Archives 2007

Christmas Day Cooldown

I think it must be a more common phenomenon than we readily admit to, but everything this season gets focussed on the Midnight Mass and the services that precede it than Christmas Day itself: we get to the feast of the Nativity with such a sense of relief  (and a half-a-regular congregation) that half of the necessary gets forgotton and we find ourselves scrabbling to get it complete.

To summarise Christmas Eve:

  • Christingle Preparation was fantastic: a shedload of people turned up to make the Christingle Kits, complete with table grace for the following day. Many hands do indeed make light work and it went quickly: 150 bagged kits ready for the off. This time we didn’t cut into the Oranges so they were intact (and it was therefore much less messy) and we used birthday candles. Raisins and Asda Smartprice Dolly Mixtures were the sweeties of choice.
  • Christingle itself filled the Church almost to capacity: about 170 people: children sat in the chancel, adults everywhere. Started the service with the Tom and Jerry cartoon Twas the Night Before Christmas which set the mood perfectly: “Christmas starts… now!” Most of it went to plan, the only disruptive children were ones known to me, and the feedback was positive. I wasn’t so on the ball as in previous years, but I’m always so self-critical. The Church looked fabulous with all kinds of candles and twinkly lights and the sight of 60 kids singing Away in a Manger in the dark was awe-inspiring. No Christingle-related conflagrations and all happy.
  • Vigil Mass saw about a dozen people gather to hear Mother M celebration. It keeps reminding me how effectivge and useful a Vigil is. I shall keep it up. I was stuck with proclaiming the dullest Gospel of the Year: Matthew 1:1-17. Should have used the video which we created at Walsingham. Didn’t think about it. This is the video:

  • Midnight Mass used two videos illustrated earlier. A couple of AV glitches but minor. About 70 people at Mass. Didn’t set chasuble on fire whilst putting bambino in crib, didn’t get the end of the Gospel right (it should have been the last verse of While Shepherds Watched… but the words didn’t come on screen) but virtually all came up to receive or for a blessing: a dramatic change to last year. The incense worked a treat, with one of our young thurifers, and the music went largely well. Mother M preached well also, and there was a sense of stillness… very atmospheric.
  • Christmas Day, therefore was a heap of unplannedness: I messed up the entrance antiphon, forgot the Advent Wreath until the notices, forgot the Carol books (and the Advent Wreath books), and had decided not to use slides so hymns had waaaaaay to many verses – until I cut them out. Oh, and horror of horrors, we forgot to organise a collection so had to announce a retiring collection. However, there were about 35 adults and 10 kids there.  A decent glass of sherry (fino for Mother M and myself) afterwards, well deserved and despite the ramshackleness of it all, it was friendly, intimate, lovely.


I think that it is because we put so much energy into Midnight, that the day is a bit of an anticlimax, and as we all have other things to think about: family, presents, dinner etc. we neglect our worship. The mass was none the less authentic and no less reverent, but it lacked the preparedness that I want to bring to the liturgy. My fault, I suppose for taking my eye off the ball after the late night (and with an 8-year old, the ineveitable early start).

Still, 10am Masses each day for St. Stephen (26th) St. John (27th) Holy Innocents (28th) and Thomas of Canterbury (29th). Someone has to keep them, and it provides an oasis of calm in the midst of a hectic week for many.

Fr. S


Slightly improved for the big screen, this meditation was used for the Communion Antiphon during Midnight Mass, 2007.

I did not create the brilliantly subversive flash animation nor did I write Lana Martin’s excellent “We are joined by Angels” but I take responsibility for marrying them together in this subversive communion video.


Poem by UA Fanthorpe which inspired this short post communion meditation used at Midnight Mass, 2007

Music: Time Passes by Wim Martins from the Soundtrack to The Belly of an Architect

The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us…

I do a lot of preaching in this season: mainly amongst young people and mainly without a script, which is why so little of it appears documented here.

The core of my argument is the line from John: “and the word became flesh and dwelt among us” – for the Incarnation is at the heart of Christianity, the awesome idea that God should choose to break through into our lives and our existance and come along side us: to sit down (as I did earlier last week) cross-legged amongst the Year 1 children in Infant School, to be one of them.

I was therefore highly struck by this painting:


The Incarnation always serves to challenge us, and to place before us the surprising and the unconventional. Not just my feet, but my head and my hands also!

Next Blesséd Events


Time to put these in your diaries:

Sunday January 20th – Stations of the Spirit, St Cuthberts Church, Tangier Road, Copnor, Portsmouth.

