With the church closed from the end of March because of the Coronavirus restrictions, the Eucharist is now celebrated at 10.00 each Sunday from Katharine’s sitting room in the Rectory. The sermons are from these services that can be viewed on St Giles’ YouTube channel.
Sunday 17 May Easter 6 by Katharine Rumens
Acts 17: 22 – 31 John 14: 15 – 21
Mary Lennox, Harry Potter, Peter Pan. All children liberated from the expectations and limitations of those who have parents. Children who found themselves, thus unimpeded on the threshold of adventures - because they were orphans and there were no parents to get in the way. They were not like other, ordinary children to whom such adventures did not happen.
In life and in adulthood, I don’t know if Marilyn Munroe, Malcolm X or John Lennon attributed their being exceptional people to the fact that they too were orphans.
Sit in the café at Coram Fields and see the names of orphans from life and literature named from floor to ceiling on the walls around you. Go into the museum and see the display of tokens of the mothers who, two hundred years ago, gave up their babies to the Foundling Hospital
The heart-shaped disc token for an unknown child engraved with the words “You have my Heart though we must Part.” The button, the scrap of fabric, the nut – other tokens left with the child so that one day, perhaps one day the mother and child could meet again. Tokens that speak of a sort of death, of heartbreak, desperation and poverty. In spite of the hall of fame in the café, the reality of being orphaned, was and still can be tragic.
The bible references to orphans are those of the helpless and destitute: the psalmist is beset by the wicked and deceitful who ask that the Psalmist’s children be orphans and his wife a widow. By night the orphans shelter in ruins and by day they wander about and beg. Yet, from the beginning their parlous state is recognized in law, and along with the alien and widow, they are to be left part of the harvest. They are not to go hungry.
I will not leave you orphaned said Jesus – he anticipates that the disciples will be bereft at his leaving them – which is the root of the word orphan. The bereaved ones. In that culture he may as well have said, the bottom will not fall out of your world. You won’t be a non-person. They are not to be left like that for long….in a little while – just wait, hang on there, then they will be drawn into the fire of God’s love with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
John’s gospel opens with the well-loved words and the promise of God being with us and among us however bewildering and strange our world. In the beginning was the Word …and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ God is here. We are coming to the end of the 40 days of Easter; Thursday is Ascension Day. We wait with the disciples for the promise of another Advocate, a Comforter, to dwell with us forever.
Comforter, Intercessor, Counsellor – the Paraclete. A comfort to us who at this time may be feeling orphaned or bereaved, frightened and anxious. Let us remember the words of Jesus as we survive this pandemic: ‘I will not leave you orphaned.’ We are not abandoned to shelter on our own in the ruins.
Sunday 10 May Easter 5 by Katharine Rumens
Acts 7: 55 – end John 14: 1 – 14
We probably need no introduction to our own dwelling places right now. Stay home, save lives, protect the NHS. The housebound haven’t set foot outside their front door in weeks. Kitchen tables become school and work desks, we are told to separate our space if possible and not let work and life merge into one. Divide the day, establish a routine, keep rest and work apart. It’s easy for her I hear you muttering from your sofas – clergy are used to working from home, they only have to shut the study door to have the luxury of rattling around in all the other rooms of their mansions.
Many must be feeling very ambivalent about their dwelling places as lockdown continues. Especially if your dwelling place is unsafe, overcrowded or has only ever been the place you have returned to sleep. Some people have lifestyles that mean they are never at home. Interpret that as you will.
In today’s gospel, the disciples are worried – do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus’ friends are anxious even when he is among them. This is the man they have walked, eaten, laughed with, listened to and watched transform people’s lives. At this point he’d confused them by insisting on washing their feet; then they sit down to supper. Round the table Jesus speaks to them, afterwards they will go across the Kidron Valley to the garden. These chapters of John’s gospel are known as the final discourse – Jesus taking his leave - if only the disciples could grasp what he is saying.
Not just them though: are we really not able to call this world ‘home’? We who set so much store by our bricks and mortar and now Zoom meetings give us the chance gleefully to peer into other people’s living spaces. Fancy having those curtains, has he read any of those books? I would say we’re pretty hung up on our homes and the sense of permanent protection that we yearn for.
Yet the author of the book of Hebrews soberingly writes, ‘Here we have no lasting city’. (13.14) Get over it, you can’t take it with you. Stephen dies a horrible death with his eyes fixed on the heavenly vision. Jesus holds before us a picture of God’s many dwelling place to which we are all invited. God’s house is not for members only.
In response to Thomas’s question, ‘How do we know the way?’ Jesus replies that he is the way – as Christians were once known as those who belonged to ‘the way.’ For Stephen and all those who have been martyred for their faith the way of the cross Is one of suffering.
Those who walk the way of Jesus must do his work as we prayed in the Collect: grant that by your grace going before us you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect.
Faith is not constrained by lockdown – the way lies before us.
Sunday 3 May Easter 4 by Katharine Rumens
John 10: 1- 10
During the week we held a funeral outside the west door as we also did last month for Keith. I conduct a short service by the hearse including Psalm 23, the commendation and the committal. Such occasions are in their way (you may say) satisfactory. Psalm 23 – the set psalm for today, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you – the Lord who is my shepherd, are with me.’ Words that continue to console. It was used for the first time at funerals in the 1928 prayer book – we have moved to the cities but we look back to the fields and the way of life of our forebears and this image of God and Jesus for comfort.
Jesus as the good shepherd is one of the earliest recorded images of him. 3rd and 4th century depictions on catacomb murals, sarcophagi and grave slabs show a stocky man with a huge sheep – more a small horse – on his shoulders. A common prayer in the early Church was the one made for the deceased, that they should be led to heaven ‘borne on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd’. We have been carried from the earliest times.
26 April Easter 3 by Katharine Rumens
Luke 24 13-35
The Road to Emmaus. The road to recovery.
We know from our weekly Zoom time that we have competitive walkers among us. In pacing your flats, some of you are wearing out your carpets, others stride round the gardens, some circle the church. I am told the number of steps really matters, it is a serious business. If you don’t clock up the necessary distance - why bother? It’s just a waste of time.
Today’s gospel – two walkers on the road from Jerusalem joined by a third who they don’t recognise. Are they running away? Guilty by association. Best make themselves scarce and come back when it’s quietened down again.
Solvitur Ambulando –it is solved by walking is attributed to St Augustine. He is not alone – the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor "passionately believed that walking constituted the sovereign remedy for every mental travail". That’s why it’s worth bothering with even if our number of steps is pretty rubbish some days. Moreover, walking therapy makes all sorts of claims like reducing blood pressure, improving strategic thinking, enhancing creativity, and reducing depression.
