Archives December 2011

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 44,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

To reflect on as we enter the New Year…

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 (NIV)

A Time for Everything

 1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet  no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it


Pause. Know that God has made time for you. God sits beside you in the silence. There is no void. There is nowhere beyond the powerful reach of God’s love. It places you at the centre, the focus of that love.

Sermon: Mary, Mother of God & Prayer: Year B

Text: Luke 2:16-21

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

It has been a busy time. Food to be prepared, guests to be accommodated, tensions to be calmed, space to be made, and probably earlier this morning, I am guessing, hangovers to be nursed.

And now, they have gone back: back to the hillsides and their sheep, for those crazy Shepherds who descended into the town ofBethlehemwith bizarre stories of lights and sound have left the exhausted and somewhat bewildered Holy Family in some semblance of peace.

Today we celebrate Our Lady, the Mother of God. In the Eastern Church she bears the holy title of Theotokos – God bearer; and she is for us, a model of faith.

As you can all tell, my devotion to Our Lady is a major part of my own spiritual quest; devotion to the Mother of God has helped me in my faith, and has, I know, helped many others. I want to take this opportunity to explain why we, as Anglicans should keep a special place for Our Lady in our hearts.

The Church of England has always shown special devotion to Our Lady: witness the number of Churches dedicated to her – we even have two of them in the deanery ofGosport(St Mary’s Alverstoke and St Mary the Virgin, Rowner).

The rose, the symbol of England is taken from the sign of the Mystical Rose – an emblem of Our Lady, you may recall the Hymn Crown him with Many Crowns (number 147 in Ancient and Modern) Christ is described as the ‘fruit of the mystic rose’ and there is always a little footnote from the editors of A&M saying that it is ‘a mediaeval title for the Blessed Virgin’.

Even our mild expletives – bloody comes from By Our Lady. Even the puritan backlash that overtook the reformation could not remove the special place of Our Lady from our public consciousness: the original statue of Our Lady of Walsingham (a copy of which sits on our Lady Chapel altar) may have been burnt at Tyburn (Marble Arch) inLondon, but her devotion continues. And why?

…because it is deeply rooted in Scripture and in the tradition of the Church.

The title I refered to earlier: Theotokos (God-bearer) was given to Our Lady after the council ofEphesus in 431. As with all devotion to Our Lady, as a title, it has less to do with Mary herself, than it has to do with Christ.

Before the council ofEphesus, there were some who sought to deny the humanity of Christ, to emphasise only his divinity (a heresy known as Nestorianism). To do this, removes the power of the incarnation, reduces the meaning of the cross, subverts the glory of the resurrection – for only the word made flesh could undertake these three essential acts for our salvation.

Ephesusmade explicit the connection between Christ’s two natures: fully human and fully divine, born (as we heard inSt Paul’s letter to the Galatians) of a woman, the word made flesh. Our Lady therefore is fully human, not a supernatural being, not part of the Godhead, or the missing part of the trinity; nor is she (as those who might have been reading the Da Vinci Code over the holidays may have thought) some reflection of the Goddess myth in ancient religion.

She is one of us.

One of us, made special by the grace of God. Her titles (of which there are many) ‘Blessed Virgin’ ‘Theotokos’ ‘Queen of Heaven’, are titles of grace, not of right. Because she did what the Angel asked of her, because she kept the faith, right through and beyond the end, because she showed us how to be a disciple of Christ, and took on a role for which she was not prepared; for all these reasons, she wins favour with God.

And that, my dear friends, shows us the way. If we have the faith to follow God’s call, to venture out of our comfort zones to live the Gospel, then we can be similarly blessed, filled with grace as the angel said. The opportunity to be lifted up with such grace is available to all who have faith, and we can learn from her example how to become true disciples of faith.

Our Blesséd Lady points to her son, saying listen to him, presenting him to us (and I suggest you have a close look at our statue for this) and praying. Praying is indeed the heart of what makes Our Lady blesséd and what will make us similarly blessed.

Here in today’s Gospel text, we see why Our Lady is a model of faith for all of us: her response to the shepherds – indeed her response to the wise men, to the Angel Gabriel, to the presentation in the temple, in fact to all that God reveals to her is to treasure these things in her heart, to ponder, to reflect, to draw upon them; perhaps over many years. It is the prayerful, contemplative response to God that Our Lady makes, which should be our mark as Christians, and with will not only sustain this parish in its vacancy after my departure at the end of the month, but will make this Church grow. Prayer is the lifeblood of this and any church, prayer is its energy and its dynamism. Prayer, and faith in the power of that prayer will be the mechanism of growth and instiller of vitality: not prayer by a few people, but the prayer of each and every one of you: active and sustained and will underpin the witness and the evangelism of this holy place.

