Watch with me Jesus, in my loneliness: Though others say me nay, yet say Thou yes; Though others pass me by, stop Thou to bless. Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night; To-night of pain, to-morrow of delight: I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine. Christina Rossetti.
Who watches whom this vigil night?
It used to be possible to visit Greyfriars’ chapel without paying an entrance fee for the gardens around it, but most hours in the daytime Saint Thomas’, Saint Dunstan’s and the Cathedral are open for prayer. We locals have free entry to the Cathedral with a resident’s pass. The Lord needs no such thing! He is there with his crook and his staff, with these he gives us comfort.
The New Year of 1999 to 2000 was well celebrated at Saint Thomas’, candles, prayers and hymns, then food and drink in the new century, but how many could not get to such events and so felt lonely? How many felt lonely and so did not dare to join fellow parishioners? How many people feel cold-shouldered and hesitate to join a group of nodding acquaintances talking together? What can we do about it this year? Let us stop what we are doing sometimes and bless our nodding acquaintances of neighbours by inviting them into our group?
They like bikes in Belgium! Not that they are always the most appropriate means of transport. This is the story of an overloaded bike in Canterbury and what happened next.
We begin with Will parking his bike against a rack where there was already a red lady’s Dutch style bike, not unlike the one outside the shop above. When Will had finished his shopping, the Dutch bike had gone, but there was a red purse on the ground. It had an address in it, a few minutes’ ride away, so off he went. It was shortly before Christmas.
The door was opened by an older lady, dressed in red, pleased to have her purse back: ‘My basket was too full, I am silly!’ now she was ready to press me to take tea in her winter-wonderland front room. A red settee and armchair, flashing lights and a glorious fake tree, a few copies of the Watchtower. The Watchtower magazine of Jehovah’s Witnesses? The same.
Yes, Mrs S was a Witness. Will had always believed that Jehovah’s Witnesses stood at a distance from Christmas and all things Yule. There had been the time when our regular witness missioner, Joe, had knocked on our door at 1.00 p.m. on December 25th with a personal delivery of the magazine. Obviously Christmas day was nothing to him. There had been more than one year when Witnesses expected a Christmas tree, given by a family, to be removed from a shared bay of the hospice where Mrs Turnstone worked. No surrender to other people’s sensibilities there, even when the other people were dying.
‘I came late to the Witnesses through my late husband,’ she explained. ‘But I like to put up something for Christmas to welcome my friends and neighbours. And the lights are a lovely, comforting sight at this time.’
‘What does Joe have to say about it?’ I asked. ‘He knows I take round my share of leaflets. He doesn’t have to know that I have a Christmas tree!’
And perhaps her Christmas tree and hospitality were as powerful a witness as her magazine.
This little star is hidden away in a locked cemetery chapel, all that remains of a French Jesuit community that decamped to Kent when religious persecution was raging at home. Among its members was a young Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who was to become a stretcher-bearer during the Great War.
He was attached to a North African regiment and stayed with the men, refusing promotion that would have afforded him greater personal safety. He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur as ‘an outstanding stretcher-bearer who, during four years of active service, was in every battle and engagement the regiment took part in, applying to remain in the ranks in order that he might be with the men whose dangers and hardships he constantly shared.’ The example of many priest stretcher-bearers helped bring about a reconciliation between state and Church after the war.
He wrote to his cousin Marguerite on Christmas Eve 1915, “I must tell myself, and I think I’ll come to feel it, that no Christmas night will ever have meant more to me than this one I am about to spend on the straw this evening, by the side of men.”
Far from our commercial Christmas, closer to the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
Lord, help us to see the star of wonder that will lead us through this Advent to the straw and hay of Bethlehem.
From Canon Anthony Charlton’s blog, exploring ways to welcome pilgrims to the shrine of Saints Thomas Becket and Oscar Romero in Canterbury.