It well might be solved by walking – but these two on the road to Emmaus have a lot on their minds. It is still the first day of the week – they had eaten with him on the night before he died and then run away when things got out of hand. Jesus had been put to death and now there were rumours that the tomb was empty and that he had, in fact, risen from the dead as he told them he would. Yes, they have a lot on their minds, there was a lot to try and make sense of. Was there nothing to show for the past three years? Has it all been a waste of time. “But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” Hope crashing down because of the crucifixion and it all ending in failure. The Romans are still in charge, God’s people are still oppressed and seemingly far from being redeemed.
When the teaching was over they had to begin working it out for themselves. On the road Jesus joined the walkers who find themselves telling him everything he already knew. When they got to the village, they invited him in, and at table he took bread, blessed and broke it. As the host would do.
Then just when they thought they caught a glimpse of how it all could be for evermore, he vanished. There was nothing they could do but hurry back to the starting place – Jerusalem - and talk some more.
By the time Luke’s gospel was written, the church’s common meal was in some unique sense thought to be the meeting place between the believer and the Lord of life.
Right now, we are only allowed to break our daily bread with those in the same house or flat. The churches remain shut, we are not allowed to share in the physical breaking and eating of bread on Sunday mornings. May we glimpse in our changed world that breaking bread – even in a remote form - is still the meeting place between ourselves and the risen Lord.
Sunday 19 April Easter 2 by Katharine Rumens
John 20:19-to the end
We are being told that when all this is over – when we are well again - we will have to reinvent ourselves, reinvent our communities, our economies – perhaps our churches too. When I hear our leaders telling us about reinvention I am not sure if it is a threat – things will not be the same again –and adjusting to the new reality will cause great hardship, or it is the promise of new exciting horizons: we have the chance of a new beginning unencumbered by what weighed us down in the past.
Our new reinvented selves, we who are followers of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and for ever.
Telling the gospel afresh in each generation means that theologians stray into reinvention to get our attention like the ‘fresh paraphrase’ that brings the text alive? In this case bible stories are told as mini-blockbusters – perhaps with matching merchandise on sale in the foyer afterwards
On the other hand, a Professor of New Testament Language and Literature recommends ‘The Word on the Street’ which helped him discover angry and sad voices in passages of the Bible that had left him indifferent, and made him laugh at other passages so familiar that he had never see the healthy irreverence, humour and irony they expressed.
Rob Lacey tells today’s gospel very briefly like this:
Trouble is, Tom missed it all. He comes back, but Jesus is gone; the guys as high as kites. He’s dubious: I’m not Mr Gullible. I want proof.
I’m not sure if I am ready for a mini-blockbuster or for hearing Thomas the disciple called Tom. This would put him among the Jims, Andy, Pete, Phil and Jack and the rest of a crowd probably more at home flogging fish down at the harbour rather than standing over us in stained glass or painted by the great masters.
Did anyone ever dare call Thomas Aquinas Tom? Or Thomas Beckett, or Thomas Merton?
Thomas one of the twelve who was not with the others when Jesus came on the first day of the week. Thomas who was not shown Jesus’s hands and his side. Thomas who did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit on that occasion. It’s lonely being Thomas at this point in the story – kept in the dark for a week. It’s a road of faith he has to take by himself in his own time. Then he will believe. Thomas’s scepticism is probably more useful to us than the disciples’ faith – even if we never venture into the familiarity of calling him Tom.
Thomas stands as a representative of those removed by decades from Christianity’s foundational events…as he stands for you and me. And so let us look with kindness upon the story – as this one told for children.
One of Jesus’ close friends was missing – a man called Thomas. He had gone to Golgotha, wanting to see the place where Jesus had died.
Another week passed. Thomas was still sunk in grief. Every day he went to Golgotha – the pain of losing Jesus was unbearable – almost like the pain of crucifixion. We manage grief at our own speed. That is why Thomas wasn’t there – and how can you touch the very life of God. Thomas didn’t try. He simply answered ‘My Lord and my God’ who is the same yesterday, today and for ever.
Sunday 12 April Easter Day by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 28: 1 – 10
They tell the story differently – the gospel writers. Mark narrates that as the women entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe. Luke enlarges on that and writes of two men in dazzling clothes. Matthew includes an earthquake and it is not just a young man, or two men in dazzling robes but an angel of the lord descending from heaven.
He does not want us to miss the significance of this encounter and what it means in terms of a new world order. Matthew – author of the book of dreams and angels, and of cosmic upheaval here announcing that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
Joseph dreams back in the beginning, an angel tells him a child is to be born, and again an angelic dream to ensure the child’s safety in Egypt. As day was dawning an angel of the Lord descended from heaven – not in the familiar darkness of the Christmas story, but in the unfamiliar darkness of the tomb.
Confronted by the blinding light of this fearsome angel from heaven, the guards who had been posted to ensure that nothing would happen to Jesus’ body were so frightened that they shook and became like dead men. Those who thought they were alive are now like the dead, the one thought to be dead is now alive.
Those who thought they were alive now discover that what they took for life is death. What we thought we valued like new clothes, fine dining, a fancy holiday and a fast car are not life-giving in the way that the love of friends and family is. The blessing of good health, the blessing of birdsong and the blessing of the coming of spring. These are life-giving; stuff and yet more stuff is not.
Lawrence was a deacon in the church of Rome in the middle of 3rd century in charge of the holy things – the chalices, candlesticks and the treasury. The prefect of Rome heard about this wealth and asked Lawrence to place it before him. Lawrence promised to bring forth all ‘the precious possessions of Christ.’ He gathered the poor, the disfigured and the destitute and presented them, ‘There are the church’s riches, take them.’ This is our wealth.
May Easter, this year in a climate of anxiety and uncertainty, bring us alive. May the resurrection of Jesus Christ create in us a life freed from the death that can grip our everyday lives. Do not be afraid said the angel. Jesus has been raised from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee. The risen Jesus is ahead of us and we must set out after him.
5 April Palm Sunday by Katharine Rumens
It shouldn’t happen like this. It should happen with the arrival of the horse box and the bells ringing. It should happen outside in the sunshine by the west door, trumpets and drums and excitement, the organ playing triumphantly as we then move with the donkeys into church. Palm branches decorating the pillars, babies in buggies, curious children, regular members of the congregation, and those who have come for the first time waiting to see what will happen next. The readings, the singing, the sending out of those processing on to St Paul’s. Then when the bustle of the crowd is over: the sounds of voices and music has receded, the drum beat grown fainter as the procession moved away through the City to the Cathedral.
Then the Eucharist quietly continues in St Giles’ in the spring sunshine.
It shouldn’t happen like this – we are learning to navigate the new normal. We begin holy week not out on the streets but from behind the closed doors of our homes. For us too this is a first time and we are waiting to see what will happen next. We are apprehensive, we can be easily frightened, we just don’t know how long it will all go on for. Or if we too or those we care about dearly become ill.
