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Thursday, 1 February 2007
Sunday, 28 January 2007
This tribute represents many shared memories of David, in addition to those of Kendrick Partington and Keith Charter.
David and Iris began coming to St. Peter’s in the early 70s when both their sons sang in St. Peter’s Choir under the leadership of Kendrick Partington.
Kendrick writes: I will always remember David, especially for his unfailing courtesy. He was never too busy to devote his whole attention to the problems or requests one laid before him, and his cheerful response would lighten many an anxious moment. In both Choir and Organ matters, he was utterly supportive, bringing Simon and Andrew to choir practices and services with the utmost regularity. He was extremely proud of his sons’ service to the choir and spoke most enthusiastically to other parents, helping recruitment in a very personal way. When the decision was taken to move the organ console, he spared no efforts to ascertain where the most useful position would be and supervised the work with his usual attention to detail.
As a member of the small group showing Bluecoat School pupils around St. Peter’s several times a year, his profound knowledge of the history and architecture of the church always fascinated his hearers and this is also shown in the plans he made showing the gradual development of the building. A dear friend to all who were fortunate enough to know him.
David served on the PCC for many years, and became People’s Warden in 1985, succeeding George Goodliffe. He took his duties seriously and did useful work on upgrading the terrier or inventory of church property. He served until 1988 when pressure of work made him stand down.
David was Church Architect to St Peter’s for many years whilst he was a partner in the firm of Cartwright Woollatt. This was the successor to the firm of an earlier churchwarden, Robert Evans, which had been responsible for much of the Church restoration in the early 20th century –and David found real treasures among the drawings of work at St Peter’s in his firm’s archives. He designed the former counselling room and the lobby in the North Aisle, the beautiful ironwork on the West Door, the dais, the resiting of the organ, the kitchen and loos next to the St. James’s Room, the flooring and ironwork of the Gallery above the West Door, and outside the church had much to do with the building of the curtain wall outside the West Door (where the steps down to the Square now are), a necessary addition to stop the tower falling down! In the 1990s, before the agreement with Marks & Spencer’s allowed us to build the St Peter’s Centre, he designed a remarkable extension to the St James’s Room, with offices and a seminar room culminating in a prominent turret and small spire – “to balance the one at the West End”, he said – none of which was ever built, though his drawings survive.
David was a founder member of the St Peter’s History Group which ran through the 1980s and 90s, and contributed, especially with his expert and charming drawings, to the booklets on the windows and the monuments. He also wrote a historical account of the church building for a booklet on church, parish and city, illustrated again with his delightful drawings. Some of these now form part of the display panels in the North Aisle, which he designed and which vividly demonstrate how the church grew and how it suffered attacks in the 17th century and earlier. At the time of his death he had nearly completed a substantial history of the church, which we hope may still appear in some form before too long.
As Clerk to the Trustees of the Hannah Levick Charity, Keith Charter writes:
David had a part in a number of major projects associated with St Peter's; but one of the hugely significant ones, not so much remembered by today's congregation, must be the design and planning of Levick Court, an almshouse complex provided by the Trustees of Miss Hannah Levick's Charity. The original bequest was in memory of her brother George who died in the 1870s and initially provided accommodation for the poor in a number of terraced properties in the Meadows.
David's involvement was with the present complex opened in 1982 where he worked as architect alongside Canon Angus Inglis (as Chairman of Trustees) and Lewis Mason (as Solicitor to the Trustees) in resurrecting the almshouse scheme that had lain dormant since that part of the Meadows was redeveloped. The new Court contained 12 flats within a beautiful courtyard and designed very much with the more frail in mind although they also contain some fairly active pensioners! The flats are well laid out, warm, spacious and so welcome a home to those who have often come from much worse accommodation and/or areas. Like St Peter's is in the city centre for passers by, Levick Court has become a haven for its residents and David's contribution to that achievement is self evident.
When the Trustees were required by the Housing Corporation to provide a Condition Survey in 2000 who best to turn to than David himself and he readily gave freely of his time to produce a uniquely detailed report on the present structure which, by its lack of defect items was itself a memorial to David's original design. Dozens of residents have benefited from David's
work and many more will do so for years to come.
David was a magistrate from 1976 to 1995, well respected for his courtesy and consistent fairness. The licensing committee was a special interest and he chaired that panel from 1987 to 1990 - his professional knowledge came in very useful when inspecting licensed premises. His contributions to the church services were just as important - he read lessons and also led the prayers regularly over a long period.
He will also be sadly missed in the Coffee Room, where he helped in a “front and back of house” role when Iris was on duty behind the counter.
On Sunday 13th August 2006 we sang for the 11.15 am service of communion at St Finn Barre's Cathedral, Cork. The setting was Sumsion in F and the choir sang two motets: Sicut Cervus - Palestrina and My Spirit Longs For Thee – Dowland.
After a marvellous service we were supplied with refreshments and left to take in our wonderful surroundings . Among the many fascinating items we discovered the organ pit which is 14 feet deep and dates from 1889 , the pit accommodates the 3012 organ pipes.
In August, the choir of St Peter’s went to Ireland. We began by visiting Cork where we sang the Sunday services at St Fin Barre’s cathedral. Some of us were observant enough to notice that Cork had a butter museum and, obviously, were enormously excited about this and went along to see if it could live up to our expectations. It wasn’t very good.
We tried to put the disappointment behind us and stoically proceeded to Dublin. Our first musical engagement there was a mass for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at St Bartholomew’s Church. We were given a wonderfully warm welcome there by the congregation and by Reverend Michael Thompson who some of you may have known from his time in Sneinton. It was a marvellous occasion: a gloomy church, clouds of incense, bells and suchlike and the shortest mass ever.
On the Thursday we sang a concert at Armagh cathedral. As we crossed the border into Northern Ireland we were given a harrowing but quite fascinating commentary about The Troubles by Kevin our erudite and amazingly well-connected coach driver. Kevin claimed to know Bono, Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, The Prince of Wales and Terry Wogan. To mark the fact that we were in the place where Charles Wood grew up, we sang a selection of Wood’s anthems including the sublime Hail! Gladdening Light and the ridiculous (but lovely) Expectans Expectavi.
Finally, we sang the weekend services at Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin. Despite being very tired at the end of a long week, we managed to muster the energy to sing, among other things, Morley’s indescribably beautiful First Service and the almost too loud Blair in B Minor.
Many thank to the Rector for organising the gigs and to Keith Charter for arranging transport and accommodation and everything.
Our illustration implies that Robin could get the Church to dance to his tune. In the ballad featuring St Mary’s he is (on the one side) notable for his devotion to Mary, risking his life to come to her church for Mass, while (on the other) the kind of devotion he inspires in his men doesn’t stop short of beheading the dastardly monk who had betrayed him to the Sheriff (though Robin isn’t directly responsible). The Bishop(or mitred Abbot) here is getting off lightly!
The nation has once again been gripped by the adventures of Nottinghamshire’s famous outlaw thanks to the BBC’s recent Saturday night drama. St Mary’s Church hopes it will result in a new wave of visitors.
According to legend, the ancient parish and civic church of St Mary’s in the Lacemarket, also the city’s largest church, witnessed one of the most dramatic events during the life of the hooded wonder.
A 14th Century ballad Robyn Hode and the Monk, which is one of the earliest surviving ballads making reference to Robin Hood, describes how he was arrested in St Mary’s at Whitsuntide on a sunny May morning. He visited the church to confess his sins but was caught by the Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of a monk, resulting in his imprisonment in the medieval town hall on High Pavement at the top of Garners Hill. However, he was subsequently rescued by Little John.
The ballad reads:
...It befell at Whitson (tide),It continues to explain that when Robin knelt in prayer before the old rood screen in St. Mary’s, a monk, wearing a large hood, appeared beside him. The monk recognised the outlaw, who had recently robbed him of a hundred pounds, and left the church in haste to find the Sheriff, shouting that he had spied the “King’s felon” and the traitor’s name was Robin Hood. The Sheriff rose from his bed and set off for the “kyrk”, followed by a baying crowd. The great crowd pushed in through the door of the church.
Erly in a May mornynge
The sun up fayre can shine,
And the briddis merrye can sing
He gos into Seynt Mary Chirch
And kneled down before the rode
All that ever were the Church within
Beheld wel Robyn Hode
Robin, clasping a two-handed sword rushed at the Sheriff’s men, killing a dozen, wounding many more and breaking the sword on the Sheriff’s head. In the frenzy and excitement some of the crowd fell over unconscious as if they were dead. Robin was captured and thrown into prison. With the help of Little John (who had quarreled with him over a bet but who now came ruthlessly to the rescue), and thanks to the intoxicated state of the sheriff, Robin eventually escaped by leaping over the city wall.
St Mary’s has possibly another connection to Robin Hood. William de Amyas was a successful merchant, property owner, four times Mayor of Nottingham and friend of the King. In 1333 he was the victim of marauding outlaws in Sherwood Forest who threatened to burn his property unless he gave them £20. William de Amyas also endowed the chantry chapel of St. Lawrence in St. Mary’s. Part of his original tomb is included in the Thurland tomb in the north transept of the church.
Ioan Reed-Aspley, spokesperson for St Mary’s said; “I’m sure all the local landmarks with connections to Robin Hood will capitalise on the BBC drama. Most people will know of Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak, but I expect fewer people will be aware of Robin’s encounters in St Mary’s. Let’s hope the hype will encourage more tourists to the area and visitors to the church.”
