Highly commended work

Alan, Kenson, Bridie and Richard receiving a Church for a Different World award from Bishop David Walker.

Over two hundred people of about fifteen different nationalities have attended our church language classes, held two or three times each week at Church.

The classes are principally, but not exclusively, for victims of human trafficking. Many are men, all are seeking hope and a way forward into the future. Many of those who attend are supported by the Medaille Trust, an independent charity helping the victims of trafficking.

The classes, organised by Alan, draw in a variety of volunteers who help create a friendly and welcoming space for all who come. The classes not only help with language, they help people who have often had terrible experiences in life to step into an affirming and encouraging place. Volunteers say how much they appreciate the classes and receive from them.

All this fits in so well with our message and ethos at St Chrysostom’s. It has also been a pleasure to see some of those who come to the classes coming along to worship, helping out with some day to day tasks locally, and some returning to act as volunteer helpers at the classes themselves.

This special work was ‘highly commended’ by the Bishop of Manchester recently. Alan, together with Kenson and Bridie, who are volunteers at the classes, and Richard who comes to the classes, went to Bishopscourt, the bishop’s home, to join other church projects which were receiving the awards. The awards were made for inspirational and innovative work. Sixteen projects across the Diocese of Manchester were highly commended, and a further eleven were commended.

The list of the winners, including St Chrysostom’s can be seen here.

The award is a good encouragement to this important and helpful work, which has proved to be a blessing to us at St Chrysostom’s.

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Evie’s christening

On Sunday they came to St Chrysostom’s from Torquay, Winchester, Shropshire… and New Mills. Why? 

We celebrated Evie’s baptism, and it was a lovely occasion. It was a very special day for Fr Julian and Angela, grandparents – and Fr Julian baptised Evie. Thank you to Evie, Sarah and Rebecca and all who came, and thank you to Angela for a splendid cake and food afterwards. It was also Jerome’s birthday and his family had brought a splendid cake for that too!

Here are some comments from those who came to the baptism:

The christening was a wonderful and joyful occasion which we feel blessed to have shared with our family, friends, and everyone at S.C’s who made us feel so welcome. It is a truly inclusive church.

Special day at St Chrysostom’s, Evie was baptised by her Grandad at a lovely inclusive church. We were welcomed, by all, as a gay family. Thank you St C’s.

Beautiful celebration for a beautiful little girl.

Wonderful shoes!

It was a joy and a privilege to share in a very special day with very special people…. and what wonderful shoes!

Particular highlight of this most wonderful day was seeing Mtr Kim blessing the gay family at the end of mass – a lot of healing in those words and actions

Thanks to everyone at St. Chrysostom’s for a wonderful day. Baby Evie’s christening was made all the more special by such a warm, welcoming and inclusive congregation. Many thanks to all.

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Creating cribs

Cribs and nativity scenes are a special part of Christmas. Many of us have our favourites. The ones we remember may not be artistically beautiful. Often it is an association we have with a particular nativity that makes it special.

Francis places the figure of the Christ child in the crib as the gospel is sung at Christmas Mass. (Taddeo Gaddi, 14th century)

Cribs started to appear in the thirteenth century. St Francis of Assisi encouraged the devotion when he constructed one at Greccio in Italy in 1223. The custom spread and by the beginning of the 17th century in many places the crib setting had become an intricate landscape and many additional figures were added – sometimes representing villagers or people of the location where the crib was constructed. In this way making cribs developed into a folk art in Western Europe, especially in Portugal, the Tyrol and in Sardinia.

The folk art cribs carried the important message that God comes among us as we are and where we are – the scene of Bethlehem could be interpreted in differing ways in differing locations and cultures to proclaim this truth.

By the 1600s home cribs began to appear. In England a different custom grew. Christmas mince pies were baked in an oblong manger shape and had in them an image of the Christ child. Eventually, however, the Christmas crib began to be found throughout Western Europe, including the British Isles.

Today many crib sets for church or home are commercially made, but the folk art making of cribs still continues. In some parts of central Europe hours and hours are spent making new sets. In schools, and in homes today, children, as well as acting out the nativity story, draw and paint it, and may even make their own nativity sets.

This year at St Chrysostom’s we’ve invited children of our primary schools to join the folk art tradition and make their own sets for display in church. We’ll also add a few other examples of nativities. Then during the display week children, parents, church people and friends are all invited to see the nativity sets, and contemplate the meaning of Christmas.

Work is well underway now in the classrooms and we are looking forward to see the lovely ‘folk art’ of the children of our wonderfully varied community.

The display has an open evening on Monday 4th December 7-8.30pm and then is open at Church Tuesday, 5th December 11am to 5pm, and Wednesday to Friday, 6th to 8th, 3 to 5pm. (Special arrangements outside those times can be made.)

