16 July 2024

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
68, Tuesday 16 July 2024

The Crying women of Sidon … a sarcophagus from Sidon now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church and this week began with the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (16 July) remembers Saint Osmund (1099), Bishop of Salisbury.

I am back in Stony Stratford after a day visiting Tamworth and Lichfield yesterday. Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The Syro-Phoenician or Canaanite Woman … a modern icon by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM

Matthew 11: 20-24 (NRSVA):

20 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21 ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum,

will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.

For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’

Iokasti, a restaurant in Koutouloufari in Crete … are there comparisons between Iocasta and her daughter in ‘The Phoenician Women’ and the Greek-speaking Syro-Phoenician or Canaanite woman in Tyre and Sidon? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This morning’s reflection:

This morning’s Gospel reading seems to threaten judgement and doom for two pairs of cities – Chorazin and Bethsaida, and Tyre and Sidon – and links Capernaum with Hades, but not Sodom with Gomorrah.

But what deeds of power are going to be done in Tyre and Sidon? What signs of the day of judgement are going to be seen in Tyre and Sidon?

Perhaps this passage should not be read without also skipping forward a few chapters to Matthew 15: 21–28:

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24 He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26 He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27 She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28 Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

One of the first decisions of Jesus on that visit to Tyre and Sidon is hear the cry for mercy from a Canaanite or Syro-Phoenician woman, to heal her daughter, and to commend their faith. The outsiders are counted in, and judgement is experienced as love and mercy, compassion and inclusion.

Can you recall a moment, a place, or an occasion when you felt rejected? To be rejected I do not need to be an outsider. We can be rejected by our own brothers or sisters, by those who live around us, by those who share our religious or cultural values.

We can be rejected because of our lifestyle, our family background, our ethnic or religious backgrounds, our personal habits, our family circumstances, our sexuality, or marital status or lack of marital status … the list is endless.

Can you think of how you feel when you are made to feel rejected, an outsider, sent away?

And, have you found yourself blaming yourself rather than those who reject or marginalise you?

If so, then you know what it is like to become a double victim: a victim of the prejudices of others, and a victim of the perceptions that are projected onto you.

The disciples reject the Canaanite woman who is pleading for mercy, seeing her as unclean and an outsider, and bring judgement down on this woman and her daughter in Tyre and Sidon.

Having heard the Pharisees suggest Jesus should reject them, they now say to Jesus, ‘send her away’ (verse 23).

But there is a paradox in their rejection of her, for they use a word (ἀπόλυσον, apoluson) that also means to set free, to let go, to give liberty to, to release.

The same verb is used to set a debtor free of debts, or to allow a woman to divorce her husband, setting her free from the bonds that tie husband and wife. In wanting to be free from her demanding calls, they – ironically – call for mother and daughter to be freed from their torments.

In our feelings of rejection and marginalisation, how do we find acceptance, liberation, and a place in God’s unfolding plan for his people, for all people, God’s future for us?

The disciples want to turn her away. They see her as a pest, a nuisance, a pushy woman, breaking into their closed space, their private area.

Christ and the Disciples are in the coastal area of Tyre and Sidon, an area of small villages, perhaps looking for a quiet break for a few days. But if they are planning to get away for a few quiet days, those plans are frustrated when this woman arrives with her pressing demands.

This is foreign territory, inhabited by Canaanites or Phoenicians, who were culturally Hellenised and mainly Greek-speaking. It is also the territory associated with Elijah, who raised the widow’s child from death (I Kings 17: 9-24) and who ‘was markedly open to foreigners.’

So, Christ could expect to find himself among a large number of Greek-speaking ‘Gentiles.’ Would the Disciples expect him to behave like Elijah and break all the rules in being open to them, taking miraculous care of a lone mother and her child?

In the classical world, Phoenician women were pushy women. About 400 years earlier, the great Greek playwright Euripides wrote his tragic play The Phoenician Women (Φοίνισσαι, Phoenissae).

The title of the play, The Phoenician Women, refers to the Greek chorus, which is composed of Phoenician women on their way to Delphi and who are trapped in Thebes by war.

The two key women in the play are Jocasta and her daughter Antigone, who have survived against all odds. They challenge the accepted concepts in Classical times of fate and free-will.

In the face of death, they refuse to accept what others see as their destiny, they refuse to be pushed aside, marginalised and dismissed as the men around then compete for power.

So, in Christ’s time, educated people could expect a Phoenician woman and her daughter to be pushy in the face of what appears to be a cruel fate, even if this involves confronting successful or ambitious men: they are prepared to stand up to kings and rulers, prepared to challenge them, and prepared to risk judgement that means rejection and exile.

Faced with her daughter’s needs, this woman ignores the disciples: she is direct and aggressive in demanding healing and justice. And in demanding justice and healing for her daughter, she is, of course, demanding these for herself too.

Nothing is said about the response of the disciples to the woman. They had been trying to push her away, despite her crying, her tears, her distress, her plight over her daughter.

Perhaps nothing is said about the response of the disciples … because we are the disciples. How do you and I respond to encounters like this?

As a social response, for example, we might consider that the confrontation is an illustration of how we might respond to the needs of strangers and foreigners.

Do we find them pushy and demanding?

How do we respond when the foreign woman in our society wants the same treatment in hospital for her child as a child born here?

How do we respond when foreigners who are more open and joyful in conversation, appear to be encroaching on our privacy on the bus, on the street or in a shop?

Are we like the Disciples, and want to send them away? Or are we like Jesus, and engage in conversation with them?

Do we think we have some privileges that should not be shared with the outsider and the stranger?

How do we respond to people who are pushy and continue to demand care for their children in the face of society’s decision to say no?

The parents who want teaching support for children with learning disabilities, the parents who want to know why children’s hospitals are so badly funded that they have to raise funds with charity events while their children wait for treatment.

But this Gospel story also raises questions at a personal, spiritual level too, when it comes to matters of faith.

How many people do you know who give up when they turn to God in prayer and find those who are supposed to represent Jesus appear to turn them away?

How many times have I dismissed the needs and prayers of others because they appear to be outside the community of faith as I understand it?

