FR MARC FOR ST JAMES

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NEWLY RETURNED from their happy days at All Saints’ Douglas, Isle of Man, it was great to be with Fr Marc and Julie Wolverson, and Daniel and Leah, an hour North from here, for Marc’s Institution as Vicar of Leyland St James. Warm hospitality and welcome were extended by Bishop John Goddard of Burnley, Archdeacon John Hawley, a host of local clergy and the people of St James’ who had generously gifted a banqueting table very heavily laden!

Eighteen years ago the journey took a little longer as, to have the honour of preaching at Marc and Julie’s Wedding, I had to fly to Covington, Louisiana – flying through one of the most vigorous thunder and lightning storms I’ve ever encountered and having, therefore, to land in Baton Rouge before flying on to New Orleans. But what a happy and blessed occasion that wedding was (hat-tip to Fr L Stephen Holzhalb III of Christ Church Covington, often remembered) – and meeting up with Marc’s parents again this evening was a real joy.

Bishop John spoke this evening of our shared vocations to hospitality and friendship – with God, with the World and with one another. Leyland hospitality is top-notch. And the Wolverson family are hugely gifted in the art of friendship. Looks like they, together with St James Leyland, are going to be a very happy match indeed.

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SAME THING MANY DIFFERENT WAYS

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HUGO GOT IT immediately – the point and purpose of our 10am Kaleidoscope Mass, the first of twelve, one a month, on the first Sunday of the month, for twelve months. 

Hugo, when I asked him what he’d seen when he looked through a kaleidoscope, said

I’ve seen the same thing, many different ways

WHAT THE CHURCH IS FOR

And that’s what the Church is for! More than that, it’s what LIFE is for. Seeing the same thing, many different ways.

(Everyone gets a chance for a look: we’ll be passing a dozen or more of the marvellous instruments around during each “Kaleidoscope Mass” and then offering them back to God, collected in a basket – the offering of ourselves in our “many colours” and our innumerable perspectives).

MAKING A EUCHARISTICALLY THANKFUL PEOPLE

We’ve been wanting to draw younger people, and older people, and every age in between, into deeper ways of celebrating and making Eucharist (making thanksgiving, offering thankfulness, redemption and peace) together. How can we make connections between “the Lord’s Table”, the altar, in Church, and the “the Lord’s Table” at home, in kitchens and dining rooms?

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RE-MEMBERING

Can we encourage one another, by the grace of this Sacrament, to remember and re-member the faithfully Jewish Jesus of Nazareth – and the grace and love he proposed for all people – every time we “eat this bread and drink this cup” – whether “at Mass / Holy Communion / the Eucharist / the Lord’s Supper” in Church, or at daily breakfast, lunch, hillside picnic for 5000, or dinner?

Can we encourage one another to believe that our Christ (ie Christos – “anointed” and commissioned) intended, brilliantly, that this universal human act and need (eating and drinking) could, and might still, make communion for every child and woman and man upon earth, of whatever faith tradition, or of none. Can we see that “redemption” is a calling each of us back home to our senses? – to OUR vocation to be “christos”, called and commissioned in our world, in our time, today.

WE’RE ALIVE – THANK GOD!

How do we remind ourselves that sacramental sign and symbol is given to point us to universal (catholic – inclusive – applicable for all in every time and every place) truths? How do we help each other in Church, and at home, and at work to make a holy communion? How can we help one another to be a truly eucharistic (thanks-giving) people, thereby enabling one another to be truly, thankfully conscious of being alive?

How do we re-member, how do we “put flesh on the bones” of the Body of Christ now on earth?

… Gather us in, the lost and forsaken, gather us in, the blind and the lame; call to us now, and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name.

We are the young, our lives are a mystery, we are the old who yearn for your face; we have been sung throughout all of history, called to be light to the whole human race. Gather us in, the rich and the haughty, gather us in, the proud and the strong; give us a heart, so meek and so lowly, give us the courage to enter the song.