To mark the reopening of this Church we will be offering the challenging and thought-provoking journey at the meeting place of Tracey Emin and Galatians 5, using MP3 players and powerful, prayerful meditations to consider the work of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control in our lives.

Palm Sunday 16th March – Blesséd Holy Week St Mary the Virgin, Rowner, Gosport

A new mass of Holy Week, exploring the most important week of the Christian Calendar in radical and challenging ways.

Holy Week 17th – 20th March Multimedia Stations of the Cross – St Thomas the Apostle, Elson

One of Blesséd’s most powerful works, the Multimedia Stations of the Cross began as an installation at Walsingham, and has been repeated in numerous dioceses across the country. This powerful MP3 player-guided individual meditation offers a true multisensual engagement with the Via Dolorosa and will be run for the whole of Holy Week. Booking on 07976 802123 is advised if bringing large groups to experience this.

Sermon: Mother’s Union Deanery Advent Service

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Christmas is coming and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We know it’s coming because the lights are already up, the trees are in, and because five doors on the advent calendar have been opened, and the chocolate quickly consumed.

We know it’s coming because the prophets of anxiety are predicting a difficult time for the shoppers and retailers of our over-stretched, debt-ridden land. We feel the imminence of Christmas in the mincemeat sensations of excitement and dread; of wishing it would never end and wanting it over with now. Of the need to be at home – with family and friends – and the desire to escape it all and get as far away as possible.

As the Grinch – in Dr Seuss’ story – says: ‘Christmas! It’s practically here!’ …Then he growled with his fingers nervously drumming, ‘I must find a way to keep Christmas from coming!’

Advent means the arrival – or coming – of an important person or thing. But break it down into its compound words: ‘ad’ and ‘vent’ and it looks alarmingly like something to do with advertising and windows – it sounds like a big commercial wind. Which of course it is. And has been, and probably always will be. Which is why Grinch-like, seasonal rants about the commercial aspect of Christmas will do nothing to change it.

It’s easy to see that Christmas really ‘doesn’t come from a store’ – easy to guess that ‘it means a little bit more’. In our seasonal preparations, we can mask the awe-inspiring idea that the omnipotent and all-powerful God, the creator of the universe and the source of all being should choose to come down and be one like us. Not a chocolate box image or a commercial enterprise, but a man. A man who would experience the vulnerability of human kind: homeless, forced to flee to another country for his life, to face hunger and privation and ultimately to be condemned and to die.

Advent is therefore a time of expectancy, a time for watching for the dawn to break from on high. A time when the world’s need for Christ becomes clear. Amid our anxieties of debt and society, the need for a saviour has never been more expectant.

Isaiah, a prophet who lived long before Christ, framed our need in this way: ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.’ There was an ache for a saviour long before one appeared. As to what this saviour is for – Isaiah put it in these startling terms: ‘for those living in darkness, a light has come,’ and later ‘he will be pierced for our transgressions and by his wounds we are healed.’

For Isaiah it took 600 years and a thousand advent calendar windows before the double doors opened on the baby in the manger he predicted would be ‘the saviour of the world.’ That’s a kind of patience – a kind of expectation and waiting – that’s hard to grasp. In theory, for us, the waiting is over. The baby – whether we like it or not – is here – Immanuel or God with us.

As the Grinch discovered, we can’t stop Christmas from coming, as Dr Seuss said ‘Somehow or other, it came just the same!’

The challenge for us this advent is finding the space to think about why it came at all in the first place. As we sing hymns of great portent, and hear the promise of Scripture, we have the opportunity to reflect on the mystery of the incarnation, the challenge of the birth of God on earth, the implications of the coming of the Messiah.

The cry for action, for justice, for mission to communities where the name of Christ is barely known is real for all of us, and as we turn to the horizon to see the unstoppable dawn, we know that in our midst, the Lord Jesus, our God, is already here.


Church Hall


I want to talk about the Church Hall. At the last PCC meeting in November we began to discuss the church hall and its long term future for the first time. At that it was mentioned that some people believe that it’s already happened. Don’t listen to rumours, especially those put about by others who want to stir up trouble, but now, as soon as I can and before any decisions are made, I want to have a serious discussion with you about it.

The situation is this: the Hall is just over 100 years old, and in all honesty, it is in a very poor condition. When we did the deanery-wide asset audit, we had to rate it (on a scale of A-D) at C-.