This woman is insistent, she is persistent; she refuses to accept what other people regard as her fate and destiny.

In the end, she receives the mercy and help she asks for, and much, much more … she is commended in front of the disciples for her faith, and her daughter is healed instantly.

We do not have to accept misery and rejection, especially when others see them as our fate or our destiny. And, in simple prayers, we may find more in the answer than we ever ask for.

‘What overwhelms us?’

‘What can we do about being overwhelmed?’

These questions were put to us some years by Bishop Margaret Vertue of the Diocese of False Bay in South Africa, at the USPG conference in High Leigh.

Bishop Margaret, who is the second woman to become a bishop in Africa, was leading that morning’s Bible study in 2017 on Matthew 11: 20-24.

She challenged us to think of how we respond in love and not in judgement. And, drawing on the wisdom of the Carthusian monks of Grand Chartreuse, she asked: ‘I became human for you, will you become God with me?’

To illustrate how we might respond in love and not in judgement, she shared ‘The Story of a Sign’ by Alonso Alvarez Barreda, with music by Giles Lamb. This short film from Purplefeather illustrates the power of words to radically change our message and our effect upon the world.

She challenged us that morning to consider our own contexts and to discuss: ‘What overwhelms us? What can we do about being overwhelmed?’

And she asked, in the words of the wisdom of the Carthusian monks of Grand Chartreuse: ‘I became human for you, will you become God with me?’

‘The Story of a Sign’ by Alonso Alvarez Barreda / Purplefeather, music by Giles Lamb

Today’s Prayers (Tuesday 16 July 2024):

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 ‘Advocacy, human, environmental and territorial rights programme in Brazil.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca dos Anjos Siqueira, Diocesan Officer for human, environmental and territorial rights in the Anglican Diocese of Brasilia.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Tuesday 16 July 2024) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the protection and safeguarding of God´s creation, especially for traditional communities and indigenous peoples who suffer violence and persecution and are deprived of their ancestors’ lands.

The Collect:

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
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.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God, whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
may we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Additional Collect:

Generous God,
you give us gifts and make them grow:
though our faith is small as mustard seed,
make it grow to your glory
and the flourishing of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Theatre of Dionysus, beneath the slopes of the Acropolis in Athens … plays by the great playwrights, Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles were first performed there (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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 July 2024

The Quaker Meeting House
on Jesus Lane in central
Cambridge has a story
that dates back to 1659

Friends’ Meeting House on the corner of Jesus Lane and Park Street in central Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

This month marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of George Fox (1624-1691), the founding figure in the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. When I was at the USPG conference in High Leigh last week, I revisited the former Friends’ Meeting in Hoddesdon, and it seemed appropriate while I was in Cambridge on my way to and from the conference to look again at the Quaker meeting house on Jesus Lane in Cambridge.

Friends Meeting House is at 12 Jesus Lane, Cambridge, although the entrance in Park Street. It is beside the ADC Theatre and is on a corner facing Little Trinity, which has been described as one of the best domestic buildings in Cambridge.

On the other side of the street, the north wall of Sidney Sussex College runs along this west end of Jesus Lane, and there were years when I had rooms first on Stairs K in and later on Stairs M in Cloisters Court in Sidney Sussex, overlooking this stretch of Jesus Lane.

Jesus Lane begins at the junction of Sidney Street and Bridge Street at the west and runs to a roundabout at the east, where it joins King Street which runs parallel with Jesus Lane.

The buildings on Jesus Lane include: Jesus College on the north side of the street; Sidney Sussex College on the south side of Jesus Lane at the west end; Wesley House, the Methodist theological centre; the neighbouring home of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies; Westcott House, the Anglican theological college; and All Saints’ Church (1863-1870), designed by the Victorian architect GF Bodley and regarded as one of the best examples of Victorian churches in Cambridge.

Close to the Quaker meeting house, the Pitt Club at 7a Jesus Lane is a neoclassical building designed in 1863 as the Victorian Roman Baths, and with Pizza Express on the ground floor.

The Quaker presence in Cambridge dates back to at least 1659, when Friends rented a house near Sidney Sussex College for meetings. Ann Docwra (1624-1710) gave several houses in Jesus Lane to Friends in 1700, including one for use as a meeting house and another cottage that remained hers to use in her lifetime.

Apparently, the meeting house and the adjoining burial ground had already been in Quaker use before that date. Ten years later, Ann Docwra left about 60 acres in Fulbourn in her will to Friends.

A new meeting house was built on part of the site on Jesus Lane in 1776-1777, including over the former burial ground, and adjacent to Ann Docwra’s cottage.

The Quaker meeting in Cambridge was ‘laid down’ or discontinued between 1795 and 1884, and the meeting house was used for a number of purposes.

Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838), a Quaker and an education innovator, spoke in the Town Hall in Cambridge in 1808 on Public Elementary Education, and school run on Lancaster’s principles was run in the disused meeting house for about 10 years, until new premises were needed and the school at Castle End was built.

The Revd William Leeke founded a Sunday school in the building in 1827, and the Jesus Lane Sunday School remained until 1833 when it moved to the King Street Day School, and later to Paradise Street.

The building was let to the Corporation in 1855 to accommodate first Free Library in Cambridge under John Pink. The reading room had about 1,200 books. Three years later, a lending library was set up. The library was moved to Wheeler Street, beside the Guildhall in 1862.

When the university gradually opened to non-conformists, the number of Quakers in Cambridge grew and the meeting was revived in 1884. The meeting house was described in 1883 as a square room with a brass-railed platform and a gallery, with seating for 155.

But the foundations of the meeting house were inadequate because it was built over the former burial ground and due to the presence of Civil War defences known as the ‘King’s Ditch’. The meeting house was repaired in due 1894-1895, the foundations were strengthened with lime and cement, and the plan of the meeting room was changed from a square to a rectangle. The former gallery was partly removed and partly enclosed to create a children’s room, and a foyer was provided facing onto Park Street.

Ann Docwra’s cottage at the corner of Jesus Lane and Park Street was demolished and rebuilt as a caretaker’s residence in the 1890s. The architect was Edwin Boys.

