31 July 2022

How the Father Willis organ
in Stony Stratford came to
Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church

The ‘Father Willis’ pipe organ in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, was installed in 1967-1969 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Since moving to Stony Stratford some months ago, I have been attending the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Giles Church each Sunday.

The parish has a long tradition of Anglo-Catholic liturgy, and one of the pleasures there is listening to the choir and the Father Willis organ, under the musical director Jonathan Kingston.

Henry Willis (1821-1901), also known as ‘Father’ Willis, was an English organ player and builder, and he is regarded as the foremost organ builder of the Victorian era. His company Henry Willis & Sons remains in business.

The pipe organ in Stony Stratford is 140 years old this year. It is a three-manual Henry Willis organ that came from Saint George’s Church, Edinburgh – now a register archive office. It was installed in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church in 1967-1969. It plays an important part in parish worship every week and is used regularly for rehearsals of the Parish Singers, concerts, recitals, weddings and funerals.

Pipe organs need major refurbishment every 25-30 years because leathers perish and some moving parts wear out. This organ has been maintained over the years and has had some parts replaced, now at last, after 10 years of fundraising, the organ has been restored and the intended Willis III specification of 1932 completed.

The instrument now has great potential as a recital or teaching instrument. It has a wide range of stops providing rich tone and colour.

FH Browne & Sons of Kent completed the restoration work in December 2015. Before restoration work began in 2014, it was used for recitals, but the action was increasingly unreliable. So, although it was used for regular teaching and as a practice instrument by several young organ scholars, its unreliability limited all players from realising its full potential.

This Willis pipe organ has a fascinating history that encompasses two home locations – in Scotland and England – and reflects the social, economic and industrial changes from the Victorian era to the 21st Century. It is unique as it consists of pipes and action by the first three generations of the famous organ building family of Henry Willis & Sons Ltd and the professional advice and work of the fourth generation of that family.

The Willis organ was built in 1882 for Saint George’s Church on Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, as a two-manual instrument by Henry Willis I, known popularly as ‘Father Willis’. The church had been built in 1814, and for the first 68 years music was provided by an unaccompanied choir, as the tradition in the Scottish church did not include pipe organs.

The 1880s were the height of the organ building period in the late 19th century, when many churches were being built and many town halls were having concert organs installed. Henry Willis I was the most prolific and successful organ builder of that time. However, Saint George’s had previously approached Harrison & Harrison for a quote for an organ in 1879. They provided an estimate for a four-manual instrument at £1,200 and a three-manual instrument at £900.

It was enlarged by Henry Willis I and II in 1896 to a three-manual organ. Some cleaning work was carried out in 1914 and further cleaning was done in 1925, under the direction of Willis III using a local sub-contractor or representative.

Henry Willis III enlarged the organ a bit more in 1932, with further stops of pipes, and he replaced the old console with a new electric console.

Although Henry Willis III planned to include three new stops in the choir – Tierce, Nazard and Piccolo – only the stop knobs were installed in the new console, but the pipes were not included at the time.

A 1933 issue of the Rotunda outlined the restoration and enlargement work carried out by Henry Willis III in 1932 and included a specification, which indicated that he had installed the 16 ft Waldhorn pipes in the Swell.

When Saint George’s closed, the congregation merged with Saint Andrew’s Church in George Street, to become Saint Andrew’s and Saint George’s Church. The building was acquired by the Borough of Edinburgh, was renovated and is now the West Records House.

A post-Christmas fire broke out in Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, on 26 December 1964, and the old two-manual Kirkland organ in the north-east gallery was destroyed completely.

Saint Giles Church became Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church when it was rededicated on Palm Sunday in April 1968 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Starmer Shaw was about to restore that instrument. Starmer-Shaw was owned at the time by Dr Ingram of Earls Barton, a member of the Ingram family of organ builders of Scotland, which how he came to know of the availability of the instrument.

Dr Ingram had previously brought a 50-year-old two-manual Harrison & Harrison organ from Holy Trinity Church, Edinburgh, to Saint Mary’s Church in Haversham, Northamptonshire, in 1962. When the fire happened, Dr Ingram told Father Cecil Hutchings, the Vicar of Saint Giles, and Derek Savage, the organist, of a suitable instrument to replace the old organ when the church was restored. A few months previously he had inspected the Willis organ in the closed Saint George’s Church with a view to buying it.

Dr Ingram trained as an organ builder, but did not do any organ-building himself, leaving all the work to his employee, Pat Malone, who was trained at the ‘Willis’ factory.’

Although both the vicar and the organist agreed, after they had inspected the Willis organ in storage, that it was a good instrument for Saint Giles Church, they could not commit the church to buying the organ until the future of Saint Giles and the neighbouring Saint Mary’s Church was resolved, as the two parishes were about to be merged.

At one point there was a real chance that Saint Giles Church would be closed permanently because of the fire. Eventually, however, it was decided that the larger Saint Giles would be restored and St Mary’s Church closed.

The Willis organ was bought in 1967, and Father Hutchings paid the deposit himself. It was installed during 1967-1969 in the church by Starmer Shaw organ builders. The pipes missing from the Swell organ that had been stolen from Saint George’s, Edinburgh, were mostly replaced with new pipes made by Palmer’s Pipes of Finchingfield, Essex. Only the Waldhorn pipes were not replaced (probably because the space for the organ was tight.

Saint Giles Church became Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church when it was rededicated on Palm Sunday in April 1968 and Canon Cavell Cavell-Northam (1932-2019) became vicar of the now combined parish.

Father Cecil Hutchings cared deeply about music at Saint Giles, where he directed the choir, with Derek Savage as organist. He wrote a letter to the parish in 1967 about the importance of the choir in worship and the community. The installation of the organ was completed in 1969.

A week-long Flower and Organ Festival was held in Saint Mary and Saint Giles in May 1969 to celebrate the organ installation and raise much-needed funds for the restoration of the church because insurance after the fire had not covered all the costs and further restoration work was needed.