St Mary's is the oldest parish church in Nottingham. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book and is believed to go back deep into Saxon times. The church is open during the week but anyone on the trail of Robin Hood ought to check with the Parish Office before planning a visit.
Saturday, 27 January 2007
No doubt we have all heard, and probably discovered for ourselves, that the fourth gospel is different from the first three. It certainly seems different and, as we shall shortly see, it is different - but can we see significance in the differences and the continuities with the other gospels? Certainly it was a gospel different enough to be assured of a place in the New Testament in all parts of the Church only in the 4th century. On the other hand our earliest New Testament text, a tiny fragment of papyrus called p52, now in Manchester, contains part of John 18: 31-33 on one side and of John 18: 37-38 on the other. This dates from the first half of the second century (i.e. within sixty years of the gospel’s probable date), indicating that in some parts of the Church the Gospel was a popular one; this is confirmed by the existence of other early manuscripts of parts of John. At the moment, let us look at what the differences are; later we will try to examine what this might mean.
In reading John’s gospel, particularly if we read it in larger chunks than we usually hear in church, we will notice differences in vocabulary. Compared with the other gospels we hear little or nothing of the kingdom of God, the Sadducees, scribes, forgiveness or demons. Rather John has a distinctive use of life, light, darkness, truth, the world, the Jews, to know the Paraclete (in translation Comforter or advocate), the Son, the Father (used more frequently in John). Phrases like “Him who sent me”, and Amen, Amen (translated truly, truly, or verily, verily) are unique to John and “I am …” occurs rarely in the other gospels.
In the other gospels Jesus gives his teaching in brief, pithy forms such as parables and similes (x is like y). In John Jesus speaks in loquacious and sometimes repetitious discourses in which it is not always clear when direct speech ends and comment by the writer begins(e.g. 3:16,17 and 30, 31).
John is inconsistent with matters of historical timing. Does Jesus die on the Passover as in the other gospels or on Passover Eve as in John? While the other gospels mention only one Passover at the end of Jesus’ ministry which may only have been of a few months, John mentions three Passovers indicating a longer ministry. Is the temple cleansed at the beginning or end of the ministry?
In John there is no baptism or temptation, no transfiguration, no confession at Caesarea Philippi, no praying in Gethsemane (Matthew/Mark) or Mount of Olives (Luke) before arrest, no institution of the eucharist by Jesus, no parables or exorcisms. Unique to John are the Wedding at Cana (2:1-11), Nicodemus (3: 1-13), the Samaritan woman (4:1-42), Lazarus (11: 1-44), the footwashing (13: 1-20), the conversation with Pilate (18:28 –19:16) and the resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene (20: 11-29).
Jesus in John speaks mostly of himself rather than the coming kingdom and there is little dialogue with opponents. Jesus has a “divine foreigness” about him, at which we shall look more closely next time.
Some of Jesus’ acts of power in John are called “signs”, a term which is often used polemically in the other gospels (e.g. Luke 11:29). Furthermore these acts are not so much signs of the coming of God’s kingdom but of Jesus’ authority and power with some accenting of these; he can heal at distance (4:43-53), Lazarus has been buried for four days (11.39), not only does he walk on water but brings the boat to land (6:16-21), the wine at Cana is the finest (2:10).
Finally, John has distinctive points of style, in particular the use of irony. All the gospels are ironic in the sense that the reader knows who Jesus is in ways that the characters in the gospel do not. However, John develops this so that the figures of opposition fall into traps of their own making. This is shown most clearly in the dialogue with Pilate in Chapter 18: 28 – 19:16. Pilate mocks Jesus’ claim to be a king, crucifies him for being king but yet he proclaims Jesus King by word (19:15) and in writing (19:19-22) and enthrones him on the cross because he is king. It is Pilate rather than Jesus who is on trial, a verbal ambiguity may indicate that Jesus in in the judgement seat (19:13). The whole scene may be part of a wider motif in which the whole gospel is a kind of lawsuit in which those who seek to question Jesus are interrogated themselves and found wanting.
In the same way John makes subtle use of multiple meanings. In the encounter with Nicodemus (see also Henry Vaughan’s poem “The Night”) Jesus makes use of the various meanings of the Greek ‘another’ (from above, from the beginning, again) and pneuma (wind, breath, or spirit) as in the same place “lifted up” has an ambiguous meaning (3:1-15).
….. but yet the same
However, we ought not to exaggerate the differences and distinctions of John’s gospel - as we have seen in earlier series each gospel is distinctive in its message. Like the other gospels John is giving good news using a biographical narrative, obviously telling the same story, beginning with the Baptist’s witness, continuing with miracles and conflicts and culminating in a detailed Passion Narrative and the empty tomb. Like the other gospels it was written anonymously, and like them composed over a long period out of various sources, oral and written.
This brings us to the most distinctive aspect of John’s gospel. We have no definite idea of what John’s sources were. You will recall that Matthew and Luke have Mark as a common source, have another major source in common with each other and Luke may also have used a version of Matthew. We have no idea at all of John’s sources. Although he has things in common with Mark and Luke these are not sufficient to say that he knew either gospel or even that he has sources in common with them, only similar kinds of traditions.
Nonetheless the first three gospels have parallels, however rough, to the incidents in John. There may be more cripples and blind men healed in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but one each (John 5 and 9) makes the necessary point. The dead are raised (Mark 5:21-43 and Luke 7:11-17) even if not as dramatically as Lazarus. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is a kind of parallel to the praying in Gethsemene, and so on.
More importantly all the gospels share John’s purpose in encouraging and maturing faith (20:31) through an account primarily theological and missionary, rather than historical and biographical, of Jesus and the salvation to be found in him.
Part 2. A different Jesus
As we have seen in earlier articles the clue to the contents of a gospel is often in its opening. In the case of John’s gospel this means the famous prologue which is well known as the gospel for Christmas Day (John 1: 1-18). That this may well have been deliberately composed as the gospel’s opening, emphasises the way in which the gospel’s theology (what it says about God and his working with the world) is expressed through its Christology (what it says of Jesus and his person).
The concrete historical Jesus (1:14), witnessed to by John the Baptist (1:6), founder of the community of Christian believers (1:12-13), is the divine Word before creation (1:1); source of life and creation, distinct from but identifiable with God. This Word, or word, is for all, though responses to him, or it, are diverse (1:9-11) but he is the manifestation of God retaining a perfect relationship with the Father (1:18). Jesus is more than a providential man fulfilling the expectations associated with figures like the “Messiah/Christ” or “Son of God”, but is like Jacob’s ladder (1:51) a mediator from heaven to earth. When John uses the phrase “you shall see” in this verse, he invites the reader to enter into and to see the whole gospel as a testimony to Jesus’ divine origins.
Pre-existence and divinity
Not only the gospel writer but John the Baptist (1:30) and Jesus himself (8:58, 17:3) witness to Jesus as having a pre-existent life with God before all other things. This goes much further then the other gospels or Paul, who sees crucifixion/ resurrection as the point where Jesus’s divine sonship becomes explicit (Romans 1:4). In Mark, Jesus appears as Son of God at baptism (Mark 1:11); in Matthew/Luke, sonship dates from conception (Matthew 1:30; Luke 1:35). However, this is privileged information known by the reader and Jesus is an essentially earthly figure.
Jesus’s divine pre-existence is the lens through which the writer wants us to see the events of the gospel as it unfolds. To describe this pre-existence he uses the title Word (logos in Greek). For Gentile Stoics, the Logos was the divine reason which organises the universe and by which humans govern their passionate or violent natures. Apart from the incarnation (1:14) there is nothing in John’s prologue a Stoic could not accept. Equally, pious Jews could describe the Torah, or the Wisdom of God (Proverbs 8:22ff), in similar terms. Moreover, sophisticated Jews in the Greek speaking world used Logos as an acceptable and appropriate term to discuss the working of God.
As I indicated above, John may have liked the ambiguity of Word and word; the person of Jesus is totally identifiable with the gospel about him. We can also note the power of the Word in the Old Testament to create (Genesis 1, Psalm 33:6 etc.), and to communicate (Jeremiah 2:1 and elsewhere among the prophetic literature). So Word/Logos was an ideal word, with many and flexible associations both Jewish and Gentile, to place Jesus’s origins beyond an earthly existence. The gospel’s identification of the Word with God (1:1) would offend Jewish monotheism (Deut. 6:4); and incarnation, bringing divine attributes of glory, grace and truth, would offend both Jews and Gentiles.
In the controversies of the body of the gospel Jesus belligerently asserts his divinity whereas the other gospels merely assume God’s authority for his words and actions (John 5 and 7, 8 and 10, especially 8:42, 8:58, 10:36, 10:38). Similar claims are found in the non-controversial second part of the gospel (13-17).
John and the titles of Jesus
The titles of Jesus are sometimes John’s own coinage as Logos/Word, sometimes familiar New Testament phrases with a distinct nuance.
Lamb of God… (1:29) sounds Jewish enough but is probably John’s own creation. Although there may be some link to the Passover lamb (19:14) this was not a sacrifice to remove sin.
In other gospels Son of God is only used of Jesus by heavenly or other supernatural sources (though compare Matthew 16:16); but it is the basic assumption of John’s gospel from the beginning (1:18) to end (20:31).
Whether and how Jesus is the Messiah/Christ is discussed more directly (4:29, 7:26 and 12:14) than in the other gospels, and is crucial for Christian belief (20:31).
