Known in the Breaking of Bread

Here is an abridged version of a talk given by Noel Preston (1922-2017) on May 1st 2011. Noel was a dearly loved member of our Church. Noel was responding here to the invitation to give a short, personal, talk on Easter.

I first became aware of the meaning of Easter as a young teenager, in this Church. It was here that I was confirmed, and first learnt to receive the broken bread. I became an altar server, I carried the processional cross, and sometimes I rang the church bell. Then the main bell was used only to summon the faithful to worship, now it also proclaims to the world the breaking of bread.

It was here that I had ready access to a magnificent organ, and the good fortunate of having a well qualified teacher – the church organist at the time was a Doctor of Music. So, here, I learnt the art of leading the singing of hymns from the organ.

In those days, Easter began, not with the magnificent liturgy of the Easter Vigil, but with the quiet early morning communion services, enlivened with a couple of hymns to mark the festival – enough for a budding organist to gain experience.

It was church music that brought Valerie and me together, and we were married in front of this altar – receiving the broken bread together. Shortly after our wedding, we were led by the Spirit to spend the next 40 years with the University Chaplaincy. Then, in a miraculous series of events a few years ago, the Spirit led us back here to our Anglican roots. Here we now have glimpses of the beauty and splendour of Anglican worship at its best, especially at Eastertide. At the same time, this is an inclusive church, where all are welcome, regardless of the precise manner in which their faith is expressed.

During my years as organist at the University Chaplaincy my weekday job was a medical scientist. There, I realised only too well that, when a scientist makes a new discovery, this is treated with doubt and scepticism by the scientific community. Only when others have repeated the experiments, and reached the same conclusions, is the discovery accepted as ‘scientific truth.’

The Risen Christ at Emmaus,
Painting by Ladislav Záborský (1921-2016),
Painted in 1996,

Likewise with the resurrection of Jesus. Initial reports of the empty tomb, and encounters with the risen Lord, were doubted by the likes of Thomas until they experienced the risen Christ themselves. And so, with the evidence of various men and women, and groups of individuals, the early Church community came to accept the ‘truth’ of the resurrection. And down the ages, people have continued to encounter the risen Christ and to receive the gifts of the Spirit.

Noel finished his talk by reading the account of the appearance of Christ at Emmaus, in the Authorized Version of the Bible. He finished his talk with the words from the Gospel ‘he was known of them in breaking of bread.”

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A Farewell Sermon: Keep doing what you do

I have always had a certain sympathy for Thomas – Doubting Thomas, as he is often remembered.  It had been an awful week.  Their Lord had been taken away, tortured and crucified, their friend Judas, took his own life after betraying Jesus, and then they had to live with their own terrible fear of a similar end, but also the shame of running away.

Imagine how Thomas must have been feeling.  In his position, I too might have thought my friends were being fanciful.  After all, people don’t recover from crucifixion, even with today’s medicine and techniques.  But I have learnt in the 18 years I’ve been in Manchester that when all seems grim and hopeless, when I’ve felt lost and broken, God is there, present and as real as Jesus became for Thomas, as he put his fingers and hands into Jesus’ wounds.

In this 18 years, my life has changed beyond recognition, I have met people, some kind, some not so kind, who have in their own ways shaped me into the person I am today.  The first time I came to St Chrysostom’s was about 9 years ago, to attend the SCP vocations weekend.  I’d only just returned to church after being away for a couple of years.  People were so friendly.  After that, I came with a friend a few times to the LGBT mass, again I was met with warmth.

Winding forward to 2015, I came here as parish assistant, when I was in the middle of my training for ministry and then back again in 2019 as curate.  Looking back on these years, I can see that even when things have gone wrong, God has redeemed difficult situations and each time brought me to the places I needed to be to be shaped and formed both as a person and now as a priest.