Prayers in this church are never offered to Mary. When we pray, we pray only to God, but we do not pray alone. We pray with the whole company of heaven, we pray with the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, martyrs and saints as well as the company gathered here today. We ask Blessed Mary to pray with us to God Almighty, and we pray using words of Holy Scripture. The Hail Mary is a deeply scriptural prayer, and praying with scripture is one of the true marks of anglocatholicism.

Those who criticise such prayer do so, therefore, either out of ignorance or of a misreading of holy scripture.

Prayer is not necessarily of the hands together, eyes closed way that we had drummed into us in Infants, although it can be. It can be a moment of quiet, a long walk on the beach, a pause in the middle of a busy day, the lighting of a candle, the repetition of a much-loved piece of scripture or words of a saint.

Prayer is time spent in the presence of God. It may be joyous, and thankful, it can be angry, bitter, questioning (think of Psalm 77), it can be out loud, or silent, it can be wordless or wordy.

But what it isn’t is by rote. If you pray without meaning, then it is meaningless. If you pray without thinking, then it is thoughtless.

This parish is now, I am proud  to declare, a Pilgrim Parish: Our pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was a prayerful;, significant part of our collective spiritual journey, and pointed the way to a deeper devotion, a richer prayer-life, a more passionate commitment to building the kingdom of God.

I don’t know what resolutions you might have made for 2012, but I’m willing to predict that most of the resolutions made at this time are negative: to deny something, to withhold or avoid something. Let our resolution this new year be a positive one: Let prayer be our resolution for 2012; let us do as Our Lady did, and ponder these things in our hearts and through prayer, let us drawn ever closer to the heart of the God who is always here. Let us trust in the power of that prayer and look forward with eagerness to new growth, new beginnings, a new promise in Christ


Reflection on Christmas at S. Thomas the Apostle, Elson

This is my last Christmas in this Parish: a parish I have served for seven years now. In a month’s time I will be moving to Plymouth to continue my ministry in a different group of Parishes with new expectations, new hopes and dreams. I am excited by that, but also anxious: anxious about the inevitable heartache that comes because “the new vicar isn’t the old vicar” and “that’s how we’ve always done it” and anxious about the next five months without Lou, Emma & Zoe who will remain in Gosport until the end of the A’Levels and the current class Lou is teaching. I believe that God has called me to walk with the good people of Roborough and I pray that he will help us all towards his sacred heart.

So, it was with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I approached this Season (a season which continues until the Feast of the Epiphany on  January 6th, I’d like to remind you…) – a desire to finish on a high note and just get it right. This isn’t a prissy sort of “get-it-right” which is more concerned with style over what goes on in our hearts – our best worship has all kinds of messy, human, incarnational and frankly cocked-up little episodes which make them, well, like us. I’m more interested in doing something in the right spirit rather than the letter. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Elson Junior School Christmas Service was on the last day of term, and with just under a week of preparation, the young people delivered a number of sketches and prayers which reminded us of the true meaning of Christmas, using a Derek Haylock sketch from “Plays on the Word” (a few still available really cheaply) “The Wallies Guide to Christmas”. I got about 45 seconds into my homily when I suddenly had a new idea and completely changed the direction of the homily. I thought it went much better after the first 45 seconds. The Choir directed by David Edwards was once again lovely. He will be finishing at Elson at the end of this academic year: more moving on, more change. He is an inspirational music teacher and enthusiast: a man of faith and great skill & he will be missed in Elson.

We gathered in the Three Tuns for Carol Singing in the Pub on the Friday before Christmas, and it served as a useful reminder that the work of the Church is not yet complete in Elson. Surrounded by regulars in the pub whom I know well and who were keen to support us, we also met with a considerable amount of antagonism, apathy and the extremely pissed of Elson. “Are you gay” slurred a young man to me as I distributed Carol Sheets, “excuse me?” I smiled back (my hearing isn’t great at the best of times and in a pub I usually struggle) “You must be gay.. ‘cos your religious!” (Maybe it was the clerical collar which gave it away) he declared, sort-of squaring up to me, which was a little unexpected. Now, my usual tactic would be to play along with that: challenge his assumptions, but the aggressive nature of this encounter made me think that a glassing wasn’t a good idea, even in jest; luckily he was out with one of the regulars with whom I have shared many pints, and he put the young man to rights without me having to say anything. Sexuality and faith, mission and humanity in one split second clash together. Most young people use the term “gay” as a derogative without even considering its context of sexuality, but I have to admit for a split second this married priest’s alliegence and support of my LGBT brothers and sisters was in danger of melting away to avoid a gay-bashing. Now I write this, I am a little ashamed of that: I suppose there is a little bit of S. Peter in all of us. Once we started singing, we had a good laugh: a good number of the Church turned up. Many of us are well known at the Tuns from the Quiz Nights. The more aggressively drunk decided that they were too cool for this ole school and left the Pub. The Landlord thanked us, because they were in danger of getting a little lairy and we did his difficult task for him. Glad to be of Service. The rest of the Pub had a good time, and we once again thank the Staff and Patrons of the Three Tuns on Elson Road for their love and support.

