Thursday, 30 June 2011

Prayer, mission and building the kingdom: the work of USPG

Praying the kingdom ... we create a false dichotomy when we think of prayer and spirituality as something internal and think of mission in external ways, separating our spirituality from our active expressions of kingdom values (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Opening Prayer:

O God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Collect, The First Sunday after Trinity, Common Worship)

Introduction:

A profound spiritual under-girding of mission is found in a statement of the Commission on Mission of the National Council of Churches in Australia that said: “Mission is the creating, reconciling and transforming action of God, flowing from the community of love found in the Trinity, made known to all humanity in the person of Jesus, and entrusted to the faithful action and witness of the people of God who, in the power of the Spirit, are a sign, foretaste and instrument of the reign of God.”

But I wonder how many of us notice a large gap between our prayer lives and spiritual lives, on the one hand, and our commitment to mission and building the Kingdom of God, on the other.

We often think of our life of prayer and spirituality as something internal: as something that I keep in here; something that is part of my prayers, my inner thoughts, my religious emotions; but not something to be expressed publicly – in some cases not even connected with how I pray in Church.

But then we think of mission in external ways: it is something that I engage with out there, something practical, something active, something that expresses my values and beliefs in an externalised way.

On the one hand, “spirituality” is part of my private life. On the other hand, mission is seen as “good works” – something I do in the world.

How often have you noticed this dichotomy, this dysfunctional aspect to your prayer life, or you have noticed it in others and wondered what to do about it?

That dichotomy, that dysfunctional relationship between prayer life and mission was recognised and addressed by Bishop Frank Weston, once a curate here in Saint Matthew’s, in his closing address at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, when he reminded those present that their spiritual life must coupled with a true devotion to Christ in the poor and downtrodden:

“Christ is found in and amid matter – Spirit through matter – God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have … you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages.

“You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. … You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”

Bishop Frank Weston ... “Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good.”

I want to steer us towards looking at this topic under these headings:

1, The Five Marks of Mission;
2, Intercessions and personal prayer;
3, Mission and the Eucharist;
4, Mission in the Offices of the Church;
5, Mission in context and learning from the Spirituality of Others.

1, The Five Marks of Mission

The Anglican Communion, at various stages, has defined and accepted the Five Marks of the Mission as:

1, To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2, To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
3, To respond to human need by loving service
4, To seek to transform unjust structures of society
5, To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

To what degree is each of these five marks spiritual and a potentially integral part of spiritual life, an aid to spiritual growth or offers potential for prayer?

1, To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

The first mark of mission is not simply personal evangelism. It cannot be reduced to that. Proclaiming the Good news of the Kingdom is more than one-to-one encounters. It can have no purpose unless we have an understanding of what Good news is and have a vision of what the Kingdom may be like.

What is good news depends on the places, times, cultures and needs we encounter and live in.

Proclamation comes in more than words. We all know the difference between the news as we listen to it on Radio or the BBC World Service, watch it on ITN or Sky, read it in the Guardian, the Sun, the Daily Telegraph or the Times. It is not only that the medium conveys the message, or – as Marshall McLuhan told us in the 1960s – that the medium is the message, but the medium defines our priorities in both proclaiming and receiving the news.

If the Church is to have an integrated approach to Proclamation, then it must be in both Word and Sacrament; it must provide example in Discipleship; it must seek not only to invite people to be Christians but to invite them into the Church too; and it must have a vision of the Church as a foretaste of the Kingdom.

And so at the heart of proclamation is not programme – programmes about publishing more leaflets, printing more Bibles, sending out more people, collecting more money. At the heart of proclamation are vision and invitation – vision of the kingdom, and invitation through the Church into that kingdom. And that vision and invitation require an integrated spirituality. Otherwise, we end up with relying on what I describe as “feel-good-factor mission”: mission that is judged successful because it answers the goals set by a programme, that counts its success by the “bums-on-pews” factor; and keeps those people in the pews not by challenging them with a vision of the kingdom but by making them feel happy with happy hymns, happy prayers, self-affirming sermons.

We share a common call to share in God’s healing and reconciling mission for our blessed but broken and hurting world.

The world has been graced by God and God’s work through Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to seek to heal the hurts of the world and to reconcile its brokenness. As Christians we are called to share our relationships in the mission of God to the wider world, bearing witness to the kingdom of love, justice and joy that Jesus inaugurated.

2, To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

How do you learn? We are all different types of learners. When you buy a new DVD player or a new laptop, how do you learn to use it? How are you taught to use it?

Do you take the new instruction book out of its plastic wrapping? Perhaps, like me, you even need instructions on how to open the plastic wrapping.

Do you learn to use by reading the instructions or by following the diagrams?

Do you ask someone else to show you?

Do you rush in and do it yourself, prepared to learn by your own mistakes?

To teach new believers requires different teaching methods. It’s not enough to convert individuals merely to the point of making a personal declaration of faith. They are taught in different ways, including being taught by example.

Is your example in faith infectious?

Is your practice in prayer one that others can find nurturing?

Have you an inner life that embraces others to the point that they may make mistakes … not because they are different, but because they are learning for themselves?

3, To respond to human need by loving service

A major portion of USPG’s financial resources are devoted to health care and educational projects.

But this is not because we are a charitable giver in some way that makes us an Anglican Oxfam or an Affirming Catholicism version of Christian Aid. We give for two reasons:

(1), It is part of Christian responsibility to share our resources:

What resources we have are for sharing – not just money and people, but ideas, prayers, excitement, challenge, enthusiasm. It calls for a move to an equitable sharing of such resources particularly within the Church.

There is no point in giving to something if our giving does not reflect our prayers for what we are giving to. Why give to support a hospital if we never pray that malaria will be eliminated, or that women should never be deprived of resources so that they die in childbirth, or that an antidote will be soon found for HIV/AIDS?

But neither dismiss other people’s giving when they stop at giving and do not get involved. Their giving may be where they stop, but you cannot see where they started. It may be a continuation of their prayers, and may be the only way they can express their desire for sharing and justice. We must never disempower those who only appear to give.

For, as we were told in the Gospel reading last Sunday [26 June 2011, the First Sunday after Trinity]: “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (Matthew 10: 42).

(2), It is an expression of the priorities of Christ and the priorities of the Church:

Jesus expends most of his compassion on behalf of women, children, slaves, the widowed, the orphaned, the financially marginalised and the ostracised. By giving first and foremost to healthcare and education, we are prioritising our mission according to the priorities of Christ himself. And that is getting our spiritual priorities in the right order. Do we reflect those priorities in our personal prayer?

We rejoice with people in their joys, and we mourn with people in their sorrows. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us not only that we are made in the image and likeness of God individually but communally and collectively too as humanity.

We should be shocked to hear the children’s challenge in the Gospel reading next Sunday [3 July 2011, the Second Sunday after Trinity] being addressed to us:

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn” (see Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30).

4, To seek to transform unjust structures of society

I wonder how often in our parishes and in our dioceses do we affirm those who are seeking to transform the unjust structures of society as engaging in mission, as missionaries?

When I supported the Gaza Flotilla, and spoke at demonstrations in Dublin last year after the murder on the high seas of some of the crew members, I was criticised severely by another priest for engaging in politics. But I was seeking to transform the unjust structures of society, and I was supporting those who do so.

We cannot bewail the system in Zimbabwe that deprives hospitals, schools and churches of resources, without also praying to have that society transformed.

It is an Anglican tradition to pray in the versicles and responses and in the intercessions for our governments. Praying for them recognises that they always need to be prayed for, not always because we agree with them, and often because they need to change.

5, To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth:

God’s concern is for the whole of life – not just for people, but for the whole created order. And so we are called to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Your concern for the environment, your promotion of your parish as an EcoChurch, is not a political fad; it is an integral part of mission and its spiritual foundations are rooted in the promise of God’s reconciliation for ourselves and for the world.

The hope we have is for all the living, the hope of a reconciled universe, the hope for a new heaven and a new earth, in which God’s will is “done on earth as it is in heaven.”

