A few words from Rev Jo Richards of Saint Mildred’s, Canterbury, on her church’s patronal feast day, 13 July.
St Mildred: Today is the Feast day of St Mildred, a fascinating woman and a very local saint. So for those who might be less familiar with her, one of our patron saints here is some info: St. Mildred was the daughter of King Merewald of Magonset and his wife, St. Ermenburga (alias Aebbe of Minster-in-Thanet); and therefore sister of SS. Milburga and Milgith. At an early age, her mother sent her to be educated at Chelles in France, where many English ladies were trained to a saintly life. There is lots more info here: http://earlybritishkingdoms.com/adversaries/bios/mildred.html
Lifting of covid restrictions: we are still awaiting guidance from CofE with respect to what this means for our places of worship, and how we conduct public worship. I assure you that we will not be rushing into anything, though I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about what you would feel comfortable with in terms of mask wearing, social distancing, singing and receiving of communion; of course this may all be dictated by CofE, but good to get a feel of what folk are thinking, and would feel comfortable with – we are in this together!
Henry VIII was starting the English Reformation when printing was starting to contribute to a more literate clergy, let alone a growing number of men and women who at the very least used printed prayer books. Jane Richardson of Canterbury Christ Church University here discusses how the beginnings of the Reformation are reflected in one particular breviary, now in the Canterbury Cathedral library.
Was a thin crossing out with a very fine nib enough to satisfy Royal agents that a book’s owner had deleted Thomas from his heart, as well as from his book? Was Wycliffe, an earlier would-be reformer, now a saint in the King’s, or maybe the breviary’s owner’s opinion?
Sister Johanna’s reflection yesterday reminds me of the time when, talking to Philippe, a Missionary of Africa, I described my work with children and teenagers who were excluded from school. His response was, ‘First of all, you have to love them.’
Talking to my colleagues over the years, I came to realise how true this was of all of them, though they would more likely have spoken about ‘getting alongside’ the young people and their families; loving is not a recognised professional activity. Yet some tutors kept a supply of children’s clothes and shoes, either for their pupil or a sibling; I’ve known outgrown bikes and beds to be supplied by tutors, while home-made cakes and preserves showed that we cared without ‘giving charity’.
All this contributed to establishing trust between families on the margin and professional teachers; a trust that could not be taken for granted. The young people and their parents were often Sister Johanna’s
so-called “sinners” … people who were thought to be involved in all sorts of iniquitous practices, whose entire life-style was considered morally dubious at best. I daresay that then as now, there were people relegated to this group who were essentially honest but had fallen on very hard times, people for whom earning a living had proved impossible, and for reasons beyond their control. But many will have been truly as dishonest and even criminal as they were thought to be, and all were deeply wounded people for one reason or another. This is a crowd of seeming failures – if you judge success by the sleek appearance of it. And this is something Jesus never did.
I would not have you see my families as stained glass saints, far from it: in many cases they really were dishonest and criminal, and not necessarily skilled crooks, so they tended to get caught. One father was later murdered by a drug dealer; a dear boy was murdered by his stepfather; assault and theft were not uncommon. More than once I was warned not to visit alone, but then the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ was easy to answer: this is my job today and today this is my vocation.
‘Will, you come and sit here and tell me I’m a good mum. You know I’m not!’
‘That’s not what your children say, is it?’
Her children did not judge her by appearances. Part of my job, my vocation, one of the parts not mentioned in any job description, was to vindicate her children by helping that mother find the good mother in her heart. Perhaps we should dare to remove the masks and let Jesus breathe on us, then take his healing grace to the battered souls crowding around us.
It’s a while since we heard from the Irish Chaplaincy in London, but they’ve been busy. Here Eddie tells us about work for prisoners that continues out of sight and mind of most of us.
Jesus was speaking in a time long before the coronavirus came along and put a stop to prison visiting.
During the pandemic many prisoners have been banged-up (confined to their cells) for up to 23 ½ hours per day, and with activities and education cancelled. Most work too has been suspended, and with it the chance to earn a little bit of money with which to purchase basic necessities or make a phone call. One of the letters we received showed the unenviable choice about how to spend the daily half an hour of ‘freedom’: to take a shower; to join the queue for the phone (assuming you have the means to make a call); or to go into the exercise yard, where there may be a distinct lack of social distancing. Travellers have been perhaps particularly affected by this confinement in a tiny space for large periods of time.
