Welcome to exultemus!

Welcome to exultemus. Through this blog I hope to give air to my thoughts about the world as seen through the eyes of faith.

I have been a priest in the Church of England for over thirty years and am Priest-in-charge of five parishes in South Somerset.

You are welcome to leave comments agreeing or disagreeing, but I reserve the right to remove any offensive or unnecessarily personal remarks. I may respond – if your comments seem likely to start an interesting debate.

A lot has happened …

… since I last wrote a blog for this website. A lot has changed, and change makes us afraid but also gives us opportunities.

I last wrote at the beginning of the restrictions first imposed upon us at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. None of us could have predicted exactly how things might of turned out – still less how some of them have actually developed!

So – a couple of personal notes first. The first summer of Covid was interesting for me. I learnt new skills as I started to prepare worship while our churches were closed. Each week a recorded a video service which I put online. The first recordings were very rough and took ages to put together. The process got quicker and, I hope, more slick! The most satisfying to produce were the ones for special occasions – Holy Week, Easter, Christmas, Harvest, Remembrance Sunday. Generally though, it got harder and harder to produce services every week and it was a huge relief when we were able to start worshipping in church again – even though the church services looked and felt very different from how they had been before Covid.

Then, towards the middle of 2021 I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. At the start of August I had a part of my bowel removed and the resulting biopsy revealed the need for chemotherapy. That completed I needed to protect myself from infection so was out of circulation for a good while.

During that time I decided that the time was right to retire – it was only few months earlier than I would have take that step anyway. A few months later my wife and I moved to a home in Cornwall in order to be a little closer to some of our family. We’re settling in really nicely now, getting to know our way around. I’m settling into church life again – as a congregation member at St Neot’s Church near Liskeard. We’ve been busy making a number of repairs to our bungalow and are about to start redecorating. Soon I shall ask the Bishop of Truro for permission to officiate – as long as my health remains good and the cancer does not recur.

Enough of me. Now to look a little more widely.

There can be no doubt that Covid has had some major effects on the churches. Many are getting back to normal, some have grown, some have contracted but I’m sure that all have been challenged and have been changed. Covid, of course is still with us and will be for years to come. It will come in waves, which we will manage but there will be times for all of our church communities when they will be challenged afresh to rethink how they minister in those communities.

We heard that in the National Census of last year those who self-identified as Christians were in a minority for the first time. This was hardly a surprise – the numbers have been heading downwards for many decades. As a result there have been calls for the Church of England to be disestablished. I’ve long thought that establishment has been something of an anachronism at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries. Disestablishment is now, I think inevitable. This is now a nettle that the church should grasp and soon it should actively seek disestablishment rather than waiting for it to be forced upon it. I am sure that being disestablished will open as many doors as will be closed for the church. Seeking it ourselves means that we can more readily shape the transition and choose the church that we become. It is, I am sure, or can be, a real opportunity for growth.

During this year the Church of England will debate at General Synod whether it should change its continual practice and solemnise same sex marriages. I am sure that the change will be hotly debated, but it looks as if the time is now right. Other Western churches of the Anglican Communion have already taken this step, other churches in England already conduct such ceremonies. There will be hard discussions to had within the church and with other churches in the Anglican Communion who cannot sanction such a move, but we, as they, need to exist within our environment and be culturally relevant to our society. Our refusal, so far, to sanction such a change has made the church appear uncaring, judgemental and callous to our society.

So, much has changed, for me and for the Church. Much will change in the year ahead. All we can do is own the change and use the opportunities it offers us. And we can only achieve this if we are prepared to do it with faith and trust in the God who always shows us the way, always walks with us, and always loves us and calls us to love him and his people. With God we have nothing to fear and can hope in everything.

Keeping the faith in a time of challenge

Now seems a good time to take up blogging again. It has been far too long – almost three years – since I last posted here.

A good time – because everything feels different at the moment. Because of the restrictions imposed upon us because of the coronavirus Covid-19 our churches are closed, public worship is no longer possible, pastoral ministry as we have traditionally known it is restricted to a remarkable degree. But there is much more than that.

Is there an existential threat to the Christian faith because of these restrictions? (See The Spectator, Will coronavirus hasten the demise of religion – or herald its revival?) It’s probably too early to say, but there are those who have suggested that the Church of England cannot survive the closing of its churches, the suspension of its worship and the stopping of most of the ways in which it interacts with its parishes – no weddings, no baptisms, funerals strictly restricted, no pastoral visiting, no social events, no community service. Except it doesn’t really feel like that.