Marty Haugen

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TOGETHER

Well: by doing it TOGETHER. And by seeing and hearing and imagining the message of a Kaleidoscope – an instrument that presents a single vision initially, and an attractive enough one at that. But it gets better when there’s some interaction, when we engage with a bit of what the Greeks call “metanoia” or “repentance” – a turning around. When we turn the viewer around we begin to see things from many different perspectives, many different times, traditions, native origins, birthrights – many different places. We begin to see the same thing, many different ways. We recognise again, as though for the first time, a great Love at the heart of all Life that seems to be be calling us all to be one: to be a holy communion.

FLEXIBLY

How though? How …?

Well: flexibility is a fundamental. And there has to be both fun and some proper solemnity – perhaps better called “depth”. We’ve found it helpful to have a big carpet for people who like to sit on the floor, with a doll or a teddy or a granny, to be able to. And we like things we can shake to make a joyful noise when we sing. And when we shake things we find that they shake us and so there’s a kind of a “Lord of the Dance” without any effort.

There has to be, for us, something of the glory of liturgy – or “the work of the people” – and we need as many as possible to be directly, physically involved. So today a very small, very young, very smiley boy headed the procession bearing a very special, very small processional cross, specially made by our very smiley Sexton.

UNSEEMLY SCRUM? or LIGHT, HOSPITALITY & HUMILITY?

And one of our churchwardens brought coloured lanterns for acolytes, borne aloft by six youngsters, encircling two more as they proclaimed the Gospel. We looked at kaleidoscopes, and the children presented a brief “It’s My Party” at which an unseemly scrum took place as some naughty people fought for best place – learning quickly and solemnly that that doesn’t make for Communion – and it’s always a wider, eternal invitation that makes for a real union. Hospitality calls for humility – on the part of both giver and receiver.

And we engaged with lavabo – washing each other’s hands; and raising bread and celebrating with wine, together (some behind and around me, some before and beside me) – together, we gave the thanks. And took, and blessed, and broke, and gave – and were fed – and were taken, and blessed, and broken, and given.

LIKE BEING AT HOME

And then we didn’t want to go home. Perhaps because we felt we were home. Sherry and squash at the West End. A buzz. Catching up on the News – and a whole host of views, about Syria, and song, and nail varnish. We didn’t want to go home. For quite a long time. Thankful. Eucharistic. Our first Kaleidoscope Mass. Seeing the same thing, differently. New life taking wing. Something new to sing.

Will it work well for twelve months? No-one can tell. But today was great. The Lord was doing a new thing. It’s very likely that in twelve months (or even before then) we’ll need another rethink. So be it. But that will involve team work, like this one, as well.

THANKS BE TO GOD

Next one, Sunday 6th October – Dedication & Inclusion – with Messy Church on 28th September in between …

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THE TASK

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MISSIONS SUNDAY in the parish today. Comings and Goings. Fifteen Mission Agencies visiting and speaking about / displaying their various excellent works. Paul Critchlow delivered a marvellous homily at 8am on behalf of Church Army. Isobel Garlick represented International Water Aid at 9am. I preached about the need for a worldwide uniting vision at 10.45am.

Rachael Elizabeth – asked us last Sunday to trust God and to “Be Opened”. Today we said farewell to her, for the time being, as Rachael will begin her studies in Theology in Lampeter at the end of next week. We bless her on her way, thanking God for Rachael's own trust and openness, and glad that she was able to be with us to hear the news we've just announced about her friend …

Paul David Deakin If all goes according to plan the Bishop of Chester will ordain Paul David Deakin to the Office of Deacon in July 2013, to “Serve his Title” (as assistant curate) in our parish. Currently studying at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield Paul will be returning to his “sending parish” – a relatively rare occurrence. The news was received with joy and we will continue to hold Paul, Angela and their sons in our daily thoughts and prayers

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It gladdens my heart that wonderful women and men of goodwill are blessed with the ability to hear the Call of God in our day, and to respond to that call joyfully, willingly and sacrificially. Janet, Graham, Marina, Tracy, John, Jill, Yvonne, Mimi, Ralph, Jenny, Tricia, Geb, Rebecca, Diane, Jill, Phil, Sue, David, Rachael, Paul, Ann, Bob, Ria, Ivon, Sheila, Michael, Val, Frank, Lynn, Jonnie, Margaret, Bryan – a glad and glorious procession – all these live and work in company with countless others … all of whom are known and loved and appreciated by name in the Heart of God.

