|from the Dean of Lichfield’s Christmas Message.|
I think we were all hoping for a more definite Christmas this year. In 2020 we mumbled our way through a highly restricted Christmas hoping that things would never be quite as grim again. And now, behold! The virus mutates and sends out new waves of nervousness and self-imposed social restriction. I led a corporate moan in the Cathedral on the third Sunday of Advent, urging the congregation to voice our weariness with the plague. I have to say the community responded magnificently and we sounded a rich and resonant “Ugh!” There’s a certain sense of release and relief when we can all voice our fed-upness and irritation together: therapeutic even.
For all that, Christmas comes to shed its own light on us, the people we love, live with and share our planet with too. We have family and religious customs and ceremonies that mark it out as “the most wonderful time of the year”.
With my love, prayers and blessings
Dean of Lichfield
Tag Archives: Anglican
My Catholic primary school taught us stories from the Bible, one between two at a shared desk. We also heard about miracles outside Scripture, including visitations of Our Lady, especially at Lourdes and Fatima. I came to feel the emphasis on these ‘private revelations’ was excessive, but visiting England’s Walsingham, a shrine for almost 1000 years, set me thinking about the role of Mary ever since.
We’d been told that only Catholics honour Mary, yet Walsingham has beautiful Anglican and Orthodox Shrines as well as the Catholic one. Each one made us welcome. We learned that icons like the Mother of Perpetual Succour came from the East. Later, joining ecumenical pilgrimages meant walking and talking, eating and praying together.
This book may inspire the reader to go on pilgrimage to one of the featured shrines, or to turn the pages while voyaging in imagination, beads in your hand, a candle and pilgrim’s shell beside you. The many well-chosen pictures will help you to be there.
Doctor Samuel Johnson, a devout 18th Century Anglican philosopher, had this to say regarding pilgrimage: ‘To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible’. In other words, there is room to be led by feelings as well as by intellectual theology when visiting shrines.
The book may set you thinking about Mary and her place in the life of the Church. When it first opened Walsingham’s Anglican shrine attracted charges of ‘Mariolatry’ – idolising Mary. Less stridently, others judge the honour given to Mary to be obscuring her Son. But on the Feast of the Assumption this year, Pope Francis pointed out that Mary was and remains humble, so that God was able to beget his Son through her and pour out blessings through her, down to today. So it is in humility that we should set out on pilgrimage, on foot, by transport, or through the imagination.
Whoever receives an apparition can expect grief from a naturally sceptical world and a deliberately sceptical Church which has to discern the spirits at work in these incidents. But once the Church has accepted an apparition as genuine, we can follow Johnson’s advice: ‘Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue.’
Wincenty Laszewski has limited his explorations to apparitions beginning from the late 19th Century, thus omitting Lourdes which still witnesses renewal of faith as well as physical and emotional healings. Renewal and healing occur at other shrines too, and Laszewski leads us to many across the world.
Fatima, whose Sister Lucia certainly suffered at the hands of the Church, is well known but most of these shrines were new to me. At Beauraing, Belgium, in the 1930s the children who saw and heard Mary came from families indifferent to religion; it was only after the Occupation ended that the local bishop could pronounce the supernatural nature of the events. The children faded into the background, later marrying and raising Christian families. Thus they lived out their response to Mary’s two questions: “Do you love my Son?” and “Do you love me?”
Far from there, in Ngome, South Africa, a German Benedictine missionary received visions in the 1950s. Sister Reinolda heard from Mary that she should be addressed as ‘Tabernacle of the Most High’, as she had held Jesus, the Host, in her womb and in her arms. It was time for Christians to be ‘a sea of hosts’ to bring Christ’s salvation to the world; a poetic but doctrinally orthodox idea. We are the Body of Christ, as Saint Paul proclaims (1 Corinthians 12:27). Mary also asked for a shrine where seven springs come together.
In Egypt it was at a Coptic Orthodox Church dedicated to Mary that she was seen by thousands of Muslims and Christians on a number of occasions. As always there is scepticism from more than one side, theories of mass suggestion or natural phenomena or fakery, as Laszewski makes plain. But in the spirit of ecumenism which characterises Egyptian Christianity, the Catholic Church accepts the judgement of the Orthodox Patriarch’s Commission that the apparitions, and subsequent individual healings, were God’s work.
