Teachers’ favourites

bd-1Books had certainly inspired children and staff at St Chrysostom’s School today.

Fr Ian and Hannah, parish assistant, received lovely welcomes as they visited nearly all the classes of the school this morning. They were so impressed by what they saw and the enthusiasm of children and staff. What a surprise to go into the nursery and find Year 6 children reading in small groups to Nursery children. Fr Ian asked members of staff a simple question – What was a favourite book of yours when you were a child? He received a wonderful variety of answers.

Mr Elswood, Executive Headteacher (dressed as Fantastic Mr Fox) immediately chose J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and that was also the choice of Mr Chalmers (splendidly turned out as Gandalf – we suggested he grow his beard for next year’s event to match Gandalf’s)..

Mrs Dean, Head of School (dressed as Hilda from The Warrior Troll) chose Sally Grindley’s Spilled Water.

bd2In the classrooms the question led to lots of discussion and interesting answers. 

Ms Crowther, in Nursery nominated Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers series,  while Miss Jenkins chose the Peter Rabbit books of Beatrix Potter. Children of Miss Jenkins’ class had fun trying to name some characters from that series.

Mrs Fletcher (Y1 teacher), dressed as the book of her childhood, Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar (which proved to be a popular choice, especially of the younger children).

Ms Brandreth named Disney’s The Little Mermaid, while Mrs Hamadani (dressed as Cathy from Wuthering Heights) named the ‘oldest’ book of the staff choices Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies.

bd3In Reception classes Ms Twine showed her copy from childhood of her favoutite Winnie the Pooh, and Ms Thomas chose as her’s The Little Princess collection of Tony Ross.

In Key stage Two the variety continued. Miss Cleaver, courageously dressed as an underpants loving dinosaur, chose Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.  Mrs Heslop (dressed as a Pokemon Pikachu) nominated Michael Rosen’s We’re going on a bear hunt. Mr Berks (dressed as a very presentable Professor Dumbledore) told us of his childhood favourite Stig of the Dump by Clive King and Ms White, dressed as Hermione from Harry Potter gave Jacqueline Wilson as a favourite childhhod author.

It was great to find such a wide variety of book characters and favourite books. We also found that many teachers were sharing their own childhood favourites with children in bd4their class, or indeed their own children.

Well done to staff and children for such a magnificent response to World Book Day  – we very much look forward to World Book Day next year.


And click here for a reflection on Children’s books, from Sandra Palmer.

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Inspiring books

We love to hear from former parish assistants. Here, for both Lent and International Book Day,  five tell us of books which have inspired them. Thank you so much to them. There’s a lovely variety. They may inspire you too.

First of all Laura Whitehouse, now a Year 4 teacher in Werrington, Peterborough.

mystery-ev-uThe Mystery of Everything by  Hilary Brand

This Lent course study book got me to think deeper about things in an interesting way, through the film ‘The Theory of Everything’.  I strongly recommend that people delve into this book. It covers a range of topics, from wonder to weakness finishing with hope. Hilary Brand uses the film to stimulate thought in an innovative way. It makes an interesting read for Lent.

Secondly, our Harrisonburg, USA correspondent, Mycah McNett.

walk-relaxedWalking in a Relaxed Manner by Joyce Rupp

This book came into my hands at a time when I was preparing to rush into an unknown future after having lived in Manchester for nearly a year.  I had no idea what I was going to do with myself when I returned to the United States, and while reading this book I was reminded that I did not always have to have a plan, just a willing spirit to walk a little slower sometimes, and listen to God.

And a choice of Toby Gibbons, completing his training for the priesthood, at Durham.

crankyA book that really inspired me is Cranky Beautiful Faith, by Nadia Bolz-Weber. It’s her biography/faith story, it tells of her early life and then call to be a Lutheran pastor in the States. It’s a beautiful down to earth story about real faith told in a very honest and moving way. It’s also the perfect antidote for anyone who says God can’t use me I’m not good enough. It’s done the rounds here at college a few times.


And another from Durham, Fr Leon Rogers, Parish Priest in Hartlepool. Leon couldn’t narrow it down to one so we chose the first on his list!

alaska-uAlone in the Wilderness– the autobiography of Dick Proenneke.