2, Intercessions and personal prayer:

And the Lord’s Prayer brings us to personal prayer and intercessions.

There is a well-known saying that there are no atheists in foxholes.

But we all have our own inner foxholes. What do you pray for in the depths of your soul?

What do you pray for?

There is a very useful theological principle that says: Lex orandi, lex credenda. It means not just that our beliefs should shape how we pray, but when we pray truly we show what we believe truly.

What do you really pray for?

Think about it for a moment. Ask yourself not what prayers did you say ‘Amen’ to in Church last Sunday, but what do you really wish for, hope for, long for, want?

The Lord’s Prayer and the Intercessions on Sundays are two ways of encouraging us to pray in a way that shapes our discipleship and our priorities.

Which part of the Lord’s Prayer do you say Amen to? ‘Thy Kingdom come’? ‘Thy will be done on earth?’ ‘Give us … our daily bread?’ ‘Forgive us our trespasses?’ Teach us, liberate us, to forgive others? ‘Deliver us from evil?’

Do you truly pray for us to live in the kingdom? For us to have daily bread? For us to be forgiven and to forgive? For us to be saved from evil?

Have you noticed how this is a prayer written in the plural. I had a problem while celebrating the Eucharist last year in a parish where I was filling in on behalf of a priest colleague. Unexpectedly, the reader prompted everyone to kneel for the Lord’s Prayer, as if it were a moment of personal piety and spirituality before the fraction and reception. But the Lord’s Prayer is precisely not that. Our individual ‘Amen’ is part of the collective ‘Amen’ to the spirituality and the mission of the Church.

Individual prayer only has meaning within the totality of the spirituality and the mission of the whole Church.

And a similar problem arises with the intercessions at the Eucharist in most parishes.

Who frames and writes the intercessions in your parish?

How often are they written by the priest, even though they are supposed to be the prayers of the people?

How often are they simply a shopping list, simply telling God what we want, like a Miss World entrant saying she wants to travel the world and work with children?

How seldom is there any connectedness with each item in the intercessions?

For example, how seldom do we pray for the diocesan bishop, so that any connection with the Church and the Church Universal is disjointed?

How often are mission priorities just top of the list as priorities rather than a point of real prayer for parishioners?

How useful do you think this week’s prayer priorities in the USPG prayer diary were? (see handout 4).

How much effort is put into seeing that the intercessions reflect what people have been praying about in the previous week, and what they pray about in the coming week?

Empowerment, particularly spiritual empowerment, is an important constituent of both ministry and mission.

3, Mission and the Eucharist

The Eucharist ... our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling and undergirds the forms of public witness we engage in

The intercessions and the peace – and there is a connection between both – should form the bridge between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament.

An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship itself is a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf. Romans 12: 1). And each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes (I Corinthians 11: 26).

In his prison cell in Johannesburg, even when he was in isolation and refused access to the elements of bread and wine, Dean Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, an Irish priest and a former curate of Saint Matthew’s, was aware of the mission dimension of the lonely “spiritual communion” he celebrated on his own in front of the cross-shape he picked out on the bars of his prison cell. He wrote:

“And you know, it was a reality. ‘Therefore, with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven’ – I don’t think I have ever known the reality of the company of heaven as I did in that prison cell ... I’m no mystic. But I felt the presence of the Church, both in heaven and on earth.”

Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling and undergirds the forms of public witness we engage in.

There was a short-lived Facebook group called “Comfortable Words,” formed by people who said they were keen on maintaining the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Its name was inspired by the Comfortable Words at the beginning of the Eucharist, which include those comfortable words in John 3: 16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son …” (Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν Υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν …)

The original Greek conveys better than the 1662 English that God bestowed on the world, God sent into the world, God gave as a present to the world … well, not actually, the world, but, as it says in the original Greek, the Cosmos. “God so loved the Cosmos that he sent …”

The Lambeth Conference in 1998, among other things, agreed: “Mission goes out from God. Mission is God’s way of loving and saving the world ... So mission is never our invention or choice” (Section II p. 121). The initiative in mission is God’s, not ours. We are called simply to serve God’s mission by living and proclaiming the good news.

This is reflected in the prayer often used in the USPG Prayer Diary: “Give thanks that God is in control and that mission is, ultimately, his work – not ours. We offer God our head, hands and heart – and he does the rest.”

But are these comfortable words for us? Or would we rather control, manage and assess and evaluate our mission programmes?

I’m not a Prayer Book conservative in cultural terms, but the beginning of the Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer reminds us that mission, God’s mission, and God’s love for the totality of creation, is at the heart of the call to worship.

At the beginning and the end, in the Gloria and in the Agnus Dei, we recall that in that in the Incarnation Christ, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world. Incarnation is not to be reduced to personal faith and salvation, my spiritual priorities are not to enhance my feel-good factors.

The sin of the world – what alienates the world from God, what hinders creation from realising the potential of the incarnation – is at the very heart of the five points of mission, and at heart of what we pray about in the Eucharist.

So, it is for a very good reason that the intercessions come between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament. The world and its needs are a bridge between Word and Sacrament.

The Last Supper, an image from Bridgeman’s workshop in Quonian’s Lane, Lichfield ... Word and Sacrament are reduced to piety and pious devotion if they are not empowering us for mission (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Word and Sacrament are reduced to piety and pious devotion if they are not empowering us for mission. The prayers after communion include a fundamental commission of each and every one of us as missionaries, as Christ’s mission partners in the world: “Send us out in the power of your spirit to live to your praise and glory.”

Or: “May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others; we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.”

The dismissal: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” calls for the response: “In the name of Christ. Amen.” We say ‘Amen’ to our missionary commission Sunday-after-Sunday. Mission is not separate from, or divorced from the spiritual priorities in celebrating the Eucharist.

And this is enhanced, built on, empowered by the different Eucharistic prayers found in the Church of England in Common Worship.

For example, Prayer D in Common Worship says: “To the darkness Jesus came as your light. With signs of faith and words of hope he touched untouchables with love and washed the guilty clean” (Common Worship, p. 194).

And: “Defying death he rose again and is alive with you to plead for us and all the world.” (Common Worship, p. 195).

In Prayer E, after the acclamations we find this mission challenge: “Lord of all life, help us to work together for that day when your kingdom comes and justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth” (Common Worship, p. 197).

Or in Prayer F, we say in our prayers leading up to the Sanctus that “as we watch for the signs of the kingdom on earth, we echo the song of the angels in heaven…” (Common Worship, p. 198).

4, Mission in the Offices of the Church

Candles light up the chapter and choir stalls in Lichfield Cathedral ... the offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are commissions to mission too (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

But it is not just in the Eucharistic rites that we are challenged to see mission as an integral part of our spirituality, prayer and worship, that we are commissioned to mission.

This has always been part of the tradition of Anglican worship, and is not more fully illustrated in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer than by referring to the traditional canticles.

In the canticle Venite, we are told about God: “In his hands are all the corners of the earth.”

We pray this canticle most mornings in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. And, as I hear and pray those words, I cannot help smiling as I recall those games at summer camps where we all stood around holding a blanket or a parachute, kept shaking it up higher and higher, and eventually hoping to hop in under it, like a tent.

When God holds all the corners of the earth in his hands, then praying for the earth, all who live in it, and for its sustainability, its resources and its environment, becomes a mission challenge that is part of our spirituality.

In the canticle Benedictus, we ask God:

“To give knowledge of salvation unto his people
for the remission of their sins …

“To give light to them that sit in darkness,
and in the shadow of death:
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Don’t tell me that there is no mission thrust in the traditional Anglican offices, that they do not call for and demand mission priorities and fresh expressions of church, that they are no longer relevant to the mission needs of the Church today.

Westminster Abbey ... can inspire a teenager with a sense of reverence and relevance

Some years ago, I spent a few days with my elder son in London. He was still in his late teens and wanted to see the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum as part of his classical studies. But the highlight of our visit for him was not the marbles, nor the Tower of London, not the dome of Saint Paul’s, nor the Millennium Bridge, the Globe Theatre, Big Ben, the Changing of the Guard, No 10, Buckingham Palace , Madam Tussaud’s … The highlight for him was Choral Evensong in Westminster Abbey, where we sat in the choir stalls.