It was a delight for me one afternoon recently to have eleven groups of students from the School of Architecture of the University of the Creative arts present to us their projects. They were asked to create in our Martyrs Chapel a space that should contain the relics of St Thomas More and St Oscar Romero. As one submission said the “space is without focus, having collected so many relics and icons over the years there is no order to how they are placed, creating a dissonant space which lacks a clear focal point for prayer and worship.”
I was very moved to see how each group presented their designs. There was much inspiration and it was great to see the different ways they found to create a space for prayer and reflection for pilgrims and those who wished to come and pray. Many of the submissions recognised there was a need for more light. One darkened the chapel and explored the relationship between the dark and the light of the relics. Another submission was bold in creating an outside entrance with an antechamber.
The challenge now is for parishioners to meet and decide the next step in creating a beautiful space for the relics of these two great Martyrs.
We look forward to that meeting and to developing the shrine as an accessible, welcoming space in the heart of Canterbury. Thank you, Canon Anthony! And let’s not sacrifice this window in the present shrine.
The Sisters of Minster Abbey are holding a Concert of Hope, an evening of celebration with local choirs and musicians. You are very warmly welcome to join us at St Mary the Virgin Church, Minster on 27th November at 7pm. Entrance is free and there will be a retiring collection for the work of “Canterbury for Ukraine”, an Incorporated Association of volunteers helping Ukrainian refugees to settle in Canterbury and East Kent.
Canterbury for Ukraine have been vital in providing support to enable the Sisters to welcome a Ukrainian family to Minster. We now want to support them so that they can continue to offer assistance to those welcoming our brothers and sisters from Ukraine.
We realise that not all of our friends are local enough to attend the concert on the night but some would like to make a donation. We have set up a Go Fund Me page to make this easy- just click below
DonatePlease pray for the success of this Concert of Hope! We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible on the night!
Love and prayers Mother Nikola and the Sisters of Minster Abbey
Canon Anthony Charlton’s reflections on All Souls’ Day.
This feast of the Commemoration of All Souls is not a day of grief and mourning but of hope and prayer that God will deliver all those who may still be suffering in some form and bring them to eternal happiness.
In our parish we have the so called Belvedere Chapel at Hales Place. It is the only remaining building of the large house and estate belonging to the Hales family and was converted from an 18th century’s garden building to a chapel around 1879. The whole site is now in a very sorry state. In 1880 the large house was sold to exiled Jesuits from Lyon and turned into a college. The college was popular with the French nobility who sent their sons there to learn away from political persecution in France. In 1928 the estate was sold and the house was demolished in the following years. Its chapel (originally a dovecote) and the burial ground are all that remain, located by the Tenterden Drive layby. There are twenty people buried in and around the building. Sir Edward Hales, Mary Felicity Hales and Lady Frances Hales all reburied here, along with ten Jesuit priests, two children, one lay teacher, four lay brothers and one Jesuit scholastic.
As we pray for the souls of all the departed today let us remember especially those buried around the Mortuary Chapel.
O God, who willed that your Only Begotten Son,
having conquered death,
should pass over into the realm of heaven,
grant, we pray, to your departed servants that,
the mortality of this life overcome,
they may gaze eternally on you,
their Creator and Redeemer.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.
This year we have been challenged not to take water for granted. Long weeks with little or no rain dried up fields and gardens, while rivers’ flow diminished. In one lake nearby many fish died from lack of oxygen.
It was a relief to come to the back of the old Harbledown leper hospital near Canterbury the week before the drought broke and to find the spring flowing in the holy well.
Edward, the Black Prince and Prince of Wales would have been happy, too. He attributed a cure he received to taking the water. He was devoted to Canterbury and was buried in the cathedral in 1376. The well is sometimes called the Black Prince’s Well, sometimes St Thomas’s. This was the last spot to water horses before descending into the city; a chance for riders, too, to take a cold drink and for the hospital to beg for alms.
Notice the Prince of Wales’s feathers carved on the capstone of the arch, an older example of this emblem, more formal than the version on British 2p coins and instantly recognisable to passers-by. The stone appears to be balanced on top of the arch rather than holding all of it together. Perhaps this sign of royal favour was enough to spare the well under the Tudor monarchs’ vandalism.