Since its installation, the Willis organ has been used regularly to accompany church services and occasionally used for recitals and concerts. It accompanied the visiting choir of Christ Church Oxford in 1970 and in 1976 it was used for incidental music in the theatrical performance of ‘Christ in the Concrete City’. It accompanied the first Lent Cantata performed by the Parish Singers in 1978 and since 1992 it has been used in almost every Autumn Concert and Lent Cantata.

Henry Willis IV moved the console from the north gallery to the choir gallery in 1989 after a fundraising campaign because the console was not serviceable in the north gallery. This means that this Willis organ has been worked on by all four generations with the name Henry Willis.

Derek Savage, who had been organist at the church since December 1955, died in 2003. Donald Mackenzie was appointed the new organist.

The Pipe Organ Restoration Action Group, formed in 2006, organised 150 events to help raise funds for restoration. The restoration of the console was possible in 2011 and this spurred the group on to restoring the whole instrument and completing the specification.

The Heritage Lottery Fund made a grant of £82,700 for the Willis Pipe Organ Restoration and Reach-out project in 2014, the group became a Project Team and Music for all @ SMSG was formed to replace PORAG. The Project Team and wider group of volunteers continue to put on events to raise funds towards the cost of the new pipes and casework.

The organ restoration started in May 2014 and was completed in December 2015. The restored organ was played for the first time on Saint Cecilia’s Day, 22 November 2015, the Patron of Music. It was blessed by Bishop Jonathan Goodall on 1 May 2016, with inaugural concerts in the weeks that followed.

• There is an organ recital by Bucks Organists’ Association in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church from 12:45 to 1:30 tomorrow (Monday 1 August 2022), with optional soup and roll (£4) from 12 to 12:30.



Praying with USPG and the hymns of
Vaughan Williams: Sunday 31 July 2022

The Old Vicarage, Down Ampney, where the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in 1872 (Photograph: Colin West 2011 / Panoramio)

Patrick Comerford

Today in calendar of the Church is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, and later this morning (31 July 2022) I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Parish Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season.

In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reading one of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Luke 12: 13-21 (NRSVA):

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14 But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15 And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16 Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

The Duomo in Siena … RF Littledale’s hymn ‘Come down, O love divine’ is a translation of an Italian hymn by Bianco da Siena (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s reflection: ‘Come down, O love divine’

Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions. He wrote the tune ‘Down Ampey’ for the hymn ‘Come down, O love divine,’ and thanks in particular to his setting this hymn is loved around the world.

Vaughan Williams named the tune after the pretty Cotswold village of Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, where he was born in the Vicarage 150 years ago on 12 October 1872. Down Ampney is off the A417, which runs between Cirencester and Faringdon in Oxfordshire on the A420, and about 5 km north of Cricklade, which is on the A419 running from Cirencester to Swindon, Wiltshire.

The parish church, All Saints’ Church, was founded by the Knights Templar in 1265, although much of its current shape is the result of a Victorian rebuilding. The spire dates from the 14th century, when the south porch was added.

The church has excellent stained glass, much of it Victorian or modern, including a series of nautical parables given by Admiral Charles Talbot after his ship survived a storm off Sebastopol in 1854. Another window depicting the Resurrection Stone is dedicated to Vaughan Williams’s father.

The composer’s father, the Revd Arthur Charles Vaughan Williams (1834-1875), served in Bemerton – the same parish where the poet George Herbert had been Vicar around 300 years earlier — and at Halsall in Lancashire, before becoming the Vicar of Down Ampney in 1868. He died there on 9 February 1875, only three years after the birth of his son Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

Soon after, Vaughan Williams was taken by his mother, Margaret Susan (née Wedgwood) (1842-1937), a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood III and the great-granddaughter of the potter Josiah Wedgwood, to live with her family at Leith Hill Place, a home in the North Downs in Surrey bought by the Wedgwood family in 1847.

The tune he composed for the mediaeval hymn ‘Come Down, O Love Divine’ (Discendi, Amor santo), written by Bianco da Siena (ca1350-1434), is named ‘Down Ampney’ with affection for and in honour of his birthplace.

‘Come down, O love divine,’ (New English Hymnal, No 137; Irish Church Hymnal, No 294) was originally written in Italian in the 14th or 15th century by Bianco da Siena.

Bianco di Santi (ca 1350-1399), also known as Bianco da Siena and Bianco da Lanciolina, was an Italian mystic poet and an imitator of Jacopone da Todi. He wrote several religious poems that were popular in the Middle Ages. At first he was a wool carder who worked in Siena. He eventually became a member of the Jesuates, founded by Giovanni Colombini. He died in Venice in 1399.

The hymn was first translated into English in 1867 by the Revd Dr Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890), a Dublin-born Anglican priest who had been forced to give up his full-time parochial ministry due to ill-health.

Littledale was curate in Saint Matthew in Thorpe Hamlet, Norfolk (1856-1857) and curate of Saint Mary the Virgin, Crown Street, Soho, London (1857-1861), where he took an interest in the work of the House of Charity.

For the rest of his life, Littledale suffered from chronic ill-health. He took little part in any parochial duties and devoted himself mainly to writing. Until his death, he continued to act as a father confessor, and next to Edward Pusey is said to have heard more confessions than any other priest in the Church of England. Through William Bell Scott he came to know and influence the poet Christina Rossetti.

Littledale was a contributor to many newspapers and publications, including Kottabos (a college miscellany in TCD), Notes and Queries, the Daily Telegraph, the Church Quarterly Review, and The Academy. He wrote many books and pamphlets in support of Anglicanism in opposition to Roman Catholicism.

In conjunction with the Revd James Edward Vaux, Littledale wrote The Priest’s Prayer Book (1864), The People’s Hymnal (1867), The Christian Passover (1873) and The Altar Manual, of which 46,000 copies were published.