Don’t tell me Choral Evensong and Evening Prayer are no longer appealing to a younger generation. The sung offices continue to inspire a sense of reverence and relevance, and make the compelling demands for mission.

In Evening Prayer, for generations, we have reminded ourselves in the Canticle Magnificat:

“He hath put down the mighty from their seat
and hath exalted the humble and meek.

“He hath filled the hungry with good things:
And the rich he hath sent empty away.”

Now, in the simple spirituality of the Anglican offices, that’s what I call praying through the Five Points of Mission in the Anglican understanding of mission.

In Evensong, in the Canticle Nunc Dimittis, we are reminded that God’s salvation has “been prepared before the face of all people.” The Christ Child is “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel.” Here personal piety, Anglican spirituality, Gospel demands and mission priorities come into focus together.

I could take further examples, for instance, from the Litany, which we pray most Friday mornings in the chapel at the Church of Ireland theological Institute, in the way it prays for the needs of the Church, our communities and the world.

5, Mission in context and learning from the Spirituality of Others

All Saints’ Cathedral, Cairo ... I woke to the sound of the call to prayer from a storefront mosque

Our spirituality and our mission priorities must always take account of and learning from others in the context of mission. We cannot pray outside the incarnational contexts in which we find ourselves.

Some years ago, I stayed on a few occasions in the Deanery beside All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral in Cairo. I expected to be woken by the bells of the cathedral, but instead was woken each morning by the call to prayer by a muezzin using a large megaphone in a storefront mosque in the street below.

In a mission context, it was a reminder that others can remind us of how our day needs to be punctuated by rhythm of prayer, and how in our casual slumber we need to be reminded that prayer provides deeper rest than sleep.

As an example of cultural incarnation and contextual mission and spirituality, in Muslim countries I have found myself not merely adapting my prayer life but being challenged and transformed by Muslim attitudes to prayer and faith. The following are examples:

1, For Muslims, prayer is submission. This is implied in the name Islam and is made visible in the posture of prostration.

How much of our prayer is less what God demands of us and more about what we demand of God?

How willing are we to submit to God in prayer?

How often are we more likely to find in prayer that we are asking God to submit to us? This is often expressed physically. Most of us were probably taught to pray in the morning and at night, kneeling by our bedside.

How many of us find this too childish and too humiliating today?

2, For Muslims, prayer requires that coming properly prepared; hence the ritual of a Muslim washing face, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet before prayer.

Do we prepare to pray, in the same way that we would prepare to eat, or prepare before wetting out in our cars on our journey?

If not, what does that say about the priority of prayer in our daily activities?

3, For a Muslim, prayer is individual. And so a Muslim takes off his or her shoes and enters and stands bare-footed before God. Do you expose yourself to God in prayer? Or do you protect yourself from God in prayer?

4, Paradoxically, for every Muslim, prayer is collective too. Muslims stand toe-to-toe with those beside them in public prayer. There is no escaping the other, and therefore no escaping the needs of the other. My needs are only worth considering when I consider the needs of the other.

5, Moving out, for Muslims, prayer is also universal. In prayer, all face towards Mecca, so that all are facing the same way, in concentric circles that are spreading out around the globe.

6, And prayer embraces the whole kosmos. Those circles can keep on spreading out, like the ripples in the pool. But within the circles, Muslims constantly turn to their left and right, to those things, seen and unseen, which are then incorporated into prayer.

How often do want to be left alone at prayers, at intercessions, at the peace, even at the reception during the Eucharist?

It is easy for Christians to see that Islam is a missionary religion. Do you think Muslims see Christianity as a missionary religion?

I could draw parallels with what I have said about prayer in Islam with the spiritual disciplines and expressions of faith in Islam. The “Five Pillars of Islam” are spiritual disciplines rather than doctrinal norms, and they are:

1, Shadah (Profession of Faith): This is a simple credal confession … how often do we know and concisely express what is at the heart of our beliefs? This simple creedal formula has a mission thrust for Muslims. Anyone who says it becomes a Muslim.

Where is mission at the heart of our Creeds?

2, Salat (Prayer): Muslims are expected to pray five times a day.

How often is the daily life of a Christian punctuated with the rhythm of prayer? Someone becomes a Muslim through a simple confession of faith. It is said one stops being a Muslim when one stops praying.

Do we consider that when we stop praying we stop being Christians?

Is your day punctuated with prayer?

3, Sawm (Fasting): For Muslims fasting is first and foremost a practice associated with Ramadan – which coincides with the month of August this year (2011) – but it is a spiritual discipline at other times too. Nor is it simply about abstaining from food during day-light hours – it includes fasting from smoking, from sex, and more especially from all expressions of anger. If fasting had the same central place in Christian spiritual discipline, imagine what we could do prayerfully during Lent and Advent.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that teaches us, helps us to realise how, the whole body needs to be committed to prayer and not just, in the Anglican way, the brain and the intellect.

4, Zakat (giving of alms): this giving is a spiritual discipline that is a duty for Muslims. It is not charity – as one Muslim explained to me, charity is that giving that begins when duty ends. We still see giving as charity and not as a duty. Islamic attitudes to the spiritual discipline of giving would probably mean USPG and other mission agencies did not have to face up to our present financial problems.

5, Hajj (Pilgrimage): There is an old spiritual song that includes the lines: “This land is not my home, I’m only travelling through.” Muslims make pilgrimages not only to Mecca and Medina, but to Jerusalem, to Hebron, to the graves of prophets, saints and Sufi mystics and poets. Life is a pilgrimage. I have a pilgrimage at least once a year to Lichfield, where I had my first adult experience of faith, and my first call to ordained ministry. It is a way of saying thank you to God, a way of reminding myself of God’s blessing and call to me, a way of not becoming too fixed in my ways. Pilgrimage is a spiritual disciple that keeps us on the move, that keeps us ever-engaged in God’s mission.

What are your spiritual disciples, and how do they make bridges between these three:

● Your personal prayer life.
● Your engagement with the prayer life of the Church in Word and Sacrament?
● Your commitment to the mission of the Church and God’s mission?

Handout 1: The Five Marks of Mission:

1, To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God;
2, To teach, baptise and nurture new believers;
3, To respond to human need by loving service;
4, To seek to transform unjust structures of society;
5, To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Handout 2: The Five Pillars of Islam:

1, Shadah (Profession of Faith);
2, Salat (Prayer);
3, Sawm (Fasting);
4, Zakat (giving of alms);
5, Hajj (Pilgrimage).

Handout 3: Quotation from Bishop Frank Weston:

“Christ is found in and amid matter – Spirit through matter – God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have … you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages.

“You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. … You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”

Handout 4: This week’s prayers in the USPG Prayer Diary:

Sunday 26 June:

First Sunday after Trinity: This week we pray for churches in Britain and Ireland as they engage in mission, locally and globally. There are many types of branch on the vine: we pray for mutual understanding and for more opportunities to learn from each other.

Monday 27 June:

Give thanks for initiatives of the Diocese of Liverpool to explore the meaning of church growth, in terms of numbers, love for God and service to the community. Pray for church growth in all churches in Britain and Ireland.

Tuesday 28:

Pray that churches might be inspired to attempt new things in mission. Give thanks for the hard work of all world mission officers and mission departments in Britain and Ireland.

Wednesday 29:

Peter and Paul, Apostles: Give thanks for USPG and its support for global mission, especially for the work of churches overseas that are not part of a Diocesan Companion Link.

Thursday 30:

Give thanks for the hard work and dedication of all USPG volunteers, including Associate Mission Advisers (AMAs), Church Links, Speakers and others. Pray that more volunteers might step forward.

Friday 1 July:

Remember USPG staff as they seek to explain how mission agencies such as USPG are vital for supporting provinces and dioceses around the world.

