07 October 2022

A ‘determination that all … shall
enjoy the blessings of the earth’

Shaking a lulav and an etrog … a figure in a shop window in the Ghetto in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Jewish Festival of Sukkot this year begins at sunset on Sunday evening (9 October 2022) and ends at sunset the following Sunday (16 October 2022).

Sukkot is known as the ‘Festival of Tabernacles’ or the ‘Feast of Booths,’ and it is one of the three central pilgrimage festivals in Judaism, along with Passover and Shavuot. It is traditional in Jewish families and homes to mark this festival by building a sukkah or a temporary hut to stay over in during the holiday.

The customs include buying a lulav and etrog and shaking them daily throughout the festival: the lulav is a palm branch joined with myrtle and willow branches; an etrog is a citron fruit, usually a lemon.

A sukkah is a temporary dwelling in which farmers once lived during the harvest. Today, it is also a reminder of the type of the fragile dwellings in which the people lived during their 40 years wandering through the wilderness after fleeing slavery in Egypt.

Throughout the holiday, meals are eaten inside the sukkah and some people even sleep there as well. On each day of the holiday, it is traditional to perform a waving ceremony with the ‘Four Species’ or specified plants: citrus trees, palm trees, thick or leafy trees and willows.

On each day of the festival, worshippers walk around the synagogue carrying the ‘Four Species’ while reciting special prayers known as Hoshanot.  This takes place either after the morning’s Torah reading or at the end of Mussaf. This ceremony recalls the willow ceremony in the Temple in Jerusalem, when willow branches were piled beside the altar with worshippers parading around the altar reciting prayers.

Sukkot is a joyous and upbeat celebration, and is celebrated today with its own customs and practices.

Prayers during Sukkot include reading the Torah every day, the Mussaf or additional service after morning prayers, reciting Hallel, and adding special additions to the Amidah and Grace after Meals. There are traditional readings from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

A custom originating with Lurianic Kabbalah is to recite the ushpizin prayer to ‘invite’ one of seven ‘exalted guests’ into the sukkah. According to tradition, each night a different guest enters the sukkah followed by the other six. Each of the ushpizin has a unique lesson to teach that parallels the spiritual focus of the day on which they visit, based on the Sephirah associated with that character.

Some streams of Judaism also recognise a set of seven female shepherds of Israel, known as ushpizot or ushpizata. At times, they are listed as the seven women prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda and Esther. Other lists name seven matriarchs: Ruth, Sarah, Rebecca, Miriam, Deborah, Tamar and Rachel.

The interim days of Sukkot, known as hol HaMoed (חול המועד, festival weekdays), are often marked with special meals in the sukkah, when guests are welcomed.

The Shabbat that falls during the week of Sukkot, beginning next Friday evening (14 Ocvtober), is known as Shabbat Hol haMoed. The Book of Ecclesiastes is read, with its emphasis on the ephemeral nature of life: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ This echoes the theme of the sukkah, while its emphasis on death reflects the time of year in which Sukkot falls, the ‘autumn’ of life.

The conclusion of Sukkot marks the beginning of the separate holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

‘Just as the etrog has a both a beautiful taste as well as a beautiful fragrance, so there are (those) who are learned and who do good deeds …’ (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 30:12) … lemons in a restaurant in York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A meditation on Sukkot in Service of the Heart, a prayer book I use regularly in my daily prayer and meditation, offers this Kiddush, composed by Rabbi Sidney Brichto (1936-2009), for welcoming Sukkot:

‘The Festival of Sukkot teaches us to give thanks to God for the harvest of fruit and grain and to share these and all nature’s blessings with our fellow men.

‘Let us praise God with this symbol of joy and thank him for his providence which has upheld us in our wanderings and sustained us with nature’s bounty from year to year. May our worship lead us to live this day and all days in the spirit of this Festival of Sukkot with trust in God’s care, with thanksgiving for his goodness, and with determination that all … shall enjoy the blessings of the earth.’

‘Sometimes I sing the psalms of Hallel. Sometimes I sip coffee’ (Rabbi Rachel Barenblat) … sipping coffee in Great Lindford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

On her blog Velveteen Rabbi, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat shared this poem for Sukkot some years ago [29 September 2018]:

Small scenes from a sukkah

I got a new sukkah this year.
A simple white metal frame.
Three canvas walls with windows in them.
Cornstalks overhead, twined with autumnal garlands.

In the mornings, when it is not raining, I sit here
and watch the morning light move across the valley.
Sometimes I sing the psalms of Hallel.
Sometimes I sip coffee.

During the afternoon I listen to the wind rustle the cornstalks
and the tinsel garlands overhead.
Every now and then I listen to a small plane overhead,
or a flock of geese.

As afternoon gives way to evening,
the sky goes through its rapid costume change.
If I’m paying attention at the right moment
I can see it happen.

Once evening falls
the sukkah gleams
on my mirpesset,
a little house filled with light.

Shabbat Shalom

‘The Festival of Sukkot teaches us to give thanks to God for the harvest of fruit and grain and to share these and all nature’s blessings with our fellow men’ (Rabbi Sidney Brichto) … a harvest wreath on a front door in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Friday 7 October 2022

The Central Methodist Church on Saint Saviourgate, York, was built as the Centenary Methodist Chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and throughout this week, I am continuing last week’s theme of reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed in mid-September.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

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

Peaseholme Green Chapel was opened by John Wesley in 1759 and was the first and only Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in York for almost half a century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Luke 11: 15-26 (NRSVA):

15 But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ 16 Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22 But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 ‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” 25 When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’

The Central Methodist Church on Saint Saviourgate, York, was designed by the Leeds architect James Simpson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Central Methodist Church, York:

The Central Methodist Church on Saint Saviourgate is a Grade II* listed building in the centre of York. The church was built in 1840 as the Centenary Chapel, marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first Methodist societies in 1739.

