Sunday, 17 May 2020

Coronavirus Pastoral letter 13 17 May 2020

14th May 2020
Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogation Sunday)
Pastoral Letter No. 13

Fr Andrew writes:

Pastoral Letter 13


The Sunday and weekdays before Ascension Day are traditionally known as ‘Rogationtide’.

This name seems rather antiquated and from another era. Its origins are rural and agricultural as the in the past the community would process out from the church and walk the boundaries of the parish and ask for God’s blessings on the newly sown crops.

The word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin rogare meaning, ‘to ask’.

Rogation is the necessary prerequisite of giving thanks for the harvest. Rogation is when we say ‘please’; harvest is when we say ‘thank you’.

The Rogation traditions still continue in some places (although not this year because it involves gatherings of people). In the city rogation can be reinvented as more of a parish prayer walk, praying for the residents, schools, places of worship and business, cultural and administrative centres. This has happened from the Minster in the recent past.

Rogation processions, like all public church processions - Palm Sunday, Corpus Christi and the Eucharist each Sunday - are about hallowing public places. Reclaiming, though not in an aggressive way, the streets and ‘public square’ as a places where God’s grace can operate through his people.


One of the sad aspects of how the House of Bishops of the Church of England responded to the lockdown was to mark a retreat from the public space into the private and domestic.

It’s worth saying that the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 were clear: ‘Places of worship are required to close except to broadcast services (my italics)’: the Church of England, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, chose to disregard the exception; services were not even permitted to be broadcast from the church.

That has meant that the widespread perception has been that the Church of England signalled a retreat from the public realm, represented in the church building, to the domestic and private realm, represented in the sitting rooms of Vicarages and through Zoom and Microsoft Teams (thus further excluding those who don’t have broadband).  

The Church of England was perceived to be absent and not present, despite many good Anglicans being on the frontline in health and social care amongst other roles in which they have been, and remain, at some risk.

We will have to work hard to reposition our churches at the hearts of their communities. This was always a big task in a secularising, pluralistic society, but becomes all the more urgent now. It might just be the challenge we should set for ourselves in 2021, when we mark 10 years of being a Minster Church: how we become again a church confidently at the heart of our community and civic life.


This week, from Ascension Day (Thursday 21 May), Fr Joe and I will be live-streaming worship from the Minster on Sundays and Holy Days. In this small way we are reclaiming the church, a public place of worship for centuries, for all the people of our parish. We will also pray, most earnestly, for the hastening of the day when everyone, clergy and laity, can gather again.

After this crisis we need to claim afresh the presence of God in our streets now more than ever. We need to reclaim the streets as hallowed places where people can walk in safety, free from fear of knife crime, free from assault, harassment or fear.

As a church that rightly aspires to be open in spirit and in practice - open to God in word and sacrament and open to all in hospitality – we want our doors to be open to show that Christian faith occupies a public space and people can step in. But the next step for us as a community is to step out so that the divine presence is heralded beyond the Temple too (like our patron saint John the Baptist did) on the highways and byways of our parish.

Christianity has never been private; though at times it has been hidden away through persecution. The last thing Church and society need today is for the witnesses of the Divine to retreat from the public space, for if that continues we will be rightly judged as failing to be witnesses to the reconciling love of God in Christ.


(You may also want to watch for encouragement and, perhaps, challenge in equal measure: ‘God in the streets of New York City’: the clip lasts just under three minutes: )

A sermon - May we dwell in Christ & he in us

A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter: Readings Acts 17.22-31; 1 Peter 3.13-end; John 14.15-21

‘I will not leave you orphaned’ says the Lord.


Today is the Sixth Sunday of Eastertide and we continue to proclaim: ‘Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia’.

The season of Eastertide is given to us to sustain our appreciation of the resurrection.

For Christians the resurrection is the epicentre and source of abundant life; the resurrection of Christ makes possible our conviction that death has no more power to come between human experience and the knowledge of God.

Eastertide is a week of weeks, seven days times seven – seven being the number of completion in the Bible - with a crowning day to make fifty. These fifty days of Eastertide hang on the twin poles of the Resurrection – Easter - and the Descent of the Holy Spirit – Pentecost.

That gives us fifty days of intentional reflection on what it means to be, in St Augustine’s phrase, ‘An Easter People with Alleluia as our song’; It also gives us fifty days to ponder what it means to say that we believe ‘in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life’ and contemplate how the Spirit forms, leads and guides us as the Church, the People of God.

And forty days into Eastertide comes the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, which we observe this coming Thursday.