Let us pray with Saint Francis:
Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
And let us remember how precious water is, and how impure it has become because we have despised its humility and taken it for granted.
Here are Fr Anthony Charlton’s reflections on meeting an extreme pilgrim.
Being in the centre of the city we inevitable get many callers at the door.
Someone looking for help with their electric, a person needing their house blessed because they are hearing voices, or a homeless person looking for a cup of tea and a sandwich.
On Sunday afternoon just as I was ready for a nap after lunch, the doorbell rang and there was a young man dressed in black who was looking for a place to stay the night. He announced himself as Br Nathaniel and was a member of the comparative new order of young men founded in 2002 in the States and called the Servants of Jesus Christ. Each Servant takes a month-long poverty pilgrimage bringing along only one change of clothes and a bible.
Brother Nathanael was making his way through the UK. He has come from London and after staying in Canterbury was moving on to Aylesford. I was struck by how little he possessed and that he had to rely on the generosity of those he met.
The spirituality of the Servants of Jesus Christ is based on St Ignatius’s spiritual exercises. St Ignatius encourages those doing the exercises to live like the poor. He encourages us to embrace “poverty as opposed to affluence” and also to embrace “insults or contempt as opposed to the prestige of this world”. He saw this as preparing the ground to receive the virtue of humility as opposed to pride.
Lord help me to let go of anything that hinders my relationship with your Son.
Canon Father Anthony Parish Priest,
Saint Thomas', Canterbury.
Altrincham Market Cross, the 1990 Replica, by Rept0n1x 2013. Notice the small business in the corner! The original Market Cross would have been surrounded by many small businesses. This post comes out a little late to allow us to enjoy in sequence Sister Johanna’s reflections on the rich young man who approached Jesus.
Pope Francis’s prayer intention for August: For small businesses.
We pray for small and medium sized businesses; in the midst of economic and social crisis, may they find ways to continue operating, and serving their communities.
Do you remember when Pope Francis made the headlines for visiting a record shop in Rome to buy a CD? That was support for one small business. I once read that back home in Argentina Cardinal Bergoglio used to take meals in a local family cafe rather than a branch of a big chain. Both those small businesses were serving their local community, rather than anonymous, distant owners.
Some local businesses in our city have closed down in recent times, partly as a result of covid restrictions on trading. Some, of course, were selling cheap souvenirs, something Canterbury was good at from after the death of Saint Thomas until the Reformation led to his shrine being desecrated. No tourists or pilgrims meant no trade.
Well, the continental teenagers are back in town. Let’s hope enough of them like the souvenirs, the ice-creams and refreshments to boost our local businesses. For my part, tomorrow I shall be visiting the street stalls selling fresh local fruit, thereby supporting farmers as well as traders. Not long now till the first Discovery apples appear!
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
The text on the reading desk in Saint Thomas’s chapel invites us to compose ourselves, to be calm as we come before God. This is a quiet corner of Saint David’s Cathedral in Wales, but the saint it celebrates did not live a quiet life. Perhaps he had plenty of time to be still in God’s presence while he was in exile from England after disputes with the King, who wanted more control over the Church.
Archbishop Thomas, however, could not agree to this. God did not depend on earthly kings for his greatness: he was not and is not a tame god, working for a narrow national interest.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
In the stillness of his heart, Thomas accepted this and refused to be King Henry’s puppet. His martyrdom in his own Cathedral of Canterbury was the consequence of exalting God over his earthly lord.
This is the feast of the Translation of Saint Thomas – the day in 1220 when his bones were ‘translated’ to the new shrine in Canterbury Cathedral, and a better day for pilgrims to travel than late December, when he died.
Let us pray for the Church under persecution in so many parts of the world. And pray, too, for the Bishops of the Anglican Communion, gathered for their Conference, and for unity among all Christians, as Jesus prayed. AMEN.