A group of St Chrysostom’s people thought about this question and exchanged thoughts.

That morning one of our members, on the way to church, came across a neighbour unconscious outside, his body quite cold. He phoned for an ambulance, and gave what help he could. Our church member is black and the unconscious neighbour had made it clear that he was racist – he refused to return greetings from black people, and turned his back on them. Perhaps in his recovery the man may consider that there can be black angels…

Another person related how she was was going to an event with her sister and mother when something (an angel?) prompted her to phone her mother to check she was ready – something she rarely did. When her mother answered she realised something was wrong – her mother had just had a stroke. The sisters were able to call an ambulance and help as best they could.

In these unusual days in which we live communicating with friends is important. A member of the group told how he was somehow prompted to phone a friend he had not heard from for a long time only to discover at the same time she was trying to phone him. A coincidence? Or an angel at work?

Another group member shared: “I had been driving for seven hours and I was lost in the maze of the one way system in Falmouth. An angel appeared sitting at the wheel of his car , asked me what was wrong , said ‘ Follow my car ‘ . I did , five minutes later I was outside my daughter’s flat.
Other angels have come to my rescue, usually when I was lost or a stranger giving a word of kindness at when needed .”

These are not sightings of angels with wings, or sounds of angelic choirs. However, in the Christian Scriptures and indeed in the teachings of many faiths, angels are beings of another dimension who bring messages and insights to us. The Angel Gabriel brings news to Mary…’

Talking of angels we spoke of unexpected messages being delivered, and our wish to be open to the unexpected, the breaking in of unusual messages and insight.

We thanked God for angels.

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What does WWJD stand for in your life?

As it turns out, WWJD does not stand for “what would Jesus do” in my life.

I discovered this a few months into my time at my first congregation, one night while streaming an old favourite on Netflix. Indeed, as a pastor, and, as I’ll explain shortly, as a voter, my WWJD will always be “What would Janeway do?”

Star Trek: Voyager premiered when I was seven years old. When I started watching it again at age twenty-seven, I was surprised to see so many of my own leadership habits and values reflected in Captain Kathryn Janeway’s  leadership. Her determination, confidence in herself and her crew, and her compassion for even the most aggressive adversaries are all traits I ascribe to myself in my pastoring. (Not to mention actual facial expression reflection: I have a habit of visually reacting to a meeting after walking into the hallway where no one can see, which is also a habit of Captain Janeway’s.) Of course, much more than one show has shaped me: we are all shaped by the stories we encounter in our lives and how they are told to us. Stories of leaders and those they inspire, stories of problems to be solved and adventures to be had, stories of inspiring others and bringing together communities… these are the stories that shape us and shape our understanding of how the world could and should work.

When it comes to pastoring, these stories have shaped my leadership by shaping how I empathize with others, how I hear the stories of those I serve, and how I troubleshoot diplomatic encounters. Now, pastoring rarely involves interplanetary trade negotiations, but it does involve council meetings, budget meetings, and helping communities to come together for a common purpose.

When it comes to voting, these stories have shaped my sense of leadership by informing my leadership judgment system: how do good leaders inspire, direct, and serve their people? The question before us on every ballot is simple: which candidate would make the best leader for each position? The complexity comes in assessing for ourselves what “good leadership” looks like, what it looks like in different positions, and how different leadership styles can (or cannot) work in each position on the ballot.

But what about being a gay pastor? Does that impact who I think makes the best leader for each position on the ballot? Does having faith and being part of the LGBTQIA+ community impact how I interpret someone’s leadership and therefore if they are fit for public office?

Yes, being a person of faith impacts how I interpret leadership. Some of this impact comes from Biblical examples of leadership: Whose leadership is praised by God and whose is derided? Whose leadership helps to multiply leadership, and whose refuses to share power even when it would be for the good of the whole? Some of this impact comes from ecclesial and historical examples: Martin Luther was a prolific theologian and preacher, but was he a good leader? Who in the Church do I look up to for their servant leadership and whose legacies can I appreciate while wondering at their methods? (Of course, bad examples can teach us a lot as well, and I have also learned by negative example from both biblical and historical leaders!)

Yes, being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and being a woman also impacts how I interpret leadership. Issues of inclusion, welcome, and gender equality directly impact my life and the lives of many in my communities. If a candidate will not speak to these issues, will not enter into conversation with communities about the issues they are facing, or will not consider me and those in my communities to be worthy of their time, then their leadership style is not one that matches what I look for in public servants.