I was up at silly o’clock to get the oranges for the Christingle and rewarded myself with an early Wetherspoons breakfast. The usual small team gathered on Christmas Eve to make the Christingles whilst the Churchwardens and myself rearranged the Chairs and finished the decor. The Church looked lovely with new projectors and screens, voile and fairy lights. The Christingle Service was once again packed (see picture at the top): atmospheric, excited and just the right way to begin the season. I maintain that this service is the first evensong of Christmas, so the Holy Feast really has begun at the end of my countdown.

I just love mugging around, telling silly jokes and puns (thanks to @markloudon for his “knittivity” pun) and getting them all excited in order to deliver the punchline that it’s all about God in human form. I recorded the entire service, but am still in two minds whether to post it. The script was, of course, included in this year’s book my me: Creative Ideas for Sacramental Worship with Children which is proving to be a popular resource (and a good thing to spend your Amazon Vouchers on I would suggest). Numbers were up, and I believe it was enjoyed. I pray that the service continues to grow. I suspect that Steven & Mother Margaret will take it in new, good and different directions, which is only right, for the show in this form is of me, and should rightly move on.

I let Mother say the Vigil Mass which saw another increase in numbers, and I was back for the Midnight Mass: I felt I needed to be there at least an hour before. We were told that the wafers had been counted out, and so I fiddled around with other matters of my concern – my favourite headset microphone has a loose wire and needs to be resoldered. I was worried at 11.20pm that no one was coming. By 11.25 it was full and people were going upstairs. At 11.26, Steven who was MC’ing said “Are the vessels out?” and we realised that because we wafers had been counted out by the Vigil Mass server, no-one had checked that the sacred vessels were out – they were’nt! Mad dash, sort it out. Remember the bambino on the cushion…

Midnight Mass was lovely: the spooky-mysterious sermon was light on jokes and heavy on the mystery of the Incarnation. I think that was what was needed in that half-light. We communicated about 50 people and I blessed probably twice that. It was definitely the busiest Midnight Mass we have ever had. I didn’t set myself on fire either! This might have been because we put the Big Six on the altar this year. Still, the servers had kept a bucket of water behind from Christingle just in case! The incense was heavy and Vickie used my heavy thurible with remarkable skill.

Mother said Mass of the Dawn, for which I was grateful. The Parish Mass of the Nativity saw a reasonable turnout: a wholly young person’s serving team (which I love). I messed up the Memorial Acclamation, and almost the Eucharistic Prayer but it was Christmas – I was tired and the Congregation were in a very forgiving mood. It was lovely. I cheekily suggested to Steven that the prayer response should have been :

Have a good one


and he almost did, only changing it at the last minute. That would have been a zeitgeist moment of popular culture.

We must be one of the few Churches to keep the Solemnities between Christmas and New Year because I think they are important and at least someone is offering the Mass in this deanery. Come along at 10am all this week if you can. The numbers are low, but the faith is there and the welcome (and the church) is warm.

It was a Christmas to remember. Thanks be to the good people of Elson and most importantly, Thanks be to God!

Lost in our vaults until now…

The BBC had wiped the TOTP tape from 1973, but the cameraman of the Fish-eye Lens  John Henshall kept a copy, and so this gem of a genuinely live performance has resurfaced. I have never heard this version before, even from audio, and believe me, I have everything Bowie. The distinctive riff from Love Me Do creeping in at the end makes it so distinctive. I have been a Bowie Freak since Scary Monsters, used to collect and swap the tapes before the Internet made all of that fandom redundant and what Dave Masters and I havn’t obsessed about Mr DB isn’t worth knowing. I just wish for purity’s sake, Mark Radcliffe wasn’t rabbiting over the opening riff…

Every so often, something new crops up and makes the freaks like me very happy indeed. This is turning into a very good Christmas indeed!

Sermon: Christmas Day 2011

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

The birth of the Son of God was heralded by the Angel of the Lord, accompanied by the Shekinah, the Glory of God, followed by a multitude of the Heavenly Host singing praises. Hallelujah!

And for whose benefit was this magnificent display?

Kings? Presidents? Politicians? Religious leaders?


This rather brilliant cartoon has been round the internet in the past 24 hours, and it sums up the whole point.

No, it was all for a few lowly shepherds – humble, poor, obscure and unnamed rustics of whom nothing more is heard in Scripture thereafter. While today’s puffed-up prelates court the wealthy, famous and influential, so today’s wealthy, famous and powerful seek out the privileged counsel, private chapels and cathedral pulpits of those same prelates for their displays of religiosity.

But not these shepherds. No, the Lord deemed them worthy because they were lowly. They were not body-beautiful celebrities, gifted orators, powerful decision makers or authoritative opinion formers; they were simply ordinary men, and the Lord chose them to be among the first to know that the Christ was born; that the Messiah had entered history; that the Son of God had come to redeem mankind – Immanuel.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

The real deliverer and the real fulfilment of the needs of humanity is human, one of us, flesh of our flesh. He is born to rule, born to be a king, conceived of the house and lineage of David. His name is Wonderful – a mystery of divinity in humanity; Counsellor – the oracle of wisdom; the mighty God – the Word was not just with God, but was God; the Everlasting Father – not the same person as the Father, but of one substance with the Father; the Prince of Peace – bringing a peace that passes all understanding.

So who are the important people to whom Christ came, for whom Christ came? You, my dear friends, you, and me, and everybody.


With thanks to @his_grace from whom the majority of this text is gratefully stolen  adapted,

Kinetic Typography – "Christmas" by John Betjeman

[vimeo 34074650

I still have so much to learn with Adobe After Effects, but you have to start somewhere. Final compositing work done in my favourite Sony Vegas. This is free for anyone to use.

A Production quality version can be downloaded from the Agnus Dei Repository: click this link to be taken there

Although I only posted this poem a couple of days ago, here it is again. We’re going to use this video during our Christmas Services this year. If you would like it, you are welcome to it.

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with the single Truth compare –
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman

Sermon: Midnight Mass 2011

@liminalspace suggests that we only have six sermons anyway. On reflection my six are: 1) God loves you 2) Build the Kingdom. Here. Now 3) John 10:10 4) Discipleship is costly 5) Christmas is more than prezzies 6) Jesus is God. Mary is his Mother. Go to Mass. On one level, this year’s Midnight Mass sermon is just like all of them wrapped up together, nothing too original, but which I hope will be given more by delivery. Take from this what you need, for whatever its value, it comes from the heart: a heart fed by the Incarnation, the love of God and the power of the Eucharist.

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

<John Lewis Christmas Advert 2011>

Preach the Gospel, they say, using words only if you have to.

Tonight is a night for expectancy, for excitement, for breathless wonder.

Tonight is a night for the cynicism of the other 363[1 days of the year to melt away.

Tonight is all concerned with gifts. But not gifts received, but rather gifts given.

The world receives a gift wrapped not in gaudy paper and ribbons, but in blood and mucus and the messiness of a real birth: (I know that anyone who has been present or themselves have been through the journey of a birth will understand the visceral reality of childbirth and how far removed from the artificiality of the Christmas Card image it truly is).

Preach the Gospel, they say, using words only if you have to.

The Gospel – the Good News of the Incarnation – is proclaimed far and wide tonight, and not just on the lips of cherubic choirboys or drunken revellers, but in the enfleshment of God himself, in the involvement and participation of God himself in our midst.

The Gospel – the Good News of the Incarnation – is the greatest gift ever given: the gift of God himself, passionately engaged in our lives, in our affairs, in our very being.

This is beyond price. This is beyond importance. This is the very stuff of life. The Good News is that God gives of himself, enters into our world, pours himself into our reality and becomes one of us: sharing our experiences, fears, hungers, challenges: consigned within a short period after his birth to be an Asylum Seeker in Egypt, tempted and yet without sin, rejected in his ministry by many, turned upon by those who feted him only a few days before and dying: God on a Cross for us.

The visceral reality of a human birth ends with a barbaric death; and in the quiet darkness not of a stable but a tomb a new birth is seen: the first fruits of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life delivered to us by a God who overcomes sin and death on our behalf: this is the power of the incarnation which is made relevant by the sacrifice of the Cross: the Cross which is validated by the Incarnation. Yes, my friends, on this magical night behold the true Gospel – that Christmas and Easter are inextricably linked and one cannot, should not, will not have one without the other.

Preach the Gospel, they say, using words only if you have to.

The gift given tonight is perfectly wrapped, for it is wrapped in humanity, wrapped in humility, wrapped in love – both of the Father and the Holy Family. It was given with you in mind, and given selflessly as only God can give it.

The place to receive this perfect gift is not therefore at the foot of your Christmas Tree, but in your hearts. I pray that tonight as we share the sacraments of salvation, partake of the visceral reality of his body and blood in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, that you will receive and perceive the gift beyond all others, freely and loving given. To you. And you. And you. And me.


[1 I was thinking of Christmas Day and also Easter Day: the joy of the Resurrection.