The People’s Hymnal (1867) included the hymn Come Down, O Love Divine, translating the Italian of Bianco da Siena. The original poem was included in the Laudi Spirituali del Bianco da Siena of Telesforo Bini in 1851.

He died at 9 Red Lion Square, London, on 11 January 1890. A reredos to his memory was erected in the chapel at Saint Katharine’s, 32 Queen Square, London, in March 1891.

In 1906, Littledale’s version of Come Down, O Love Divine was included in the English Hymnal, edited by Percy Dearmer and Vaughan Williams. It was set to this strong, eminently singable, tune specially composed for it by Vaughan Williams, with a unique metre. Indeed, many regard this as the most beautiful of all his hymn tunes.


’Come down, O Love divine’ (‘Down Ampney’) by King’s College Choir, Cambridge/Thomas Williamson/Stephen Cleobury

Come down, O love divine,
Seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart,
Which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace,
Till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.

The Piazza del Campo in Siena … RF Littledale’s hymn ‘Come down, O love divine’ is a translation of an Italian hymn by Bianco da Siena (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

At the annual conference of the USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in High Leigh last week, we were updated on the work of USPG’s partners in Ukraine, Russia and with USPG’s partners with Ukrainian refugees.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Refugee Support in Poland.’ The Revd David Brown, Chaplain of the Anglican Church in Poland, spoke to USPG earlier in the year about the conflict in Ukraine and how it has affected churches in Poland. The situation may have changed since he wrote:

‘There are many refugees from Ukraine who have travelled to Poland. These people come from all sections of society and some of them have existing links to family and friends in Poland. Many thousands of refugees don’t have such links and are simply trying to find a safe place to stay. Major train stations are used as transit points for refugees with volunteers from many different organisations offering basic supplies there.

‘Our chaplaincy is small in number, so it is difficult for us to take collective action. Instead, individuals from our congregation are volunteering at help centres and providing shelter for refugees, who are often shocked and traumatised by their experiences. It can also be a struggle for both refugees and their hosts to acclimatise to each other. The chaplaincy continues to hold daily services and offer pastoral care and support to all affected by the current situation and those in Poland who are facing problems unrelated to the conflict in Ukraine.

‘We recognise that the fallout from the situation in Ukraine will pose long-term challenges in the coming weeks, months and years. Our chaplaincy will be here to offer support wherever possible.’

Sunday 31 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Welcoming God,
you taught us to befriend the stranger.
May we offer hospitality and support
to all in need.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

30 July 2022

Music and art in Milton Keynes
hospital that says thanks to
all who give the ‘gift of life’

Branches of an apple tree bursting with springtime blossoms … art in the outpatients reception area in Milton Keynes University Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I was back in Milton Keynes University Hospital this afternoon (30 July 2022) for a minor procedure in the Dermatology Outpatient clinic. My appointment was at a nurse-led clinic, and was a follow-up to an earlier consultation about two weeks ago (14 July).

Today’s procedure involved cryotherapy or treatment using low temperature and removing skin lesions by freezing them with liquid nitrogen. These superficial, non-cancerous lesions appear on the bare skin on the top of my bald head and may have been caused sun exposure creating sun-damage to my skin.

I have received similar treatment in the past in hospitals in Dublin for lesions like these on the side of my head and the right side of my nose.

This afternoon’s procedure involved a routine out-patient consultation without any special preparation, and everything was completed in the short space of 15 minutes.

Later, during coffee, I noticed a piano in the reception area, surrounded by artwork the Hospital Art Studio depicting the branches of an apple tree, advocating the ‘Gift of Life.’

The wording above the piano explains: ‘This artwork is dedicated to all our local organ tissue donors and to their families.’

It goes on to say, ‘Trees have been used throughout time to symbolise immortality and regeneration. The branches of this apple tree are bursting with springtime blossoms. Over time, the individual names of organ and tissue donors can be added to each flower … In their final hours they gave a lifetime.’

The wording, on behalf of Milton Keynes University Hospital Organ Donation Committee recommends: ‘Record your donation decision on the NHS organ donor register and share this decision with your family and friends.

‘Organ donation is an act of great kindness that can save and improve the lives of many people.’

It seems I have become very familiar with Milton Keynes University Hospital since I was admitted with a stroke on 18 March. I am grateful for the attention and care I have received from the NHS over four or five months, and for the loving attention and kindness that has improved my life in these past 19 weeks.

‘The Gift of Life’ … art and music in the outpatients reception area in Milton Keynes University Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the World Church in
Ordinary Time: Saturday, 30 July 2022

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) lived to see the complete abolition of slavery just days before his death

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) took place in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this week. The conference theme was ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’

Today, the Church of England calendar in Common Worship remembers William Wilberforce (1833), Olaudah Equinao (1797) and Thomas Clarkson (1846), Anti-Slavery Campaigners , with a lesser festival. Later today, I have an appointment in Milton Keynes University Hospital. But, before today becomes a bust day, I am continuing my prayer diary this morning in this way:

1,Reading the Gospel reading of the morning;

2,a short reflections on the reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Gospel reading provided in Exciting Holiness for the Eucharist as we recall these anti-slavery campaigners with a lesser festival this morning is:

Luke 4: 16-21 (NRSVA):

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

Today’s reflection:

One of the workshops I attended at the USPG conference in High Leigh this week – Decolonising Mission: Legacies and education – involved a major discussion on the legacy of slavery.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was born in 1759 in Hull. He converted to an Evangelical piety within the Church of England, and decided to serve the faith in Parliament instead of being ordained. He was elected a Member of Parliament at the age of 21.

He was a supporter of missionary initiatives and helped found the Bible Society. Settling in Clapham in London, he became a leader of the reforming group of Evangelicals known as the ‘Clapham Sect.’