John and the disciples have had their training with their Lord, now he is preparing them for their ministry, without him, or without his physical presence.  Jesus’ resurrection offers them hope for better things to come.  I know from my own experience, that however hopeless and terrible things can be, Jesus has conquered death, and throughout his life demonstrates his ongoing love and care for us.  The gospels have so many examples of Jesus having people’s backs. It doesn’t mean that we won’t be hurt or challenged, but we know that God holds us and will guide us.

As a church community, St Chrysostom’s is a church that welcomes all, that welcomes the broken hearted, the lost, and those who are lost,  but are good at covering their pain.  There is a quote from Teresa of Avila which says: Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.

St Chrysostom’s is Christ’s hands and feet on earth, you are the eyes of compassion, that loves and holds those who are broken.  It’s not that every one of us here are fixed and sorted, it is because so many of want to share the love and healing we have received with others.  Keep doing what you do, St Chrysostom’s Church for Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

This is the text of Mtr Kate’s final sermon at St Chrysostom’s today, 11th April. We thank her for all her work and support at St C’s and wish her well as she moves to a new ministry in South Wales.

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Our Local Churches in lockdown: Signs of community and hope

“The problem with the Church of England, today” said a recent (lay) guest speaker at one of our Zoom discussions, “is not the parishes, or the parish clergy, its the hierarchy and their church officials.” The discussion was around the welcome of LGBT people in churches, and I suspect many lay people would agree with the point made.

However, to focus on the positive side of the comment – parishes and the parish clergy. I have been very impressed at the hard work of so many parish clergy and laity in these lockdown days. Clergy have worked, prayed and encouraged to the point of exhaustion, and in some cases beyond. Some have done this while home schooling has been going on, or amidst illness, including mental illness in their own homes or families.

I have been reflecting on our own deanery – one of the most deprived deaneries in the Church of England. In their different styles and ways the clergy of our deanery have been working and praying so hard. We are a small deanery, but the more friendly and supportive for that. We understand one another’s ways, and we encourage and listen to one another as best we can.

In one parish the vicar has been shielding for most of the lockdown, and yet from the confines of her house she has managed to hold together the Christian community around her church, to contact people, especially those not on the internet, and send out regular supportive mailings.

Rev Ellie Trimble at the Apostles Church

In another parish heroic work is being done to feed the marginalised and needy of the area. Literally hundreds of meals have been served through an inspiring partnership of local charities and volunteers coordinated and led by the outstanding parish priest, who has worked so self sacrificially.

A priest in another parish works hard to deliver food to people in the form of food packages, and coordinates that work in his area, he has also volunteered at a vaccine centre. In addition he tells me he tries to visibly work around his parish, wearing his clerical collar. He walks in different areas twice a day to be seen and to allow himself to be approached by anyone who wishes to talk. What a lovely thing to do.

In our own parish during the pandemic period we have seen the founding and growth of our Chi Rho branch – a community of lay and ordained people sharing a common rule of life. Several of our church members, significantly four of whom are BAME members, have begun training to be lay ministers. Our informal and active Maranatha Prayer Group has begun, joining volunteers in regular prayer.

These are only a few examples. Much has been done by lay people as well as priests, and it must be pointed out, several of those, lay and ordained, supporting these varied ministries in the parish have themselves being doing so while isolating or shielding. Interestingly much has been initiated and developed at grassroots level, raising questions about the need for some aspects of Church bureaucracy and management in the post pandemic days.

Whatever, in Eastertide, these are inspiring and encouraging signs of new life, faith and hope in our local parishes, and for these signs I thank God.

Fr Ian

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Easter Hope 2021

We had a wonderful Easter at St Chrysostom’s!

So many people, those who came to church, and those who joined online have said so. First of all I would like to thanks everyone who worked so hard to make it so. This was our team work at its best. I am thinking not only of those who took part in worship – musicians, readers – and how lovely to see a full serving team again on Easter Day. I am thinking of those who helped prepared. It was a beautiful sign of Easter, for me, to come in on the Saturday evening before the Vigil of Easter to discover Ann and Marie had been into church and done such beautiful flowers, then there were those who had cleaned and ensured we were ‘safe’ for worship, and of course those who attended. And attendance was not only in person. The people who participated online and all who sent messages of encouragement – so many encouraged us.

