Saturday, 1 December 2012

The joys of bright, crisp winter days in December

Clear blue winter skies reflected in the River Dodder at Rathfarnham this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Clear, crisp days with bright blue skies almost make the sharp winter weather bearable. At night, there has been a full moon this week, leaving a glittering frost on the grass. By early morning, the moon has still been high in the sky, but the rising sun has created pink and orange streaks in the sky, and what little cloud there has been has been burnt away by the rays of the sun by mid-morning, even in this winter weather, leaving us with bright days that even offered memories and promises of summer.

There were two working evenings this week, but other evenings offered opportunities to catch up with friends and colleagues.

On Monday night, three of us met up in O’Neill’s of Suffolk Street in Dublin’s city centre, and then moved on the Library Bar in the Central Hotel on Wicklow Street.

We had started training together as chartered surveyors when we were about 18 and fresh out of school. I never finished my training as a chartered surveyor – my freelance contributions to Lichfield Mercury eventually opened career opportunities with the Wexford People and then with The Irish Times.

Of the other two, one is now living on the south side of London, having worked in the Gulf and Hong Kong, and is now training as a tour guide. The second is living in Dublin, but is still travelling for work to places as far away as Ukraine and South Africa at regular intervals. We still meet regularly when we are in the one place at the same time. We are living proof that friendships can last for more than 40 years.

Then, last night [Friday], I was at dinner in the Deanery with other members of the chapter and board of Christ Church Cathedral. Outside, it was frosty but bright. Inside, it was a god evening for catching up with each other too.

The River Dodder below the walls of the former Bushy Park estate this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

I realised there never was going to be a walk on the beach this busy weekend. After a working morning with the lay ministry training programme this morning, I eventually left late this afternoon and took a stroll along the banks of the River Dodder from the Ely Arch and the bridge at the High School in Rathgar, through Rathfarnham and along the Shaw estate wall at the perimeter of Bushy Park.

Couples were out walking with children and with dogs, stopping below thr bridge at Rathfarnham to feed the ducks and the swans, while other people were out furtively enjoying the old sunshine and the crisp bite in the air.

Washington House ... one of the hidden architectural treasures of Rathfarnham history (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

I crossed the Dodder at Rathfarnham Shopping Centre, and walked on along Butterfield Avenue, where one of the hidden architectural treasures of Rathfarnham history, behind high growth and hedges is Washington House, on the corner of Washington Lane.

This house has been known at different times as Washington Lodge and Oulart House, but it should not be confused with another house also known as Washington Lodge that stands at No 33, Grange Road, Rathfarnham.

Local lore tends to believe that between April and July 1803, Robert Emmet lived under the name of Robert Ellis at either Old Orchard House or Butterfield House, further east along Butterfield Avenue, closer to Rathfarnham Village while he was planning an ill-fated uprising. However, a claim can also be made for Washington House and to this day there are debates about which house on Butterfield Avenue Emmet lived in over 200 years ago.

Later, Lewis in his Topographical Directory of Ireland notes in 1837 that the Revd James Burnett, the new curate of Rathfarnham, was living in the house. The house appears on the 1843 Ordnance Survey and is listed in Thom’s Directory (1854) as being occupied by William Boyle. Then from the mid-19th century until about 1916 it was the home of the Grimwood family.

Washington House as it stood a few generations ago

Washington House is a Georgian-style house built about 1742-1760, and still retains its original curvilinear gables. One of its notable features is a four-centred carriage arch in the rear wall of one of the outbuildings. This is a detached, three-bay, two-storey house, the windows have architrave surrounds, the roughcast, rendered walls have a raised parapet, and there is a hipped slate roof with a double gable to the rere and a single brick chimney stack.

By the time I got home the evening was closing in. Advent begins tomorrow, and I am looking forward to the Advent Procession in Christ Church Cathedral tomorrow evening [Sunday 2 December 2012].

An introduction to the Liturgy for lay ministry trainees (2)

The Eucharist ... does the rector have to do everything?

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute

1 December 2012.

An introduction to liturgy.

Year 2 Lay Ministry trainees Dublin and Glendalough.

11.30 a.m. Session 2:
The Eucharist/Holy Communion; other services, including Baptisms, Confirmations, Marriages, Funerals

Part 1: The Eucharist/Holy Communion

In most of our parishes, the rector usually does almost everything at the Eucharist. The choir may lead the signing, there may be a rota for the readings and for the intercessions – although they too are often written for people by the rector – and the churchwardens present the collection.

