Sunday, 23 July 2017

‘You have led us to the living water.
Refresh and sustain us on our journey’

The Baptism fount in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

Sunday 23 July 2017, Holy Baptism.

Genesis 7: 1, 7-16; John 15: 1-11.

You may have noticed there are two fonts here in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeston.

One is an old, historical font, moved from another church in the past into the porch. The other, the one we are using for this afternoon’s Baptism, is just inside the Church door.

The position of both these fonts is important. They are not there by accident, or for convenience, as though the back of the church is a good place to store them when they are not in use.

As we come into Church, they are reminders in that position that Baptism is our entry into the Church.

Baptism is not a naming ceremony. Louis is already well-known by the name his parents have given him. Nor is it a ceremony of welcome into the family. Louis is well-loved by his grandparents, uncles and aunts, the wider family.

Baptism is our entrance into the Church, we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. That is why the font is at the point where people enter the church, where people are welcomed into the Church.

There are eight sides to this font, reminding us of the family of Noah, all eight of them, who were saved from the waters of the flood in the ark. All eight of them. These eight we heard about in our first reading represent not a select group but the whole of humanity.

Sometimes, the inside of a church looks like an up-turned boat, the inside of an ark. That is why this part of the church is called the nave. In Baptism, we are all in the one boat together, we are all formed into one new extended family, we are all in this together, equals because we are one in Christ.

In the waters of Baptism, we are saved by being incorporated into the Body of Christ. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us.

Think of how the waters of creation are at the beginning of the Creation story; the slaves are brought from slavery to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea; Christ lets the Samaritan woman at the well know that he is the Living Water – as the lettering in the Sanctuary remind us, he is the Fountain of Life.

Water pours from his side at the Crucifixion, at the end of his Passion. And the Disciples know he is Risen when they met him in the morning by the waters of the lake.

And in our Gospel reading, we are reminded that we are grafted on to the one vine. The vine is not just a reminder of Louis’s French connections. The vine knows of no individual grape.

We cannot produce the good wine from one grape. Baptism is our grafting onto the one vine. Baptism is our incorporation into the Body of Christ.

There is one water of Baptism. And when Louis, in time, comes to receive Holy Communion, he will be showing how he is fully part of the one body in the one bread and in the one wine.

And so, as members of the Body of Christ, we share the water of Louis’s Baptism, must keep him in our prayers constantly after this day.

In the words of the Post-Communion Prayer today, we pray:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water.
Refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This reflection was shared at a Baptism in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on Sunday 23 July 2017.

‘With thee is the fountain of life’ … a panel in the sanctuary in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Moving from crisis to Kairos
in the fields of God’s harvest

Fields of green and gold in rural Hertfordshire near the High Leigh Conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 23 July 2017,

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity,

9.30 a.m., Castletown Church, Co Limerick, Morning Prayer.

11.30 a.m., Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, The Parish Eucharist.

Readings: Genesis 28: 10-19a; Psalm 139: 1-11, 23-24; Romans 8: 12-25; Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43.

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

I have been away for a few days, at the annual conference of the mission agency USPG, the United Society Partners in the Gospel, which is one of the oldest Anglican mission agencies.

I am a trustee of USPG for some years now, and I am almost a life-time supporter of USPG although I have also worked for other mission agencies.

We were meeting in the English countryside, about half an hour west of Stansted Airport and about an hour south of Cambridge.

This is a beautiful part of England, on the edges of East Anglia, on the borders of Hertfordshire and Essex. The fields are green and gold under the blue skies and the spreading chestnut trees. The Lea Valley is busy with barges and boats on the rivers and canals. There are country pubs with decking that allows you to sit in the sun on the river banks. And the blackberries are early in coming to full fruit in the hedgerows along the country lanes.

This is a part of England where east meets west, for during one walk along a country lane and crossing one of those rivers I realised I was crossing the meridian line, the Greenwich Mean Line.

But east meets west in another way in the conversations at the USPG conference in High Leigh last week.

The conference theme was ‘Serving Church, Strengthening Communities.’ We were looking at how USPG is involved with Anglicans around the world, engaged in enlivening faith, unlocking potentials and promoting justice, empowering churches and communities to be the agents of change in the communities they serve.

The speakers were from these islands, but from places across the world, from the West Indies to South Africa and India, from Brazil to Burma, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

We looked at mission through five themes: protecting health, growing the Church, enabling livelihoods, promoting justice and responding to crises. We were challenged to relate the mission of the church to social justice, gender-based violence, climate change and the refugee crisis in Europe.

As a trustee of USPG, I chaired the question-and-answer session on Wednesday morning with Bishop David Hamid, the Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Europe, who spoke movingly of the refugee crisis that is a major part of the mission of churches in his diocese:

● in Tangier, Casablanca and Gibraltar, where Africa meets Europe;

● in Malta and Lampadusa, where refugees arrive in their thousands every day in perilous conditions;

● in Finland, where refugees from South Sudan are being settled in a climate and environment that is so alien to them.

But, of course, I was particularly moved that I was asked to chair this session when he also spoke of the refugee crisis in Greece.

Bishop David told us that many NGO agencies are moving out of Greece to the next humanitarian crisis, and declaring that there is no crisis in Greece. But he said the crisis continues and the Churches are there, remaining on the ground for the long-term.

He told us that 60,000 refugees and migrants are still stuck in Greece, and as they move on they are replaced by more.

He said the Churches in Greece had moved from a crisis to a Kairos moment, finding they are present at the right and appropriate moment.

The response to the crisis in Greece began when Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of Saint Paul’s Church, the Anglican Church in Athens tried to respond to the plight of 17,000 refugees in November 2014. By June 2015, this number had almost doubled to 31,000, and there was a shortage of food and water on the islands.

The Churches came together following an alert about 500 people who were stranded in August 2015 on the small island of Farmakonisi, which is barren and has no natural supply of fresh water.

He reminded us of the tragic story of three-year-old Alan Kurdi from Syria, drowned on a beach in Turkey in September 2015 while his family was fleeing from an ISIS attack on their home and were trying to reach the Greek island of Kos, just 30 minutes away. That tragedy and the image of his body lying on a beach near Bodrum mobilised a wider public response.

By that month, September 2015, 5,000 refugees were arriving every day in Greece. USPG responded immediately and launched an appeal on behalf of Bishop David’s diocese.

Bishop David described this as the greatest crisis to hit Europe since World War II. But he said it had transformed the ministry in his diocese and brought the churches in Greece together for the first time in their response. A crisis moment has turned to a Kairos moment.

The word κρίσις (krísis) is used 46 times in the New Testament. It refers to a judgment or a decision that requires deciding between right and wrong.

The word καιρός (kairos), used 86 times, refers to an opportune time, a moment or a season such as harvest time. The word is used specifically to refer to ‘the appointed time in the purpose of God,’ the time when God acts.

A Kairos moment is a moment when we move from the crisis when we choose what is right for the Kingdom of God to seizing the opportunity to live out the values of the Kingdom of God.

The mission of USPG, the mission of the Church, is not only about responding to the crisis moments we face, but offering moments that give us glimpses, snatches, of what the Kingdom of God is like.