Saturday 2 July:

Give thanks for financial support for USPG during a time of recession. Pray that sacrificial giving continues to help USPG in its work.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, a member of the Council of USPG, and a director of USPG Ireland. This paper was presented at ‘Thy Kingdom Come! Prayer and Mission in the building of The Kingdom,’ a conference organised by Affirming Catholicism in Saint Matthew’s, Westminster, on Thursday, 30 June, 2011. The other speakers are Bishop Musonda Trevor Mwamba of Botswana; the author Janet Morley; and Bishop William Mchombo of Eastern Zambia.

Prayer and mission in an inner-city church

Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster … the venue for today’s conference organised by Affirming Catholicism

Patrick Comerford

I am in London this week to speak at a conference organised by Affirming Catholicism on the theme: ‘Thy Kingdom Come! Prayer and Mission in the building of The Kingdom.’ The other speakers include Bishop Musonda Trevor Mwamba of Botswana,who was also a speaker at last week’s USPG conference in High Leigh; the author Janet Morley; and Bishop William Mchombo of Eastern Zambia.

The opening speaker this morning, Bishop Musonda Trevor Mwamba of Botswana, is to speak on “Dancing in a rainbow of prayer: the magical journey to wholeness.” Bishop Trevor is the best-selling author of Dancing Sermons. He also appears as himself in a number of Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling books, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, as well as in the movie. He served in Notting Hill in London and in his native Zambia before moving to Botswana.

Later this morning, Janet Morley speaks on an interesting title: “‘It is dangerous to read newspapers’ (Margaret Atwood): risk, hope and the practice of praying the kingdom.” Janet Morley is the author of several books of prayers, including All Desires Known and Bread of Tomorrow – praying with the world’s poor. She is currently preparing for SPCK an anthology of poems, with reflective commentaries, for use in Lent and Eastertide.

There is a mid-day Eucharist, and after lunch I have been invited to speak on: “Prayer, mission and building the kingdom: the work of USPG.”

Later this afternoon, Bishop William Mchombo of Eastern Zambia is to speak on: “Proclaiming the Kingdom in the current situation of the Anglican Communion.” Bishop William Mchombo is Bishop of Eastern Zambia and Acting Provincial Secretary of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. He also serves on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order. He has been closely involved in developing resources to help churches and communities respond to the challenges facing them, especially HIV-AIDS.

Today’s conference concludes with a discussion, an option for silent meditation, and Evening Prayer.

The conference is taking place in Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster, which is in the heart of London, close to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Church House.

Saint Matthew’s is a lively church with a varied programme of ministry. A new building opposite the church houses the Home Office and the number of people working in that one building far outnumbers the local residents in the whole parish. This gives Saint Matthew’s a unique mission in the heart of the city.

In the rush of daily life in Westminster, Saint Matthew’s offers a place of peace and quiet and is open all day for quiet and reflection by local workers, residents and visitors. The daily life of prayer in the church includes services every morning, at lunch time and in the evening.

The church was built between 1849 and 1851 to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott, and the interior was greatly enriched by the addition of fittings and glass by Scott’s brother-in-law, CF Bodley, Charles Kempe, WE Tower, and Martin Travers.

The Lady Chapel by Sir Ninian Comper is the earliest example of his work in England and is regarded as one of his finest. Comper maintained that the ‘English altar,’ with its riddle posts, is the first of its type in England since the Reformation.

The church – apart from the Lady Chapel – was badly damaged by fire started by an arsonist in 1977 and was rebuilt according to a reduced plan and rededicated in November 1984. This is a much smaller version of the original church but retains much of its atmosphere as well as some of the original stone-work and many of the contents rescued from the fire.

The High Altar is said to contain a relic of Saint Matthew. Tower’s magnificent reredos depicts a variety of saints and angels surrounding the scene of the Nativity. The church also has a 15th century Spanish lectern, statues by Tower depicting Saint Edward the Confessor, Saint George (with dragon), Saint Michael and Saint Matthew.

The Lady Chapel has been completely renovated, and is used every day for Morning and Evening Prayer as well as for weekday masses. The chapel has a fine statue of Our Lady of Walsingham. Next to the Lady Chapel, the Reconciliation Room is used for hearing confessions and for private discussions.

Saint Michael’s Chapel houses a stone altar by Bodley, and is open every day for private prayer and reflection. Tonight I am staying in the Clergy House next to the church.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin

An afternoon with Pugin ... and friends ... in the Palace of Westminster

Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster ... a triumph of the Victorian Gothic revival in the summer sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I spent Wednesday afternoon [29 June 2011] in the Palace of Westminster, where Caroline Babington and Gerard Linehan introduced me to what is known to most of us as the British Houses of Parliament. This is probably the best-know building in London, and no-one can but be excited by Big Ben and its neighbouring honey-coloured pinnacles, turrets and tracery.

Gerard is an old friend since my teens; Caroline, who is the Preventive Conservator at Palace of Westminster, is the expert in her field. She is the co-author, with Tracy Manning and Sophie Stewart of Our Painted Past: Wall Paintings of English Heritage (1999), and studied the Conservation of Wall Paintings at the Courtalud Institute of Art.

Pugin’s portrait in the Palace of Westminster

I was particularly interested in seeing the Palace of Westminster because of my current research on AWN Pugin and the Gothic Revival in architecture in Britain and Ireland. The Palace of Westminster as we know it today was designed by Sir Charles Barry and AWN Pugin after the great fire of 1834.

Barry won the competition for rebuilding because of the clarity of his plan and his exquisite and minute drawings. But the drawings were by Pugin, and his contribution was crucial from the very beginning. Pugin designed the woodwork for the entire interior detail, and this remained his chief preoccupation until his death in 1852.

During this time, Pugin poured out countless designs for the interior, and they still grace the rooms of the Palace of Westminster today. His designs for furniture in the House of Lords include octagonal tables, X-frame chairs, and – the most ornate of all – the throne.

In the late 1830s, Pugin enlisted the help of manufacturers and craftsmen to realise his creations. He coaxed and he encouraged them, and they interpreted his imagination and his vision.

Pugin designed wallpaper that is singled out by his Rose-and-Portcullis design that became an identifying mark throughout the Palace of Westminster

Pugin designed wallpaper that is singled out by his Rose-and-Portcullis design that became an identifying mark throughout the Palace. Pugin used this and the Tudor rose extensively in the decoration of the whole building.

Pugin-inspired ceramic tiles ... designed by Minton for the Palace of Westminster

He commissioned Minton to make ceramic tiles that are now well-worn underfoot, while Hardman of Birmingham produced metalwork and stained glass – both partnerships also worked on his churches throughout Ireland.

Pugin also used the firm of Crace for decorative painting and gilding. The Thames Bank workshops, under the direction of John Thomas, were employed for stone carvings on the outside of the building – including the lion and unicorn outside Saint Stephen’s Entrance.

But Pugin resented the fact that throughout the project Barry was the guiding spirit who conceived the building we know today. Perhaps the secret of the building’s success lies in the collaboration between these two different and often confrontational men, with its fusion of their two completely different views.

British politicians like to describe this as the “Mother of All Parliaments,” and until recently some even claimed that this was the world’s largest building. All agree that architecturally this is the greatest achievement of the Victorian Gothic Revival.

The Pugin rug ... designed in the early 1850s and now on display off the Main Committee Corridor

Caroline was especially interested in showing me a hand-knotted rug designed in the 1850s by AWN Pugin for the New Palace of Westminster, shortly before his death in 1852. Her work at the Curator’s Office involved researching original correspondence that has led her to see this rug as a significant contribution to understanding what is one of the most important schemes of interior design from the 19th century.

She showed me the rug which is now on display off the Main Committee Corridor of the Palace of Westminster – close to a bust of Charles Stewart Parnell. It was acquired five years ago in 2006 by the Advisory Committee on Works of Art and the Speaker’s Art Fund because of Pugin’s contribution to the original decorative schemes for the building.