But the rector does not have to do everything. On the contrary, the people should be doing almost everything. Indeed the word liturgy means the work of the people: the work comes from the Greek λειτουργία or λῃτουργία, which in turn comes from the Greek words λαός (the people) and ἔργο (to do or to work). The word liturgy means the work of the people ... even the work on behalf of the masses, the riff-raff, the beggars

A poster for the Beggars’ Opera in Rethymnon, Crete ... the word liturgy means the work of the people ... even the work on behalf of the masses, the riff-raff, the beggars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Why does the priest as the President at the liturgy, so often do all the work of the people?

What does the President do at the Eucharist?

The President presides at the whole event. But how is that shown? The Presidency is related to the whole event, and is not merely about or restricted to saying “sacred words” at one “sacred moment.”

The opening greeting, “The Lord be with you …” gathers together the Assembly. Beforehand, we are scattered people, who are coming together. And so it is essentially a Christian greeting that gathers us together as a congregation, and this is not the same as and should not be reduced to a mere “Good Morning.”

But the liturgical greeting also establishes the dialogue, between God and the people, and between the president at the liturgy and the people, it establishes the horizontal dimension to our worship and our liturgy.

It establishes who is presiding, who is responsible for the worship of the church. It tells us that this is the person who is going to:

● Guide the community
● Release the gifts of the community
● Oversee what is happening.

That presidency is expressed, audibly and visibly, by the President conducting the following parts of the service:

1, The Greeting.
2, The Collect of the Day
3, The Absolution
4, The Peace
5, The Eucharistic Prayer
6, The Blessing.

But this leaves plenty of scope, plenty of room for others to participate. And not just to play bit parts but to show that we are co-celebrants (not concelebrants), and the Liturgy is truly the work of the people.

For example, the Old Testament and Epistle readings ought to be read by lay people, the intercessions are supposed to be the prayers of the people, the offering is supposed to be the offering of the people.

Why, so often, do the clergy insist on assuming all these roles?

The readings may be the only message people hear on a Sunday morning. And so reading them is an important, vital ministry of the laity. It is not good enough to be handed them on a scrap of paper five minutes before we begin on a Sunday morning.

How would your parish organist react to receiving the hymn numbers a few minutes beforehand?

You need time to think, time to rehearse, time to read out loud, time to cope with difficult pronunciations and to get a feeling for emphases, time to reflect and pray.

If you do not know what the reading is about, how can those present hear what it is about?

Who writes the intercessions? The rector? Or the people leading the intercessions? Who listens to the prayers the people want to pray and need to pray?

When it comes to the Offertory, the offering is not about the collection of money being brought up to the rector for a blessing. The Offertory first and foremost symbolises that we, the people, offer ourselves, our bodies, our lives, our whole being, to God, as a royal sacrifice.

Bread and wine symbolise this in a very profound way. They are gifts of food and drink that God has given us, but only become food and drink because of the work of human hands. What God offers to us, we now offer to God, and in return God becomes present among in Christ, in word and sacrament.

The bread and wine ought to be placed on the altar, already prepared, before the Liturgy begins. The altar could be prepared at the offertory by lay people, even children, especially children. The gifts ought to be brought up by lay people, from among the body of the people. That is an authentic and visible sacramental expression of lay ministry.

Do the gifts have to be restricted to bread and wine alone?


The gifts of God for the people of God!

When it comes to the distribution of the sacrament, it may be very appropriate for the presiding priest to (a) be ministered to by someone else and/or (b) sit in the president’s chair.

It is wholly appropriate for lay people present to assist at or to take responsibility for the ablutions

After the blessing, it is once again appropriate for a lay person who has been involved in the ministry at the liturgy to pronounce the dismissal.


How much preparation do you need for this aspects to or dimensions of lay ministry in the Liturgy?

How much can you take part in?


Part 2: Other services, including Baptisms, Confirmations, Marriages, Funerals.

Parish clergy often talk dismissively of our role at Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals as a role of “Hatch match and dispatch.”

But I think that is too dismissive, and too unfair to people who seldom come to church except on these occasions.

These are moments of crisis for these people, sacred moments for God, and, moments of mission for the Church.

Always remember, never forget, that people will always remember and never forget when you behave inappropriately, lazily or without preparation on these occasions. If you do it right, they may never remember what you say or do, just simply that you were there. But get it wrong, and they will remember for ever.