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Elsie Wilkes, an ordinary person and an inspiration

“Look at what ordinary people are up to in parishes, it’s really heartening..” writes Madeline Davies of The Church Times. Rachel Mann, Vicar of St Nicholas, Burnage, in response talked of the need for ‘reminders of the glory in the dust’.

As a small contribution to this discussion we offer a reflection by a dear friend, the late Fr Mark Dalby. Looking back, from retirement on his parish ministry he spoke of a faithful parishioner, Elsie Wilkes:

If you typed the name Elsie Wilkes into Google you’d not find a  single entry. That’s not surprising. Elsie’s life was a  simple one. She was born in inner city Birmingham in 1903, a proudly working-class area. She lived in the same house till she was 65. Then the area was redeveloped. She moved 200 yards to the fifth floor of a tower block. She remained there till she died in 1986.

Elsie never married. Her family wasn’t large, but she did have a brother Sid, a bus driver. She’d worked in a nearby factory as a packer.

Elsie never stood out in a crowd. In many respects she was a very ordinary woman living what nowadays we might think a very unexciting life. And yet she inspired me. Let me explain why.

First of all, she was a wondrously faithful Christian.   Her parish church was St Peter, Spring Hill.   She was baptised there, and she worshipped there all her adult life.   When St Peter’s opened in 1902, it became a lively church, but then there was a change of vicar. The new vicar, Fr Stanbridge, was a round peg in a square hole.  He was actually a conscientious man who visited his parishioners regularly.   But wherever he went he put his foot in it.   He’d visit a home and he’d say, ‘What a horrible table you’ve got there, you really ought to get rid of it’.   I was vicar of that parish from 1968-75, and I remember a businessman telling me, ‘He was most rude. I’d give him a fiver to get rid of him…’

Poor old Fr Stanbridge was a widower and a tragically lonely man.  The congregation went down and down.   In ten years there wasn’t a single confirmation candidate.  There were only four communicants even on Easter Sunday:  a lovely churchwarden called Emmy Westwood, another churchwarden, an alcoholic lady called Blanche Smith – and Elsie Wilkes.   When almost everyone had deserted the church, Elsie remained. She was a wonderfully faithful Christian.

St Peter’s, Spring Hill

Secondly, she was a wonderfully open Christian. When Fr Stanbridge died, a real livewire was appointed, Fr Ronald Gordon, who later became Bishop of Portsmouth.  He put the church on the map again, and he drew in all manner of folk.  The services became more modern, and the social life became rather boozy. Elsie was big enough to welcome all this. Just as she never criticised Fr Stanbridge, so she never criticised his successor. She never looked down on the newcomers, as some long-established church people tend to. She was thrilled that the parish was coming alive. She continued to worship faithfully week by week and on weekdays too.

Thirdly, she was a wonderfully humble Christian.  We’d have discussion groups.   Elsie would always attend. She’d sit on the back row and hope she wouldn’t be noticed. She’d listen carefully to everything that was said, but rarely said anything herself.   She’d talk happily enough in private, but not in public. She’d never try to force her opinions on others.

Fourthly she was a very generous Christian.  She gave of her money. We needed an aumbry in the church for the communion of the sick. It was going to cost about £250 – £2,500 in today’s money. Elsie came to me quietly, and said she’d like to give it. There was only condition – her gift had to remain anonymous.  She gave of her time too. Elsie insisted on helping people locally if she could.

She was a wonderfully forgiving Christian. I remember one difficult Christmas. I’d slipped and fractured my arm. I had to have it in a sling for six weeks. I’d been badly let down by my curate. I was feeling sorry for myself. But I wasn’t the only person who was upset that Christmas. Elsie had been absent for a fortnight. We thought, ‘Oh, she must be staying with Sid in Kings Heath’.  But she wasn’t. She was actually poorly. I’d been too preoccupied with my own troubles. Eventually I got the message that Elsie hadn’t been well, and I went to see her. ‘O vicar’, she said, ‘I must tell you, I have felt hurt. I haven’t been well, but you didn’t come to see me and nobody did. I thought someone might have missed me. But there it is. I’ve said it now. I’ve got it off my chest. That’s the end of it. Now let’s have a cup of tea’. She taught me a lot that day about Christian forgiveness.

If you happen to call on me about 10am on a Friday, you’ll find I’m almost an agnostic. I’ll have just finished reading the Church Times – and I get so fed up sometimes with all the ecclesiastical posturing and politicing.  Can this really be the body of Christ? But then I think of Elsie, and of similar people I’ve been privileged to minister to, to learn from and to count as my friends in every parish I’ve been in. They are indeed the body of Christ, ordinary people filled with his spirit, and she, Elsie, and others like her, are a wonderful inspiration.