But first we entered the Palace through the modern office block that is Portcullis House, and passed through New Palace Yard to Westminster Hall, which dates from 1099. With its massive scale – it measures 240 ft by 60 ft – and its oak hammer-beam roof dating from the late 14th century, this is one of the most magnificent buildings I have ever been in. It was saved from the fire in 1834 through the intervention of the Prime Minister of the day, Lord Melbourne; it is here Thomas More, Guy Fawkes and Charles I were placed on trial; it is here that monarchs and prime ministers lay in state before their funerals; and it was here that most recently President Barack Obama addressed both Houses of Parliament.

From Westminster Hall, we made our way through Saint Stephen’s Hall, designed by Barry, to the Central Lobby, which ;inks the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In the tiling of the lobby, Pugin inscribed a scriptural quote in Latin: “Except the Lord keep the house, they labour in vain that build it.”

The throne designed by Pugin in the House of Lords

We sat for a while in the Strangers’ Gallery in the House of Lord, peering at the throne designed by Pugin, looked in at the Commons, say Pugin’s portrait, looked over at the Victoria Tower and viewed the Thames from the members’ terrace as the sunny afternoon appeared to stretch on and on.

Throughout the visit, there were frescoes and paintings at every turn, wallpaper and fireplaces, carvings and sculptures, oak panelling and furniture, each with a hint of Pugin’s genius, and all the time celebrating in symbols of roses and shamrocks the cultural and political union of these islands.

My only regrets were not being able to take photographs and that I had not arranged to have more time for such a wonderful visit.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

An oasis of tranquillity in literary Bloomsbury

The Penn Club in Bedford Place … an oasis of tranquillity in Bloomsbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am in London for the rest of this week, and tomorrow I am speaking at a one-day conference in Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster, organised by Affirming Catholicism. Tonight I am staying at the Penn Club in Bedford Place, one of my favourite places to say when I am visiting London.

The Penn Club occupies three inter-linking houses in an early Georgian terrace built in the 1800s and retains many of its original architectural features. But it is also an oasis of tranquillity in London, close to Euston and the West End, with a delightful, relaxing garden at the back.

The club was established in 1920 with funds left over from the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, which was active during World War I. Although it is not a formal Quaker institution, the Penn Club continues to have a Quaker ethos and still has continues to have connections with the Religious Society of Friends throughout these islands and internationally. The club maintains traditional Quaker values of integrity, equality, tolerance and simplicity, honesty and fairness in all its dealings.

Those Quaker links are symbolised in the name of the Edward Cadbury Room, recalling Edward Cadbury (1873-1948) of Woodbrooke and Bourneville, who was instrumental in establishing the Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham and the Department of Theology at Birmingham University. The Edward Cadbury Room has an extensive library, including the daily newspapers and many Quaker books, and is a place for guests to sit and read or to relax in quiet surroundings.

No 5 Woburn Walk ... the Bloomsbury home of the Irish poet WB Yeats from 1895 to 1919 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bloomsbury, the area between Euston Road and Holborn that was developed by the Russell family, Dukes of Bedford, has many literary associations. Writers, poets and philosophers who lived and worked in the surrounding streets include TS Eliot, WB Yeats, Bertrand Russell, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, EM Forster, and Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins (Anthony Hope) .

A plaque on No 5 Woburn Walk, between Upper Woburn Place and Duke’s Road, marks the house where WB Yeats lived for more than a quarter of a century from 1895 to 1919. Maud Gonne lived in the house, which is now part of Wot the Dickens, a restaurant, café and food shop. Woburn Walk was designed in 1822 by Thomas Cubitt as the first pedestrianised shopping street. Charles Dickens lived around the corner in Tavistock Square, and the proprietors of No 5 must imagine that Dickens strolled along their street while he lived in Bloomsbury.

TS Eliot’s former offices with Faber and Faber at 24 Russell Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Russell Square, where TS Eliot worked for Faber and Faber, is just a few steps from the Penn Club. The square is the largest of the squares in Bloomsbury and little remains of the original Georgian houses. But the square itself is a delightful green space with shady trees, a café and a fountain.

Gandhi’s statue in Tavistock Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

North of Russell Square is Tavistock Square, which was also laid out by Thomas Cubitt. Leonard and Virginia Woolf lived at No 52 from 1924 until shortly before she died by suicide in 1941, and from there they ran the Hogarth Press. In a typically scathing comment, Virginia Woolf once compared Ulysses to a “bell-boy at Claridges” scratching his pimples. Ulysses remains a classic in modern literature, but the house where she lived has long been demolished.

Lytton Strachey’s house in Gordon Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Gordon Square, to the west of Tavistock Square, is one of the quietest places in Bloomsbury, and includes the houses of Lytton Strachey (No 51) and John Maynard Keynes (No 46), and a plaque at No 50 commemorates the Bloomsbury Group as a whole. In 1922, Virginia Woolf declared, without too much exaggeration: “Everyone in Gordon Square has become famous.”

The most unusual building on the square is the Gothic Revival Church of Christ the King on the south-west corner.

The church was built in the Early English Gothic Revival style between 1850 and 1854 for the Catholic Apostolic Church, a Victorian sect also known as the Irvingites. From 1963 to 1994, the church was used by the Anglican university chaplaincy and was known as the University Church of Christ the King. In 1994, the chaplaincy returned the lease and the church is now used by Forward in Faith.

Bedford Square, built between 1775 and 1783, takes its name from the main title of the Russell family, the Dukes of Bedford. This square is one of the best preserved set pieces of Georgian architecture in London, although most of the houses have now been converted into offices and the central garden remains private.

Both William Butterfield the architect and Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, author of The Prisoner of Zenda, lived in No 41 at different times.

Bloomsbury Square, dating from 1665, is the first open space in London to have been officially called a square. Bedford Place runs between Russell Square and Bloomsbury Square, making the Penn Club an ideal location for exploring Bloomsbury. Three Underground lines and several bus routes are close by, the British Museum in Great Russell Street is just five minutes’ walk away, and the British Library is five minutes by bus. Covent Garden and the West End theatres are also close by, and there is a selection of book shops around every corner.

I have an appointment later this afternoon to meet some friends and hopefully to visit the Palace of Westminster and see another part of the architectural legacy of AWN Pugin. Then it’s off to dinner this evening -- perhaps in one of my favourite Greek restaurants in Bloomsbury, Konaki in Coptic Street, off Great Russell Street and facing the main entrance to the British Museum.

Monday, 27 June 2011

A day with ‘a very dangerous man’

The Revd Donald Reeves (centre) at the Irish School of Ecumenics with Patrick Comerford (left) and Dr Andrew Pierce, Lecturer in in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies at ISE

Patrick Comerford

The Revd Donald Reeves was once described by Margaret Thatcher as “a very dangerous man” and by The Times of London as the “radical rector” and “the most extraordinary clergyman in the Church of England.” At the time, he was the Rector of Saint James’s, Piccadilly, and among Thatcher’s allies he had developed a reputation as a “turbulent priest” – an eminent and honourable place to hold in Anglican tradition.

Now in his late 70s, Donald Reeves works on peace-building and peace-making projects in the Balkans. He has long been a thorn in the side of the Establishment, and when he heard Thatcher’s description of him as “a very dangerous man”, he was “rather pleased … it felt like a natural title.” It is a sobriquet that he came to wear with pride and that inspired the title of his autobiography The Memoirs of a Very Dangerous Man.

The man who enjoyed excoriating Thatcherite dogma and episcopal complacency in the 1980s, emphasises his role these days as a peace-maker rather than as a trouble-maker. Today, he co-directs the Soul of Europe, which has been working at peace-making and peace-building in the Balkans for 10 years. He has been visiting Dublin for the past few days, and spoke this morning about the work of the Soul of Europe at a seminar organised by the Irish School of Ecumenics and co-sponsored by the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

Through the Soul of Europe project, which he co-directs, Donald Reeves spends much of his time in the Balkans, trying to build durable trust between communities only nominally at peace after terrible conflicts. The Soul of Europe seeks to help people living through post-conflict situations to realise Nelson Mandela’s words first addressed to politicians in Northern Ireland: “If you want to make peace do not speak with your friends, you must speak with your enemies.”