Of all the causes for which he fought, he is remembered best for his crusade against slavery. After years of effort, the trade in slaves was made illegal in the British Empire in 1807 and Wilberforce lived to see the complete abolition of slavery, just before his death on this day in 1833.

The anti-slavery campaigners Olaudah Equinao (1797) and Thomas Clarkson (1846) are also recalled today

The Collect:

God our deliverer,
who sent your Son Jesus Christ
to set your people free from the slavery of sin:
grant that, as your servant William Wilberforce
toiled against the sin of slavery,
so we may bring compassion to all
and work for the freedom of all the children of God;
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.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘The Way Towards Healing,’ looking at the work for peace of the Churches in Korea. This theme was introduced on Sunday by Shin Seung-min, National Council of Churches in Korea.

Saturday 30 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us celebrate friendship. May we build connections with those in our local communities and in our communities of faith around the world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

29 July 2022

An evening in Dublin’s
‘Little Jerusalem’ with a
Jewish history of Ireland

The Irish Jewish Museum is housed in the former Beth Hamedresh Hagadol Synagogue at No 3-4 Walworth Road in Dublin’s Little Jerusalem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

If you are wondering this Friday evening what to do on Sunday evening, and how you might learn a little more about Irish Jewish history, then ‘Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem’: A Jewish History of Ireland’ is the title of an online presentation being offered on Sunday (31 July 2022).

This 90-minute talk looks at the story of the Jewish community in Ireland, a small but influential part of Irish society, from the moment the first Jews set foot in mediaeval Dublin in 1171 to the modern day.

After more than 800 years of a permanent presence in Ireland, Irish-Jews have a rich history and culture that will be explored in this presentation centred on the story of the capital’s former Jewish quarter, known locally as ‘Little Jerusalem,’ off Clanbrassil Street and the South Circular Road.

The presenter Alexander Vard was born into a once prominent family of furriers, now more better known as artists and academics.

After studying history in Trinity College Dublin and the University of Edinburgh for five years and many years traversing the globe, Alexander Vard returned to Dublin, where he set up a walking tour company focusing on the history of Dublin’s once bustling Jewish quarter, known locally as ‘Little Jerusalem.’

Sunday’s online ‘virtual tour’ of Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem’ with Alexander Vard offers an opportunity to learn who were the first Jews known to have arrived in Ireland and who are the ones who remain today. He introduces key Jewish figures involved in Ireland’s independence and the Irish-Jewish connection to the founding of Israel.

Visitors will also hear the tragic story of Ettie Steinberg, the only Irish citizen who was victim of the Holocaust.

In the year that marks the centenary of the publication of Ulysses, there is time too to speculate about who was the inspiration for Leopold Bloom, the main character in James Joyce’s Ulysses, who was born in ‘Little Jerusalem’ with a Jewish father.

Contributions include donations to the Irish-Jewish Museum, one of the cultural hubs of the Irish-Jewish community. It also preserves the memory of a small but important community that shaped Irish life in the early 20th century.

This event takes place at 6:30 pm Irish and British time (10:30 am PT / 1:30 pm ET in the US; 7:30 pm France, 8:30 pm Israel) on Sunday (31 July). This is a live experience, and . recordings are not available after the talk.

Read more and register HERE.

Shabbat Shalom

The original synagogue survives upstairs in the Irish Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying with the World Church in
Ordinary Time: Friday, 29 July 2022

‘Christ at the home of Martha and Mary,’ Georg Friedrich Stettner (1639)

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) took place in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this week. The conference theme was ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’

Today, the Church of England calendar in Common Worship remembers Mary, Martha and Lazarus, ‘Companions of our Lord,’ with a lesser festival.

I am continuing my prayer diary each morning this week in this way:

1,Reading the Gospel reading of the morning;

2,a short reflections on the reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Risen Christ with Mary of Bethany (left) and Mary Magdalene (right) … a stained glass window in Saint Nicholas’s Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As we recall Mary, Martha and Lazarus, ‘Companions of our Lord,’ with a lesser festival, the Gospel reading for Morning Prayer in Common Worship this morning is:

John 12: 1-8 (NRSVA):

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

Today’s reflection:

The gospels describe how Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus offered Jesus hospitality in their home at Bethany outside Jerusalem. Jesus is said to have loved all three. After the death of Lazarus, Jesus wept and was moved by the sisters’ grief to bring Lazarus back from the dead.

Martha recognised Jesus as the Messiah, while Mary anointed his feet.

On another occasion, Mary was commended by Jesus for her attentiveness to his teaching while Martha served (see Luke 10: 38-42, Sunday 17 July 2022).

From these readings, Mary is traditionally portrayed as an example of the contemplative life while Martha is given often an example of the active spiritual life.

In both Gospel narratives, it seems to me, Mary’s actions show she is being trained for and anticipates her future discipleship and future ministry.

In Saint Luke’s account of this incident in the home in Bethany, we are told Mary ‘sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying’ or ‘listened to his teaching’ (Luke 10: 39). Traditionally, this reading seems to say that Mary is physically sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him as he is teaching. Was it unusual for a woman to sit at the feet of a Jewish religious teacher in those days?

Saint Paul says ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today’ (Acts 22: 3).

Sitting ‘at the feet of’ or ‘alongside of’ a rabbi is an idiom, a metaphor for being formally trained by a rabbi. The rabbis sat in a high chair, and their scholars on the ground, and so they were literally at their master’s feet.

Mary is learning at the feet of Jesus as Paul sits at the feet of Gamaliel, both being taught by their teachers, their rabbis. Mary is being taught as a disciple, in rabbinic language, she is becoming a disciple, a worthy future follower in her rabbi’s ministry.

In Saint John’s account of Jesus’ visit to the home in Bethany, Mary ‘anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair’ (John 12: 3). To wash and anoint the feet of Jesus is act comparable to the custom of the Levites washing the hands, and sometimes the feet of the kohanim after they remove their shoes and before they ascend the platform to give the priestly blessing to the congregation.

