Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter 7 9th April 2020

9th April 2020
Maundy Thursday
Pastoral Letter No. 7

Fr Andrew writes:

In any ordinary Holy Week the Bishop invites all the deacons, priests and bishops in the diocese to the cathedral to reaffirm the promises made at ordination and to be reminded of how their ministry serves the whole people of God, and are not simply an end in themselves. This most often happens on Maundy Thursday. This year, of course, that gathering with the Bishop – known as the Chrism Mass - cannot take place (although there is a virtual replacement!).

Each Holy Week it is my practice to reread the Ordinal and ponder afresh its meaning in my own ministry. It is worth a read by everyone, clergy or not. ( It sets out in clear and beautiful ways what your bishops, priests and deacons are all about (or meant to be). It is a means of reconnecting with Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and our great High Priest.

The ministry of a deacon and a priest are distinct. It is worth remembering, not least by priests and bishops, that they were first ordained as deacons and that that ministry of service still holds good for them. Likewise, all clergy were first baptised, and that is the fundamental building block of Christian service which every last one of us shares. In my book you can have as high a doctrine of ordination as you like, as long as your doctrine of baptism is higher! As St Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD) said, ‘I am a bishop for you and a Christian with you’ (Sermon 340: ‘On the Anniversary of His Ordination’). That is our first calling, to be disciples. For some who are called that way their discipleship is exercised in public ministry.

It is also worth remembering that, as the Chrism Mass is the place where clergy reaffirm the promises of their ordination, every member of the church reaffirms the promises of baptism at Easter, during the Easter Vigil.

The introduction to an ordination service at which deacons and priests are ordained together sets out the roots of ordained ministry:

“God calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood, a holy nation, to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.

The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of his kingdom.

To serve this royal priesthood, God has given a variety of ministries. Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known. Theirs is a life of visible self-giving. Christ is the pattern of their calling and their commission; as he washed the feet of his disciples, so they must wash the feet of others.

Priests are ordained to lead God’s people in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the gospel. They share with the Bishop in the oversight of the Church, delighting in its beauty and rejoicing in its well-being. They are to set the example of the Good Shepherd always before them as the pattern of their calling. With the Bishop and their fellow presbyters, they are to sustain the community of the faithful by the ministry of word and sacrament, that we all may grow into the fullness of Christ and be a living sacrifice acceptable to God.”

That is a good general overview of the place of ordained ministry within the Church. There is a fuller account in the Ordinal of both the role of a deacon and a priest which comes later in the service.

I would like now to share some of my reflections on my priesthood this year, in the era of coronavirus. As in so many areas of life the lockdown has been a game changer in how priestly ministry can be carried out: it has thrown so much into sharp relief. The daily norms and patterns have changed for us as a church and me as the one entrusted with leading the church, preaching the word and celebrating the sacraments (done, of course, in partnership with fellow priests and deacons, lay ministers and lay officers and staff of the church).

I explored the question ‘can a closed church be alive and active?!’ in Pastoral Letter 3 ( A similar question is true for a priest: ‘can a socially distanced priest be alive and active?!’ In the absence of a building and congregation perhaps the role of a priest diminishes. Actually, I believe, and have found this to be the case over the last three weeks or so, that the answer is the opposite: a priest who is socially distanced in the era of modern technology can and should be alive and active as a priest. Indeed in some ways this crisis has brought out more of what it means to be a priest, and a church, than in normal times.

The early Christian experience was living life as a hidden church for it was a church that knew the prospect of martyrdom very readily. Prayer and the breaking of bread was offered in homes and Christians gathered in hidden places, crypts and catacombs. The Church after Constantine (315AD) took on a new public life and the role of bishops changed too: from being characters in the shadows praying for and with their people and being shepherds, they became leaders in the public square – the shepherd’s crook became less prominent and the monarchical mitre became the dominant image of the bishop.

So where are we today? Bishops, who represent the fullness of ordained ministry, are both of the above - shepherds and public figures - but the latter role is decreasing. At the same time the church is learning a new way of relating to society, not being the dominant force we once were, not being able to take for granted that everyone is really a lapsed Anglican unless they are consciously of another denomination or faith. We can lament that, or embrace the reality.

