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October message

Posted on November 11, 2020 at 2:25 AM Comments comments (1)

This is the 10th edition of the Coronacle! What was intended as a short term means of communication has become a new ‘normal’. This is normally a busy time in the church’s calendar: Harvest, our Patronal Festival, St Luke, All Saints, All Souls, Remembrance, Christ the King… and before we know it,

Advent and Christmas. All these festivals will be marked but this year will be very different from our ‘normal’. Although Harvest will feature in church the main celebration of harvest will be on our YouTube channel. Most of it was recorded on a farm! Remembrance Sunday will be marked but we are still awaiting guidance from the Royal British legion as to what might be possible. Our All Souls service where we invite all those for whom have taken funerals over the past 12 months will not be possible this year, even though it is

probably more needed this year than ever. What might be possible for the Advent - Christmas season: Christingle?? Carol services??? Midnight mass?

Perhaps a crib service recorded for YouTube in a stable? 

So much of what we would normally do seems impossible. The text for this month is from one of the readings from our Patronal Festival. Paul reminds the church in Corinth of the difficulties and hardships he and his companions faced. When we look at the life of St Denys and his companions we find a similar litany of difficulties and hardships. In fact, the entire story of the

early church could be summarised as one of challenges, struggles, and

difficulties. The ‘good news’ that they proclaimed stood in stark contrast to the reality of their everyday lives: imprisonments, beatings, executions… and yet, they continued to proclaim the good news of God’s love made manifest in Jesus. The story of St Denys reminds us that even after Denys was

decapitated he continued to preach until at last, through loss of blood, he fell and died. The Basilica of St Denys in Paris marks the spot of his death… some distance from Montmartre, the site of the execution.

This year we face significant challenges, but we will continue to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. We will be more creative. The way we do things will have to be different and we may feel a sense of loss about some

services we love. However, the message is still the same: God is with us and loves us more then we can tell.

Fr Philip

 

Well, that was the Summer holidays!

Posted on November 11, 2020 at 2:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Well, that was the Summer holidays! I don’t think the holidays lived up to my expectations but then I’m not sure that I knew what my expectations were. I might have an idea of an ‘ideal holiday’ but fantasy and reality do not often align. And this year was always going to be different! 

However, when I wrote at the beginning of the summer I did not imagine that my wife and family would be caught up in the mad rush to get home from France (she had been visiting her parents) within the 36 hours’ limit before quarantine became compulsory. Neither did I imagine that an easyrelaxing day in the Lakes near Buttermere could turn so quickly until I witnessed a major cycle crash with serious life-limiting, if not life-threatening, injuries. Some 2 hours later the casualty was airlifted to hospital while I continued to give a statement to the police regarding how the accident had occurred. If we add to these incidents the generally wet and windy weather – this was not the summer I had expected! 

But we move on into September and at the end of this month we celebrate the feast of St Michael and All Angels. The text I have chosen for this month comes from the readings for that feast – Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder from heaven. The passage ends with Jacob’s realisation that God is with him – that God is physically in that place. How easy it can be for us to forget that God is in this place – that God is with us! Times may be difficult, the future uncertain but God has not abandoned us – God is still with us. 

I was reminded of this most poignantly on the lakeside fell as I administered first aid to the cycling casualty and awaited help in the form of paramedics. I asked her various question both to ascertain concussion but also, if her condition did deteriorate, I would have more information to pass on to the professionals. I also identified myself by name and that I was a padre in the reserves. She responded to this with joy (well as much joy as you can show when in severe pain and drifting in and out of consciousness) saying that she was a Christian and asked me to pray for her. What a poignant reminder that even in the midst of major trauma and tragedy God is with us. 

Fr Philip

The Summer Holidays Are Here At Last!

Posted on July 22, 2020 at 3:55 AM Comments comments (860)

The Summer holidays are here at last! The schools have broken up! apart from the fact that many children have not been to school for months. I took part in an online leavers service for children from the William Alvey School – a very strange way to end their years at that school. None of the secondary school prizegiving’s took place. In fact, so much of what fills up our usual summer diary has either been cancelled or is happening in such an odd way it bears little relation to what we usually do. Summer fayres have been cancelled (ours included), outdoor theatre and concerts likewise – no brass bands will be found on a park bandstand this year. Cricket has started but a Test Match against the West indies without a crowd of spectators is surreal. Summer holidays – it is possible to get away but unless you are camping it will be a very different experience… and if you try to go abroad it’s possible you might not get back quite so easily!