In Kosovo, he has been talking to Serbs and Albanians, seeking to “dismantle the fear each has of the other” and to break down the isolation of minorities – in this case the Serbs, and their ancient religious institutions, living under armed guard. He has tried to help Kosovo’s Albanians and Kosovo’s Serbs to help normalise relations between Kosovo’s Muslim Albanians and two endangered Serbian Orthodox Monasteries at Decani and Pec.

Before Kosovo, he was working in Bosnia. Both Bosnia and Kosovo “are littered with failed projects,” he told us.

In Bosnia, progress was uneven and inconclusive, as he and his colleagues experienced deeply-rooted mutual suspicion and resentment in communities where co-existence had turned overnight into murderous hatred. They had to listen patiently to “raw memories” and accept that there could be “no short cuts, no quick fixes.”

But he is scathing too about the role of the UN, the EU and other peace-keeping bodies and bureaucrats, saying this morning: “I have become very disillusioned with the way European bureaucracy functions.”

He is frustrated by the way in which ignorance of religion has become an embedded in official thinking, so that religion is seen as matter of choice and that a real illiteracy of religion has emerged. It means churches and mosques are valued only and merely as places of cultural heritage and not as living religious communities. But “religion is the crucible in which the ‘chosen trauma’ of a community is held.”

He expressed a deep-seated “nervousness” about growing Islamophobia in Europe, which he described as an “alarming phenomenon.”

“The Muslims are the new Jews of Europe,” he said

The Irish School of Ecumenics at Milltown Park, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Donald St John Reeves was born in 1934 and had a conventional middle-class upbringing. He was educated at Sherborne School and spent two years in the Royal Sussex Regiment, before studying at Queens’ College, Cambridge. While he was teaching in Beirut in the 1960s, he felt called to ordained ministry, and after training at Cuddesdon Theological College he was ordained deacon in 1963 and priest in 1964. Following two years as a curate in Maidstone in the Diocese of Canterbury, where he was already a controversial figure, he became chaplain to Bishop Mervyn Stockwood of Southwark, who had a reputation for controversy and socialist politics.

After being radicalised in Chicago in 1968, he returned to England and carried the revolution to a housing estate in South London, where he was Rector of Saint Helier in Morden from 1969 to 1980. But his heyday was as Rector of St James’s, Piccadilly, a space he filled with extraordinary worship, celebrated pulpit dialogues, a coffee house and street market. Those who passed through the church doors included leading international film-makers, writers, theologians and politicians.

He was the Rector of Saint James’s, Piccadilly, for 18 years until 1998. When he first arrived at Saint James’s Piccadilly in 1980, it was not an auspicious place. Although the church was known for society weddings, there was little evidence of a congregation rooted in the community: “On my arrival,” he says, “I could see no justification for keeping the church open.”

The church where William Blake was baptised was in noble decay and facing closure. Four years later, as the church celebrated it tercentenary, he was able to tell the Guardian: “There’s only one thing to do with a church which is slap in the centre of London and whose congregation has dwindled ever since the 19th century brought business to where town houses used to be: you use the site and turn it into a showcase for Christianity.”

Gradually, he turned Saint James’s into a thriving institution, closely linked to local people, both rich and poor, and a place for exploring ideas. Saint James’s soon had its own orchestra, a full-time arts director, a programme of lectures called “Turning Point,” and a programme called “Dunamais” offering lectures, workshops and the opportunity to explore issues of personal, national and international security in the nuclear age. The church became a centre of both liturgical innovation of theological debate and radical politics. He encouraged debate across the boundaries, inviting speakers as diverse as Norman Tebbit and Tony Benn, non-believers as well as believers.

“Jesus wasn’t exactly into garden parties. He was regarded as a nuisance,” he says. “The churches shouldn’t be creating little managers of sectarian communities but should be places of dissent.”

His own challenge to Thatcherism was overt. He sparked lively debate by speaking out against the Falklands War and by helping the miners’ wives during their husbands’ bitter strike. After several brushes with Margaret Thatcher, she described him as “a very dangerous man” – an acknowledgement that by then he was part of the Anglican tradition of “troublesome priests” – apt to turn critical fire not only on the world but on the Church too.

In anticipation of his later work in the Balkans, he began to explore the idea of peace-building, inviting Chinese and Russian visitors. Bishop Trevor Huddleston, a veteran campaigner against apartheid, who lived in the Saint James’s Vicarage for many years, was another significant influence.

Today he devotes most of his energies to his peace-building projects in the Balkans, and his energy is inexhaustible, even in his 70s.

He was made MBE in 2006 for his peace-building in Bosnia, and for fostering good relations between the Abrahamic Faiths he was awarded the Muhammad Nafi Tschelebi Peace Prize last year by the Tschelebi Institute, the oldest Islamic organisation in Germany. He is a Visiting Fellow in Peace Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University, and now lives in Crediton in Devon. But his mark is still evident at Saint James’s, Piccadilly, with its inclusiveness, its celebration of other faith traditions, its social justice ministries to the marginalised in greater London, and its continuing work with asylum seekers.

We had lunch together before he headed back to England this afternoon. I hope we continue to hear his radical voice for many years to come.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

‘The long, long Sundays after Trinity’

‘The long, long Sundays after Trinity/Are with us at last;/The passionless Sundays after Trinity,/Neither feast-day nor fast’ … Trinity College Cambridge and Trinity Lane in the mid-summer rain last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 26 June 2011

The First Sunday after Trinity


12 noon: Morning Prayer, Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan, Co Dublin.

Genesis 22: 1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6: 12-23; Matthew 10: 40-42.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In the Church Calendar, this time of the year, from Trinity Sunday until the beginning of Advent, is sometimes called ‘Ordinary Time’ and the Sundays are counted from today as ‘The First Sunday after Trinity’ and so on.

It is as though we are saying we have been busy for the past few months … with Epiphany, Candlemas, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost … and now let us have some Ordinary Time.

But that’s not what Ordinary Time means. We ought not to be suffering from some Spiritual Exhaustion and so need to sit back and take part in plain, ordinary every-Sunday type of Church.

‘Ordinary Time’ comes from the Latin Tempus per annum, “time through the year.” It is a time without great seasons such as Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. The weeks have ordinary names with numbers, rather than special names. The liturgical colour is plain green, rather than the majestic white or gold of Christmas and Easter, the dramatic red of Pentecost and martyrs, the royal violet of Lent and Advent. Green is an ordinary colour. It means life goes on, life is growing, like the grass beneath our feet. Life moves on, as signalled by the green of traffic lights.

Ordinary Time is the longest time in the Church year. It has few significant events; it has a kind of ordinariness that other seasons lack. There are no narrative high points, no showy colours or costumes, not even a signature hymn or two. We enter, as the poet TS Eliot says in Burnt Norton, “at the still point”:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is…


Burnt Norton, the first of Eliot’s Four Quartets, is a poem of early summer, air and grace. For Eliot, it is in the movement of time that brief moments of eternity are caught. The revelation of God in Christ is at the intersection between eternity and time. Life can be very ordinary – time is ordinary – when life and time keep going on and on, round and round. But life and time, in their ordinary ways, are worth celebrating, time after time, in every ordinary life.

The poem After Trinity by John Meade Falkner (1858-1932) seems to convey something that is very Anglican about this time of the year, this Ordinary Time, when Sunday follows Sunday, through the beauty of creation and following the course of the natural year:

We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.

Christmas comes with plenty,
Lent spreads out its pall,
But these are five and twenty,
The longest Sundays of all;
The placid Sundays after Trinity,
Wheat-harvest, fruit-harvest, Fall.


Ordinary Time lasts these “five and twenty Sundays” or so, for five or six months – until the beginning of Advent. But as Meade Falkner reminds us, some extra-ordinary things happen in this season of “placid Sundays.” We have the long days of summer, the harvest of wheat and fruit, summer holidays and the longest day of the year. For children, it is summer holiday time – time at the beach, time to travel, time to explore, and in all of those times, time to mature and time to grow.