I have come to the conclusion, highlighted in the coronavirus era, that the role of the priest can be distilled down into two key things: offering the sacrifice of the liturgy for, and with, the Church and shepherding the Church. This is captured in the Ordinal: ‘Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent…they are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God. They are to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.’

As with so many people I am looking at the fundamentals of who I am when the accretions of what is deemed ‘how we always do things’ are stripped away.

In the Gospel Jesus looked at the crowds and had compassion on them because ‘they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9.36). I have tried not to feel harassed and helpless like a shepherd without sheep! (Remember that the root of the word ‘congregation’ literally means ‘the coming together of a flock’).

The Ordinal says that as a shepherd and priest I am also to ‘feed and provide for [Christ’s] family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions’. Lockdown tells me I have to be a shepherd in new ways.

In virtual ways, I have to ensure a number of things: a. that the people entrusted to my care is fed spiritually (in the offering of worship), and physically (in ensuring they have access to shopping and provisions); b. that I have search people out who may have fallen through the cracks of care and provision; and c. I have to interpret what we are going through in the light of the hope of the Gospel and encourage people in that hope. That’s why the streaming of worship, pastoral letters and phone calls.

Really importantly I reflect that, whilst I have responsibility for all this, I am also to remember that I do not do this in my strength alone – otherwise it wouldn’t happen! – but the Ordinal reminds me that ‘Guided by the Spirit, [priests] are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.’ I give thanks to God for his grace and for the gifts of my colleagues and congregation(s) that are so evident at the moment.

That is the final pointer to who and what will be as a church and God’s ministers after this crisis has passed. My task is to discern with you how we can come through this stronger and more authentically the Church than when it started: what needs purging away so that we grow deeper in our faith? What are the ‘norms’ of our custom and practice that we take for granted that we really can do without? What are the truly precious aspects of our life as a church that we cannot do without, or that we need more of?

These are key questions for a priest and a church. In the light of all I have said above, I cannot wait until the day when we can congregate (as God’s flock) again: on that day - singing and praying - we will lament the pain and sorrow suffered by so many; we will celebrate our deliverance from the virus; and we will commit ourselves afresh to the enduring love of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, the pattern of every priest’s calling.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter - 6 3rd April 2020

3rd April
Friday in Passiontide
Pastoral Letter No. 6

Fr Andrew writes:


The most significant week of the Christian year and the Christian life is almost upon us: Holy Week. The seven days of Holy Week are an echo of the Genesis account of the creation, as a New Creation comes into being in Jesus Christ, the New Adam.

The week begins with Palm Sunday. Like every Sunday in normal times we would expect to gather together in church, but on Palm Sunday we gather outside the church. There is a sense that we stand on the outside with Christ, the excluded one, as we prepare to enter our holy place, as he entered the Holy City.

The refrain ‘blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Psalm 118.26 and the Liturgy) is applicable to Christ entering the Holy City and entering our lives and also to all our entrances into church, into our homes, workplaces and where we share our lives: may we enter all such places in the name of the Lord and as bringers of peace (cf Luke 10.5).

The Blessing of Palms marks the beginning of the Liturgy and then we begin the procession. There is no penitential rite (confession) on Palm Sunday, or at least not one that is spoken. The procession is our walk of penitence. It is an unspoken embodiment of our desire to walk in new directions in our lives and ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6.8).

Yet there is no procession this year and no Palm Crosses. What do we do? How about using your time for exercise time (which we’re all permitted) on Palm Sunday to make your walk one where you consciously seek to walk in new ways, and with every step shake off your frustration, anger, boredom, despair, or however you’re feeling at the moment. With every step walk deeper into the promises of the One who comes to you: ‘if we walk in the light as God himself is the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1.7).

Palm Crosses. Well, on Palm Sunday morning I will be blessing our church supply of palm crosses and when we are all back together they will be distributed (even though it won’t be Palm Sunday!). They will remind us on the pain and lament of enforced social distance and isolation.

This year let’s make our own cross (you could take it on your walk). There’s a very simple way – for all ages - to make a cross from a single piece of paper ( The cross could decorated or have prayers written on it. When the Palm Sunday Liturgy is broadcast you can hold it up for blessing, and then why not put it up in your window? We would also love to gather together photos of our crosses. You could send them to and we will post them up on the church Facebook page and Twitter.

