20 May 2022

‘To deceive anyone by
words is worse than
cheating him out of money’


Patrick Comerford

Lag BaOmer or Lag B’Omer (לַ״ג בָּעוֹמֶר‎) began on Wednesday night (18 May 2022) and came to end at sunset last night (19 April 2021). This is a Jewish religious holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, and it occurs on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.

It is traditional to observe some customs of mourning during the days between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot – the days of Sefiras haOmer – and to have a festive day on either the 33rd day of the Omer, which began last night, or for Sephardim on the 34th, which began last night and continued today (20 May 2022).

This minor Jewish holiday – known for bonfires, weddings and haircuts – takes place about a month after Passover. This is a break from the semi-mourning of the Omer, and key aspects of Lag BaOmer include holding Jewish weddings – it is the one day during the Omer when Jewish law permits them – lighting bonfires, and the pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron, which is marked by all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.

According to some traditions, this day marks the hillula or anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai or ‘the Rashbi,’ a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century CE, and the day on which he revealed the deepest secrets of kabbalah in the form of the Zohar (Book of Splendour, literally ‘radiance’), a landmark text of Jewish mysticism.

Historians now suggest, however, that the association of Lag BaOmer with the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai may be based on a printer’s error. Another tradition says Lag BaOmer is a day of celebration recalling the end of a plague that killed Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples.

Some authorities attribute the joy of Lag BaOmer to the belief that the manna that fed the people in the wilderness during the Exodus first appeared on the 18th of Iyar.

Although its origins are uncertain, Lag BaOmer has become a minor Jewish holiday. While the Counting of the Omer is a semi-mourning period between Pesach and Shavuot, all restrictions of mourning are lifted on this day. As a result, weddings, parties, listening to music, and haircuts are commonly scheduled to coincide with this day among Ashkenazi Jews.

Families go on picnics and outings; children go out to the fields with their teachers with bows and rubber-tipped arrows – a possible reminder of the war battles of Akiva’s students – and plant trees. It is customary to light bonfires, to symbolise the light Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai brought into the world. And many couples arrange their wedding for this day.

Tachanun, the prayer for special God’s mercy on one’s behalf, is not said on days with a festive character, including Lag BaOmer. It is said that when God is showing one a ‘smiling face,’ so to speak, as he does on holidays, there is no need to ask for special mercy.

Unrelated to Rabbi Shimon, the kabbalists also give a mystical interpretation to the Omer period as a time of spiritual cleansing and preparation for receiving the Torah on Shavuot. The days and weeks of counting, they say, represent various combinations of the sefirot, the divine emanations, whose contemplation ultimately leads to purity of mind and soul. The sombreness of this period reflects the seriousness of its spiritual pursuits.

Lag BaOmer also carries the theme of loving and respecting one’s fellow (ahavat Yisrael).

Sephardic Jews call this holiday Lag LaOmer, which means ‘33rd [day] of the Omer,’ as opposed to Lag BaOmer. The Sephardi custom is to continue mourning practices through the 33rd day of the Omer and celebrate on the 34th day of the Omer, or LaD BaOmer (ל״ד בעומר‎), which falls today (20 May).

There is a tradition that Jewish boys do not get their first haircut until they are three years old, and some parents wait to time this occasions for their boys on the minor holiday of Lag BaOmer. Perhaps this tradition reflects the Biblical teaching that one may not eat the fruit that grows on a tree for the first three years (see Leviticus 19: 23). But the custom is usually traced back to Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), the 16th-century founder of the Lurianic School of Kabbalah, who assigned special mystical value to the ear-locks.

In my reflections this Friday evening, rather than dwelling on the length of my hair or lack of it, I am pondering some sayings associated with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who has a particular association with this minor holiday:

‘To deceive anyone by words is worse than cheating him out of money.’

‘He who lets arrogance get the better of him is like the heathen worshipping idols.’

In the Ethics of Our Fathers, he says, ‘There are three crowns: the crown of the Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty; but the crown of a good name excels above them all.’

Shabbat Shalom

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
20 May 2022 (Psalm 86)

‘Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy’ (Psalm 86: 1) … street art seen near Harcourt Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 86:

Psalm 86 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 85. In Latin, it is known as Inclina Domine.

Psalm 86 is one in a group of psalms at the end of Book III within the 150 psalms, from Psalm 84 to Psalm 89. These psalms attempt to provide hope to the exilic Israelite community. But, despite their celebration of the historic traditions of the Jewish people, they remind the reader that these elements no longer provide the hope they once did.

Four psalms of this group – Psalms 84, 85, 87 and 88 – are attributed to the Korahites, who are described as the doorkeepers of the tabernacle in the Book of Chronicles. However, Psalm 86 is the only psalm in Book III of the psalms that is ascribed to David as ‘A Prayer of David.’

Psalm 86 is one of five psalms labelled as a ‘prayer’ (tephillah), and bears a resemblance to Psalm 17, which also has this title. (Psalm 90 is known as the ‘prayer of Moses.’)

This psalm includes frequent parallels and repetitions, such as an eightfold ‘for’ (verses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 13), the repeated ‘Lord’ eleven times (verses 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15, 17, with seven of them being Adonai (verses 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 15), and the four others as YHWH. The psalmist is named the ‘servant’ of YHWH (abdeka, ‘your servant’) in verses 2, 4, 16, which may indicate literary patterns. A chiastic structure identifies verse 11 as the centre of the psalm.