Son of God and Messiah/Christ/Anointed One were titles of the Israelite kings. Nathaniel’s proclamation of Jesus as King of Israel is a revelation to a “true Israelite” (1:49), not one of the unbelieving “Jews”. The crowd try to make Jesus king (6:15); but he is king already (18:36).
Son of Man is used by John to fuse together the death of Jesus and his glorification, the latter achieved by his death rather than a return in power (3:13-15, 12: 20-36). John uses “raised or lifted up” ambiguously (raised on the cross and raised from the dead) and as part of a wider ascent/descent motif – see comment on 1:51 above.
Saviour of the World (4:42) is a pagan title given to emperors and so on, given to Jesus on pagan soil; for John’s understanding, see 3:16.
Lord (Kyrie in Greek) has a wide range of meaning from roughly the equivalent of “sir” to the unutterable divine name of God. In the first part of the gospel “Jesus” or “rabbi” (used positively in this gospel) is common and Lord is used in significant passages (6:68, 9:38). In chapters 13-17 “Lord” is more common and Jesus comments on this (13:13) and this is confirmed in post-resurrection usage (20:2, 13, 20 and 28).
I am…. the Greek words “ego eimi” could mean a simple self-identification but could also be a claim to divinity, based on God’s words in Exodus 3:14. When Jesus uses them (6:20, 18:5 and 8) it might indicate the former but means the latter judging by the reaction in 18:6. John links “I am” to various attributes as follows:
- Bread of life (6:35 in the context of 6:22-71). Jesus is the new manna in the wilderness as expected at the end-time, descended from heaven to satisfy all hungers.
- Light of the World (8:12, 9:5) is uttered in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles when the temple courts were illuminated at night. If we compare John 1:4-5 with Genesis 1:3, has John successfully distinguished the created light from the uncreated Word?
- Door/Good Shepherd (10:1-18) is possibly also a divine claim (Psalm 23:1); in any case Jesus is the way to salvation (10:9), he lays down his life for others and will ultimately lead one flock (10:16).
- Resurrection and the life (11:25), effectively a divine claim (cf 5:21-29) and so blasphemous (11:50).
- Way, truth, life (14:6) – way or walking (Halakah in Hebrew) is the application of the Torah to every day life, so Jesus is the equal of or superior to God’s Law. Truth and life originate in God (Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 3:15-16, 6:40).
As, in Jewish thought, way, life, light, vine/wine/bread, water (John 4:7 – 7:37) are applied to the Torah, John may be presenting Jesus as a new and greater Law of God.
Part 3. A different theology
Until now we have looked at John’s portrait of Jesus as one come from God, who is identified with, and identifies himself with God. Before moving on to Jesus’ work, and other aspects of John’s theology, we must briefly look at two final aspects of his person.
Reverence and reality
In John’s Gospel John the Baptist is reduced to a voice whose sole purpose is to witness to Jesus (1:19-23) who ranks before John (1:30). John is the best man, Jesus the bridegroom, John decreases, John increases (3:28-30); John is a lamp (5:35) but Jesus is Light of the World. The only sign John gives is to witness to Jesus (10:41, cf.1:6-9).
However, in spite of Jesus’ pre-existence, divinity, titles and witness by the Baptist the gospel writer is at some pains to emphasise a humanity in Jesus. His positive use of the word “flesh”, which would have had a negative sound to Paul, underlines this (1:14, 6:51). Jesus can admit to tiredness and thirst and show emotion (11:35 though probably anger rather than grief) and he prays, though he may not need to (11:41-42); finally he really dies (19:34).
The seeming reluctance with which John compromises his picture of an omniscient, divine Jesus may show that his purpose was corrective of any tendency towards saying that Jesus only seemed to be mortal and was really a divine saviour with little earthly contact.
Jesus descending and ascending
Outside the Prologue and John 1:51 there is little about Jesus descending, though we may perhaps include the dismissive comments in 6:42 and 7:27, 41-42.
Things are much clearer regarding Jesus’ ascent, which is intimately connected to the crucial theme of the Hour (e.g. 2:4 and 12:27). The Hour unifies suffering, death, enthronement on the cross (12:27-33), resurrection and glorious return to the Father – see 7:33-36 and Chapter 14.
According to John, Jesus’ coming is very divisive. He brings both salvation and judgement (crisis in Greek). His presence was a choice between coming to the Light, or staying in the darkness of sin (3:16-21; 12:35-36). This is a cosmic dualism: light is good, knowledge, truth and love, and darkness is evil, ignorance, lies and hate. Judas is the creature of darkness (13:30). We can be for Jesus or against him. Human society and its leaders chose the latter, showing that they are of the world (cosmos in Greek) and with the powers of darkness; but in condemning Jesus they bring judgement on themselves.
For those who believe Jesus’ death, being raised up/ascending on the cross, is the means of salvation, bringing eternal life (3:11-15), establishing Jesus’ divine authority (8:21-30 note the use of “I am” [he] ), and drawing all to himself (12:32); this is emphasised by the universal nature of Pilate’s proclamation of him as king (19:19-20). This is John’s major understanding of the cross as the ultimate revelation of who Jesus is and of his divine origins and destiny. Although there are hints (10:11, 15:13) after 1:29, there is no reference to the cross as a vicarious sacrifice for sin. Links are made to the Passover lamb, but this was not such a sacrifice(John 19:29 and 36, cf Exodus 12:22 and 45-6).
The end is here and now
Unless our understanding of the New Testament is seriously at fault, Jesus understood his own mission as the proclamation of the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God which involved the ending of the present world order and the final division between the blessed and the cursed. Similarly Paul believed that the coming of the kingdom would be preceded by the return of Jesus in power, glory and judgement; and though this was delayed, it was very near.
The first three gospels reflect this view. Jesus and his ministry may foreshadow the kingdom’s coming but the main emphasis is on the future. This view, which began in the late Old Testament period and gathered pace in the period between the testaments, is called “future (or conventional) eschatology” (i.e. understanding of the things of the end).
John’s Gospel takes the view called “realised eschatology”; the things of the end have already happened or are happening now. The decisive event was the Hour, this was the ultimate glorification following the mini-glorification shown in the signs(17:1-5 summarises this). He does not need to return in glory, it has already been shown. Judgement has occurred in people’s reactions to Jesus and resurrection is available through the One who is resurrection and life (11:25-6). The benefits of the kingdom, joy, peace, fellowship, unity with Christ, are available now (15:11, 14:27, 15:5, 16:20-24) as is eternal life (17:3).
There are still some references to future eschatology, but these (e.g. 5:25-29) are as much about the present. It seems probable that John’s re-drawing of the Christian hope owes much to his understanding of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit and the Paraclete
In spite of John the Baptist’s report of Jesus being descended upon by the Holy Spirit (1:32-34) the Spirit is, during the ministry, largely a promised gift, to be given only when Jesus is glorified (7:39). This happens on Easter Day (20:22-23), rather than at Pentecost (Luke/Acts), although there is a foreshadowing at the time of the crucifixion (19:30) - part of John’s motif of condensing the final gospel events into the Hour of glory.
The function of the Spirit, released into the Church on Jesus’ returning to the Father is fully explored in Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples (chapters 14-16) where the Spirit is called the paraclete. The various ways this Greek word has been translated – advocate, comforter (i.e. one who stands by to strengthen and encourage), helper, counsellor, show the range of meanings possible, yet none really matches the Paraclete’s function. He is closely related to both Jesus and the Father, the latter sends and gives the Spirit through the Son, whose function of teaching, guidance and relationship is now vested in the Paraclete/Spirit (14:16 and 26; 15:26). Since part of his role is to testify to Jesus and glorify him, the Paraclete stands for Jesus as the prosecutor of the cosmos (16:8-14). This is one more sense in which the end-time judgement has come already in the coming of the Paraclete. It is possible that John, or the Christian community he came from, saw this kind of theology of the Spirit as a response to the delay in Jesus’ return, the presence of the Spirit fulfilled much that was expected through that return. The presence of the Paraclete is the active “personal presence of Jesus in the Christian while Jesus is with the Father” (Raymond E. Brown).
Part 4. The challenges of difference
John’s gospel and the Jews
On the one hand this is a very Jewish gospel, steeped in the language and symbolism of the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament), an understanding of contemporary interpretation of the Torah (Law) – 7:14-24; furthermore salvation comes from the Jews (4:22).
Yet John consistently refers to those making up an increasingly hostile opposition to Jesus as ‘the Jews’ and there is no doubt that the word means the Jewish people as a whole. As John uses it, ‘the Jews’ is often the equivalent of the world (cosmos), that is human society deliberately organising itself apart from God. So, at worst ‘the Jews’ are part of the powers of darkness (see especially 8:44, but take note of the context).
More positively the reaction of Jews to Jesus is more mixed than might first appear. Some hover between belief and unbelief or leave the question open (3:1-10; 7:52; 19:39) or believe ‘privately’) (12:42-43). Others believe because of signs, but are offended by Jesus’ teaching (6:14-15, 41, 52) and (8:31 and 48), such belief has been condemned as inadequate for discipleship early in the gospel (2:23-25) and culminates in the reaction to the raising of Lazarus (11:45 and 46).
At best there is a distancing. Jewish festivals like Passover are ‘of the Jews’, Jesus can talk as if he was not himself a Jew (13:33); but at the heart of the gospel is the conviction that salvation has indeed come from the Jews through the crucifixion of the Jews’ own king.