This, for me, was a sign of Easter itself. New hope, new life in a difficult situation. When we began the Easter Triduum at the Maundy Thursday Mass, at the beginning I looked round and thought – there a fewer than in previous years. Of course there were, it’s early days in the easing off of the restrictions, and people are rightly, and properly cautious. But then I looked again and counted how many we were as the Mass began – 13! Well, I thought thats a very special number for this evening as at the Last Supper that’s how many sat down to supper. The number grew a little that evening, but nevertheless I felt a point had been made to me – and it was a very hopeful one!

Then at Easter Day itself, despite the sad fact the people are not yet permitted to sing, there was a wonderful sense of joy and hope shared. We love the ‘sensual’ in our worship at St C’s. So it was lovely to see people we hadn’t seen in some cases for nearly a year, it was lovely to smell once again the swirling incense, to hear the Regina Coeli sung out by the cantors as Mass ended. God blessed us. We could indeed say ‘Alleluia. Christ is Risen!’

I am proud of St Chrysostom’s people and what they have done in the pandemic days, and what they continue to do. People have looked to one another, kept in touch and for those who are able to join in Zoom meetings it has been a blessing for them. Our online presence by worship and Facebook group connections have helped keep us together.

Some women of St C’s share Joy and Hope on Easter Day

At the same time being together at Mass is the heart and source of our church life. On Easter Day the joy of those present in Church, the joy shared by those following online was encouraging to us all. It was also a joy to welcome new people among us. Part of our tradition is giving a good inclusive welcome to those who come for the first time, whoever they are. On Easter Day it was lovely to see new people among us.

Our church Standing Committee has met recently and we are forming plans as together we look to the future. A future which will not be quite the same as the past – we have learned through the pandemic, after all.

The Standing Committee hope we can do some things around church itself to enrich our holy space – not least through some painting at high levels, tidying, church grounds work. We also want our church to reach out in its welcome – especially to the trafficked, and the marginalised., as well as reaching out online.

With this all in mind the Standing Committee has launched a special appeal in these days, called the 2021 appeal. We are asking people who wish to do some fundraising and we are inviting generous contributions to the fund to get it going. Money given is earmarked for improving our church.

More about the appeal soon, meanwhile give thanks for the signs of Easter at St C’s and share the joy!

Fr Ian

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Naming the Cross today

Sandra Palmer reflects with us on recognising the cross in our world today

During the past week a number of people  have posted in our Church Facebook group images of crosses they have at home as well as crosses they see in nature , crosses which have aesthetic value , crosses which link them to a person.

I , too , have such crosses – a brightly coloured one from South America , two Ethiopian crosses, another on the end of rosary beads belonging to my late father, all of which I appreciate in their own way.

But I chose to post a photo of a painting I saw in Donaueschingen in Germany . It is a crude painting in grey and white depicting Christ hanging on the wire fence of a concentration camp.

Does it show God in Christ sharing in the suffering of humanity? an idea expressed eloquently in the novelisation of the life of the medieval monk Peter Abelard by Helen Waddell  and in Carl Jung’s Answer To Job.

Does it say that when we inflict suffering on another being , we inflict suffering on God ?

Sadly  we know that the concentration camps were not the only places of great suffering .
I am currently reading Carmen Callil’s life about her ancestors who were transported to Australia from Leicester in the 1800 s , not so long ago in the great scheme of things . The lives of the poor and the cruelty to children was horrific , as was indeed the slave trade , much of the harm inflicted by good Christian men , though ,of course , Christians were also vocal reformers. Attitudes then to ‘ the poor ‘ are echoed today in the division between deserving and undeserving and the fear that welfare payments will encourage people to idle at home.I have also seen children in Nepal scavenging for food , working on brick camps. Cruelty and suffering is woven into the history of the world.

