Archives June 2011

Telling a Story: Teaching Baptism through doing it

There is so much to say about Baptism that there are not enough books in the world to carry them. No amount to Baptism Preparation, I find, ever fully captures all that needs to be said about the Mystery of Baptism. Baptismal teaching should also therefore be at the heart of each celebration of the sacrament so that all those attending (both children and adults) may have an insight.

This running commentary can be tailored for any age group that you want to target, knowing that all the adults will respond to a children’s explanation far more readily than if you presented it to them directly. This is in no way Baptism-lite – the concepts of salvation, and the victory over evil, anthropomorphised in the name of the Devil are not shyed away from, nor should they ever be.

Welcome

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

The Lord be with you
and also with you.

We gather together today for a very special reason: to celebrate the Baptism of N. It’s a day of joy when we come together as family and friends in order to see the marvellous things that God has done in his/her life and also in our own lives.

After words of welcome, the priest begins the service with the Collect for Baptism

Let us pray…

Heavenly Father,
by the power of your Holy Spirit
you give to your faithful people new life in the water of baptism.
Guide and strengthen us by the same Spirit,
that we who are born again may serve you in faith and love,
and grow into the full stature of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit
now and for ever.
Amen

Baptism is such a wonderful gift that we actually don’t have enough words to properly express it, and when the words run out, as they always do, we turn to other ways of showing that: we might have been able to draw a picture,  or we can do things, show things and share things in action which speak of these wonderful things. A bunch of flowers given to someone means so much more than just “here’s a bunch of flowers” it means “I’m thinking of you” “I think you’re special” even “I love you”. These symbols represent God’s wonderful work in his sacrament of Baptism and so we will use five symbols to try and in some way represent God’s Baptism.

But first, let’s be clear about whom we are praying for in this baptism. I’m going to invite N. their parents and Godparents to come and stand with me here at the front of Church.

Presentation

The Priest asks those who are able to answer for themselves. I would personally ask this question of anyone over about the age of seven, even if Parents and Godparents go on to answer on their behalf.

Do you wish to be baptized?
I do.

or for Infants, the Child along with Parents and Godparents are presented to the congregation

Now, as we all know, it’s a difficult job to be a parent or a Godparent. It’s a job that they can’t simply do on their own: they need the love, the support and the prayer of you – their family and friends, and so before I ask them these really important, demanding questions, I have a very important question to ask of you all…

To the whole congregation:

Faith is the gift of God to his people. In baptism the Lord is adding to our number those whom he is calling. People of God, (that’s you) will you welcome this child / these children and uphold them in their new life in Christ?
With the help of God we will.

To the Parents & Godparents:

Parents and godparents, the Church receives this child /these children with joy. Today we are trusting God for their growth in faith. Will you pray for them, draw them by your example into the community of faith and walk with them in the way of Christ?
With the help of God, we will.

In baptism this child /these children begin their journey in faith. You speak for them today. Will you care for them and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church?
With the help of God, we will.

Decision

Baptism is an important decision, made by ourselves or on behalf of the children in our care

Parents and Godparents, the questions I am going to ask of you now are probably the most important questions I will ever ask anyone. Because N. is unable to answer for themselves, I ask you on their behalf, and with you rests the responsibility to live out these life-changing promises.

In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him. Therefore I ask:

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
I reject them.

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
I renounce them.

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
I turn to Christ.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
I submit to Christ.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?
I come to Christ.

Oil of Baptism

The Priest makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of each candidate with the Oil of Baptism, Parents and godparents also sign the candidates with the sign of the cross.

The first of our symbols of Baptism is the Oil of Baptism. It is a simple, unfragranced Olive Oil, made Holy for us by our own Bishop each Maundy Thursday, fresh each year. We use it to place the Sign of the Cross on the forehead of the person to be baptised. (allow young people to sniff the oil if they are willing).The Cross is at the heart of our faith, a symbol of Christ and of what he did for us.

The Cross could so easily have been something to be ashamed of: a terrible form of torture, a very cruel treatment and a nasty way to die, (point to the Stained Glass, Crucifix or other visual representation of the Crucifixion), and yet were are not ashamed of the cross, in fact we are very proud of the Cross because it was not a sign of failure, but because of Christ’s victory over sin and death through the Cross, it is a sign of triumph, a symbol that reminds us that nothing, not even death, can be stronger than the love of Jesus. So we wear that sign proudly…

Christ +claims you for his own.
Receive the sign of the cross.

N, Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified.
Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life.

May almighty God +deliver you from the powers of darkness, restore in you the image of his glory, and lead you in the light and obedience of Christ.
Amen

Our lives are bit like a journey: throughout them we travel, and we grow. As we journey together, we might notice that we never travel alone, but that we travel with Christ at our side. To remind ourselves of this, we are going to make a short journey where we will encounter our second symbol. Come, Parents and Godparents, let us journey to our font, as we continue our life’s journey.

Water of Baptism

Our next symbol is the sign of water. Water is essential for life. Without water, we would quickly die.

Praise God who made heaven and earth
who keeps his promise for ever.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise.

We thank you, almighty God, for the gift of water
to sustain, refresh and cleanse all life.

Heavenly Father, +sanctify this water that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, all who are baptised in it may they be cleansed from sin and born again.

Renewed in your image, may they walk by the light of faith
and continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Lord;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be all honour and glory, now and for ever.
Amen

When we sign up for something really important like Baptism, it’s essential that we remember what it is that we are signing ourselves up for, to examine the small print, to make sure that we agree the key principles of the Christian faith, so…

Profession of Faith

Let us affirm, together with these who are being baptized, 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 God the Father.

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 God the Son.

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 God the Holy Spirit.

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

The priest asks those who are able to answer for themselves

Is this your faith?
This is my faith.

When we talk of this, we often hear the word “Christening” rather than the word for it as it appears in the Bible – “Baptism”. There is nothing wrong with “Christening” for it is a fine old English word, but it sometimes carries with it the implication that it is here, at this service that N gets their ‘Christian Name’. However, N has been known by that name since they were born, and in fact the Holy Scriptures say that N was “known before they were formed in the womb” (Jeremiah 1:5) and that God knows every hair on N’s head (Luke 12:7), so the next part of our service recognises not the naming of N, but their calling: calling by God, calling by name. God already knows us intimately by name and at this Baptism he reaches out to N. He will call us at Confirmation, on our Wedding Day, one to another, and even at the end of our lives, it is God who will call us by name back to be with him.

Therefore I ask, please name this child whom God is calling…

The parents are asked for the Christian Names of the child.

Baptism

N, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Our next symbol is the Oil of Chrism, which is again like the Oil of Baptism we used earlier is an oil made holy by our own bishop each Maundy Thursday. However, unlike the plain and simple Oil of Baptism, this oil is highly perfumed (encourage young people to sniff it). Three thousand years ago, when the people of Israel created Kings, they didn’t put a golden crown upon their heads, but rather doused them in this highly fragrant oil. They also used it to set apart their holy people; and in the same way, we use this oil to signal that baptism makes N very holy, very kingly/queenly, and gains membership of a Royal Family – the royal family of God in addition to their own loving family.

Oil of Chrism

The Priest smears the newly baptised with the Oil of Chrism as a sign of the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.

The Oil of Chrism is a symbol of God’s goodness to us and his grace, and recognising that we don’t use use a drop, but a whole load, poured out upon us like God’s grace. Good religion is, of course, very messy.

We say together:

Through baptism, God anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you share everlasting life.

Robing in White

The newly baptised are draped in a white cloth to symbolise their new life with Christ

Our next symbol is that of the White Robe. When we were baptised in the 4th Century, we would gather very early in the morning on Easter day, just as the sun rose, just as Christ rose from the tomb (so see how kind I am to you!), gathering by the side of the river or the baptistry. There we (and it was usually adults who were baptised like this) would remove ALL of our clothes on one side of the river to symbolise putting away our past lives and we would enter into the water as naked as the day we were born.

There in the water, we would be baptised and it was said that our old lives had died, and we would be created as something new: a baptised person, and so we would rise up out of the waters of rebirth on the other side as someone ‘born again’ – it’s not just the Americans who are ‘Born-again Christians’ but everyone born of water and the spirit (John 3:5). As the newly baptised rose out of the waters of baptism on the other side they would be clothed in a White Robe to symbolise ‘putting on Christ’ and the purity which this baptism gave them.

To show this, we drape this white cloth around the shoulders of N to demonstrate their salvation won by these holy acts.

We say together:

You have been clothed with Christ.
As many as are baptised into Christ have put on Christ.