 One thing that hasn’t changed much is the idea of holiday reading – various newspapers and periodicals are publishing their reading suggestions for summer as they always do. As I like books, I generally peruse these lists to see what I have already read and to see if I can spot something interesting that I might otherwise have missed. Choosing the books I will take away on holiday is more important than choosing the clothes I will take! One big difference this year is that my holiday reading has started a bit earlier than usual – mid-March to be precise. Throughout lockdown I have been reading even more than I usually do! My book of the moment is William Hague’s biography of William Wilberforce (who is commemorated by the CofE on 30 July along with fellow anti-slavery campaigners Thomas Clarkson and Olaudah Equiano). I was inspired to re-read it because of the events around the toppling of Coulston’s statue in Bristol. Two things have struck me reading this book: the length of time it took to change the hearts and minds of people and the parameters that Wilberforce set for the Parliamentary legislation. Rather than abolish slavery, he sought through Parliament to stop the Trans-Atlantic trade (the Middle Passage) in the hope that once this was achieved slavery itself could be tackled. I was struck by his wisdom in this matter.

 In our days when there is so much call for change (some of it radical) I am reminded of the need of Rienhold Niebuhr’s prayer from the early 1930s – a prayer that reminds me of Wilbeforce.

 God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Fr Philip


 

It's Church....but not as we knew it.

Posted on July 10, 2020 at 4:40 AM Comments comments (872)

It's Church....but not as we knew it.  

For many, being locked out of church for three months has been difficult. Communal worship is for many an essential part of their spiritual well-being. We have tried to provide a variety of resources to compensate but it is not the same as gathering around the altar as a community to celebrate the Eucharist together. I have been thinking recently about persecuted Christians, imprisoned for their faith, or the stance they have taken against a corrupt government, cut off from the life of the church and having to rely on hymns and portions of the Bible they could remember by heart for their spiritual sustenance. Driving through the country lanes and looking at the fields coming to harvest I see crops that are not doing as well as they often are due, in part, to the abysmal weather of winter and spring. I thought of the parable of the sower and the fate of seeds landing in different places. I thought about the quality of the roots that they are able to put down. I wonder about our own spiritual roots and what we have been able to tap into that has helped sustain us through these barren months of spiritual wilderness…

 

But the end is in sight… well, the beginning of the end… possibly. We hope to open the doors for public worship (a communion service on the 12th) but it will be very different from what we are used to. The service will not be too dissimilar from the midweek communion that used to be on Wednesday mornings: it will be short (about 30 minutes), we have to record contact details of everyone who attends the service for the purposes of ‘test and trace’ should someone develop symptoms, we are not allowed to sing, only the bread can be received in communion… and that in silence!, seating is limited and socially distanced, and the service will be recorded on video so that those who, for whatever reason, are unable to come to the service can continue to join us via the YouTube channel. I suspect the new way of doing church, that is necessary at present, will feel very strange and remind us that we are still in the wilderness.

Fr Philip

 

The Most Difficult Question

Posted on June 26, 2020 at 5:00 AM Comments comments (1)

About 10 years ago I visited Ghana with a group of teachers as part of a British Council educational exchange. At the end of the trip we were taken to Cape Coast to visit a slave fort. We saw the lodge where the fort commander lived. We saw the dungeon where the male slaves were kept before transportation. We saw the area where the female slaves were held. At first sight this area was a bit better than the men’s dungeon as it had an open courtyard. In the centre of this courtyard was a large stone with a manacle fixed to it. A balcony on the commander’s lodge overlooked the courtyard. The commander would observe the naked female prisoners from his balcony and regularly choose one to take for his pleasure. If she refused, or did not satisfy him, she would be manacled in the centre of the courtyard, flogged, and left to die as a warning to others…

We left this area of the fort and entered the garrison. At the centre of the garrison was a church. The Commander and garrisoned soldiers would regularly attend mass there. And so to the difficult question: I was asked by one of the teachers, ‘How did I, as a priest, make sense of the presence of a church in this fort… where was God in the midst of this inhuman abuse?’

I struggled to answer. I said something about culturally conditioned outward acts of religion (it was what they were expected to do). But I thought that shouldn’t apply to the priest… had he closed his eyes and ears to what went on in the rest of the fort? I said something about the Christian reformers like Wilberforce who fought for the abolition of the Slave Trade. I may have satisfied my questioner, but not myself… I have grappled with that question for years.

My thoughts have returned to Ghana as we have seen statues of slave traders torn down. I have never been one for token gestures (let’s take a knee to show our support…) or keen on the ubiquitous apologies companies and organisations make about past errors whenever the news prompts it, not least because we never seem to get much beyond the gesture or apology…

I wonder how many realise just how complicit the Church of England was with the Slave Trade. Codrington College, Barbados, e.g., is an Anglican Theological College. Christopher Codrington owned sugar plantations in the West indies, two of which he left in his will to a missionary society (that society still exists as USPG) for the formation of a college.