Reading between the lines, the founding community that eventually produced John’s gospel was one of Christian Jews in dialogue, increasingly acrimonious and, eventually, vindictive to the point of rupture, with non-Christian Jews. By the time the gospel was written the rupture was more or less complete, but the air of dispute and antagonism lived on. The disputes and fierce polemic between Jesus and the Jews reflects this. The ‘Community of John’ had as they saw it been forced away from the ancestral practices of Israel by the unbelieving ‘Jews’ who refused to see that Jesus fulfilled all that was promised in the Torah, the prophets and other scriptures and in Temple worship - and surpassed them, so that ethnic and religious Judaism were no longer the criteria for being born a child of God (1:11-13; 3:3-10).
The Case of the Beloved Disciple
The Beloved Disciple (or disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’) suddenly appears at John 13:23 and is prominent thereafter. Attempts have been made to put a name to this disciple, John the son of Zebedee, Lazarus or Nathaniel, but all founder on the gospel writer’s obvious effort to keep this disciple anonymous. Even so, it is unlikely, though possible, that the Beloved Disciple is simply an invention of the writer, a literary device to fulfil a symbolic role, as for example, a representative of all disciples whom Jesus loves.
It seems more likely that the Beloved Disciple was at least based on a figure known, at least in memory, to the writer and to the community from which he emerged. Hence the concern about his death and his testimony in chap. 21:20-24. He was probably some sort of founding figure to John’s community, may or may not have been a minor disciple of Jesus and, in the gospel, has been idealised to portray the ideal perceptive disciple of, and witness to, Jesus.
So at the supper, he stands in relation to Jesus (13:23 and 25) as Jesus does to God (1:18), though not all translations bring this out. He alone knows who is to betray Jesus (13:21-30), he acts as Jesus’ surrogate, even successor (19:26-27), testifies to Jesus’ death (19:35) and initiates the Easter faith (20: 8, 21: 7). Except in the last case the Disciple’s insights affect no one else, and even this case shows Peter as dependent on the Beloved Disciple’s word as earlier (13:24-25, and probably 18:15-16). The Beloved’s insights and witness are primarily not for the other characters in the gospel but for its readers and hearers (20:31). In other words, like John the Baptist (1:7 and 15), his witness is to who and what Jesus is, rather than eyewitness reporting. This goes on beyond his death into the gospel in its written form (21:24), which others have undertaken.
John’s community – church or sect?
In the other gospels twelve apostles are called and commissioned by Jesus and given authority to act on his behalf (Mark 3:14-15). In John only five are specifically called and their only authority is as disciples, i.e. those who follow (1:43). The ‘twelve’ are only mentioned three times (6:68-69, 71 and 20:24) almost incidentally. In chapter 21 Peter’s dependence on the Beloved Disciple is emphasised and, although Peter is given status as a pastor, the Beloved follows faithfully without prompting. While not repudiating the traditions about the apostles and the pastoral ministry which grew out of them, John judges authority to lie in faithful following of Jesus.
As with ‘ministry’ so with ‘sacraments’. There are a good many ‘sacramental’ overtones in the language used at various points which lead us to suppose that John had a ‘high’ view of baptism and eucharist. On closer examination this proves highly questionable.
In the first place Jesus is not baptised in this gospel. The writer puts a distance between Jesus and the practice of baptism (3:22, 4:1-2), and Jesus does not initiate the eucharist at the Last Supper (ch. 13). On the other hand, the story of Nicodemus (ch. 3, especially 3:5) indicates that John believed that baptism was the way of spiritual birth and entrance into spiritual life (compare Romans 6:3-4). At the same time the footwashing (13:1-30) shows a baptism, rooted in the death of Jesus, which is not in itself proof against evil (13:10-11) but which is necessary (13:8).
Similarly chapter 6 appears to contain a good deal of very positive teaching about the eucharist, but the real emphasis is on Jesus the Wisdom from on High, offering his teaching, the true nourishment (compare the Living Water of ch. 4); Jesus the incarnate Word giving his flesh (i.e. his death) for the life of the world. There are eucharistic overtones in 6:51-8 but the whole chapter ends with a passage on commitment, following and betrayal. All in all, for this gospel sacraments are acknowledged but not central.
In the Farewell Discourse Jesus roots the coming Christian life in obedience to his commands, in love and service; but this seems rather narrow in scope (chps. 13-17). Disciples are to love one another (13:34) not neighbours or enemies (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12). Though this love is of an intensity that impresses outsiders (13:35), involves great humility (13:14), is rooted in the love between the Father and the Son as shown in the Son’s mission in the world (3:16 but note 3:18), and can risk death (15:13), all is limited to insiders - to “friends”.
Sitting loose to formal organisations of ministry, keeping a distance from sacraments, suspicious of the ‘world’, committed to a cosmic dualism centred on the person of Jesus and looking intensely towards each others’ needs rather than those outside, does John’s community have the characteristics of a sect? We cannot go so far, we know too little about the diversity of churches in the first century. We may say that its attitude to church management, worship and initiation shows radical diversion from what we encounter elsewhere in the New Testament. Further, separation from Judaism and a continuing lively and acrimonious debate with it had left bruises and scars which may be enough to account for the sectarian feel of the gospel. The community behind this gospel may have perceived itself as expelled from the synagogue, but only on the fringes of Christian bodies, and may have reacted in somewhat alienated ways to both.
The impact of John’s gospel
Obviously I cannot tell you what the impact of John’s gospel should be, you must read it for yourselves and see. I would suggest its impact is both positive and negative. John’s attitude towards the ‘Jews’ whatever its origin has had a baleful influence on Jewish –Christian relations throughout Christian history, and so needs to be acknowledged, not ignored, excused or swept under the carpet. This is especially true on Good Friday when John provides the gospel for the day.
We may find John’s incarnate Christ, proclaiming his own divinity and condemning those who cannot acknowledge him as both as unhistorical and hard to take. However, faith and discipleship do require commitment, which means making choices; and by refusing to choose we judge ourselves. John’s Jesus dramatises and radicalises the necessity for this commitment.
Similarly, while we may find difficulties with John’s cosmic dualism and the inward looking attitudes apparent in his community, the Church is not the world and does not live by the world’s values and how we accommodate those values in the interests of love for the world (3:16) must be a matter of constant scrutiny.
Finally, do not take my word for anything I have written in this article; read the gospel according to John and decide.
14th January 2007
Isaiah 62: 1-5; 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11; John 2: 1-11
I have, this weekend, been reading an article about the continuing conflict in Darfur, in the far western area of Sudan. Sudan, as some of you know, is a country that has been close to my heart for many years. It is where I got my first overseas experience when I was in the Diplomatic Service. It continued to feature in my life when I went to train for ordination in Salisbury, because Salisbury Diocese has a long-standing companion link with the Episcopal Church of Sudan. When I arrived in Alnwick for my curacy, I discovered that our CMS link missionary was working in Juba, in S Sudan. And when I turned up at Lambeth, the plight of the Sudanese church and people, still immersed in a bloody 40year old civil war, was one of the central stories with which the Archbishop tried to engage. You could say that Sudan is in my blood, and many people who have experienced living in Africa say that of course. It changes you. You become literally – but rather pleasantly – infected by it. So the tragedy and scandal of the present suffering of the people of Western Darfur has a particular resonance for me.
I would like to think, though, that it affects not only those who have a special connection with the country. The violence there, as I am sure you know, is the same sort of ethnically-based mass murder as we saw in Rwanda and in the Balkans not so many years ago. For two years this campaign has been waged by government-supported militia, and in that time over 300,000 people have been killed and three and a half million been forced into refugee camps. They have been submitted to a campaign of terror, or rape, murder and destruction as appalling as anything that has been seen in recent years. A half-hearted attempt by the United Nations to deploy peace-keeping troops was rejected by the Sudanese government, aid agencies that have continued to try to bring relief to the suffering have themselves been terrorised and the small force of African troops have no chance whatsoever, in such a huge and remote area, of being an effective presence for good.
And so, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year ordinary people are brutalised and murdered for no other reason than that they are black Africans. And the world – which includes us – does nothing. From time to time a minister says something in parliament. When a specially bad incident comes to notice, the media takes a momentary interest, and we, the people, who could, if we chose to, create havoc for the politicians, complain of 'Africa fatigue' or 'compassion fatigue'. Well, those who employ that phrase might just like to go and experience something like the struggle to survive in Darfur, or Zimbabwe or Somalia or just ordinary, everyday life in most parts of the continent of Africa before using a word like fatigue. We would learn what fatigue is really like.
The Africa Commission: are we not going to act?
Three years ago, with much trumpeting, the Prime Minister gathered together an international group of influential people and launched the Commission for Africa. Applause. A year later the Commission reported. Quote: “The contrast between the lives led by those who live in rich countries and poor people in Africa is the greatest scandal of our age.” Quote: “Globalisation must also mean justice on a global scale. The people of the world have an instinctive urge to help those in distress” Quote: “The eyes of the world may be averted from their routine suffering, but the eyes of history are upon us. In years to come, future generations will look back and wonder how could our world have known and failed to act?” There is the question.
What about us?
So what about us, here in Nottingham, sitting in Church today, warm in the post-Christmas glow? What difference does it make to us that something like the total population of the City of Nottingham has been destroyed in Darfur over two years? Are we fatigued by it? Are we going to join the chorus of those who say they don't get to sing their favourite Christmas Carols in the carol services and leave others to worry about the Sudanese people. I am glad that some people were shocked by the information given to us by Carrie Pemberton two weeks ago in St Peter's about sex-trafficking in Europe, with the Christmas Tree lights twinkling, and singing 'Joy to the world, the Lord is come!'