A local historian AB Gray recounts that in 1894 when the new foundations were being excavated on the site, a number of human skeletons were unearthed. It was said at the time that they belonged to some prehistoric tribe, although the site had also been a Quaker burial ground on the site.

The Quaker architect Fred Rowntree (1860-1927) prepared a proposal in 1919 to extend onto the site of 11 Jesus Lane, an adjacent public house, previously known as the Taylor’s Arms. This house had been acquired by a local Quaker Caroline Stephen, an aunt of Virginia Woolf. Her will in 1909 included the provision that once the lease expired in 1922 Friends would have the option to acquire it, and this happened in 1922.

A reduced version of Rowntree’s scheme was carried out in 1927, leaving No 11 largely unaltered. A fire damaged the buildings in 1949 and the meeting house was reopened in 1950 after repairs, including a new concrete roof to the meeting room. Once again the architects were Fred Rowntree & Sons.

The accommodation in the meeting house was inadequate by the 1960s. The corner building, once the caretaker’s cottage, was demolished in 1969 and replaced by a new entrance block designed by the architect William E Barnes of Letchworth. A warden’s flat was created on the two upper storeys of 11 Jesus Lane and on the second floor of the entrance block, and some alterations were made to the 1776-1777 meeting room. An accessible toilet was installed(In the 1990s.

In recent years, the ground floor shop and one first floor room in 11 Jesus Lane have been rented out to a hairdresser.

Today, the meeting house complex consists of three separate buildings on the corner of Jesus Lane and Park Street: the 18th-century building containing the meeting room in Park Street; the 1969 entrance block on the corner; and the former public house at No 11 Jesus Lane. All three parts are internally connected.

The ground floor includes the entrance lobby, the entrance hall, stairwell, a lift and a library; a small hall (the Ann Docwra Room), as well as toilets and a kitchen, the meeting room and the annex. The meeting room is lit by three arched windows to the west, and one similar window to the south. The building has few furnishings of note, apart from a number of 19th-century benches with curved armrests and turned legs that are placed around the edge of the meeting room.

The Alden Wright Room is on the first floor. The second floor includes the warden’s flat.

The meeting house is not listed, and it has probably been altered too much to be included in the statutory list. It has been substantially altered and partly rebuilt on several occasions but its original form is still legible. Due to its historical significance in the city it could be included on the council list of buildings of local interest.

The meeting house is on a corner site in the centre of Cambridge, opposite Sidney Sussex College, and the main views of complex are from Jesus Lane and Park Street.. Around the corner in Park Street is the ADC Theatre, while further west in Jesus Lane is the Pitt Club, while to the north-west are the mediaeval Round Church and the Cambridge Union Society Building (1866).

The archaeological potential of the wider area is high. In the past, Roman pottery, Saxon brooches and a Saxon burial have been found in Jesus Lane. Overall, the archaeological potential of the site is considered to be high, with potential for pre-historical, Roman and mediaeval finds.

The meeting house has all the amenities it needs, and has a resident warden. Friends use the meeting house for about 30 hours a week, and the building is available for community lettings.

• There are two Meeting for Worship on Sundays: 9 to 10 am (no online attendance); and at 10:30 am (blended, online attendance possible). Meetings for Worship also take place on Wednesdays (1:15 to 1:45pm, blended, preceded by a simple lunch at 12:30) and on third Mondays (7:30 to 9 pm).

The Quaker meeting house in central Cambridge is close to the ADC Theatre and Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
67, Monday 15 July 2024, Saint Swithun

Saint Swithun depicted on the gateway at Magdalen College, Oxford … is today’s weather going to last for 40 days? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church and this week began with the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (15 July) remembers Saint Swithun (ca 862), Bishop of Winchester, and Saint Bonaventure (1274), Friar, Bishop and Teacher of the Faith.

I am planning to visit Tamworth and Lichfield later today. But, before the day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The gateway at Magdalen College, Oxford with Saint Mary Magdalen (centre) between Saint Swithun (right) and Bishop William Waynflete (left) of Winchester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 5: 43-48 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

Patrick Gale’s ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ … a reminder of how we speak of being ‘Good Enough’ and being ‘Perfect’

This morning’s reflection:

We are half-through July, yet this has hardly been perfect summer weather. Today is Saint Swithun’s Day, so many people – in a very traditional English way of being superstitious – may be half concerned that whatever weather we have today is going to continue for the next 40 days, imperfect as it may be.

Last night’s England v Spain Euro final could have been a very perfect evening indeed. But iin many ways it was a good end to what has been a very good championship for an English team that represents so much that is good in England today. They were more than good enough as a team, but too often in our lives we demand what is perfect at the expense of delighting in what is good and what is good enough.

However, this morning I am wrestling with the advice in this Gospel reading: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5: 48).

I certainly cannot ever see myself as being perfect, or even aspiring to be perfect. But this Gospel advice this morning reminds me of Patrick Gale’s novel, A Perfectly Good Man, one of the books that was part of my holiday reading some years ago.

I had never read any of his novels before, but this book was recommended to me by someone who felt she was eerily reading a book about someone who knew more about me than she realised was possible.

TS Eliot’s ‘East Coker’ begins with the words:

In my beginning is my end.

And it closes:

In my end is my beginning.

Without giving away the story line of this book, in many ways these two lines could describe how Patrick Gale narrates his story in A Perfectly Good Man. As I read it, I was not waiting to discover what happens in the end, but was waiting for an end that could tell me why all that is happening is taking place.

I was surprised at the writer’s twists and turns, but more taken aback when I felt I was holding up a mirror to myself.

There is the description of farm life that brought me back to a time when I lived on my grandmother’s farm.

There was the religious experience in teenage years that become life-changing for the main character, Father Barnaby Johnson.

There is his approach to spirituality and liturgy, his choice of reading, and the off-centre involvement of Quakers.

I am more positive about my experiences of old second-hand bookshops, but I could identify with his experience of visiting the old ancestral home in rural England.

There is his dysfunctional relationship with his father, his liberal boarding school or minor public school education, a sibling who died while he is still in his teens, an adoption, and a feeling of being marginalised or even being an outsider at a parent’s funeral.

There is his participation in street protests in 1980s England that parallels my own role in CND protests.

There are developed interests in art and the artist, in museums and music.

And there is the powerful use of a Facebook group today and the impact of social media.

Even the graffiti on the church walls, which may shock many readers, even those who are not church-going, reminded me of graffiti I found on a church wall many years ago while I was providing Sunday cover.

And there is the chilling parishioner, Modest Carlsson, who shows that cruelty and evil can stalk the land.

This is a very Anglican story about a very Anglican priest.

It is a life story presented almost like a series of photographs that have fallen out of a family album and that are put back in a random way, yet only make sense when they are all looked at each in turn. The primary suspense in this novel lies not in the ‘what’, but the ‘when’ and ‘how.’

Time and again, in recent months, I have asked who decided in recent years that ‘good enough’ is simply not good enough, that we have to excel?

‘Please don’t feel you always have to be good,’ eight-year-old Barnaby Johnson is advised close to the end of this novel. ‘Sometimes you’re so good it hurts to watch you.’

They are wise words, indeed. But too often they go largely unheeded. Father Barnaby is a complex and nuanced character. Yet he is also an ordinary man, with all the sinfulness, temptations and ambiguities of a good but ordinary man.

It is also about cruelty, deception and love, and it is written with compassion and understanding.

I have only been to Cornwall once, but many his descriptions of England could be of places I know and love near Lichfield and in rural south Staffordshire, or in East Anglia, North Wiltshire or the West Country, although the setting could easily be moved to many parts of Ireland too.

This is a discussion of what it means to be a good person that should be read by every priest and every aspiring priest. Once again, it is an example of a novelist dealing with religion and belief in the 21st century, and with so many of the issues debated in pastoral theology today.

In the many flashbacks I have from my childhood, one is of being told I needed to try harder.

‘I’m doing my best,’ was my quick retort.

‘Well, your best is simply not good enough’ was the cruel response from an adult who thought this was being smart and witty, but who never knew how to be loving and encouraging.

Rather than crumbling under his response, I have been content enough ever since to try to do my best and to accept that as being good enough. I do not seek to be perfect or need to be perfect in the eyes of others.

‘The Perfect Blend’ … a sign in a café in Charleville, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 15 July 2024):

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 ‘Advocacy, human, environmental and territorial rights programme in Brazil.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by the Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca dos Anjos Siqueira, Diocesan Officer for human, environmental and territorial rights in the Anglican Diocese of Brasilia.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Monday 15 July 2024) invites us to pray:

Pray for the advancement of sexual and reproductive rights for all, especially women and those affected by gender-based prejudice and violence.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
by whose grace we celebrate again
the feast of your servant Swithun:
grant that, as he governed with gentleness
the people committed to his care,
so we, rejoicing in our Christian inheritance,
may always seek to build up your Church in unity and love;
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.

Post Communion Prayer:

God, shepherd of your people,
whose servant Swithun revealed the loving service of Christ
in his ministry as a pastor of your people:
by this eucharist in which we share
awaken within us the love of Christ
and keep us faithful to our Christian calling;
through him who laid down his life for us,
but is alive and reigns with you, now and for ever.

Saint Swithun (second from left) in the second row of saints and martyrs on the Great Screen in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on images for full-screen viewing)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

• Patrick Gale A Perfectly Good Man (HarperCollins UK/Fourth Estate, 2012).

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

14 July 2024

8.5 million blog hits
compared with the size
of the Sahara Desert or
the people of Nanjing

In the cold light of day, what does 8.5 million mean or signify?

Patrick Comerford

This blog has reached the monumental landmark of 8.5 million hits. The 8.5 million mark was passed some time this afternoon (14 July 2024), and, like all milestones such as this, 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 half a year later on 1 July 2022; 6.5 million on 6 February 2023; 7 million on 13 August 2023; 7.5 million on 29 November 2023; 8 million by 30 April 2024; and 8.5 million less than three months later today (14 July 2024).

This means that this blog continues to reach half a million readers in a four-to-seven month period, somewhere above 100,000 a month, up to 4,000 a day, and an average of over 800 hits for each post. In recent months, these figures have been exceeded on occasions, with a record 35,452 hits on one single day (28 May 2024), followed by 27,616 hits (11 May 2024), 26,974 (27 May 2024), 23,234 (3 September 2023), 22,436 (19 June 2024), 21,999 (4 September 2023), 15,936 (18 June 2024), 15,211 (7 September 2023), 15,193 (6 September 2023), 14,411 (20 June 2024), 13,362 (17 June 2024), 13,301 (11 December 2023), 11,733 (9 December 2023) 11,333 (5 September 2023), 10,785 (28 November 2023), 10,480 (10 May 2024), 10,276 (16 June 2024) and 10,187 (13 June 2024). At times in recent months, there have been 8,000 to 10,000 hits a day, and so far there have been about 79,000 hits this month (July 2024).

With this latest landmark figure of 8.5 million hits, I find myself asking: What do 8.5 million people look like? What would £8.5 million or €8.5 million buy? How vast is 8.5 million sq km? Indeed, what does 8.5 million of anything mean to the environment?

If this blog had one hit a minute, then 8.5 million minutes equals 16 years, 2 months and 2 days.

Some 8.5 million people aged 65 and over are income tax payers in the UK, a record number of pensioners, according to the latest HMRC figures. The Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson, Sarah Olney, said shortly before the election: ‘Millions are being hammered by Rishi Sunak’s retirement tax. The Conservative Party have forced the elderly and hardworking families to pick up the tab for their disastrous management of the economy.’

A recent survey shows that deceptive online retail tactics lead to 8.5 million people in Britain buying something they do not want or need or have come to regret.

There are 8.5 million people in some form of housing need in England and who cannot access the housing they need.

It is estimated that 8.5 million people die from various forms of cancer every year, with lung cancer the leading cause of cancer death.

An estimated 8.5 million watched President Joe Biden’s recent ABC News interview with George Stephanopoulos.

Sierra Leone has a population of about 8.5 people, ranking 100th by population in the world.

New York City has a population of about 8.5 million people and covers an area of 302 square miles, making it the most populated city in the US.

The city of Nanjing in China has a population of about 8.5 million people.

Out of a total population of around 47 million people, nearly 8.5 million people in Sudan have been displaced.

In neighbouring Ethiopia, over 8.5 million people in seven regions are highly food insecure.

There are 8.5 million unemployed people in Turkey.

About 8.5 million people visit Saudi Arabia each year for Umrah this year.

Brazil has a geographical area of 8.5 million sq km and is the largest country in the Southern Hemisphere and the world’s fifth-largest country.

The Sahara Desert also covers 8.5 million sq km or 5.5% of the earth’s surface and is the world’s largest desert.

Back in 2019, the European Commission ruled that the French government had to recover illegal state aid amounting to around €8.5 million from Ryanair.

An eye-watering £8.5 million was paid out to Thames Water bosses over the last three years. Over the same three-year period, the firm has dumped raw sewage into the River Wandle on 25 separate occasions.

Killaleigh Castle in Co Tipperary, a beautiful 16th century castle Set in a parkland estate of 300 acres but that is unoccupied and in need of complete renovation, was recently put on the market with an asking price of €8.5 million.

The Church of England awarded almost £8.5 million earlier this year to help Church projects that include parish renewal programmes, parish outreach and children’s and youth work in rural and urban areas. The awards were made in March by the Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment Board.

Some years ago, CERN presented the analysis of the light curves of 8.5 million stars observed during two seasons by EROS (Experience de Recherche d'Objets Sombres), in the galactic plane away from the bulge.

Over the years, the half dozen most popular postings on this blog to date have been:

1, About me (1 May 2007), over 40,000 hits.

2, ‘When all that’s left of me is love, give me away’ … a poem before Kaddish has gone viral (15 January 2020), about 32,000 hits.

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

4, Readings in Spirituality: the novelist as a writer in spirituality and theology (26 November 2009), over 16,600 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 8.5 million hits, I think of 8.5 million people, 8.5 refugees, 8.5 million over-taxed pensioners, 8.5 million grains of sand in the Sahara, and 8.5 million stars. And today, once more, I am humble of heart rather than having a swollen head.

Killaleigh Castle, Co Tipperary, with an asking price of €8.5 million (Photograph: Sotheby's International Realty)

Saint Catherine’s and
Saint Paul’s, Hoddesdon,
a Victorian church that
goes back to the 14th century

The west end of Saint Catherine’s and Saint Paul’s Church on Paul’s Lane, the parish church of Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Catherine’s and Saint Paul’s Church on Paul’s Lane is the parish church of Hoddesdon in the Diocese of St Albans. Although Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire did not officially become a parish until the 1840s, the story of the church dates back to early 14th century, when Saint Katherine’s Chapel was built.

Until the 1840s, Hoddesdon was divided between the parishes of Broxbourne and Amwell, with the boundary roughly following the line of Lord Street, which leads to the High Leigh Conference Centre, where I spent much of last week.

William de la Marche, a parishioner, obtained permission from the King on 1336 to build a chapel. It stood in the centre of Hoddesdon, where the Clock Tower now stands. The permission specified building the chapel ‘anew’, which seems to imply it replaced an earlier building, although no record of an earlier chapel survives.

The chapel was dedicated to Saint Katherine and remained in use until the 18th century. It may have originally served as a place of worship for pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, but later became a chapel of ease for the people of Hoddesdon.

The anomalous position of Hoddesdon had been noted as early as the Commonwealth period in the mid-17th century, when there were plans to form a parish, but these were shelved after the Restoration in 1660.

The chapel had become dilapidated by 1700. A decision was taken to sell one of its bells to buy a new clock. This gave rise to a local rhyme:

Parson Davis and Farmer Lock
Sold their bell to buy a clock
.

This may refer to the Revd Hatton Davies, Vicar of Great Amwell, but the identity of Farmer Lock has never been established.

Christ the King surrounded by images of the Four Evangelists, seen at the west end of Saint Catherine’s and Saint Paul’s Church in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Robert Plomer, a prosperous local business figure, inherited Rawdon House by marrying into the Rawdon family. He built a new chapel of ease in Hoddesdon in 1732. The reason for this is unclear, but it seems to have stemmed from a quarrel with the Revd Phineas Rothwell, vicar of Broxbourne.

Plomer’s building now forms the nave of the present church building. His chapel remained in private ownership until 1820, when it was bought by the Church of England. It was consecrated in 1823 by the Bishop of London, William Howley, who later, as Archbishop of Canterbury, crowned Queen Victoria. The first priest-in-charge was the Revd Thomas Pickthall.

Meanwhile, the older Saint Katherine’s Chapel was described in the early 19th century as ‘misshapen by age.’ It was no longer in use when it was demolished in 1835 and it was replaced by the Clock Tower.

The Clock Tower in the centre of Hoddesdon stands on the site of the older Saint Katherine’s Chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The idea of forming a parish in Hoddesdon was revived in 1843, and the first vicar was the Revd Richard William Morice. The burial ground was consecrated the following year, formally making Hoddesdon an ecclesiastical district. It officially became a parish in 1856.

From the founding of the parish until 1927Hoddesdon had only two vicars: Richard William Morice, who died in 1881, and Philip Esme Stuart Holland, who retired in 1921. Both were very popular locally, and Holland was a champion of ecumenical links long before this became acceptable or popular.

The seating capacity in the church, however, was inadequate. A parish meeting in 1860 decided to build a new church. However, sufficient subscriptions could not be raised, and instead the building was extended by adding a chancel and north and south aisles

The chancel and chapels were designed in early 13th century French Gothic style in 1864-1865 by the Gothic Revival architect Joseph Clarke (1819-1888). His other works include the chancel and tower at the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas in Littlemore, Oxford, the church founded by John Henry Newman.

Clarke’s work in Hoddesdon was completed in 1865, and the opening sermon was preached by the Bishop of Rochester.

The tower and steeple were added in 1887-1888 and are attributed to Sir Arthur Blomfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

A tower and steeple were added in 1887-1888 and are attributed to the architect Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829-1899). The campanile tower is in an unusual location on the centre of the south side of the church. It has open and blind lancets, a pyramid roof with hipped dormers, and an octagonal stair turret with a finial.

A peal of eight bells was donated in 1901 by the Christie family. At the dedication ceremony for the peal of bells, the church was formally dedicated to Saint Paul, a name perhaps influenced by the already-existing Paul’s Lane nearby.

The interior was modernised and re-ordered in 1976, when the Revd Percy Gandon was the Vicar, and the church was rededicated to Saint Catherine and Saint Paul.

The church hall is known as the Barclay Hall, recalling the Barclay family of High Leigh, where I was staying last week. It became a temporary vaccination centre during the covid pandemic, one of the first in the United Kingdom.

Apart from the works by Clarke and Blomfield, the church may not be not one the most architecturally interesting buildings in Hoddesdon But its history is tied in with the town as firmly as any mediaeval church, and it has a Grade 2* listing.

The previous vicar, the Revd Dr Rachel Pennant, is now chaplain to the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Revd Guli Francis-Dehqni. The Revd Mark Escott, Assistant Curate at Saint May's, Cheshunt, has been appointed the Vicar of Hoddesdon. His induction service is planned for 7 September 2024.

The east end of Saint Catherine’s and Saint Paul’s Church on Paul’s Lane, the parish church of Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
66, Sunday 14 July 2024, Trinity VII

The Execution of Saint John the Baptist … an early 18th century icon from the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Anopolis, in the Museum of Christian Art in the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar and today is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII). Later this morning I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church in Stony Stratford. I need to find somewehere appropriate this evening to watch the Euro 2024 final between England and Spain.

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

Herod’s daughter dances for the head of Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in the Church of Analipsi in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 6: 14-29 (NRSVA):

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ 15 But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ 23 And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ 24 She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

The beheading of Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in the Church of Analipsi in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This morning’s reflection:

It is about three weeks since we commemorated the Birth of Saint John the Baptist (24 June 2024). Now, today’s Gospel reading recalls his execution of Saint the Baptist.

This Gospel story is full of stark, cruel, violent reality. To achieve this dramatic effect, it is told with recall, flashback or with the use of the devise modern movie-makers call ‘back story.’

Cruel Herod has already executed Saint John the Baptist – long ago. Now he hears about the miracles and signs being worked by Jesus and his disciples.

Some people think that Saint John the Baptist has returned, even though John has been executed by Herod. Others think Jesus is Elijah – and popular belief at the time expected Elijah to return at Judgment Day (Malachi 4: 5).

On the other hand, Herod, the deranged Herod who has already had John beheaded, wonders whether John is back again. And we are presented with a flashback to the story of Saint John the Baptist, how he was executed in a moment of passion, how Herod grieved, and how John was buried.

Did you ever get mistaken for someone else? Or, do you ever wonder whether the people you work with, or who are your neighbours, really know who you are?

I am thinking of two examples. Anthony Hope Hawkins was the son of the Vicar of Saint Bride’s in Fleet Street, the Revd Edwards Comerford Hawkins. He was walking home to his father’s vicarage in London one dusky evening when he came face-to-face with a man who looked like his mirror image.

He wondered what would happen if they swapped places, if this double went back to Saint Bride’s vicarage, while he headed off instead to the suburbs. Would anyone notice? It inspired him, under the penname of Anthony Hope, to write his best-selling novel, The Prisoner of Zenda.

The other example I think of is the way I often hear people put themselves down with sayings such as: ‘If they only knew what I’m really like … if they only knew what I’m truly like …’

What are you truly like?

And would you honestly want to swap your life for someone else’s?

Would you take on all their woes, and angsts and burdens, along with their way of life?

It is a recurring theme for poets, writers and philosophers over the centuries. It was the theme in John Boorman’s movie The Tiger’s Tail (2006). Brendan Gleeson plays both the main character and his protagonist. Is he his doppelgänger, a forerunner warning of doom, destruction and death? Or is he the lost twin brother who envies his achievements and lifestyle?

The doppelgänger was regarded as a harbinger of doom and death. There is a way in which Saint John the Baptist is seen as the harbinger of the death of his own cousin, Christ.

The account of Saint John’s execution anticipates the future facing Christ and some of the disciples, and Christ’s own burial (see Mark 15: 45-47). The idea that John might be raised from the dead anticipates Christ’s resurrection.

As well as attracting similar followers and having similar messages, did these two cousins, in fact, look so like one another physically?

But Herod had known John the Baptist, he knew him as a righteous and a holy man, and he protected him. Why, he even liked to listen to John.

Do you think Herod was confused about the identities of Christ and of Saint John the Baptist?

Is Herod so truly deranged that he can believe someone he has executed, whose severed head he has seen, could come back to life in such a short period?

Or is Herod’s reaction merely one of exasperation and exhaustion: ‘Oh no! Not that John, back again!’

We too are forerunners, sent out to be signs of the Kingdom of God. To be a disciple is to follow a risky calling – or at least it ought to be so.

To be a disciple is to follow a risky calling – or at least it ought to be so.

I once had a poster with a grumpy looking judge and the words, ‘If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading told of how Christ sent out the disciples, two by two, inviting people into the Kingdom of God. But they are beginning to realise that the authorities are rejecting Christ.

Now with Herod’s maniacal and capricious way of making decisions, discipleship has become an even more risk-filled commitment.

But Herod’s horrid banquet runs right into the next story in Saint Mark’s Gospel where Christ feeds the 5,000, a sacramental sign of the invitation to all to the heavenly banquet – more than we can imagine can be fed in any human undertaking.

The invitation to Herod’s banquet, for the privileged and the prejudiced, is laden with the smell of death.

The invitation to Christ’s banquet, for the marginalised and the rejected, is laden with the promise of life.

Herod feeds the prejudices of his own family and a closed group of courtiers. Christ shows that, despite the initial prejudices of the disciples, all are welcome to his banquet.

Herod is in a lavish palace in his city, but is isolated and deserted. Christ withdraws to an open but deserted place to be alone, but a great crowd follows him.

Herod fears the crowd beyond his palace gates. Christ rebukes the disciples for wanting to keep the crowds away.

Herod offers his daughter half his kingdom. Christ offers us all, as God’s children, the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Herod’s daughter asks for John’s head on a platter. On the mountainside, Christ feeds all.

Our lives are filled with choices.

Herod chooses loyalty to his inner circle and their greed. Christ tells his disciples to make a choice in favour of those who need food and shelter.

Herod’s banquet leads to destruction and death. Christ’s banquet is an invitation to building the kingdom and to new life.

Would I rather be at Herod’s Banquet for the few in the palace or with Christ as he feeds the masses in the wilderness?

Who would you invite to the banquet?

And who do you think feels excluded from the banquet?

We may never get the chance to be like Herod when it comes to lavish banqueting and decadent partying. But we have an opportunity to be party to inviting the many to the banquet that really matters.

Who feels turned away from the banquet by the Church today, abandoned and left to fend for themselves?

And, in our response to their needs, when we become signs of the Kingdom of God, we provide evidence enough to convict us when we are accused of being Christians.

An icon of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist in a church in Koutouloufari in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 14 July 2024, Trinity VII):

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 ‘Advocacy, human, environmental and territorial rights programme in Brazil.’ This theme is introduced today by the Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca dos Anjos Siqueira, Diocesan Officer for human, environmental and territorial rights in the Anglican Diocese of Brasilia, who I met at the USPG conference in High Leigh last week. He writes:

The Anglican Diocese of Brasília is at the forefront of an advocacy programme, centrally focused on championing human, environmental, and territorial rights. This programme is crafted with a fundamental goal: to reduce societal disparities, climate justice, and advance human rights (encompassing environmental, civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights). Acknowledging the intricate interplay of human wellbeing and environmental sustainability, the programme’s ethos embodies a comprehensive approach, striving to safeguard both the human community and the natural world.

In the pursuit of justice, the programme operates on multiple levels – engaging with the Brazilian parliament and key stakeholders. By partnering with decision-makers and legislators, it endeavours to enact legislative reforms that uphold human rights standards and ensure environmental preservation. This proactive involvement within the parliamentary arena fortifies the mission to reform policies, promote inclusivity, and challenge any injustices impeding the full realisation of fundamental rights. The Anglican Diocese of Brasília’s advocacy program embodies a discerning commitment to an equitable society, translating the rhetoric of human rights into tangible progress through deliberate and well-informed action.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Sunday 14 July 2024, Trinity VII) invites us to pray with this prayer from Churches Together in England:

O God, the creator of the human race,
we thank you for the wonder of our being
and for creating us in your image and likeness.
Open our hearts to give unconditional positive regard to all human beings.
Let no negative perception inform our judgement of other people.

The Collect:

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
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.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God, whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
may we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Additional Collect:

Generous God,
you give us gifts and make them grow:
though our faith is small as mustard seed,
make it grow to your glory
and the flourishing of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Father Irenaeus, a monk in the Monastery of Saint Macarius in Wadi Natrun in Egypt, shows me the relics in the crypt of Saint John the Baptist below the northern wall of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

13 July 2024

New life sought for
an old Quaker meeting
house in Hoddesdon
after its closure

The Quaker meeting house on Lord Street in Hoddesdon was built in 1828-1829 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

The Barclay family, who owned High Leigh for half a century, from 1871 to 1921, were members of the Church of England, and they included many Anglican missionaries, and at least one daughter of the family was married to bishop in the Church of England.

Many members of the Barclay family at High Leigh were baptised or married in Saint Catherine’s Church in Hoddesdon or were buried from there. However, the Barclays had many strong Quaker connections over the generations and were part of a nexus of prominent Quaker families, including the Fry, Gurney and Buxton families.

Robert Barclay (1843-1921) of High Leigh was descended from Robert Barclay (1648-1690), the 17th century Quaker apologist and theologian; his wife Elizabeth Ellen Buxton (1848-1911), was related to Elizabeth Fry, the 19th century Quaker campaigner for prison reform.

Long before Robert Barclay bought High Leigh, there was a strong Quaker presence in Hoddesdon, dating from at least 1675. The early 19th century Regency meeting house is at the end of Lord Street, a short walk from High Leigh. Although the Quaker meeting in the town was ‘laid up’ or ceased to worship in 2011, it remains an important part of the architectural heritage and religious history of Hoddesdon. It is a Grade II listed building, one of only a handful in the Hoddesdon area.

This month marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of George Fox (1624-1691), the founding figure in the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. Friends have a long history in Hertfordshire. The first-ever purpose-built Friends meeting house was built in Hertford in 1670, and Quaker ideals later inspired the Garden City movement.

The Hoddesdon meeting dates back to at least 1675, when Quakers hired a hall belonging to the Black Lion Inn for meetings. They built their own meeting house in Hoddesdon at a site in Marsh Lane (now Essex Road) in 1697 in grounds that included a burial ground. The building continued in use until 1827, when the original building was sold and converted into two cottages. The cottages were demolished in 1956.

Meanwhile, a new meeting house in Hoddesdon was built in Lord’s Lane, now Lord Street, in 1828-1829, with a new burial ground at the rear.

The new meeting house on Lord Street was designed by the architect William Alderson (1804-1834), a Quaker who was based in Chelsea. In his short career, Alderson designed Hoddesdon meeting house and also the Quaker meeting houses in Wigton (1830, Grade II) and Stoke Newington (1827-1828, now demolished).

He also designed lodges that were never built for Woodfold Park, Blackburn, and the main building at Brookfield Quaker School, Wigton (now demolished). He is best-known as the architect of Saint Bernard’s Hospital (1829, Grade II), built as the Middlesex County Lunatic Asylum and now known as Ealing Hospital.

The simplicity of Hoddesdon Meeting House is ‘expressive of the development of the Quaker movement’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Quaker site on Lord Street as a whole is of high heritage significance, and the building has high aesthetic value. Its simple classical exterior is attractive and the original character of the interior has been altered very little.

The extensive listing describes its historic interest and says it is a modest, purpose-built, meeting house that is ‘expressive of the development of the Quaker movement’. The listing points out that its ‘plain classical design typifies the modest nature of Quaker meeting houses, and the building retains its essential historic form and character from the time of its construction’.

The main meeting room has been little altered and still preserves its original character interior fittings, including the Elders’ bench, a dado, and shuttered partition to the two former retiring rooms, typical of internal arrangements in earlier Quaker meeting houses.

The building is in a simple classical style with a rectangular plan, with two small flat-roofed wings flanking the main front at the north end. The walls are of grey and yellow brick laid in Flemish bond. The pitched roof over the main building is covered in Welsh slate.

The principal, north front is capped by a moulded stone pediment and is three bays wide with a central entrance up steps, with ornamental cast-iron doorscrapers. The entrance is set under a stone hood on carved brackets. There are large, stuccoed mouldings, and a pair of flanking straight-headed sash windows.

The small side wings, now obscured by vegetation, have blind panels in their north sides. The side and rear walls of the main building are severely plain.

Inside, the meeting house has survived with relatively little alteration. The features include plain plastered walls, a panelled timber dado, a plain moulded cornice, the panelled elders bench across the full width of the south end, and a number of wooden benches which are probably the original furniture.

The rectangular burial ground to the rear of the meeting house dates from 1828, replacing the earlier burial ground in Marsh Lane. The brick boundary walls probably also date from the 1820s. There are a number of stone burial markers, and the earliest is to Catherine Manser, dated 1829.

A smaller hall was built on an adjacent plot in 1929, and the two buildings were connected in 1978.

A smaller hall was built in 1929 and the two buildings were connected in 1978 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Hoddesdon Quaker Meeting House is part of the Hertford and Hitchin Quaker Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Regular Meetings for Worship at Hoddesdon ceased after 2011, and the meeting was ‘laid down’. Since then, Quakers in Hertfordshire have actively pursued new and imaginative ways for community groups to use the building as Friends Peace Cottage.

The Peace Cottage Community Hub is a project being developed collaboratively between Quakers and Churches Together in Hoddesdon, Broxbourne and Wormley. The steering group includes representatives from the local council, housing associations, local charities and arts groups. Dr Zoë Hudson, a social historian and cultural heritage consultant, is the project co-ordinator.

The Covid lockdown delayed the Peace Cottage Project and the launch of the Peace Cottage Community. A small group of volunteers helped to decorate the rooms, install new heating, cleaning regularly, installing new signage, and organising gardening sessions with a team of volunteer gardeners.

A memory café project working with people with dementia and their carers, the local Citizens Advice Bureaux, a small theatre project and a mental health first aid trainer were among the groups interested in using the building. The local Churches Together group also had talks about using the building to support Ukrainian refugees.

Although the Meeting House has not been used for some time and probably needs some repair, it remains a familiar element in the streetscape of Hoddesdon and its historical and architectural heritage.

Friends Peace Cottage has sought new uses for the buildings since the meeting was ‘laid down’ in 2011 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
65, Saturday 13 July 2024

The Samaritan Woman … originally part of a 17th century supply of fresh, clean water in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar and tomorrow is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII).

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection in connection with this week’s USPG conference;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The Samaritan Woman once stood on the corner of the High Street and Conduit Lane in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Matthew 10: 24-33 (NRSVUE):

[Jesus said:] 24 “A disciple is not above the teacher nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32 “Everyone, therefore, who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

A plaque remembers where the Samaritan Woman once stood in the centre of Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

This morning’s reflection:

I spent much of this week at the High Leigh Conference Centre on the western fringes of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. The USPG Prayer Diary today (Saturday 13 July 2024) invites us to pray as we reflect on these words in Saint Matthew’s Gospel: ‘For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25: 35).

I spent much of this week at the USPG annual conference in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. During one early morning walk into Hoddesdon this week, I saw the 17th century statue of the Samaritan Women in the grounds of Lowewood Museum in Hoddesdon but that originally once stood as a fountain in the centre of the town.

Sir Marmaduke Rawdon (1582-1646), a wealthy merchant, built Rawdon House in the centre of Hoddesdon in the early 17th century. He invested in the nearby New River and in 1631, when he provided a conduit from his estate at Rawdon House to Hoddesdon to supply clean, fresh water for the people of the town. Water poured from the pitcher in the Samaritan Woman’s arms into a small pond below.

Sir Marmaduke Rawdon also assisted in building a Market House in Hoddesdon. His son, also Marmaduke Rawdon, built the Grange. The Rawdon family were royalists during the Civil War and their fortunes suffered considerably.

Over the years the statue has been located in various places, until it was taken into storage and restored. It was relocated in 1986 to the gardens of Lowewood House and now stands in the museum grounds.

Lowewood House was built around 1750, and members of the Warner family lived there from 1835 until 1935. The house was bought by Douglas Taylor who gave it to the town in 1936 for use as a public library and museum. The library was relocated in 1977 and since 1982 Lowewood House has been the home of Broxbourne Museum. The museum has been managed by the Lowewood Museum Trust since 2021 and is open on Fridays and Saturdays.

The statue of the Samaritan Woman has been cleaned and restored recently and a blue plaque at the corner of the High Street and Conduit Lane marks the original location of the statue of the Samaritan Woman. The plaque celebrating the statue and the fountain was unveiled last month (24 June 2024) by the Mayor of Broxbourne, Councillor Sherrie McDaid, as part of the Love Hoddesdon Midsummer Festival.

There is a similar figure in the fountain on the lawn at High Leigh. It is one of outdoor features the gardens created by the Pulhams, a family of landscape gardeners in nearby Broxbourne. I wonder whether it was inspired by the Samaritan Woman in the centre of Hoddesdon and, indeed, whether it too was ever known as the Samaritan Woman?

The Samaritan Women now stands in the grounds of Lowewood Museum in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 13 July 2024):

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), has been ‘United Beyond Borders.’ This theme was introduced last Sunday with reflections on this week’s USPG conference by Rachael Anderson, Senior Communications and Engagement Manager, USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Saturday 13 July 2024) invites us to pray reflecting on these words in Saint Matthew’s Gospel:

‘For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25: 35).

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
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.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Creator God,
you made us all in your image:
may we discern you in all that we see,
and serve you in all that we do;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the Eve of Trinity VII:

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
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 fountain in the gardens in High Leigh has many similariities with statue of the Samaritan Woman in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.