The world today is very different from 200 years ago. Racial inequality still exists (although the historic slave trade is not solely the cause). Our history is far from pleasant, but we must face it and wrestle with it. Token gestures and apologies might assuage some sense of historic guilt, but they are no substitute for wrestling with the difficult past. It is only when we learn from our past that we will truly understand what it means to live in the present and to live for tomorrow. I have grappled with my ‘most difficult question’ for ten years. I have read much and still have questions e.g. about the trade in Africa. But it is so easy to say ‘sorry’ for a slave-trading past we do not fully understand whilst simultaneously ignoring the plight of many modern days slaves trafficked to this country to work in the sex industry, to give but one example of many.

Fr Philip

 

Pentecost

Posted on June 26, 2020 at 5:00 AM Comments comments (6)

The Bible verse I have chosen for this edition comes from the principal reading for the Feast of Pentecost. It is one of my favourite Bible verses! You might think that a bit odd but let me explain. To put the verse into context, the disciples have left the safe space of the upper room and gone into the streets telling people about Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. If that wasn’t hard enough for the townsfolk to get their heads around the disciples were proclaiming this message in a wide variety of languages – it must have been a babble of noise, a cacophony of sound. Luke (who wrote the Book of Acts) records two very different responses by the people on the streets. The first response is what we might expect: ‘What does this mean?’ Here we perhaps detect awe, wonder – a desire to understand: all the things we might expect. The second response is different: ‘They are filled with new wine.’ This may remind you (as it does me of Beaujolais Nouveau – and the annual festival when the new wine arrives) but it doesn’t really help us to get to grips with what was really implied. A good English colloquial translation might be to say that they have ‘had a skin full’ – in other word s they were drunk. The fact that it was ‘new wine’ implied that it was unmatured hence sweet and easy to drink and drink to excess before you realised how much you had drunk (perhaps not so dissimilar to the Beaujolais Nouveau festival I went to a few years ago!) Just in case his readers hadn’t got the point Luke tells us the people who said this also sneered.

The reason I love these verses is that they say so much about humans – they remind me that we haven’t changed much over the last 2000 years. Over the last few weeks we have seen this dual response time and again: some people stick rigidly to the lockdown guidance whilst others sneer and flout the rules assuming it doesn’t apply to them. Some believe we are all doomed whilst others believe it to be a great conspiracy theory. Some do all that they can to support the NHS (clap on Thursdays, sew scrubs or face masks; others act recklessly putting greater strain on health services (this week mountain rescue teams have been called out to numerous incidents involving climbers or mountain bikers who injured themselves in the hills).

It is so easy to sneer or ridicule. Is it any wonder the disciples hid away in the upper room for fear! Who would listen? Who would take them seriously? But perhaps the reason we sneer or ridicule is that we don’t want to listen, for if we listen we might be challenged about the way we think or live. For many this period of isolation and lockdown has been a time of re-appraisal; a time to reconsider our priorities about what is important, a time to look at the world around us through fresh eyes. As we begin the long, slow journey out of isolation it will be so easy to be cynical about what we can or cannot do. When we do feel like that let us remember those who sneered at the early disciples and take a second look at ourselves.

Fr Philip

Rogantiontide

Posted on May 18, 2020 at 3:40 AM Comments comments (1)

This weekend is rogationtide. It is part of the church’s agricultural year – along with plough Sunday and harvest. One of the ancient rogationtide traditions is to beat the bounds, that is, to walk the boundaries of the parish. This might have been a grand procession with crucifer, acolytes, statues of the Virgin , Mary or the patron saint, robed clergy etc…, or a more modest affair where choirboys got into skirmishes with the lads from a neighbouring parish… Whatever the scale, the purpose was essentially the same: to pray for the parish, encircling the fields that would provide food for the coming winter. The people would ask God’s blessing on their fields and so acknowledge their dependence on God for the coming harvest and, by extension, their well-being.

This year I will probably not be beating the bounds of Sleaford (as I have occasionally done). Even with the slight relaxing of the lockdown and the possibility of unlimited exercise (one friend commented to me that of all the things they might wish to be unlimited, exercise was not one of them!) which means beating the bounds is possible, my thoughts about rogation have gone in a different direction this year. The text for the week is from the Old Testament reading for rogationtide. The people of Israel have been in the wilderness for 40 years but now they are about to enter the promised land. The wilderness experience is a major theme in Israel’s self-understanding. It was in the wilderness that they learned about God and their dependence on God.

For many the last 8 weeks have been a bit like a wilderness: a spiritual wilderness, a social wilderness, an employment wilderness. These past few weeks I have been thinking about what it means for the doors of the church to be locked. I’m not so concerned for the regular congregation but I am concerned for those who often popped into the church to find a quiet place to think and prayer and find peace and sanctuary in the midst of busy (and sometimes confusing) lives. I am thinking of those unable to work – furloughed on 80% of their salary – and the financial insecurity that goes with it. I am thinking of those who are isolated, lonely, unable to get out, unable to see family or friends.