We work with all sorts of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, from countries all over the world. We don’t discriminate against people, deciding the needs of some are worthy of response than those of others because of religion, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, age or gender.

The need is compelling enough to call for our response in Christ’s name.

When I posted about this from the conference on Wednesday, a reply on Facebook said: ‘It is good that Jesus gave us the solution to all refugee problems. It is interesting he gave it in the form of a command … ‘Pray for your enemies!’

I had to tell this distant cousin: ‘Refugees are not our enemies. Once again you use Prayer to push a frightening political agenda. The command is simpler. Love one another. That’s 50% of the Gospel, and then the other half fits in simply, Love God.’

In the refugee crisis in Europe, there is no room for discrimination.

So, turning to this morning’s Gospel reading, who is being burned … and who is doing the burning?

And who will be weeping and gnashing their teeth?

Contrary to the shoddy readings of this passage that I often hear, Christians are not asked to burn anyone or anything at all. And, if we have enemies, we are called not to burn them but to love them.

The word we have traditionally translated as tares or weeds (verses 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 36, 38, 40) is the Greek word ζιζάνια (zizánia), a type of wild rice grass, probably a type of darnel or noxious weed. It looks like wheat until the plants mature and the ears open, and the seeds are a strong soporific poison.

Christ explains to the Disciples that he is the sower (verse 37), the good seed is not the Word, but the Children of the Kingdom (verse 38), the weeds are the ‘Children of the Evil One’ (verse 38), and the field is the world (verse 38).

The harvest is not gathered by the disciples or the children of the kingdom, but by angels sent by the Son of Man (verses 39, 41).

It is an apocalyptic image, describing poetically and dramatically a future cataclysm, and not an image to describe what should be happening today.

It is imagery that draws on the apocalyptic images in the Book of Daniel, where the three young men who are faithful to God are tried in the fires of the furnace, yet come out alive, stronger and firmer in their faith (see Daniel 3: 1-10).

The slaves or δοῦλοι (douloi), the people who want to separate the darnel from the wheat (verse 27-28), are the disciples: Saint Paul introduces himself in his letters with phrases like Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ (Paul, a doulos or slave, or servant of Jesus Christ), (see Romans 1: 1, Philippians 1: 1, Titus 1: 1), and the same word is used by James (see James 1: 1), Peter (see II Peter 1: 1) and Jude (see Jude 1) to introduce themselves in their letters.

In the Book of Revelation, this word is used to describe the Disciples and the Church (see Revelation 1: 1; 22: 3).

In other words, the Apostolic writers see themselves as slaves in the field, working at Christ’s command in the world.

When it comes to explaining the parable to the Disciples in the second part of our reading (verses 36-43), the references to the slaves in the first part (verses 27-28) are no longer there. It is not that the slaves have disappeared – Christ is speaking directly to those who would want to uproot the tares but who would find themselves uprooting the wheat too.

The weeding of the field is God’s job, not ours. The reapers, not the slaves, will gather in both the weeds and the wheat, the weeds first and then the wheat (verse 30).

On my strolls through the fields of green and gold near High Leigh during breaks from the USPG conference, I could see how farmers are baling the hay and taking in the harvest in many places already. In a few weeks’ time, many farmers will be burning off the stubble on their fields to prepare the soil for autumn sowing and for planting new crops. In this sense, the farmer understands burning as purification and preparation – it is not as harsh as city dwellers think.

It is not for us to decide who is in and who is out in Christ’s field, in the Kingdom of God. That is Christ’s task alone.

Christ gently cautions the Disciples against rash decisions about who is in and who is out.

Gently, he lets them see that the tares are not damaging the growth of the wheat, they just grow alongside it and amidst it.

But so often we decide to assume God’s role. We do it constantly in society, and we do it constantly in the Church, deciding who should be in and who should be out.

The harvest comes at the end of time, not now, and I should not hasten it even if the reapers seem to tarry.

The weeds we identify and want to uproot may turn out to be wheat, what we presume to be wheat because it looks like us may turn out to be weeds.

We assume the role of the reapers every time we decide we would be better off without someone in our society or in the Church because we disagree with them or we see them as different, as outsiders, as a challenge to issues that we mistake for core values.

The core values, as Christ himself explains, again and again, are loving God and loving others.

This morning’s reading is not a set of instructions on how to behave in the Church or in mission today. Christ leaves that to the future. This morning we are called to grow and not to worry about the tares. That growth must always emphasise love first.

When governments and security forces have said they are rooting out violent jihadists from society, the average, gentle, ordinary Muslim has suffered grossly. When some members of the Church have sought to ‘out’ or ‘throw out’ people because of their sexuality they have caused immense personal tragedy for individuals, for families, for friends – weeping and gnashing of teeth indeed.

When I want a Church or a society that looks like me, I eventually end up living on a desert island or as a member of a sect or society of one – and there I might just find out too how unhappy I am with myself!

But if I allow myself to grow in faith and trust and love with others, I may, I just may, to my surprise, find that they too are wheat rather than weeds, and they may discover the same about me.

In the Orthodox Church, before the Divine Liturgy begins, the deacon exclaims to the priest: «Καιρός του ποιήσα τω Κυρίω» (Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio), ‘It is time [Kairos] for the Lord to act’ – in other words, the time of the Liturgy is a Kairos moment, an intersection between our time and Eternity.

As we worship God in Church this morning, we are invited to enter into God’s Kairos moment, to once again be part of God’s response to the crises in the world, to be signs of the Kingdom.

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 23 July 2017.

Fields of green and gold south of Cambridge last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)


Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water.
Refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

With Bishop David Hamid at the USPG conference after Wednesday’s session on the refugee crisis

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Summer returns to the beach
and the cliff walks in Kilkee

Summer sun at Kilkee, Co Clare, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

After the rain and thunder storms earlier this week, summer has returned to this part of Ireland.

Two friends have come to stay in the Rectory in Askeaton for the weekend, and at first it seemed that both the rain and the Foynes Air Show were going to immobilise us and stop any efforts to show off this part pf west Limerick and north Kerry.

But the sun came out early this afternoon [22 July 2017], and after a rehearsal in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, for a Baptism tomorrow, four of us decided to have another look at the former Franciscan Friary in Askeaton.

The cloisters in this friary, known locally as the Franciscan Abbey, never lose their ‘wow factor’ for me, and deserve to be restored. They have the same appeal as the cloisters in Saint John Lateran in Rome or Belem in Lisbon.

In the cloisters in Askeaton, Co Limerick, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The traffic was heavy on the road to Foynes, but we decided to follow the diversions through Shanagolden, and few delays we arrived in Tarbert, Co Kerry, and caught the ferry across the Shannon Estuary to Killimer, Co Clare.

From there, it was a short drive in the afternoon sun through Kilrush and along the Wild Atlantic Way to Kilkee.

The cliff walk in Kilkee begins at the Diamond Rocks Café (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

After lunch in the Diamond Rocks Café at the west end of Kilkee, we set off along the cliff walk, a three-mile loop that begins outside the cafe’s door around the cliffs and with spectacular sea views and scenery.

Later, we caught the tourist fun train outside the café and were brought on a tour through the town and along the horseshoe-shaped beach to the east end of the bay.