In this prayer, David gives glory to God (verse 8-10, 12, 13), seeks grace and favour from God, that God would hear his prayers (verses 1, 6, 7), preserve and save him, and be merciful to him (verses 2, 3, 16), and that he would give him joy, grace, strength and honour (verses 4, 11, 17). He pleads for God’s goodness (verse 5, 15) and speaks of the malice of his enemies (verse 14).

This psalm may be divided into three parts:

1, verses 1-7: this is a plea for help that talks about the psalmist’s piety (verses 1-4) and ‘the character of God’ (verses 5-7).

2, verses 8-13: these verses form a hymn, interrupted by a call on God to teach the psalmist (verse 11), and conclude with thankful confidence for answered prayer, and a vow to offer praise or to sacrifice a thank-offering (verses 12-13).

3, verses 14-17: are renewed prayer, ending with a request for a sign of God’s favour. Verse 16 is a paraphrase of the middle part in the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6: 25).

‘Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul’ (Psalm 86: 4) … street art in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Psalm 86 (NRSVA):

A Prayer of David.

1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
2 Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; 3 be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
4 Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
7 In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.

8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
9 All the nations you have made shall come
and bow down before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name for ever.
13 For great is your steadfast love towards me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, the insolent rise up against me;
a band of ruffians seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving-maid.
17 Show me a sign of your favour,
so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (20 May 2022, World Bee Day) invites us to pray:

Today we celebrate bees, which play a vital role in our ecosystem. May we work to safeguard nature and put the wellbeing of the earth at the centre of our politics.

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

19 May 2022

Afternoon walks by
the old mill and millrace
in Stony Stratford

The mill race and the site of the former mill by the Ouse River in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In recent days I have taken a number of walks from Market Square in Stony Stratford, passing Stratford House and along Mill Lane to the Mill Field and the site of the Old Mill by the banks of the Ouse River.

A corn mill stood on the River Ouse on the Calverton side of Stony Stratford from early days, although it is not certain whether this mill dated back to the mediaeval period.

There is a reference in Domesday to a mill at Calverton Manor and there is mention of two mills at Calverton in 1331 and three along the course of the river Ouse in 1586. But the documentary evidence is unclear about whether these mills were at Stony Stratford, which was then part of Calverton Parish.

A mill stream or leet comes in from the south east, while the main river passes around Mill Field on the west, and there are references to a Milnmede in the 15th century. From the evidence available, it seems probable that a mill was established there by the late Middle Ages.

Penn House on Mill Lane recalls the name of the Penn family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The first proper documented reference to a mill at Stony Stratford dates from 1581, when John Penn bought the corn mill from Thomas Piggott. John Penn seems to be from the same Penn family who included Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-1670); his son, William Penn (1644-1718), the Quaker who was involved in the foundation of Pennsylvania; and John Penn (1729-1795), the last governor of colonial Pennsylvania.

After buying the mill and land at Stony Stratford, the Penn family diverted the river and established a water mill on the corner of the river. The Millrace is a channel of the Ouse River that was used to take water to the wheel of the mill.

Over the years, alterations were made to the mill, most notably by the Stony Stratford architect Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924), whose works can be seen throughout the town. However, the Old Mill burned down in a fire in 1985, and has been replaced by housing and apartments.

The Penn family is remembered in the name of Penn House on Mill Lane. The family was also involved in the tanning industry in Stony Stratford, and established a tannery in 1600 at Stratford House on the corner of Market Square.

Stratford House on Mill Lane … some of the tan pits still exist within the walled garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The earliest records are non-existent, but in 1712 Robert Onely of Leicester mortgaged to John Ward of Castlethorpe ‘all the messuage or tenement commonly called the Tannhouse and the Tanyard’ and the orchard there.

Robert Onely sold the tannery in 1720 to Thomas Harris, Cordwainer, of Stony Stratford, who in turn sold it in 1790 to Mr Warren, a leather seller in Church Street. Leather and tanning continued at Church Street into the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the tan pits still exist within the walled garden at Stratford House.

From Mill Lane I have walked in the afternoon evening sunshine into the fields and pastures along the banks of the Ouse River, or along the Millrace, which remains as a quiet, tree-lined backwater behind Mill Lane.

The Millrace remains as a quiet, tree-lined backwater behind Mill Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
19 May 2022 (Psalm 85)

‘Righteousness will look down from the sky’ (Psalm 85: 11) … sunrise over Wexford town and the Slaney estuary seen from Ferrycarrig (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 85:

Psalm 85 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 84. In Latin, the psalm is known as Benedixisti Domine terram tuam. In Judaism, it is called a psalm of returned exiles. The Jerusalem Bible describes it as a prayer for peace.

Psalm 85 is one in a group of psalms at the end of Book III within the 150 psalms, from Psalm 84 to Psalm 89. These psalms attempt to provide hope to the exilic Israelite community. But, despite their celebration of the historic traditions of the Jewish people, they remind the reader that these elements no longer provide the hope they once did.

Four psalms of this group – Psalms 84, 85, 87 and 88 – are attributed to the Korahites, who are described as the doorkeepers of the tabernacle in the Book of Chronicles.

The psalm could have been written before or after the exile in Babylon (6th century BCE). It is attributed to the sons of Korah.

Psalm 85 is described as a ‘prayer for the restoration of God’s favour,’ a promise that concludes the reading from the Prophet Hosea. Many are familiar with verse 7 through its repetition in the versicles and responses at Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer:

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.