It shouldn’t happen like this. A king making a triumphal entrance wants pomp and splendour - nothing but the best. Victors in battle do not ride into their capital cities on asses, they ride on magnificent horses.
How can we look up to you Jesus if you ride a donkey like the peasants do? How do we know that you really are someone special? You are worth following? It’s all most confusing. Of course, the whole city in turmoil was saying ‘Who is this’. They didn’t all get it in spite of the words of the prophet Zechariah.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Should aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo your kings come to you;
Triumphant and victorious is he,
Humble and riding on a donkey,
On a colt the foal of a donkey.
It should happen like this if only they’d thought about it.
During Lent members of the congregation are invited by Katharine to preach a sermon entitled 'God at Work.'
As the church was closed because of the Coronavirus pandemic before this series was complete this is the last one this year.
Sunday 15 March Lent 3 by Tim Passey
‘Where do you want to be in five years time?’
How many of us go through life with a really clear plan for what we want to achieve?
Does anyone else think this interview question prospective employers often ask is a bit, well, uninspired. I mean, it’s great to have ambition, but how do you know what the future holds or what God’s plans are for you?
When Katharine asked me to give a God at Work sermon, I was slightly apprehensive. But I said yes.
Mostly I say yes. I’m a seize-the-day sort of person.
However, I don’t much like talking about myself. I’m not an extrovert. I prefer my own company. Despite that, I am a team player. And because I do mostly say ‘yes’, I often find I’m the one picking up the dropped ball at work; the one who steps in at the last moment when the team hasn’t got its act together.
I sometimes think I spend half of my working life making stuff up. This is one of the challenges that comes with working in a consulting environment in a niche area. I work in strategy in a narrow part of the commercial healthcare sector. You hope that you ultimately deliver solutions on the slightly less wrong side of the no-right-or-wrong answers equation. I suppose though I must be adding value somewhere.
God at Work to me is about God at work, at work, at home, and in everything I do… God at Work in my life. It’s exactly about saying yes, seizing the day, doing my best and having faith that God won’t let me fall down.
Earlier we prayed together in the collect… ‘Give us insight to discern Your will for us’.
We go to God in personal prayer, often when we need direction. But how well do we listen for the answer or recognize His intervention? I know I sometimes hit and hope in prayer and it’s not until later, on reflection that it becomes apparent I owe some thanks.
Some of you will know that I enjoy running ultramarathons. ‘Enjoy’ is probably not the best word. But when 26 miles got boring, I started entering 100km races – that’s about 65 miles in old money. I run on trails in the mountains, often in the rain, the mud, the cold. And for long stretches I’m alone. Running for 24 hours, through the night is mentally as well as physically exhausting. There are times when it would be easier to just give up and hand in my race number. Last year I ran the Jurassic coast from Weymouth to Exmouth. It was midsummer, the shortest night of the year, but even so it was darkest just before the dawn and a real challenge to resist the urge to quit halfway. But these races have an excellent habit of clearing the mind. During them I find some objectivity. And I find God. Maybe it’s because I’m in my element, the great outdoors, I find myself feeling thankful for the ability just to be out there. However self-inflicted, my races serve as a reminder to look for that bit of perspective in everyday life too.
I’ve worked a lot of my career overseas. I spent a decade in Singapore and Hong Kong. It’s lonely starting out in a new market. The culture’s different; in fact, everything’s different. When I first went to Asia, I was also joining a new company, so no-one at international HQ in London knew me; no-one knew my market; no-one understood its challenges. I had to be self-sufficient, resilient and utterly down to earth. Kind of like running an ultramarathon then.
And because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, if things are not done properly or my teams don’t function, I worry. Worry and isolation make a bad combination. One of my human resources colleagues in London would try to reassure me, saying ‘don’t worry so much Tim, you’re just catastrophising’. And it’s true. When you’re isolated you lose perspective. The obstacles get bigger than they really are, just like the race becomes never-ending. Sometimes you need someone to give you a sense check. But you need more than that.
And I recognize now that my relationship with God has changed and grown over time. When I first went overseas to work, I recognize now that God wasn’t a partner. He was still at work in me – I know that – but he wasn’t at my workplace, because I wasn’t inviting Him into my office. I was trying to do everything by myself.
Charis and I married towards the end of my time in Hong Kong. We moved to the UK in 2015. It was a leap of faith to leave a job in a region in which I was now a specialist with no secure prospects. It was around this time too that I realised I needed to just trust God more, to put God first. Taking time to reflect I could look back and see all of the challenges He had got me through… and God wasn’t going to let me down now. We first landed in Manchester because I had an apartment there, but I’d never lived there, so there was none of the comfort and familiarity of ‘coming home’. And, of course, it was Charis’ first time to live in the UK. But we were warmly welcomed at St Ann’s, the parish Church of Manchester City Centre and felt embraced as a part of the Church community for the first time, certainly as a couple.
I’d spent half a year back in the UK consulting and exploring more permanent opportunities. Charis was now back in Hong Kong waiting for her visa to come through, so I was on my own again, travelling to and from Oxford. I’d just led a big pitch opportunity for a client. I was feeling apprehensive, but I was consciously trusting God a lot more. I knew that He hadn’t let us come back to fail. This was in contrast to leaving for Asia a decade earlier. A week before my consultancy expired, the efforts paid off, and I was offered a good position. Ever peripatetic, we relocated to Oxford and I suppose we were settling down although neither Oxford nor the UK quite felt like home.
Well, I’m all for seizing the day and it wasn’t long after that I was approached about an opportunity in the middle east. It wasn’t a region I had any particular interest in, we were sort of settling down and so I went into interviews with a degree of skepticism. Obviously then, four months later, we found ourselves creating another new life in Dubai and I was heading up a new joint venture.
I’m not sure I ever received a clear signal to take that job. But it certainly delivered on the promised challenges, predictable dysfunctional infrastructure and general new market chaos. But again, saying yes to an opportunity served a purpose. We put God first, we committed ourselves to one of Dubai’s two churches, we made friends there and felt a part of that community. And the middle east offered spectacular experiences to offset the traumas of the working day. One long weekend we drove a 1,400-mile road trip across Oman’s deserts to near the Yemeni border to visit the small but quite spectacular area of the Arabian Peninsula that receives the monsoon rains. There we found ourselves the only two Christians among multitudes of holidaying Muslims making their pilgrimage at the tomb of Job. By saying yes to the opportunity, we had added another layer of experience, diversity and insight to life and work.
This move actually set us on a trajectory for a return to the UK with the same company, this time to London and to St Giles, a place where both Charis and I have felt more engaged with the Christian life than probably at any other time. And last Easter I was confirmed at St Paul’s Cathedral. We’ve valued playing our part in the life of the church community, whether that’s stacking crates at the food bank collection or just bringing a bake for Sunday morning coffee.
