The Victorians have been instrumental for many customs in church and society and Stir Up Sunday is one of many. Traditionally, the last Sunday before Advent was the time when the family would gather together and prepare the ingredients for the Christmas pudding. But the tradition of stirring goes far beyond the Victorians. The opening words of the Book Of Common Prayer, used on the last Sunday before Advent, reads: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” There is something in the meaning of this custom which resonates at a deeper level than the mixing of the ingredients of the Christmas pudding!
But let’s stay with tradition for a while longer and see how this simple ceremony has become part of the preparations for Christmas. Tradition has it that a ‘good’ pudding has 13 ingredients, representing Jesus and his disciples. These ingredients then need to be stirred in a specific action – from east to west – in recognition of the Magi’s journey to find the Christ-child. The process does not finish here, a sprig of holly is placed on the top of the pudding to symbolise the crown of thorns which the Roman soldiers forced upon the head of Jesus. Finally, a coin or a charm is inserted into the pudding. This has no religious significance at all, other than needing a priest if the coin were to choke the lucky recipient!
With the availability of ready made puddings, Stir up Sunday has become a traditional relic. However, many will remember being asked by the mother to make a wish during the stirring of the Christmas pudding. (Was that the year I got my bike?) I don’t think this type of wish-making was the intention of Thomas Cranmer when he penned the phrase, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.”
In the liturgical calendar Stir Up Sunday is also known as Christ the King, the last Sunday before the new Church year begins and with that, Advent. This celebration of Christ the King of heaven and earth enables us to journey into the Advent season with a desire to know God, to welcome the suffering servant, Jesus, into the world. It wasn’t too long ago when Advent was kept, like Lent, for six weeks, not four. So perhaps the feast of Christ the King was intended to literally stir us up to prepare for the great mystery of the incarnation. On this day, the endnote of the Christian year, we should stir up the sun and clouds, we should stir up the suffering and the darkness, we should stir up the hope and malaise. Through God’s most profound grace, we should stir up what is the very best of our humanity and the very worst of the human condition and pray that Christ the King may become known in the world that people may taste and see.
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At Pentecost, the disciples were no more than lumps of clay, waiting for the Holy Spirit to breathe life into them. We hear how this Holy Spirit appeared among them. It must have been a frightening, powerful and mystifying experience.
My interest in ceramics and the evolution of a lump of clay to an object of desire has not receded. There are so many processes and levels that can make or break (forgive the pun) a beautiful pot. Throwing a pot is only the start. The next stage is to turn it after it gets leather hard. There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip here! After the bisque firing comes the glaze – this is the silicon finish which gives the pot that lustre and interest. The final firing can now take place.
For any potter, the anticipation before the kiln is opened is unquestionably intense. “Will the kiln gods be kind to me today?” As the door swings open and the heat from the kiln hits you in the face, it might be possible to momentarily see the product of all your hard work.
The drama of the kiln is that it is impossible to know where the flames have spread and how they have reacted with the pots. Some wonderful happy accidents can occur as the flame has danced around an object, brought out its colour and texture and made it come alive.
At Pentecost, the disciples were no more than lumps of clay, waiting for the Holy Spirit to breathe life into them. We hear how this Holy Spirit appeared among them. It must have been a frightening, powerful and mystifying experience. They attempted to make known this event by describing the Holy Spirit in graphic terms, like tongues of fire.
We understand through the Acts of the Apostles, the Gospels and Paul’s Letters that this firing, this holy blaze, had created something beautiful, never experienced before. The believers had changed in that furnace, the Holy Spirit had danced around them and purified them. Their appearance and demeanour was such that others were attracted to them like objects of desire. Whatever they had, others wanted.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is somehow easier to close the door on the kiln and think that this sort of chemistry and alchemy would not work on us today. It was just a once in a lifetime firing! This would sadly be to undermine God’s power to create beauty in his world. It would also negate our belief that ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ The living, resurrected and anticipated Lord Jesus is present in the world – shaping the clay, turning it around, adorning it with colour and texture and vitality. This is the breath of Christ’s loving which fires the clay and which we celebrate at Pentecost.
We welcome one of our churchwardens, Irim, who will be preaching on the subject of Pentecost this Sunday at 8am and 10am. The lectern is not a place for the privileged few to speak from. It belongs to the many as we enjoy hearing different voices and share their experiences and kiln-crafted passions.