(Edited version of a sermon in At the Heart of our Faith a collection of sermons by Fr Mark Dalby, available from church)

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Bishops and their pets

Detail from the Hugh of Lincoln window at St Chrysostom’s

A magnificent swan stands next to Bishop (St) Hugh of Lincoln (feast day 17th November). You can see it in the lovely Burlison and Grylls stained glass window of him in St Chrysostom’s Church. The swan was Hugh’s favourite pet. We may not relish the idea of having a swan wander round our house, but Hugh was clearly content to allow it in the bishop’s house at Lincoln. At meal times the swan used to feed from crumbs he put on his sleeve. It would run to greet him when he returned from travelling.

Hugh wasn’t alone among the saints in having a pet. St Godric of Finchale had a pet cow, St Kentigern (Mungo) had a pet wolf.

More recently, Archbishop Robert Runcie was well known for keeping Berkshire pigs. His enthusiasm for them seemed to be matched only by the Ninth Earl of Emsworth’s joy at the his prize pig Empress of Blandings in P G Wodehouse’s splendid Blandings Castle books.

Archbishop Runcie once remarked, at a time of stress in Lambeth Palace; “I wish I could turn my attention to such things as tranquil as my Berkshires.”

The remains of Archbishop Laud’s tortoise

He wasn’t alone as an Archbishop in having a pet. Archbishop Laud loved his pet tortoise. He brought it to Lambeth Palace in 1633. The unfortunate Archbishop was executed in 1645 but his tortoise survived him and indeed several later Archbishops, finally dying in a flood in Lambeth Palace gardens in 1753. So much part of Lambeth Palace was this Archiepiscopal pet that it still features in an exhibit case in the Guard Room of the Archbishops’ official residence.

There is a lovely article about Archbishop Laud’s tortoise in The Guardian – click here.

So can we look for leadership by example from the modern episcopacy in the area of looking after animals? Do pets feature in the households of the modern bishop?

A Berkshire sow and piglets – the rare breed favoured by the late Archbishop Runcie.

No bishop seems to be inspired by Anatole France’s fictional Bishop of Arezzo who had a pet monkey. There are some examples though. Bishop Ho of Ghana has a pet goat. Archbishop Habgood spoke several times of his delight at the ducks on the lake at Bishopsthorpe, York.  Those visiting Bishop Alec Graham at Newcastle were sometimes warned that he may sit on the floor while his pet labrador occupied the episcopal seat.

Perhaps some bishops could be encouraged to consider having a pet.

Apparently, says, the Daily Telegraph, there are at least five benefits to having one.

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Catholic or Protestant … biscuits?

Two Irishmen were sitting in St Chrysostom’s church having a cup of tea (no – it’s not a joke coming – it’s a true story!). One of the men, from County Down, had the Protestant Ascendancy in his background. The other from Derry (the name gives it away…) had a very Catholic upbringing.

A third person walked up with a cup of tea, and the Irishman of protestant descent drily said, ‘If you look hard enough you may find a non-Protestant biscuit in the biscuit tin.’ His words reflected his wistful looking to the other side of the religious divide in his homeland – where for him non Protestant meant richness, variety, colour and fun. Or in this case a biscuit that wasn’t plain and bland.

The man from Derry looked bemused. A Catholic biscuit – what could that be? The County Down man explained it was a chocolate or cream biscuit, not simply a boring rich tea. Ah! – the Derry man reflected, now I see – like a chocolate biscuit that you eat, enjoy, and then eat more, and then feel so guilty for eating that you have to go to confession. For the man of Catholic background the plain protestant  biscuit was preferable – it didn’t come with guilt.

Light heartedly, the men longed for the other’s tradition – even if it was just over biscuits.

How others see our faith background may be quite different from how we see it ourselves!

Now, the dilemma is which type of biscuit should we serve at St Chrysostom’s? Perhaps the answer is the Anglican compromise – both types.

A splendid cartoon by Dave Walker of cartoon.com.

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An emoji in 1662

While celebrating the Holy Eucharist on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity this year our friend Fr Michael Burgess made a fascinating discovery in the text of the Gospel. The text used was in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Fr Michael asked the members of the congregation following the reading, and he asks us – Can the Church of England claim the first use of the emoji?

An emoji is defined as “a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication.” However, do we now need to change the definition to allow for the discovery of a use in the seventeenth century?

Have a look at the image from the Book of Common Prayer, and there at the top of the image you will see what Fr Michael spotted – the emoji. It’s there in the Gospel set for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 6.24f). You may like to check if it is there in your copy of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wishing to share this discovery Fr Michael wrote to The Times, but unfortunately the editor couldn’t see the emoji and so his letter is yet to be printed.

We congratulate the good Father on his sharp eye sight and his further discovery that this emoji is also in the Authorised (King James) Bible (Matthew 6.32).

Perhaps the Book of Common Prayer was an even more visionary work than previously thought.

PS Thank you to our correspondent Antonia who promptly replied to this blog post to show an example of a superabundance of  emojis in the music of the liturgy, reminding us that God’s mercy comes with a smile.

Now we are hoping for other liturgical emoji sightings… 🙂  

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