14th May 2020
Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogation Sunday)
Pastoral Letter No. 13
Fr Andrew writes:
Pastoral Letter 13
ROGATIONTIDE: DIVINE PRESENCE IN THE ‘HIGHWAYS AND HEDGEROWS’
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bxQ9MVTkuQ )