And very much associated with this….
“Fire transforms the ordinary clay into objects of beauty inside the kiln“
At this time of Pentecost, we are all hoping to re-start our lives after the Covid pandemic. StM&AA’s is reflecting on this experience of deep suffering but also looking forward. How can this parish church emerge out of the lockdown with something beautiful to share? Kiln Firing is an opportunity to talk, listen and pray about how we can become a healthier, more attractive church and re-engage with the wider community and with each other.
The potter’s kiln takes time to produce enough heat to take effect. We will begin the firing by asking two simple questions which require imaginative yet workable responses, just like clay! What should be lost to the kiln? What would we like to take out and share? I have offered my thoughts to help fire your thoughts:
1. What should be lost to the kiln? What is cracked and broken and what needs to change?
Give honest examples discerning the things that are damaged or need binning or re-working. (Gavin’s thoughts: Re-consider our diet of worship; analyse our attitude towards all age fellowship; introduce the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ agenda).
2. What are the ‘beautiful objects’ which you passionately hope come out of the kiln?
Give practical examples where the fire of the church can make a difference to human need and the world. (Gavin’s thoughts: A carbon neutral church which facilitates gatherings and eco policy and action in the community; accessible and inspiring inter-generational worship; focus on art, music and gardening as therapy; the re-ignition of our healing ministry).
I will present an A5 piece of paper to those in the congregation this Sunday. We will pray about the process of re-emerging out of lockdown and ask that we may be given the discernment that we need to share our thoughts in this exercise – the first of many ways in the discernment process. I hope to receive your responses (either hard copy – or by email for those who cannot attend) which I will analyse and bring to the PCC for further consideration. We are also planning social gatherings (when we are allowed) and fun activities in an effort to enable our fellowship with each other and the parish.
The appointment of a new incumbent at St Peter’s, Wolvercote and All Saints’, Wytham The Revd Kate Tuckett is the new vicar, currently serving in North Harrow in the London diocese. Her curacy was in south London, after working for several years in church communications at Christian Aid and The Children’s Society, and prior to that as a book editor. Kate is married to Russell (who works in Abingdon), and they have a daughter Madeleine who was born in August. The hope is that Kate will be licensed in September. Please continue to pray for the people of Wolvercote and Wytham and for Kate and her family as they prepare for the move.
The CATechesis Group
We are asking the question: ‘Is evangelism a dirty word?’ This question arises as we think about how we re-emerge and engage with our community after lockdown (see above). Clare will lead these sessions unpicking some of the theology behind the meaning of evangelism. We hope that some of our discussion on this subject may well lead to a greater ownership of discipleship (not just by the clergy), that we may all bear witness to our faith with confidence; that we may be more reassured about the church’s presence in the community. Do come along, we meet on Zoom from 7.30pm – 9pm. We begin with a short bible reading and exploration before we focus on the main theme. You do not have to be a cat owner to come (!) or a theologian. This group is for all people who are inquisitive about the Christian faith. Here it is – simply press the underlined blue link and join us for chat, laughter, thought and prayer.
I cannot explain away my faith; I cannot make it seem real to all people but I can make known something of the indescribable and the unknowable through other means like art, film and literature.
Today is Ascension Day – 40 days after Easter Sunday and 10 days before Pentecost. Ascension is one of the most difficult events of Christ’s activity on earth to grasp and fathom. To attempt to put this ‘happening’ into a theological context is to grapple with the human emotions of loss and recovery. Jesus leaves his followers in bodily form in order to share himself more fully through his Spirit.
This evening I will be preaching on the Ascension of Christ. I have struggled with the readings from Acts (1-11) and the gospels. The best way that I have learned to bring meaning to Christ’s departure is by appealing to film, literature and legend. In particular, I wanted to draw out similar themes, emotions and actions which have been depicted through history of this action of ascension. You will need to come to the Eucharist tonight at 8pm in the Lady Chapel if you want to hear the full version but I will give you a teaser now.
The movie E.T. demonstrates much of the disciples angst as Jesus leaves them behind. But the film enables us to understand that departure does not necessarily mean ending. The relationship built up between the child, Elliot, and E.T. is life-giving and life-changing. This relationship is beautiful, amazing and resilient.