The response of the churches has been to go online with their worship, something that has been largely well-received by their congregations. A number of churches are live-straming their services, others like the Five Crosses Benefice have chosen to pre-record services which are then broadcast via Youtube or similar platforms. Clergy are trying to strike a balance between what is already familiar to worshippers, used to being in church on Sunday, and using the possibilities that the internet and video-editing software offers them. The services need to feel the same but cannot recreate the experience of worshipping with a congregation. Some of those live-streaming are using live chats on Facebook or Youtube and feeding these into the worship  – requests for prayer, greetings of the peace, sharing news or simply trying to replicate the social experience of attending church on a Sunday.

Some people have spoken of the way in which their attention to what is being shared in the online services is heightened. Others who have been unable to get to church due to age or infirmity appreciate being able to access worship from their church in a way that has been denied them until now. And surely, the shared act of receiving the worship thus offered is creating a sense of unity and togetherness that is denied us by the restrictions imposed upon us.

But what of those believers who have no access to the internet? A number of our, mostly (but not exclusively) elderly church members either have no access to these online services or lack the skills to access them with confidence and comfort. The same is true of many who are disadvantaged in our society. Many clergy are printing material and distributing it to those they know who are unable to access the online worship – prayers, reflections on the readings, excerpts from the Sunday worship, news from the parish. We are all asking, Is that really as much as I can do?

And although we may not be able to hold our coffee mornings, or bible study or prayer groups, or lunch clubs or children’s clubs we are still able to minister to our communities in positive ways. Shopping for our isolated neighbours, picking up the phone and chatting with them or saying a prayer. We can still contribute to our local food bank, either by donating food or with a gift of money.

None of this seems truly adequate – but that is, at least, partly because it is not what we’re used to. Comments made suggest that what the churches are doing is welcomed and positively received. It is contributing to a feeling that the churches are still very much alive and that we have not withdrawn because there is nothing we can do.

At the end of all this we should ask ourselves, What did we do that made a difference? What could we continue to do? How have we been renewed and reinvigorated by this experience?

It’s hard to see how at the moment, but the church might be very different after the coronavirus – and that difference might make us better.

We have a decision to make

Depending on where you look the Pastoral Letter about the General Election from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York has been both praised and criticised. The Daily Mail is excited that the Bishops have seen the light and abandoned trendy leftie causes. So a thumbs up from the Mail which is surely a bit of a worry in itself. In today’s Guardian there is an article gently chiding the Bishops for not being bold enough in their call to Christians to take their responsibilities seriously – Come on bishops, be bold. Promote some real Christian principles, because Anglicans are, according to YouGov, almost twice as likely to vote Conservative as Labour, which suggests that they haven’t quite got the hang of their own religion (Michele Hanson). And all this from an atheist. Continue reading “We have a decision to make”

My God, how wonderful thou art

This is the text of the final talk in a series of talks for Lent 2017 given in the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, Lufton

John Newton, born in 1725, led an unpromising early life, pressed into the Royal Navy, captured and enslaved, he became the first mate and later captain aboard slave ships. During a serious illness in West Africa  he acknowledged his need of God and was converted. In time, not immediately, he renounced his former life, married his childhood sweetheart and after a time working in Liverpool as a tax collector sought ordination. It took him seven years, because of his life as a slaver and as a virtual pirate, to persuade a Bishop that he should be accepted and was eventually made perpetual curate of Olney in Buckinghamshire in 1764. He worked there for seventeen years until he moved to St Mary, Woolnoth in London, where there is a memorial to him.

At Olney his assistant was William Cowper. Together they compiled a new hymn book, Olney Hymns, in 1779. The hymns were written not for the church services but for the prayer meeting. Continue reading “My God, how wonderful thou art”

Love Divine

This is the text of the third of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the Parish Church of St Peter & st Paul, Lufton

Today’s talk is entitled Love divine.

While during the Reformation and in the years after it in Germany the Lutherans were singing hymns the situation in England was rather different, perhaps because the Reformation took a very different course.

The dissatisfaction with the abuses of the Catholic Church and the Papacy were felt by dissenters and reformers in exactly the same way as in continental Europe. The political situation though was the catalyst for change. Henry VIII’s need of a male heir drove him to declare a sort of Universal Declaration of Independence. It was never Henry’s intention that the liturgy or practice of the Church should change but events on the continent together with a growing movement in England made change inevitable. So it was that during the reign of Edward the first Book of Common Prayer was introduced in 1549 and followed in 1552 by the second. However, although the worship was now in the vernacular the practice of hymn singing was not encouraged. Continue reading “Love Divine”

Hail, gladdening light

This is the second of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul, Lufton

Read last week’s talk here.