And so, on these occasions, make sure you are prepared, over and over again. You may get plenty of time to prepare a couple for a baptism of their child or for their marriage. Unlike having perhaps a week or two, maybe more, to prepare for a parish service or a sermon, you may have no time at all to prepare for the death of a parishioner. You may get no time at all to prepare for a funeral.

So, always have the preparation in mind if these are tasks being committed to you in your parish.

Be mentally prepared in your memory – down to the point of remembering how to dress properly.

You may have to prepare a couple for the baptism of their child, or for their marriage.

You will be surprised by the relationships you come across.

You will have to put aside your personal views about single parenthood, remarriage after divorce, and your propensity to rush to judgment not only about the people who are being buried, but the family circumstances of those who mourn.

It is for good reason that these are called pastoral offices.

You may have to take responsibility for receiving a coffin into your parish church on the evening before a funeral, or for doing a committal at a graveside or in a crematorium.

Hopefully you will be involved in assisting at many, many baptisms. But they are not always cute and comfortable occasions. There are baptisms of adults, there are baptisms of children with real medical problems that are causing true anxiety for the parents. There are difficult relationships that cause problems at baptisms ... and at marriages and at funerals too.

Hospital visits may also be your responsibility. Consider then that you may be asked to be, you may want to be, involved in the consequent baptism, marriage or funeral.


● Baptisms: p. 345 ff (especially p. 357 ff).
● Confirmation, p. 382 ff.
● Renewal of Baptismal vows, p. 398 ff.
● Marriage (especially pp. 416 ff).
● Ministry to those who are sick (pp 440 ff; Anointing with Oil, pp 448-449; Prayers, pp 450-453; preparation for death, pp 454-456; A celebration of wholeness and healing, pp 457-464).
● Funeral Services (pp 466 ff, especially pp 480 ff; see the notes on p. 480; A Form for the Burial of Ashes after Cremation, p. 501; The Funeral Service for a Child, p. 504; Prayers, p. 510; and a Form of use in the Home, Funeral Home or Mortuary, p. 514).

[Concluding questions and discussion]


Raymond Chapman, Hear Our Prayer: Gospel-based intercession for Sundays, Holy Days and Festivals, Years A, B, & C (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003).
Frank Colquhoun (ed), Parish Prayers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967, 2005 ed).
Frank Colquhoun (ed), Contemporary Parish Prayers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 195, 2005 ed).
Frank Colquhoun (ed), New Parish Prayers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982, 2005 ed).
Common Worship: Times and Seasons (London: Church House Publishing, 2006).
Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Liturgies for Daily Life (London: SPCK, 2004).
Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Liturgies for High Days (London: SPCK, 2006).
Brian Mayne (ed), Celebrating the Word: Complete Services of the Word for use with Common Worship and the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
Harold Miller, The Desire of our Soul (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
Janet Morley, All Desires Known (London: SPCK, 1988/1992).
Janet Morley (ed), Bread for Tomorrow, Praying with the world’s poor (London: SPCK/Christian Aid, 1992).
New Patterns for Worship (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
Opening Prayers: Scripture-related collects for Years A, B and C from the Sacramentary (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1992).
Lisa Withrow, Occasions of Prayers (London: SPCK, 1999).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral. These notes were used at a half-day workshop, ‘An introduction to the liturgy,’ with Year 2 Lay Ministry trainees in the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough on 1 December 2012.

An introduction to the Liturgy for lay ministry trainees (1)

Baptism and Eucharist … celebrations of Creation and worship in communion with the Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute

1 December 2012.

An introduction to liturgy.

Year 2 Lay Ministry trainees, Dublin and Glendalough.

Programme for the Day:

10 a.m. Session 1:
Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Service of the Word, Informal Services

11 a.m. Coffee break

11.30 a.m. Session 2: The Eucharist/Holy Communion; other services, including Baptisms, Confirmations, Marriages, Funerals

12.30 p.m. The Eucharist.

10 a.m. Session 1: Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Service of the Word, Informal Services


Some opening questions about fears and anxieties:

What if I am left on my own?

What can I do at a funeral?

What are the boundaries when it comes to what I can do?

Where do I found resources for prayer and prayers?

What do I do if I dry up?

What if I lose my place?

Does the rector have to do everything?

How do I relate all this to my own spiritual life and life of prayer?


Our basic resource and workbook for these workshops is: The Book of Common Prayer (The Church of Ireland, 2004).