The Mission of God – opening eyes, unstopping ears, bringing peace to troubled hearts and minds, breaking down barriers – especially those built by mistaken religious intent and politics-gone-bad – warped in favour of power-gone-mad, building, calling, feeding, giving water to the thirsty, healing, learning, praying, pleading, teaching – this is the joyful promise and claim of the reign (what some call the “Kingdom”) of God. And to get there takes no time …

Blessed be the Source of Life's Goodness!

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

The Kingdom
RS Thomas

 

 

GEOFFREY, PRESBYTER

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IT’S SUCH A PRIVILEGE to be invited to preach in the Name of God when one’s friends and loved ones are celebrating. Wonderful Eucharistic Worship was offered this evening at Trinity Methodist / United Reformed Church in Cheadle, and presbyter Geoffrey Stephen Clarke was honoured on the twentieth anniversary of his ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. He’s a treasure, and widely recognised as such. Prayers of Intercession shared by one his young colleagues thanked our good God for “Geoffrey’s special gift of being himself – especially when he’s happy and also when he’s being grumpy”.

I thank God for Geoffrey’s faithfulness, friendship, joy, kindness, liberality of heart and mind, loyalty and all encompassing embrace. Geoffrey believes passionately, as I do, that we need to look after each other. And he puts that belief into practice – which is why many – including friends and colleagues from across the deniminational / theological boundaries – were simply delighted to be present to “look after” him – and Judith, and their two splendid sons tonight.

Geoffrey, beloved presbyter, thank you for hearing the call – and for calling us to walk in right pathways.

What’s Ministry about? – I asked tonight. Well, gratefully, I’m going to sign off this happy day with some words sent to me this morning by another priest – the clarity and generosity of whose message remind me of that offered by Jesus Himself.

No reply will be a good sign that you are not trying to keep up with emails – delete this – it’s an email signifying an arm round your shoulder wishing you well.

So may God’s Kingdom come: “on earth as it is in Heaven”. All love and blessing for this particular sender – and for many other wonderful people around the world who share “good news” with me by simply being who they are – when they’re happy and also when they’re grumpy! …

MINISTRY SHARED

AN INSPIRING meeting with our large chalice ministers team tonight – the inspiration coming not so much from words and more from Grace at work in the whole team. The meeting lasted over an hour, so great is the desire on the part of those called to this ministry of service to get it absolutely right. Care and carefulness in liturgy can be, at times, demonstrably inspirited, and even have a happy lightness of touch about it. I’m grateful to be part of such a ministry.

WHAT’S GOOD NEWS?

I’M OFF TO A DAY CONFERENCE on “Catholic Evangelism” tomorrow. I’m not wholly sure whether it’s going to be about Catholic Evangelism (capital C, capital E) or catholic evangelism (small c, small e), and I’m rather hoping for the latter … hoping, that is to say, for a catholic evangelism that really is about good news (evangelism) universally applied (catholic), ie, for everybody – no matter their “faith tradition” or lack thereof – everywhere.

I’ve spent a very great deal of my life passionately pondering what exactly constitutes good news, and in particular why having some sort of acknowledged relationship to / with the Source of our lives might matter – to individuals, to communities, to nations, to our world, to the whole created order – some of these whole and healthy, some desperately broken, hurting, and in need of that Divine touch that brings healing. And I’m consistently finding that old definitions of what it means to be Catholic, or Protestant, or Christian, or shades in between all of these, don’t fit all sizes any more, if they ever did.

Christ everywhere …

What constitutes Good News in a ‘catholic’, pluralistic world? Where is an / our anointed Christ to be found? (as I’m sure such a Christ is indeed to be found, anywhere in the world, and across the world’s faith traditions). And the questions are so important to me because as a Christian priest, seeking always to live and learn – to be a disciple – after the pattern of Jesus of Nazareth, I have observed that some kinds of Catholic, some kinds of Protestant, and some kinds of “Christian” plainly do not represent very good news for many people at all. So catholic evangelism must be something quite different, something much more open, something prepared always to be held to account as to the reach of what it purports to be good news. Catholic evangelism will not, I think, be too prescriptive.