This is the time we recall Jesus’ bodily ascension into the heavens (Acts 1.1-11), when the followers of Jesus have to learn what it means to share his life when he is not physically present with us.

The joy of the resurrection meant that the disciples could still connect with Jesus present in their midst. The deprivation of his death, when they thought they had been abandoned and turned into spiritual orphans, was reversed in the resurrection when they continued to encounter Jesus, albeit in a new way.

Because of his ascension Jesus Christ is longer subject to place and time: that opens up access to God our Father, in Christ’s name, for people of all times and all places.

Jesus’ ascension is not going to be about deprivation but about discovering a deeper union with God, in Jesus’ Name, bound in by the Holy Spirit.

The Ascension gives us a vision of abundance in the church that flows out of the abundance of the Spirit and union with Christ, and not out of the narrow, human centred vision of scarcity that denies the life of God, and blasphemes against the Holy Spirit.

And this is what the gospel reading today prepares the disciples for, and trains us in too; preparing them for the rupture of their relationship with Jesus.

All through the gospel Jesus is quite clear that he will not be with them forever, that the time will come when, in his name, they will have to take responsibility for their discipleship, but they will be able to do so because the Holy Spirit will equip and lead them.

This is why the sacrament of the Eucharist matters so much to us.

Jesus is no longer present in human form, but in the sacraments the intensity of his presence is manifest in the things that we can grasp and touch and hold: bread and wine in the Eucharist, water in baptism, oil in anointing, another human body in marriage. The sacraments are the breaking through of the grace of God, in which we are reminded of the depth of the relationship we share with God in Christ. And the elements of the sacraments – bread, wine, water, oil, bodies – are given that capacity by the work of the Holy Spirit: ‘send down your Spirit upon the gifts to make them holy’.

So John’s gospel prepares us for the time when the Word made Flesh, who has chosen to dwell in our midst as one of us, is no longer with us. And the sacraments are given to us to connect us in the deepest possible way to God’s grace in the Holy Spirit.

This union with God is Christianity’s purpose, goal and end. Jesus’ discourses about being the Bread of Life (John 6) or about being the True Vine (John 15) or about his priesthood (John 16, 17) is all about abiding, dwelling, living, finding a home, in God. After all, God has found a dwelling place with us, in Christ: ‘and the Word was Made flesh and dwelt, lived, found a home, abided with us’ (John 1.14).

For God’s ancient, and first chosen, people the Jews, the relationship with God is established and maintained by living Torah, the way of faithfulness to the Covenant.

For Muslims, the relationship with God is established primarily in submission to God’s will.

For Christians the relationship with God is union and incorporation into the life of God: ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them’ (John 6.56).

This is not a subjective feelings-based exercise – although it can feel wonderful to feel alive with God – it is an objective reality. Living the way of faith, hope and love in the Church, and feeding on Christ in word and sacrament, is our incorporation into the life of God.

That all begs the question of what we have been learning in this time of deprivation and being cut off during lockdown. What is it that has been most sustaining for us? What are we truly looking for in our hearts? What will a time of deprivation and disruption teach us about deeper union with Christ?

These are huge questions of course, so perhaps we might make this gospel passage into prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you promise that if we love you
and keep your word
our heavenly Father come and abide with us.
Make your home with us
that we may truly be at home
in you and with you.
And may the Holy Spirit come down upon us
so that we are not left alone
but drawn into your nearer presence,
now and always.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter 11 - 14th May 2020

14th May 2020
Pastoral Letter No. 11

Fr Andrew writes:

Today (14 May) is the feast of St Matthias the Apostle. Matthias is perhaps one of the lesser known apostles of Jesus. Nevertheless I find him to be a very compelling character both because of his humility and that the choosing of Matthias teaches us something very important about the nature of the Church and the Christian life today.

Matthias was chosen to be one of the Twelve in place of Judas Iscariot, who had ended his own life following his betrayal of Jesus. There were two candidates, Matthias and Justus, and Matthias was chosen by lot. You can read about this in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1, beginning at verse 15 to the end of the chapter. I find it humbling on the part of Matthias and Justus: it’s quite a risk to be one of two chosen by lot; it seems so random, yet it’s perhaps no more, or no less, fair than any other method.

The qualificiation was that whoever should replace Judas should have been so one who accompanied the disciples ‘beginning from the baptism of John until the day when the Lord was taken up from us’ (Acts 1.22a). The task of that disciple, now apostle, was to ‘become a witness with us to [Christ’s] resurrection’ (Acts 1.22b).

