13 August 2023

May God bless you
and 7 million readers
with discomfort, anger,
tears and foolishness

Historians estimate that there were about 7 million people on the earth in 4000 BCE; now we are about 7 billion

Patrick Comerford

This blog has reached the monumental landmark of 7 million hits. The 7 million mark was passed earlier this morning (13 August 2023), and it has come as a delight.

After I began blogging, it took until July 2012 to reach 0.5 million hits. This figure rose to 1 million by September 2013; 1.5 million in June 2014; 2 million in June 2015; 2.5 million in November 2016; 3 million by October 2016; 3.5 million by September 2018; 4 million on 19 November 2019; 4.5 million on 18 June 2020; 5 million on 27 March 2021; 5.5 million on 28 October 2021; 6 million over a year on 1 July 2022; and 6.5 million earlier this year (6 February 2023).

This means that this blog continues to reach half a million readers in a seven-month period, somewhere above 71,000 a month, or up to 2,400 a day. In recent days these figures have been exceeded on occasions, with about 8,000 to 10,000 hits a day since the end of July.

With this latest landmark figure of 7 million hits, I found myself asking: what do 7 million people look like?

Historians estimate that there were about 7 million people on the earth in 4000 BCE; now we are about 7 billion.

NHS figures show about 7 million people are waiting for consultant-led NHS hospital treatment.

The combined effects of ambient air pollution and household air pollution is associated with 7 million premature deaths a year.

WHO figures show more than 7 million people die each year as the result of direct tobacco use … and another 1.3 million people die as the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

Over 7 million people have been internally displaced since the invasion of Ukraine.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, which was evacuated yesterday (12 August 2023) following a bomb threat, has about 7 million visitors a year.

This is the population of Serbia, Nicaragua, Libya and Paraguay. The population of Kula Lumpur and Hong King is about 7.5 million, but at least four cities in China have a population of 7 million or more each: Xi’an, Dongguan, Hangzhou and Foshan.

The visits of Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak to Northern Ireland earlier this year cost an extra £7 million in policing.

Sorrento, a six-bedroom Victorian house in Dalkey, Co Dublin, with views over Coliemore Harbour, was put on the market last year with an asking price of €7 million. The house was built ca 1860 and has been totally refurbished in recent years.

I have said so often before that this is not a ‘bells-and-whistles’ blog, and I still hope it is never going to be a commercial success. It was never designed to be so.

I decline advertising and commercial sponsorships, I accept no ‘freebies,’ and I endorse no products. Even when I am political, mainly about war and peace, racism, human rights and refugees, I refuse to declare my personal party preferences when it comes to voting.

I continue to resist commercial pressures, I have refused to receive books from publishers and I only review books I have bought myself. Without making too much a point of it, I value my independence so much that I refuse the offer of coffee when I return to a restaurant I mention … as journalists like to be reminded, there is no such thing as a free meal.

The half dozen most popular postings on this blog so far have been:

1, About me (1 May 2007), about 35,000 hits.

2, The Transfiguration: finding meaning in icons and Orthodox spirituality (7 April 2010), over 30,000 hits.

3, ‘When all that’s left of me is love, give me away’ … a poem before Kaddish has gone viral (15 January 2020), over 26,600 hits.

4, Readings in Spirituality: the novelist as a writer in spirituality and theology (26 November 2009), over 16,500 hits.

5, A visit to Howth Castle and Environs (19 March 2012), over 16,000 hits.

6, Raising money at the book stall and walking the beaches of Portrane (1 August 2011), over 12,000 hits.

When I think of 7 million hits, I think of 7 million people, and today I am humble of heart rather than having a swollen head.

But this blog should never be about success measured in the number of hits. A recent posting by my friend and colleague, the Revd David Messer, helped me to draw a comparison of blogging like this and some of my recent experiences in rural ministry.

‘I wish I had something worthwhile of my own to say, but at the moment, I haven’t the wherewithal ... because rural ministry means living in a permanent state of failure – which is exhausting. So instead, here’s a wonderful quote from Giles Fraser, which gives me heart:

‘In a world where we semaphore our successes to each other at every possible opportunity, churches cannot be blamed for failing to live up to this austere and wonderful message. The worst of them judge their success in entirely worldly terms, by counting their followers.

‘Their websites show images of happy, uncomplicated people doing good improving stuff in the big community. But if I am right about the meaning of Christ’s passion, then a church is at its best when it fails, when it gives up on all the ecclesiastical glitter, when the weeds start to break through the floor, and when it shows others that failure is absolutely nothing of the sort.

‘This is the site of real triumph, the moment of success.

‘Failure is redeemed.

Hallelujah.’

Now that I am in my 70s, I find myself agreeing with the Swedish actor Ingrid Bergman when she once said: ‘Getting old is like climbing a mountain; you get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!’

Moving from ideas such as these into prayer on this Sunday afternoon, I might pray in these words, although I do not know who wrote them:

‘May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live deep within your heart.

‘May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equality and peace.

‘May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and change their pain into joy.

‘And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.’