I have problems with the elevation of death of Jesus to a unique death , cruel above all other.  Yes, truly it was a nasty, painful ,agonising  brutish death , undeserved not only by Jesus but by the two men who hang at his side . They may have been robbers, insurrectionists or even murderers but even they did not deserve such a death. Whatever else it did, the death of Jesus proclaimed that the innocent suffer .

Seeing the cross starts for me in the recognition of  pain , cruelty and suffering in our world.  We are NOT God , we do not have the capacity to bear that pain and suffering on our own , but we can name it and strive to alleviate it .

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Well done, good and faithful servant #InspiringWomen

Quite often I pass by the churchyard of the former St Saviour’s Church on Upper Brook Street. I rarely walk in. Today, on a lockdown walk, I did.

I paused at the grave of Mary Hale. Mary was born Mary Morville in 1837, and married William Hale in 1865. She died in 1903. In telling of Mary’s death the then Rector of St Chrysostom’s wrote ‘In Mrs Hale we lose one who had attended S. Chrysostom’s since the opening of the Church, and had been associated with all its undertakings; we are all the poorer for the wothdrawal of her genial and kindly presence, her cheerful encouragement and help, and shall keep bright the memory of her good and faithful example.’

Mary lived in Cecil Street, Moss Side, and when she died her three daughters, who never married, continued living there, together with two elderly aunts. The daughters continued faithfully attending St Chrysostom’s, and Edith Maude, the most recent daughter to die passed away in 1959. It is remarkable to think that between them Mary Hale and her daughters, were part of St Chrysostom’s church life between 1877 and 1959, 82 years.

As I paused at Mary’s grave it seemed appropriate to say a prayer for her, and to thank God for her, and for the many women who have faithfully attended churches, and especially our own church, through the years and through changing times in our country and in the Church.

Memorial plaque to Edith Hale in the Chancel of St Chrysostom’s

Mary’s faithfulness and ‘kindly presence’ is echoed in many women of the church, and is an inspiration to many. Whatever the days brought, such women were there, and indeed are there, supporting the church, holding on to their faith and being kindly and encouraging to others. Their work may not have made history books, or newspapers, but it is such faithfulness that builds up the community, and the local church, and it is on the foundations of their dependability, generosity and faithfulness that the church builds today. They are inspirations to us all.

As I stood there thinking of Mary and others like her I remembered how recently at church we have been sharing examples of inspiring women. What has been striking is how many of those women have been women of a previous generation or two within a family.

For us, at St Chrysostom’s, Mary Hale is an inspiring woman who, though of a previous generation still worships with us before God and still encourages us by her example and by her prayers. I, and I hope others, are inspired by her example and by her faithfulness.

When I trained to be a priest at college on a saints an antiphon was often sung during Morning Prayer, it was a quotation from Scripture. Quietly, today, I sang it at Mary’s grave on behalf of us all at St Chrysostom’s: Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much, says the Lord.

(This is the latest entry in Fr Ian’s lockdown diary)

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Crosses come in all shapes and sizes. A while ago we invited a group of children to go around our church and photograph the crosses they could find. Some were very obvious – such as the Christus Rex figure behind the altar, and the crucifix above the door.

Others were in more ‘remote’ areas of the church such as the sacristy, church office or social room. The children searched and they found. The results were fascinating.

Crosses were discovered in less obvious places. In stained glass windows, carved in the woodwork, embroidered on vestments and altar frontals.

In addition they found cross shapes. That is shapes that were not intended as crosses but the way objects connected revealed a cross shape.

The Cross is the Christian sign, it is invisibly marked on our forehead at Baptism. We make the sign of the cross on our bodies. We are given palm crosses on Palm Sunday. Many of us have crosses in our homes.