Tonight’s talk I have entitled Hail, gladdening light.

St Ambrose was Bishop of Milan from 374 until his death in 397. Together with St Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 367), Ambrose is considered the father of western hymnody, although it is by no means certain that he wrote any of the hymns attributed to him. What is more certain is that he was responsible at Milan for importing an antiphonal style of singing (in which one side of the choir responds to the other) from the Eastern Church.

Between twelve and eighteen hymns are attributed to him, four with a fair degree of certainty – although at various times in the past many more have been. He is also said, together with St Augustine, to have written the song which we know now as the Te Deum, although neither he nor Augustine mention it in their writings so we cannot be certain. Continue reading “Hail, gladdening light”

As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams

This is the text of the first of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the the Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul, Lufton

I’ve entitled this series of talks Hymns and the Faith. In each of the talks we’ll look at one or more hymns to see what we can learn from them about the history of singing hymns in church, and also about what singing hymns can teach about God, about Jesus and about the teachings of the Christian faith.

This first talk I’ve called As pants the hart. The hymn was published in 1696 in the New Version of the Psalms of David in Metre by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady. It is, of course, a metrical version of Psalm 42. The original version was much longer than the version we find in our modern hymn books which have only three verses from Tate and Brady’s hymn and a doxology added. Continue reading “As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams”

One day at a time

We are just a few days into a new year. New years are strange things. Nothing changes between December 31st and January 1st but there is a palpable sense that there is a new beginning, an opportunity for things to be different. Hopes are expressed that the new year will be happy and prosperous (by implication unlike the old year just ended) and we often resolve to eat more sensibly, to drink less, to exercise more, to be less judgemental, to be more patient, to read more, to watch TV less, to sort out the attic, to paint the hall – but by about now we know that those things are not going to happen; life will continue exactly as before.

Changing our life always seems harder than we thought but transformed lives lie at the very heart of our Christian faith. Paul describes becoming a Christian as a completely new life and as a leaving behind of our old life. How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6.2b-4); So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5.17). Jesus too speaks of change being a requirement for discipleship, If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9.23). Continue reading “One day at a time”

Sometimes reading the Bible is hard

At Morning Prayer throughout November we have been reading the Book of Revelation. To be honest I can’t say that I’ve been enjoying it.

At Morning Prayer throughout November we have been reading the Book of Revelation. To be honest I can’t say that I’ve been enjoying it. Its world view, its philosophical assumptions, its literary style, its imagery are all so far removed from my own experience and understanding that I find it difficult to access and even to make sense of.

I’m not alone. Throughout Christian history the place and authority of the Book of Revelation has been disputed. To this day some Eastern Churches do not include it in the canon of New Testament books. It is not read in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Churches, although it is read in Catholic and Protestant liturgies. Martin Luther, at the time of the Reformation called it neither apostolic nor prophetic, John Calvin wrote commentaries on every book of the New Testament – except Revelation. Continue reading “Sometimes reading the Bible is hard”

Reading the signs of the times

The news always seems to be full of talk about events around the world that gives us pause for thought. Last week it was the havoc wreaked in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew (why do we name them? Is it to make them seem friendlier, less scary?) and this week it’s news again of the truly awful situation in Aleppo and the constant bombing of the east of the city and the villages around it. The loss of life and the images from both events are truly distressing and alarming.

The situation in Syria can, and probably should, make us angry for a whole host of reasons. How can Russia give not only succour, but military assistance to the murderous regime of President Assad? Why has the west stood by and allowed the slaughter of innocent people to carry on for so long while apparently taking so little action? Why do we tolerate the political position that makes a friend of the enemy of my enemy regardless of the morality or lack of humanity of that “friend”? Why do our leaders so often engage in rhetoric that tars a whole group of people with the same brush so that now any action the West might take in the region feels like waging war on Islam? Why do we stand by while political leaders create fear by blaming racial groups, or religious groups, or political groups for the problems faced by our nations and our world? Why do we sell arms to nations with dreadful human rights records? Why do we train their armies? Why can our leaders not see how wrong that might be? Why will the nations of the West refuse to take responsibility for their past actions creating a refugee situation that is now out of control – and for good reasons? I could go on for there are many more questions that we can ask of our leaders, our multinational businesses and ourselves. And I confess that I have no idea how to answer these questions – or at least not in a way that could even come close to bringing about lasting change in the our world. Continue reading “Reading the signs of the times”