May God, who has received you by baptism into his Church,
pour upon you the riches of his grace,
that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people
you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit,
and come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.
Amen

Welcome of the Faithful

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism: by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.

We welcome you into the fellowship of faith; we are children of the same heavenly Father; we welcome you.

Prayers

We pray for the newly baptised, their families, parents and Godparents.

It is tough and challenging to be a parent, to be a Godparent, and so now, we pray for N, and for you, that you may be supported in this wonderful, humbling, challenging task. Let us pray…

Faithful and loving God,
bless those who care for these children
and grant them your gifts of love, wisdom and faith.
Pour upon them your healing and reconciling love,
and protect their home from all evil.
Fill them with the light of your presence
and establish them in the joy of your kingdom,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

In their name, in the Spirit of our common bond with Christ, let us pray together in the words our Lord has given us:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Baptism Candle

lit from the Paschal Candle

Our final symbol is the symbol of the Candle. Throughout this Baptism this large candle (it’s known as the Paschal Candle) has been burning throughout to remind us of the presence of Christ here with us today.

To many, this world is a dark place: filled with all kinds of bad things and the terrible things that people do to each other – in the playground, in wars and all around the world.

Yet Jesus said that he was the light of the world, (John 18:12) the light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5). Even in the darkest of places, a single light: the light from this Paschal Candle can shine out and make a difference. Each Easter Sunday we bring the new Paschal Candle into this dark Church to show how Jesus lights up our lives.

I believe that we each have a little candle of faith within each and every one of us. If we were to light out candles of faith from the one true candle – Jesus, then we could turn off all the lights and the dark and scary world would be at all dark and scary, as our light, the light of Jesus would chase away the dark.

So to remind N of this special day, I am going to take this baptism candle, and light it from the candle of Jesus, the Paschal candle. I recommend that you don’t take this candle and put it in a drawer and forget about it: display it at home to remind the whole family of this special gift, and each birthday, I suggest you can do what we do, and put the baptism candle besides the birthday cake and light it, so as each year passes and the number of candles on the cake grow and grow, so the one candle, the candle of your baptism, N, remains constant, just as Jesus remains constant for you.

God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has given us a place with the saints in light. You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life.

Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.

Blessing

The God of all grace,
who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus,
establish, strengthen and settle you in the faith;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
Amen

Go in the light and peace of Christ
Thanks be to God.


Dom Gregory Dix: Was ever another command so obeyed?

For all those ordained to the sacred priesthood this Petertide, humbling words from Dom Gregory Dix from The Shape of the Liturgy

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.

I make no apology for repeating these words over and over again: they move me profoundly each time I read them, as I am reminded of the humbling task which God calls me to at his altar.


Insidious little pamphlet

This morning the Postman woke me up as he does each Saturday morning with an early delivery. There is another time and another place to whinge about my one lie-in and why the Postman waits until the afternoon five days a week to post, but that today is not what put me in a bad mood.

I received a large envelope from a Christian Charity called The Barnabus Trust who ostensibly have the aim of supporting persecuted Christians throughout the world: not a bad aim at all, and one which I out of principle would support. Indeed at every Martyr’s Day prayers are offered for the persecuted and if this can be turned into practical help, then we are willing to do this.

However, also included was an insidious little pamphlet which  combines Evangelical hysteria with Daily Mail-level Islamophobia and resulted in the entire package going straight into the recycling bin. “Slippery Slope” is a misguided attempt to provoke fear in the pews by citing the threat of Islam, by appealing to “Christian Culture” and by using various different analogies of multiculturalism, polyculturalism and assimilation that I thought went out with the KKK.

I flicked through it, and then had to wash out the nasty taste it left in my mouth. No thank you. Tolerance and understanding comes from respect, not fear; multiculturalism is about acceptance of self and other and not about cultural blocs and hegemony. Even if the Barnabus Trust does do valuable work overseas, perhaps supporting the Copts (although it seems to avoid the word) in Egypt, the goodness of this work has been soured for me by their techniques at home.

I pray that they will see what they have done, although I doubt they will see it like this, no doubt convinced of their “right” to engage in this kind of “debate” which does nothing to bring us closer, but only serves to divide and alienate. Christ prayed “that we may all be one”, and this, my friends, isn’t going to help.