At the height of summer, Kilkee is a happy, joyful, family resort. The blue skies and the clue seas, with the sun sparking on the surface of the water brought me back to Greece last week.

It was late in the evening when we caught the ferry back from Killimer to Tarbert, and darkness was beginning to close in as the four of us sat down to dinner in the Rectory in Askeaton.

The summer sun sparkles on the sea stacks at Kilkee (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Saint Mary Magdalene,
‘Apostle of the Apostles’

The Church of Aghia Magdalini or Saint Mary Magdalene, in Nea Magnesia, near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

On the way back down the mountains from the Monastery of Arkadi to the coast of Rethymnon in Crete last week, I stopped briefly to see the small church in Nea Magnesia that is dedicated to Aghia Magdalini or Saint Mary Magdalene.

This is one of only two churches dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene on the island of Crete.

Nea Magnesia is 12 km east of Rethymnon, near Skaleta and off the road to Panormos. Today it is fast becoming part of the resort facilities building up east of Rethymnon. But in the 1920s, this village was first settled by Greek-speaking people who had been expelled from their homes in western Anatolia.

They arrived in Crete with their Greek language, traditions and culture and dedicated their church to Saint Mary Magdalene, whose feast in the Church calendar, east and west, falls today [22 July].

Aghia Magdalini is an impressive Russian-style church on Dagli Street in Chalepa, Chania (Photograph: Despoina Fotaki, 2017)

The other church in Crete dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene is an impressive Russian-style church on Dagli Street in Chania, with an onion dome and surrounded by a beautiful garden in the district of Chalepa. The church was built in 1901-1903 by Prince George, the High Commissioner of Crete.

The church was funded by the Czarist Russia and was opened in 1903 in the presence of Queen Olga, Prince George, Bishop Evgenios of Crete and a small number of invited guests.

I regularly pass Chalepa on my way to the and from the airport. With its imposing mansions and luxury villas, Chalepa is a beautiful part of Chania, east of the city on the coastal road to the airport and Akrotiri.

Chalepa was the venue for some of the most important political events in Crete in the 19th century. Here Prince George had his palace as the High Commissioner or governor of the semi-autonomous Cretan state in the closing days of Ottoman rule, and here too the Great Powers had their consulates.

But Chalepa was also the home of Eleftherios Venizelos, who played a decisive role as Prime Minister of Greece during a critical time in Greek history in the early 20th century.

The family house was built by his father, Kyriakos Venizelos, in 1877. Today, the family home houses the Eleftherios K Venizelos National Research and Study Foundation, which plans to turn the house into a museum.

According to Greek tradition, Saint Mary Magdalene evangelised the island of Zakynthos in 34 AD on her way to Rome with Saint Mary of Cleopas. The village of Maries on the island is said to be named after both Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Mary of Cleopas.

A relic of her left hand is said to be preserved in the monastery of Simonopetra on Mount Athos, where she is revered as a co-founder of the monastery.

During the Middle Ages, Saint Mary Magdalene was regarded in Western Christianity as a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman, but these claims are not supported in any of the four Gospels.

Instead, the Gospels tell us she travelled with Jesus as one of his followers, and that she was a witness to his Crucifixion and his Resurrection, Indeed, she is named at least 12 times in the four Gospels, more times more than most of the apostles. Two Gospels specifically name her as the first person to see Christ after the Resurrection (see Mark 16:9 and John 20).

Μη μου άπτου, ‘Noli me Tangere,’ an icon by Mikhail Damaskinos in the Museum of Christian Art in the former church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Last year [10 June 2016], Pope Francis recognised Saint Mary Magdalene and her role as the first to witness Christ’s resurrection and as a ‘true and authentic evangeliser’ when he raised her commemoration today [22 July] from a memorial to a feast in the church’s liturgical calendar.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship issued a decree formalising the decision, and both the decree and the article were titled Apostolorum Apostola (‘Apostle of the Apostles’).

Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the congregation, said that in celebrating ‘an evangelist who proclaims the central joyous message of Easter,’ Saint Mary Magdalene’s feast day is a call for all Christians to ‘reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the new evangelisation and the greatness of the mystery of divine mercy.’

Archbishop Roche said that in giving Saint Mary Magdalene the honour of being the first person to see the empty tomb and the first to listen to the truth of the resurrection, Christ ‘has a special consideration and mercy for this woman, who manifests her love for him, looking for him in the garden with anguish and suffering.’

The decision means Saint Mary Magdalene has the same level of feast as that given to the celebration of the apostles make her a ‘model for every woman in the church.’

An icon of Saint Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection, Μη μου άπτου (Noli me Tangere) by Mikhail Damaskinos, is one of the important exhibits at the Museum of Christian Art in the former church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion.

This icon dates from ca 1585-1591. Initially it was in the Monastery of Vrondissi and was transferred to old church of Saint Menas in Iraklion in 1800.

But perhaps the most inspirational icon of Saint Mary Magdalene I saw in Crete this month is a new icon by Alexandra Kaouki in her workshop near the Fortezza in Rethymnon.

A modern icon or Aghia Magdalini or Saint Mary Magdalene by Alexandra Kaouki in her workshop in Rethymnon (Photograph © Alexandra Kaouki, 2017)

Readings (The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, and Common Worship, the Church of England): Song of Solomon 3: 1-4; Psalm 42: 1-10; II Corinthians 5: 14-17; John 20: 1-2, 11-18.


Almighty God,
whose Son restored Mary Magdalene
to health of mind and body
and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:
forgive our sins and heal us by your grace,
that we may serve you in the power of his risen life;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of life and love,
whose risen Son called Mary Magdalene by name
and sent her to tell of his resurrection to his apostles:
in your mercy, help us,
who have been united with him in this eucharist,
to proclaim the good news
that he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Church of Aghia Magdalini or Saint Mary Magdalene, in Nea Magnesia, near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Anglican mission agency USPG
appoints a new CEO

The Revd Duncan Dormor, Dean of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, is the new CEO of USPG

Patrick Comerford

The Revd Duncan Dormor, Dean of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, is to be the next CEO of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Duncan Dormor succeeds Janette O’Neill, who is retiring after six years with USPG.

The appointment was agreed at a meeting of the trustees of USPG in High Leigh earlier this week and was announced this morning [21 July 2017].

Commenting on his appointment, Duncan Dormor said: ‘I am absolutely delighted to be offered this opportunity to lead USPG as it works with partner Churches across the Anglican Communion in seeking to transform the lives of individuals and communities through the power of the Gospel.’

He continued: ‘Faithful to its history, radical in its proclamation, I have long admired the way in which USPG acts in solidarity to empower local churches across the globe in ways that respect their autonomy and culture.’

He said: 'Having spent many years in ministry with young people, I know first-hand of USPG’s thirst to engage with the pressing global challenges of injustice and poverty that scar our world and I would seek to harness such vision to deepen and renew the life of the church across the world through USPG.’

Canon Chris Chivers, Chair of the Trustees of USPG, added: ‘I am thrilled with this appointment. Duncan Dormor brings energy and passion, dynamic communication skills and a proven track-record in enabling organisational change to this important post.’

