Sunday, 12 May 2019

A part of Tamworth’s
Tudor heritage is
hidden off Lichfield Street

The timber-framed buildings hidden behind Nos 116-17 Lichfield Street, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

One of the joys of visiting Tamworth is searching out some its architectural heritage and its listed buildings.

Perhaps the Moat House is the best-known of the Listed Buildings on Lichfield Street. I was in Tamworth last week to talk about the history of the Moat House and the Comberford family, and I stayed across the street in the Tamworth Arms, known affectionately to people in the town as the ‘Bottom House,’ because it is at the ‘bottom end’ of the town, at the west end of Lichfield Street.

But Lichfield Street has other interesting houses that survived the development of Tamworth over the past half-century that saw the sad destruction of much of the town’s architectural heritage.

These include the Manor House and the White House, which I have written about in the past. But, as you walk from the Tamworth Arms in towards the town centre, the north side of Lichfield Street is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, so that the large early 19th-century Georgian-style properties at the west end give way towards the east end to much smaller buildings, including the timber-framed Nos 110 and 111, which date from the late 16th or early 17th century.

No 110, the former ‘hall’ range of the structure, has 19th-century rendered re-fronting that hides its earlier Tudor architecture, while the adjoining No 111, with its jettied façade and its exposed timber-framing makes the Tudor House Café a much-photographed building, and it is a reminder of the beauty that was lost in Tamworth with whole-scale demolition and destruction in the 1960s and 1970s.

A long rear range houses the Cottage Healing Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Cottage Shop and Evelyn Rose Bridal Wear, two shops at Nos 116-17 Lichfield Street, are both housed in a building that dates from the 15th and16th centuries. The house is timber-framed, and No 117 retains a small-paned bow window. But the front of the building is rendered, and you have to go round the back of these two shops to see the timber-framing, which is exposed only in the long rear range that houses the Cottage Healing Centre.

Nos 116 and 117 Lichfield are parts of one, two-storey house that was later subdivided into two, with shops on the ground floor. The original house probably dates from the second half of the 16th century, with alterations made in the 19th and 20th centuries. The front is timber-framed but rendered, and there is a tile roof with brick stacks to the front of the ridge. The first floor was probably jettied originally, though this feature is long lost.

The rear of the building has a gabled wing with square framing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

No 116 has a central segmental-headed entrance with a half-glazed door, and No 117 has a similar entrance at the right end. The ground floor has two segmental-headed windows of two lights with pegged frames and shutter pegs, and similar windows on the first floor with iron opening casements flanking a blind window.

No 117 has a small-paned bow window with a frieze, cornice and canopy extending over the entrance to the right and shutters. The first floor has a three-light, mullioned tramsomed window with a casement to the right of a blind window. There are large stacks in the centre with a smaller, later, stack on the left.

The rear of the building has a gabled wing with square framing, and irregular fenestration with casements and entrances. This rear wing has an early 17th century staircase with serpentine splat balusters, and the top flight has a 16th century fluted timber frieze that has been reused as handrail.

Some accounts say that these buildings at 114-115 Lichfield Street are among Tamworth’s oldest surviving buildings. One account dates them from the 1200s, which would making them older than the Moat House and contemporaneous with many of the earliest parts of Tamworth Castle. But it is more likely that they date from the 15th and16th centuries.

Today, the Cottage Healing Centre is a not-for-profit co-operative of therapists and volunteers, offering alternative therapies.

This collection of buildings is particularly attractive, and they offer a sharp contrast to the tower blocks on Lichfield Street that loom above it. This hidden corner of Tamworth should not be missed by anyone walking along Lichfield Street.

The Tudor House Café at No 110-111 Lichfield Street is much-photographed (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Gathered together around
the Lamb on the Throne, in
communion with the saints

The ten statues above the West Door of Westminster Abbey representing modern saints and martyrs (from left): Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Archbishop Janani Luwum, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi and Wang Zhiming

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 12 May 2019,

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter IV).

11 a.m., Balllingrane Methodist Church, Co Limerick

(The Embury and Heck Memorial Methodist Church)

Holy Communion (The Eucharist).

Readings: Acts 9: 36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7: 9-17; John 10: 22-30.

A window in the United Methodist Church in Orlando commemorates Barbara Heck and Philip Embury, two missionaries from Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

It is very good to swap pulpits and altars this morning with your minister, the Revd Ruth Watt. She is in Castletown Church, near Pallaskenry, and in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, while I am here.

We have known each other she was a student preparing for ordination, and I was invited to lead the start-of-year retreat in Edgehill Theological College in Belfast.

In the covenant between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church, we agreed many years ago to recognise each other’s orders and ministry. But we have been very slow in putting this agreement into practice, showing that we accept each other’s ministry, preaching and sacramental life.