Note to all Christian organisations who use Direct Mailing: leave me alone: I recycle it immediately without even opening half of it. If I see that it comes from certain organisations (and you know who you are) then it’s straight out and you have wasted money that could be better spent on homelessness, poverty, persecution, Hebrew copies of the New Testament and so on. I have asked you all to stop sending me this composting material and yet you continue.

New theme – "sometimes I get so bored" – Mr Anchovy*

I saw this wonderful WordPress theme recently, and so I thought “I’ll have a go with that” as the cool and classy themes for this blog never really capture the manic force of nature that is me. Oh, and I get so easily bored: there is so much of God’s creation that is out there, to just stick with the same thing (art, music, liturgy, prayer etc) for ever seems so neglectful.

Nothing else has changed, and if (like me) you read all your blog posts through an RSS reader (Google Reader), you’ll not notice the difference at all.

* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMOmB1q8W4Y


Sermon: Ordinary 13, Year A – Carry your Cross

Text: Matthew 10:37-42

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

We’ll begin with an illustration:

A homeless man is begging on the streets of London. As usual he is being ignored by all who pass him by. A well-dressed man in a stretch limo pulls up next to him and offers him a job as a Director of his company. You might think that sounds like a fairy tale; but that is exactly what God has done for us. We don’t deserve it, but he asks us to be a part of his kingdom and work for it.
What must be going through the mind of the homeless man? First, he will have to give up what is familiar to him. Obviously, it is a terrible life, but it is the only life he knows how to live. Secondly, he has a few possessions he carries around in bags, and the few clothes he owns are on his back.

One of the conditions the man in the limousine makes is that the man must leave everything and get in the car. Thirdly, the man will actually have to work and accept responsibility. Life on the street was bad, but at least no one expected anything from him. No one expected him to be any different. He’d become comfortable there. So he turns away from the man in the expensive suit, rejecting his offer.
Does the man in the story understand what he has given up? He would have had a home, a job, wealth, a high position and a purpose in life. But he passed it up to keep what he had. What a shame. This is why Jesus said,

  “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. ” (Matt 10:38-39).

Put yourself in his place – what will you do? Think about all the old stuff that you will have to give up. Or, worse, think about all the new stuff you’ll have to take up! Think about all the effort you’ll have to put in to learn new things and new ways of working.

But what if you understood that you were in line to inherit the business? You were not just a partner, you were an heir. And the reason you were selected was that the man in the limousine, unknown to you, was really your father who had searched until he found you. He knew your potential. He understood what you were capable of. He wanted to call you more than one of the Directors; he wanted to call you his child.

Jesus understood that he was God’s son and that he had been given a great responsibility. It was a hard thing God asked of him before he could take up his crown: to “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…” but Jesus faced it squarely and spoke of it openly so that his disciples and friends would understand what he was about. But, of course, they didn’t understand, not even Peter who sometimes seemed so close to understanding and had so much faith in Jesus.

Peter was “setting his mind not on divine things but on human things.” He was thinking with human wisdom, not God’s holy wisdom. Peter sought to counsel his friend and master and protect him and the other disciples from the impending violence that Jesus suggested would follow soon. And Jesus had harsh words for Peter, he wouldn’t allow himself to be dissuaded from the course of action he knew to be right and knew to be part of God’s plan for saving his creation.

Most of the time God won’t be asking us to do anything dramatic like become the vice-president of a major company – but the Christian challenge begins TODAY. It is renewed each day. Each day we carry the crosses we have to bear: the challenge of the gospel, the imperative of sharing this good news of what Christ does in our lives with others, each day. These are our missionary challenges. Don’t think that you can sit back and let someone else carry that cross for you. The challenge is for you.

Not everyone is required to die for their faith. What God will ask of us, is to live the life he has given us, with all it’s ups and downs, joys and hardships. Our eternal life isn’t waiting for us in the afterlife, it starts here, so we mustn’t let it pass us by – we need to try to live it to the full with all the courage we can summon and then, in faith, take courage from him who leads the way by dying and rising again after three days.

There’s a story of a weak sickly man who lived far away from the nearest town and couldn’t get to a doctor, he seemed to be getting worse.

He lived in a remote cottage, very picturesque, except for the huge boulder in the front garden.

One night, when he’d finally got to sleep, he had a vivid dream in which God told him to go outside and push the rock all day long, day after day.

The man got up early in the morning, full of excitement as the dream had inspired him to push the rock. He pushed all day until sundown, only resting a short while.

The rock-pushing gave meaning and a framework for his life where he’d had none before.
Day after day he pushed. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, and he faithfully pushed against the rock.

The summer passed and the weak sickly man became tired of pushing the rock and in his tiredness he started to doubt his dream.

So one day he measured from his porch to the rock and then, at the end of each days pushing, he measured again to see how much he had moved the rock.

After two weeks of pushing and measuring, he realized he had not moved the boulder even a quarter of an inch. The boulder was in exactly the same place.

The man was so disappointed, he was tired and his dream seemed dashed on the rock.
He sat on his porch and cried over the hundreds of hours he’d wasted.
As the sun was setting in the west, Jesus came and sat down next to the man as he cried. Jesus asked, “Why are you crying?”

The man replied, “Lord, you know how sick and weak I am, and this stupid dream gave me false hope and I’ve pushed with all my strength for the whole summer, and that rock is exactly where it was when I started.”

Jesus smiled and said to him, “I never told you to move the rock, I told you to push against the rock.” The man thought about it and replied, “Yes, that was the dream.”

Then Jesus told the man to step in front of his mirror and look at himself. So the man stepped in front of his mirror and when he looked he was amazed, because looking back at him was a strong, healthy man. He started thinking of how well he’d felt for several months and the strength that he had built by pushing on the rock. And, finally, the man realized: God’s plan was not for the rock, but for himself.

God’s plan includes each of us. The storms, the trials, the heartaches, the disappointments, are all part of the process. God is stretching us, growing us and building us into his kingdom.

Ask yourself where God is challenging you. In what part of your life does your cross lie? Is there something that you can or should be doing to build God’s kingdom in this parish. Can your prayers, your time, your money, your presence alongside the faithful of this community be part of that challenge?

We do not deserve to be given the opportunity that God extends to us, but the Kingdom of heaven has been opened to us through a cross: the sacrifice of Christ. To receive this free gift, all we have to do is respond, and I think you have a glimpse now of what that response needs to be.

Amen.


A Place


A place for prayer
A place to celebrate
A place to remember
A place for peace
A place to be fed
A place for family
A place for friends
A place for hope
A place for today
A place for tomorrow
A place to grow
A place to meet God.


Ordination

Just found these wonderful words in a notebook. Does anyone know where they are from?

“We are not ordaining you to ministry; that happened at your baptism. We are not ordaining you to serve the Church in committees, activities, organisation; that is already implied in your membership. We are not ordaining you to become involved in social issues, in ecology, race, politics, and the search for justice and peace; for that is laid on every Christian.

We are ordaining you to something smaller and less spectacular; to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community, so that they speak a word to people today; to remember and practice those rituals of meaning that address people at the level where change takes place; to foster in community, through word and sacrament, that encounter with truth which will set people free to minister as the Body of Christ.

We are ordaining you to the ministry of the word and sacraments and pastoral care. God grant you grace not to betray but uphold it, not to deny but to affirm it, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

These words will undoubtedly get used in some form or other in a couple of week’s time when it is my privilege to preach at the First Mass of a dear friend, Caroline.


Sermon: Trinity Sunday

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

A small boy had just come back from Church, where he had received, I have no doubt, some fine teaching at Sunday School. He started quizzing his mother on where God was to be found: “Is he in heaven” “yes, of course he is” “is he around us on earth?” “yes, he is” “is he even there in the sugar bowl?” “Err.. yes, yes I suppose he is”. Quickly the lad grabs the sugar bowl and pops his hand on top: “Got him!”.

How much we would love to capture God, to make sense of him, to have something supremely tangible to hold onto. However, God is other; God is beyond our experience, and glimpsed only through God’s revelation. The Trinity is part of that revelation to us, part of our struggle to understand and comprehend the mystery that is God, whilst never being able to capture him. The Orthodox, like our friends in the parish of St. George, the South Indian Orthodox Community, would simply shrug their shoulders and admit that it is a mystery, a matter of God, and we should just accept it, but oh how much we would love to capture God in the sugar bowl.

The doctrine of the Trinity, simply stated: There is One God and this One God is three “persons,” Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Trinity are equally God, “co-equal and co-eternal,” we say. One is not more divine than another. One is not subordinated to any other.

But we must recognise that God is not simply a category with three members: Father, Son and Holy Spirit are single substance. They have a single will, a single energy. There are not three Gods, but only one God, as Gregory of Nyssa so eloquently put it.

Each year we try to create ever more elaborate yet simple analogies to convey the truth of the trinity. St. Patrick and his three-leafed clover, the three-in-one oil and so on, the Mars Bar (chocolate, nougat and caramel and yet mysteriously still one chocolate). My work of genius (or pure silliness, you can take your pick) this year is… myself!

I realise that this is a dangerous precedent: to use myself as a model of the Trinity, but before you call the Bishop to tell him I’m having ideas slightly above my station, bear with me.

You see, to my lovely children, I am “Dad”, that benign individual whose sole purpose in life is to embarrass them and be an unending source of funding and bad advice.

To my lovely wife, Lou, I am “Husband” – the one who makes a mess in the house, leaves the kitchen cupboard doors open and the cold tap dripping.

To my lovely Parish, I am “Father Simon”, who represents… well, I’ll leave you to reflect upon what having me as your parish priest means to you, but I am sure that if you think about it for long enough, it won’t be that bad…

Three titles, three roles, three perspectives. And yet I am one person – the baptised Christian who is known and loved intimately by God as “Simon”. In the same way, the Trinity gives us different perspectives on the one true God, different roles, functions, perspectives of the one God, a God so immense and diverse that we as humans just have to break down into the three persons of the Trinity simply to try and get our heads around it.

There is an ancient tale, which features in a number of faiths of a large animal, an elephant or rhino approached by a group of blindfolded individuals…

https://www.vimeo.com/25223218

…each of them had a genuine experience of the animal, but none of them had the full perspective. Similarly, we will never fully understand the whole rhino of God simply because we cannot ever have the full perspective on that which creates, redeems and sustains us.

But as we strive to find new and exciting ways to encapsulate the mystery of the trinity, and your parish priest gets increasingly desperate in their bitterness, The question remains for us today is: Do we still need the Trinity? Do we in our scientific and logical glory need the Trinity to comprehend he who is other. The word “Trinity,” of course, never appears in Scripture. All of that language comes from the 4th Century and the debates of the Councils of Nicea andConstantinople.

Nevertheless, I think that the doctrine of the Trinity is important for us to hold to and to promulgate. It has a mystery of great importance to reveal to us, something more than just the inner workings of the divinity.

First of all, the doctrine states that we believe in a personal God. You won’t find “personal God” in the Scriptures either, but that concept has emerged from the experience of believers over centuries. Yes, we do believe in a personal God, who encounters us at a personal level, for we believe in God in three persons. The word is carefully chosen. It means, above all, that God is conscious of us and loves us. And it means that we in return are able to love God, intensely and wholeheartedly. A Personal God does not mean a private God, in a divisive, protestant way, but one which calls each and everyone of us in a direct and personal way to a collective expression of faith and of Church.

Secondly, the doctrine of the Trinity affirms that God does not exist in isolation. God is a social God. Even prior to the creation, God existed in relationship: the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit one to another. Since we are created in God’s image, this means that we are created for relationship as well. We will become whole persons only in relationship to one another and to God.

Finally, we need to observe the traditional language about the Trinity (this is from the Athanasian Creed): The three persons are Co-equal and Co-eternal. They exist in communion, in a mutual sharing of life, a perichoresis or dance of life and love. The persons of the Trinity do not allow for inequality, or subordination, or domination, or hierarchy. Our Baptism into the Church in the name of the Trinity means that all of us, though irreducibly unique, exist together as equal partners in Christ in a relationship of mutual love.

So, do we still need the Trinity? Or is it just one of our attempts to capture God in our own sugar bowls, is it an attempt to bring God down to our level, or does it suggest a mystery beyond comprehension, but which has resonances with our human relations? Do we still need the Trinity? We might just as well ask: Do we still need mutuality? Do we still need to be in relationship? Do we still need a personal God? Do we still need love?

Oh yes.

Amen.


Working in the School

I often speak about the need to serve the community, to become embedded and known in the schools, in the pub and on the street corners. One key area of that ministry is in our local schools: in our case, Elson Infant and Elson Junior Schools. Neither of these are Church Schools, so we have no right to be present in the schools, but find that both are very open and welcoming to the Church. It has taken quite a bit of time to establish this relationship, but I know that our Church has a greater presence and witness in these non-Church Schools: a local CofE School openly said to a prospective teacher “We just take the Church’s money and think we’re a Community School*”.