The psalmist recalls God’s restoration of his people (‘Jacob’) and how God forgave their sins (verses 1-3). But things have become difficult again, and the psalmist prays that God may again show his favour to his people, restoring them to their land, ending his anger with them, reviving them so they may rejoice, showing them his love and giving them life and salvation (verses 4-7).

The psalmist then asks God to give peace to the people when they return to his worship. This is a prayer that hopes for peace, steadfast love and faithfulness. In contrast with Hosea’s description of an unfaithful people, the psalmist prays for a future in which:

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground
and righteousness will look down from the sky.


As a sign of God’s blessings to the people, both spiritually and materially, the yield of the land will increase (verses 8-12).

The image in verse 10 of Justice and Peace or ‘righteousness and peace’ kissing (צֶ֖דֶק וְשָׁל֣וֹם נָשָֽׁקוּ) was a popular theme in art work from the Middle Ages through the 18th century. These include paintings by Tiepolo, Lanfranco, Pompeo Batoni, Nicolas Prévost, and Laurent de La Hyre. The verse was also engraved on a papal tiara which Napoleon gave to Pope Pius VII.

However, the Hebrew root n-š-q (נשק) has several translations, including ‘kiss’, ‘fight’, and ‘fought against each other,’ and the word may describe a dynamic type of contact, whether positive or negative. The Midrash understands this interaction in a turbulent context, relating it to God taking counsel with his ministering angels about whether to create the first human.

While the superscript attributes this psalm to the sons of Korah, commentators are undecided about the period in which the psalm was written. One suggestion is that it was written at the end of the reign of Saul. Others suggest the setting of Psalm 85 corresponds to the description in the Book of Nehemiah in which only part of the Jewish nation returns from the Babylonian captivity.

Jewish commentators suggest the sons of Korah are speaking prophetically about the conclusion of the Babylonian exile. They pray that God will also return the Jewish people from their current exile and remove his anger from them altogether. The image of kindness and truth meeting alludes to the interrelationship between Israel’s truth and God’s righteousness. When Israel adheres to the truth, God will respond with righteousness; he will send rain to produce abundant harvests.

According to the Midrash Tehillim, the land referred to in this psalm is the Land of Israel, ‘a land that the Lord your God looks after. The eyes of the Lord your God are always on it’ (Deuteronomy 11: 12). God waits for the people to perform the mitzvot or Biblical commandments associated with the Land – such as tithing the crops and observing the Shmita (Sabbatical Year) and Yovel (Jubilee Year) – and when they do, both they and the land will find favour in God’s eyes.

In the Sephardic tradition, Psalm 85 is recited after Kaddish (Titkabel) during the afternoon service on Yom Kippur eve. Sephardi Jews also recite this psalm along with numerous others on Yom Kippur itself.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the beginning of Psalm 85 is recommended as an introit or antiphon for Mass on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent.

Themes from verses 9 to 11 were paraphrased in John Milton’s hymn ‘The Lord will come and not be slow.’

The psalm has also been quoted in nonviolent movements. In 1993, the Catholic bishops in the United States quoted the verse ‘for he will speak peace unto his people’.

‘Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other’ (Psalm 85: 10) … a sculpture in the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 85 (NRSVA):

To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.

1 Lord, you were favourable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you pardoned all their sin.
Selah
3 You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.

4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation towards us.
5 Will you be angry with us for ever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (19 May 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, made up of nine dioceses across Brazil. May we learn from them and be inspired by their ministry.

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

18 May 2022

USPG announces programme for
2022 conference in High Leigh

The High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire … the venue for the USPG Conference (25-27 July), ‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the seasons of Lent this year, in my daily reflections in my prayer diary each morning, I have been drawing on the psalms and on the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

USPG has announced this week that USPG’s annual conference is to resume this year, between 25 and 27 July.

The announcement from USPG in recent days hopes that ‘as we gather again to celebrate and be inspired by the amazing mission activities of partner churches around the [Anglican] Communion’ , this can be an opportunity to ‘discover USPG’s unique contribution.’

The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’ Once again, the conference is taking place at the High Leigh Conference Centre outside Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this year.

‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ was the theme of USPG’s five-session Lenten Study course this year, exploring contextual theology.

I introduced the fourth study, ‘Celtic Spirituality,’ drawing on my experience at the time as Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale Group of Parishes, and Director for Education and Training in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe.

I also contributed ‘Reflections on Celtic Spirituality’ as part of an international webinar organised by USPG as Study 4 in the Lent 2022 programme, Living Stones Living Hope, 24 March 2022, and spoke at the webinar from my hospital bed in Milton Keynes where I was being treated for a stroke.

This year’s conference begins in High Leigh at 3 p.m. on Monday 25 July 2022, and continues until 3 p.m. on Wednesday 27 July 2022.

The speakers at this year’s conference include:

• The Right Rt Revd Reuben Mark, Deputy Moderator of the Church of South India
• The Revd Suchitra Behera, Deacon in the Diocese of Barisal, Church of Bangladesh, and an international development practitioner
• Ms Basetsana Makena, Provincial Youth Representative, Anglican Church of Southern Africa
• Clifton Nedd, Caribbean Facilitator for the Anglican Alliance

The USPG conference takes place immediately before this year’s Lambeth Conference, which takes place at the University of Kent, Canterbury Cathedral and Lambeth Palace from 26 July to 8 August.