He said: ‘His deep faith in Jesus Christ, his significant international experience in relation to St John’s College and Cambridge University, his global vision, alertness to the perspective of younger generations, concern for justice and reconciliation, and inspiring work as writer and speaker, make him well-placed to lead the team who will shape the next phase for USPG in new and exciting ways.’

The Master of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, Professor Chris Dobson, said: ‘Duncan has been an absolutely outstanding Dean of Chapel at St John’s and has been a valued member of the college for almost 20 years. In that time, he has also made huge contributions to the pastoral, musical and academic life of the College. We shall miss him very much indeed, but I know that he relishes the prospect of using his energy, experience and passion for justice in this exciting new role.’

Duncan Dormor was an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read Human Sciences before studying for an MSc in Medical Demography from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. For three years, he worked for Dr Jack Dominian as the Information Officer of the family research and outreach organisation One Plus One.

In 1992, he returned to Oxford to take a degree in theology while training for ordination at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. He was ordained in Lichfield Cathedral in 1995 and served as a curate at Saint Peter’s Collegiate Church in Central Wolverhampton. He became Chaplain of Saint John’s in 1998 and was appointed Dean in 2002.

As Dean of the Chapel, he has had overall responsibility for the life of the chapel and its community, for the conduct of worship, the work of the choir and for the oversight of pastoral care within the College community.

Duncan is Director of Studies for Theology at Saint John’s College. He lectures in the Divinity Faculty and is the author of many publications.

He has co-edited (with Jeremy Morris) An Acceptable Sacrifice? Homosexuality and the Church, a collection of essays by nine Cambridge theologians with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. With controversy about same-sex relationships within the Anglican Communion rumbling on, this book gives lay people and clergy alike the resources to think through this complex subject in relation to scripture, tradition and reason, and attempts an honest exploration of some of the key difficulties posed for the Church by the question of homosexuality.

Previous publications include Just Cohabiting? The Church, Sex and Getting Married, in which he provides a short history of the church’s complicated and uneasy attitudes to sexuality and marriage and argues for a radical reappraisal of the Church’s position, proposing that in a chaotic climate for relationships, in which couples desire marriage yet fear commitment, the church should embrace cohabitation as part of the process of ‘becoming married.’

Anglicanism: the Answer to Modernity, originally published in 2003 and re-issued in 2005, is a collection of essays addressing the intellectual future of the Church of England in a confident, faithful and open way.

Duncan has also contributed to a number of other edited collections, including Religion, Gender and the Public Sphere (2013) and Religion and Youth (2010) and he contributes regular reviews to The Church Times and Theology.

He is the Chair of Governors at Saint John’s College School. He is also responsible, as secretary to the Livings committee, for the presentation of clergy to 40 parishes in the Church of England with which Saint John’s College has long historic connections.

Duncan Dormor serves on General Synod of the Church of England as Proctor for the University of Cambridge and on the Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England. He is also on the Governing Council of Westcott House, a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee, and a Trustee of the Churches Conservation Trust.

Finding items from
these parishes in
the Hunt Museum

The Askeaton Paten and Chalice were made in 1663 by John Bucknor of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to the Hunt Museum in Limerick last week, a number of exhibits were of interest to me because of their links with the area embraced by the Rathkeale Group of Parishes in west Co Limerick, including Communion vessels from Askeaton, a replica of the Ardagh Chalice, two late 18th century paintings from Askeaton, and a hand-pin from Askeaton.

A Communion Paten and Chalice attributed to John Bucknor of Limerick was made ca 1663, and is on loan to the Museum by the Select Vestry of Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

John Bucknor was one of the early important workers in silver in Limerick. His first-known work dates from 1664, and in 1666 he was appointed Sheriff of Limerick. He died around 1671.

The silver replica of the Ardagh Chalice is not an original exhibit in the Hunt Museum, but tells the story of one of the most important archaeological finds in Ireland, which is part of the story of this part of west Limerick.

The replica of the Ardagh Chalice in the Hunt Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Ardagh Chalice is part of the Ardagh Hoard, a hoard of metalwork from the eighth and ninth centuries found in 1868 and now on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

It includes the Ardagh Chalice, as well as a stemmed cup and four brooches. The chalice ranks with the Book of Kells, the Cross of Cong and the Tara Brooch as one of the finest known works of Insular art or Celtic art, and is thought to have been made in the eighth century AD. The brooches may have been worn by monastic clergy to fasten their vestments.

The hoard was found in 1868 by two boys, Jim Quin and Paddy Flanagan, digging in a potato field on the south-west side of a rath near the village of Ardagh, Co Limerick. The chalice held the other items, they seem to have been buried in a hurry, to be recovered at a later time. Quin’s mother sold the find to George Butler, Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick.

The Ardagh Chalice ... one of the finest known works of Celtic art (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The chalice is a large, two-handled silver cup, decorated with gold, gilt bronze, brass, lead pewter and enamel, which has been assembled from 354 separate pieces. This complex construction is typical of early Christian Irish metalwork.

The main body of the chalice is formed from two hemispheres of sheet silver joined with a rivet hidden by a gilt-bronze band. The names of the apostles are incised in a frieze around the bowl, below a girdle bearing inset gold wirework panels of animals, birds, and geometric interlace. Techniques used include hammering, engraving, lost-wax casting, filigree applique, cloisonné and enamel. Even the underside of the chalice is decorated.

The Ardagh Chalice was restored by Johnston of Grafton Street, Dublin, and is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street, Dublin.

This replica chalice has an oval body with a sub-conical foot and a cylindrical stem, and was made of silver, enamel, gold (gilt) and glass, and the centre of the base is set with a large rock crystal. The underside edge of the rim is stamped with the name Watson Fothergill.

Johnston later reproduced a faithful copy that was subsequently bought in 1891 by Fothergill, an artist and collector from Nottingham. Fothergill kept a diary in which he refers to the copy of the Ardagh Chalice he had in his home. It may have been sold by his family in early 1928.

The hand-pin or dress pin from Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The hand-pin or dress pin from Askeaton has a head resembling the palm of the hand with the fingers bent forward.

The earliest hand-pins are of silver and are of a relatively modest size. Many were made into the sixth century in copper alloy, with elaborately decorated heads and exceptionally long pins. Most developed hand-pins have five fingers, but the hand-pin found in Askeaton has three fingers.

In this example, the head is a semi-circular plate with a circular perforation. It is capped by three projecting fingers and is fixed to a right-angled projection at the top of the shank. The head is decorated with a pattern of reserved metal against a background of red enamel.

This may be the same hand-pin described by JG Hewson in 1884 in the Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland.

The museum also holds two watercolours also of interest to this parish. A watercolour of the castle at Askeaton was painted by the Revd J Turner in 1790, and Turner also painted a watercolour of the Abbey in Askeaton in 1798.

Other items of church interest that caught my imagination, including the Lough Gur Chalice and Paten, on loan from Kilmallock Select Vestry; an icon-like, late mediaeval painting of Saint Sebastian, Saint Nicholas of Myra and Saint Anthony of Egypt; a silver reliquary bust of Saint Patrick; the Antrim Cross; the Cashel Bell; a 17th century triptych; and a crucifix that is said to have been owned at once by the architect AWN Pugin.