Feast of life for all

Catholic evangelism will offer the “feast of life” to people in the “highways and byways” won’t it? Catholic evangelists, personal and corporate, will have dismantled their drawbridges. Catholic evangelism will be less concerned (although not wholly unconcerned) with the Faith of our Fathers and hugely more concerned with Faith Being Received Today. When I’ve asked adults over the past thirty years whether they’d like to come to confirmation classes, so that they can be presented to the bishop, confirmed, and thereafter receive Holy Communion many have politely declined. When I’ve offered the Sacrament of Holy Communion “no questions asked” it has been the case, more frequently than I can count, that the recipient has ended up doing the asking, seeking to confirm a present and acknowledged reality – satisfied hunger – in their lives.

Let’s explore!

And I remember that Jesus was ever ready to go the extra mile for children, too. “Do not try to stop them for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”. Catholic evangelists will work hard at becoming more, well … catholic – so that they’re more plainly seen to be, well … “Christian” or “Anointed”. Catholic evangelists will be interested in marginalised multi-tasking-capable women, tax collectors, prodigal sons, unimaginative but very opinionated men, quieter and more imaginative men, too, and in lost sheep. Catholic evangelism won’t chastise the lost sheep for having left the fold in order to “explore”, still less tell the poor creature that God forbids it. Instead truly catholic evangelists (like Jesus of Nazareth) will make the fold larger so that there’s the space for MORE sheep to engage in the business of exploration, to engage, that is to say, in their God-given Life!

The Sound of Silence

One of the biggest growth areas in our parish (liberal Catholic with blurry edges – a bit like my paintings!) – has been a call to shared and silent meditation in the parish church – arriving and departing in companionable silence. No coffee or handing out electoral roll forms afterwards. And numbers in excess of many a church’s entire Sunday congregation have responded to a call – we believe a Divine call – to dwell for a space, together in the “house for the Church”, to wait upon the Word that touches life in silence. (The Word – not words. There’s not “even” a Bible reading). It’s life-changing, say many participants. It’s the only occasion in my month when I’m really and deeply aware of the heartbeat of God, the pulse of life, say others. This silence, this “that’s not very Catholic” but absolutely catholic encounter is breathing into our common life new elements of what it means to bear good news in our lives today, what it means, first and foremost to BE the Body of Christ now on earth, what it means to be religious in the original sense of the word (religare) – reconnected, re-membered. Restored to what we’ve forgotten.

Old assumptions yield

So whether tomorrow proves to be slanted more to Catholic Evangelism, or to catholic evangelism, I hope we’ll be asking the same question – What is Good News? – at least sometimes. Because, remembering Louis MacNeice’s Mutations again:

… old assumptions yield to new sensations.
The Stranger in the Wings is waiting for his cue.
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation …

A TENDER RECOGNITION

Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she replied ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her. John 20.11-18

THE MARY MAGDALENE of my own imagination doesn’t look at all like some of those depressing religious pictures. Not a haloed saint, not miserably gazing upon a skull set down in the middle of her dressing table, not wanton, bare-breasted, or mournfully reflecting upon her dreadfulness and that of others “of her kind”. No, my Mary Magdalene, first apostle, is an ordinarily beautiful, fully alive, self-aware, tactile, tender, practical, imaginative and lovely young woman. Human and humane. Someone possessed of an extraordinary ability to empathise, a bit of a loner perhaps, someone who “gets it” when Jesus speaks, someone who, just because she’s lovely – inside and out – is great to be around. And Jesus loves her.

I don’t know who made the gorgeous image above – (I’d love to know – and would gladly credit it) – but here’s the girl in my heart, using her own imagination to tell Jesus that she understands more than perhaps even he thinks she does; that she loves him; that loving him heals her and makes her whole; that her love might bring something of healing to him.