The fantastic team at the Irish Chaplaincy has been unable to make the usual regular visits to the hundreds of Irish and Irish traveller prisoners in England & Wales, but has been as busy as ever, supporting people in other ways. There have been many phone calls, including to the families of prisoners (often back in Ireland), and to various prison staff; and at Easter over 1,000 people were contacted via ‘e-mail a prisoner’ with an individual message of hope and a special prayer written by our Fr Gerry. Phone credit has been provided to many people, so they can keep in touch with loved ones. And it is this maintenance of family contact which is said to be the single most crucial factor in eventual successful rehabilitation.
The team has supplied in-cell resources to about 500 people, which have included books, CDs, mindful-colouring, pens, puzzles, games and hobby equipment. And 103 Irish women in custody were sent a special pack (seen in the above picture). One recipient wrote from HMP Bronzefield:
“The colouring book is so lovely, means so much, made me cry. I love felt tip pens also, really helps me with mental health side.”
There have been many other messages of thanks, including this recent one:
“Yous are lovely people and if I ever get out I’d like to volunteer if of course you need any help with anything as I think yous do amazing service to people in difficult situations.”
The team is now assembling and sending out ‘Keeping Connected’ packs, comprising: notepad, a pack of envelopes, greetings cards, nice pens, credit for stamps, and a prayer card. Again, this will facilitate the crucial contact with family at a time when visits are not happening.
The team will be much in demand for their visiting, at such time as they can resume. For the time being, the amazing service continues.
We found this plaque on the wall of our holiday house, so the Christian roots sink deeper there than at Minster Abbey in Kent, two modern or five ancient realms apart. Ty Gwyn – the White House – is walking distance from Saint David’s Cathedral; a short walk further is his birthplace. We were on holiday rather than pilgrimage, but that was part of the holiday too, even if we took plenty for the journey including changes of clothes, and a meal for the first evening. We did use the local shops after that.
Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey wrote this reflection for us, about the preaching pilgrimage Jesus set up for his disciples. This was David’s way of life as a missionary bishop. As well as preaching, he was known as a healer.
He called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey; neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and do not have a spare tunic…. . So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere. Luke 9: 1-4,6.
I’m ashamed to admit that I usually go blank when I read this passage from the Gospel of Luke. But, today I lingered over the words, repeating them over and over gently in my mind, in order to give the Holy Spirit all the time necessary to help me find my way through this text. And before long, things began to happen.
I first noticed the words, ‘He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.’ To proclaim and to heal. Jesus is not a man of words only, but of words and deeds: and here, the deeds are deeds of healing. Deeds of life, therefore. Jesus wanted his disciples not merely to tell, but show that he, Jesus, was a man who could bring about change – change of the most important kind. This, for ordinary people, is vital. And ordinary people, hard workers, carrying a burden of responsibility and of sorrow – these are the ones Jesus was trying to reach.
The Twelve were also given ‘power and authority over all devils’ – well and good, surely. Good for the Twelve. Jesus was commissioning them here, and he knew that Satan would try to undermine their efforts, their confidence, everything. But Jesus doesn’t suggest to the Twelve that they walk up to the ordinary man on the street and announce, ‘I have been given power and authority over all devils’. Imagine it. I rather think that then, as now, the reaction of the man on the street to such an approach would have been one of hasty withdrawal from that apostle, a withdrawal of eye contact, a striding in the opposite direction, and throwing only the quickest of backward glances to make sure that apostle wasn’t following. But the authority to cure diseases was something else. This was something the Twelve could use, and ordinary people would respond to. The Twelve were the primary ones who needed to know that Jesus’ power was greater than Satan’s – but the ordinary people were the ones who needed to see real results. And Jesus is happy to respond to this need.
Jesus isn’t finished with the Twelve yet. He has more instructions – and they are strange ones. First, ‘Take nothing with you for the journey.’ Imagine what it would have been like for the Twelve to hear that. It was probably not possible for them to exchange puzzled glances with each other right then, but they must have wondered incredulously, “Whoever heard of someone being so crazy as to set out on an important journey without packing?” But the subtext here is in words Jesus uses elsewhere, ‘Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him.’ Rely on him. You are going out to do his work. He will provide. The labourer deserves his wages. Jesus, anticipating their questions, perhaps, goes on to make the nature of God’s providence perfectly clear by detailing the things they were not supposed to take:
‘No staff’ to lean on as you walk. Lean on me, he suggests.