I had planned to be in High Leigh to take part in last year’s USPG conference (19-21 July 2021), with the theme ‘Such a Time as This.’ But the Covid-19 pandemic meant the conference became a virtual event. My six-year term as a trustee of USPG concluded at a virtual meeting (20 July 2021) of the trustees of USPG during that conference.

The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire, was the planned venue for the USPG’s conference in 2020 until Covid-19 forced its cancellation too. So it is 2019 since I was at a USPG conference, when High Leigh was also the venue.

I have taken part in many USPG conferences in High Leigh in the past (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019), sometimes leading workshops, taking part in council and trustee meetings, and I presided at the Eucharist at the end of the 2012 conference. At those conferences I have also formed lasting friendships. I was also the chaplain in 2006 at a joint conference in High Leigh of the Friends of the Church in China and the China Desk of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), when I led daily worship and celebrated the Sunday Eucharist.


Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
18 May 2022 (Psalm 84)

‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wickedness’ (Psalm 84: 10) … the Gate of the Holy Spirit in the walls of the Mezquita-Catedral in Córdoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 84:

Psalm 84 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 83. In Latin, the psalm is known as Quam dilecta.

Psalm 84 begins a group of psalms at the end of Book III within the 150 psalms, from this psalm to Psalm 89. These psalms attempt to provide hope to the exilic Israelite community. But, despite their celebration of the historic traditions of the Jewish people, they remind the reader that these elements no longer provide the hope they once did. Within this group, Psalm 84 ties the presence of the divine to the temple.

Four psalms of this group – Psalms 84, 85, 87 and 88 – are attributed to the Korahites, who are described as the doorkeepers of the tabernacle in the Book of Chronicles.

The psalm could have been written before or after the exile in Babylon (6th century BCE). It is attributed to the sons of Korah.

Psalm 84 is a hymn psalm, more specifically a pilgrimage psalm, a song praising Zion as the longed-for goal of the pilgrim. God dwells in the Temple, perhaps signifying that God dwells among the people (verses 1-2).

To live in the ‘courts of the Lord’ is a blessing and a joy to the heart. Those who live there have security and happiness. ‘Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow has a nest for herself’ there (verse 3).

Making a pilgrimage to the Temple offers hope to the pilgrims. When these pilgrims pass through the valley of Baca on their way to the Temple, there joy is so great that even this desolate place feels refreshing (verse 6), and they receive new strength on the way (verse 7).

The psalmist then prays for God’s anointed one, the king or the Messiah, but later understood as a reference to the ideal future king who would restore the nation (verse 9).

The psalmist rejoices in well-known words that ‘a day’ in God’s ‘courts is better that a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wickedness’ (verse 10).

God is both a ‘sun and shield,’ for he illuminates and protects, and bestows blessings. Everyone who trusts in God is happy (verses 11-12).

So, where God dwells, the many, even the most insignificant of creatures, should find sanctuary, should find a home.

The psalm is often seen as an inscription on synagogues and churches and sung for dedication ceremonies of buildings and their anniversaries.

Thomas More wrote annotations in his Psalter for Psalm 84 while awaiting execution in the Tower of London, expressing his desire to be able to take part in Christian worship again.

Psalm 84 has often been set to music. Bach quotes from Psalm 84: 11 in his cantata Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild BWV 79, written for Reformation Day 1725; Johannes Brahms included it in his Ein deutsches Requiem; and it has been paraphrased in many hymns, including ‘Pleasant are thy courts above’ by Henry Francis Lyte.

‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness’ (Psalm 84: 10) … the North Porch in the Church of SS Peter and Paul in Newport Pagnell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Psalm 84 (NRSVA):

To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise.
Selah

5 Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Selah
9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed.

10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (18 May 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Anglican Diocese of Brasília and their new Department of Advocacy and Human Rights.

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

17 May 2022

Lady Mary Russell and
Calverton’s clergy couple
with Irish family links

Russell Street in Stony Stratford recalls the generosity of Lady Mary Russell and her husband Canon Richard Norris Russell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Russell Street School and Russell Street off Wolverton Road and running parallel to Stony Stratford’s High Street, recall Lady Mary Russell (1831-1891) and her husband, Canon Richard Norris Russell (1809-1896), charitable benefactors whose generosity benefitted schools and churches in Calverton, Stony Stratford, Wolverton and nearby Beachampton.

Mary and Richard shared interesting Irish family backgrounds and both were members of prominent clerical and political families.

Lady Mary Russell was born Mary Perceval at Calverton Rectory in 1831, where her father, the Revd the Hon Charles George Perceval (1796-1858), lived as the Rector of Calverton; her mother Mary (Knapp) was the only daughter of the Revd Primatt Knapp, Rector of Shenley Mansell.

Mary’s father, Charles Thomas Perceval was born into a very political family. His father and Mary’s grandfather, the Hon Charles George Perceval (1756-1840), was the MP for Launceston (1780-1790), Warwick (1790-1796) and Totnes (1796-1802). In turn, his father, John Perceval, was Earl of Egmont, who inherited vast estates in north Co Cork, while his mother, Catherine (Compton), was made a peeress in Ireland in her own right in 1770 as Baroness Arden, of Lohort Castle, Co Cork.

Charles George Perceval succeeded his mother as 2nd Baron Arden in 1784, but because this was an Irish peerage he was able to hold his seat in the British House of Commons until he was given the additional title of Lord Arden in his own right in 1802. An elder brother of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval (1762-1812), was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons, the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

Lord Arden bought Calverton Manor from the Marquess of Salisbury in 1806, along with the patronage of the living or the right to nominate the Rectors of Calverton. Lord Arden presented Dr Butler as a temporary Rector of Calverton in 1814, to hold the parish until his son was ‘of a proper age.’