Today’s readings helped me reflect on my own story; Paul reminds the people of Rome that we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
So back to the question…’Where do you want to be in five years’ time?’
For me, I feel blessed that while I probably do still worry more than I should, I’m glad I’ve never felt the need to worry over this rather mundane question, because as long as I let Him in, God is at Work in my life.
Sunday 8 March – Lent 2 by Gail Beer
Starting nurse training at Barts in 1977 it was a surprise to discover some of my new colleagues, like myself, had been influenced in their choice of profession by Audrey Hepburn in ‘The Nun’s Story’ and Deborah Kerr in the ‘The Black Narcissus’.
I would be Audrey, struggling against the world and myself to do good, healing with a quiet calm, battling irascible surgeons, or Deborah, full of self-doubt, dispensing compassion and comfort. Nursing would make me a good person and I would be doing Christian work. God and Hollywood played a big role in my choice. My declared intention was to train, go down the Congo and deliver babies in Africa. Being a nun was an option! One friend still mockingly refers to me as Sister Perpetua.
We appeared subject to the same rules as nuns, hard work, long hours, no money, a uniform code and, in our case, no men in the nurse’s home. It wasn’t a glamourous life but there were plenty of irascible surgeons.
The real discovery was that I liked caring for people at the end of their life, especially the elderly. Lifesaving surgery and waving goodbye to the gratefully cured wasn’t as satisfying. Delivering a baby is amazing, birth is greeted with great joy but dying, the last thing we do on Earth is met with sadness. Mortality, the thing that makes us human, fearfully hidden. For me looking after people at the end of their lives has been an absolute privilege for which I am grateful and indeed humbled.
From my first ward I found doing the simple but, essential things for patients deeply satisfying; giving a drink, combing hair, getting those pillows comfortable (that really is a tough one). Each patient a person, not a task. I felt privileged that they let me care for them. ‘There are three things a good nurse should possess’ my tutor told me ‘Kindness, Kindness and Kindness’. Often quoted words alongside St David’s ‘do the little things that you have seen me do’.
In the late 70’s and early 80s most of the very elderly had lived through two world wars. I looked after lonely, elderly ladies that never married, elderly men who had been on the western front, younger people who had experienced WW2, refugees, some with their concentration camp numbers on their arms. I still cringe at the memory of trying to wash a tattoo off an inner arm. Many shared big stories but mostly we talked about their loves, family, and often their parents, the everyday mattered most.
On night duty, in the still of the early morning, patients whispered about the things they wished they had done, and guilt and lessons learned too late. Many spoke of their blessings – not the material things but family, friends and life itself. I never met anyone who wished they had been more unkind or more selfish. Many would ask if I believed in God? Did I think there was an afterlife?
Speaking to the chaplaincy became an everyday occurrence and many took comfort from talking to someone, including non-believers. The fear of there being a God was as great as the fear of there not.
It wasn’t all serious, I heard lots of funny stories; the elderly ex Barts nurse who told me how to get my boyfriend into the nurse’s home a la 1932.
The elderly east end lady trapped on a broken bath hoist three foot up in the air. Waiting for the fire brigade to arrive and having discussed the merits of firemen, she disclosed to me that in her head she was only 23 and whilst her body had aged, she had not. I think that’s true of all of us. Her approach to life - forgive people, don’t take things too personally, accept people as they are, acknowledge your own faults (but only sometimes), laugh a lot and have a good time in the Green Man Public House.
Death can bring out the worst in people too, family feuds and resentments were played out on the ward. One middle aged man who I had moved away from the bedside for a quiet word about his behaviour, told me that if ‘Dad didn’t hear the family rowing, he might think he was dying’! We both laughed nervously and then he burst into tears.
During this time, I had a very chatty relationship with God, occasionally went to church, toyed with a more formal approach but was always too busy. My belief was unshakeable.
That changed one glorious summer day at the Royal London. A man in his early 40s came into resus and died. His wife and young children were with him and his wife blamed herself for his sudden death from a brain haemorrhage. As the senior nurse in charge of the hospital I took his wife and her mother to the mortuary to see him; their grief was unbearable.
Later walking across the garden in the glaring sun I cried because he would never see another stunning blue, blue day like this, so why should I. I went and sat in the chapel to talk to God, angry and sad. In all the years of looking after people at the end of life and being amongst so much grief I had never been so affected by a death. Peter, our chaplain, came in and we talked about how I felt about God, why was I angry.
During our subsequent discussions we identified that going to the mortuary daily, sometimes more often, facing death in this mechanical way had become too stressful. I spent a lot of time thinking about my own mortality during this difficult period, but it strengthened my belief and made me more thoughtful and considered about my faith. The death of an unknown man reconnected me with myself and God
In 2008 I left the NHS for a while, burnt out by my role on the board at Barts and the London. Having become institutionalized, I was bereft with no hospital to hide behind. I was also getting divorced, but worst of all God no longer spoke to me. The disconnection was sudden and unexpected, demonstrating to me the brittleness of the relationship. I begged God to speak to me; God did, but I could not hear. In took four years before I heard God again and I realised I could not take my faith for granted. I would have to work harder at it, so here I am today. It’s still ‘work in progress’
To return to the beginning; have I become Audrey or Deborah? Well we are all an Audrey or a Deborah; finding our own way as belief dictates; coping with the highs and lows of life. I have learnt to deal with the everyday and the extraordinary as best I can. Failure is part of the plan; there is more to learn from trying than triumph.
I have come to terms with my own mortality. I, like I suspect many others am afraid when I contemplate the moment of death but trust in God to be with me.
Whatever happens after is unknowable but, I believe that Jesus did die to show us the way and I hope a kind nurse will be at my side when it is my time to leave.
Sunday 1 March – Lent 1 by Kathryn Elsby
We don’t often talk about God in my place of work, and when I mentioned doing something at St Giles’ over the weekend, my colleague Mark was very surprised to discover that I was a Christian and went to church, and thinking about it, I too am surprised. Mark was surprised and possibly alarmed the other day when I told him that he was going to feature in my sermon.
As a child Christianity was an important part of my life, my family went to church, I attended Sunday school, enjoyed reading religious stories and Jesus was frequently mentioned at home. In those days I had no doubt that God was at work everywhere, with Christianity the only true religion. I accepted the line from the Sunday school hymn,
“O soon may the heathen of every tribe and nation Fulfill Thy blessed Word and cast their idols all away”.
My father was in the RAF and until I was six, he was based at RAF Patrington and we lived in Withernsea, a small seaside town on the Yorkshire coast, attending the church of St Matthew. I was able to look at the church from outside last year, and it brought back memories of sitting inside, gazing at the stained-glass windows. At this time, I had a very literal belief and am told that when we visited a local village called Hedon, I misheard the name as heaven and was very disappointed not to see Jesus, God and the heavenly host of angels there.