Christmastide and transformation
The contrast between our fun at Christmas time and the message that the Christmas story proclaims is stark; and as we travel on through the Christmas and Epiphany period, it is not just that the Gospel readings tell us bits and pieces about the early life and ministry of Jesus. They are actually trying to establish in our hearts – in order to inform our actions – what it is all about. It is indeed joy to and for the world that God has taken the initiative to demonstrate once and for all, upfront, plain for all to see, what his covenant with the world actually means. This Jesus is what truth looks like in human form. Look into Jesus, really look into him, and you will see both the life of the world as it is, and at the same time how God wants it to be. In Jesus, life in and with God is recognisable and is accessible. But we have to look, and we have to look with the desire to see and to act. And today when Jesus is physically not visible, we have to believe still that he is present and that if we look with the same desire into the life of God's world, that that truth is still recognisable and still accessible. That is what the great passage that opens John's Gospel is all about. And if we need reminding of the earthiness of this vision, then we need to live the Christian calendar, because the day after Christmas Day is St Stephen's Day, remembering the first Christian martyr, and two days later it is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and a day later, Thomas a Becket, and then John Wyclif.
And the readings this morning give us yet more to dwell upon as we try to understand the meaning of the Incarnation. They are about transformation; transformation in Christ. Well, they amount to that anyway even though it would be inaccurate to say that Isaiah was writing about anything 'in Christ'. He was proclaiming the transformation that would take place when all is conformed to God, when God's truth is seen, known and responded to. So, in other words, unknowingly, he was talking about transformation in Christ. Paul is speaking to a newly converted church, and points out the difference between the gifts of the Spirit, and those which pertained whilst they were still pagans.
And Jesus, well....in that beloved story we see that truth in Jesus, transformation personified. There is something ordinary, water, and apart from Jesus' presence remains for everyone else just that, water. Jesus does nothing. He doesn't wave his hands over the jars. He doesn't dip a magic wand in the water and utter gobbledegook. He doesn't even say a prayer. He issues two commands – fill the jars; now draw some out. And in that encounter the ordinary is made special, the most special it could possibly be. And as it stands, it is a miracle. There is no disputing it. No ifs and buts, so far as John is concerned, no rationalising, no explaining away. We are simply presented with a picture in words. Water, the command of Jesus, the response of Mary who sees and knows, wine. The ordinary transformed into the precious.
The love of God is
The love of God that transforms, that makes complete everything that is made, is not just a theory, not just a doctrine, not even just a possibility. The love of God is. And in Jesus, all is made alive, all is made whole, now. So when the Report of the Africa Commission says: “Yet we have to remember that behind each statistic lies a child who is precious and loved” it states a profound truth, probably more profound than its members realised; and when that paragraph finishes: “Every day that child, and thousands like her, will struggle for breath – and for life – and tragically and painfully lose that fight.” it is acknowledging the world's blindness to the truth, our failure truly to celebrate Christmas.
So as each one of us, this morning, in this church in this city, comes to the altar to feed on Christ's presence, saying to the world 'I believe in the transformation that God in Jesus brings', what are we going to do?
New mercies, each returning day,Thanks to John Keble for reminding us of the unfailing love of God throughout all the changing scenes of our life. This month there are a few changing scenes at Claves Regni, as we try to drag ourselves kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. (Note: if a computer can pull itself up by its own bootstraps, surely a web-production team can drag itself forward?)
Hover around us while we pray;
New perils past, new sins forgiven,
New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.
For a little over ten years I have developed and maintained Claves Regni, the "on-line magazine of St Peter's Church, Nottingham". This was quite a novelty back in July 1996, but since then the world has changed - many more people have access to the internet, and blogging and interactivity are all the rage. So this month we introduce blogging to Claves Regni. Most new pages added to the site will be in the form of blogs, on which you may comment. If the author is on-line (s)he may well reply to your pertinent and witty observations.
For the time being at least, the blogs are hosted on blogger.com rather than on our main site. You will have to find your way back to the main site, either by using the "back" button on your browser, or using the links on the right side of the page.
In the real world the scenes are changing even faster. Back in December 2002 the two parishes of St Peter's and All Saints' were united, and in April 2006 the PCCs of St Peter's & All Saints' and of St Mary the Virgin agreed to unite to form a Nottingham City Centre Group of Churches. This is not a way of saving money, nor yet an experiment to see how many churches Andrew Deuchar can look after without falling over, but is an exciting venture (it says here) to strengthen our ability to work with each other and with other churches in Nottingham, to develop mission in our city centre.
One of the interesting tasks is finding a more pithy name than "Nottingham City Centre Group of Churches" to describe the soon-to-be unified parish. Discussions are taking place at the highest level, thesauri are being pored over and chins stroked in an extremely thoughtful fashion. If you have any good suggestions for a name, why not let us know by commenting on this blog?
Further changes are in the pipeline for Claves Regni which is going to merge with the St Mary's site, and be completely restructured and expanded to describe all three churches and our life together. It has become obvious that one person cannot develop and maintain such a site alone, and so I am starting to share the awesome power and responsibility of the post of webmaster with other, younger and wiser heads than mine. Step forward, Ioan Reed-Aspley and Peter Siepmann!
It's been a while since there was an update to the site, mea culpa, so this month we are dealing with some of the backlog. Stephen Morris writes movingly on pilgrimage and clutter, Andrew Deuchar submits some more thoughtful sermons and addresses, while Clarence Rickards provides a comprehensive review of the Gospel according to John. We also recall a long-serving Church Architect and Warden, a WW2 veteran reflects on Remembrance Sunday, Philip Collin reports (belatedly) on the St Peter's Choir tour of Ireland last year, and Ioan brings news of a dramatic arrest at St Mary's even longer ago. I hope you will want to read at least some of these articles and then comment on them. Do let us know what you think.
10th December 2006
Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6
Some time ago someone asked me whether I believed in the Bible. It was an aggressive question, a critical question in both senses of the word – both very important, and also a question designed to support the contention that we Anglicans do not preach the true Gospel.
In the good old days of the Alternative Service Book, today, the 2nd Sunday in Advent was Bible Sunday, but in their wisdom those updating the calendar moved Bible Sunday to the end of October. I know there was logic to that decision, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. I do think that to reflect on the place of the Word of God in these weeks preparing to celebrate the Incarnation of that Word is really quite appropriate; so although we should really be thinking specifically about John the Baptist, I would like to broaden that out this morning to a more general reflection on the importance of scripture in our faith journey.
The importance of Scripture on the journey
It is a critical question. It has been a critical question for a very long time, from even before the Bible as we now have it came into existence – which was not really until the fourth century. Quite a long time after the events described in the New Testament, you will have to agree. I wonder how we would go about deciding what documents to choose in order to give the fullest and most accurate interpretation of the events of the seventeenth century? Some of you may have seen the interesting programmes shown on BBC 4 a couple of weeks ago about some of the other documents and fragments of documents which have been discovered in various desert locations during the twentieth century which shed considerable light on some of the other material that might have been included . It would then have been a very different story. But the Church in its wisdom made its decisions, and those who have studied those early Christian centuries more than I have will be able to tell you how the decisions were made. But it was controversial, and in those days to court controversy was likely to provoke violent reaction and anathema.
The medieval church was adjudged by many by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to have developed its teaching so far from scriptural orthodoxy that, again, violent revolution and reformation broke out. And many movements since have called for a return to basic biblical principles. Today, the real crunch issue for Anglicanism worldwide is not whether homosexual people can play a full part in the church, or whether we can allow women bishops or not, but what authority does scripture hold, and how are we to deal with it in the modern world?
The modern era
Many of you will remember the heady days when David Jenkins was Bishop of Durham, perhaps some of you will even remember when John Robinson was Bishop of Woolwich and wrote 'Honest to God'. The crisis for David Jenkins was not that he said the things, or believed the things that the media said he did, but rather that he did so as a Bishop. A similar criticism has surfaced about the Archbishop of Canterbury, except its the other way round for him. Having apparently held “liberal” positions on a number of issues before becoming Archbishop, some now criticise him for compromising his beliefs for the sake of the unity of the wider church, in which he holds the key leadership position. Of course, as usual neither perception is accurate. On doctrinal and biblical issues, Rowan Williams has always been very much on the side of orthodoxy. Indeed, his great love ecumenically has been for the orthodox churches of the east, who will brook not one ounce of liberalism! For David Jenkins, the extraordinary assertion was made that it was fine for a professor of theology to hold the views people thought he held, but it was quite wrong for him to propound them as a bishop – undermining good old ordinary Christians in the pew, whoever they are. In fact his only interest was in promoting the use of scripture, in persuading people to read and study and to get to know the biblical tradition in all its richness and its complexity, and through it to promote the journey of faith, a man and a teacher of profound humility, piety and pastoral love, enriched by his own knowledge and love of the Bible.
Can we be bothered?
Well no wonder we are in a mess. How many of us, I wonder even open our bibles or read passages of scripture outside the formal worship of the church? How many of us have taken up opportunities to study the bible? How many of us have difficulty even placing some of the Gospel stories in their right context, never mind getting to grips with the Old Testament tradition. Without scripture our faith has no content. If we do not know and understand the foundations of our faith, every passing breeze of controversy or disdain will knock us sideways. If we are divided on the place and significance of the Bible, we will be divided in everything else. We may spend any amount of time forming commissions on anything we like, we can support or oppose any political innovation , we can argue all we like about every moral question we like, but without the common ground of scripture to arm us and undergird us, the Christian community has no place from which to enter the public arena. We all have our viewpoints on all sorts of subjects. Those of us who sat in St Peter's on Friday night for the broadcast of 'Any Questions' could all have made intelligent contributions to all the discussions. But we could not have done as Christians, or on behalf of the Christian tradition unless we were quite sure of the authority in scripture of what we were saying.