And, yes, being a nearly life-long fan of Star Trek: Voyager has impacted how I interpret leadership, how I myself lead, and how I vote. Neither starships nor pastoral offices are run by democracy, but starship captains, pastors, and elected officials all must lead by serving all, not just all who agree with them.

Many thanks to Pastor Amanda Nesvold for permission to use this. Amanda is a Lutheran pastor most recently serving in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Passionate about liturgy, missional experimentation, and fiber arts, she is a member of Proclaim and the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. Thank you too to our US Lutheran seminarian correspondent Mycah McNett for signposting this too us!  

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Welcoming Fr Admos, our new Deacon at St C’s

Natasha, Michael, Shaun, Bishop David Father Admos, Grace and Petronella after the ordination

Many congratulations to Admos who was ordained Deacon on September 23rd, to serve in our parish. Admos and his family have worshipped with us since arriving in the UK from Zimbabwe, and Admos has had a significant part in shaping where our church is today. Among us he felt called to the priesthood, and he feels his particular call is to serve our congregation. This calling was unanimously supported by our Church Council.

Fr Admos with Fr Ian and the churchwardens outside the Cathedral

Admos completed his training for ministry recently, however, the ordination was postponed because of the Coronavirus pandemic. It finally took place at Manchester Cathedral last Wednesday. Although very restriced in numbers it was a very special occasion and it was good that Grace, Admos’ wife and their children, Petronella, Shaun, Natasha and Michael, were all able to be there, together with Fr Ian and our churchwardens.

Fr Ian commented: I was so pleased we were finally able to gather for Admos’ ordination. It was a special moment for Admos, his family and us all. I found it a lovely and poignant ordination service. As the Dean remarked we are learning to appreciate more and more small, beautiful acts of worship in these strange days. This was one of them. I found the whole ethos, the gentle atmosphere and unfussy attention to detail quite lovely and felt – in the place I am at present – it was preferable to a big more fussy ordination!

In his sermon Bishop David spoke of the need for the local support to be supported and encouraged, and to place prayer and faith at the centre of the work we do.

Fr Admos will continue in his full time work as a Senior Lecturer (and associate director) in the Global Development Institute in Manchester University, while also being a deacon, and all being well from next year, a priest, here at St Chrysostom’s.

As we move forward, in uncertain days, Fr Admos’ intellectual acumen, thoughtful spirituality and broad experience is a very valuable addition to our ministry team.

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Our Lady of Walsingham: A US interpretation

Here is a challenging and beautiful  image of Our Lady of Walsingham. (Feast day 24th September). We’re delighted to have the artist’s permission to reproduce it, and even more pleased that the artist tells us about her work.

The artist is Abby Johnson, a US artist and Lutheran seminarian who says, of herself I have loved art all my life and will continue this love affair. I haven’t always been good and I’m not always good. I haven’t always made time for it and I will drop that ball more times ahead, too. But when I do settle into the paints or the pastels, the charcoal or the clay, when the Living Sprit of Creativity pays a visit and loans me some light, I get introduced to a new bit of myself and communal emotion. I always manage to smudge paint on my face and never work with shoes on.

Fr Ian invited Abby to say some words about her painting. Abby comments:

“Our Lady of Walsingham ” was a commission piece; a friend and fellow seminarian requested it as a gift to his partner, who was recently ordained in the Episcopal Church. And while I painted it for someone else, I found myself in it even still. The hydrangeas and sunflowers that surround the Holy Mother and Child surround my own home. The face of Mary is modelled on my dear friend Precious, a close friend while I lived in South Africa. It is so important, especially in America during this tense and unjust time, to remember the face of Mary was indeed that of a woman of colour. I also chose to embolden the arch on the chair, symbolic of God’s covenant in Genesis 9:12-13. Instead of the traditional golden line, the arch is a fully expressive, proud rainbow in celebration of God’s promise of love, highlighting specifically its inclusion of the LGBTQ community. This piece makes me take a breath – makes me consider the lilies and feel the sun on my face as I turn it up to God; sensing that space between elevated royalty and beautiful ordinary that the Spirit so often lives within.