Here’s the Mary I imagine went on from this Prologue – this genesis, this in-the-flesh close-breathing, this out-of-the-ordinary, tearful, beyond-the-Law touching of the Word-before-time, this “costly” anointing, this first moment of tender intimacy, and wholly mutual acceptance – to have a thousand little conversations with Jesus, long before the ultimate events of what we’ve come to call Holy Week (“it’s no wonder they call you the Master, love. None of us have ever met or dreamed about someone quite like you”). A thousand little conversations about what was to be in the future, their future, everybody’s future (the future of R S Thomas’ “mirrors in which the blind look at themselves and Love looks at them back”) – after the “return” to “my father and your father”, to Where we came from.

Mary, imagine …, Mary, turn around …, Mary, can you feel it? …, Mary, the colours …, Mary, the joy of it …

Yes, I can imagine. I want to imagine. We all do. But if you died first, Jesus, God knows what I’ll do. You must be careful. We need you. Don’t strain so. O God. I know you’ll have to go. And I shall want you to, of course. Yes, we’ve talked about it often enough. But will you really come back to me? From the inside out? Jesus, I believe. Help me when my heart breaks. Help me in my unbelief …

Mary, Mary, Mary. I will. I will. I truly believe we’ll find each other on the inside …

If fully human Jesus was Everyman then Mary of Magdala is Everywoman. To prostitute her memory is wicked calumny – (how many unseeing men, half-dead, dull-in-heart-and-mind-and-head, have done that through the centuries?) – calumny of a kind that has led, and still leads, to immeasurable sickness of head and heart and soul and mind and body. Masculine and feminine, each needs the other. ( Both traits found in both women and in men, heterosexual or homosexual – it’s an “other” that’s the key requirement here). Thank God that the crisis wrought by precisely that sickness, and agonisingly recognised as the “hole in the heart” not just of the Church but of humankind generally today, can hardly help now but to point humankind everywhere on earth towards the light of a “more excellent”, a wholly more natural, and healthier, God-given way.

Human relationships, as much as for any of the ways we relate to the Divine, are not to be patronising, patriarchal, law-bound, or shame-laden. Human relationships will thrive, and the reign of God come to be felt among us, when they instinctively include, and resist exclusion. Love is not to be imprisoned or entombed. And, post-crisis, then and now, a wider-reaching Love is here to stay. Though patience is still required, though sin and death appear yet, in places, still to prevail, a new way of loving is here to stay. A new Way, a new Truth, a new Life.

Mr Vernon Dursley to Harry Potter about a certain (Wise old? Dove-like?) owl:

‘If you can’t control that owl, it’ll have to go!’
Harry tried, yet again, to explain.
‘She’s bored,’ he said. ‘She’s used to flying around outside. If I could just let her out at night …’
‘Do I look stupid?’ snarled Uncle Vernon, a bit of fried egg dangling from his bushy moustache. ‘I know what’ll happen if that owl’s let out.’
He exchanged dark looks with his wife, Petunia.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J K Rowling

On Resurrection Day, “when it dawns on us”, in Mary and in Jesus, Wisdom is encountered entre deux. Wisdom’s used to flying around outside, she’s done so since the genesis of things, and before that, too; she carries messages home – for the inside, the God-side. Yes, there’s real intimacy here, a communicating communion sort of a business. But an early lesson in wisdom for all humankind is “do not cling”. Let him, let her, fly. Let the Spirit blow where She listeth. Something’s dawning. Look at the sky.

Ascension – returning – to the fullness of God lies yet ahead, though this very Resurrection morning it is an energising Hope. A hope that will ultimately change the course of the history of worlds. For there will be a returning, a tender returning, a deeply intimate, glorious, colourful, joyful, prayerful, fulsome returning for Everyone to the One who is both “my father and your father”. Don’t cling today beautiful Mary. But, believe me, lovely, knowing, wise and giving Mary, the day will dawn when we may cling, and we may laugh, and we may talk and pray and sing “We’re an Easter people! All of us! And alleluia is our song”.

And on that day I believe Jesus will be heard greeting his Mary of Madgdala as Rabbuni. Teacher. Master … She’s beautiful. Just like this painting. An ordinary, beautiful girl. Just sometimes a little bit wild. And she gets it, perhaps she is, Wisdom.

Jan Richardson and her husband Garrison Coles have made the
exquisitely beautiful The Hours of Mary Magdalene. Enjoy it here