Many of the Tractarian leaders met in Calverton Rectory, where Lady Mary Russell was born in 1831 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Revd Charles George Perceval (1796-1858) eventually became the Rector of Calverton on 26 March 1821, at the age of 24. He was a devout High Churchman and a supporter of the Tractarians. Many of the Tractarian leaders met in the Rectory at this time, including Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), Cardinal John Henry Newman and Cardinal Edward Manning, and some of the Tracts for the Times were planned if not written at Calverton.

Perceval’s only daughter, Mary Perceval, was born at Calverton Rectory in 1831. She married on 12 October 1865 Canon Richard Norris Russell (1809-1896), Rector of Beachampton (1835-1883) and a canon of Christ Church, Oxford (1877-1896). After her brother succeeded as Earl of Egmont, she became known as Lady Mary Russell in 1875.

Canon Richard Norris Russell was born in France on 8 July 1809, but he too was from a prominent Irish family. His father, William Thomas Russell (1778-1867), was a merchant from Limerick, a son of Francis William Russell (1735-1800) and Elizabeth Maunsell Norris (1744-1813).

William Thomas Russell married Louisa Therese Letellier in Saint Giles in the Fields, Holborn, London, on 3 July 1810. Romantic lore in the Russell family says she was a French countess who was rescued by William Russell during the French revolution. The couple later returned to his native Limerick before returning to France where they lived in Toulouse. William died in Toulouse a widower at the age of 89 on 31 January 1867, a little more than a year after his son Richard had married Mary Perceval.

Richard was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris (Bachelor of Letters), and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (BA 1832, MA 1835). He was a Fellow of Caius (1833-1836) when he was ordained deacon (Ely 1833) and priest (Lincoln 1834), and when he became Rector of Beachampton in 1835. Richard was 54 when he married Mary Perceval in 1865 and she was 32.

Throughout her life, Lady Mary Russell was generous in her bequests to schools and churches in the Stony Stratford, Wolverton and Calverton areas. The Radcliffe Trust donated the site to build Wolverton End School and School House in 1867, and the church school for the poor, designed by Swinfen Harris, was built in 1871-1873. But the school was financed by Lady Mary Russell of Beachampton, and over 280 pupils attended in the early 1890s.

Lady Mary Russell helped to fund the Wolverton End School, Stony Stratford, until she died in 1891 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Lady Mary Russell died on 25 April 1891; Canon Richard Russell died on 13 June 1896. There are memorial windows to the couple in the parish church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Beachampton, and Lady Mary also presented the organ.

Their only son, Richard Harold Russell, was a barrister, a Justice of the Peace for Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, and was in the Bucks Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa during the Boer War (1898-1901). Their only daughter, Mary Caroline Russell, married the Revd Henry Harington Harris (1853-1936), Rector of Poynings, Sussex (1889-1917).

Meanwhile, Lady Mary Russell’s brother, Charles George Perceval (1845-1897), who was born at Calverton Rectory, eventually succeeded as 7th Earl of Egmont in 1874. Egmont was an Irish peerage, and in 1889 Lord Egmont sold off many of the family estates in north Co Cork, including Liscarroll Castle, near Buttevant. Kanturk Castle was donated to the National Trust by his widow in 1900.

Memories of days past on Russell Street in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
17 May 2022 (Psalm 83)

‘O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!’ (Psalm 83: 1) … the War Memorial on Hills Road, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 83:

Psalm 83 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 82.

This is the last of the ‘Psalms of Asaph’ and the last of the ‘Elohist’ collection (Psalms 42-83), in which one of God’s titles, Elohim, is mainly used.  The Psalms of Asaph are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 83 It is generally seen as a national lament provoked by the threat of an invasion of Israel by its neighbours.

This psalm has been seen by some commentators as being purely cultic in nature. Others say the specific naming of particular nations indicates that it refers to a specific historical period, although the prayer itself would be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The dating of the composition of Psalm 83 is debated, but the reference in verse 9 to Assyria is seen by many commentators as an indication that the Psalm was written during the time of Assyrian ascendancy, the ninth to seventh centuries BCE. Others have dated the psalm from the time of Saul onwards, up to the age of the Maccabees, suggested by Theodore of Mopsuestia.

Psalm 83 can be divided into these sections:

1, verse 1 (‘O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!’):

The specific meaning of this verse is disputed. The verb can be translated to refer to either speech (‘be not silent’) or motion (‘be not inactive’). The fact that the verse requests the assistance of God three times emphasises the urgency of the situation and of the people’s prayer.

2, verses 2-5:

Throughout verses 2 to 5, the speaker makes the assumption that individuals who plot against the nation of Israel must inherently be enemies of God. He also ascribes to them the intention of the complete extinction of the people of Israel, as that is the meaning of verse 4, which indicates that the name of Israel will be obliterated or remembered no more.

3, verses 6-8:

These verses list the names of the ten nations that have evidently formed a coalition against Israel, the Edomites, the Ishmaelites, Moab, the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, the Philistines, Tyre and Assyria.

4, verses 9-12:

The narrator goes on to assume that God himself will fight on Israel’s side in the upcoming battle, based on the stories contained in Judges 4-8, citing individual actions attributed to God in that book.