As this custom developed, the association of the Levites with this washing led to iconographic depictions of pitchers, ewers, and bowls on the tombstones of Levite families.

Mary is acknowledging the public ministry of Jesus, similar to that of the ministry of a priest among the congregation. But in doing so, she also opens herself to her own future role in sharing in priestly – even sacramental – ministry.

As I reflect on what the speakers had to say at this week’s USPG conference in High Leigh, I ask myself how do we live a life of discipleship that balances both teaching and serving? How do we live a full prayer life that finds a meaningful expression in a life of active discipleship reflecting our inner, spiritual life?

The Collect:

God our Father,
whose Son enjoyed the love of his friends,
Mary, Martha and Lazarus,
in learning, argument and hospitality:
may we so rejoice in your love
that the world may come to know
the depths of your wisdom, the wonder of your compassion,
and your power to bring life out of death;
through the merits of Jesus Christ,
our friend and brother,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘The Way Towards Healing,’ looking at the work for peace of the Churches in Korea. This theme was introduced on Sunday by Shin Seung-min, National Council of Churches in Korea.

Friday 29 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for the people of Korea. May divisions in the country be resolved in a fair and peaceful manner.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A gravestone for a Levite family in the Jewish cemetery in the Lido of Venice … hand-washing and foot-washing are integral to acknowledging priestly ministry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

28 July 2022

Cock and Bull stories about
Shakespeare and getting
lost in ‘the wrong Stratford’

The Cock Hotel, one half of the Cock and Bull stories … but was this ever the ‘wrong Stratford’? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The apocryphal story is told of the Victorian writer who took the coach to Stratford in search of Shakespeare.

The coach driver dropped him off at the Cock, a coaching inn on the High Street in Stony Stratford.

When the poor benighted writer realised the driver’s mistake – or his mistake – he exclaimed, ‘This isn’t Stratford!’

‘Yes it is,’ the coach driver retorted. ‘It’s just not Stratford-upon-Avon.’ And off he sped, heading off in a northerly direction.

It’s probably just another ‘Cock and Bull’ from the twinned coaching inns on the High Street in Stony Stratford.

But of course, Shakespeare knew of Stony Stratford, whether he ever enjoyed the confusion between the two Stratford: his birthplace in Warwickshire and the town on the old Watling Street in Buckinghamshire.

The former Rose and Crown Inn on High Street is associated with the stories and legends about the ‘Princes in the Tower’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Certainly, Shakespeare uses this town as the setting for one of the events in his telling of the story associated with the Princes in the Tower.

‘I hear they lay at Stony Stratford,’ it is said in Richard III, Act II, Scene IV, when the uncrowned Edward V is abducted in the Rose and Crown also on the High Street, at Nos 26-28, at the other end of the street from both the Cock and the Bull.

The Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, finds the location of the young, uncrowned Edward V and his brother, the Duke of York. These two stood in the way of Richard’s claims to the throne. Edward was abducted in Stony Stratford in 1483, taken to the Tower of London and was never seen or heard of again.

The link between the Princes in the Tower and the Rose and Crown is dismissed by most historians today.

There is another, tentative but even more dismissible link between Shakespeare and Stony Stratford. The Horseshoe or Lyon and Horseshoe Inn is mentioned in Sir John Oldcastle, a play first published in 1600 and attributed to Shakespeare in 1619.

The play was once linked to the Bard because when Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 was first staged in 1597-1598, the character Sir John Falstaff was called Sir John Oldcastle. There is even a suggestion that Falstaff was originally Oldcastle in The Merry Wives of Windsor too.

If Sir John Oldcastle is not Shakespeare’s play, there certainly was a pub in Stony Stratford known as the Horseshoe. Local historians Brian Dunleavy, Ken Daniels and Andy Powell, in their charming Inns of Stony Stratford, which I was referring to yesterday, identify the Horseshoe as a mediaeval pub that stood on High Street from at least the 16th century until it closed in 1797. They identfiy the site of the Horseshoe with the site later developed as Saint Paul’s School and Saint Paul’s Court.

Perhaps the one true link with Shakespeare on the High Street is the choice of name for the Talbot, a mediaeval pub that once stood at 81-83 High Street, across the street from both the Cock and Saint Paul’s Court. But that’s a story for another day … and it’s not another Cock and Bull story.

Saint Paul’s Court in Stony Stratford … was this the site of the Horseshoe or Lyon and Horseshoe Inn mentioned in ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, a play once attributed to Shakespeare? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Further reading:

Bryan Dunleavy, Ken Daniels, Andy Powell, Inns of Stony Stratford (Southampton: Magic Flute, 2014/2018)

Praying with the World Church in
Ordinary Time: Thursday, 28 July 2022

A fig tree coming into fruit in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) took place in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this week. The conference theme has been ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’

I am continuing my prayer diary each morning this week in this way:

1,Reading the Gospel reading of the morning;

2,a short reflections on the reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Ripe figs on the ground in Queen Square Gardens in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Gospel reading for Morning Prayer in Common Worship this morning is:

Luke 21: 29-38 (NRSVA):

29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

37 Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. 38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

Today’s reflection:

The fig tree had more potential than just the figs and fruit it produced. Fig trees are planted in vineyards to shelter the weaker vines. An old and elegant fig tree is a common site in many Mediterranean vineyards and has its own intrinsic value. It may even have vines wrapped around, bearing their own fruit.

It takes much tender care and many years – at least three years – for a fig tree to bear fruit. And even then, in a vineyard, the figs, are not a profit – they are a bonus.

And anyway, even if a tree bears fruit, the Mosaic Law said it could not be harvested for three years, and the fruit gathered in the fourth year was going to offered as the first fruits. Only in the fifth year, then, could the fruit be eaten.

The observations by Jesus on the fruiting fig tree are in sharp contrast to the man who wanted to tear up a freshly-planted fig tree in the short parable in Luke 13:

Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down”.’ (Luke 13: 6-9).