Ordinary Time allows the Church to celebrate the ordinariness of life – including Harvest Thanksgiving services – as summer moves into autumn and as we anticipate autumn moving into winter.

John Keble (1792-1866) captures some of the beauties of this season in our opening hymn, New every morning (Irish Church Hymnal, No 59):

The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask,
room to deny ourselves, a road
to bring us daily nearer God.


Do you find yourself being brought nearer to God day-by-day, in a new way each morning, in the ordinary, trivial things of daily life?

Yet, Meade Falkner is not quite right when he says this is a “passionless” season with “neither feast-day nor fast,” for there are some feast-days in “Ordinary Time.” On Friday last [24 June], the Church Calendar marked the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, and next Wednesday [29 June] is the Feast Day of Saint Peter, and our neighbours in the Roman Catholic Church and in some parts of the Church of England celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi on Thursday [23 June], the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday.

I have memories of Corpus Christi being celebrated with a triumphalism in the 1950s and 1960s, when processions proclaimed that this was Catholic Ireland and those who could not take part in the processions were not truly part of that Ireland.

Thankfully, those days are gone. And, almost unnoticed, Corpus Christi has been transferred in many places to this Sunday, the First Sunday after Trinity. The changes – in time and in practice – have removed the possibility of giving Corpus Christi a new, fresh and vibrant meaning, giving a fresh and new vibrancy to our ‘Amen’ at the Eucharist, when we say ‘Amen’ to Christ present in the sacrament and ‘Amen’ to Christ present in the body of the Church, in each and every one of us.

The Feast-day of Saint Peter, which falls in these weeks too, is a traditional time for ordaining deacons and priests, so that these days are known as Petertide. Four priests are being ordained at the Petertide ordinations in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this afternoon: the Revd Paul Arbuthnot (Glenageary), the Revd Terry Lilburn (Whitechurch), the Revd Ken Rue (Powerscourt), and the Revd Martha Waller (Raheny and Coolock).

They have already spent a year each as deacons. So, as priests, how are they going to be different? What makes their lives and commitments different from now on in a way that they were not as deacons? How is a priest different from a deacon?

These are questions that are more difficult if we refer to all who are ordained as “ministers.” Lay people have a ministry in the church too – it is said the ministry of deacons is the foundation for all ordained ministry; but we could also say our common, shared baptism is the beginning of every ministry in the Church.

At their ordination, deacons are told that serving others “is at the heart of all ministry”, that they must “ensure that those in need are cared for with compassion and humility.” Yet the Very Revd Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (right), who was persecuted as Dean of Johannesburg under the apartheid regime, once wisely observed: “Although one can assure people of the love of God, it is sometimes more important to show them the love of man.”

And so these four new priests remain deacons after this afternoon, as all priests do, as bishops and archbishops do. But the ministry of a priest is very specific, and is often identified in Anglican ordinals in four specific tasks: steward, watchman, messenger and shepherd. How does this translate into the way a priest exercises priestly ministry?

To return to the wisdom of Dean Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, he once repeated the old adage that the definition of a priest is the person who represents God to humanity and humanity to God.

Of course, a priest presents God to the people through Christ in the Eucharist and in the Word of God, and presents the people through Christ to God in the Eucharist and in the Word of God. But the dean also advised priests to “present God to people by listening to them and accepting them as God listens and accepts” them, as God listens and accepts us (see our Gospel reading, Matthew 10: 40-42).

Saint John’s, Lichfield ... walking into the light and love and life of God (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

They were wise words from the priest who had a most profound influence on the course of my life. Forty years ago this summer, at the age of 19, unplanned and unexpectedly, I walked into a small church, the chapel at Saint John’s Hospital in Lichfield, and – for the first time in my life – I felt filled with the love and light of God.

I did not know how to respond to this ... but I soon found myself sitting in the choir stalls at Choral Evensong in Lichfield Cathedral, where one of the residentiary canons asked me whether I had decided to start going to church because I was thinking of ordination – 40 years ago, when I was just a 19-year-old.

It was the summer of 1971, and I was struck by news reports of the treason trial of Gonville ffrench-Beytagh. His hospitality in his cathedral for persecuted black protesters, who were being sacrificed cruelly on the altar of apartheid, left a lasting image of what should be Christian discipleship, sacrifice, self-giving, ministry and priesthood (see our Old Testament reading, Genesis 22: 1-14).

That feeling of the light and love of Christ remains with me. It is an ever-present, self-defining, constant. It is a feeling that I imagine the Apostle Paul had as he was writing this morning’s epistle reading (Romans 6: 12-23). Thirty years later, at the age of 49, I was ordained priest in Christ Church Cathedral at the Petertide ordinations on 24 June 2001, having been ordained deacon a year earlier.

I am no late vocation ... I was simply slow and late in responding to that call. I am grateful to those who have inspired me, prayed for me, and supported me along the way. And there was a particular pleasure in celebrating that anniversary in Holmpatrick Church at the Eucharist earlier this morning.

Pray for the four deacons being ordained priests this afternoon. Pray for those who continue in priestly ministry to present God through Christ to us, and us through Christ to God. And pray that we may all have the grace and the power to assure people of the love of God and to show them the love of humanity.

And so, may all we think, say and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at Morning Prayer in Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, on Sunday 26 June 2011.

Collect:

God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you:
Mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you, both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

After Trinity, John Meade Falkner (1858-1932):

We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.

Christmas comes with plenty,
Lent spreads out its pall,
But these are five and twenty,
The longest Sundays of all;
The placid Sundays after Trinity,
Wheat-harvest, fruit-harvest, Fall.

Spring with its burst is over,
Summer has had its day,
The scented grasses and clover
Are cut, and dried into hay;
The singing-birds are silent,
And the swallows flown away.

Post pugnam pausa fiet;
Lord, we have made our choice;
In the stillness of autumn quiet,
We have heard the still, small voice.
We have sung Oh where shall Wisdom?
Thick paper, folio, Boyce.

Let it not all be sadness,
Not omnia vanitas,
Stir up a little gladness
To lighten the Tibi cras;
Send us that little summer,
That comes with Martinmas.

When still the cloudlet dapples
The windless cobalt blue,
And the scent of gathered apples
Fills all the store-rooms through,
The gossamer silvers the bramble,
The lawns are gemmed with dew.

An end of tombstone Latinity,
Stir up sober mirth,
Twenty-fifth after Trinity,
Kneel with the listening earth,
Behind the Advent trumpets
They are singing Emmanuel’s birth.

Listening to others and accepting them as God listens and accepts us

The trivial round, the common task,/will furnish all we ought to ask,/room to deny ourselves, a road/to bring us daily nearer God (John Keble) ... sunlight on the harbour at Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 26 June 2011

The First Sunday after Trinity


10.30: The Eucharist, Holmpatrick Parish Church, Skerries, Co Dublin.

Genesis 22: 1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6: 12-23; Matthew 10: 40-42.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In the Church Calendar, this time of the year, from Trinity Sunday until the beginning of Advent, is sometimes called ‘Ordinary Time’ and the Sundays are counted from today as ‘The First Sunday after Trinity’ and so on.

It is as though we are saying we have been busy for the past few months … with Epiphany, Candlemas, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost … and now let us have some Ordinary Time.

But that’s not what Ordinary Time means. We ought not to be suffering from some Spiritual Exhaustion and so need to sit back and take part in plain, ordinary every-Sunday type of Church.

‘Ordinary Time’ comes from the Latin Tempus per annum, “time through the year.” It is a time without great seasons such as Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. The weeks have ordinary names with numbers, rather than special names. The liturgical colour is plain green, rather than the majestic white or gold of Christmas and Easter, the dramatic red of Pentecost and martyrs, the royal violet of Lent and Advent. Green is an ordinary colour. It means life goes on, life is growing, like the grass beneath our feet. Life moves on, as signalled by the green of traffic lights.