The musings of a modern day hermit who when the world was thriving with the fog of industry carved out a life in the remote wilderness of Alaska.

A testimony of simple life,  love of creation and the importance of self belief.

And finally Fr Robert Wynford Harris, Vicar in Seaview, Isle of Wight.

Sexing The Cherry‘ by Jeanette Winterson

sex-cherry-uI was in my twenties when I first read this, and probably thought I already knew enough about beauty/rejection/love/inclusion/exclusion – and the ‘outsider’s’ viewpoint. Of course I was wrong! I adore this book and am still mesmerised by its characters and  the challenge they present to prejudice. It is beautifully, written, and a rich though not always comfortable adventure in reading and imagination.

Which book would you suggest for a list of inspiring books – why not say by posting a comment below?

Have a look too at Sandra Palmer’s blog post on how Children’s books can inspire us all.

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The Joy of Children’s Books

Feeding our imaginations and broadening horizons brings joy and wonder to all our lives and faiths. With International Book Day coming up soon Sandra Palmer invites us to consider the special place children’s books have in enriching all our lives.

b-frog_and_toad2uI brought home a book I had been given for Christmas – Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel. Anne, our parish assistant,  fell on it with glee, it was a treasure from her childhood. A happy time passed as we  laughed about the stories.

My childhood was filled with such books. That made me a lucky child despite the tensions in my home  and the poverty of our living conditions in London before we returned to Australia. Studies have repeatedly suggested that children who have access to books and love reading are more likely to achieve academically and survive the vicissitudes of dysfunctional family lives. Books gave me pleasure –  feeding my imagination with characters, pictures, plots, phrases and words.

b-rabbit-hole-uThe primary reason  I buy books for the children in my life is that I want to share  the pleasure of reading in general and the pleasure of particular books.  Sometimes that pleasure is in the laughter provoked. I still chuckle  at the thought of Paddington Bear covering the bathroom floor with shaving cream and letting the bath overflow , and also at  Pooh Bear stuck trying to leave Rabbits burrow. The children in my classes chuckled with me- it didn’t matter that the stories  were set in a far away country and, in the case of Pooh Bear,  written decades before.

Escaping into other worlds is another pleasure  – it could be the Far Away Tree , Narnia or Hogwarts, these are worlds where parents can’t trespass unless the parent is the reader and then it is a shared adventure . Not all the worlds need be imaginary, for the young child all worlds other then their own is a new one whether it is Katy Morag’s Scottish island or Alfie and Annie Rose’s London.

b-railway-chSome recent books feature in my ever growing canon of children’s books, others belong to earlier generations . The  themes of loss, redemption and reunion in Heidi  are as relevant today as they were when I was a child when it was already seventy plus years old.  A local year six teacher once told me how much his class , among whom were  many refugee children, loved the Edwardian novel The Railway Children by E. Nesbit . Some knew what it was like to have a father falsely imprisoned, or to need leave home abruptly. And most knew the pain of separation and the joy or reunion.

One joy I have in reading children’s books with children is in the rhythm of a  well – written text , in the rhymes of some and also the delicious choice of words and phrases , most in common use, some created especially. Did you know that dreams are made of zozimus?  ( Roald  Dahl)

b-gruffThe quality of the illustrations of picture books also affects my pleasure and I think subtly makes a difference to children who pore over them looking for the intricate detail , imagining stories for themselves.  Julia Donaldson owes part of her success to her wonderful illustrators – – Axel Schaffer’s depiction of the deep dark frightening wood in the Gruffalo  adds to her tale. And there are some magical , mysterious books told with few if any words such as Raymond Briggs Snowman.

For this adult there can be the great joy of reading to the child snuggled up close, attentively listening, wondering what happens next ( though this may not always be the case after the twentieth request  for a book ) and the joy of seeing children read to themselves whether it’s when they are quite small and are reciting the books by heart or when they are curled up finding peace in a nook with a book.

But I can’t finish without mentioning Ann of Green Gables. When I meet someone who also loved that feisty redhead there is an act of recognition – we are kindred spirits belonging to the same world wide club.