10 a.m. Session 1: Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Service of the Word, Informal Services.

Part 1: Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer

Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (see the Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 83-116) are the daily offices of the Church.

They derive from the monastic offices, especially the cycle of daily prayer in the Benedictine tradition, and were adapted by Cranmer and the Anglican reformers and their successors, bringing daily prayer out of the cloisters and into the daily life of parishes in the villages, towns and cities.

It was their intention not that these offices should be the main Sunday service in our parishes, but that they should be said daily throughout the year (see The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 84).

As prayer designed for the whole Church, for the whole people, it is appropriate that it should be led by lay people. Historically, it is worth recalling that most of the monks in a Benedictine monastery were not priests.

There are some parts of the service that are reserved for ordained priests – namely, pronouncing the words of absolution (see pp 86, 102 ) and the blessing (see p 116).

But there is no provision for a blessing in the original form, (see p. 100), and in the new format a blessing is only an option (see p. 116).

How familiar are you with Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer?

Are these offices used daily in your parishes, as The Book of Common Prayer expects?


How is Morning Prayer used in your parish as the principal service on Sundays?


How do you set the tone of the day?


Become familiar with the options, notice the different places where the Psalm is used in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer


How do you find the Psalms, the Readings and the Collects?


Are you familiar with how the Canticles are chosen?

Are you aware of the hymn versions of the Canticles in the Irish Church Hymnal?

How do you write intercessions?


Are there parts of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer you should memorise?


Are you familiar with the shortened forms of Daily Prayer for Weekdays (see pp 136-137), the simple structure for Daily Prayer (p. 138) and the Weekday intercessions for Monday to Saturday (pp 139-144)?

Have you ever drawn on the resources headed “Some Prayers and Thanksgivings” (pp 145-153)?

Part 2: Service of the Word, Informal Services

The one service that many of you will be asked to lead is the Service of the Word (p. 165, followed by notes running to three pages, pp 166-168).

At first, this looks like one of the simplest services to organise. But it is probably the most difficult.

Too often, we merely adapt the shape to the way we have always organised Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer, which defeats the purpose of introducing this service.

Too often we take the outline (p. 165) as a rigid structure, rather than as scaffolding, and then wonder why the edifice crumbles around us.

Too often we start off with the best of intentions, but fail to take heed of the advice and guidance offered in those three pages of notes.

Too often we want you a new service, a new approach to worship, but fail to do anything about the setting, including the seating and the part of the church we use.

Too often, we fail to see it as a Service of the Word, and give more emphasis to other sections than the Word itself.

Too often, we fail to set the tone, to think about why we are using this service rather than any other, and then wonder why it does not work, why it falls flat, or why it becomes stale through constant use in the same old familiar way.

In your parish, who structures a Service of the Word ... the rector, the person leading it, a group of people?

It is totally appropriate, for example, in a parish where a Service of the Word is the fall-back option every time there is a fifth Sunday in the month, for someone in lay ministry to take responsibility for organising that service, even though they do not have to lead it.

You could theme those Services of the Word: not just around children, which is the normal fall-back position, but: around the elderly; around the beatitudes, affirming those who live out the beatitudes in your parish, who make peace, who mourn, whop hunger and thirst for righteousness, who demand mercy, &c; focus on unemployment or the current financial, economic and political crisis in our country; Lent or Advent; the five points of mission in the Anglican Communion; and so on.

In small groups, let us look at the notes on pp 166-168 and see what they say about what we can do?


Are there other ways to adapt and use this service?

Bishop Harold Miller, for example, suggests it can be used as the Liturgy of the Word before the Liturgy of the Sacrament at the Holy Communion or the Eucharist.


Other, short services you may consider using include Compline (pp 154-161), A Late Evening Office (pp 162-164) and the Litany (pp 170-178).

Could we discuss appropriate venues and appropriate occasions for using some of these services?


Go into small groups and discuss what is appropriate for using in one of the following situations:

● A school assembly
● A group of mourners gathered in hospital after the death of someone you have been visiting as a pastoral carer on behalf of the parish
● A prayer session with the Mothers’ Union after a speaker has failed to turn up.

Let me say a word about having everything prepared beforehand and having everything in one file rather than a pile of books scattered around your feet and at the base of the prayer desk.

What image does this create for people trying to catch a glimpse of the holy?

Can you imagine how easy it is to forget which colour ribbon you used to mark a particular page or reading?