Scepticism is an honest position to adopt towards apparitions, and always the first stance of the Church which proclaims Christ Crucified, foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). But Mary makes the sign of the cross during many apparitions, indicating that the Cross is central to her message. Those who accept the divine origin of the apparitions should not disdain people who are indifferent or unmoved.
As time goes by, shrines may continue to flourish in ways that the original visionaries could not have expected. Who would have predicted today’s ecumenical scene in Walsingham? Mary was seen here before the Reformation, before even the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity; now it is a place where some of those wounds are being healed. What blessings will be made available to the faithful and the world as these modern shrines find their lasting mission?
A few points regarding Wincenty Laszewski’s labour of love. At p197 he wrongly portrays Frank Duff as seeking permission of St John Paul II to found the Legion of Mary. Duff had begun this work in 1921 in Dublin, more than half a century before meeting the Pope in Poland. Saint Pius X became Pope in 1903, not 1913. Laszewski relates how his predecessor, Leo XIII had a vision of the 20th Century and its evils. The Pope did not reveal details of this event, but Laszewski claims it as a Marian Apparition because Leo championed the Rosary. Pious suppositions are not history!
I would not be alone in scratching my head over Laszewski’s description of Ngome as a place where natural realities came into contact with the supernatural. Springs of water have always been places where contact with the supernatural is a given, as at the Pool of Bethesda, or Lourdes, or many a holy well. In the words Chesterton put into the mouth of Mary, speaking to King Alfred:
The gates of Heaven are lightly locked, We do not guard our gain, The heaviest hind may easily Come silently and suddenly Upon me in a lane.
Lord, grant us eyes to see with and to discern your presence in the people we meet.
We walked to Elham on the recommendation of our daughter; we were not disappointed. Firstly, to find the King’s Arms open and ready to sell us good beer which we enjoyed in the square in the full Spring sunshine. And then there was the church, also open, ready to sell us good second-hand books, and ready to give us plenty to reflect upon.
These Easter Lilies were placed before a Madonna and child, but a very Paschal, Easter-minded Madonna and child. Two years ago we looked at a portrait of Mary and baby Jesus in a pieta-like pose, and I urge you to revisit that post now, to complement this one.
That old post considered two paintings from the studio of Rogier van de Weyden, of the mid-XV Century, the Madonna and a Pieta. In each Mary is tenderly holding her son, whose pose as a baby matches that of his lifeless corpse. This is not what our artist in Elham has in view. Jesus may be four years old here, a boy, not a baby, but still dependent on Mary and Joseph for everything.
The boy is very much alive, yet he is standing as if practising for his work on the Cross. He is lightly supported by his mother; at this age he can walk for himself, but that gentle uplift is reassuring. As for Mary, not for the last time she ponders these things in her heart, the heart pierced by the sword of sorrow.
Jesus is about to step forth from her lap. Any parent will know the excitement and trepidation of following a small child, where are they going, what dangers can we perceive that they do not? But letting them lead us is part of growth for the child and also for the parent who is offered the chance to see the world through fresh eyes.
Mary could not prevent the death of Jesus on the Cross but she was there to welcome him on the third day. Isaiah tells us that a little child shall lead them: may we follow him through all life’s trials to our resurrection in his Kingdom.
Science was not always seen as attacking Christian belief, and should not be presented as doing so. Rather it challenges the believer to accept, or not, the evidence of their own observations, and the often detailed observations of honest men and women looking at Creation, trying to understand it and their place within it. As one scientist put it, you can believe that God indeed created all things inside a week, but you have to accept that he created a world that looks, sounds and tastes as though he has been creating on a larger scale and over a longer period of time than we can even begin to imagine.
Gilbert White, the curate of Selborne in Hampshire, was one such honest observer. He had his battles to convince gardeners and farmers that ‘worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation’. That is now received wisdom. As for ‘small shell-less snails, called slugs’ … well, at least the hedgehogs enjoy them. White’s Natural History is based on letters to scientist friends.
These worms are rather dirty with grains of sand and soil adhering to their skin. We thought it would be unfair to wash them down. After the photo op they were soon back in their native soil.
Selborne, May 20, 1777.