If this tree had been chopped down, and another put its place, it would take longer still to get fruit that could be eaten or sold. In his quest for the quick buck, the owner of the vineyard shows little knowledge about the reality of economics.

The gardener, who has nothing at stake, turns out to be the one not only has compassion, but has deep-seated wisdom too.

Three years, and three more years, and then the fruit.

The fruit is only going to be profitable in its seventh year. Now, between Chapter 13 and Chapter 21, the fig tree has become a sign ‘that the kingdom of God is near.’

What do we dismiss in life because it is too young and without fruit, or too old and gnarled, only to realise when it is too late that we are failing to see signs ‘that the kingdom of God is near’?

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘The Way Towards Healing,’ looking at the work for peace of the Churches in Korea. This theme was introduced on Sunday by Shin Seung-min, National Council of Churches in Korea.

Thursday 28 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the success of the Korea Peace Appeal. May the world take notice of this campaign and renew global efforts for peace.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Figs for breakfast in the Garden Taverna in Platanias near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

27 July 2022

Living with a World of Difference
at the USPG conference this week

Resources to take home from this week’s USPG conference in High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I came away from this week’s USPG conference in High Leigh this week with a variety of reading material. ‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ was the theme of this week’s conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.

Living with a World of Difference is a five-session study course celebrating diversity within the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is the world’s third largest Christian community, a worldwide family of tens of millions of Christians, from more than 165 countries around the globe.

This study course introduces the enormous breadth of cultural diversity within the Anglican Communion. Anglicans and Episcopalians live in modern cities and rural heartlands, and speak hundreds of languages, with a wealth of difference and diversity.

Living Stones, Living Hope is a new course for 2022, taking its title from I Peter 2, the text of the Bible study for the Lambeth Conference which opened today. This study was produced by USPG as a resource for both USPG and the bishops taking part in the Lambeth Conference.

The metaphor of the Christian community in I Peter 2 as living stones is rich and evocative. We, the Church, are the living stones, and we are called to bring living hope in our diverse situations, though faith in Christ, who is the cornerstone of our faith. In each context this is lived out differently and is underpinned by a range of theologies. Yet our bedrock in Christ remains our constant.

Living Stones, Living Hope explores this from the perspective of five partner churches around the world, inviting us to reflect on our own experience of being ‘living stones’ and bringing ‘living hope’ to our own situations, in the light of the experiences of others.

I was one of the five global theologians invited to contribute to this study, and drew on my experiences of Church co-operation in Rathkeale in the Diocese of Limerick, where I was the priest-in-charge until the end of March.

I wrote about the experience of the Church of Ireland in the study for Week 4, looking at the impact of Brexit on a cross-border church, of the tensions that remain after the peace process, and other social and political changes in Ireland.

I also wrote about the work of the three main churches in West Limerick, offering the work of the churches in Rathkeale as ‘one small example of applying our understanding’ of ‘the stone that the builders rejected.’ The project in Rathkeale seeks ‘to create understanding and a shared space for Travellers, who are a large ethnic minority in the area, and the people of Rathkeale, who fear losing their social, economic and cultural place in the town.’

I wrote, ‘As the Church takes stock once again, it needs to be less worried about how it is perceived or whether it is losing credibility, and more willing to engage with these questions, even when this is costly.’

I also contributed to a video produced in Askeaton for this course.

The other contributors to ‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ are from Brazil, India, Korea and Zambia.

The latest edition of USPG’s magazine Koinonia (Issue 9 6/2022) includes a feature a new confidence in the Church of Bangladesh, updates on the Ukraine appeal, an introduction to new directors of USPG, and news about this week’s Lambeth Conference.

Dr Jo Sadgrove, Research and Learning Advisor with USPG, is the author of Resourcing the crisis: Pastoral care across space and time. This colourfully-illustrated document is the result of a collaboration between researchers at the University of Leeds and USPG.

The Pastoral Care project was designed to examine the intersections between pastoral care, cross-cultural understandings of disease and cure, models of public health engagement and the role of churches and church leaders in providing care for communities around the world. These intersections and the questions they raise are explored in a some of USPG’s historical records and in relation to its contemporary ministry to churches around the Anglican Communion.

As an Anglican mission agency founded in 1701, USPG occupies a rather strange position – facing both the United Kingdom and Ireland on one hand and the churches of the Anglican Communion, yet ‘belonging’ to neither. The quest for identity and role for an organisation like UPSG in a post-colonial context has been an ongoing challenge.

This project helped USPG staff to understand how some of the key questions that continue to preoccupy USPG as an organisation are sustained across time. These include: Who is the object of pastoral care? How do we provide remote care? How do crises foster innovations in care? How do local care needs define what ministry is in any place?

Resources on display at the USPG conference in High Leigh this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the World Church in
Ordinary Time: Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Westcott House, Cambridge … founded as the Clergy Training School by Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire concludes today. The conference, which began on Monday, has the theme ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’

On the main themes in the conference has been the future of theological education. In the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship, we remember remembers Brooke Foss Westcott, Bishop of Durham, Teacher of the Faith (1901), with a commemoration today (27 July).

I am continuing my prayer diary each morning this week in this way:

1,Reading the Gospel reading of the morning;

2,a short reflections on the reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Westcott played a significant role in founding the Clergy Training School in Cambridge, later renamed Westcott House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of the Gospel readings provided in Exciting Holiness for Teachers of the Faith and Spiritual Writers is:

Matthew 5. 13-19 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’

Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott, who gave his name to Westcott House, Cambridge, died on 27 July 1901 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s reflection:

Brooke Foss Westcott was born near Birmingham on 12 January 1825. He was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge (BA , 1848), was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1849, and was ordained deacon in 1849 and priest in 1851.