It has intractable damp, an appalling flat roof, poor storage facilities and flaking walls. It costs quite a lot to maintain yet because of its condition, rents and therefore income is quite low. Yet, it provides a most necessary community role in this area – as well as a focus for our community outreach in the form of our hugely successful youth work and other mission work which are the primary reason why we have these rooms.

Twenty Years ago, we put a door in the South Wall of the Church to link to a hall provision in the churchyard. The churchyard of course has been closed for more than 100 years, we had the gravestones removed over 40 years ago and the corner of it removed 30 years ago to make the junction wider. We didn’t follow the new Church Hall plans through then, apparently because of cost (readers of Mike & Mary Talbot’s book will easily identify this pattern).

Ten years ago, we began to look at the value of the hall site. Even then it was significant, and the PCC looked into obtaining planning permission for the Hall site to turn into flats or houses. So plans for the Church Hall have been a long time in the formation.

In the meantime, we have the challenge of a half-reordered church, a new vigor for mission and outreach and a church which is “all front room and no parlour” – woefully lacking in storage space, decent heating or fellowship space which does not require a significant logistical challenge to move from Church to Hall, and are still not paying our way, and so the increasing costs of the hall are weighing upon our finances.

A number of things appear clear: we must do something, as in the future, our church cannot sustain the current situation. We therefore need to think about our options. No decision has been made as yet and no explorations have been entered into, despite what you may hear! The PCC want to hear your opinions on our options:

Option One: Do Nothing
The easiest solution will continue to drain our finances. Major repair works to the back rooms, the roof and the outside paving will mean that far from hall rents subsidizing the parish quota, the parish will be called on to underwrite these works.

Option Two: Rebuild a new hall on the existing site.
We would need to raise several hundred thousand pounds in order to achieve this. As we have difficulty paying our £23,000 quota, it becomes only possible with the aid of a lottery win.

Option Three: Sell and Rebuild in the Church Grounds with a major rebuild
We have as yet no idea how much the existing Church Hall site is worth, and we won’t ask until we feel this is the right way forward. How we do this is also the subject of debate: whether we get planning permission prior to sale (which will raise significantly more money), sell it directly or enter into an arrangement with a Housing Association (a sort of PFI – Private Finance Initiative type deal) are all possibilities, your opinion on which we would welcome. The sale of the hall could raise a significant amount, but a major permanent rebuild on the south side of the Church (joined by the South Door) might take all of that amount and maybe a little more, realizing nothing for the needs of the Church – to finish the reordering (leveling the floor, heating and lighting, internal painting and a permanent font) as suggested in our vision document.

Option Four: Sell and Rebuild in the Church Grounds with a modular building
The process of selling is the same as Option Three – aim to get as much money as we possibly can for the Hall site. I initially was quite skeptical about a modular building: I originally thought of Portakabins. I was then involved with the implementation of the Elson, Forton & Hardway Children’s Centre which will be a modular building. This is a building which costs a fraction of a permanent building and has a life of fifty to sixty years! I was astounded that a building of such quality and durability can actually be so permanent.

The advantage of this solution is that it can be built considerably cheaper, thus realizing money to complete the reordering of the church. This also means that we can provide a better community provision within Elson, within walking distance of the centre of the community and a focus for church and community life. It had been thought or rumoured that previous attempts to do this were prevented over parking issues, but the documentary evidence suggests this is not the case. If we place the hall by the church then we can fully integrate the church and community – moving seamlessly from one to the other after Mass, in Sunday School and Youth Work, Mother’s Union and many other kinds of mission and outreach as well as providing a better home for all the other groups which hire our hall.

The future is always a difficult thing to consider, and the decisions we make now will be our legacy for future generations. We have achieved so much with the reordering of the Church and it would seem logical to complete this work with the available resources we have.

Across the Diocese, the second phase of the Kairos process is encouraging churches to ask serious questions about their buildings, and are providing a great deal of resources and advice on just the kind of thing we need to be thinking about. We are the owners of that whole site, and the Uniformed Organisations are our tenants. We have finally found the documents which confirm the agreement between the Scouts and the Rev. Drake in the 1960s.

We need to be praying about all this: Seek the Lord’s guidance and then share it with us. There should be no excuse for the people of this parish not having a contribution to this debate and no-one, either inside the church or in the wider community.

Are there any other options? If you can think of one, then please let me know. We face challenging times, and we in the parish need to find creative solutions for our problems. We cannot hide away from them, but in a spirit of openness, I want your advice on this one.