And the apostolic role was to be an ‘overseer’ (Acts 1.20b; cf Psalm 109.8). The Greek word for ‘overseer’ is episcope from which we get the word ‘episcopal’ and ‘bishop’. This is where we get the notion that bishops are successors of the apostles; no longer twelve, but still sent in mission and oversight, with and for the whole people of God, the Church. Bishops today must be utterly familiar with the life-giving ministry of Jesus and also powerful witnesses to the resurrection of Christ.

The word apostle means ‘sent’. In the Creeds we proclaim that ‘We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’. Sent-ness is a fundamental feature of the Church. The Church is centrifugal, sent out from the centre. The commission (literally co-mission, meaning ‘mission with…’) of Christians is not to sit on our faith, keep it tucked away in the privacy of our souls, but to live it out. Being Christian is a public statement and cannot be private, even if very personal.

The Acts of the Apostles (written by St Luke, the author of the Gospel) narrates the life of the early Church and traces the Church moving out from Jerusalem to Rome. That literal movement also signals the move from the margins to the centre of global power. The Church then was not locked in or locked away. The Holy Spirt sees to that. In that time the Church was both growing and being persecuted actively and was claiming a voice in the public square.

So what does that mean for us today? Especially when we are still, more or less, locked down? Throughout Eastertide the first reading at the Eucharist on Sundays and weekdays is from the Acts of the Apostles. This choice of reading from this book connects us with the apostolic power of the Holy Spirt of the Crucified and Risen Lord, to re-imbue the Church today with the same sense.

Let us use lockdown as a time of spiritual re-charging, keeping the embers glowing, ready to burst out set on fire by the flames of the Holy Spirit. May this be a new Pentecost for us!

Christians are both disciples – those who follow the way of a teacher – and apostles – those who are sent out with a commission. The Eucharist ends ‘Go in the peace of Christ’ or ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’; the operative word being ‘GO!’ Bluntly it is telling us to get out and live out our faith. For the time is surely coming, but is not here yet, when once again we may go up to the House of the Lord and, having tasted his glory, be sent as apostles to proclaim and live out the healing, the forgiveness and the salvation of our God.

Thanks be to God for Matthias, and all the apostles, for their prayers, fellowship and examples.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter 10 1st May 2020

1st May 2020
St Philip & St James, Apostles
Pastoral Letter No. 10

Fr Andrew writes:

The Strength to Endure

Is it really May already? It was in March that our country shutdown and our church closed its doors. Life has changed for us all.

As the lockdown continues what might we say of endurance? It is not a fashionable word, but is one we need to grapple with and inhabit. An associated word, that is rather more in vogue, is ‘resilience’. Both words point to the long-term strength needed to withstand a period of trial. A pressing question also is how endurance relates to hope, the hope we so crave at the moment?

Endurance is about the ability to keep on going; resilience is about the ability to bounce back.

At baptism we are not given a jab of endurance or resilience, but the Christian life - shaped by the practices of the Eucharist, reflection on God’s word in scripture, pursuit of the Kingdom of God in ‘justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14.17) – does foster wells of endurance and resilience.

We see that endurance exemplified in saints ancient and modern: as St Paul describes ‘as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities…’ (2 Corinthians 6.4. See also 2 Corinthians 6.4-10; 11.23b-33); St Felicity, St Perpetua and their companions endured torture and death by mauling of bulls and lions; Terry Waite was held in isolation as a hostage and recalled psalms from memory to sustain him.

The saints direct their gaze upon the face of Christ to receive endurance - because he is the one who in love has endured everything for us already -  ‘knowing’ as St Paul says ‘that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ (Romans 5.3-5)

‘God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ is what enables the Christian to endure.

Sometimes that endurance can feel very elusive; we want it and cannot grasp it. It is then that we come closest to receiving it in the desolation of our lowest moments. It is in those moments that we can make the words of the psalms our own, ancient words which narrate our feelings of loneliness, abandonment and despair. For example:

‘Why, O Lord do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?’ (Psalm 10.1);

‘Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help’ (Psalm 22.11);

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest’ (Psalm 22.1,2)

‘I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight” But when you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help’ (Psalm 31.22). 

Such words begin the path of endurance; we enter into the spiritual journey of those who have gone before us, and find we are not alone in our anguish.

Likewise, in the gospels we hear of people pouring out their frustrations and disappointments. The two disciples on the day of resurrection walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus say bluntly to Jesus, as yet unrecognised, ‘are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ (Luke 24.18). It’s as if there are saying: ‘are you for real? Don’t you get it?’