He left Cambridge in 1852 to become an assistant master at Harrow. There he earned a reputation as a lecturer and scholar, and published a series of scholarly works on the Bible. He wrote commentaries on the gospel and epistles of Saint John, and his History of the New Testament Canon (1855) was for many years a standard work in biblical scholarship.

His reputation led eventually in 1870 to his election as Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, a position he retained even after being named bishop of Durham in 1890.

At Cambridge, he worked with the Dublin-born theologian and Biblical scholar, Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), and his friend from schooldays in Birmingham, Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-1889), in leading a revival in biblical studies and theology.

Westcott and Hort collaborated on an influential critical edition of the Greek text of the New Testament. The Westcott-Hort New Testament appeared in 1881 after almost 30 years of work and became a major source for the English Revised Version of the Bible published the same year.

Westcott was influential too in the field of Anglican social thought. In 1889, he convened a conference of Christians from all over Europe to consider the arms race. From this conference emerged the Christian Social Union, with Westcott as its president.

Westcott also played a significant role in founding the Clergy Training School in Cambridge, later renamed Westcott House in his honour.

In 1890, he was consecrated Bishop of Durham in succession to Lightfoot. His social concerns found other outlets in the promotion of missionary work, which he supported enthusiastically as bishop, and in the mediation of the Durham coal strike in 1892.

He died at Auckland Castle in Durham on this day in 1901.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘The Way Towards Healing,’ looking at the work for peace of the Churches in Korea. This theme was introduced on Sunday by Shin Seung-min, National Council of Churches in Korea.

Wednesday 27 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for unity in difference. May we celebrate the diversity of our churches and communities as we journey together.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5: 14) … the chapel bell in Westcott House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

26 July 2022

USPG family celebrates and
is inspired by mission activities
in the Anglican Communion

A quiet moment on the terrace at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddeson, the venue for the USPG conference this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

This has been the second day of USPG’s annual conference, with the theme ‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ (26 July 2022).

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is taking place in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, and opened yesterday afternoon.

The conference aims to create space for the USPG family to gather again, to celebrate and to be inspired by the mission activities of partner churches around the Anglican Communion and to hear about USPG’s unique contribution to the world church.

This is the first time since 2019 that the conference has been a residential event, and it has been good over these two days to meet old friends and new friends involved with USPG.

We began the day this morning with Morning Prayer in the Yew Tree Hall and a Bible Study led by Bishop Reuben Mark, Deputy Moderator of the Church of South India and Bishop of Karimnagar, a predominantly rural, Dalit and tribal diocese in the South Indian state of Telangana. He is a former Professor in Homiletics in the Andhra Christian Theological College in Hyderabad. Bishop Mark trained for the ministry in the United Theological College, Bangalore, and is mow president of the governing council of the college.

Later this morning, the Revd Davidson Solanki, Regional Manager, chaired a discussion of the work of USPG and USPG’s partners in Asia. The speakers included Bishop Eggoni Pushpa Lalitha of Nandyal in the Church of South India; Bishop Azad Marshall, the Moderator Bishop of the Church of Pakistan and Bishop of Raiwind; and the Revd Rana Khan from the Diocese of Lahore in Pakistan, who was the international interfaith dialogues assistant to Archbishop Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace before becoming the Rector of Crickhowell in Wales. We also heard about the work of the Church of North India among the Dalit communities.

The Revd Suchitra Behera spoke of the difficult challenges she faces in her work for gender equality in Bangladesh. I had breakfast this morning with Suchitra Behera and her husband, Bishop Shourabh Pholia, Deputy Moderator of Church of Bangladesh and Bishop of Barisal Diocese. She is from India and has been working in Bangladesh since 1998. She has a BD and an MA, and also studied at Roehampton University in London. She is passionate about women’s rights and an advocate of women’s ordination. She has worked in International Development and was a Country Representative for Tearfund UK in Bangladesh. She is a Freelance Development Consultant and works voluntarily alongside Bishop Shourabh Pholia in the Diocese of Barishal.

During a conversation between Rebecca Boardman, USPG Regional Manager for Oceania, East Asia and Europe, and Archdeacon Leslie Nathaniel, we were updated on the situation in Ukraine and the work supported by USPG.

The Diocese in Europe and USPG has an emergency appeal to get aid to people in desperate need because of the invasion of Ukraine. This is the biggest appeal USPG has had in many years. We heard how funds raised by the appeal are supporting Christian charities and churches involved in humanitarian work both in Ukraine and responding to the arrival of refugees in neighbouring countries. This includes providing food, medicine, shelter, care for children and people who are internally displaced in Ukraine. They are supplying care at the border and beyond, including meeting the needs of people from Africa and Asia as well as Ukrainians who are fleeing the war.

More than a million refugees have fled the war in Ukraine. They have left everything behind to escape conflict. Christian charities and churches need help now as they support these people in all aspects of their lives.

In the context of post-Brexit Britain, there was a certain irony in being reminded that the Diocese in Europe is the largest diocese in the Church of England.

There was a choice of three workshops this afternoon: Comprehensive Knowledge and Climate Justice: increasing the knowledge and amplifying the voices of those impacted by climate change; and Decolonising Mission: Legacies and education; Gender Empowerment in Bangladesh.

A new report on human rights in the Philippines, The Church Called and Sent to Follow the Path of Christ, was also launched this afternoon by the Most Revd Rhee Timbang, who has been Obispo Máximo (or Primate) of Iglesia Filipina Independiente since 2017. The Obispo Maximo is the Spiritual Head, Chief Pastor, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Church.

Archbishop Rhee was ordained priest in 1982, and consecrated bishop in 1996, becoming Bishop of the Diocese of Surigao. He has chaired a number of fellowships, formations and movements that advocate for human rights, social justice and peace. They include the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Pilgrims for Peace, One Voice and the Ecumenical Bishops Forum. He has been involved in several development programmes and ministries that promote and uphold human dignity, including the Abundant Life Programme supported by USPG.