Our presence in the school is not just about leading Collective Worship (‘assemblies’) or coming in and teaching RE (I am often asked to come in and support the RE curriculum, as well as allied subjects: speaking about death and bereavement, and even wearing my old nursing hat, to talk about the heart!**). It is also about presence, about supporting the whole objectives of the schools and engaging with them in community.

This is why I serve on the Governing Body of both Schools, why I help provide male leadership on some residential trips and why recently I have spent each and every morning in school supporting their IT systems. When the previous ICT technician left for another post, the only solution appeared to be hideously expensive and as the Junior School’s Chair of Finance, I really could not justify spending such a large amount on temporary cover.

So I volunteered to cover the job until they can appoint a replacement. Each morning I come in and help staff set their IT systems up. Much of modern teaching is supported by IT, from the Computer Suite to the Interactive Whiteboards, there is so much that can go wrong. There are backups to manage and hardware to repair, laptops to install and a network of servers to keep running smoothly.

On the face of it, it would not appear to be very Priestly at all: whoever heard of the vicar wielding a screwdriver before? However, if we take seriously the call to Christian Service, then this offering is entirely appropriate: a proper utilization of skills, of benefit to the whole community. It also grants me unlimited presence within that community: to know and be known, to be available and to be embedded in this community.

The role and ministry of priesthood is first and foremost to be embedded within this community, and through gentle presence, ensure that Christ is made known. It does not always require quoting from the Bible, it does not always require the hard sell, but it requires us to walk with people, share what we have and make this community a better place. “Preach the Gospel” said Francis of Assisi, “using words only when you have to“. I don’t have to speak of Jesus to be Christ-modelled in my ministry. This is not about proselytizing or shoving Jesus down their throats, but I pray that this gentle ministry, placed alongside my more usual, more overt ministry has the effect the Lord desires. The young people who know me and St Thomas the Apostle as a result of this flock to our Friday’s Youth Group and up to 60 young people each week have the opportunity to hear the Gospel properly preached alongside our service to them as a Youth Club.

It has, of course, come at a small cost: it takes time, and other things have necessarily had to be sacrificed. Most significantly, I have had to abandon for the time being the saying of Morning Prayer in Church. A priest is required to say Morning and Evening Prayer each day and so I am reluctantly forced to do this essential prayer early each morning on my own. When a new technician takes up post in September, I plan to return to daily prayer in Church.

However, I am not alone in this service to the Community. For the past few months, our Churchwarden has been volunteering at the school, and using his dramatic and dancing skills, has been instrumental in this year’s Upper School Production of Alice in Wonderland and in the classroom: helping, listening to young people read, supporting the class teachers. It is a marvelous ministry of service and an active, gentle Christian witness.

Our Friday’s Youth Ministry Team also give of themselves freely and fully to support these young people, to share their stories, and be a part of their lives. Occasionally, that also has an outward and clear Christian emphasis, but most often is about enabling young people to see Christ in the lives of their leaders and to be a gentle inspiration. I thank them greatly for all they do in the Lord’s name.

So, that is what this Parish Priest has been doing in school each day in Summer Term; and he does not have to be the only one:  local schools are crying out for support from the local community. No matter your age, if you are able to give an hour to come in and listen to a child reading, or to help with an activity or a visit, then I know the staff would be most grateful.  We should also actively pray for our schools, and not just for Church Schools, for I passionately believe that Churches should engage will all local schools, and especially those which are not Church Schools. We should pray actively for their Headteachers,  Staff and Pupils.

God calls us to serve here in this place. Let us answer that call.

* This is the same school which at a Harvest Festival in Church sang John Lennon’s “Imagine”, possibly one of the most atheistic songs around.
**Before ordination, most of you will know that I was a nurse specializing in Cardiac Critical Care. My story gets a little more complicated when I tell you that at the same time, I was also working as an IT Consultant and Software Developer.

Biblical Marriage

h/t Fr. Robb at Changing Worship

 

 

So the next time they start banging on about Marriage as conceived by the Bible, here is a handy reference. This is the danger, I believe, of mistaking the cultural context of those books with the Word of God contained therein: get them confused and all kinds of bad things happen. Jesus spoke of fidelity, monogamy, love and commitment for God, and it’s only natural we should expect the same of our earthly relationships – beyond that the genitalia is unimportant.