John Nelson, an early Wesleyan convert, was in York as a soldier in 1744 and is regarded as the first person to introduce Methodism to the city. A Methodist society was formed in York by 1747, and met in a house at the bottom of the Bedern until 1752, when they moved to a building on the site of the ruined chapel of Saint Sepulchre on the north of York Minster.

A room in Pump Yard, Newgate, near The Shambles, was used from around 1751-1753. John Wesley preached there twice – in 1753 and 1755 – and Charles Wesley twice in 1756. John Wesley later preached in York on 15 occasions in 1761-1790.

When John Wesley preached in Blake’s Square in 1757, a fund was launched to build a permanent chapel. He opened the Peaseholme Green Chapel when he visited York in 1759. The Wesleyans rented the Grape Lane Chapel about 1804, and meetings were held there until the New Street Chapel opened in 1805. Peaseholme Green Chapel closed that year and was sold in 1806. A commemorative plaque was placed on the wall in 1955.

New Street Chapel eventually closed in 1908 and was used by the Central Mission in 1908-1910. It later became a theatre and a cinema. Albion Chapel, on the corner of Albion Street and Skeldergate, opened in 1816 and had space for 700 people. It was closed and sold about 1861. Saint George’s Chapel, built in 1826, stood at the end of Chapel Row, off George Street. The congregation declined after the Centenary Chapel opened in 1840, and the building was sold in 1897.

The plan for the Centenary Methodist Church was first proposed by the New Street Chapel trustees in 1838, who planned a ‘cathedral ... of Methodism.’ The foundation stone of the Centenary Chapel, Saint Saviourgate, was laid on 1 October 1839, and it opened on 17 July 1840.

The church in was designed by the Leeds architect James Simpson in a classical style, with an Ionic portico. Inside, the church, which can hold 1,500 people, is horse-shoe shaped with a gallery on three sides. The chapel was enlarged in 1881 and again in 1885 and two new vestries were added in 1909 to replace those in the basement. A new organ was installed in 1914 and was rebuilt in 1931.

Notable monuments include one dedicated to Joseph Agar, and a plaque dedicated to the Revd David Hill (1840-1896), a local missionary to China.

The chapel was the venue for meetings of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in 1908 and 1926. The congregation merged with that of the Wesley Chapel, Priory Street, in 1982 and it was then renamed as the Central Methodist Church.

Wesley Chapel in Priory Street was built on part of the site of Holy Trinity Priory, and opened in 1856. James Simpson was also the architect.

Other Methodist and Wesleyan churches and chapels in York have included Skeldergate Mission Hall, Melbourne Terrace Chapel, Brook Street Chapel, The Groves Chapel, Avenue Terrace Chapel, Clifton Chapel, Wilton Street Mission, Holgate Chapel, Southlands Chapel, Layerthorpe Wesleyan Mission, and a second and third Saint George’s Chapel in Nicholas Street and Millfield Lane.

After the followers of Alexander Kilham had seceded from the Methodist Conference to form the Methodist New Connexion in 1799, they bought the Grape Lane Chapel. Later, they opened Trinity Chapel on Peckitt Street. There was another New Connexion congregation on Cemetery Road.

The Primitive Methodists moved into Grape Lane Chapel in 1820. Ebenezer Chapel opened in Little Stonegate in 1851. The Primitive Methodist Conference was held in York in 1853 and 1864. Ebenezer Chapel closed in 1901. Other Primitive Methodist chapels in York included the Nunnery Lane Mission, Victoria Bar Chapel, Apollo Street Chapel, Heslington Road Chapel, the Duke of York Street Mission Room, Albany Street Chapel, Albany Chapel, Burton Lane Chape, Monkgate Chapel and John Petty Memorial Chapel.

Wesleyan Protestant Methodism was first introduced to York in 1829, and their chapels included Lady Peckett’s Yard Chapel until 1858, Monk Bar Chapel or Mission and a Methodist Free Church Chapel in James Street, off Lawrence Street.

York also had a congregation of the Wesleyan Methodist Reformers.

The Central Mission was started as an independent, non-sectarian mission by two members of the Centenary Methodist Chapel. They worked from the Layerthorpe Methodist Mission, the Festival Concert Rooms in Museum Street, the New Street Methodist Chapel and the mission in Swinegate. It later amalgamated with the Monk Bar United Methodist Chapel as the Monk Bar Central Mission, and then united with the York City Mission. The York City Mission was founded in 1848 and often used Methodist mission rooms and chapels.

A commemorative plaque was placed on the former Peaseholme Green Chapel in 1955 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Friday 7 October 2022):

The Collect:

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers
of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
you have taught us through your Son
that love is the fulfilling of the law:
grant that we may love you with our whole heart
and our neighbours as ourselves;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Mission in a Crisis.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Father Rasika Abeysinghe, Priest in the Diocese of Kurunagala, Church of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

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

Let us pray for the Church of Ceylon. May we be inspired by their Christian witness and advocacy for reform focused on peace and justice.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

John Wesley preached in Saint Saviour’s Church in July 1766 and May 1786 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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

The Wesleyan Protestant Methodists were introduced to York in 1829, and Lady Peckett’s Yard Chapel continued until 1858 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)