I may return to these in blog postings over the next few days or weeks.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Could ‘Hobson’s Choice’ ever be
between Limerick and Cambridge?

Hobson Street behind Sidney Sussex College takes its name from Thomas Hobson, who gave Cambridge Hobson’s Conduit and gave the English language ‘Hobson’s Choice’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week I spent a few hours in Cambridge, visiting Sidney Sussex College, browsing in the bookshops, and enjoying a few of my favourite quiet corners, away from the tourists who throng the city on summer days.

I was on my way to the USPG conference in High Leigh and I had a quiet and undisturbed breakfast that morning in a coffee shop in Pety Curry, facing Christ’s College and the junction where Hobson Street meets the corner of Sidney Street and Saint Andrew’s Street.

Hobson Street runs from this corner behind Sidney Sussex College up to King Street, is Hobson Street. Hobson’s Passage is used to store bins and as a narrow shortcut between Hobson Street and Sidney Street, where it emerges between Waterstone’s bookshop and a former cinema.

Hobson Street and Hobson Lane take their name from Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), who built a conduit to supply water to much of Cambridge in the early 17th century but who is best remembered outside Cambridge for the phrase ‘Hobson’s Choice.’

Thomas Hobson, who lived at Chesterton Hall, had extensive estates in Grantchester and was one of the great benefactors of Cambridge.

A blue plaque on Hobson House at 44 Saint Andrew’s Street recalls Thomas Hobson and ‘Hobson’s Workhouse’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A blue plaque on what is now Hobson House at 44 Saint Andrew’s Street mentions his workhouse, the Spinning House, also known as ‘Hobson’s Workhouse,’ where the poor were housed and given simple work such as spinning.

In 1610-1614, Thomas Hobson built Hobson’s Conduit as a watercourse to bring fresh water into Cambridge from springs at Nine Wells, near the village of Great Shelford, at the foot of the Gog Magog Hills.

Cambridge was plagued by the plague in the 16th century, when many of the university staff and students were dying as well as the townspeople. The plague made no distinction between town and gown, and they slowly realised that it was killing people not because of God’s condemnation or judgment, but because of poor sanitary conditions. The ditch around the town was clogged with sewage and rubbish and was a major cause of disease.

In 1574, Andrew Perne, the Master of Peterhouse, proposed diverting a stream from Nine Wells through Cambridge, and proposed digging the King’s Ditch to improve sanitation. The design was revived by the Master of Sidney Sussex College, James Montagu, and was built at the expense of the university and the town.

What remains of the conduit flows beside Trumpington Street and past Brookside, where it is at its widest. An octagonal monument to Hobson at the corner of Lensfield Road once formed part of the Market Square fountain but was moved in 1856 after a fire in the market. The flow of water runs under Lensfield Road, and then along both sides of Trumpington Street in broad gutters towards Peterhouse and Saint Catharine’s College, and also along Saint Andrew’s Street. The conduit currently ends at Silver Street.

The waterway came to have Hobson’s name because he was involved in building it and because he endowed the Hobson’s Conduit Trust for its maintenance.

The original Trumpington Street branch of Hobson’s river still functions as sluices along Trumpington Street, where it is known on the east side as the Pem (after Pembroke College) and on the west side as the Pot (after Peterhouse).

At this time of the year, the city council controls the flow of water through the sluices, letting water flow in the open conduits in Trumpington Street between April and September, with feeds running into Peterhouse and Pembroke College.

The Market Place branch was completed in 1614, and brought fresh water to the Market Fountain in the centre of the Market Place. However, the flow of water to this branch was cut off in 1960.

Hobson House on Saint Andrew’s Street, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)
The Saint Andrew’s Street Branch, which was added in 1631, flowed from the conduit head along Lensfield Road and Saint Andrew’s Street towards Drummer Street. There it split into feeds running into Christ’s College and Emmanuel College, as well as a public dipping point. Much of the open conduit along Saint Andrew’s Street was covered in 1996, but it can still be seen in the conduit opposite Christ’s College, where people waiting for a taxi sometimes think they are stepping over a broken drain.

Hobson was also a carrier, delivering mail from Cambridge to London. He had large stables with 40 horses at the George Hotel on Trumpington Street, which is now part of Saint Catharine’s College. From there, he rented horses to university students and staff – perhaps horses then were the equivalent of bicycles in Cambridge today.

Hobson’s practice in renting his horses has given the English language the popular, but often misused, phrase ‘Hobson’s Choice.’

Hobson’s choice is not “Morton’s Fork,” a choice between two equivalent options that may lead to undesirable results, nor is it a dilemma, which is a choice between two undesirable options; it is not a false dilemma, where only two choices are presented although there are others; nor is it a Catch-22, which is a logical paradox.

When Hobson realised his best horses were being over-worked, he began a pattern of rotation, requiring customers to choose the horse in the stall closest to the door. This prevented the best horses always being chosen and being overused.

When his customers objected, his retort was: ‘Take that or none,’ or ‘Take it or leave it.’ It was a choice that came to be known as Hobson’s choice.

Hobson was a resident of Saint Bene’t’s Parish, which I treasure as effectively my parish church when I am in Cambridge. In 1626, he presented a large Bible to Saint Bene’t’s Church, and when he died in 1631, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the chancel of Saint Bene’t’s Church. Milton wrote two humorous epitaphs on Hobson, one which refers to the cart and wain of the deceased.

David’s Bookshop in Saint Edward’s Passage ... an attractive and quiet corner of Cambridge, away from the busy throng of summer tourists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In a humorous and interesting but intentional misinterpretation of the nature of Hobson’s Choice, the Limerick historian Seán Spellissy says the phrase ‘Hobson’s Choice’ found a second home in Victorian Limerick.

Timothy O’Brien, a large landowner in Co Limerick and Co Clare, had a townhouse in the Crescent, Limerick, and two beautiful daughters, Mary Jane and Emma Margaret. Both were courted by a young man, William Doyle Hobson (1823-1871), from Meylar’s Park near New Ross, Co Wexford.

William Doyle Hobson was a grandson of Lieutenant-General William Doyle, Deputy Adjutant-General in Canada, who died in Waterford the year he was born. For some time, William was unable to decide which of the Doyle sisters he would marry. Eventually, in 1850, he married the second daughter, Emma, who was then 18; her elder sister Mary Jane never married.

Emma and William were the parents of at least five children, and many of their descendants would continue both the Doyle and O’Brien family names. William worked with the Customs at the port of New Ross, but moved to Whitby with promotion. When he died in Truro in 1871, a widowed Emma returned to live in Limerick with her young family.

Emma died at Roseneath, Corbally, in January 1907 at the age of 74. She was buried at Saint Munchin’s Church, Limerick, where the funeral was conducted by Dean O’Brien and the Precentor of Limerick, Canon Eyre Archdall.

Within two months, her sister Mary Jane died on 25 March 1907 at Lanahrone House, Corbally, the Limerick home of her nephew, Frederick St Clare Hobson, Emma’s son and by now sub-sheriff and a magistrate for Co Limerick.

After Emma had married William Doyle Hobson, Mary Jane had lived in George’s Street and Barrington Street, Limerick, and then with her sister Emma at Roseneath. In her old age, Mary Jane had been taken care of by the children of the sister William Doyle Hobson had decided to marry.