When my father was posted to Cyprus it was decided that we needed a home in the UK, so my mum and I moved to live near to her parents in the mining village of Blackhall in County Durham. There my family participated actively in the parish life of St Andrews Church, I went to Sunday School, to church services with my family (although I did incur a kneeling ban as I kept fainting on other members of the congregation) My mother helped with numerous church events, my grandma was a stalwart of the Mothers Union, and my grandad ferried goods and people about in his car. I loved reading, and I covered my children’s bible in greasy marks whilst eating my breakfast toast. Amongst my more usual games I played at giving communion to the dog. We had assembly with hymns and prayers every day at my primary school, many of my friends went to church or chapel, the vicar’s daughter was in my class at school, Christianity was a day to day part of my life.
I was confirmed together with the cohort of my Sunday school class. I was disappointed that none of my classmates continued to attend church, but I went to communion most Sundays, and always left the service with a feeling of “the peace of God which passeth all understanding”. I became a Sunday School teacher and loved teaching my class. At thirteen I went on a day retreat to a nunnery and enjoyed the day of silence and prayer. I contemplated becoming a nun, but what with my fainting when kneeling problem and the prospect of giving up my teddy bear, to the relief of my family, I decided that it was not for me.
I continued to enjoy reading, and over the next few years I read many books and realised how narrow our village life was. I learnt of other religions, beliefs and ways of living and my faith that I had felt to be so strong started to crumble. I no longer enjoyed the Sunday school teaching; I saw how petty some church members were. I did not like the restrictions placed on women by the church. I was unable to discuss my loss of faith with anybody; when I declared that I no longer wanted to go to church I think that my family thought I was just being difficult.
At the same time as I left home to start university in London my parents moved away from Blackhall and it was easy for me to make a clean break from the Church. I no longer prayed or read the Bible, I did not think about God, I did not think that I needed him in my life. In this time, I had abandoned God, but he never abandoned me.
As I grew older, I realised that I did still believe in God, but I was not interested in joining a church community. John and I were married in church and were both determined not to break the vows that we had made before God. We did not attend church but named our first child Christopher and had both of our children christened. We sent them to St Paul’s Cathedral school, and we attended the Advent and Palm Sunday services that they participated in. I occasionally popped into the cathedral for a communion service, feeling a connection to God in comfortable anonymity. As a family we often visited churches and cathedrals as tourists, I started to feel the presence of God in these holy places.
Several years ago, Christopher came back to live with us in the Barbican and announced that he had been going to Church in Cambridge and would like to continue doing so here. Where should he go? We suggested that as St Giles was our parish church that this was the natural one to try first. He liked it here and started to attend every Sunday, took confirmation classes and was confirmed. I decided to keep Chris company occasionally, and discovered that I enjoyed the services, found the congregation and clergy kind and welcoming. A year or so later my father was dying of cancer, the best day for me to visit him was Sunday and being unable to come to many services I realised how much I missed coming to St Giles. When I was staying with my parents a day or so before he died, I was at my wits end. On a short walk out by a bleak village green I felt God in the cold wind, he gave me strength to cope, God was at work. I now come here most Sunday mornings when in London. God, Christopher and St Giles Church have been at work restoring my faith.
Sunday 23 February -The last Sunday before Lent
by Katharine Rumens
Exodus 24: 12 – end and Matthew 17: 1 – 9
It will soon be time for the seasonal influx of tourists to go home and those in Venice and Brazil to take off their masks, show their faces and put away their costumes for another year. The two months of Carnival from Christmas to Ash Wednesday are about to end. We can hide behind our masks and dressing up clothes. They are a handy disguise for all types of pretence, games, conspiracies and nastiness. And we call it only a game.
It’s not just allowing our shadow side to come out and play, Carnival serves another purpose. We are mortal creatures, who come into this world and in the natural order of things, depart from it without our consent. The poet Auden wrote that we must eat, drink, defecate, belch and break wind in order to live, and procreate for our species to survive. To us as individuals we need to celebrate the unity of human race as mortal creatures. That we are not alone is a cause for rejoicing – that all of us, irrespective of age, gender, status, talent, are in the same boat. That is worth taking to the streets – and canals – for. We know that one day all masks must fall, all roles must come to an end, all the parts that we play before the world and before ourselves. To see face to face and know fully as we have been fully known.
Two whole months of jokes and parties before we present ourselves unmasked on Ash Wednesday. Quite clearly, in order for us to receive the mark of the cross in ash on our foreheads we have to take our masks off. We will make our confession, hear those ancient words: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. Words that we cannot hide from. Have mercy upon us. Ash Wednesday is a time for us to drop our masquerading and look the 40 days of Lent in the face.
Lent is not tidy. Storms Ciara and Dennis have brought chaos to parts of the country over the last weeks. Cities are in lockdown because of Coronovirus – and thousands infected.
Winter is not leaving without blustery battles that push things over and mess things up. The names of the months tell it how it is: February – the feast of expiation, purification, March – the spirit of war. Lent, if we honesty face its fury, will leave the landscape littered with bits and pieces of ourselves. And by the end? To find ourselves somewhere different from where we started. The promised land of Easter. To have come home.
At this point I have to make a bit of a leap and bring us down to earth with some reference to today’s readings and say – what about Moses? It was tough on him, he never got home…those final verses of Deuteronomy – God showed Moses the whole Land – and let him see it with his eyes, but he was not to cross over there. Moses died in the land of Moab. So near and yet so far. Never has there arisen a prophet in Israel whom the Lord knew face to face. (Deut 34: 10)
Today’s first reading is about one of those face to face encounters on the mountain. My own feeling is that Moses couldn’t wait to get away from the Israelites. ‘Come up to me on the mountain.’ Never was an invitation from God more welcome. The people escaped slavery in Egypt and pretty immediately started complaining. Who did Moses think he was? 17:7 the people quarreled with Moses, Is the Lord among us or not? Is anybody in charge, or are you making it up as you go along? Moses appointed judges over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens in order to create some sort of order and manage disputes.
He was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights – and the people felt neglected and started playing up. When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain they gathered round Aaron and said, ‘Come, make gods for us.’ And the result was the golden calf and the fury of God and Moses.
But what did Moses realistically expect? Docile patience? Obedience? His prolonged absence wasn’t going to change these stiff necked and rebellious tribes into a load of pious, law abiding people.
I think it highly unlikely, but if we are so caught up the cloud of our piety and good works for 40 days and 40 nights this Lent, we too can expect our family and friends to feel neglected. And that when we decide to come back down to earth again we may just find that they have gone elsewhere in search of diversion.