This rogationtide it is more important than ever that we pray for our town and community, and ask God’s blessing on us all, that by his grace and mercy our community may one again flourish and that through this wilderness experience we may have learned more about ourselves, our priorities and our need of God.

Fr Philip

 

May Day

Posted on May 18, 2020 at 3:40 AM Comments comments (6)

MAY MESSAGE

from The Rev’d Philip Johnson

May Day is also the feast of St Philip & St James. I have a particular affinity for St Philip, and not just because we share a name. Philip is the disciple who often says what I suspect most of the others are thinking. Jesus has just spoken about his father’s house with many rooms – a text I use regularly at funerals – but the disciples have not really understood what Jesus means. There is almost exasperation in Philip’s voice when he asks to be shown the Father so that he (and the others) might be satisfied.

 I wonder what being satisfied means for us today? This period of lockdown has been hard for many… it has also been a time of questioning and adjustment: what are the most important things for our well-being? Regularly I see people out walking (often hand-in-hand) or on a bike ride with their children – far more often than I ever did before lockdown. Is it happening more often or am I just noticing it because I have more time to look? Last Sunday the air ambulance landed in the field opposite the vicarage. All of the neighbours came out of their houses, not simply to see what was happening but to check on each other – concern that one of us might be in need of this medical service. It is just a small thing, like clapping NHS and essential workers, but these are perhaps symptomatic of deeper changes. The lack of cars on the roads has led to noticeable changes in climate data. This lockdown has forced us to live differently and we will learn something from it – and perhaps that might be a re-estimation or where true worth and value lies.

 St Philip wanted to be satisfied and see the Father and yet failed to see what was right in front of him. He took Jesus for granted, not realising that Jesus was already offering all that he needed. He needed to slow down and reflect on what Jesus said. He had to go through the pain of the crucifixion and resurrection before he realised that in Jesus, the Father was already with them. How easy it is to fail to recognise the value of what we already have!

 



 

 

 

Easter Message

Posted on May 18, 2020 at 3:35 AM Comments comments (6)

This has been the oddest Holy Week I have ever known. Someone described it as the ‘Lentiest, Lent they have ever Lented!’ There is far more in that flippant comment than first meets the eye. Lent is not just about giving up things – and we have all been giving up far more than we expected! – it is about re-assessing who we are and how we might change; a lament for our current situation but with the hope before us of knowing more of Christ. The joy of the resurrection on Easter day is the fulfilment of the Lenten hope. But what of this year? Our enforced isolation is set to continue; the church doors, schools, etc remain closed, fear abounds, - fear for health, financial security, well-being…

 

On that first Easter Day the disciples were locked in a room together, overwhelmed with fear. Their world had fallen apart. Everything that had kept them busy for the last three years was at an end – they really did not know what to do with themselves. Their hope had died on the cross too. And over it all was the shadow of fear. But into this scene Jesus appeared and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

 

From this revelation of the resurrection hope began to grow. They still faced a difficult future but hope had returned. In recent days I have seen signs of hope in our world: fish returning to the canals of Venice, mountain goats in central Llandudno, wildlife more evident everywhere, the hole in the ozone layer shrinking, a community spirit of helping the most vulnerable, support for NHS workers… the list could go on. These are all signs of hope for our town and our world. This Lent has, perhaps helped us all to re-evaluate what is most important both in the world and in our lives. And that is a good place from which to celebrate the joy of resurrection – God’s gift to us of life in all its fulness.

Fr Philip

 

Coronacle

Posted on May 18, 2020 at 3:35 AM Comments comments (0)

CORONACLE – no, we haven’t made a ridiculous spelling mistake! It is a hybrid of Coronavirus and Chronicle and it is our new weekly newsletter to keep lines of communication open during this period when public worship in the church has been suspended. We are in strange and unprecedented times and all of us are learning the essentials of living through it. Things that we have taken for granted are now difficult. Feeling part of a community and having regular contact with others by phone, or some other means, is more important than ever. For those that have access to the internet I am using Twitter to publish a Bible verse for the day. There are also videos of services recorded twice a week. All of these can be accessed through our parish website. Not everyone will be able to access these resources and this weekly digest will attempt to fill that gap. But there is more to being a community than worshipping together. For some the inability to get out to the shops – or find what they need when they do get there – is severely restricting. We do have some volunteers that can help those that need it – with shopping or simply picking up a phone to check that all is okay. Being in lock-down is not pleasant but do remember that after the crucifixion the disciples were in a locked room, but Jesus came and stood amongst them and reveal his resurrection. Even when we cannot get to church God is still with us wherever we are.

 Fr Philip


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