As we enter Passiontide in Lent our thoughts, imagination and prayers turn to the cross of Jesus. Of course it is right that we allow this to happen. Our faith is enriched, and we gain spiritual strength and understanding.

When we look around we begin to see the cross in unusual and unexpected places. The moderator of the Church of Scotland has led an interesting competition for children and adults. He has invited people to look out for crosses in nature, at home or wherever they are in their walks, or homes.

You can see the results in an online gallery. There are a wonderful variety of cross images there, some deliberately made, some found in nature, some very clear, some needing one to look carefully to see.

During the week of 21st to 28th March – the week before Holy Week – this year we are inviting people of St Chrysostom’s and friends to do the same by posting into our Church Facebook Group, using the hashtag #seeingthecross. Look around, you’ll be surprised where you begin to see crosses!

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St Joseph: Blood is thicker than water! Or is it?

Grandi (Mark) with George and Sofia

Mark and I often reflect on what a diverse family our two grandchildren George and Sofia have been born into. They live with their mummy as a tight knit unit of three, but their family is wonderfully so much more than that. They have us as two gay granddads for a start plus another granddad from Fiji and there are many more people besides! Now two of the three granddads are I suppose what one ought to call ‘Step’ grandparents but to the children they are just trusted men with whom there is mutual adoration and unconditional love.

Blood is certainly not thicker than water in this family. There is not one member of it that would not sacrifice everything for these two children, and I can’t help thinking that there are parallels with our situation and the relationship between Jesus and Joseph.

We read in St Matthew’s Gospel that Joseph, the betrothed of Mary, was intending to dismiss her quietly when he learned of her pregnancy, but decided to stick with it when, in a dream, an angel of the Lord told him it was all meant to be. It would all be okay! We don’t hear much at all about Joseph after that, but it is easy to get a picture of him as a strong but gentle man who does all he can to protect his family and he has become a pretty significant part of our Christian narrative.

There is no doubt in my mind that Joseph would have had an unconditional love for Jesus which was reciprocal. He will have played a huge part in the Jesus’ upbringing, influencing his personality and values, helping him to learn new skills, celebrating in his successes, consoling him when things didn’t go to plan and of course being there to guide him when he went astray; after all, children will be children, even Jesus!

Whether we are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, teachers or friends, the children in our lives are a gift, a sign of God’s grace. They often see in us things we have never recognised ourselves and it seems to me that they possess a uniquely childlike honesty and intuition that is lost as we grow older and apparently wiser.

It is true, parenting in whatever capacity is sometimes frustrating and often pretty exhausting but mostly it is rewarding beyond measure. George’s speech is developing quickly and each time he is with us he has something new to say; recently, out of the blue I heard him say “Grandpa, what’re doing?” a very simple thing but I thought my heart would burst, that is God’s grace.

So, to return to my original point; blood isn’t thicker than water because at the end of the day we all belong to one family. And remember we have so much to learn from the children in our lives; as Jesus himself said “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17); surely there is something in that for all of us.

Thank you to Paul Pritchard for this reflection in our St Joseph Novena, and indeed to all who have contributed.

Pray: For all, who like Joseph, nurture and care for children, whatever their relationships.

After a period of silence you may like to pray about any person or concern currently on your heart. And say our Novena Prayer.

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil.

St Joseph, pray for us

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Joseph accepts Jesus as his son

Rembrandt: The Dream of Joseph

Joseph Accepts Jesus as his son (Mt. 1:18-25)

Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph…she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was faithful to the law…he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…

In our series of reflections on St Joseph we welcome one of our younger church members to share thoughts with us…

“I think Joseph is an accepting person. He initially misunderstood the situation, but then when he realised what happened to Mary, he accepted Jesus as his own son.

“Why do you think Jesus needs an earthly father?” I asked.