Once again, many thanks to Abby for graciously sharing this with us. You can read more about Abby, and see more of her work, on her website.

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Celebrating Mary’s Birth

Birth of St Mary c.1475(detail) by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Mary’s birthday is celebrated on September 8th. Christians have kept this happy day for centuries, initially in Syria and Jeruslaem around the sixth century and gradually it spread through the whole church. September 8th seems to be have chosen because a church in honour of Mary was consecrated in Jerusalem on this day.

Here are words from a sermon of St Andrew of Crete for the feast:

Let the whole creation therefore sing praise and dance and unite to celebrate the glories of this day. Today let there be one common feast of those in heaven and those on earth. Let everything that is, in the world and above the world, join together in rejoicing. For today a shrine is built for the Creator of the universe. The creature is newly made ready as a divine dwelling for the Creator.

Throughout history Christians have often connected their daily work with feast days. In the northern hemisphere September 8 marks for many the end of summer and the beginning of Autumn. In our Christian tradition this day has many thanksgiving celebrations and customs attached to it. In older books of Ritual there is a blessing of the summer harvest and fall planting seeds for this day.

French Tapestry c.1500 showing the Grape Harvest

For winegrowers in France this feast is often called “Our Lady of the Grape Harvest.” The best grapes are brought to the local church to be blessed and then some bunches are attached to hands of the statue of Mary. A festive meal which includes the new grapes is part of this day.

In the Austrian Alps this day is “Drive-Down Day” during which the cattle and sheep are led from their summer pastures in the slopes and brought to their winter quarters in the valleys. This was usually a large caravan, with all the finery, decorations, and festivity. In some parts of Austria, milk from this day and all the leftover food are given to the poor in honour of Our Lady’s Nativity.

Pray: Say the Angelus today, giving thanks for Mary.

Action: Consider how you, like the people in Austria can donate food to the needy. Perhaps through a harvest appeal.

Consider: Is there a special feast day that would connect with your work or life that you could celebrate?

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Our way of being God’s Rainbow People

Saturday 4th July 1998 was a very significant day for me as it was the day I attended my first gay pride in London. It was the first time I felt a true sense of freedom. Marching through London on that warm afternoon, I sensed the whole city was celebrating my freedom to be queer.

Almost one year later, a year after my walk to freedom, a gay pub in Soho, the Admiral Duncan, was bombed in a targeted attack on the LGBTQ+ community. 3 people were killed and many more maimed.

It was a dreadful time for LGBTQ+ people everywhere but this attack followed a bombing in Brixton aimed at the black community and another in Brick Lane aimed at the Bangladeshi community. All 3 bombings within 2 weeks. Communities in the minority, communities of difference all targeted. Freedom did not feel so close at hand.

Many steps have been taken in the journey of LGBTQ+ liberation since then though. In the UK we have the single equality act, the civil partnership act, the equal marriage act and so for some it would seem that gay is now mainstream.

In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay Priest consecrated as Bishop in a mainstream Christian denomination in the Episcopal diocese of New Hampshire. Hooray, gay is mainstream in the church now as well!  BUT…..

4 years after his consecration, Bishop Gene was asked by the then Archbishop of Canterbury not to attend the Lambeth Conference due to take place in 2008 in his capacity as Bishop. Instead, he was asked to attend with a diminished status; to attend but not fully participate. For some bishops in the worldwide Anglican communion, Gene’s way of life was an abomination, it defied scripture. At this point, Gene had been in a committed relationship with his partner Mark for over 20 years.

Of course, that is a long time ago. Gay Bishops are invited to the next Lambeth conference only this time it is their partners who are asked to stay away. A new Archbishop with a similar problem!

Hate crime against LGBTQ+ people is on the increase with 1 in 5 people experiencing it within the past 12 months (www.stonewall.org.uk). Worse still for trans people, 2 in 5 have experienced hate.

Living out an LGBTQ+ identity is a criminal offence in 72 countries in the world. In 8 of those the death penalty is still applied. In others considerable prison sentences are handed out. In the Maldives, a homosexual conviction can lead to a whipping of 20 strokes.

In St Matthew’s Gospel Jesus foretells his own suffering and death and instructs his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him. Scriptures like these have been used by Christians at times as a rallying cry to LGBTQ+ people to amend our ways. To carry our crosses of abomination and in doing so, deny our God given natural inclinations, to deny ourselves love. BUT…..