I cannot explain away my faith; I cannot make it seem real to all people but I can make known something of the indescribable and the unknowable through other means like art, film and literature. This type of scavenging for the truth becomes a wonderful resource because it sets our faith into context. The Bible is at its most vibrant and dynamic best when set against other ways of seeing the world, like that of Elliott in E.T. Come tonight, remembering that Ascension Day is a day of obligation in our Christian year.
The CATechesis Group
In the next three weeks we will be asking the question: ‘Is evangelism a dirty word?’ This question arises as we think about how we re-emerge and engage with our community after lockdown. Clare will lead these sessions and she will try and unpick some of the theology behind the meaning of evangelism. We hope that some of the outcomes to an open discussion on this subject may well lead to a greater ownership of discipleship (not just by the clergy); that we may all bear witness to our faith with confidence; that we may be more reassured about the church’s presence in the community.
Do come along, we meet on Zoom from 7.30pm – 9pm. We begin with a short bible reading and exploration before we focus on the main theme. You do not have to be a cat owner to come (!) or a theologian. This group is for all people who are inquisitive about the Christian faith. Here it is – simply press the underlined blue link and join us for chat, laughter, thought and prayer: StM&AA’s Summertown is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.Topic: CATechesis Group Time: May 18, 2021 07:30 PM Join Zoom Meeting https://zoom.us/j/99330983259?pwd=K3R3UitQOXhWcFZFcHlXTjMwYnc3Zz09 Meeting ID: 993 3098 3259Passcode: 139348 The Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM)
This will take place immediately after the 10am Eucharist this Sunday. This meeting is designed for parishioners to voice their joys and concerns about the church’s mission and ministry. The meeting will be necessarily brief this year and we will continue to exercise our Covid safety measures. The finances will be presented in both print and as an in-person report. All the documents have been published and shared out. These reports will be available throughout the next weeks and months.
I would especially like us all to share some time in thought and prayer over the coming weeks about how we as a church would like to emerge out of lockdown. What should we be focusing on? What might we wish to disregard? Can we build a common vision for the next few years? What might this vision look like and what will it ask of us as individuals and as a body corporate? Your response to these questions is essential; we are in this as one family, seeking a sense of togetherness – all ages, all stages, all people.
I cannot avoid the internal, soulful stirring which this nuclear proliferation brings. I don’t want to be associated with it.
I am of the generation who grew up exposed to the possibility of nuclear devastation. We were educated to realise the real and present threat of nuclear war and its aftermath. This was the precarious geo-political climate of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The government issued a pamphlet which became a film called Protect and Survive, a public information campaign intended to instruct the British nation how to survive a nuclear strike! But the British public were not supposed to receive this information until a nuclear threat was imminent. However, the media got (the nuclear) wind of it and provoked a public outcry which galvanised the government to release the Protect and Survive booklet, radio broadcasts and TV films.
Soon after this, Raymond Briggs – of The Snowman fame – published his graphic novel, When the Wind Blows (1982). The book was later made into an animated film. The story features Jim and Hilda Bloggs, a retired couple, who hear a radio report about “an outbreak of hostilities.” Jim falls into line with the Protect and Survive literature that he has collected from his local library and attempts to build a shelter. The couple are chronicled for their innocence and understandable naiveté. But the threatening shadow of the nuclear winter does not retreat. The couple witness the blast and share its deadly effects until, at the end, Hilda insists that Jim should pray the 23rd Psalm. He does so but loses his way and in his confusion begins to recite The Charge of the Light Brigade!
This week, I have never felt closer to Jim and Hilda. I discern in myself a deep sense of protection towards those who are attempting to survive in the current context of the Covid pandemic, of climate change and of the proliferation of nuclear arsenal. This week the government’s defence spending review was leaked with the news of a planned increase of Trident nuclear warheads from 180 to 260 which will cost the nation upwards of £10billion.
At a time when every moral and political strand needs to be set towards the building up global health, community cohesion (cf the refugee and migrant crisis), environmental preservation and climate reversal, our last word is from The Charge of the Light Brigade! Perhaps we should retreat, put on the kettle and whistle a tune? But I cannot avoid the internal, soulful stirring which this nuclear proliferation brings. I don’t want to be associated with it. I don’t want to pay for it – which I will have to do. I want to oppose it with every creative, beautiful, natural fibre that I have. Yet, none of the mainstream political parties will support me. Thankfully the Church has written defiantly against these proposals. How many nuclear warheads do we need for protection? How many people do we need to kill to survive? How much of God’s world do we need to destroy?