It’s like when the disciples cried out to Jesus on the boat in the storm ‘Wake up. Do you not care that we are perishing?’ (Mark 4.38)

Jesus asks the disciples on the road: ‘what things? Tell me’ (Luke 24.19), in other words, ‘pour out your hearts’. After stilling the storm he asks the frightened disciples, ‘where is your faith?’ (Luke 8.25). In both questions he is coaching us into finding endurance and to trust in him and in the faithfulness of God.

Crying out in despair is not a failure of faith: it is a prayerful cry of faith.

Yes, we want an end to this isolation and lockdown and we pray fervently for it; we pray for the strength to endure and to be spiritually resilient, knowing that our strength and endurance comes from God.

Remember us O God, and shape our history,
form our inward eyes
to see the shadow of the life-giving cross
in the turbulence of our time;
for his sake who died for all,
Christ our Lord.

(Common Worship: Daily Prayer, Psalm prayer for Psalm 136)

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter 8 12th April 2020 (Easter Day)

12th April 2020
Pastoral Letter No. 8

Fr Andrew writes:

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Easter Day is a day of great rejoicing, promise and hope. It is not to diminish the current crisis, and the anguish so many people are in, if we continue to proclaim all those things.

However, coronavirus, and its impact upon peoples lives and wider society globally, forces us to pay closer attention to the nature of the Easter hope and our response to the Resurrection of Christ. It reminds us that the Easter hope is not vacuous, frothy or trivial, but deep rooted in realities that are in human experience and also transcend our experience.

The Church’s proclamation goes beyond ‘Happy Easter’, eggs and bunnies, because our proclamation is that ‘Christ is risen’.

In the Gospels the first Easter Day, the Day of Resurrection, is marked by emptiness, tears, blurred vision and fear.

Emptiness. The first Easter proclamation is one of emptiness, ‘He is not here, he is risen’. The tomb in which Jesus’ lifeless body had been lain was empty. It speaks of despair first not hope, a snatched body not a resurrected one.

Tears and Blurred Vision. It is striking how on that first Easter Day there was a total lack of recognition. It is so often true that we don’t see things that we don’t expect to see even if they’re there.

Mary Magdalene could not see clearly through her tears. She mistook Jesus for a Gardener at first (John 20.11-18). Mary’s vision slowly cleared as Jesus called her by name and spelt out what had happened.

Likewise the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not see who was walking along with them until the opening of scripture and the breaking of bread finally opened their eyes to Jesus (Luke 24.13-35). ‘They recognised him in the breaking of bread’ is a scene beautifully portrayed in the reredos in our St Nicholas Chapel, but it wasn’t instant recognition.

Fear. The women who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body fled with ‘terror and amazement’ ‘for they were afraid’ and it seemed ‘an idle tale’. (Matthew 28.6; Mark 16.6; Luke 24.5) Matthew’s gospel does at least suggest there was joy within the terror.

The first reaction of the gathered disciples on the Day of Resurrection was fear and the instinct to lock themselves away, what we would now call ‘social isolation’ (John 20.19). That fear was only dispelled by the presence of Jesus breathing his peace upon them.

Easter in a time of Coronavirus A church packed with flowers, people, music and praise on Easter morning doesn’t often give space for emptiness, tears and blurred vision and fear. The time we are in now does give that space, though we may not want it. We observe Easter in our own homes. Easter is not about froth; it is about the void of our lives being filled with the One who literally full-fills us; it is about the patient and growing recognition of the gift of life in Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen Lord; it is about acknowledging our fears and yet not being locked into them, but rather liberated through the ‘peace of God which surpasses all understanding’ because that is what ‘guards [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4.7).

In the emptiness, tears, blurred vision and fear of our current times may you still know the deep hope and promise of the Resurrection of Christ:

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

A sermon preached for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

A sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Readings: Acts 2.42-end; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2.19-end; John 10.1-10

The image of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, is one that many people hold dear.

Today is often known as ‘Good Shepherd’ Sunday because of the Gospel reading of the day, and is associated too with prayer for vocations to the priesthood because each priest is charged by the bishop at ordination with these powerful, inspiring and humbling words, ‘keep the example of the Good Shepherd always before you’. That is the charge to pastoral care.

The ordination rite is peppered with shepherding images.

Some people find the imagery of the priest, or bishop, as shepherd to be unhelpful or even patronising, because of the inference that they, as part of the flock, are somehow dumb, bleating and stupid creatures like sheep. It’s worth noting though that the word congregation comes from the Latin con meaning ‘together with’ and gregis meaning ‘flock’. We come together as a flock even if sometimes we have dumb, bleating or stupid shepherds at the head of the flock!

