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?
Good morning to you all, and hope this finds you well on this slightly damp morning, as we all are here. Today, in the church year is Corpus Christi, also known as The Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion. It always falls the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, and two months on from Maundy Thursday (what a lot has happened in that time). Corpus Christi is a festival that has been celebrated by many Christians, particularly the Catholic Church, in honour of the Eucharist since 1246. The name “Corpus Christi” is a Latin phrase that refers to the body of Christ. In this context it is acknowledging the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine. I know in St Peter’s and St Mildred’s there has been a tradition of having services in our churches on this day, with a special liturgy, produced by the Church of England. Of course we all have our own understanding of what happens at the Eucharist, for some Christ’s presence is real in the consecrated bread and wine, for some it is a memorial, and for others probably somewhere in between. During this lockdown, I am acutely conscious that many have not been able to receive communion. Although each week as I celebrate here at the Rectory, I do so on behalf of you all, each and every one of you. and I do sense that you are present with me (which is why I live-stream and not pre-record). However I do recognise how difficult this must be, to be fasting from communion and something to reflect upon, particularly as we anticipate the opening of our churches for worship (no date set). I also recognise that for some even when we are permitted to open for public worship, you will feel it is too soon, and would rather stay at home – and I fully respect that. That is why we are looking to continue life-stream services, particularly from St Dunstan’s where there is some 4G, and the possibility of extending wifi from hall to church building.
Thankyou Jo, for showing us how feelings are very similar in our two church families.
Greyfriars is within Rev Jo’s benefice, either in St Peter’s or St Mildred’s parish, so it feels appropriate to use these two pictures today. You can read a little about the friary that was there if you click on the link: Greyfriars, our first home in Canterbury.
I spend a fair bit of time with teenage boys, and was one myself. Let me return to those lads staring at the ceiling. Part of the answer to their apparent detachment was that they – and the girls – should have been at the door, greeting people, handing out newsletters and hymn books, finding seats for visitors, pointing out the toilets/washrooms. Yes, some of them would feel awkward doing that, but if you are part of the team you are part of the community. Welcoming could be a ministry they undertake as part of the confirmation programme.
Even when no-one is there but the One in the Tabernacle, a Church should feel like a place of welcome. I sometimes feel a little over-welcomed at Canterbury Cathedral when I just want to dive into the dark, quiet crypt for ten minutes. There is a certain nervous zeal amongst the welcomers when I enter wearing my day-glow builder’s jacket for cycling. But no question of turning me away because I look like a manual worker.
For good reasons the church porch may be the only space open outside service times. Does it speak of the life of the parish? Can the visitor discover what’s going on and who is responsible for different activities? If I’m in town to visit my relative in hospital, can I see the contact details for the chaplains? Is there a written introduction to the church and parish? In more than one language? Can a wheelchair user see the sanctuary and tabernacle if the main church is locked?
This is all part of ‘do these Christians love one another?’ It is the body language of the parish, absorbed before the newcomer has set foot in the church or joined in Mass.
They say body language conveys more than the spoken word, but one Mass when one of my children was really vocal, an old lady looked daggers at us, or so we thought, till she came over after Mass and made a real fuss of her.
She was blessing our marriage and our child.
A visitor to our parish once complained that he could not pray seated near us when one of the children was too enthusiastic for his liking. He could have sat elsewhere. Such attitudes drive people away; there was the parish priest at a seaside town who told us he expected young children (ours would have been two and four years old) to stay in the porch. We stayed in church, they were quiet, and he complimented us afterwards – but we would not have wanted to worship there regularly.
For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.
The past goes in and out of focus according to which features we attempt to see more clearly. Here is a composite artwork showing the beginning of the pilgrim journey that was the life of St. Francis of Assisi. This is on a wall of the French Franciscan church, Notre Dame des Graces, in Brussels. In one scene we see Francis naked, having returned his clothes to his father, a cloth merchant, in order to become a humble, powerless follower of Christ. A herald of the gospel but also a pilgrim, dedicated to the merciful preaching of peace. He travelled on foot, not by horse.
Twelve years after the early friars came to Canterbury, and settled at Greyfriars, off Stour Street, they arrived in Brussels (in 1238). The friary in which they lived has, in recent times, been excavated. What remains is a few walls and ruined structures, preserved as a museum. No community lasts forever, especially in regions where wars have been frequent and destruction a large-scale reality. It is good for us to have reminders of how easily our religious ideals and convictions become casualties of mortality or a loss of spiritual liveliness.
But we need to remind each other of what brings us together to pray, collaborate, and set up a viable shared life of conversion for our own day. Community does not happen purely by accident, nor does it stay vigorous simply through the availability of a few organisers.