11.30 a.m. Session 2: The Eucharist/Holy Communion; other services, including Baptisms, Confirmations, Marriages, Funerals


Raymond Chapman, Hear Our Prayer: Gospel-based intercession for Sundays, Holy Days and Festivals, Years A, B, & C (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003).
Frank Colquhoun (ed), Parish Prayers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967, 2005 ed).
Frank Colquhoun (ed), Contemporary Parish Prayers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 195, 2005 ed).
Frank Colquhoun (ed), New Parish Prayers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982, 2005 ed).
Common Worship: Times and Seasons (London: Church House Publishing, 2006).
Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Liturgies for Daily Life (London: SPCK, 2004).
Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Liturgies for High Days (London: SPCK, 2006).
Brian Mayne (ed), Celebrating the Word: Complete Services of the Word for use with Common Worship and the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
Harold Miller, The Desire of our Soul (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
Janet Morley, All Desires Known (London: SPCK, 1988/1992).
Janet Morley (ed), Bread for Tomorrow, Praying with the world’s poor (London: SPCK/Christian Aid, 1992).
New Patterns for Worship (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
Opening Prayers: Scripture-related collects for Years A, B and C from the Sacramentary (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1992).
Lisa Withrow, Occasions of Prayers (London: SPCK, 1999).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral. These notes were used at a half-day of workshop, ‘An introduction to the liturgy,’ with Year 2 Lay Ministry trainees in the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough on 1 December 2012.

With the Saints through Advent (2): 1 December, Nicholas Ferrar

Nicholas Ferrar, from a portrait by Cornelius Janssen in the Senior Fellows’ Common Room, Clare College, Cambridge

Patrick Comerford

The Feast of Nicholas Ferrar is celebrated on 1 December in the calendar of the Episopal Church (TEC) in the US and was celebrated on 2 December in the calendar of the Alternative Service Book of the Church of England. However, it is debated whether Nicholas Ferrar died on Monday 4 December 1637, the day after the First Sunday of Advent, or on 4 December, the day on which he is now remembered in the calendar of Common Worship of the Church of England.

His commemoration may have been moved to 1 and 2 December because Saint John of Damascus is commemorated on 4 December. In Common Worship, Charles de Foucauld, Hermit in the Sahara (1916), is now commemorated on 1 December.

Nicholas Ferrar (1593-1637) was the guiding light of one of the most remarkable experiments in Christian living in the history of Anglicanism. An English academic, courtier and businessman, he gave up his successful careers, was ordained a deacon and retreated with his extended family to the manor of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire), where they lived in community.

Nicholas Ferrar was born in London on 22 February 1593 and was baptised five days later. The Ferrar family claimed to be closely related to Robert Ferrar, Bishop of Saint Davids, who was burned at the stake in Carmarthen on 30 March 1555, in the reign of Mary I. Nicholas was the third son and fifth of six children of Nicholas Ferrar and his wife Mary (Woodnoth) Ferrar. The Ferrar family was wealthy and was deeply involved in the London Virginia Company, which had a Royal Charter for the plantation of the colony of Virginia. Nicholas Ferrar’s niece is said to be the first child to have been named Virginia. His family home was often visited by people like Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake.

At the age of four, Nicholas Ferrar was sent to school at Enborne, near Newbury, Berkshire, and is said to have been reading perfectly by the age of five. He was confirmed by the Bishop of London in 1598, contriving to have the bishop lay hands on him twice.

The chapel of Clare College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In 1605, at the age of 13, he entered Clare Hall, now Clare College, Cambridge. He was elected a fellow-commoner at the end of his first year, took his BA in 1610 and was elected a fellow that year. While he was an undergraduate in Cambridge, he first met the priest-poet George Herbert.

He probably received the degree MA in Cambridge in 1613, and he may have been planning an academic career as a Cambridge don. But Nicholas Ferrar’s health had been weak since his childhood, and the damp air of the Fens was bad for his health. By the time of his graduation his health had become a cause for serious concern, and he was advised to travel to warmer climate of continental Europe, away from the damp air of Cambridge.

In 1613, Ferrar obtained a position in the retinue of the Queen of Bohemia, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King James I and wife of the Elector Frederick V. He left England in April, but by May he had changed his mind and left the Court to travel alone. Over the next few years he visited Holland, German principalities, Austria, Bohemia, Italy and Spain, and learned to speak Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish.

He studied in Leipzig and in Padua, where he continued his medical studies, and he broadened his religious education through meetings with Anabaptists, Jesuits, Oratorians and Jews.