Things are different in Lent, although this year with the lighting project in full swing, we will have to do things more simply. But as usual, we will hear one another’s stories in the God at Work sermons on Sundays, some of us will meet to ponder the psalms on Saturday mornings, and we will travel through the week together with simple disciplines to help us pay attention to the small things. Like greeting someone eg thanking the bus driver, saying good morning to the staff in the tube, or at the reception desk. According to the latest survey by the Office for National Statistics Britons are increasingly ignoring their neighbours and relying on social media for human interaction. We can do things differently in Lent,
This year the theme of Christian Aid’s Count your Blessings challenge is climate change. The themes of awareness, repentance, forgiveness, and so on seem massive, but when it comes down to it it’s much more manageable. In these first days, we are asked to give 20p for every tap in our house.
On Monday there was a lecture at St Martin in the Fields. A BBC religious affairs correspondent said afterwards that his questions had been deliberately provocative. He asked if the bishops in the Church of England were a liability – or words to that effect. The vicar said the bishops present an impoverished view of the church. At St Martin’s, he said– which doesn’t just apply to them, we are trying to model communities that reflect the ideals of our faith. What we stand for.
In Lent let us be mindful of modelling what we stand for. Not with our heads in the clouds but with our feet on the ground. Amen.
Sunday 16 February by Alex Norris
Matthew 6: 25-34
This morning’s text covers some fairly significant themes: The pursuit of material gain in relation to how God provides for us AND the relation of our reliance on God to Anxiety and Worry. I also think that the lectionary has placed this reading at an interesting time in the church's year, as we are only a couple of weeks away from the penitential season of Lent.
St Matthew concludes with this advice:
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
This morning, as we near the season Lent, I shall be focussing on Worry.
As William Powell famously said; I highly recommend worrying. It is much more effective than dieting.
A lot has been said about Worry. I hope that my following words will not only bring some theological enlightenment to this sadly common emotion, but I also hope that we can draw some practical advice from St Matthew’s Words.
Worry is an emotion that is an intrinsic part of the human condition. As an entity, it has no respect for age, race, colour, creed or economic circumstance. So, whilst a schoolboy may be worrying about his exam results, it’s a fair bet Her Majesty the Queen may also be worrying about the affairs of state.
Irrespective of who we are, how much money we have or how powerful we are it is a given that we all will have worried at some point in our lives. I suspect that as I stand here before you, we all have worries of our own. I know I certainly do.
I have recently started a new job and have been worrying about how I will fit in with the new team, understand the technology I have never used. Worrying has contributed precisely zero to helping me with any of this.
How does today's reading help us with understanding worry and more importantly how to deal with it? Would it be right for us as Christians just to leave everything up to God, in the hope that it will all come right in the end?
I would suggest that an initial reading of our text from St Matthew hardly provides the practical advice and comfort that a person needs who for example is facing severe economic hardship, or other such imminent calamity.
I believe that St Matthew’s advice is a little more sophisticated than this and that a different reading of the text is needed to glean the advice we need.
The word worry comes from the Greek word merimnao, which literally means drawn in opposite directions or being pulled apart. It’s a destructive word that gives us the image of futility, of doing nothing, of suffering.
There is a distinction that I feel that needs to be made between Worry and Concern.
Concern is where there is a situation and one works to resolve or alleviate it, whereas worrying is fearing about what is going to happen whilst not doing anything about it.
In some schools of thought, Worry is regarded as a sin, because the worrier is abandoning their hope in God, and not trusting in him. As Christians, we believe in an all-loving and benevolent God. Simply put: by worrying we are denying God. This might seem like a very uncompassionate statement to make, but if we put our emotion to one side it can offer some theological clarity to how one should deal with worry.
As a concept worry is time spent in the future. It is easy for us to take on board what may be going to happen tomorrow. It pre-occupies us or draws us apart… today.
We are given some great advice in our reading today, which we would all do well to adopt in our lives. ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow….today's trouble is enough for today.
Or as the expression goes: Do not be afraid of tomorrow; for God is already there.
This though, is probably far easier said than done.
Having concern for things is constructive and leads us to take measures to do all we can to resolve a situation, and where there is nothing more to be done, we need to have the strength of faith to entrust the matter into God's hands.
Worrying does not change anything and in a way, is an expression in our lack of trust in God having things covered. Taking control of a situation before it takes control of us must be better than sitting back, burying one’s head and worrying and hoping it all goes away. And in the instances where that is simply not possible, entrusting it to God is the only constructive thing that one can do. We have to trust in God's plans for us all.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, "There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever."
Slowly changing our attitude to the way we deal with problems will begin to help us free ourselves of the destruction of worry. Leaving tomorrow's problems until tomorrow AND doing all we can out of concern today WHILST entrusting the rest to God is a good start to freeing ourselves from the yoke of worry.
As Jesus asks: Can any one of you, by worrying add a single hour to your life?
With the season of Lent nearly upon us, I know many are turning their thoughts to what is going to be given up or taken up.
There are many admirable things we can do, but maybe we should set ourselves a bigger challenge; To use the period of Lent as a time to start to change our attitude toward worry and to truly reflect on our circumstances differently.
I should be clear here, what I am not saying is that we all simply give up worrying for Lent, as I doubt ceasing worrying can be likened to stopping eating chocolate or giving up drinking for 6 weeks…. it's a far more intrinsic part of our psyche.
However, with prayer, and some time set aside for reflection I think it could help make our lives less stressful, and start to change our way of dealing with issues and problems in our own lives. It would also help us to re-examine our own relationship with God, which as Christians we should be doing during Lent.
God is present with all of us, whatever the situation. Why not try and lay some of our concerns on God. Surely this is one of the purposes of prayer.
I think Mary C Crowley says it best: Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He's going to be up all night anyway.
Maybe it's time for us to do the same.
Today I’d like to finish with a prayer: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Sunday 9 February 3 Before Lent by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 5: 13 -20
When the Worshipful Company of Salters invites you to preach at their annual service held on the second Tuesday after Pentecost – I suggest you do not choose to preach on Matthew 5: 13. You can see their point: a company in existence for over 700 years has potentially heard 700 sermons about being salty. And even salt has its limits. Same old, same old ‘You are the salt of the earth,’ you can see why they are ready for something new. That doesn’t stop the odd rogue preacher telling them that they have to be spicy and add flavour to the world, or that salt is so essential in our diets that the Romans used to be paid in ‘salt money’ ie paid a salary. They – and by now – I have heard it all before, although no-one to my knowledge has spoken about their original proximity to the Worshipful Company of Bakers before the fire of London. Salt for the bread of the world, the Bread of Life.
And all this is very informative – and a bit dull. And although it is contrary to contemporary thinking to make a big thing of salt, at lunches and dinners in the Hall, the salts are prominently placed on the tables. These ornate ciboria of sweet Vendee salt, or pink Himalayan crystals are handed round with a sort of reverence. Our neighbours are not apologetic about salt.