"A prophet is immersed in the Word of God"
That may surprise you to hear me say that. But it was Rowan Williams himself who, some years ago, before he became Archbishop, identified the first and most significant quality of a prophet to be one who is immersed in the Word of God.
The Church is called to be prophetic if it is called to be anything. That's you and me, brothers and sisters, the Church. Not the bishops and archbishops, though they may be too. Not the clergy, or the diocesan staff, but us, the people of God, all those who are baptised into Christ. So, if we are to respond to our calling, we too must be immersed in the Word. And we are not. Stephen and I have been talking about this. We are in the midst of drawing up a Vision Statement for the new era, a mission statement, a statement of values for the Christian community that will make up our new parish. At the heart of that statement will be a statement of biblical values. The question will be for us all, 'Do we recognize those values?' 'Do we understand our calling in these terms?' 'Do we understand what scripture challenges us to be as disciples of Christ?'; because if we don't then no vision statement will have any value at all. It may make us feel good to have it, and to frame it and stick it on the wall. But its only real value is if it chimes with and challenges the way that each one of us fulfils our calling. So after Christmas, we will be trying to address some of these questions, inviting you all to join in the discussion of how our scriptural tradition impinges on our lives, and what sort of Church it leads you to believe we should be.
Do I believe in the Bible? I believe in God. I believe in Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God. I believe in the Holy Spirit who gives life to the people of God. I believe the Bible has unique authority in illuminating the truth of God for all people at all times, and therefore it must be handled, it must be struggled with, it must be challenged at least as much as it is revered. It is an icon through which we can see, we can access truth. It is not a jewel to be admired and worn as part of our ecclesiastical finery. It is not to be idolised. It is a tool, the most vital tool in our workshop, with which to craft an authentic and faithful response to our God and an authentic, faithful and prophetic response to God's world and God's people. Thanks be to God for this thy Holy Gospel.
Why a Quiet Day and why for this group of people?
Why here? Why in the city? Why not go away?
What about prayer? Don't we do enough already?
We certainly say and sing a lot of words together. Whichever building it is that draws our loyalty, whatever the particular tradition from which we come, whatever it is that suits us – formal, not so formal, choral or quiet, when we get together we get on with it. The liturgy, the prayer of the Church, we sort of plug in. It happens. Of course some people have to do a bit of preparation for it to happen as smoothly as we expect, but Sunday by Sunday, sure as eggs are eggs as they used to say, it happens, flick the switch and it all comes tumbling out. Its reassuring, its familiar, its what we know. Give or take a translation or two, and if your lucky a bit of central heating when it gets cold, we could be in any era of the past five hundred years. And even when the sermon gets a bit edgy, its OK because the walls pretty quickly soak the edges up. For those of us who preach at St Mary's, the ultimate sponge was delivered the other day, when one questionnaire about changes in the liturgy delivered the judgement 'Its a shame the quality of the sermons rarely match the rest of the service'. Humility is a great gift!!
But you know, those walls which in each of our buildings give us that sense of security... what is the message that they give out from the other side, from the outside? What do people see as they look in? I don't think in many cases that it is safety and comfort. I invite you first of all to ask yourselves that question, in all honesty. When all those thousands of people walk past St Peter's, day by day, or when they see pictures on the TV of St Mary's as the backdrop to the News (although they don't any more!), or all those students, young business people, prostitutes, whoever it is who have All Saints' as their very visible next door neighbour, what do they think? What are the images that flash into their minds?
Now I know that 'relevance' and 'irrelevance' are words that irritate when talking about the Church. Eternal values – unchanging, unceasing, unresting, unhasting – these are the important things. We know where we stand, and stand there we will. Counter-cultural, firm as a rock, 'not tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming' as it says in Ephesians. Batten down the hatches, the world out there is a big bad place, its stormy weather, and we are safe in the ark of salvation. Well bully for us. I know that is caricature. I know there are lots of ways we all try to be relevant, I know we all get excited by projects like Malt Cross that seek to cross boundaries and say something different, and we are delighted that Steve and Dave and the rest of the team there do what they do on our behalf. I know that in our heads, we want St Peter's to be accessible and reaching out to the people on the streets, many of whom are all that people say they are – on drugs,mentally ill, dirty, intrusive, noisy; and when they sit about on the steps, getting in the way, and creating a bit of a barrier for others wanting to get into church, it is a nuisance, and some people do feel threatened; and, yes, I catch myself thinking – and sometimes reacting to them in that way – 'Why can't you be invisible, out of the way?' And what is that about? It is about comfort zones – and all the time we convey that distaste for a group of people, we are creating an image in their minds too.
I will never forget my first Christmas Carol Service at St Peter's. As we lit the Christmas Tree and the choir sang 'Ding dong merrily on high', there were tanks in the streets of Bethlehem. We included some readings that made connections between Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and the acts of war that had once again afflicted the people there; we may even have included some unfamiliar words to a famous carol tune. It was clumsy. It was too long. It was uncomfortable. I know all that. And the howls of protest that followed (even though it was shorter than a football match), with most of the howls coming from regular church goers, shocked me. The expectation was that Christmas should not be disturbed.
'O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie' we were expected to sing, and somewhere angels were weeping.
I will not labour this further. I hope the question has been asked, and you will spend a bit of time reflecting on this, because it lies at the nub of the questions we are trying to ask of ourselves, and lies at the heart of the tensions that keep on bubbling to the surface. Are we willing to move out of our comfort zone in order to see our work as the people of God from the perspective of those 'beyond'? It was William Temple who said famously that the Church is the only institution that exists primarily for those who are not its members. Hmmm.
That then, I want to suggest, is where our prayer must be rooted. Firmly in that gap. That is the context in which we together need to be examining ourselves, our assumptions, our basic principles. That is the context in which we should read scripture and reflect together on it, and the context in which we should try to understand our history. We are not living fifty or a hundred or five hundred years ago, or even two thousand years ago. We believe in a God in Christ who is with us today, who is immersed in this city now, and who is crying out to be recognized and regarded now, a God who turns the values of the day upside down and that includes our values. We are not immune from the values of the day. Just because we go to church does not mean that we have it and the rest don't. The Gospel challenges us as much as the world. Whether we are on an ark of salvation or not is irrelevant, and is a good example of how we get diverted from the real theology to the ivory tower theology that most people on the street (if they understood the phrase at all) would accuse us of. Its the angels on a pinhead stuff. If we are, bully for us. But only God knows. And in ages past, we would have gone to the stake for it, literally. And sometimes it looks as though we are still there spiritually.
'Mind the Gap'. That was the theme for One World Week, just finished. Not a bad theme for us. We have to occupy the gap. But before we move in there, we need to be pretty sure of what we are going to do and not do when we get there – and believe me it could be a very, very uncomfortable place to be. But if we are going to be a part of the work of Christ in this place we have got to be there. You see it is not about abandoning the Church. That is not part of the agenda, and I do not believe that all those people who look up at our buildings in bafflement want that either. That is not what they long for. We know that lots of people do come inside in search of something. Actually people are very fond of our buildings. Read the visitors' books, listen to what people say. They do want them. They do recognize a longing within themselves that leads them into church buildings...that leads them into questions....the beginnings of a quest. And our life goes on. What is the offer that we make to them? Sorry, but here comes the moment of controversy and cynicism.... Come and join us, come and sit in serried rows, watch, listen to what those people in funny clothes are doing, saying, singing, sometimes in a dead language, join in the singing of second rate poetry to tunes you may or may not know, but which you wouldn't be heard dead doing anywhere else in your life about things which mean absolutely nothing to you. And really, if you wouldn't mind sitting quietly around the edges for at least ten years until you have learned how to behave like the rest of us.
And before you say I've gone over the edge, there are people in our congregations today who experience what we do in just that way, and I wonder why they stay – partly because the urge to keep on the journey of discovering God in Christ is actually unbelieveably powerful for some, and despite everything they cannot give it up.
Occupying the gap. Beware. It is where we have to be. But the gap is a chasm, and that's the problem. We could fall right into it. Beware of my blind prejudice leading you in your blind prejudice. I do not have the answers. You do not have the answers. We do not have the answers. The trouble is we have been brought up to believe that we do have the answers. So when we pray, we pray with confidence... not confidence in the Father, but confidence in ourselves. Oh I know we say all the right things... Our Father, its all yours, you are holy, you are the sustainer, you are the one who will put us on the right road, lead us, deliver us, because you are great... but actually we are much better at living in the temple, where everything is secure, where its all laid out for us, where we know what's what and who's who', who belongs and who doesn't, who's right and who's wrong. It's four square, solid, not even a tremor under our feet. Here we are confident. Egypt, the world of our captivity is on the other side of the desert. We are free. And we are sure.
The gap, the wilderness,tents. The city of God, the Promised Land, they are still a long way hence. We are a long way from home, and the landmarks are unclear, mirages, many of them, and the travellers, the nomads with no resting place are not even sure of who their companions are, let alone which are the authentic signposts on this part of the journey. It is God alone who leads and prompts. Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee. What beautiful and familiar words. But we are far from home still. Restlessness. In a restless world, we are really not too enamoured with that concept. We want to be providers of rest. But we cannot rest until the journey is complete.
