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”

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”

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”

Magnificat

The 15th August (the day that I’m writing this blog) is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Catholic Church it’s the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, in the Orthodox Churches it’s the Dormition (or Falling asleep) of Mary, but in the Church of England it is just the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There can be no doubt that the place of Mary in the piety of the church has been a bone of contention, especially between Catholics and Protestants, for centuries. Today, in the C of E some churches will call today the Assumption, others the Falling Asleep, others will probably ignore it altogether. Continue reading “Magnificat”

The Lord is risen indeed!

At our celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Day we will hear, as we always do, the account from John’s gospel of the discovery of the empty tomb and a first encounter with the risen Lord (John 20.1-18). He tells how Mary goes early in the morning to complete, what the disciples could not complete because of the Sabbath, the burial ceremonies for Jesus, or perhaps she goes simply to spend a little time with her thoughts in the quiet of the early morning.

John brilliantly gives us a sense of the panempty-tombic in Mary’s mind as, finding the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, Mary runs to find Simon Peter and tells him, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him. Continue reading “The Lord is risen indeed!”

When you pray, say …

Prayer is a tricky business. Or at least so it would seem from conversations that I’ve had with other Christians, with people on the fringe of Church life and non-Christians who challenge me about it. And, if I’m honest, it can be a bit of tricky business for me too. And lots of teaching on prayer appears designed to make us feel guilty about it.

CANDLEAnd because so many of us find it tricky, we also find that it becomes a source of guilt and anxiety for us. We don’t feel that we pray for long enough or often enough; or we don’t pray well enough; we don’t know what to pray about; our prayer is too formulaic and stale, lacking variety and inspiration; we get too easily distracted; and everybody else seems to do it better than me. You probably have your own anxieties that you could add to the list. Continue reading “When you pray, say …”