During this time, he recorded many adventures in his letters home to his family and friends. Finally in 1618 he is said to have had a vision that he was needed at home, and returned to England.

On his return England, he was refused a Professorship at Gresham College, London. Meanwhile, he found that the family fortunes which had been invested primarily in Virginia were faring badly and were under threat. His brother John had become over-extended financially and the Virginia Company was in danger of losing its charter.

From 1619, Nicholas devoted much of his energies to the affairs of the troubled Virginia Company. In 1622, he succeeded his elder brother John as the company’s Deputy, becoming responsible for its day-to-day administration. In 1624 twin disasters struck – the company was dissolved and John faced a threat of bankruptcy.

In 1624, Ferrar was elected an MP for Lymington, Hampshire, and in Parliament he tried to promote the cause of the Virginia Company. He also worked closely in the Commons with Sir Edwin Sandys, and together they were part of the parliamentary faction known as the “country party” or “patriot party,” grouped around Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, which seized control of the finances from a rival group, the “court faction,” grouped around Sir Thomas Smith, also a prominent member of the Virginia Company.

In a pamphlet, Sir Thomas Smith’s Misgovernment of the Virginia Company, Ferrar accused Smith and his son-in-law, Alderman Robert Johnson, of running a company within a company to skim off the profits from the shareholders. The argument ended with the London Virginia Company losing its charter following a court ruling in May 1624.

The turn of events convinced Nicholas and the family that they should renounce worldliness by leaving London and devoting themselves to a life of godliness. At the age of 33, Nicholas abandoned his successful political and commercial career to move to found a community of prayer. He retired from parliament in 1625 and bought the deserted manor and village of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire, a few miles off the Great North Road, with the support of his mother, Mary Ferrar, and his brother John.

Little Gidding had been deserted since the Black Death in the 14th century. The Ferrar family probably found Little Gidding through a recommendation from John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, whose palace was in the nearby village of Buckden.

On Trinity Sunday 1626, Nicholas Ferrar was ordained a deacon in Westminster Abbey by William Laud, the Bishop of Saint Davids and later Archbishop of Canterbury, although Nicholas made it clear that he would not proceed to the priesthood. When he had been ordained, Nicholas pledged: “I will also by the help of my God, set myself with more care and diligence than ever to serve our good Lord God, as is all our duties to do, in all we may.”

The first thing his widowed mother did at Little Gidding was to enter the church for prayer, ordering it to be cleaned and restored for worship before any attention was paid to the house. The poet Richard Crashaw described Mary in her “friar’s grey gown” as “the gentlest, kindest, most tender-hearted and liberal handed soul I think is to-day alive.”

Mary Ferrar and the extended family and household – about 30 to 40 people – moved into the manor house, and Nicholas became the leader and spiritual director of the community.

This was the only religious community in the Church of England between the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and the revival of religious communities that came with the Oxford Movement. The household was centred on the Ferrar family: Nicholas’s mother Mary; his brother John Ferrar, his wife Bathsheba and their children; and his sister Susanna, her husband John Collett and their children.

They restored the abandoned little Church of Saint John the Evangelist for their use. The household always had someone at prayer and had a regular routine. They read the daily offices of the Book of Common Prayer and also read the complete Psalms each day. Day and night, there was always at least one member of the community kneeling in prayer before the altar so that they might keep the word, “Pray without ceasing.”

They fasted with great rigour, and in other ways embraced voluntary poverty, so that they might have as much money as possible for the relief of the poor. The life of the Ferrar household was strongly criticised by Puritans, and the community was condemned by William Prynne in a series of scurrilous pamphlets as “an Arminian Nunnery.” However, the family never lived a formal religious life at Little Gidding; instead, this was a family living a Christian life in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer according to High Church principles.

The community members looked after the health and education of the local children, and Nicholas and his family produced harmonies of the Gospels. The community wrote books and stories on different aspects of Christian faith and practice, and many members of the family also learned the art of bookbinding from the daughter of a Cambridge bookbinder.

The community attracted much attention and was visited by King Charles I. He borrowed a Gospel harmony produced at Little Gidding and only returned it several months later in exchange for a promise of a new harmony to give to his son, the future Charles II. The Ferrars then produced a beautifully bound manuscript that passed through the royal collection and is now in the British Library.