I am less well informed about our other neighbours the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers – they didn’t get their charter till 1484, and lost out on the church candle business at the Reformation. These days they are keener on bees which leaves the way clear for the Tallow Chandlers who were responsible for the street lighting in the City. The nature of salt does not change but the ways of generating artificial light does and the lighting industry is now represented by the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers. Their motto is ’Dominus illuminatio mea et Salus mea’ (The Lord is my light and my help).
We are surrounded by promoters of salt and light in the city. Perhaps we should expect it to be a more Godly place.
Salt and light, salt or light – salt and light function very differently. Salt works when it is not noticed. We’ve cooked something fancy, and it tastes good because salt has enhanced its flavour. We only notice salt in food if there is too much of it. We only notice salt if it is rubbed into the wound because it really hurts. We only notice salt if a path is cleared in the snow. The symbol of salt has a bewildering range of allusions in the bible from Lot’s unfortunate wife to Elijah purifying a poisoned spring with the stuff.
By contrast, light is a more familiar metaphor from the Creator’s ‘Let there be light,’ in Genesis to the city whose light is ‘the glory of God and whose lamp is the Lamb’ in Revelation. Light is the supreme symbol of the divine. If hidden, as Jesus points out, it is of no use to anyone. The teacher tells us we are the light of the world, we are to be visible – registering with those out there as, at night, lamps burning in Jerusalem would make the city visible for miles around. We are not to flee to the safety of invisibility, sometimes it’s so much easier to slip into the shadows and hide. It’s less trouble all round that way.
Tuesday is the 30th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s – Madib’s - release from Robben Island. He and others did not hide their determination to dismantle the legacy of aparteid by tackling institutionalised racism and by fostering racial reconciliation. That day Mandela was able to walk out of the prison gates and raise his right fist for the first time in 27 years.
We know he was a controversial figure for much of his life. Critics on the right denounced him as a communist terrorist and those on the far-left deemed him too eager to negotiate and reconcile with apartheid's supporters, he gained international acclaim for his activism. His light did shine in the world.
When he was released, he spent the night at Desmond Tutu’s house. ‘When I greeted Archbishop Tutu, I enveloped him in a great hug; here was a man who had inspire an entire nation with his words and with his courage, who had revived the people’s hopes during the darkest of times.’
Light in the darkest times- ‘it was the desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life – sustained it through the winter of imprisonment. That transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving husband to live like a monk.’ Dominus illuminatio mea et Salus mea.
Salt and light. 2 metaphors for the church to be. As salt the church is to be a hidden, but nevertheless vital presence in the world. The symbol of light speaks of the prophetic role of the church. There is no point in her prophets hiding away, no point in her teachers remaining silent, no point to us if we are not seen and heard.
Mandela challenges us. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking….We are meant to shine…we were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same……
Sunday 12 January Baptism of Christ 1 Epiphany by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 3: 13 – end
Of all my predecessors, the one I would most like to have tea at the Ritz with is Lancelot Andrewes, Anglican Divine, scholar, linguist, Bishop and Vicar of St Giles’ 1588 – 1604. If his erudition overwhelmed me, we could always discuss sandwich fillings and the decor.
He would be especially useful in preparing today’s sermon as he preached and wrote at length on baptism. Here is the whole Trinity in person, the Son in the water, the Holy Spirit as a dove and God in the voice. The only other time the Trinity appears in the bible – Andrewes reminds us – is at the very beginning, the beginning of creation. There we find God, and the word was God creating, and the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters.’ In the baptism of Christ, we have the new creation.’
The refrain of his sermon to the Court of James 1 in 1615 is that in baptism the ‘Gates of heaven are opened’ ‘And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him.’ In baptism nothing can separate us from the love of God. What follows his baptism is an important stage in Jesus’s setting out on his ministry. After a baptism we might go on to a party, eat nice food and a piece of cake, and back to work on Monday. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus goes straight into the wilderness to understand his vocation before his ministry begins. A question for us about the love of God – those gates opened to heaven – in times of wilderness.
Andrewes wanted to involve the people at every stage of a baptism – although he was a bishop by the time he preached to the Court – he had been among people as a parish priest. The faithful at St Giles’ had helped shape his ministry. Today’s account – Matthew’s – indicates baptism as a private matter - John was the only witness. That’s why Andrewes preferred Luke’s account. ‘Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized.’ His message: Jesus was baptized among the people in the river, not in a basin by himself.’ No special privileges for posh people, no private baptisms in royal chapels.
I don’t know where the font would have been in the church Andrewes knew. In making their improvements, the Victorians placed it between north and south doors, where the organ loft now is. Perhaps the St Luke’s font is in the more original position, to remind us as we come into church of our baptism. Theologically it would make more sense to have the font directly at or by the north door, so we couldn’t miss it. But it be a trip hazard and get in our way and we can’t have that.
A liturgist comments that, ‘Many discussions about baptism ‘policy’ at a local level fail to take into account that baptism is primarily an act of God and a focus for His grace in the future. Jesus did not have to qualify for God’s anointing Spirit. The anointing Spirit was given freely.’
So what do we require locally? What barriers do we put in the way of God’s grace? What qualifications do we require? My Roman Catholic colleague stipulates that one or both of the parents is baptized a Catholic – which, when pressed, he modified to ‘baptised within the Roman Catholic church’ which is more like it. Also, one of the godparents has to be ‘baptised a Catholic’ as he would put it. Baptisms – especially ones with lots of family and friends, happen outside the main Sunday service. So, the family are not made to feel awkward by the Mass.
My Methodist colleague will do 2 for 1 if neither parent is baptised – ie one or both of the parents are baptized with the baby. For her the question is what the impetus is to have the baby baptized when they themselves are not? She feels there is room for exploration and preparation. Baptisms happen in the service on Sunday morning.
I like to think I have a completely open approach – except I don’t. Families we have not met before are invited to come to church on two Sunday mornings before the baptism, and to come back afterwards to the Christingle Service which seems reasonable to me. Common Worship helps me make by point about attendance – I say, that there are words of welcome for everyone to say and we can’t welcome a child we have never met before. Oh yes, I will do the baby…but, and if someone you want to be a godparent is not baptized, they may be sponsor but not a godparent. Baptisms happen on Sunday mornings within the Eucharist even if you do plan to bring 150 guests. I am with Luke here, not in private with Matthew.
It was a Sunday morning and there was a baptism. I was a curate and getting used to the surprising manifestation of the grace of God. The baptism has taken place. The intercessions been offered. We stood for the Peace. All the hand shaking indicated to the baptism party that we had come to the end of the service. They too shook hands and then left. There was a big window onto the street and the clergy could see what was happening. We were singing the offertory hymn and they were having a cigarette before getting into their cars.