Lands that are subject to frequent inundations are always poor; and probably the reason may be because the worms are drowned. The most insignificant insects and reptiles are of much more consequence, and have much more influence in the Economy of nature, than the incurious are aware of; and are mighty in their effect, from their minuteness, which renders them less an object of attention; and from their numbers and fecundity.
Earth-worms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm. For, to say nothing of half the birds, and some quadrupeds, which are almost entirely supported by them, worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without them, by boring, perforating, and loosening the soil, and rendering it pervious to rains and the fibres of plants, by drawing straws and stalks of leaves and twigs into it; and, most of all, by throwing up such infinite numbers of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which, being their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass.
Worms probably provide new soil for hills and slopes where the rain washes the earth away; and they affect slopes, probably to avoid being flooded. Gardeners and farmers express their detestation of worms; the former because they render their walks unsightly, and make them much work: and the latter because, as they think, worms eat their green corn. But these men would find that the earth without worms would soon become cold, hard-bound, and void of fermentation; and consequently sterile: and besides, in favour of worms, it should be hinted that green corn, plants, and flowers, are not so much injured by them as by many species of coleoptera (scarabs), and tipulae (long-legs), in their larva, or grub-state; and by unnoticed myriads of small shell-less snails, called slugs, which silently and imperceptibly make amazing havoc in the field and garden.
From “The Natural History of Selborne” by Gilbert White.
Let’s pray that we may never be counted among the incurious, but may appreciate that every link in the chain of nature has its part to play.
More from Rev. Jo at Saint Mildred’s in Canterbury.
Good morning to you all on this beautiful spring day….
As probably the majority have now had their first vaccination, if not their second one, The church of England are working with Vacinaid and we are encouraged to read the following: ref: https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance#na
If you want to give thanks for receiving your vaccination, or to donate to charities who are helping to ensure that every community is supported, the following suggestions are among ways this can be done:
- The Church of England helped to bring about the vaccinaid.org campaign with Unicef and Crowdfunder, which is seeking to help provide more than 2.5 billion vaccines worldwide. Donations can be made directly, or communities can set up local fundraisers to contribute together.
- Christian Aid’s Give Thanks campaign is focusing on humanitarian support including food, water and healthcare in areas where the vaccine is not currently available.
- In addition, the Church of England has worked with yourneighbour.org on the Give Hope Campaign which works to target misinformation and encourage everyone to take up the offer of a vaccination.
A letter from the Bishop of Rupert’s Land, based in Winnipeg, Canada, to the faithful people of his diocese, thanking them for all their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Diocese of Rupert’s Land
The Right Reverend Geoffrey Woodcroft
Bishop of Rupert’s Land
We acknowledge that we meet and work in Treaty 1, 2 and 3 Land, the traditional land of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Dakota, Sioux and Oji-Cree people and the homeland of the Metis Nation. We are grateful for their stewardship of this land and their hospitality which allows us to live, work and service God the Creator here.
March 19, 2021
A message for the Diocese of Rupert’s Land
I write today to express genuine and profound thanks to you. As Christ’s disciples we have learned to answer new calls to serve and be the Body. You and I have endeavored to reduce the risk spreading COVID 19, not just for self, but for the wider communities in which we serve.
For some of us, the lessons we gleaned way back in Sunday School prepared us well for our part in ministering through this pandemic. For those who have come to the Church not as children, your worship, study and fellowship has prepared you to serve compassionately in the world. In so many ways our Church has been preparing us all our lives for the extraordinary times we now navigate.
I am grateful for the parishes and missions who have slowly, carefully and safely begun to return to in-person worship and gatherings. I am grateful for your adherence to safety protocols, healthy education and communication strategies for members, and your zeal for excellence.
I am filled with gratitude for parishes and missions who have continue in dialogue in their communities, weighing risks and information maintaining the suspension of in-person worship. Your careful deliberation and care a fine example of our rich tradition.
I remain indebted to the many members across this diocese and our staff who have offered their expertise, advice/wisdom, their labour, and their love in Christ to me. We are many members, and we are One Body, it takes all of us to be the Church.
Finally, fatigue, grief and feeling like one is constantly on the edge is common amongst us all. Clergy and lay leaders have had steep learning curves in new technology, innovative ways of connecting, and being Church in the wilderness. We grieve the loss of life, relationships, hugs and kisses, we lament that routines have been upended, plans cancelled, and time forgotten, and every day we are hoping for clarity and definition. May we know forgiveness and kindness, and be made to feel less afraid, and raised to that place where we might carefully impart the very same to all who Creator God gives us upon our journey.