The report to the meeting of the USPG Council noted that my second three-year term as a trustee came to an end last year (July 2021).

The conference continues this evening with Night Prayer and entertainment by the Igorot Dancers.

Sadly, many of the bishops attending the conference have to leave High Leigh this evening to attend the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, because the opening day has been brought forward. In addition, the planned rail strike tomorrow (Wednesday 27 July) threatens to curtail or limit some of the programme’s plans for the third day, and I like many others have to leave High Leigh this evening.

• To donate to the Ukraine emergency appeal, visit www.uspg.org.uk/ukraine

The White Swan on the High Street in Hoddesdon … rated by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘visually the most striking timber-framed inn in the district’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the World Church in
Ordinary Time: Tuesday 26 July 2022

‘The field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom’ (Matthew 13: 38) … fields of green and gold near High Leigh in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this week, taking part in the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). The conference, which began yesterday, has the theme ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’

In the Calendar of the Church today, we remember Anne and Joachim, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a lesser festival (26 July 2022). In the Parish of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, and All Saints’ Church, Calverton, the intercessions this week also remember the Revd Charles George Perceval, Rector of Calverton, who was born on 25 December 1796 and died on this day, 26 July 1858, aged 61.

Charles Perceval was the son of an Irish peer, Charles George Perceval, 2nd Baron Arden, of Liscarroll Castle, near Buttevant, and Kanturk Castle, Co Cork. Perceval was a devout High Churchman and a supporter of the Tractarians. Many of the Tractarian leaders met in his Rectory in Calverton, including Edward Bouverie Pusey, John Henry Newman and Edward Manning, and some of the Tracts for the Times were planned if not written in Calverton.

I am continuing my prayer diary each morning this week in this way:

1,Reading the Gospel reading of the morning;

2,a short reflections on the reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Virgin Mary with her parents, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, in a mosaic by the Russian artist Boris Anrep (1883-1969) in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, Co Westmeath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on images for full-screen views)

Common Worship provides this Gospel reading for the Eucharist on today’s Lesser Festival commemorating Anne and Joachim, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Matthew 13: 16-17 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said to his disciples:] 16 ‘But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’

On the other hand, the Church of Ireland lectionary provides this Gospel reading for celebrations of the Eucharist today:

Matthew 13: 36-43 (NRSVA):

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37 He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’

Gnasher and Gnipper in the Beano always seemed to be ready to gnash their teeth

Today’s reflection:

In my imagination, when I was a child, not only were the summers long and sunny, but weekend entertainment was simpler and less complicated. The highlights of the weekend seemed to be Dr Who and Dixon of Dock Green, and the weekly editions of the Eagle and the Beano.

I may have been just a little too old (16) for the first appearance of Gnasher (1968), the pet dog of Dennis the Menace in the Beano.

The G- tagged onto the beginning of the name of both Gnasher and his son Gnipper is pronounced silently, just like the silent P at the beginning of Psmith, the Rupert Psmith in so many PG Wodehouse novels.

Most of the Beano speech bubbles for both Gnasher and Gnipper consist of normal English words beginning with the letter ‘N’ with a silent ‘G’ added to the beginning, as in ‘Gnight, Gnight.’

I was a little too old for the introduction of Gnasher. Nonetheless, my friends in my late teens and early 20s loved Gnasher and Gniper, joked about those silent ‘Gs’ and even recalled how as children we had joked about ‘weeping and G-nashing of teeth.’

There is very little to joke about in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 13: 36-43). The idea of people being thrown into the furnace of fire is not a very appealing image for children, and so to joke about it is a childhood method of coping.

Nor is the idea of people being thrown into the furnace of fire a very inviting image after a week in which we have suffered burning heats and raging heat not only here but across Europe.

It is worth reminding ourselves that throughout history, humanity has stooped to burn what we dislike and what we want to expunge, and we have done it constantly.

We have been burning books as Christians since Saint Athanasius ordered the burning of texts in Alexandria in the year 367.

In the Middle Ages and later, we burned heretics at the stake. The Inquisition burned heretics and Jews in public squares. Heretics were burned publicly as an accompanying theme for the outdoor sermons of San Bernardino da Siena in the early 15th century, along with mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, playing cards … even musical instruments, and, of course, books, song sheets, artworks, paintings and sculpture.

In his sermons, the book-burning friar regularly called for Jews and gays to be either isolated from society or eliminated from the human community.

In Florence, the supporters of Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects, including cosmetics, art, and books in 1497.

More recently, the Nazis staged regular book burnings, especially burning books by Jewish writers, including Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and Albert Einstein.

Extremists of all religious and political persuasions want to burn the symbols and totems of their opponents, whether it is Pastor Terry Jones burning the Quran and effigies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in Florida or jihadists burning the Twin Towers in New York.

The limits of our extremists seem to be defined by their inflammatory words.

But who is being burned in this Gospel reading?

Who is doing the burning?

And who will be weeping and gnashing their teeth?

Contrary to many shoddy readings of this Gospel reading, 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 live with them, even love them. Judgment is left with God, while we are left to love and to pray.

Too often we think of who might be excluded from God’s plans rather than who is counted in. When we do that, we descend to our greatest depths rather than reaching our potential heights.

Today’s Prayer:

Collect (Common Worship):

Lord God of Israel,
who bestowed such grace on Anne and Joachim
that their daughter Mary grew up obedient to your word
and made ready to be the mother of your Son:
help us to commit ourselves in all things to your keeping
and grant us the salvation you promised to your people;
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.

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘The Way Towards Healing,’ looking at the work for peace of the Churches in Korea. This theme was introduced on Sunday by Shin Seung-min, National Council of Churches in Korea.

Tuesday 26 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the National Council of Churches in Korea, a thriving example of ecumenism, as they work together to promote peace.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

An icon of Saint Anne with her child, the Virgin Mary, with her child, the Christ Child, in the Church of Saint Eleftherios and Saint Anna in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org