The Eiffel Tower in Paris attracts about 7 million visitors a year

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (77) 13 August 2023

Lichfield Cathedral is the only English mediaeval cathedral with three spires – known locally as the ‘Ladies of the Vale’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and today is the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (13 August 2023). Later this morning, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton.

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the churches in Tamworth. For this week and next week, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at a church in Lichfield;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Inside Lichfield Cathedral … the cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style and was completed ca 1340 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lichfield Cathedral:

Lichfield Cathedral and the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, have been my spiritual home since I was in my late teens. Lichfield Cathedral is the only English mediaeval cathedral with three spires – known locally as the ‘Ladies of the Vale’ – and it is one of the most elegant in England.

Lichfield is among the earliest centres of Christian worship in England. Lichfield Cathedral dates back to the year 700, although was a church (Saint Mary’s) may have been built on the site in 659.

Saint Chad came in 669 and was the first Bishop in Lichfield. His teaching was so impressive was his teaching and his preaching so genuine, that he was venerated immediately after his death, and Lichfield became a place of pilgrimage.

After the invasion of 1066, the Normans built a new cathedral, although few traces remain. Bishop Robert de Limesey and Bishop de Clinton built the Normal Cathedral and Roger de Clinton fortified the Cathedral Close with a wall. Bishop Walter Langton strengthened the Close wall in the 13th century, paid £2,000 for a shrine for Saint Chad, and financed the completion of the Lady Chapel.

The cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style and was completed ca 1340. During the Tudor Reformations, Canon Henry Comberford was the Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral.

The great wall around the Close was the cathedral’s undoing in the 17th century and turned the cathedral and the Close into an ideal garrison. The cathedral was besieged three times during the Civil War and cannonballs destroyed both the roof and the central spire.

Lichfield Cathedral suffered more than any other cathedral in England at the hands of the Puritans. The Cromwellians destroyed statues, monuments, documents and carvings. At the Restoration in 1660, the cathedral and the close were in ruins. But it was repaired rapidly within a mere nine years under Bishop John Hacket.

Lichfield Cathedral and the Close flourished again in the 18th century and grew in national importance, becoming a centre of culture and learning. Thanks to Erasmus Darwin and his circle in the Lunar Society, Samuel Johnson and the great antiquarian Elias Ashmole, Lichfield became a notable centre of culture and learning. There was an interesting dynamic with religion and scientific advancement creatively interrelated alongside music, literature and culture, so that Lichfield regarded as a major centre of enlightenment within Europe.

The interior was rearranged at the end of the 18th century, and then Sir George Gilbert Scott and his son Oldrid carried out a major and sensitive restoration of the cathedral in the 19th century. The statues on the west fa├žade were replaced, and 160 ornate carved figures of kings, queens and saints decorate the cathedral walls.

The cathedral’s interior today, with the Skidmore Screen, the choir stalls and the Minton tiles, contains a singular composition of High Victorian artistry.

The many cathedral treasures include the 8th century sculpture of the ‘Lichfield Angel’ from Saint Chad’s tomb chest, and the Saint Chad Gospels – perhaps a little younger than the Lindisfarne Gospels but older than the Book of Kells.

After all its often tumultuous, history Lichfield Cathedral today stands serene in majesty and lively in all its work and worship.

The High Altar and Choir in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 14: 22-33 (NRSVA):

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29 He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Looking out onto the Cathedral Close from the west end of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Reducing Stigma.’ This theme is introduced today by xxx:

USPG has been supporting the HIV Stigma Reduction Programme run by Anglican churches in Zimbabwe since it began in 2016. It tackles the stigma surrounding HIV, welcoming people who have disclosed their status and offering them practical support.

Using the public health system approach known as Information, Education and Communication (IEC), the programme educates the public on basic facts about HIV/AIDS with a combination of media, art and advocacy. Churches conducted campaigns and outreaches in institutions and public spaces, produced special videos and made radio programmes. They designed, produced and distributed IEC material covering issues such as HIV transmission, HIV-related stigma, nutrition and the rights of people living with HIV. The message was spread on Tee shirts, scarves, leaflets, mugs and key rings. Sporting events were organised that included people living with HIV. Special events were organised to commemorate World AIDS Day. The programme also lobbied for policy changes, especially workplace HIV policy and recruitment agencies that demand candidates to disclose their HIV status.

One of the programme’s positive outcomes was an increase in the number of people coming forward to find out what their HIV status was. Knowing one’s HIV status enables people to make informed decisions. The church was able to show these people where they could receive medication or advice on their diets. They were also able to join one of the wellness groups the church runs the UN have adopted the Anglican Church’s model into their faith-based practices.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (13 August 2023, Trinity X) invites us to pray in these words:

Lord, you taught us to love our neighbour,
Help us care for those in need
Give us strength to comfort the fearful, tend to the sick
and assure the isolated of our love. Amen.

Peter Walker’s statue of Saint Chad at the south-east corner of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
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:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have willed that the gate of mercy
should stand open for those who trust in you:
look upon us with your favour
that we who follow the path of your will
may never wander from the way of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Shrine of Saint Chad in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

Comberford among the churches and parishes in Tamworth Deanery on a hassock in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)