The poet George Herbert (1593-1633), who had been a contemporary of Nicholas Ferrar at Cambridge, also became a friend of the community. At the time, Herbert was a deacon and held the prebend of Leighton Bromswold, four or five miles south of Little Gidding.

After being ordained priest, Herbert moved to Wiltshire. On his deathbed in 1633, Herbert sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, asking him to publish the poems if he thought they might “turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul,” but otherwise, to burn them. Ferrar decided to publish them, and within half a century The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations had gone through 13 editions.

Nicholas Ferrar, who never married, died on 4 December 1637 at the age of 45. He was buried outside the west door of the church in Little Gidding. His papers are held at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

The leadership of the community at Little Gidding passed to his brother John Ferrar, and the Ferrar family continued its way of life and continued to attract many visitors. During a period of local unrest in the Civil Wars, John Ferrar and some of his family went to Holland in 1643, but they had returned to Little Gidding by 1646.

Charles I returned to Little Gidding twice more. Once he came with the Prince of Wales and donated some money he had won from the prince in a game of cards the night before. On his last visit to Little Gidding on 2 May 1646, at the height of the English Civil War, King Charles I briefly took refuge after the Battle of Naseby as he fled north to try to enlist support from the Scots.

Huntingdonshire was loyal to Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), who was born in Huntingdon. Cromwell had lived in Huntingdon, and nearby in St Ives and Ely, and was MP first for Huntingdon and then for Cambridge.

The community was forcibly broken up by the Puritan soldiers of Cromwell’s Parliamentary army in 1646, and the brass font from the church was thrown into the pond.

The last members of the community, John Ferrar and Susanna Collett, died within a month of each other in 1657. Little Gidding remained the property of the Ferrar family, however, and in 1714 John Ferrar renovated the church, shortening the nave by about two feet, installing wooden panelling and building the “dull façade,” as TS Eliot calls it.

Nicholas Ferrar … a window in the Chapel of Clare Chapel, Cambridge

TS Eliot and Little Gidding

TS Eliot honours Nicholas Ferrar in Little Gidding, his fourth poem in the Four Quartets.

Early in 1936, on one of his visits to the Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire, Eliot was asked to read and criticise the manuscript of a verse play written by one of the members of this Anglican religious community, Brother George Every. The play, Stalemate – the King at Little Gidding, told the story of King Charles I’s visit in May 1646. Eliot was interested in the idea of Christian Community as the ideal of the Christian life, and had already read about the Ferrars – both the novel John Inglesant and Peckard’s Life were in Eliot’s library.

Eliot was an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, where the Ferrar papers are held. He was brought to Little Gidding by the Dean of Magdalene, the Revd Hugh Fraser Stewart, and his wife, on Wednesday afternoon, 25 May 1936. They were accompanied by Virginia Woolf’s biographer Bernard Blackstone, a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, whose Ferrar Papers was published 1938. Eliot may also have met Alan Maycock, who was about to publish his life of Ferrar.

The Four Quartets is a sequence of poetic reflections on the importance of time and intersections of timeless moments. After writing The Dry Salvages, Eliot wanted to complete what he now saw as a set of four poems, and quickly settled on Little Gidding, where he found one such “ intersection of the timeless moment” that spring afternoon.

Eliot wrote the final poem of his Four Quartets soon after. Little Gidding was published in 1942, Eliot published no more poetry afterwards, and he died in 1965.

The “place you would be likely to come from” is London and the blitz, or German air raids; the “route you would be likely to take” is straight up the A1 from London; Charles I is “a broken king.”

From Little Gidding by TS Eliot:

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull façade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfillment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire
beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

The former Poet Laureate the late Ted Hughes claimed he was directly related to Nicholas Ferrar on his mother’s side and Hughes and Sylvia Plath named their son Nicholas Farrar after this Anglican saint.

Little Gidding today

The church in Little Gidding

The memory of the community survived to inspire and influence later experiments in Christian communal living, even after Little Gidding passed out of the hands of the Ferrar family.

The church was restored in the mid-19th century by William Hopkinson, who inserted four stained glass windows with the coats-of-arms of the Ferrar family (although this is incorrect), Charles I, Bishop Williams and Hopkinson himself. Hopkinson also discovered the vandalised font which had been dumped in a nearby pond by Puritans two centuries earlier and had it restored to the church. He also placed a magnificent 18th century chandelier in the church.