It is though an image Jesus uses liberally, including charging St Peter with care of the flock, saying ‘feed my sheep’ (cf John 21.15-17) and in our second reading, ‘for you were going astray like sheep’ (1 Peter 2.25a)

Pastoral care is something bishops and priests are particularly charged with – bishops carry a shepherd’s crook, after all – but pastoral care and contact, within the Body of Christ, the flock, is the responsibility of everyone. I hope that you are using this lockdown time to keep in touch with those people you know from church, encouraging them in endurance, faith and hope.

Pastoral care is about being connected in the Body of Christ. And the role of the shepherd is sometimes about showing compassion; sometimes about showing direction; sometimes about nudging or cajoling the stubborn onwards to good pastures; sometimes about making huge sacrifices for the flock, after the example of the Good Shepherd, not like a hired hand, but as a priest, passionate about the safety and well-being of his flock, as today’s gospel implies.

The first letter of Peter speaks of the flock going astray. Flocks go astray when individuals are cut off in some way. And don’t we know that feeling now. The flock is dispersed. We can’t come to be ‘together, with’. We are like sheep scattered across hills and valleys not able to be in the sheepfold of our temple.

Yet Peter also speaks of the scattered flock returning ‘to the shepherd and guardian of your souls’ (1 Peter 2.25b). The return to the shepherd and guardian of our souls is the promise held out that the flock will congregate again, and will be able to know the promise of the Good Shepherd: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10.10).

What a promise. In times where our lives are impaired and limited, because we can’t congregate, the promise of the fulness of life, abundant life, is one for which we yearn, hanker, desire and long.

And this is the great gift of Psalm 23, the Lord’s my shepherd. That deeply loved psalm is like a compass that will guide us on the path to abundance of life. It narrates for us our predicament, sets the bearings of our route out of this and sets our sights on our destination.

Of course the opening line causes some confusion: ‘The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want’ can all too easily be interpreted as ‘I don’t want the Lord as my shepherd’, when of course it means, ‘Because the Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I can lack, I shall not be in want for anything’. That in itself is a powerful message of assurance.

And I shall not be in want because he helps me rest in green pastures and leads me on my journey beside still, rather than turbulent waters.

One paraphrase of the Bible renders it like this:

God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from. (Psalm 23.1-2. The Message)

That’s all very well at the moment as we are locked down, locked in and socially isolated. I can’t go into a park, whether a lush meadow or not and lie down, and if I wander around at Waddon Ponds for more than an hour I’ll be moved on.

But there’s something even deeper, ‘he revives my soul’. At the moment many people know the feeling of another psalm, psalm 42 (which begins by describing the desire to drink from living water): ‘why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?’ (Psalm 42.6 passim). Our souls need reviving, ‘like a dry and thirsty land where there is no water’ as another psalm puts it (Psalm 63.2).

Reviving, literally means bringing back to life, and that is a huge flag waving to say this is about resurrection. Christians are people brought back to life through the silent pools of the water of baptism, with souls revived.

And here is the compass for thirsty travellers: ‘he guides me along the right pathways for his name’s sake’. This is the job of the shepherd with the shepherd’s trusty staff bringing strength and protection.

Even walking through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ evil is no longer to be feared, not viruses not nothing. ‘Perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4.18): perfect love is abundant life and fear has no hold there.

And then the destination is in sight. Not for the Christian light at the end of a tunnel, for we walk as children of the light, with the light of the Risen Lord, in this Easter Candle, illuminating our way: ‘for once you were children of darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light…’ (Ephesians 5.8)

The destination and fulfilment of the promise of life is found at a table, the table of the Lord. Here is the anointing, healing love of the Good Shepherd, here a cup is poured to overflowing: this is the abundant life of Christ the Bread of Life, Christ the True Vine.

Psalm 63 says ‘so would I gaze upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory’ (Psalm 63.3). That is our yearning - not simply to be in a magnificent building; not simply to enjoy fellowship with one another; not simply to enjoy the splendours of our choral tradition – but to be in our holy place, our place of encounter where the Good Shepherd becomes again the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’

We yearn to gather at that table, our altar, once again for it is where abundant life and hope is brought to us and it points us to a deeper hope beyond, that we might dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life.

O God, our sovereign and shepherd,
who brought again your Son Jesus Christ
    from the valley of death,
comfort us with your protecting presence
and your angels of goodness and love,
that we also may come home
and dwell with him in your house for ever.