‘No haversack.’ Right. He already said ‘take nothing with you.’ No, not even an empty bag to put things in once the gifts start coming. You are not to stockpile.
‘No bread.’ I am the bread of life. You will have food of a different sort to sustain you. Your fathers had manna in the wilderness. You will be fed.
‘No money.’ Why? Because I am your wealth. People long for me more than for money. Offer me to them free of charge. They – or enough, anyway – will fall all over themselves to help you whenever you have a need.
‘No spare tunic.’ No, not even a change of clothes. Some people will welcome you so fully into their lives that they will seem to adopt you. You will be like their son. You will want for nothing.
And now, I place myself for a moment in the sandals of one of the Twelve, imagining myself going on this missionary journey. With nothing. I feel exposed, vulnerable. Very. But only for a moment. Then I remember that this is always a very good thing in the spiritual life. Self-assurance is worth very little in my relationship with Jesus. I think of how it’s been when I have gone off on my own to pursue projects that did not originate in Jesus. Self-assurance, therefore, is not what Jesus wants to inculcate in the Twelve on this, their first missionary endeavour – or in me, ever. He wants us to rely on him utterly – and on ourselves, never.
And off they go. The program was successful beyond their wildest dreams. ‘They went from village to village proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere.’ Everywhere.
What pains have you taken, what method have you used, to reclaim (slaves) from their wickedness?
Have you carefully taught them, that there is a God, a wise, powerful, merciful Being, the Creator and Governor of heaven and earth? that he has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world, will take an account of all our thoughts, words, and actions? that in that day he will reward every child of man according to his works? that then the righteous shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world; and the wicked shall be cast into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?
If you have not done this, if you have taken no pains or thought about the matter, can you wonder at their wickedness? What wonder, if they should cut your throat? And if they did, whom could you thank for it but yourself? You first acted the villain in making them slaves, whether you stole them or bought them. You kept them stupid and wicked, by cutting them off from all opportunities of improving either in knowledge or virtue: And now you assign their want of wisdom and goodness as the reason for using them worse than brute beasts!
The artists of Strasbourg used the Last Judgement to say something about those in authority who had more regard for themselves and their comfort than the poor people of their day. But the Lord is blessing Creation with his Glorious Wounds.
John Wesley spent some time in Georgia, where he was ministering at the time he received the letter mentioned here, in a note to Boswell’s Life of Johnson.He would have been able to see slavery in action for himself.
A gentleman, writing from Virginia to John Wesley, in 1735, about the need of educating the negro slaves in religion, says:—’Their masters generally neglect them, as though immortality was not the privilege of their souls in common with their own.’ Wesley’s Journal, II. 288.
Of course immortality is the privilege of any human being who chooses to accept it, but to enslave others by kidnapping them, or buying them from their abductors, is to deny their essential humanity. Teaching them the Good News would undermine the whole edifice of slavery.
We will be looking at some of Wesley’s thoughts on slavery in the coming days; we also have the feast of Saint Gregory on Thursday 3rd September, with some reflections on slavery by John Buchan.
The following posts will be based on Wesley’s Thoughts upon Slavery of 1774; these were based on a pamphlet Some Historical Accounts of Guinea, published in Philadelphia in 1771 by Anthony Benezet, an American Quaker.
We would like to share a post by Christopher M Graney on the Sacred Space Astronomy Website. He writes: This story is mostly about science as the process of looking carefully at the world around us and trying to understand it and to come up with ideas about it, on its terms, not on ours. It is complex, not short, and best told with lots of pictures; so bear with me in this post, O Readers of Sacred Space Astronomy.
Today we visit a different desert. Chesterton is writing about relativism in 1905, a century before Pope Benedict warned of its dangers. The passage is from Heretics, Project Gutenberg edition. GKC’s argument is that there actually is something we can call good. It leads nowhere to speak of ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’, but rather thetruth, which is always imperfectly grasped, as any scientist would tell you. Relative truth is not what we go into the desert to seek. While avoiding obvious dangers, it is good to search for the truth, to sweat and even to be crucified for it.
An enormous unspoken disappointment has fallen on our Northern civilization. All previous ages have sweated and been crucified in an attempt to realize what is really the right life, what was really the good man. A definite part of the modern world has come beyond question to the conclusion that there is no answer to these questions, that the most that we can do is to set up a few notice-boards at places of obvious danger, to warn men, for instance, against drinking themselves to death, or ignoring the mere existence of their neighbours.
Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”