I feel far from living in a liberal democracy today. I feel the fear of that same child growing up in the 1970’s, the child who didn’t have a voice then and doesn’t have a voice today. Compared to the wise, educated, and powerful political elite, I am the son of Jim and Hilda. A familiar cloud seems to be overshadowing this human family and all of their friends, their Church, their communities, their soil, their hopes, their beautiful world.
Dear Lord, when in fear of attack, please help me never to forget the psalm of the Divine Shepherd. Amen.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.”
“Meekly kneeling on our knees is no longer a bedtime habit but it is a clue to ending a day well.”
How is your Lent going? Are you able to sustain any resolutions? Are you able to hold on to any holy desires? We do have resources which may encourage us on our way, such as devotional books, sermons (check out our website), commentaries on the internet etc. Prayer is vital and to that end, please do try and commit to saying one of the daily offices. Again, you can find this with just one click on our own homepage. Common prayer, daily prayer and our opening up to a closer relationship with God become more realistic when this desire becomes habitual.
Holy habits are beneficial in penitential seasons. In medieval times, penitence and confession was the glue by which communities, especially agricultural communities, were bound together. The locus for this sacrament was the parish church. Grace was conveyed upon the parish priest to offer absolution. To confess was/is to acknowledge a deep misgiving in order to rid oneself of the pain of guilt and terror of judgment. Perhaps we have moved away, somewhat, from the superstitious environment of pre-enlightenment belief but, I believe, there is a place for penitence and confession in a society tuned into words such as ‘wellbeing’ and ‘flourishing.’
If we are not prepared to exercise in a bit of self-examination, we probably will stunt our spiritual growth. Saying sorry is critical in that maturation process. By saying sorry we become aware of our own secret motivations and misdemeanors. We don’t have to wash our laundry in public but it might be helpful for our own health, and that of the community in which we live, to purge ourselves of any invisible toxins.
Meekly kneeling on our knees is no longer a bedtime habit but it is a clue to ending a day well. Try this for a Lenten exercise – at the end of each day, reflect upon your attitudes, actions and behaviours. Allow Christ to enter into your feelings of guilt, failure, ambivalence, happiness and hope and give them over as your night-time gift to God. See what you learn from sharing these deepest of deep experiences. It may well lead to a more peace-filled sleep and renewal for the new day.
Mothering Sunday – This Sunday marks the 4th Sunday of Lent, which traditionally is the celebration of Mother Church and Mothering Sunday. I hope that you can make our special Zoom service at 10am. It is an All Age offering and a profound observation of the life of Mother Mary, who characterises the marks of maternal love – patience, kindness, wisdom, compassion and faithfulness.
A variety of familiar faces and voices will accompany us on our journey, so please do come along. If you have time, I am running a short quiz which focuses on the more bizarre elements of mothering – not to be missed!
Returning Home – We have a clear goal to return to public worship – Palm Sunday. We are opening the church for the 8am and 10am congregations with a new, up-to-date risk assessment in place. Unless we have a rapid rise in local new cases of Covid-19, I will be thrilled to see many of you in person. I also understand the reticence of those who have not received their second vaccination and continue to self-isolate. We will be continuing to livestream the 10am Eucharist for you and others who are unable to join us at this stage.
Summertown Health Centre – Talking of personal health, you are welcome to attend a Zoom planning meeting to discuss the possibility of a new health centre in Summertown. To access the meeting at 7pm on March 23rd, visit www.summertownstmargaretsforum.org.uk
Ecumenical Growth – St Michael’s supports the ecumenical partnership which has been an important part of its history. We will be welcoming All Saints’ Wytham to become the newest member of the Summertown-Wolvercote Church Partnership alongside St Michael’s, St Peter’s, Summertown URC and Wolvercote Baptists. We hope to celebrate our partnership in the autumn at Wytham.
St Michael’s Threshold – We will be undergoing investigations to uncover the source of the water ingress upon the new extension. The Building & Fabric team are committed to ensuring that the integrity of the new build is not compromised and lasts as long as the rest of the church!
Our Garden – The gardeners have been busy this early spring. Thank you to Suzanne and her band of green-fingered helpers. We are watchful of the wild flowers popping up and we are also hoping that the swifts, when they come, find a home this year in our nest boxes.