Hobson’s Choice is rarely a matter of love or marriage, or of horses and carriage – or, for that matter, between Cambridge and Limerick. If you are left waiting in departure lounges at Stansted Airport when your flight is delayed for over an hour on a Wednesday might, I find I am left with Hobson’s Choice when it comes to coffee – a choice not between good coffee and bad coffee, but between whatever coffee is on offer (good or bad), or no coffee at all.

Saint Munchin’s Church, Limerick … Emma Hobson was buried here when she died in January 1907 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A summer afternoon by
the river in rural England

The Fish and Eels by Dobbs Weir, close to the Greenwich Meridian Line (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

There was a Q&A section in The Guardian many years ago in which a reader posed a dilemma along these lines: is it better to live in an ugly house with a beautiful view, or in a beautiful house with an ugly view?

After the USPG conference ended in High Leigh yesterday, I had time on my hands before catching a late evening flight to Dublin, on my way back to Limerick and Askeaton.

Instead of catching the first available train to Stansted, I decided to go for a walk in the Lea Valley by the New River, which supplies water from Hertfordshire to North London.

I have described this before as a ‘Wind-in-the-Willows’ land, with houses whose gardens slope down to the river bank, where the branches of willows brush their tips against the surface of the river water.

It was a short walk of no more than 3 km or so, along the river bank, by Admiral’s Walk Lake across the railway line and crossing the Greenwich Meridian Line from West to East to Dobb’s Weir, where the Fish and Eels is a pretty pub on the river bank by the weir and on the borders of Hertfordshire and Essex.

To answer that question in The Guardian many years ago, the Fish and Eels is both pretty to look at from the weir and a pretty place to sit on a summer afternoon watching life on the river.

Like the Hedgehog in Lichfield, the Fish and Eels is a country pub in the Vintage Inns chain, with rural charm and rustic character. Its picturesque surroundings provided me with the perfect setting for a much-need afternoon break enjoying a glass of wine on the deck looking out onto the river.

The Fish And Eels dates back to the 17th century, when it was one of the inns known to Izaak Walton, the author of the Compleat Angler and the biographer of John Donne, Richard Hooker and George Herbert. Later it was owned by the Christie family brewery, and from here they sold Christie’s ales, brewed in Hoddesdon on the site of the Bell Inn on Burford Street.

This became a popular Victorian riverside inn and had had many landlords down the years. The most notorious or celebrated – depending on your point of view – was probably the Revd Samuel Thackeray who, was defrocked when he took to inn-keeping in the 1900s.

Thackeray shocked his clerical colleagues when he decided to become the landlord of the Fish and Eels, at Hoddesdon. Thackeray was educated at Cambridge and in 1872 he became the headmaster of Dartford Grammar School and curate of Bexley Heath. Subsequently he was the assistant chaplain at Tilbury Fort and held curacies at Saint Luke’s, Victoria Docks, All Saints’, Newington, and Christ Church, Greenwich.

Until 1906, he was the chaplain of the Gordon Road Workhouse, in Camberwell, and while he was there he applied for the licence at Fish and Eels Hotel.

It was said he seldom visited the workhouse, except on Sundays, despite being paid £110 a year, and left a manager in charge of his pub on Sundays. He later conducted services in his inn on Sundays, and sometimes on weekdays. He claimed he wanted to promote temperance, as opposed to total abstinence, and quipped that he had brought together the publican and the sinner.

‘I shall be the publican behind the bar, the sinners will be in front of me, and Christ, I hope, will be in the midst of us,’ he said on his arrival in 1907.

But the Bishop of Southwark and the Camberwell Guardians objected strongly and asked him to resign his chaplaincy. Thackeray declined, and guardians went to court for an order to remove him from office.

A Christian Socialist, he was a member of the Independent Labour Party and published a book, The Land and the Community, in which he argued for the nationalisation of land. Thackery was also an accomplished musician, and soon after becoming a publican he obtained a licence for music and dancing in his pub.

Owing to ill-health, he eventually gave up his tenancy of the Fish and Eels and later became a curate in East Peckham.

Blackberries coming to full fruit on the side of a country lane on the Meridian Line near Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Meanwhile, the blackberries are ripening along the sides of the country lanes and the narrow roads in this corner of Hertfordshire and Essex.

Perhaps it is because of the late winter followed by the strong sunshine of recent weeks.

I grew up thinking of late August and early September as the time to go picking blackberries. The blackberry season in Britain and Ireland begins in June, but it reaches its peak in August and continues until the first frosts in November.

At the end of the season, we are always warned as children by a more superstitious older generation not to go picking blackberries after Michaelmas (29 September). But at the other end of the season, I think it would have been unusual to find full, juicy blackberries in the mid-July.

People in East England argue whether these parts of Hertfordshire and Essex are really part of East Anglia. The purists say Norfolk and Suffolk alone – the North Folk and the South Folk – constitute East Anglia; others are willing to extend the boundaries into Cambridgeshire and parts of Essex of Hertfordshire, albeit with an air of condescension.

But wherever that boundary falls, the countryside around the High Leigh Conference Centre, on the fringes of Hoddesdon and on the borders of Hertfordshire and Essex, provided some welcome opportunities for short country walks this during breaks from the USPG conference.

The fields are green and golden under the broad blue skies, and as I strolled through this rural idyll it was difficult to concede that I was just a short distance from the commuter belt for many people who work in Greater London.

There are woodlands and parks nearby, and as I walked through these fields of green and gold this week, I thought of the wheat and the tares that we are reading about in our Gospel reading next Sunday. And I wondered too how farming in England is going to survive after the calamity of ‘Brexit.’

Boats on the river between Hoddesdon and Broxbourne, where East is East and West is West, and Essex and Hertfordshire are divided (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Churches remain on the ground
in Greece for the long-term

A plaque in a quiet corner at the High Leigh Conference Centre, the venue for this year’s USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

While NGOs are moving out of Greece to the next humanitarian crisis, declaring that there is no crisis in Greece, the Churches are there, remaining on the ground for the long-term.

Bishop David Hamid of the Diocese of Europe was speaking this morning of how the Church is responding to current crises. In his focus on the work of the Anglican Church in Greece, he told the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning that 60,000 refugees and migrants are still stuck in Greece, and as they move on they are replaced by more.

He said the Churches in Greece had moved from a crisis to a Kairos moment, finding they are present at the right and appropriate moment.

The response to the crisis in Greece began when Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of Saint Paul’s Church in Athens tried to respond to the plight of 17,000 refugees in November 2014. By June 2015, this number had almost doubled to 31,000, and there was a shortage of food and water on the islands.

The Churches came together following an alert about 500 people who were stranded in August 2015 on the small island of Farmakonisi, which is barren and has no water.

The story of three-year-old Alan Kurdi from Syria who drowned on a beach in Turkey in September 2015 mobilised a wider public response. USPG responded immediately and launched an appeal.

But by September 2015, there were 5,000 arrivals a day in Greece. Bishop David described this as the greatest crisis to hit Europe since World War II, but he said it had brought the churches together in their response.

I was chairing the question and answer session this morning. The questions he put to the conference asked:

‘How important is the Anglican partnership that USPG brings? What added dimension does this bring to our work of emergency relief and development?’