And now have a look at St Chrysostom’s school teachers’ choices of favourite books – click here.

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Why Ash?

Ash Wednesday– most of us have heard the name, and many of us know the tradition of a priest “imposing” or putting ash on people’s foreheads.  Why do we do it? Fr Chris continues our series about why we do the things we do at St Chrysostom’s.

wals-2014Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. We begin this special season with a strong  physical reminder that we are entering into a serious period of penitence (Lent) when we take stock of our lives, and live a more austere life, and explore our faith more deeply.

In the Old Testament, Job repents “in dust and ashes,” and we find other examples of ashes and repentance in Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah.

As they “impose” or put on us the ashes, the priests remind each individual of the sombre words from Genesis 3:19: “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” sometimes the phrase  “Repent and believe in the Gospel” is added.  It is a stark reminder that we are nothing without the grace of God. It is God who makes us and models us from the dust of the earth.

Those words from the Genesis story are said to Adam and Eve when they were expelled from the Garden of Eden because of their disobedience.  As human beings, like Adam and Eve, we are not perfect. We know of our need of God to help us to amend our lives. The ashes on our forehead remind us of this and help us to enter personally into this deep truth.

A light hearted guide to the different crosses of Ash Wednesday!

A light hearted guide to the different crosses of Ash Wednesday!

The “Ashing” is symbolic, and people choose to wear these ashes for a while, whilst others rub them off quite quickie. Either way it is a reminder that our lives are short, and that we end up as ash and dirt.  The Ash is marked in the form of a cross – and an earlier question in this series looked at the use of the sign of the cross.  We may be made of dust, but we can share in the victory of the Cross.

The ceremony traditionally takes place as we go to Mass on Ash Wednesday, but in fact ashes can be imposed anywhere. At St Chrysostom’s we often do Ashing to Go outside Church or elsewhere in the parish, and in the States the ceremony is found in a wide variety of places – even in Car Washes!

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Spending time with the ancestors at Shaugh Prior

Nestled on the southern edge of Dartmoor, not far from Plymouth, is the village of Shaugh Prior. Being a largely rural parish it is possible, for a short time at least, to soak up the rural charm and peace of the place. It’s a very important and special place to me as generations of my paternal Grandmother’s family lived and farmed there from the 1750s to the early 20th century.

st-edwards-exterior-uThe old village contains some wonderful old buildings, but the best by far is the 15th century parish church, dedicated to St Edward, King and Martyr. As with many ancient churches there are numerous special items of interest, but to me two items stand out. The first is a relic of the pre-reformation era – an ancient altar stone with five incised crosses. Now located beneath the high altar, I contemplated the history if only that stone could speak! The second item of interest to me is the font. Although the font itself is quite plain it is surmounted by the most splendid oak font cover dating from the 15th century. Considering that generations of my family were baptised and married inside this church it is a special experience to contemplate their presence in that place from so long ago.

St Edward’s is surrounded by a beautiful country churchyard. This is truly one of my “special places” – a place where I can escape the hustle and bustle of the busy world and spend time with the ancestors. Far from being a morbid practice, visiting the churchyard is a fascinating and enriching experience and offers me the chance to connect with family members buried there long ago. It might sound an exaggeration, but I can claim to be related to most of the residents of God’s Acre at Shaugh! Being a rural churchyard there is much of historic interest to see – the earliest surviving headstones date to the mid-18th century and being beautifully carved are works of art in their own right.

st-edwards-shaugh-uAs I wandered around the churchyard today, reading the names of my long deceased ancestors and pondering on their lives, I was carried away by the peace and serenity of the place. God’s work of creation was truly at hand – manifested in the beautiful primroses and snowdrops scattered about and this offered a moment, a glimpse perhaps, of ‘Heaven on earth’.

I sat for a moment near the resting place of my 4th Great Grandparents. In doing so I felt the soft breeze and heard birds singing all around. It was as if the whole moment were an unspoken prayer. The words of the poet and hymn writer, Dorothy Frances Gurney went through my mind as I sat in silence there, “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden: Than anywhere else on earth.”