So, Ruth and I agreed it would be good to show at a local level, in this area, that we are committed to putting this Covenant into practice, showing that we believe that there is only one Church of God, that there is only one Body of Christ.

Of course, it is easy between Methodists and the Church of Ireland to do this.

And it is easy for me too, personally. As a theology student, I did two of my placements with Abbey Street Methodist Church, the Dublin Central Mission, and with Shankill Road Methodist Church, Belfast. In the past, I have also provided ‘Sunday supply’ for Brighton Road Methodist Church in Rathgar.

In this church, with its dedication, you might be interested to know that few years ago, during a few years ago, I was delighted to find a window in the United Methodist Church in Orlando commemorating the missionaries Barbara Heck and Philip Embury, celebrated in the name of this church, and celebrated there almost as though they are the patron saints of Methodism in America.

But it should always be easy to have mutual exchanges between Methodists and Anglicans. We come from the same roots. The brothers John and Charles Wesley lived and died as Anglican priests, they have left indelible prints on the pages of Anglican hymnbooks, and the reason we have been apart for so many years, as I constantly reminded students, is the fault of Anglicans, not Methodists: had the Bishops of London been willing to ordain Wesley’s preachers being sent to America, there might have been no breach in our communion at all.

The Church of England is far better than the Church of Ireland in honouring Christian saints and martyrs in its calendars, and so the brothers John and Charles Wesley are remembered and celebrated among those saints and martyrs as evangelists in the calendar in Common Worship later this month, on 24 May.

We often associate the readings provided for this Sunday in the Lectionary and liturgical calendars with the theme of the Good Shepherd, particularly the Psalm (Psalm 23) and the Gospel reading.

But for those of us in ordained ministry, the Good Shepherd is not our one and only example for pastoral ministry.

Our prime example, yes. But the lectionary readings this morning are reminders too of Christ as the Lamb on the Throne in the Celestial Liturgy, surrounded by the ‘white-robed army of martyrs,’ the saints and martyrs who have witnessed faithfully and constantly to the Risen Christ over the centuries, the Communion of Saints, gathered not just because they have shared stories, but gathered to share in common worship.

That shared identity is emphasised in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9: 36-43). The Apostle Peter has arrived in Joppa, near present-day Tel Aviv. There he visits a disciple whose name in Aramaic (Tabitha) and Greek (Dorcas) means ‘gazelle.’ It was typical for the Jews of that time to have two names, one Hebrew, the other Latin or Greek. But sometimes, using two names for one person points to new beginnings and relationships between God and the people God has called. Think of Jacob and Israel, Simon and Peter, Saul and Paul and, in this instance, Tabitha and Dorcas.

It is interesting too that this woman is called a disciple at this early stage. She is the only woman in the New Testament who is explicitly called a disciple. But later in the Acts of the Apostles, Lydia of Thyatira appears to host the church in her home, and is also involved in the production of woven clothes (see Acts 16: 14-15).

The story of Tabitha or Dorcas, and her encounter with Simon Peter is a way of saying that our shared communion in Christ breaks through all the barriers, including the barriers of culture, language, social background, ethnic origins and gender, and offers us the hope of new life in the Risen Christ.

In the reading from the Book of Revelation (Revelation 7: 9-17), Saint John the Divine is in the midst of a vision on the island of Patmos, in which he sees God’s throne and the heavenly scene around it. He describes the scene using symbols. Gathered around the throne of God are ‘twenty-four elders’ (4: 4, the original Greek reads εἴκοσι τέσσαρας πρεσβυτέρους, 24 priests), and ‘four living creatures’ (4: 6-8), whose symbols have become symbols of the four evangelists (lion Saint Mark; ox, Saint Luke, man, Saint Matthew and eagle, Saint John).

They are gathered around the Lamb on the Throne – although this phrase in modern Greek also refers to the elements of the Communion or Eucharist on the altar or table, which makes it even more meaningful to be able to share the Holy Communion or the Eucharist with you here this morning.

In this vision, Saint John has a vision of the souls of those who have been martyred for ‘the word of God.’ A great multitude, ‘drawn from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,’ are brought before the Lamb on the Throne, are robed in white and carrying palm branches, signs of victory and thanksgiving.

The whole court of heaven, including the angels, the four creature or evangelists, the 24 elders or priests, join this great multitude in praising God before the Lamb on the Throne, ceaselessly celebrating the celestial liturgy in God’s presence (7: 10-15).

There will be no more hunger or thirst, no more suffering because of natural disasters, and ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (7: 16-17).

The Gospel reading is a portion of the ‘Good Shepherd Discourse’ (John 10: 1-42), in which Jesus twice repeats the fourth or middle of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings in Saint John’s Gospel: ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ (John 10: 11, 14).