There was a revival of interest in Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding in the 19th and 20th centuries, typified by the historical novel John Inglesant (1881) by Joseph Henry Shorthouse. The eponymous hero is an Anglican courtier who spends some time at Little Gidding and fights at the battles of Edgehill and Naseby. After he takes part in negotiations on the king’s behalf in Ireland, he is tried and condemned for treason, but escapes execution. This once-popular book paints an intimate picture of daily life in the Ferrar family, of personalities, appearances and habits, as well as the daily routine of worship at Little Gidding.

The Oratory of the Good Shepherd, an Anglican religious community, was established at a meeting at Little Gidding in 1913.

The Friends of Little Gidding was founded in 1946 by Alan Maycock with the patronage of TS Eliot, to maintain and adorn the church at Little Gidding, and to honour the life of Nicholas Ferrar and his family.

Maycock’s interest in Nicholas Ferrar had been stirred while he was an undergraduate at Clare College, Cambridge. After World War II, Alan and Edith Maycock visited Little Gidding in 1946. They found the church in poor condition in July 1946 formed the Friends of Little Gidding, with the Bishop of Ely as president and TS Eliot as a vice-president.

The Community of Christ the Sower, inspired by the example of Nicholas Ferrar, was founded at Little Gidding in the 1970s. The Revd Robert van de Weyer, a lecturer in economics at Cambridge University and a descendant of George Herbert’s patron at Leighton Bromswold, founded a trust a lecturer in the 1970s to buy the farmhouse for a new community and as a place of retreat. He was the Warden of the Little Gidding Community from 1977 to 1998, and the NSM priest-in-charge of Great with Little Gidding and Steeple Gidding until 1993. The Community of Christ the Sower came to an end in 1998.

The Society of the Friends of Little Gidding was refounded in 2004, and Tony and Judith Hodgson returned to Little Gidding the following year as the Wardens of Ferrar House, appointed by the Little Gidding Trust. The church continues in the care of the Giddings Parochial Church Council.

The Friends have organised renovations and repairs to the church. They continue to organise an annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Nicholas Ferrar each July, and they celebrate Nicholas Ferrar Day each year on a day close to 4 December.

This year [2012] the Annual commemoration and celebration of Nicholas Ferrar, followed by the annual general meeting of the Friends of Little Gidding, is being held at Little Gidding today [Saturday, 1 December]. The service at Little Gidding Church begins at 10.30 a.m. The Revd Mary Jepp is presiding, and the speaker is the Very Revd Mark Bonney, who was installed as Dean of Ely Cathedral last September.

Ferrar House offers quiet days and accommodation in Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, and is adjacent to the original site where Nicholas Ferrar and his household came in 1625 and next to Little Gidding Church, which they restored to daily use: Ferrar House, Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, PE28 5RJ.


Exodus 35: 1-5a, 24-29; Psalm 15; Galatians 6: 7-10; Luke 10: 38-42.


Loving God, the Father of all,
whose servant Nicholas Ferrar
renounced ambition and wealth
to live in a household of faith and good work:
keep us in the right way of service to you
so that, feasting at the table in your household,
we may proclaim each day the coming of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Lord God, make us so reflect your perfect love; that, with your deacon Nicholas Ferrar and his household, we may rule ourselves according to your Word, and serve you with our whole heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


The remembrance of death is very powerful to restrain us from sinning. For he should well consider the day will come (and he knoweth not how soon) … no more Suns will rise and set upon him; … no more seeing, no more hearing, no more speaking, no more touching, no more tasting, no more fancying, no more understanding, no more remembering, no more desiring, no more loving, no more delights of any sort to be enjoyed by him...let any man duly and daily ponder these things, and how can it be that he should dare …

Select bibliography:

Bernard Blackstone (ed), The Ferrar Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938).
JFM Carter, TT Carter, Nicholas Ferrar: His Household and His Friends (London: Longmans, Green & Co 1893).
Simon Kershaw (ed), Exciting Holiness (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 3rd ed, 1997, 2007).
Simon Kershaw, ‘Nicholas Ferrar,’
AL Maycock, Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding (London: SPCK, 1938).
Peter Peckard, Memoirs of the life of Mr. Nicholas Ferrar (Cambridge: J Archdeacon, 1790).
J Venn and JA Venn ( eds), Alumni Cantabrigienses (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958).

To join the Friends of Little Gidding contact: Membership Secretary, Friends of Little Gidding, Ferrar House, Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, PE28 5RJ.

The Friends of Little Gidding website:

Tomorrow (2 December 2012): The First Sunday of Advent; Jean Donovan.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral.