I write here about a range of things; a loose collection of posts and reviews about things that I am passionate about. For the most part that means you’ll see lots of posts about my faith and about Jesus’ ministry through me here at St. Mary-The-Virgin, Kenton. You can also find any sermons or broadcasts I may have delivered (although I’m not entirely consistent in posting them).
This is the homily I delivered at the Vigil Mass of the Assumption at St. Mary’s Abbey Church in Nuneaton [14/8/19] and then again at the Assumption Mass of St. Mary-the-Virgin in Kenton [15/8/19]. What it lacks in theological depth it makes up for in conviction, love and a desire to take Christ out into the world. Be encouraged and strengthened by Our Lady.
Full text / notes
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Being asked to preach about Mary is a double-edged sword. On one hand – what a huge honour – to preach on the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady, Our Hope, Our Love, Our Mother… on the other hand… what more is there to say that you have not already heard?
It was in that conflict that I started to pray about what I should say this evening. As I sat with my rosary it occurred to me that one of the central truths of Our Lady in all our lives is that she is never dull or over-preached or over-talked about. She is fresh and current and engaging at all times. When she touches us, appears before us to guide us towards Her Son, she is always radiant and loving and – to use a horrid word – contextual. She is always relevant; she is always present, and she always points us to Our Lord.
There is no danger that I can stand here this evening and preach about Our Lady in a way that you could possibly receive as ‘well I’ve heard that before’. Because as you sit here this evening open to her guidance she will touch each one of you in a different way – and therein lies her most powerful gift to us – her ability to reach past the layers of defensive crust we place around our hearts and point us towards Christ.
I often ponder on the Sacraments and I was once asked to define exactly what a sacrament was. I immediately responded that worship was where we reached for Christ and a Sacrament was where Christ reached for us. Where he reached right into our souls and bodies and grabbed hold of our heart and claimed it for Him. He does this over and over and over and over again and this constant flow of earth trembling love should floor us to our knees in love and terror. But… we forget this awesome love, this awesome action and over time we become blind to it. We approach the altar rail with hearts cloaked in darkness, in sin, in perhaps in sheer defence of the flooring awesome Love that we know is ours.
Our hearts are encased in steel. Our beating Love for Christ is diminished and hidden and throttled to within an inch of its life through indifference, through lack of prayer, through sin without thought of repentance and through the slow draw and the flashy lure of secular culture and so-called progress.
Week by week we approach the altar with our hearts hidden from Christ and week by week he still claims us, but we feel that claim on our lives in ever diminishing ways. Our fault. Our failure, Our Loss – not His.
And this my friends is why Our Lady is so so important in our lives. She is as necessary to the redeemed as she was to the Redeemer. Her goodwill, her obedience and love and consent was required before mankind could be elevated to eternal beatitude.
The sanctification of our souls is more dependent upon Our Blessed Lady’s continuous care and maternal love than upon any other influence.
The whole world is filled with her glory and in particular England is considered her dowry. It has been a wonderful and joyous year as we have watched the Roman Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham take her image around England to be venerated and to re-ignite a national devotion to her. More churches are dedicated to Our Lady in England than in any other nation on earth. There is no good church in our good land that does not have an altar dedicated to her glorious honour.
Earlier this year I was honoured to be at Westminster Cathedral as the image of Our Lady of Walsingham from the Anglican Shrine was taken back into the heart of our country. The first time her image had travelled from Walsingham to London since that dreadful day in 1539 when she was taken from her shrine and burnt in London.
Bishop Philip North who preached that day asked the assembled congregation
“What have we just done… We have just carried a penniless peasant girl from Nazareth into this great symbol of our National Life.”
“And we are not putting her here in some innovative or original act [of course this was before helter skelters and golf courses took over our Cathedrals]. No, we are putting her back, for this nation has always been Mary’s. Many of the monarchs who lie here loved Our Lady, many of them indeed would have made the pilgrimage to Walsingham that is so familiar to us. We don’t have to go back many years to find this land littered with her Shrines. Countless of its Parish Churches and numerous of its Cathedrals are dedicated to her and to her glorious Assumption.”
Our Lady is making herself felt in our midst once again. Her powerful devotion to us is being felt throughout every community, every church and in the throbbing arteries of the institutions that run our country – and THIS IS THRILLING!
Why?! Why is this thrilling? Why am I so excited about this?
I shall tell you… I am so excited about this because who comes before Christ in all things?
If Our Lady is being felt across this country in such a powerful way it gives me hope that we’re about to feel and see the powerful presence of Our Lord.
It gives me hope in the face of reduced congregation sizes in our more middle of the road parishes – because I see those churches that are turning to Our Lady growing and drawing in people who the church feels were lost to Her generations ago. I am excited because I am seeing so many people pick up the Rosary and dedicate their devotion to Our Lady so that they may come to know Christ better. I am excited because I see teenagers at Walsingham just getting it. Just wanting to know Her better. I see Our Lady taking these children, these young people and holding them in front of the sacrament in exposition, adoration and benediction and saying to them – HERE HE IS!
I am excited because this is how our hearts are broken open again. I am excited because our Lady is capable of taking the crud and the steel and the sin around our hearts – tearing it away from us, throwing it away and holding our hearts open to her Son. And I see her doing this everywhere. I see her doing this in small chapels in rural Hereford, I see her doing this in large churches in London, I see her doing this in tiny oratories and private shrines in peoples living rooms and I see her doing it in Westminster Cathedral in the beating heart of our country!
How then can we ensure that we are all part of this re-ignition, this exciting breaking open of hearts for Christ? Well, in a small way we can all pray the Rosary. The rosary is a tiny tiny thing. It is a collection of beads on a bit of string – or it’s a collection of fine cut glass on links of gold – it doesn’t really matter about the THING – what matters is that it forces us to sit and to pray and to ask our lady to pray for us for about 20 minutes. That discipline is hard to find. It takes time and practice to find a rhythm that works and allows you to sit and ask Our Lady for her intercession. The more steel and crud and sin we have collected around our hearts – the harder that will be to find. So go to confession. Come and see Fr. Tom and lay aside your sin and be forgiven. Shred a small part of that enclosed heart and then sit with the rosary and pray. Pray until a crumb of crud falls from your heart. Then come back and pray again until a large chunk falls from it, and then pray again until a crack appears and then pray again until it shatters into a thousand pieces and you can once again come to the altar and be floored by the awesome power of Christ claiming you for himself.
Then take your heart out into the world. Out of this church and shine so brilliantly and brightly full of love for Christ that others will be blinded by your radiance – a tiny reflection of the radiant love that Christ has for you – and when they ask you – what’s changed? What’s new! Tell them! Tell them Our Lady has prayed for you and opened your heart to Christ and tell them to do the same. Hand them your rosary, walk with them as they pray for the first time, hold their hand as the first crumb of crud breaks from their heart, hold them in prayer as the first crack appears and it may feel like their heart is breaking, assure them of Our Ladies prayers as it shatters and then bring them to the Altar – bring them to Christ and let Him claim them!
And then! Only then, will we start to see the coming of Christ, foreshadowed by His Mother.
Our brief sojourn to the borders of Wales didn’t last long – just over 18 months in fact. We’ve returned to London and we’re very excited about it.
Hereford has been a wonderful place for us as a family. We were close to our clan in Wales, and I was close enough that I was able to spend a lot of time with my Grandmother in the last few months of her life. A huge gift for all of us – but especially for Edmund for whom Grandma Jean is still a very real presence.
But onto pastures new! I am now the Assistant Curate at St. Mary-The-Virgin in Kenton. I was licensed by the Bishop of Fulham on Sunday 3rd March and am now firmly ensconced. A great gang from Hereford came all the way to London (a four hour journey each way!) to wish us well. We were touched by the many kind words from Hereford as we left and the flurry of cards and gifts. We shall miss them a great deal.
We have been made to feel so welcome at St. Mary’s. A church that feels like a great big family. Food, fun, sacrament, prayer – a place that seems to represent the very best of what it means to live a Christian life.
We are hugely grateful for the loving kindness shown to us by Father Edward Lewis – my new Training Incumbent. A man from whom I have a huge amount to learn from over the next couple of years.
And so onwards… pray for us and for the good people of St. Mary’s, Kenton.
We took time to discuss what we did at our Harvest Festival last year (asking the congregation to provide food for the refugees in Calais), what we have planned this year (no spoilers), the homeless and vulnerable of Hereford and A Vicar’s Live Live on September 8th.
You can use the media player below to listen to the interview, or listen to the whole show via the BBC’s iPlayer.
(preached at St. Mary’s, Wolverton, Stratford. 12/08/2018)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning everyone and thank you for inviting me to come and preach this morning. It’s a real treat to come and visit Richard and his family – in which of course I include you, we are all one family and I always feel that in coming to a church I’ve not been to before – in coming amongst a new congregation I am rediscovering a branch of my family that I’ve always known, but not yet go to know. We are – one bread, one body.
Each week millions of Christians around the world come to church to seek nourishment. We pretty much all do it in different ways, but we are united by the sacraments of baptism and of the eucharist. Today, Jesus tells us quite explicitly that He is the bread of life. But what does that mean to us in our journey towards Him and towards a deeper relationship with Him?
Let’s start with that word – nourishment. It’s used a lot in Christian circles. We seek nourishment from the scriptures, we seek nourishment from the eucharist, we seek nourishment from prayer – we seek nourishment in the biscuits after the service, from our bring-and-share meals at festivals and Holy Days – we seek to nourish others – feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the broken. Continue reading
I love this reading. It’s one I think most people know – even those who have never come to church. It contains two of Jesus’ miracles – walking on water and somehow managing to feed 5000 people. We often dismiss it as a children’s story – somehow trying to tell us something, we’re not quite sure what… but certainly that there wasn’t suddenly – magically enough food to feed 5000 people when moments before there were just five loaves and two fish.
We think like this because this is what our lives have taught us. I often think of Jesus and the Disciples as a sort of PCC – because that’s what I know! I can see them sat around a rock in the middle of a field with an impending crisis.
This week sees me quoted in an article in Church Times “The Generation Game“. The article talks through some research from the US where there is a feeling that a war is brewing between millennials and the boomers within the Episcopal Church.
Dr Hannah Matis, Assistant Professor of Church History at Virginia Theological Seminary, described it in an article for the magazine The Living Church as “two armed camps: those 65 and older and those 35 and younger, facing off with mutual incomprehension and occasional hostility, the divide manifesting itself in a thousand micro-aggressions in Sunday-morning coffee hours across the country.”
It’s an interesting article that debunks a lot of what Dr Matis says with experience from across the Church of England. I talk briefly within the article about finding our Training Incumbents to be on fine form – but that we do have a cultural gap with those who were trained for a different mission field. That’s not to denigrate the fine work that has gone on in that mission field but rather to accept that millennials interact with faith in a different way and need different ways of engaging with us. I point out the fine work Priests of previous generations have carried out (and that we should be hugely grateful for) but call out a growing sense amongst my age group (and younger) that perhaps some of the reforms of the 60s & 70s threw the baby out with the bath water and that we want to explore a deeper sense of orthodoxy. I point out that this will obviously be difficult for those who fought for those reforms.
Interestingly this article – in an industry newspaper – has garnered significantly more reaction from people in the Church than my recent comments in The Guardian and on BBC Radio 4 – which rather underlines my concern that we may be a little inward focused.
I have no words to suitably describe the weekend of the 30th June and 1st July 2018. I was ordained Priest at the Cathedral in Hereford by The Right Reverend Richard Frith, Bishop of Hereford. I was surrounded by family and friends at both my ordination and my First Mass. I have been blessed to have been supported by so many people on this long journey.
As Winston Churchill would have it – this is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, but this may just be the end of the beginning. Thank you to everyone who has been part of this journey and I look forward to many years of shared adventures with you all.
As always with John it was a relaxed and I hope informative interview over the hour of his show – I’ve clipped up the salient parts which amount to about 15 minutes of conversation. I hope you enjoy it and as ever – any questions, leave a comment or get in touch.
It’s been a busy old week. As ever at this time of year the now annual debate about the style of ordination photographs got raging on Twitter. My contribution to that was pretty limited – a reply to a friend (see below) which was then picked up by the Guardian. They asked for a quick interview and what I tried to convey was that the annual ‘jumping’ or set up photographs (see dabbers from Leicester) simply fail to communicate the depth of joy and seriousness of what has just happened. This is no reflection on those in the photographs (let’s not forget my own ‘jump for joy’ caption competition moment in Church Times a couple of years ago) but rather a criticism of the people putting the photographs together – forcing in some cases – people to engage in a set-up and rather forced ‘joyful’ photo in an attempt to grab the front page of the Church Times.
The issue is not one of taste, but of the discomfort I feel at enforced fun – and the thing is – that comes across in the photographs themselves. The second point is that they’re just so creatively dull. They’re as expected as the shot of the beautiful blonde school girl opening her A-Level results and make me groan through sheer lack of creativity. What I did find interesting is that the Church Times last year published a wonderful picture of a father throwing his son(?) into the air – a moment of sheer joy beautifully captured – it was different and really did communicate the deep sense of joy. On their website they decided to lead with an image of the Hereford Deacon Ordinations – a formal photo – but taken by a professional photographer that had stunning colour and depth and leap from the page.
Yes, call my grumpy. Fair enough. But think on this… when was the last time a Priest was in the Guardian (front page) talking about Ordination and the wonder, splendour and honour of that call? When was the last time a Priest was on BBC Radio 4 PM talking about Ordinations and the joy of being called by God? I mean no offence to anyone, but come on people, we’re more creative than jumping in front of the cathedral.
BBC Radio 4 PM Interview
What I found interesting about the photographs from last year was that whilst the Church Times had a wonderful joyful face on their cover (great!) they used a beautiful golden image – very sensibly set – from Hereford as the lead on their website. (then ‘others’)
John Hellings from BBC Hereford & Worcester asked to speak to me last week at All Saints in Hereford city centre. It was a good opportunity to talk about the TV show and what people thought of it – how All Saints is a thriving, living and loud church and why I call myself Father.