Matching Gurney’s wonderful words are the stunning epitaphs recorded on many of the ancient headstones at Shaugh. I have a couple of favourites worth sharing. Their sentiment in putting all hope and trust in Christ places us equal with every generation of Christians before us. How true are the words of Psalm 90 “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night”.

The first epitaph, carved onto the headstone of my 8th Great Grandparents, dating from 1744 reads:

‘You that are living and pass by
Remember that you all must dye
Forsake your sins whilst tis to day
Relent Repent without delay
Implore Gods Grace trust in Christs merit
If Heavenly Joy you will in herit’

Another favourite reads:

‘Our children dear forbear to weep,

While in this grave we calmly sleep.

All earthly ties we’ve left behind,

In hope a glorious crown to find.

(Thank you to Graham Naylor, a former worshipper at St Chrysostom’s, now living in Plymouth, for this lovely blog post)

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Thoughts for Homelessness Week

Fr Chris offers this reflection for Homelessness week (18-25 February)

During this last week I was struck by the story of a woman who is now homeless on the streets of Manchester – some may have glimpsed the story on television.

homelessThe woman – without being sensational – spoke about finding some cardboard boxes outside a supermarket which she could take apart and use to put on the pavement.  She did so to prevent her freezing to the pavement in zero temperatures.

I find that frightening.  The idea of not having a safe home, a bed within that home and heating to sustain me is a terrifying idea. Imagine being so cold that you might freeze to the bed!

There are many stories about people being homeless – and I fear many myths which surround them.

homeless-quote-uThere are approximately 4000 rough sleepers in any one night on the streets of Britain.  That does not count the “hidden” homeless – those sleeping on a friend’s floor, or those in derelict buildings, those in temporary accommodation which they must leave the next day etc

It is all too easy to judge the homeless person – and to believe that it is their own fault, or that they choose to be homeless, or even pretend to be homeless in order to get help.

So how does Scripture tell us to react to the poor and outcast of society?

  • We are to show respect to the poor. (James 2)
  • We are to respond in love and compassion to everyone in need. (Luke 10)
  • We are to offer help, especially to believers. (Galatians 6:10)
  • We are to offer hospitality, clothing, shelter and food. (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • We are to offer fellowship and peace. (Romans 12)
  • Most of all, according to Scripture, we are to love. (I Cor 13)

This doesn’t always mean giving money or food, although we shouldn’t be closed to that.   But it does always mean being patient, being kind, not putting ourselves over the other person, but bearing other’s burdens and enduring with them.

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To Gesima, or not to Gesima?

Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima … the names fascinated me as a boy.

gesimasundaysThere they were in the Book of Common Prayer, the names of the Sundays before Lent. The priest at my boyhood church called them the ‘Gesima Sundays.’ For these curious sounding Sundays the colours in church had changed from green to violet. Hymns using Alleluia were avoided. Things were getting more serious. We felt we were in a new devotional period, a gradual season of transition, a season of getting ready. The names, dating from the 5th century, referred to days before Easter – Quinquagesima, for example, from the Latin for fifty – the Sunday fifty days before Easter. The names, the colour change, told us Lent was on its way.

Fashions change and many churches, following a desire to simplify and avoid arcane terminology, have stopped using these exotic sounding names. Now we are more likely to find the more prosaic ‘3rd Sunday before Lent’ or ‘6th Sunday of Ordinary time’ and the colour green remains right up to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

septuagesim-iiiFrom one perspective this curious, and now seldom observed, season of strangely named Sundays isn’t needed. After all Lent is described as the season of preparation for Easter. Do we need a season to prepare for preparing? 

I think perhaps we do. If we are to observe a holy and good Lent, and celebrate the fifty days of Easter then it will help to make plans and prepare carefully. Plans about what to do, or not to do in Lent, need thought, consideration and care. We can prepare by looking at our lives, perhaps making a confession. On an everyday level we can mark on our calendars or in our diaries what times of prayer and quiet we will be keeping. Our preparations can include about what we will read, what we will do differently, which charity we will choose to support and which church activities we will go to.

I hope we can recover the days before Lent begins as a time to slow down a little, and prepare carefully on the steps we will take to grow in, and celebrate, our faith during Lent and Eastertide.

Fr Ian

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