‘How do you balance and weigh up the often competing priorities: immediate aid to relieve suffering; long-term assistance and accompaniment; advocacy for justice and change? What are the criteria for judgment?’

With Bishop David Hamid at the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning

In our Bible study this morning, Bishop Margaret Vertue of the Diocese of False Bay, South Africa, looked at today’s Gospel reading in the Lectionary (Matthew 11: 25-27) and reflected on the role of the Church in the area of gender-based violence.

God is always with me, but, she asked, am I always with God?

She spoke of the plight of women forced into prostitution and people trafficking, and the victims, male and female, of gender-based, domestic and sexual violence.

She described the Gospels as ‘God’s photo-album of Jesus’ ministry,’ and challenged us to think of where we might be in that album. ‘You may be the answer to the prayer you are praying.’

Once again she challenged us in those words of wisdom from the Carthusian monks of Grand Chartreuse, and asked: ‘I became human for you, will you become God with me?’

In our final session, members of USPG’s fundraising and communications and mission engagement teams spoke of their work as staff members, the Advent focus on Madagascar and of future conferences.

This year’s conference came to a close in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, this afternoon [19 July 2017] with our Closing Eucharist, at which the celebrant was Bishop Saw John Wilme of Toungoo in Myanmar.

The preacher was Janette O’Neill, who told the conference this week that she is about to retire as USPG’s general secretary. The deacon was the Revd Dr Evie Vernon, USPG’s Programme Adviser on Theological Education, and our closing prayers were led by Canon Chris Chivers, Principal of Westcott House in Cambridge and chair of USPG trustees.

The bell tower above the old house at High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A modern willow sculpture at
an old Tudor pub in Hoddesdon

‘The Willow Arch’ by Hazel Godfrey at the Star, a late mediaeval pub in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Hoddesdon has an unusual combination of late mediaeval and stark 20th century architecture. A short walk along Lord Street leads from the High Leigh Conference Centre into the centre of Hoddesdon.

On the way into Hoddesdon, Lord Street is lined with engaging examples of Victorian and early 20th century housing. But Tower Heights in the centre of the town is one of the ugly examples of late 20th century tower blocks.

Yet, Hoddesdon has a number of interesting and historical listed buildings, including Rawdon House and Rathmore House, and late mediaeval public houses such as the White Swan, King William IV and the Star.

Close to High Leigh, the King William IV at No 197 Lord Street is a 17th century timber-framed building, with modern brick and roughcast walls, and an old tile roof.

The White Swan in Hoddesdon … ‘visually the most striking timber-framed inn’ in this part of Hertfordshire and Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The White Swan was once described by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘visually the most striking timber-framed inn’ in this part of Hertfordshire and Essex, and it has been an old favourite of mine since I first took part in a conference in High Leigh in 2006.

But I also wrote about the Star just two years ago [20 July 2015], following the discovery of a series of 16th century wall paintings of ‘national importance,’ which were uncovered in September 2014.

The Tudor-era paintings, located on plasterwork the north wall of the bar, depict half-figures and biblical verses. The architects believed there might be more images on other walls and began further investigations as well as examining further details found on one of the beams supporting the ceiling.

The paintings depict fascinating examples of Elizabethan clothing and millinery and exhibit a high level of technique. At the time, it was said discoveries of this quality are extremely rare and that the implications for art history give them national importance. The paintings had been hidden behind panelling for hundreds of years in the pub originally known as the Lyon and later as the Salisbury Arms.

A Tudor skyline in Hoddesdon yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Today this is the Star, and it is just three or four doors further along the High Street from the White House. When I walked into Hoddesdon from High Leigh yesterday [18 July 2017] to buy The Guardian, I also stopped at the Star, next door to the local newsagent, to admire ‘The Willow Arch,’ a new sculptural work by the local contemporary Basketmaker and Willow Artist, Hazel Godfrey.

Hazel Godfrey makes her sculptural work using natural materials, primarily willow. She is committed to an ethos of sustainability and manages her own willow plantation in North Hertfordshire, which provides for the mainstay of her weaving, although she also uses other natural materials such as cane, bark, leaves and found items.

Hazel was born and raised in Hertfordshire and studied for an honours BA in Applied Arts at the University of Hertfordshire. She has been a practising artist since 2008, when her work formed the centrepiece of a Gold Award winning stand at the Chelsea Flower Show.

On her Facebook page, Hazel says she is inspired by nature and loves working with natural materials. Her work is in private collections and gardens, nature reserves, community spaces and schools throughout Britain.

Hazel takes part in Herts Open Studios annually and is a member of Herts Visual Arts, Hertfordshire Basketry, and the National Basketmakers’ Association. She is involved annually with the arts side of the Rhythms of the World music festival in Hitchin. More recently, she led the county basketry group in making work to celebrate Luton’s involvement in the Olympics.

Today [19 July 2017] is the last day of USPG’s annual conference in High Leigh. Last night, the skies broke, and Hoddesdon was covered by a lengthy and heavy thunderstorm. I may not be walking into Hoddesdon this morning to buy the paper, but it was inspiring yesterday to see a new work of art that was connected with nature in this part of England.

The Star on High Street, Hoddesdon, with Hazel Godfrey’s ‘Willow Arch’ to the right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Seeking justice in climate
change and in health care

Step-by-step towards justice … in the High Leigh Conference Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

At the USPG conference in High Leigh this afternoon, we were challenged to think about promoting justice issues that involve protecting health and demanding climate justice.

Jo Musker-Sherwood, Director of Hope for the Future , spoke of the impact of global warming and climate change, with examples from her experience in Peru. There 95 per cent of people rely on water stored in glaciers on the heights of the Andes for their water supplies, and Peru is heavily dependent on water for hydro-electricity.

She spoke about the challenges to faith in a changing climate, and spoke of the work of Hope for the Future, which aims to give a platform to Churches working on climate change issues, and spoke of lobbying Parliament and MPs.

The campaign works with people of all faiths and none, but at its heart it remains a deeply Christian campaign.

She suggested MPs often do not take seriously people they suspect do not live out the values that they lobby on. The climate movement has developed an unfortunate reputation for lecturing at people and threatening them about the consequences of heeding the threats posed by climate change.

She offered signs of hope in the face of a problem that is becoming increasingly dangerous.

She asked us to consider that ways in which our identities are connected to fossil fuels and how this awareness impacts our response to climate change.

And she asked what we think are the biggest opportunities for tackling climate change in our churches and our dioceses.

Bishop Saw John Wilme of Toungoo, a diocese in the Church of the Province of Myanmar, spoke of his Church’s work in providing health care for people in the country we also know as Burma.

It was a timely reminder of how often we take clean water for granted in this part of Europe. Access to water is essential for clean clothes, basic hygiene, combatting malaria, and so is essential to basic health care. Yet many people in Myanmar find it difficult to access sources of clean water.

Since the new government was formed in 2014, the country has started to change, but there are still conflicts, minority ethnic tribes suffer discrimination, there are many checkpoints, the army still controls many key ministries, and former generals control many businesses.

‘We all want peace,’ he said, but those who control the big weapons continue to control the agenda.

