Many years ago, longer ago than I care to remember, I was just a couple of months into my very first post in the church after leaving college.
And there came a rather frantic knocking on my door on a Saturday night about 10 o’clock. I opened the door to a rather distressed young man. To say he was panicking is really a bit of an understatement. He had been to the vicarage, he said, and the vicarage was empty – it would be, because the vicar was away on holiday. He was getting married in a few weeks at another church, he told me, and he had completely forgotten to get his banns read. The priest who was performing the ceremony had just reminded him. Was there still time? He’d been told that without the banns being called he couldn’t get married. For those who don’t know – in England the banns have to be called in churches where people live, in case anyone knows a legal reason why they shouldn’t get married, on three Sundays before the wedding.
Well, I sat him down and calmed him down, and we worked out that there were still – just – three Sundays left before the wedding. Being new at the job I knew nothing about the legalities of banns of marriage, but I worked it out and we called the banns.
I subsequently discovered that, technically, he hadn’t given the required notice, and that I should have told him to apply to the Bishop for a special licence, but I’m really rather glad I didn’t know that at the time. I think it might have pushed him right over the edge.Continue reading
For the fourth Sunday of Advent this year the gospel reading was Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation. Here’s what I said.
Life is complicated. And it’s only human to want to be in total control. And yet, we know that however hard we try life has a habit of not turning out quite how we want it to.
And we end up asking ourselves that question that is all too often unanswerable.
What if … ?
It might be about the past – we wonder if life might have turned out differently if we’d made different decisions, different choices.
What if I’d worked harder at school and passed my exams?
What if I’d said “yes” when he asked me to marry him?
What if I’d accepted that job offer?
What if I hadn’t drunk too much that night?
Well, it’s all over for another year, with people across the country wondering what on earth to watch on TV last night – we certainly were! Yes, a week ago yesterday Stacey Dooley and her partner Kevin Clifton were crowned Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing with the Stars outside the UK) champions for 2018, with Kevin shouting out live on air, “it’s a Christmas miracle.“Continue reading
Last Wednesday, the 15th August, was the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated by Christians around the world. At St John’s we kept the feast this Sunday, it being the Sunday within the octave of the feast. Here’s what I said.
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I am addicted to the ITV reality singing competition The Voice. I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that I have never watched a single edition of the ITV reality singing competition The X-Factor. Whether you like these programmes or not, like me you may well be amazed me that seems to be endless supply of young people desperate to be plucked from obscurity and rewarded with fame and fortune. They are all convinced that they can sing. Whether it’s the X-Factor or The Voice there are plenty of would-be stars – as to whether they have any talent or not, that’s for the public to judge. And then there are always those who say, “I’ve wanted to be a singer all my life!” Well – the pedant in me wants to say to them, “No, you haven’t – you didn’t want to be a singer when you were six months old!”
Today we come together to honour a young woman to whom the prospect of being plucked from obscurity and thrust into worldwide stardom simply never would have occurred. Such things are a product of our age, of course – there was nothing equivalent in 1st century Palestine. She was simply one teenage girl among thousands of others. And what had she wanted to do all her life? Well, she probably had no expectations of anything other than getting married and bearing children – that was life for women in 1st century Palestine. Though as far as we know she had spent her life in the service of God – certainly Church tradition would have us believe that, and that belief would be supported by the words of Gabriel when he came to announce to her that she had been chosen, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Continue reading
Here is the sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent – the gospel reading is Luke’s account of the annunciation.
When I was growing up Christmas presents were always surprises. You never knew what you were getting until you woke up on Christmas Day morning and starting ripping the paper off the presents. Well – you didn’t know unless you’d been doing some snooping around mum and dad’s bedroom before Christmas. My dad took to hiding them in the loft, little realising that getting into the loft was no barrier for a determined child.
These days people seem to have become accustomed to letting parents, wives, husbands, children know what they want for Christmas – and any element of surprise is taken away. Continue reading
Today, the 15th of August, Christians around the world celebrate the woman chosen by God to bring his Son into the world – Mary. At St John’s we kept the feast last Sunday, and followed it with our customary celebration for the occasion with pre-lunch drinks in the vicarage garden. Here’s my sermon for the occasion.
Every year thousands of young people, desperate for fame and fortune, audition for TV shows such as The Voice UK or the X-Factor. They’re all apparently convinced of their magnificent voices and star quality.