5, verses 13-17:

In these verses, the narrator specifically requests that God make the opponents of Israel suffer and experience shame and die in disgrace for opposing Israel, and, by extension, God himself. The specifics mentioned, including chaff, fire and storm, are references to the Sirocco.

6, verse 18:

In this verse, the narrator states that he wishes God perform these various acts so that all might know that God is the most powerful entity and has sway over all the Earth. This verse, with verse 16, indicates that, although the bulk of the psalm is a prayer for the destruction of the enemies of Israel, there is some positive hope that the enemies of Israel might come to acknowledge the God of Israel.

‘Let us take the pastures of God for our own possession’ (Psalm 83: 12) … sheep grazing near Newbridge, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 83 (NRSVA):

A Song. A Psalm of Asaph.

1 O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
2 Even now your enemies are in tumult;
those who hate you have raised their heads.
3 They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against those you protect.
4 They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more.’
5 They conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—
6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites, 7 Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8 Assyria also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.
Selah

9 Do to them as you did to Midian,
as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon,
10 who were destroyed at En-dor,
who became dung for the ground.
11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12 who said, ‘Let us take the pastures of God
for our own possession.’

13 O my God, make them like whirling dust,
like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest,
as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15 so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your hurricane.
16 Fill their faces with shame,
so that they may seek your name, O Lord.
17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed for ever;
let them perish in disgrace.
18 Let them know that you alone,
whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (17 May 2022) invites us to pray:

We pray for human rights activists around the world. May we do our best to uphold and respect each other’s dignity as children of God.

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

16 May 2022

Did Christopher Wren
design the Shell House
in Stony Stratford?

Queen Anne House, or Shell House, at 48 High Street, Stony Stratford, was once the Dower House for Wolverton Manor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

One of the most elegant and most intriguing houses in Stony Stratford is almost directly opposite me on the High Street.

Queen Anne House, also known as Shell House, is at 48 High Street. This was once the Dower House for nearby Wolverton Manor, which was demolished in 1728.

The Shell House has many distinct sections, spanning from the 1520s to the early 1700s, with a rare number of original features still intact. The front portion is believed locally to have been underwritten in some way by Sir Christopher Wren or – more likely – his colleague Nicholas Hawksmoor ca 1700-1703.

At dates that would appear to concur with this, Wren and Hawksmoor were sourcing building materials from Stony Stratford while they were working on other estates nearby.

Wren was busy remodelling Winslow Hall to the south in 1700. At the same time, Hawksmoor was working on Easton Neston to the north, which he completed in 1702.

Both men were known personally to the early 18th century owner of Queen Anne House, Dr John Radcliffe, who gives his name to the Radcliffe Camera and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and who owned vast estates around Wolverton and Stony Stratford.

Wren, Hawksmoor and Radcliffe all belonged to the same masonic circle. Radcliffe, who was Queen Anne’s physician, became the owner of the Shell House in 1713 when he acqured the Wolverton estate.

The scallop shell recesses are a notable feature of the Shell House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Architecturally, all three properties share features that bear more than a passing resemblance. The drawing room at Queen Anne House has scallop shell recesses that are notably similar to stairwell features at Easton Neston.

Interestingly, the hallway is dominated by a grand oak staircase that has carved inverted pentagrams. Hawksmoor was well known for appropriating symbols like this in his designs to ward off evil. He was sometimes referred to as ‘The Devil’s Architect.’

Despite compelling circumstantial evidence, given the passage of time it is unlikely that direct evidence will be uncovered linking Wren or Hawksmoor to Queen Anne House.

This house on the north-east side of High Street, Stony Stratford is a two-storey ashlar sandstone house with a steep pitched, partly-tiled roof with flat stone coping on the gables, and plain kneelers supported by moulded consoles.

The house has one early and one late brick chimney stack, and two pedimented dormers.

There is a small plinth, with a band at the first floor level, chamfered quoins and a heavy modillion eaves cornice. There are four windows on the first floor, of which the third from the left is blind, three windows on the ground floor, and an entrance under the blind window.

The windows are sash in wooden cases and have narrow wooden architraves. There are plain cills, with a plain lintel on the first floor windows, while heads of the ground floor windows have light carving and keystones.

The entrance is approached by two carved consoles. There is narrow wooden doorcase, panelled reveals and soffit, and panelled door with rectangular light above it. The front room on the ground floor has a door-head with a segmental pediment and a shell niche inside. There are railings in front of the covered area.

I understand that inside the house is panelled throughout on the ground and first floors. Sometimes, when I try to catch a glimpse as I walk by, I can see the fine staircase with applied carved strings, three balusters to a step, exaggerated ramps, and quarter landings.

This elegant house is considerably higher than the two-storey houses south of it, and in relation to No 50, a three-storey house, is almost as high to the eaves and the ridge is higher.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the fine staircase (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
16 May 2022 (Psalm 82)

‘God has taken his stand in the council of heaven’ (Psalm 82: 1) … Christ enthroned in majesty in a stained glass window in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 82:

Psalm 82 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 81.

This is the eleventh of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 82 has been described as ‘a plea for justice’ and as ‘a vision of God as the Judge of judges.’

This psalm places its emphasis on judgment both from human judges and from God and declares the strong bonds between moral and physical order. It comments on the act of God rebuking the kings and unjust human judges of Israel for not treating the poor with respect.

In a vision, the psalmist sees God as a member of the council of gods. God accuses these other ‘gods’ of favouring the wicked over the weak and the needy. They are ignorant of the ways of the one true God and walk in darkness.