The Jesus I know is love. He is the reason I can be true to myself; He is my freedom. He is more likely to be singing songs of liberation and freedom then passing sentences, planting bombs, overseeing flogging or execution. In fact, there is no supposition here; Jesus is for equality and against oppression of any kind.

The cross we must all take up in His name is the cross of liberation. The cross that stands up against oppression. The cross that does not keep its head down because “I’m alright Jack”. It is the cross of the rainbow flag seen here at a rally against LGBTQ+ oppression in St Petersburg in 2008.

We are wonderfully fortunate at St Chrysostom’s to be centred in an inclusive and equal love of Christ and for a lot of LGBTQ+ people, me included, freedom has been found in this community. But in our beautiful corner of Manchester we must take care not to be complacent and where it is safe to do so, we should call out all forms of oppression and prejudice. This is our way of being God’s rainbow people.

Paul Pritchard

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The Martyrs of Nowogrodek

Blessed Mary Stella

The Marytrs of Nowogrodek – Blessed Mary Stella and Her Ten Companions (commemorated on September 3rd) –   were nuns of the order of the Holy Family of Nazareth who arrived in Nowogrodek in September 1929. Nowogrodek is a small town in the modern Belarus. Its population was very diverse, including Jews, Muslims, Belarusians and Russians and others.

From the beginning, the nuns tried to discern the needs of the community. The nuns planned to run a school for girls and one of their first students was a Muslim girl. The nuns were not only examples of deep faith, hope and love for the locals, but at same time they were hard workers.

Their help and overall assistance to Nowogrodek’s community gradually gained them the respect of the locals. But in September 1939, as the Second World War began Soviet Russia occupied the area. The sisters were expelled from their house; forbidden to wear their habits. Thousands of innocent people were arrested and transported to the steppes of Kazakhstan and to Siberia. A few years later, the Russians withdrew and then came the German occupation.

The Germans started their terror by gathering dozens of local Jewish people in the market square and killing them, while their orchestra played a waltz. Daily, the Fara Church was filled with believers, but the executions continued nonetheless. In July 1942, a mass execution took place in the forest near Nowogrodek, 60 people, including two priests—Fr. Jozef Kuczynski and Fr. Michal Dalecki—were shot.

The citizens of Nowogrodek, tormented by the regime, looked for comfort in the church where Fr. Aleksander Zienkiewicz, the only priest left in the area, celebrated daily mass.

However, the Gestapo was still arresting and killing people. On the night of July 17 and 18th 1943, 120 people were arrested and to be executed. Sister Maria Stella was meeting with Fr. Zienkiewicz and said: “My God, if sacrifice of life is needed let them kill us and not those who have families. We are even praying for that.”

And suddenly, for an unknown reason, the execution of 120 people was stopped. Those who were supposed to be killed were transported to compulsory work in Germany. Some were even released. Those who were transported survived the war. However, on July 31, 1943, Sister Maria Stella and her nuns were ordered to report to the Gestapo headquarters at 7:30 p.m. After the rosary, 11 nuns went to the building.

The sisters’ names were: Stella, Imelda, Rajmunda, Daniela, Kanuta, Sergia, Gwidona, Felicyta, Heliodora, Kanizja and Boromea. That evening the nuns thought that the worst thing that could happen to them was transportation to Germany for slave work.

The nuns did not hear any accusations, there was no investigation. On Sunday, Aug. 1, 1943, at dawn, the nuns were transported and executed in a birch-pine tree wooded area, not far from the town. Love was killed by hate.

In 1945, the Second World War ended. Fr. Zienkiewicz, Sister Malgorzata and all those 120 for whom 11 nuns had sacrificed their lives, survived the war.

The martys of Nowogredek call us to remember how great evil can enter communities. They encourage us to support one another irrespective of national boundaries, and to pray, in faith, as Christians. “No one has greater love than this—that one lays down one’s life for one’s friends,” said the late John Paul II on the day of nuns beatification in March 2000.

Pray: that Christians may courageously serve their local communities’ needs. Pray for the people of Belarus.

May the prayers of Blessed Mary Stella and Her Ten
Companions deliver you from present evil. May their
example of holy living and courageous death turn your
thoughts to the service of God and neighbour. Amen.

(From the Mass for the Martyrs)

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