Ordinary Time is the longest time in the Church year. It has few significant events; it has a kind of ordinariness that other seasons lack. There are no narrative highpoints, no showy colours or costumes, not even a signature hymn or two. We enter, as the poet TS Eliot says in Burnt Norton, “at the still point”:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is…


Burnt Norton, the first of Eliot’s Four Quartets, is a poem of early summer, air and grace. For Eliot, it is in the movement of time that brief moments of eternity are caught; “there the dance is,” the revelation of God in Christ is at the intersection between eternity and time. Life can be very ordinary – time is ordinary – when life and time keep going on and on, round and round. But life and time, in their ordinary ways, are worth celebrating, time after time, in every ordinary life.

The poem After Trinity by John Meade Falkner (1858-1932) seems to convey something that is very Anglican about this time of the year, this Ordinary Time, when Sunday follows Sunday, through the beauty of creation and following the course of the natural year:

We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.

Christmas comes with plenty,
Lent spreads out its pall,
But these are five and twenty,
The longest Sundays of all;
The placid Sundays after Trinity,
Wheat-harvest, fruit-harvest, Fall.


Ordinary Time lasts these “five and twenty Sundays” or so, for five or six months – until the beginning of Advent. But as Meade Falkner reminds us, some extra-ordinary things happen in this season of “placid Sundays.” We have the long days of summer, the harvest of wheat and fruit, summer holidays and the longest day of the year. For children, it is summer holiday time – time at the beach, time to travel, time to explore, and in all of those times, time to mature and time to grow.

Ordinary Time allows the Church to celebrate the ordinariness of life – including Harvest Thanksgiving services – as summer moves into autumn and as we anticipate autumn moving into winter.

John Keble (1792-1866) captures some of the beauties of this season in our opening hymn, New every morning (Irish Church Hymnal, No 59):

The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask,
room to deny ourselves, a road
to bring us daily nearer God.


Do you find yourself being brought nearer to God day-by-day, in a new way each morning, in the ordinary, trivial things of daily life?

Yet, Meade Falkner is not quite right when he says this is a “passionless” season with “neither feast-day nor fast,” for there are some feast-days in “Ordinary Time.” On Friday last [24 June], the Church Calendar marked the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, and next Wednesday [29 June] is the Feast Day of Saint Peter, and our neighbours in the Roman Catholic Church and in some parts of the Church of England celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi on Thursday [23 June], the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday.

I have memories of Corpus Christi being celebrated with a triumphalism in the 1950s and 1960s, when processions proclaimed that this was Catholic Ireland and those who could not take part in the processions were not truly part of that Ireland.

Thankfully, those days are gone. And, almost unnoticed, Corpus Christi has been transferred in many places to this Sunday, the First Sunday after Trinity. The changes – in time and in practice – have removed the possibility of giving Corpus Christi a new, fresh and vibrant meaning, giving a fresh and new vibrancy to our ‘Amen’ at the Eucharist, when we say ‘Amen’ to Christ present in the sacrament and ‘Amen’ to Christ present in the body of the Church, in each and every one of us.

The Feast-day of Saint Peter, which falls in these weeks too, is a traditional time for ordaining deacons and priests, so that these days are known as Petertide. Four priests are being ordained at the Petertide ordinations in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this afternoon: the Revd Paul Arbuthnot (Glenageary), the Revd Terry Lilburn (Whitechurch), the Revd Ken Rue (Powerscourt), and the Revd Martha Waller (Raheny and Coolock).

They have already spent a year each as deacons. So, as priests, how are they going to be different? What makes their lives and commitments different from now on in a way that they were not as deacons? How is a priest different from a deacon?

These are questions that are more difficult if we refer to all who are ordained as “ministers.” Lay people have a ministry in the church too – it is said the ministry of deacons is the foundation for all ordained ministry; but we could also say our common, shared baptism is the beginning of every ministry in the Church.

At their ordination, deacons are told that serving others “is at the heart of all ministry”, that they must “ensure that those in need are cared for with compassion and humility.” Yet the Very Revd Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (right), who was persecuted as Dean of Johannesburg under the apartheid regime, once wisely observed: “Although one can assure people of the love of God, it is sometimes more important to show them the love of man.”

And so these four new priests remain deacons after this afternoon, as all priests do, as bishops and archbishops do. But the ministry of a priest is very specific, and is often identified in Anglican ordinals in four specific tasks: steward, watchman, messenger and shepherd. How does this translate into the way a priest exercises priestly ministry?

To return to the wisdom of Dean Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, he once repeated the old adage that the definition of a priest is the person who represents God to humanity and humanity to God.

Of course, a priest presents God to the people through Christ in the Eucharist and in the Word of God, and presents the people through Christ to God in the Eucharist and in the Word of God. But the dean also advised priests to “present God to people by listening to them and accepting them as God listens and accepts” them, as God listens and accepts us (see our Gospel reading, Matthew 10: 40-42).

Saint John’s, Lichfield ... walking into the light and love and life of God (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

They were wise words from the priest who had a most profound influence on the course of my life. Forty years ago this summer, at the age of 19, unplanned and unexpectedly, I walked into a small church, the chapel at Saint John’s Hospital in Lichfield, and – for the first time in my life – I felt filled with the love and light of God.

I did not know how to respond to this ... but I soon found myself sitting in the choir stalls at Choral Evensong in Lichfield Cathedral, where one of the residentiary canons asked me whether I had decided to start going to church because I was thinking of ordination – 40 years ago, when I was just a 19-year-old.

It was the summer of 1971, and I was struck by news reports of the treason trial of Gonville ffrench-Beytagh. His hospitality in his cathedral for persecuted black protesters, who were being sacrificed cruelly on the altar of apartheid, left a lasting image of what should be Christian discipleship, sacrifice, self-giving, ministry and priesthood (see our Old Testament reading, Genesis 22: 1-14).

That feeling of the light and love of Christ remains with me. It is an ever-present, self-defining, constant. It is a feeling that I imagine the Apostle Paul had as he was writing this morning’s epistle reading (Romans 6: 12-23). Thirty years later, at the age of 49, I was ordained priest in Christ Church Cathedral at the Petertide ordinations on 24 June 2001, having been ordained deacon a year earlier

I am no late vocation ... I was simply slow and late in responding to that call. I am grateful to those who have inspired me, prayed for me, and supported me along the way. And there is a particular pleasure in celebrating that anniversary here in Holmpatrick Church at this Eucharist this morning.

Pray for the four deacons being ordained priests this afternoon. Pray for those who continue in priestly ministry to present God through Christ to us, and us through Christ to God. And pray that we may all have the grace and the power to assure people of the love of God and to show them the love of humanity.

And so, may all we think, say and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion) in Holmpatrick Parish Church, Skerries, Co Dublin, on Sunday 26 June 2011.

Collect:

God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you:
Mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you, both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal Father,
we thank you for nourishing us
with these heavenly gifts.
May our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope,
and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

After Trinity, John Meade Falkner (1858-1932):

We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.

Christmas comes with plenty,
Lent spreads out its pall,
But these are five and twenty,
The longest Sundays of all;
The placid Sundays after Trinity,
Wheat-harvest, fruit-harvest, Fall.

Spring with its burst is over,
Summer has had its day,
The scented grasses and clover
Are cut, and dried into hay;
The singing-birds are silent,
And the swallows flown away.

Post pugnam pausa fiet;
Lord, we have made our choice;
In the stillness of autumn quiet,
We have heard the still, small voice.
We have sung Oh where shall Wisdom?
Thick paper, folio, Boyce.

Let it not all be sadness,
Not omnia vanitas,
Stir up a little gladness
To lighten the Tibi cras;
Send us that little summer,
That comes with Martinmas.

When still the cloudlet dapples
The windless cobalt blue,
And the scent of gathered apples
Fills all the store-rooms through,
The gossamer silvers the bramble,
The lawns are gemmed with dew.

An end of tombstone Latinity,
Stir up sober mirth,
Twenty-fifth after Trinity,
Kneel with the listening earth,
Behind the Advent trumpets
They are singing Emmanuel’s birth.