We invite you to share this seafaring reflection from the Dean of Lichfield, a city about as far as you can get from the sea in England! He ends with these words:
Lent is a good time for self-examination on a personal and communal level. How far have I or we mangled God’s image and likeness into my/our own limited image and likeness? How far have my/our anxious needs for safety, belonging, esteem, or amounting to something deafened or blinded me/us to what God is putting before us? And remember Christianity is a “revealed” faith, so it’s not so much a question of inventing the God we want, as understanding the God we have got and are getting.
Let’s journey on this Lent, personally and corporately, towards what God holds before us. We can do no better than read and meditate on one of the Gospels – try Mark. It’s short and punchy and lets us know why that, when the Good News is proclaimed, life isn’t settled or comfortable.
A prayer for us to say together:
We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, that you have called us to be your people. Help us to know the greatness of our calling, so that we, having one spirit of faith and love, may live in the world as a new and holy generation. May your eternal and righteous will be always before our eyes, so that in soberness and vigilance we may await your time, and witness to your promises, until your kingdom comes. Amen.
With my love, prayers and blessings
Dean of Lichfield
This letter from Dean Adrian of Lichfield Cathedral is about friendship and suggests what we may be missing, almost without realising it, and how Jesus made friends with all sorts of people, with ‘sinners’.
The Gospels are full of instances where Jesus is “moved with compassion”. No translation in English quite conveys the force of the original: a deep and visceral movement from the bowels, the entrails, the depth of the heart where the strongest emotions originate. For Jesus this feeling of compassion often extended itself into acts of healing and the restoration of the inherent dignity of people on the margins, often in things as simple and straightforward as a conversation or sharing a meal.
Albert Nolan OP in his splendid book “Jesus before Christianity” says: “It would be impossible to overestimate the impact these meals must have had upon the poor and the sinners. By accepting them as friends and equals Jesus had taken away their shame, humiliation, and guilt. By showing them that they mattered to him as people he gave them a sense of dignity … The physical contact which he must have had with them when reclining at table … must have made them feel clean and acceptable”.
The point Nolan drives home is that Jesus isn’t a friendly social worker or dispenser of charity “doing good to someone” but is rather participating in a person’s experience. He stands in solidarity and makes community with people in their woundedness; he is deeply affected by the pain of others, and he can do nothing other than to alleviate pain and suffering. This was received as healing and salvation with relief, joy, gratitude, and love.
Thank you, Dean Adrian.
Chad, as patron, unites Lichfield Anglican Diocese and the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. He was the first Bishop of Lichfield in Mercia, the Kingdom of the English Midlands. He died on this day in 672. It is fitting to remember him more widely this year, as he died of a plague, having received a heavenly warning that his death was near.
Bishop Chad’s nature was to go everywhere on foot – again a parallel with our own times – but Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury ordered him to ride on horseback for long journeys. His diocese covered much of England so to visit all of it made a horse a tool of the Good News rather than a symbol of his status as bishop.
We pray that the work of vaccination may go ahead safely and surely in Lichfield Cathedral, and we pray too for the discernment to know when we should walk, not ride a short journey, and so help to protect God’s earth and our home.
This links to an article by the Dean of Lichfield, Rev Adrian Dorber. Lichfield was the first cathedral to host a mass vaccination centre. Dean Adrian begins:
I was asked to write the following piece for a daily newspaper. Whether it gets printed, or it is mangled into something unrecognisable by sub-editors, is beyond my control, but I thought you might like to see the article. Here it is:
Last week the UK death toll from Covid-19 crossed the 100,000 mark: a grim milestone in our reckoning with the impact of the virus. The swathe of bereavement the virus brings is terrible. The mental and spiritual desolation of 2020 has shown us the fault lines in the way the world is currently ordered: pointing us to the inescapable truth of our relatedness and obligations to each other. One charity dealing with bereavement has predicted a “tsunami of unresolved grief” that will take a long time to heal. Compound the death rate with the anxiety, stress and isolation lockdown and home-schooling have brought, to say nothing of lost jobs, business closures and a contracting economy, then we are right to welcome the NHS’s vaccination roll-out.
The link above will take you to the whole interesting article.