Occupying the gap. True prayer. A determination on our part to be restless in our search for God in Christ in our world. Emptying ourselves in order to make space for God. That's a reasonably theological aim isn't it? Can we be faith-ful enough, full enough of faith to just peer outside the door? To step outside, never mind the storms, be they fearsome, drowning hurricanes or dry, stripping sandstorms?
There is very good stuff in this report – Faithful Cities, published last year by the Commission on Urban Life and Faith. It celebrates twenty years since the 'Faith in the City' Report. And it asks some fundamental questions about what makes a good city, and what might 'good people' (i.e. people who are concerned to look outwards to the needs of others, which it is assumed would include members of faith communities) offer towards the transformation of our cities? It has at its heart that desire – transformation, and is crystal clear that it is the transformation of the lives of people that will transform the city, not the other way round. But that transformation has to be about all people. And this is where we get onto the danger ground for Christians. It is the temptation, castles in the air. We think we are on firm ground. This is the language we understand. Transformation. Regeneration even. This is what we are about. Whatever anybody else may say or think they have, we know that we have it more, we have the truth. And that may be so. But we also have a lot of other stuff which has nothing very much,necessarily, with Christian truth. It is the baggage of centuries, some of which may be related to the truth, some of which may be very nice, and some of which is just that, baggage, and it actually gets in the way on the journey, but we are so used to carrying it that we don't know what we would do without it. We must be very wary indeed of assuming that niceness, politeness, decency, education, middle class values, preferably with a bit of high culture thrown in as well – you know mass settings by Palestrina or the poetry of Henry Kirke White or even R S Thomas – are of necessity part of what makes up the good Christian life.
The godly life does not carry cultural values with it; but we are subtly and not so subtly vulnerable to an innate cultural superiority complex, or to put it bluntly – a snobbishness that is deeply off-putting to many people. And we in the centre of the city – unlike our sister churches in, say, Radford or the Meadows – are in the frontline. One of the key concepts in 'Faithful Cities' that is encouraged by the Commission is 'churches of place'. There are many new 'churches of choice' these days, including lots of Anglican churches – churches to which people choose to go from all over the place. St Peter's and St Mary's stand in the midst of confusion and have done for a very long time. Congregationally we are churches of choice. But visually, we are churches of place, obviously. And we have developed split personalities, and this is what we are struggling with at the moment as we develop our lives. In order to be churches of place – and whether we continue to attract people from elsewhere and why is a different issue – in order to be churches of place, we are going to have to be very courageous. Because our 'place' is a very confused place, with all sorts of different pressures and tensions and possibilities, all wrestling with each other. Our place is a place which is being engineered to be one thing, but is actually a whole lot of different things for different people. It is a wilderness – some might say a jungle. But it is not God-forsaken. Nowhere is God-forsaken. That is what the incarnation is about. What astonishing, unlikely, remarkable life is to be found in the desert. But it needs eyes and ears and hearts to discern it sometimes. Those strange men and women who went out into the desert to live extraordinary lives of astringency, asceticism and prayer were not abandoning the real world, escaping from reality. Absolutely the opposite. In Egypt, metropolis and wild place sit side by side, all part of the oneness of life. They went deeper and deeper into the desert not to reject, but in order that they might see more clearly God in the world. As Laurence Freeman says in his introduction to Rowan Williams' book 'Silence and the Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert'
“It was renunciation not rejection; a passion for the absolute but not intolerance or fundamentalism; and above all not self-righteousness. They knew how easy it is for religious people to fall into the self-contradictory sin of pride, and the monks of the desert feared this pitfall more than any other....They were fighters not escapees, pilgrims not tourists. If this phenomenon erupted where it did it is perhaps because religion and geography are not unaligned. In no other country does the desert come so close to the populated world. It is not an abstract idea as the 'bush' or wilderness can be to modern people. The desert is always present to the Egyptian in the dramatic contrast between the rich black soil of the Nile valley and the sterile sand of the desert.”It needs discernment to see God in Christ at work. And that is exactly what prayer is. It is not a question of us rushing blindly around trying to do good because that's what we think we should be doing. It is about immersing ourselves in the wilderness, about occupying the gap, about knowing that it is God who leads all his people towards the Promised Land, about clearing the debris from our lives individually and corporately so that we can pay attention to God, knowing that as we journey on in the footsteps of Jesus, we will encounter the leper, the tax collector, the demoniac, the army officer, the prostitute, the Jew and the Gentile, the Muslim and the Hindu, the Samaritan and the asylum seeker, and in them we shall see such faith that they are healed and we transformed.
But this can only ever happen when the eyes of our hearts are enlightened to see and know the hope to which he has called us, the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.
As one who served in the Royal Army Service Corps with the 1st Army in North Africa, and then in Italy with the 5th Army, Remembrance Sunday is a sombre day as it brings back vivid memories of those years of the Second World War.
I bring to mind some of those men who contributed to a splendid comradeship that grew within our unit as quite a large number of us stayed together throughout the African and Italian campaigns.
But I also recall the death of a very fine young corporal and the serious injury of our unit’s Captain, both of whom were travelling in a utility car on a road in North Africa when they were strafed by two German fighter planes on early morning patrol. Six decades have gone by and I still have difficulty in controlling tears from my eyes as I remember them, as I listen to the sound of The Last Post played during a Service of Worship, and in the silence that follows. I remember them and many others with gratitude.
And then when the wreath of poppies is laid on the Altar of Remembrance during the Act of Commitment, the words spoken by the padre becomes a collective statement of remembrance:
They shall grow not oldIf we are to honour the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice we have to consider the future of the human race. It has been stated that the First World War (1914-1918) was to be “a war to end all wars”. We know from history that such a claim has proved to be false.
As we who are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
The Second World War (1939-1945) and other wars, the Gulf War, and the current conflict in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East indicates that mankind is incapable of resolving conflict without resorting to military might and the use of weapons of mass destruction. And with irresponsible leaders and governments in power we have to acknowledge that we live in a dangerous world.
The yearning for peace has long been established and is reflected in a verse of the hymn written by L. G. Hayne (1836-1883).
When comes the promised timeSo what does the future hold? Providing that those in power accept that major wars could easily escalate into another world war, involving the possible use of nuclear weapons with devastating effect, the future is not without hope.
When war shall be no more,
When shall all hatred cease
As in the realms above?
In his book Issues Facing Christians Today, under the heading of Christian Peace Making, John Stott makes the following comment:
Jesus spoke of both war and peace. On the one hand he warned us of “wars and rumour of wars”; on the other he included in his characterisation of the citizens of God’s Kingdom the active role of peace-making. He pronounced his peace-making followers both blessed by God and the children of God (Matt.5.9). For peace-making is a divine activity. God has made peace with us and between us through Christ. We cannot claim to be his authentic children unless we engage in peace-making too. Christian peace-makers must promote public debate. The peace movements of the West will contribute to peace-making only if they succeed in stimulating informed discussion. It is high time for a fresh debate with fresh questions.In conclusion, the two following quotes seem to me to have relevance:
We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together, or we are going to learn to live together; and if we are to live together, we have to talk.
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.Arthur Bennett
Martin Luther King
We were sad to hear the news of the death of Joan Gould, who died on 8th December after a long illness. Our sympathy goes to her husband and family. Joan was a volunteer in the St. Peter’s Coffee Room and she will be much missed.
In the middle of November, Chloe Deas was baptised in St. Peter’s. Our prayers and best wishes to Chloe and her family and friends.
Mary Gardiner and John Burton will be married in St. Mary’s on Saturday 6th January. Join us in wishing them every blessing on their wedding day and on their life together.
David Smith is making good progress after his triple bypass.
Dorothy Tuckwood, who looked after the cleaning of the Church Office for many years, as well as the church itself, is ill in hospital at present.
BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions was recorded live in St. Peter’s on Friday 8th December. The panel included the Rt. Hon. Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for Transport and Scotland; David Laws, Lib Dem spokesman on Work and Pensions; the Rt. Hon. Kenneth Clarke, and Anne Atkins.
The Epiphany Candlelit Service will be held on Sunday 7th January in St. Mary’s at 6.30pm.
On Sunday 28th January, at 10.45am. the Annual Celebration of Justice will be held in St. Mary’s, and the main Eucharist that day will be at 6.30pm. that evening.
St. Mary’s Patronal Festival will be held this year on Sunday evening, 4th February, at 6.30pm.
A Confirmation Service will be held in St. Peter’s on Sunday 18th March 2007 at 6.30pm. Anybody who is interested in being confirmed or in some sort of renewal of their confirmation, please speak to one of the clergy as soon as you can.
A Very Happy and Peaceful Christmas to everyone, from all the staff.
We are well into the season of Carol Services, of which there are many in our three churches, and although I battle with myself at this time of year, desperately wanting us to be able to mark Advent properly, it is a time when many hundreds of people pass through the doors of our churches who normally we wouldn't see at any other time. This always causes a mixture of responses! Some resent the intrusion. Some worry about the image of Christian Faith that is portrayed if this is the only observance that people keep, and Christmas Carols are the only hymns that are widely known today. Others are able to rejoice that at least for one season, we see the churches full.