In trying to reach the unreached, the Anglican Church in Myanmar has been involved in setting up hospitals and engaged in building healthy communities in partnership with USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The day began at High Leigh with the Morning Eucharist celebrated by the Revd Canon Joabe Cavalcanti, a colleague trustee of USPG. During the day, we have also had workshops on protecting health, growing the Church, enabling livelihoods, promoting justice, responding to crises, and USPG’s ‘Journey With Us’ short-term mission programme.

The Council of USPG meets this evening, and the day ends with Night Prayer led by Father Herbert Fadriquela, Anglican chaplain to the Filipino Community in the Diocese of Leicester.

Welcome to the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

‘I became human for you,
will you become God with me?’

‘What overwhelms us?’ … in the grounds of the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

‘What overwhelms us?’

‘What can we do about being overwhelmed?’

These questions were put to us this morning by Bishop Margaret Vertue of the Diocese of False Bay in South Africa. She was speaking at the USPG conference in High Leigh.

Bishop Margaret, who is the second woman to become a bishop in Africa, was leading this morning’s Bible study (Matthew 11: 20-24).

She challenged us to think of do we respond in love and not in judgment. Drawing on the wisdom of the Carthusian monks of Grand Chartreuse, and asked: ‘I became human for you, will you become God with me?’

To illustrate how we might respond in love and not in judgment, she shared ‘The Story of a Sign’ by Alonso Alvarez Barreda, with music by Giles Lamb. This short film from Purplefeather illustrates the power of words to radically change our message and our effect upon the world:

Today is Mandela Day, when everyone in South Africa is encouraged to donate time to charity and charitable work.

Describing the situation in her diocese in the Western Cape, she said apartheid had a pauper’s burial, so South Africa is still an angry nation and very volatile.

In the Anglican Communion, this is a ‘Season of Intentional Discipleship, and in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, this is the ‘Year of the Young.’

One-third of the population of the Western Cape live in the area of the Diocese of False Bay, where there are over 6 million people, and 40 per cent of these people live in the grips of poverty, only 24 per cent of learners ever finish school, and for many there is no opportunity to be educated beyond grade 12.

She spoke of the prevalence of gender-based violence, human trafficking, which is a modern-day slavery.

But she asked us to consider our own contexts and to discuss: ‘What overwhelms us? What can we do about being overwhelmed?’

And she asked, in the words of the wisdom of the Carthusian monks of Grand Chartreuse: ‘I became human for you, will you become God with me?’

Later in the morning, the Revd Dr Carlton Turner, from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas in the Church in the Province of the West Indies, spoke on ‘Growing the Church.’

God’s pattern for growing the Church is about entering chaos and bringing about something creative, something new.

He discussed the threats to life in the Caribbean, the legacy of slavery and colonialism, the natural disasters, including hurricanes, tropical storms and volcanoes, and the social and political and economic chaos. ‘When the US sneezes, we catch a cold.’

But it is also a region of amazing creativity, with carnivals and festivals, and a rich variety of languages and cultures, such as reggae and calypso.

Referring to the move from Chaos to Creativity of Pentecost, he spoke of recent violent incidents in Manchester and Finsbury Park as examples of situations where chaos can lead to creativity.

Referring to next Sunday’s Gospel reading, he suggested that good and bad co-exists together, but we are at risk if we try to weed them out. Growth means diversity. Diversity is key to growing the Church, as it flows outward.

‘God grows God’s Church,’ he said. We do not do what we do alone.

Given the complex and chaotic world in which we live, he asked, how can we work together to bring about something new, creative for the world to share in?

God is creative and unpredictable and the Spirit continues to move over the chaos of our world to bring about the new Creation. How does this challenge our mission and management frameworks and practices?

In the grounds of the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Too much ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and
not enough ‘Sense and Sensibility’

Summer colours in Hall Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

From Crete to Cambridge in less than a week.

Last Tuesday [11 July 2017], I spent the morning in the Monastery of Arkadi in the mountains above Rethymnon in Crete.

Yesterday [17 July 2017], on my way from Stansted Airport to the USPG conference in High Leigh, I decided to spend the morning in Cambridge. After breakfast near Christ’s College, I spent a few hours browsing in the bookshops, calling into Sidney Sussex College, and taking photographs at some of my favourite places, despite the throng of tourists.

This year, for the first time in many years, the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies is not organising a summer school in Sidney Sussex College, and I am going to miss a week of teaching, friendship and fun. But I still needed to call in on the place, and to enjoy this corner of Cambridge in the summer sun.

I was corrected on Facebook later in the day and told by a colleague that what I always thought was wisteria growing in the courts in Sidney Sussex is in fact solanum. But the name solanum is applied to a wide variety of crops and plants that include potatoes, tomatoes and aubergine. In other words, I have lot more to learn each time I return to Cambridge.

G David … one of my favourite bookshops anywhere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In Saint Edward’s Passage, a side alley close to King’s College, the Guildhall and the Market, I found myself rummaging once again through the collections outside G David, one of my favourite second-hand bookshops in any part of the world.

Nearby, in Guildhall Street, close to the Cambridge University Catholic Chaplaincy, I was brought back from Cambridge to Crete with a jolt. In all these years, I had paid little attention to Michael Ayrton’s sculpture of Talos opposite the Guildhall. But, perhaps because I am just back from Crete, I noticed both the statue and the inscription, which says:

Talos, Legendary man of bronze,
was guardian of Minoan Crete
the first civilisation
of Europe
Sculptor: Michael Ayrton

According to the stories in Greek mythology, Zeus abducted Europa and took her to Crete, where Talos, a bronze giant, guarded her from pirates by circling shores of Crete three times a day. Talos was made by Zeus, Daedalus or Hephaistos. A single vein of molten metal gave life to Talos, and this ‘blood’ was kept inside the giant’s body by a bronze peg in his ankle. Talos attacked Jason and the Argonauts when they landed on Crete, Talos attacked them. Medea charmed Talos into removing the bronze peg, all his ichor flowed into the sand, and he died.

Talos was sculpted in 1950 by Michael Ayton (1921-1975). Like the mythical Talos, Ayrton’s Talos is also made of bronze. But he has no arms, no face, and his torso is a bulging box shape. By leaving Talos without his arms, Ayton illustrates the anger and bewilderment of many post-war British sculptors.

Michael Ayton’s Talos illustrates the anger and bewilderment of many post-war British sculptors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford , 2017)

I found myself wondering who is going to portray the anger and bewilderment of post-Brexit Britain.

Today [18 July 2017] marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen on 18 July 1817. The bookshop of the Cambridge University Press is displaying special editions of her novels and biographies of her in a window facing the Senate House.

I wonder how many are going to break away from the throngs of tourists to call in today and to mark this bicentenary.

But I could not escape noticing the carefully sculpted juxtaposition of two of her best-known books: Sense and Sensibility to the left and Pride and Prejudice to the right.

Perhaps it is a summary of the anger and bewilderment of many in Britain a year after the Brexit referendum. After all, the vote appears to have been 48 per cent Sense and Sensibility and 52 per cent Pride and Prejudice.

If only there had been a little more Persuasion from people who should have known better.

Marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death in Cambridge this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford , 2017)