In the reading from the Book of Revelation, and in the Gospel reading, we are reminded that we are part of the Communion of Saints: ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish’ (John 10: 28). We are not just one part of the Communion of Saints, but part of the whole Communion of Saints, heirs to the full apostolic legacy of the Church.

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles is also a story about the inclusive nature of the Communion of Saints. Tabitha, or Dorcas, whether she is male or female, whether she is a Jew or a Gentile (this ambiguity is suggested in her double name), whether she is dead or alive, is part of the praying, believing, living community of Christians, and the saints who are all called into her presence are called into new life (Acts 9: 41).

In the reading from the Book of Revelation, we are reminded that the Communion of Saints is drawn from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. All are gathered together, across time and space, breaking down all the barriers of history and discrimination, to give blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, and honour and power and might to the Lamb of God (Revelation 7: 9, 12).

In the Gospel reading, we are told that the saints, those who have eternal life, are those who hear Christ’s voice, answer his call, follow him and do his will. He knows them, they know him, and they have the promise of eternal life (John 10: 22-30).

The recognition of relevant exemplars as saints is still a living tradition in other parts of the Anglican Communion.

In 1958, the Lambeth Conference, speaking about the commemoration of Saints and Heroes of the Christian Church in the Anglican Communion, said saints should be scriptural, or those whose historical character and devotion are beyond doubt. In other words, they have been exemplars of how to answer Christ’s call and to do his will.

The West Front of Westminster Abbey now contains the statues of ten 20th century martyrs, including the Polish Franciscan martyr Maximillian Kolbe; Martin Luther King, who was assassinated in 1968; Oscar Romero; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and Archbishop Janani Luwum, who was assassinated in Uganda during Idi Amin’s reign of terror.

Those niches had been left empty from the late Middle Ages until the statues were unveiled in 1998. The other saints and martyrs that now fill those niches are: Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Manche Masmeola, a 16-year-old South Africa catechist killed by her mother; Esther John, an evangelist murdered in Pakistan by her brother; Wang Zhiming, murdered during the Cultural Revolution in China; and Lucian Tapiedi, one of the oft-forgotten 12 Anglican martyrs from New Guinea.

Many of these modern saints and martyrs were commemorated already in the chapel in Canterbury Cathedral where Archbishop Robert Runcie and Pope John Paul II knelt together in prayer in 1982.

The calendar of the Church of England commemorates not only English saints, but Irish saints who have yet to make an appearance in any calendar of the Church of Ireland, including Mother Harriet O’Brien Monsell (1811-1883, 26 March), from Dromoland, Co Clare, sister of the Co Limerick patriot William Smith O’Brien and founder of the Clewer Sisters after she was widowed.

I have preached once and taken part in a number of memorial services in the Unitarian Church in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin. I find it difficult to grasp what Unitarians may mean by the Communion of Saints. But in the main stained-glass windows there, they have images of Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther, Florence Nightingale and William Caxton, portrayed as if they were the patron saints of discovery, truth, love and work.

If you were to pick your own modern saints, the saints who had influenced you in your faith journey, the saints who are modern exemplars of Christian faith and discipleship, who would you name?

For me, they must include the late Bishop John Yates (1925-2008), who, as a canon of Lichfield Cathedral, first prompted me to think about ordination when I was only a 19-year-old …

Two former rectors of Wexford, Canon Eddie Grant and Canon Norrie Ruddock, who did the same …

Dietrich Bonhoeffer …

Martin Luther King …

Colin O’Brien Winter, the exiled Bishop of Namibia, who combined his pacifism with a firm resistance to apartheid, racism and militarism …

Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, the priest who first showed me what engaged discipleship really demands, and the cost of it …

I truly enjoy the way Greeks and other Orthodox Christians put a greater emphasis on celebrating their name days rather than their birthdays. For when we join the saints in glory before the Lamb on the Throne, the only birthday that will matter will be the day in which we join that wonderful company of saints.

This afternoon, when you go home, think of figures in Church life from the past, in history or your life, who you might add to the list of recent and modern saints. You too might add the brothers John and Charles Wesley, or Barbara Heck and Philip Embury. But who do you expect to be in the company of when we find ourselves gathered around the Lamb on the Throne?

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Christ as the Good Shepherd … a mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 10: 22-30 (NRSVA):

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ 25 Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.’

The saints coming before the Lamb on the Throne … from the Ghent Altarpiece

Liturgical Colour: White

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
Raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again.
Keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christ the Good Shepherd, depicted on the reredos in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done! (463)
365, Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the King of creation (16)
587, Just as I am, without one plea (697)

The Embury and Heck Memorial Methodist Church and the surrounding churchyard in Ballingrane, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.