Our contributor of thoughts on St Joseph

I think that Jesus needs to learn from both genders, and Joseph can teach him about being a human man, while Mary teaches him about human women. Also, Jesus needs Joseph to care and raise him. He needs a father as well as a mother.

“As someone’s son, what do you think being a son means, beyond just being born into a family?”

I think that it is about love and being loved. I am loved by my parents, their love meets in me, and I love them back. It goes both ways.

“Why do you think God chose to tell Joseph through a dream, instead of an angel appearing before him, just like what happened to Mary?”

I think this is because God wants Joseph to think about the message more carefully. When he had woken up he had to think about what happened, and decide to think of it as just a dream, or as God really speaking to him. He then needs to make a choice of believing in what he heard or not. I think this is a way to let Joseph choose what to do.”

Prayer: Thank God for Fathers, and pray that they may be open to the callings of God.

After a period of silence you may like to pray about any person or concern currently on your heart. And say our Novena Prayer.

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil.

St Joseph, pray for us

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St Joseph, an Inspiration for Refugees

‘If a person shuts a door in someone’s face, this is very difficult. When a door is opened they no longer feel humiliated’…. ‘We ask just for a little bit of sympathy from you’.

These are the words of Abdullah Kurdi. Remember him? Maybe not. Newspaper headlines have moved on. Abdullah is the father of Alan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea alongside his mother and brother in the early hours of the 2nd of September 2015. In an attempt to seek refuge for him and his family tragedy struck. A photo of Alan’s lifeless body lying on the beach brought to the fore the plight of those fleeing wars, persecution or simply looking for better opportunities. His tragic death has become one of the most emblematic moments in the contemporary human conscience. It caused a soul searching that still endures today.

Even as you read this blog, that image has probably flashed into your mind and is a constant reminder how important it is to always look at situations like these through God’s eyes and what it says about our humanity. According to the United Nations, in 2020 there were nearly 79.5 million refugees in the world- more than double the 26 million in 1990. A majority of these (80%) are received and welcomed in the poorer parts of the world where they share the little these emerging economies have. 

As we celebrate this year of St Joseph it is important to reflect on the plight of those seeking refuge from war, poverty or any other reason.

Although St Joseph never says anything in the stories told about Jesus, we always encounter him on a journey. He is reported either travelling for the census when Jesus is born or journeying to Jerusalem for rite of passage events with his family. Perhaps the most prominent part is when he takes baby Jesus to escape state terror unleashed by King Herod. He flees to Egypt with his family and becomes a refugee in North Africa. This is what Abdullah tried to do.  If he had lived in our time St Joseph who is the Patron Saint of Refugees would probably understand the plight of those forced to leave their homes fearing for their lives. He probably would be calling for understanding, tolerance, welcome and help for those fleeing for their lives. St Joseph demonstrated the creative courage to deal with the concrete problems his family faced, problems that Abdullah faced and which many other families in the world, continue to face.

A famous 17th century painting of the ‘Flight to Egypt’ by Adam Elsheimer captures the darkness fear and terror of the journey that St Joseph, Mother Mary, and Baby Jesus endured. The moonlight and the night fire offer light and warmth that many refugees yearn for on their flight. For many refugees, their journeys still feel as terrifying as the Holy family must have felt more than 2 millennia ago. In Egypt they found sanctuary and stayed. As we celebrate St Joseph, let us remember to welcome and receive those seeking sanctuary from terror or want.

Prayer: St Joseph, you have taught us the power of creative courage by taking your family to safety in Egypt when in danger. Give resilience to those seeking refuge so that they may seek safety with the creative courage you demonstrated. Be with them as they cross war zones, high seas, deserts and climb mountain to reach safety. Teach us to feel and share the fears, anxiety, pain, sorrow, difficulties, and uncertainty all those seeking sanctuary experience. Build in us, the compassion and courage to help those fleeing for their lives or in search of better lives. Amen.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. St Joseph, pray for us.

Fr Admos

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