On another Sunday morning we were waiting for the baby to arrive with her family and friends. We’d done the visit, filled in the form, the church was set up, but there was no baby, so we had to start the service without them. They didn’t turn up. Perhaps they couldn’t get up in time, suggested my colleague. There was a message during the week, could we do the baptism at their house because it would be easier to video. A few Sundays later they did show up on a Sunday morning and the baby was baptized.
In baptism the gates of heaven are opened and reveal the great mystery that is the grace of God.
Sunday 5 January - Epiphany by Katharine Rumens
Matthew 2: 1 – 12
The God project is hitting the ground – and the visitors have their part to play. On the one hand, the shepherds about their work up on the hillside. They are interrupted by something that frightens them – but not for long. Shepherds are made of sturdy stuff. They are instructed to find the Christ child. They practice their team-building skills – and consult – they said one to another. There is consensus – they will follow these bizarre instructions, no-one has a different idea, no-one says ‘let’s stay here and sleep on it. Better wait for morning.’ They are given the information they need – guesswork is not required - they know their destination. Some of us are happier if we know where we are going, what we are making for. The shepherds followed orders and having seen the child – they made known what had been told them about the child – although no one had suggested they do that. The shepherds followed clear instructions and get where they are supposed to go without mishap.
On the other hand, today’s magi come from the East. Luke’s community could picture a local hillside and put themselves in the story among the shepherds. Matthew’s community are asked to launch themselves into the unknown. The East – the world beyond the Roman Empire, these are visitors from the great gentile beyond. These magi – who in the broader sense of the word could be charlatans and quacks, fairground folk – are not the sort of people who fit easily into holy scripture, or into a known frame of reference.
The travellers saw a star which they knew how to make sense of. Presumably Matthew would allow that there were others who saw the same star, marveled momentarily and went back to eating their supper. ‘Not interested. Too much bother. Leave it to the experts. It’s not for the likes of us.’ The magi have less to go on than the shepherds, they are not told what has happened or where to go. They merely had seen a star at its rising. Matthew implies that the star disappeared after they saw it, and only reappeared after their potentially disastrous visit to Herod. ‘Ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising.’ A lot of this journey is in the dark, this is a far riskier undertaking.
We presume it is their curiosity that motivates them. Why foreigners would want to pay homage to a Jewish king is unexplained. Curiosity seemingly equipped them for their journey and are not afraid of asking for help. ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ They had not done their homework on Herod king of this troublesome region, but their ignorance doesn’t make them cautious or stop them asking.
These enquiries cause a full-scale political crisis – all Herod’s staff are summoned. Rightly so, the birth of Jesus is a threat to worldly thrones and empires. The magi do get to pay homage to the child, they pay attention to a dream that comes upon one or all of them and leave for their country by another road. Mission accomplished.
All they had to go on was a star at the beginning and end of their journey – much of their way was without glittery guidance. Instead it was their initiative, their hunch, their instinct and curiosity that kept them going mile after mile. That, in the end, it would all prove worthwhile. And yet, on the face of it, so very little to go on – and who trusts hunches?
‘Let manger, star and angel choir unhinge us from our sleep and sorrows,’ says the poet. (Vajda) What does it mean to be unhinged by a star?’ It may have something to do with being thrown off-balance, especially when we seem to have lost sight of our star and find ourselves thrown back on our own resources.
At primary school I was on the side of the magi every time – the costumes were so much more interesting than the dressing gowns and tea towels of the shepherds. Crowns and shiny gifts, lengths of old velvet curtain: we could do exotic in Wiltshire. There were those who were different among us, although we did not begin to connect our travellers from the east with the magi of the nativity play and their touch and go journey. Anthony’s family were not like us, his Russian grandmother sat by the fire in the kitchen and drank tea without milk. His father was a furrier. Anthony explained to the class what a furrier was because we didn’t know. Jan’s family had come from Poland. His mother cooked funny food and lots of cabbage. The east was an unknown country that revealed itself in everyday living if only we had recognized it at the time.
There is a search for difference underway in Whitehall. Magi are seen as necessary for new ways of doing things. Star gazers are being invited to apply, described as, ‘Super-talented weirdos.’ The search is on for an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds because, according to a key adviser, it’s time for radical reform. The adviser also requires a personal assistant who will need extreme curiosity and be prepared to give up weekends on a regular basis. The adviser is looking for the brilliant, the troublesome and the innovators.
Fairground folk, not conventional young professionals in suits. This innovative approach may attract annoying people who might not look right or who lack social graces, but if they are loyal and signed up to the project you could not wish for better workers. Time will tell if this wacky approach is worth it.
Magi – a story of travellers who were unhinged by a star and thrown off balance into risky living. A story for all time, a story for now.
Where to visit us:-
St Giles' Cripplegate Church
London EC2Y 8DA
Registered Charity Number 1138077
Sunday 24 May Easter 7
Please watch the
at 10.00 for our Sunday Service.
This will be followed at 10:30 by a virtual coffee morning conducted via Zoom. Those of you with webcams can follow this event by using this link Virtual coffee morning
Also possible by telephone: +44 203 481 5240, meeting ID: 860 8348 9889 Password; 628503
We look forward to seeing you!
Future Events Calendar
With the current coronavirus emergency, we have removed the services and events from March to June that have been cancelled and will update this and other parts of our website on a week by week basis.See our Home page for weekly updates to our changed activities.
The Annual Parochial Church Meeting that was to take place on Sunday 29 April has been postponed to Sunday 13 September.
The 2019 Annual Report is availabe on the Future Events page.
A message from Reverend Katharine Rumens
As we say to one another, these are strange times and we are having to find a new pattern of living and praying together. The Archbishops have directed that all
churches are to be shut for a season. This does not mean that prayer will cease as we develop new ways to pray together.
Please look out for your neighbour. Thank you to those who have volunteered to do shopping and errands for the socially isolated. Let me know if you need help and the churchwardens and I will ask someone to be in touch with you.
Finally, we know there is an unprecedented demand on food banks at the moment. We have been asked not to hold a collection outside Waitrose. Instead please put donations of food and toiletries in the box by the checkout or make an online donation to www.hackneyfoodbank.org.uk
At this time
Thursday 4 June 13.00 to 13.30 Private Prayer and Reflection
Instead of meeting in church we wil continue to pray together from 13.00-13.30 on the first Thursday of the month. It remains a set time to pray for our community and the wider world, knowing that others are praying with us. Our silent prayers conclude at 13.30 with all saying the Lord's Prayer. See the Services page for our monthly biblical text from the lectionary and suggestions for prayer.
The monthly sessions on the first Thursday of the month have been cancelled for the time being.
Installation of new lighting
The new lighting system cannot completed for the time being because of a delay in the delivery of light fittings from Italy and the closure of the church.
2020 Dates of PCC meetings in church at 19.30
Tuesday 15 September
Monday 23 November
Parish Office Opening Hours
Tel: 020 7638 1997