Their failure to be just rocks the foundations of the world. They may be seen as ‘gods,’ but they are not and they will die.

In verse 1, ‘God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgement.’ The ‘divine council’ or the ‘congregation of the mighty’ may also be read as the assembly of God,’ or God’s own assembly, an assembly summoned and presided over by God in his capacity as the almighty ruler.

Psalm 82 ends with a prayer for justice. In verse 8, which may have been sung in the Temple by the congregation in response, acclaims God as the only true, universal ruler of the earth. In this final verse, God is spoken of in the future tense, ‘inheriting the nations.’ In other places in the psalms, however, ‘the Son’ inherits the nations (Psalm 2), and the believing community inherits the nations (Psalm 25, Psalm 37). God already possesses the nations but in some sense inherits them as well.

‘Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute’ (Psalm 82: 3) … ‘Christ the Beggar’, a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 82 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of Asaph.

1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgement:
2 ‘How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’

5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

6 I say, ‘You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.’

8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (16 May 2022, International Day of Living Together in Peace) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for peace. May we seek to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner and co-exist in harmony.

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

15 May 2022

Francis Hutchinson, Rector
of Passeham who was
also a bishop in Ireland

A man and his daughter by the Flemish painter Jan Vierpyl (1721) … now believed to depict Bishop Francis Hutchinson (National Gallery of Ireland)

Patrick Comerford

I took a walk along the banks of the Great Ouse River between Stony Stratford and Passenham during the weekend. Earlier, I had finished writing a magazine feature that refers to the church in Passenham, where the dedication to Saint Guthlac (674-715) is rare.

About 1,000 years after Saint Guthlac, Francis Hutchinson was the Rector of Passenham in 1706-1727, and was also Bishop of Down and Connor from 1720 until his death in 1739. He was a key figure in the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and was obsessed with witchcraft and with trying to convert Irish-speaking population of Rathlin Island.

But how did this 18th century bishop in the Church of Ireland find himself in this small parish in the Diocese of Peterborough and this small village in Northamptonshire, on the outskirts of Milton Keynes?

Francis Hutchinson (1660-1739) was born in Carsington in Derbyshire, on 2 January 1660. He studied at Catherine Hall, Cambridge (BA 1680, MA 1684, DD 1698), and was ordained deacon (1683) and priest (1684) by Henry Compton, Bishop of London.

He was first a curate (lecturer) in Widdington, Essex (1684), and then became Vicar of Hoxne, Suffolk (1690). He became perpetual curate (vicar) of Saint James’s, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in 1692 and resigned from Hoxne when he became the Rector of Passenham in 1706.

Throughout those years, Hutchinson was known for his low church latitudinarianism and his sympathy for Protestant dissenters. But he was also a key early figure in the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).

Following the Hanoverian succession, Hutchinson was seen as a dependable Whig. He was a prolific writer, constantly writing pamphlets supporting the Whigs on the great issues of the day, such as the war of Spanish succession.

His tracts repeated Whig ideology and anti-Catholic propaganda. His most famous work, An historical essay concerning witchcraft (1718), defended the Whigs’ social and cultural ideology, advocating sociable forms of religion and condemning unsociable forms of religion such as traditional witchcraft beliefs.

Although there was a widespread belief in and fear of witchcraft, witchcraft trials and executions were extremely rare. The last person in England was executed for witchcraft in Exeter in 1685.

Hutchinson began writing his book on witchcraft in the early 18th century while he was still in Passenham. By then, accusations of witchcraft continued to be made. Occasionally these led to trials, such as the trial of Jane Wenham in Hertfordshire in 1712.

Wenham was acquitted after a bitter and socially disturbing trial that Hutchinson attended. As a result, he became convinced that witchcraft trials posed a serious threat to public order and to social and political stability.

Through the influence of Francis Godolphin (1678-1766), 2nd Earl of Godolphin, Hutchinson became a royal chaplain on 17 March 1715. Then, on the recommendation of two leading Whigs – the Lord Chancellor Thomas Parker (1667-1732), 1st Earl of Macclesfield, and William Wake (1657-1737), Archbishop of Canterbury – he became Bishop of Down and Connor in 1720 following the death of Edward Smith.

Archbishop William King refused to consecrate Hutchinson, leaving the task to a commission formed mainly of English bishops, and he was finally consecrated bishop on 22 January 1721.

Hutchinson soon found he was thoroughly disliked by the other Irish bishops. John Evans, Bishop of Meath, was concerned by his lack of social skill and reluctance to socialise with the other bishops. Other bishops dismissed him as political appointee, eager to collect the income his see offered but indifferent to its spiritual needs. Indeed, he was more concerned with his temporal duties in the House of Lords than with his spiritual duties as a bishop.

In his own diocese, he was denounced by his largely Tory clergy for not being concerned about the large numbers of Presbyterians in the diocese. There, he continued to be a vocal supporter of the Whig and Hanoverian regime, but most of his literary output was concerned with matters religious and economic.

For Hutchinson, Catholicism posed the greatest threat to the Anglican status quo in Ireland. Yet he argued that the Penal Laws, passed from 1691, had failed to achieve the anticipated mass conversion of Catholics. Instead, he encouraged printing religious materials in Irish, such as the Book of Common Prayer, the catechism, a primer, the Psalms and the New Testament.

In his scheme to convert the Irish-speaking Catholic population of Rathlin Island, he built a charity school and church and printed a bilingual catechism, written in a new, easy-to-read, phonetic form of the Irish language he developed.