Christmas Fayre

Well, the Christmas Fayre took a lot out of me: it’s Wednesday and I am still exhausted after it. During the event, I can keep going for ages (although I did I am sorry to say, let it get the better of me when it came to the raffle draw), but recovery takes much much longer. I think I am getting old.

We held it in Church, for two reasons, firstly because the condition of the hall continues to embarass me: it is a cold, fairly unwelcoming space, away from the focus of parish life: the Church and secondly, because we thought the Church was somewhere special to share in this fellowship and activity.


The Church was busy, buzzing and lively, and yet people could still come up the sanctuary for a prayer and a candle. It was about embedding the Church in the Community and vice-versa. The result was over £900 raised.


Set-up took from Friday Mass onwards, with little sleep that night, from 8am on Saturday and didn’t finish until long past 5pm. Some people stayed right to the bitter end for the clear-up and their hard work made all the difference, as the Church was turned back into a proper worship space for the following day. Father Christmas was great (and we thank him for taking time from his busy work schedule to come to be with us), the cakes were fab and the fellowship was wonderful.

It was, however, a long and stressful day for me, laden down with cold. I have to be honest and admit that with a failing voice and two (don’t ask) raffles to draw, I wanted to draw the tickets as quickly as possible to keep the momentum going. Slow down! about twenty people seemed to have a go at once and I regrettably snapped back at them. I was tired. My voice was failing. Sorry. We are all human.

The following day we celebrated the feast of Christ the King and admitted into our community a group of young people who had been preparing for it through special course called Welcome to the Lord’s Table by Margaret Withers.

As part of that that preparation, we shared a Jewish Seder meal:


and saw how much like the Eucharistic Prayer it was. It was so good that I think I will offer it during Holy Week for the whole congregation, both Adults and Children in this form. We had planned this a couple of years ago, but the person who had learning and insight into this left the Church, so it didn’t happen.

Rather than patronising the kids, I wanted them to be a key part of the ministry to us, so they led the Ministry of the Word and the Intercessions and the littlest were acolytes. It all worked lovely.

We used the following changes to the liturgy:


Come, let us return to the Lord and say:

Dear God,
you made me,
you love me,
I’m sorry when I’m angry
or I hurt other people.
Thank you for taking care of me.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord.

Baptismal Creed

Brothers and sisters, I ask you to profess our common faith in Jesus Christ.

Do you believe and trust in God the Father,
source of all being and life,
the one for whom we exist?
I believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in God the Son,
who took our human nature,
died for us and rose again?
I believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in God the Holy Spirit,
who gives life to the people of God
and makes Christ known in the world?
I believe and trust in him.

This is the faith of the Church.
This is our faith.
We believe and trust in one God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Admission to Holy Communion

The Priest says:

In baptism we are made members of Christ’s family. As members of that family, we gather together to share in this meal which he gave us as a continuing sign of his living presence among us. We do this in obedience to Jesus’ command which he gave at this last supper with his friends on the night before he died.

To the candidates the priest says

Today is an important stage in your Christian journey, which began at your baptism. We welcome you as you come to receive Holy Communion for this first time.

The priest addresses the children by name:

Do you wish to be admitted to Holy Communion and to share regularly in this meal?

The children reply together:

The priest addresses the parents, godparents and sponsors:

Will you help these children to grow in faith and come to confirmation?

The parents reply together:
We will.

The priest addresses the congregation

Will you welcome these children as communicant members of Christ’s family and support them with your friendship and your prayers?

The congregation replies:
We will.

The priest prays for the children (taking them by the hand and standing in a circle with them):

Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for these children
who today receive bread and wine for the first time in your name.
Give them such a sense of the mystery
of your body and blood,
that day by day
they may grow to be more like you.

and says:

In the name of Kenneth, Bishop of Portsmouth, I welcome you to the sacrament of Holy Communion. May God +bless you as you continue with us on your journey of faith.

It was lovely!

I like the Creed especially. There is a place for that Creed in the main liturgy, perhaps in the penitential seasons… like Advent. Hmmmm.

Unsubscribe Me

Amnesty International have made this really really scary short film about torture techniques and are inviting us all to view them and then perhaps choose to ‘unsubscribe’ from them – to let Governments (ie the UK and US ones – better we put our own houses in order before we turn to Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and Burma eh?) that we the people don’t approve of this.

It’s totally outrageous that this technique is authorised, used, and taught by us. This comes hot on the heals of reading some terrible stuff about Waterboarding here which we also seem to consider to be okay.

Gaze on this image: The Tortured Christ

It was painted by an artist who was himself a victim of torture. See – he understands.

Unsubscribe me.