Last week I had to go to London for a couple of meetings. I arrived good and early, which is unusual for me, so I walked down to Westminster from St Pancras. I decided to collect my thoughts for a short time in St Martins-in-the Fields, a church which in so many ways is like St Peter's – only bigger in every aspect of its ministry! Quiet was what I was hoping for, but I suppose I should have known better! St Martin's is not really the place to go for quiet. Many people who have faced the night cold and antagonism of the streets of London retreat into the warmth and security of the church as soon as the doors open. They are neither noisy nor disrespectful. Most of them sleep most of the time in different corners of the building. So, as I entered, I was greeted by what at first sight was a sharp dysfunction – a glorious, late baroque, royal interior inhabited by what society would so easily describe as the left-overs of humanity. But far from quiet, St Martin's was filled with the sound of its magnificent organ. An organist was clearly preparing for a Carol Service, sorting out his registrations for 'O Come all ye Faithful'. (Bear in mind this was before Advent had even begun!!)
I sat for twenty minutes, my mind full of confusion (not necessarily the best preparation for the up-coming meetings) and my spine tingling. Firstly I was taken back to times before I was enmeshed in the politics of being Church, when Christmas was indeed a tingly time. Excitement, hope, expectation, celebration, tradition – where has it gone? My childish reminiscences may be associated more with physical than with spiritual gifts, but I caught myself longing for just a little dose of that simplicity and childlike wonder of years past. (By the end of the Carol Service season, and the anxieties of trying to offer carol services that are both wonder-full and connected to the real world, while not upsetting anyone, Boxing Day really becomes a day of relief!) But this most traditional of buildings, ornate and glorious, not at all like the birth-place of Christ, still provides in the midst of the very traditional Christmas celebrations, shelter to the homeless, the refugee, the cast-off – un-patronising, with strict rules of behaviour, but un-questioning. It is safe space and it is hospitable. And when we dissect our Christmas carols – the best of them anyway – and the Christmas Story, that is what is expected of us. The privilege and the challenge of being hospitable to God, incarnated in the person of humanity, all humanity. So when I come up the steps to St Peter's and am confronted by three or four people, often the worse for wear in one way or another, and am irritated by them and their behaviour, the challenge of the Incarnation to my faith and my witness is made real.
Again, a very Happy Christmas to all.
My Dear Friends,
It’s a bit early for retrospectives of 2006. In fact, I’ve scarcely got used to it being 2006 but that’s a different matter. However, with the arrival of Advent before the next parish magazine, I though I should say something about preparation. And it’s not possible to say much about preparation without saying something about clearing out the clutter.
Jean and I know this from recent experience. We have been immensely blessed this year by being able to move house but moving house brings into very sharp focus just how much can be accumulated in a very short while. I began the year by being determined that every day I would throw out of the house more than got in, and for January and half of February I very nearly achieved it. Nevertheless, when it came to thinking about a removal date, the decisions about what was necessary/unnecessary, desirable/undesirable got ever bigger and more difficult.
‘They’ say that all change is experienced as loss. Of course, most voluntary changes are made in expectation of nett gain. And even when changes are definitely for the better, we nevertheless have to let go of some geographical, social, spiritual or material attachments in order to make room in our heads, hearts or living rooms for the new. Sometimes, feeling sad about such intentional losses takes us by surprise and can take the edge off rejoicing in the general improvements.
Advent is a time for renewing our lives in preparation for celebrating again the coming of Jesus. Making improvements in our spiritual lives by enriching our experience of Christ in prayer, worship, study, practical love and compassion (like everything else) involves some letting go. A life of discipleship cannot be pursued effectively without making time for it. A life of generosity cannot be lived without becoming more of a ‘cheerful giver’. A life of prayer cannot achieve much without an honest chunk of repentance. A life of peace with neighbours – and even more of loving our enemies – cannot happen without the letting go of grudges and some of our ‘victim’ complexes; that requires forgiveness even to the extent ‘of 70 times 7’.
To embrace Advent, to make Christmas a genuine Godly and spiritual event will mean laying down quite a lot of the clutter of 2006 and even from years before that. Making a clean start at the beginning of each Church year is a wonderful thing; to be able to do it weekly or even daily makes doing it easier and more thorough.
With every blessing for a most enriching Advent,
Reading an interesting interview with Paddy Ashdown in the current issue of Fabian Review, now that he has returned from his extraordinarily difficult task in Bosnia, I was struck by his comments on how Global governance has changed, particularly in the light of the considerable disaffection around the world with the present US administration. He said “Something immensely powerful has happened: power has migrated outside the structures we created to control it, the structures of the nation state, and is now on the global stage. And there is a rule of thumb – when power migrates, governance must migrate with it, and until governance does migrate with it, you will live in a period of chaos.”
The chaos in political terms is obvious at this moment, as we sit on the sidelines and watch the tragic disaster in Lebanon and Israel unfold. It is perfectly obvious that there are no global institutions with anything like the authority to control things and to create a context for peace and justice in any particular locality around the world; and the United States and her allies will never have that authority. They may appear to have the power, the military might, but as Iraq and Afghanistan unquestionably demonstrate, that sort of power resolves nothing.
It may seem inane to make any comparison with what is happening in the Church, but there is no question that we are, to use a funny word, in a new paradigm. In other words, the changes in the world have been so dramatic and so fast that faith communities (that have never been the fastest or the best at coping with change and evolution) frankly no longer have either the structures or the strategies for managing the new situation. Even the Anglican Communion, the most flexible and laid-back of communities, finds itself in chaos, because we have assumed too much about our ability to stretch and reshape the boundaries to contain the changes that are happening; but we have failed to see that the changes are actually 'root and branch'. They are fundamental changes to the ways in which the world, and the world of faith, have existed in the past. So either we change, evolve into something different from what we have been for a very long time, recognize that all our assumptions of what it is to be Church are being challenged, and with fortitude and faithfulness, become ready for new ways and new challenges - or the institution we know and love (?) is in for a very tough time.
And what is true at international and national level is also true at local level. We are now well on the way to unifying our two parishes, but that is only the beginning. That in itself is convenient, and probably goes some way to meeting the challenge of fewer clergy. But if we are to begin to discover the new paradigm, to find 'fresh ways of expressing church', the changes are going to have to be much more fundamental. And squeals there will be, I have no doubt. I sometimes squeal myself as I contemplate the change that seems to be necessary. But it is usually much worse thinking about it than implementing it.
Firstly, it is no good anyone saying 'We will continue to go it alone, and ignore them down/up the hill.' We are going to have to work together and not just two parishes/three churches, but with all churches in the city centre and beyond. What we are looking for is not structural unity. That is a trillion years away at the moment. It is something different – much more about recognizing one another as valid and valuable communities within the one network of churches, with whom we do not compete, but rather encourage and support one another in doing what each does best. It is about trust. It is about humility. It is about a new vision. And that needs to be more than a casual nod. It needs to be firm commitment from us all.
Secondly, it is no good saying we are going to protect what we do come what may. This is especially so in liturgy, because liturgy is the touchpoint for us all with the life of the church.. Liturgy develops. It always has done, and always will do. If it does not it calcifies, stagnates, because liturgy both offers glory to God and also expresses something of who and what we are at any given time. Liturgy is not the possession of a few, it is the work of all the people of God. It is not a performance by clergy, or clergy and choir, which everyone else watches with admiration (or not). It is the corporate voice of the Church in prayer and praise. That is why the Church of England moved away from referring to 'The Celebrant' – we all celebrate the eucharist; but to hold it together and direct it we need one person to preside, whilst others have specific roles in assisting the worship – but no-one is an onlooker. We are congregations (gatherings) not audiences.
We have an opportunity now to continue to develop what we offer, to ensure that within our churches the best possible worship is offered in the most inclusive way, and to communicate what we offer in the most effective way possible. I will therefore be asking the Joint Worship Group to consider some proposals which will begin that development. And, in the meantime, I am proposing to offer a celebration of Holy Communion at St Mary's according to the Book of Common Prayer, to coincide with the Heritage Open Days (Sunday 10 September), as a reminder and a teaching opportunity for us all about how liturgy does develop.
Thirdly, we must understand afresh the meaning of the word Church. Church has nothing to do with a building or an institution, even though over the centuries, that has become its adopted meaning. The Church is the body of Christian people. It is not the clergy – we did not 'go into the Church' when we were ordained, leaving everyone else, by implication, outside. Although at various times and in various traditions our buildings have contained 'Holy of Holies', and the Victorian rood screens in St Mary's and St Peter's are symbols of that theology, we do not divide the Church up into hierarchies of holiness. That was one of the fundamental reforms when Christianity was founded. Everyone who chooses to be is an equal member. We don't go for 'pew fodder'. We each may have different skills and experience to offer to the community, and for the purposes of the institution we may, unfortunately, have developed a sophisticated (and 'set apart') hierarchy. But we all begin as the people of God, together. No-one who commits themselves to Christ in baptism is simply a consumer. But for me, the most potent image of the people of God in the Bible, is of a people on the move, tramping through the wilderness, free from possessions, prompted and led, in faith, by a God of Promise, a people with a vision of how God wants the world to be, and who, together, are determined to live that vision, invite others to join in realizing the vision, and infinitely forgiving when our human failings get the better of us.
The challenge is to all of us. And as we begin to propose substantive changes at this moment of opportunity for our life together, unless we all enter into this time of vision-building together, with these basic principles at heart, it could become quite acrimonious. And part of the problem so far has been just that – there has been a lack of corporate vision. The people of God have assumed that to remain static is good enough, or that someone else would build the vision, which they/we could then adopt or reject. But that is not Church, and it won't fit the reality of where we are now.