Hutchinson’s catechism (1722) used a more phonetic writing system that bore a closer resemblance to English than traditional literary Irish. He consequently increased the number of letters in the Irish alphabet from 18 to 26, and printed his Irish translations in a Roman typeface rather than the traditional Gaelic one. But his hope remained that English would supplant Irish as the common language.

He chose Rathlin Island as the site for a pilot scheme because it was one of the few places in his diocese with a large proportion of Irish-speaking Catholics. There was no resident Catholic priest resident on Rathlin to oppose his plans, and in 1722, the bishop confirmed 40 Catholic schoolchildren from Rathlin.

But his Rathlin project was controversial and eventually failed. His reforms of the written Irish language were mocked and condemned by his clergy and bishops. A squib on his versatility, published in Dublin in 1725-1726 as a broadsheet, is attributed to Dean Jonathan Swift.

Eventually, his experience of living among Catholics on his estate near Portglenone (1729-1731) convinced Hutchinson that only a small proportion of Irish Catholics were committed to a bloody rebellion or the slaughter of Protestants.

Hutchinson also wrote pamphlets on the social, cultural, and economic ‘improvement’ of Ireland, suggesting ways to develop fisheries, find employment for the large numbers of poor, make the River Bann more navigable, and drain the bogs around Lough Neagh.

Despite the hostility he faced, Hutchinson remained in the diocese until his death, living first in Lisburn and from 1730 at his new estate in Portglenone, Co Antrim. He died on 23 June 1739 at Portglenone, and was buried two days later under the chancel in the private chapel he built there in 1737.

He was twice married, to Dame Mary Crofts Read and to Peregrine, or Anne, North. His sons-in-law included John Hamilton, Dean of Dromore, and John Ryder, Archbishop of Tuam. His younger brother, Samuel Hutchinson (1666-1748), fought at the Battle of the Boyne, and was the father of: Samuel Hutchinson, Dean of Dromore (1729-1759), Archdeacon of Connor (1736-1759) and Bishop of Killala (1759-1780); Francis Hutchinson, Archdeacon of Down (1733-1768); and James Hutchinson, Vicar of Killead.

Samuel Hutchinson was also the ancestor of Richard Hely-Hutchinson (1756-1825), 1st Earl of Donoughmore, and John Hely-Hutchinson (1757-1832), 2nd Earl of Donoughmore.

Saint Guthlac’s Church in Passenham, near Stony Stratford … Francis Hutchinson was the Rector of Passenham (1706-1727) and Bishop of Down and Connor (1720-1739) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
15 May 2022 (Psalm 81)

‘I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket’ (Psalm 81: 6) … a basket on a ledge in Aghios Giorgios on the Greek island of Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and I am planning to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles this morning (15 May 2022). Before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 81:

Psalm 81 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 80.

This is the tenth of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 81 relates to the themes of celebration and repentance. This psalm emphasises praising a God who saves and a national return to liturgical worship.

The concept of choosing to act on the desires and wants of humans rather than walking with God and being in his favour is brought to light in this psalm. It also calls for repentance from the people to reorder God’s protection upon them.

The reference to the new moon and full moon as well as the blowing of the trumpet in verse 3 may reflect the celebration of New Year and Tabernacles.

This psalm can be divided into two parts:

1, verses 1-5b: The beginning of Psalm 81 is like a hymn. The reference to the new moon and full moon as well as the blowing of the trumpet in verse 3 may reflect the celebration of New Year and Tabernacles.

2, verses 5c–16: This hymn is followed by an oracle. In particular, verses 6-10 describe ‘God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt,’ while verses 11-16 recall the past disobedience of the people and promise to give victory over their enemies if they obey God.

The teaching of verses 9 and 10 is similar to the beginning of the Decalogue, although the words for ‘strange’ god and ‘foreign’ god are different from the ‘other gods’ in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, with the verb ‘brought [you] up’ and the order of the phrases reversed.

Some commentators argue that Psalm 81 is the poetic centre of the Psalter being the middle book (book 3 of 5), middle Psalm (8 of 17) and even point to the middle verses of this Psalm (Psalm 81: 8, 9 with ‘if you would but listen to me’).

‘Your hands were freed from the basket’ (Psalm 81: 6) … baskets in a shop in Ennistymon, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 81 (NRSVA):

To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.

1 Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
2 Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
4 For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
5 He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a voice I had not known:
6 ‘I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
7 In distress you called, and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Selah 8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9 There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

11 ‘But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
13 O that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
and their doom would last for ever.
16 I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.’

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’ It is introduced this morning this way:

Located in the capital of Brazil, the Anglican Diocese of Brasília is at the centre of political and economic decisions in the country. In February 2021, the diocese launched its own Department of Advocacy and Human Rights. The Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca was appointed as coordinator of the department. Under the pastoral leadership of Bishop Maurício Andrade, the diocese began to act on the national political scene, making the Church’s voice heard in debates, especially in matters relating to human and environmental rights.

In April 2021, the Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca participated in a public hearing with the Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Chamber of Federal Deputies. During his speech, the Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca highlighted the importance of the Church being part of public debate, placing itself on the side of socially vulnerable people.

The creation of the Diocesan Department of Advocacy and Human Rights is an important milestone in the history of the Anglican Diocese of Brasilia, as it now explicitly represents the Church in the political arena.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (15 May 2022, Easter V) invites us to pray:

Holy Father,
we give thanks for the gift of family.
May we embrace those around us,
Remembering that we are all your children.

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