Of course, not everyone has star quality. Those of you who who are familiar with X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talents will know that Simon Cowell can be somewhat forthright when dealing with some of the competitors. As he said to one X-Factor contestant: If you were the only one in the competition, you couldn’t win it. And to another: My advice would be if you want to make a career in the music business, don’t.
And my favourite, to a contestant whose day job was as a lifeguard: Continue reading
Yesterday Christians around the world kept the feast of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is the name we give to the event when Jesus took three of his disciples up a mountain, and something amazing happened. Here’s what I said.
You know what it’s like!
Some friends invite you round for a meal. And what do they do? They get out the photo album. Or more likely, these days, they get out their phone or iPad, with their ability to take endless photos! First it’s the holiday photos. And then it’s the photos of the children. And you struggle to pretend that you’re really interested – your eyes start to glaze over and you keep saying, “Yes, that’s really nice …” without meaning it. Continue reading
This Sunday we kept the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It actually falls on the 15th and in common with many churches we celebrated it on the 14th. Here’s what I said:
Given the increasing shortage of priests you’d think that the Church of England would be falling over itself to welcome anyone who was foolhardy enough to offer themselves for training for the priestly ministry. But I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that that is not the case. I’ve known quite a few people over the years who have expressed interest. Some got put off by the pay and conditions of service. Some realized that it just wasn’t for them. Others made it as far as the selection process. Only a handful were actually chosen to go and train to be priests.
The problem is it’s not easy knowing whether someone is called to be a priest in the Church. For the Church is not like other careers. It doesn’t matter how highly qualified you are or how able you might be – the Church has to decide whether God actually wants you to be a priest regardless of what your other qualifications might be. Important, of course, for the church to be able to discern the kind of people that God is calling. So the Church provides a very helpful 24-page document entitled Criteria for Selection for the Ordained Ministry in the Church of England.
And the introduction to the guide covers such aspects of the selection procedures as:
- The vocation criterion
- Gathering evidence
- Assessing potential and risk
- Developmental and non-developmental issues
Riveting reading. And the guide goes on to cover various aspects of a person’s makeup: spirituality, relationships, personality and character, leadership and collaboration, faith and so on – and I particularly like this one – quality of mind.
All important stuff, of course. I wonder whether God’s ever read it? Continue reading
Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. As is so often the custom these days, we kept at in church on the nearest Sunday, two days early. As always, we finished the mass with a candlelit procession to the hymn Ye who own the faith of Jesus, finishing at the font which is at the main entrance of the church. We then have a short ceremony to end with, reminding us that Jesus, the Light for the world, calls us to go out into our world to show his light to others. Here is what I said:
If any day in the year could be said to have an identity crisis it must surely be February 2nd. I erroneously went and told the children at our school on Wednesday that it had three different titles. The curate I live with, when I was telling her about this afterwards, reminded me of two I’d missed out. Five different titles for one day! I’d be amazed if anyone could tell me all five!
The children were able to tell me one of them straight away! Yes – February 2nd is, of course, Groundhog Day! The belief, originating from central Europe and now widely celebrated in North America, is that the groundhog emerges from his burrow where he has been hibernating and pokes his head out to see what the weather is like. If it’s sunny and he can see his shadow he goes back to sleep because winter is coming back. If it’s windy and wet or snowy then winter is coming to an end, so he emerges because spring is round the corner. It’s the same tradition that is celebrated in the old English rhyme which also gives us the second of the five titles:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
If Candlemas Day be wind and rain,
Winter has gone and will not come again.
Though I much prefer this poem about the groundhog which I shared with our school children: Continue reading
Last Sunday was the fourth Sunday of Advent, and as we approach Christmas our thoughts turn towards the coming nativity. This year, being the year of Luke, our gospel reading gives us Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth, and her famous song of praise the Magnificat.
Don’t you sometimes have a great day – a day when the sun is shining and the birds are singing and the temperature is just right. A day when you feel really good. A day when, as you’re walking down the street you feel like bursting into song and singing, “Oh, what a beautiful morning!” Because it’s a beautiful day and like Howard Keel in Oklahoma you’ve got a beautiful feeling that everything’s going your way. Perhaps you feel like that this morning! Well, perhaps not! Particularly this close to Christmas Day with so much still to do to get ready. But most of us have a day like that now and then – just not as often as we would like. Continue reading