The cross on Palm Sunday takes us to the heart of the matter. The Passion Gospel. The accounts of Jesus’ passion are at the heart of the Gospel tradition, appearing in all four gospels. The Passion Gospel from either Matthew, Mark or Luke is always a feature of Palm Sunday, and often read in dramatized form. This year it will be from St Matthew 26.14-27.66.

These days are often a little overlooked, partly, I suspect, because of the scale and drama of the other days of the week. They are profound in themselves because they take us into the realities of what awaits Jesus in his passion and death. After the exhilaration of Palm Sunday and the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, these days remind us how things go sour.

These days are not to be glossed over.

The Old Testament reading each day is from the Prophet Isaiah in the passages known as the Suffering Servant Songs and they are powerful, stark and beautiful (Isaiah 42.1-9; 49.1-7; 50.4-9a). The Gospel readings are all from St John (John 12.1-11; 12.20-36; 13.21-32) and all point to the coming glorification of Jesus passion and death.

Triduum Sacram is the Latin name for the three holy days (from the evening of Maundy Thursday to the beginning of the new week – Easter Day) in which all the major themes of salvation are uncovered. In the Triduum the days form a continuum: the Liturgies of the Triduum are effectively one service only interrupted by sleep.

Maundy Thursday is the commemoration of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, and the giving of the New Commandment (the Mandatum Novum, from which we get the word ‘Maundy’). At the heart of the Liturgy is the washing of feet that reveals Jesus as the servant king, who came ‘not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20.28). At a time when we cannot gather to wash feet or have them washed, how do we serve others? For those who can, we do acts of kindness for a neighbour, volunteer to be a telephone befriender, for example, and each and everyone of us can pray for those who serve, especially in healthcare. Please pray for those in our congregations who work in the NHS serving others. Maundy Thursday reminds us that service of our neighbour cannot be disassociated from our Eucharist; worship turns us first to God, then to our neighbour.

Maundy Thursday also makes clear what John the Baptist had first said of Jesus; ‘Look, behold, here is the Lamb of God’ (1.29). Maundy Thursday connects us with the Passover tradition of Israel and the Jewish People, whose doors were daubed with the blood of the Passover Lamb so that they were spared death. The Eucharist is the Christian Passover meal because we share in the life and blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who delivers us from death and leads us into life. How we now hunger for the food of the Eucharist, as the Israelites hungered for the manna from heaven to feed them day by day (Exodus 16).

Good Friday is dominated by the Cross. The sign of the cross is marked on our heads at baptism and we seek to walk with Jesus in the way of the cross. This is why the devotion of the Stations of the Cross is so powerful and moving. It recapitulates the passion and death of Jesus, for all people and our salvation. The Stations of the Cross are a distilled version of the Passion Gospel we hear said or sung each Good Friday (John 18.1-19.42). You will be able to watch and join in with the Stations on the church website and Facebook page this Holy Week.

We won’t physically be able to touch or kiss the wood of the cross this year as we would in church. You may though make an act of veneration of a cross that you have at home. In kissing that object you reverence the mystery it represents. It is one of the ways, at this time, that we can still be in touch – literally – with the signs of our faith.

This is a day of stillness and absence. As God rested on the seventh day in the Genesis account, so Christ’s lifeless body rests in the tomb. As he said from the cross, ‘all is accomplished’. On this day creation pauses ready for the life of the new day, a day that the Church Fathers (the theologians of the first centuries of the Church’s life) called, ‘The Eighth Day of Creation’, i.e. day one of the new creation week that we live in now! As dusk falls on Holy Saturday we begin a Vigil of watching and waiting for the dawn which brings hope and life, promise and freedom. Perhaps we can identify with that feeling more than ever this year. (See Pastoral Letter 5 for more on Holy Saturday)

This is all what is known as the Paschal Mystery, the great component parts of the Christian Faith in which everything is held up and revealed to us and fulfilled in the promise of Easter, of which more in my next letter.

Each year at Passover the Jewish people, the first to hear God’s word, our ancestors in faith, cry ‘next year in Jerusalem!’: this year we cry ‘next year in the new Jerusalem, our church home!’