Pentecost is a very special moment in the Church’s year. It represents the continuation of God’s holy project for his people – creating a kingdom which Jesus began with his life and teachings. This is a kingdom of love, one which we draw close to and pull away from despite God’s constant, inclusive invitation.
Join me in a spiritual communion of love as we share the Eucharist on this Pentecost: https://youtu.be/L4TNkw4e_4o Our curate, Clare Leal, shares a reflection with us.
A SPECIAL PLEA FOR FUNDS
As with many non-profit organisations, your parish Church has also suffered from a loss of income from the weekly plate offerings as well as the hall and church rentals. We have a small capital project which needs funding – the repair of the garden wall. It is apparent that the wall is a danger to people using the garden and we need to make a speedy repair. The cost will be in the range of £700-£1000. I relaise that many of you are struggling financially as a result of the lockdown. However, I wonder if you could find a way in supporting the church in this aspect of its community vision. I would be grateful if you could consider responding to this appeal.
Account: St Michaels & All Angels Summertown Sort Code: 40-52-40 Acc No.: 00011607Ref: Garden wall
Payable to: “St Michael and All Angels Church, Summertown” Post to our office at: “St. Michael & All Angels Church, Lonsdale Road, Oxford OX2 7ES”.
If I think carefully and examine what moves me, what touches my soul, it is the beautiful, brave and penetrating acts of kindness that take me by surprise.
We have probably all heard and seen a lot more about the subject of mental health this past week. We have just travelled through a week which has attempted to bring to mind the struggles and hopes of many in this new Covid environment. The Mental Health Foundation has chosen kindness as its theme for this year’s campaign.
“We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.”
The Mental Health Foundation, 2020
I think that this is truly inspiring. If I think carefully and examine what moves me, what touches my soul, it is the beautiful, brave and penetrating acts of kindness that take me by surprise. Admittedly, in the past, I had not seen kindness in such high regard. In terms of Christian discipleship, it was – in my view – a non-descript behaviour. Kindness, as I saw it, was good and an important human trait but it did not provide a basis for a higher moral and spiritual outlook. Jesus’ life, teaching and prayer was more than the utterance of kindness. However, the gospel is utterly shot through with stories of courage, solidarity, community support and selflessness. This is kindness in action.
Unsurprisingly, today our mental health is in need of these acts of kindness. The most critical thing in our quest for wellbeing is the state of our souls. The condition of our precious souls and the resilience of our mental health are inextricably linked. When I was planning the book that I wrote with Jo, Disturbed by Mind & Spirit: Mental Health and Healing in Parish Ministry (2009) Mowbray/Continuum, I felt there was a great need to try to de-stigmatise an area of life which was still so hidden and feared. So I wrote from the perspective of one who had suffered from depression/anxiety, whose soul had felt somewhat battered and broken.
“My closest friendships at this time came in the form of a prescription, the standard medical response to ill health. These illusory friends – Prozac and beta-blockers – would serve me well and, after four to six weeks, our relationship became quite intimate. These drugs were for me a pathway to salvation, they gave me hope that I might live as God intended, that I might function as the Church expected, indeed that I might survive.”
Gavin Knight, writing about his own experience of emotional disturbance in, Disturbed by Mind & Spirit: Mental Health and healing in Parish Ministry (pp.11-12)
What, then, brought me back from edge of the precipice? It was not only chemicals! It was God in the singular and collective acts of kindness which, as the psalmist writes, ‘restores my soul.’ (Psalm 23) I would say, without getting too personal, that kindness was central to my recovery. Collective kindness, particularly through family relationships, their time, their consistency of love and regard. The prayers of the Church were another key aid providing a wave of grace. The singular kindnesses of individuals – most of which were given without any acknowledgment from me – I remember today. Kindness is not only a wonderful virtue, it also saves lives.
Kindness recognises the beauty of the soul. Any act of kindness is a sign of God’s love and desire for his creation. Perhaps it would be even more pertinent during these strange days to become kinder to ourselves as well as others. I say this as a mantra for self-loving. We need to protect our souls from harm. We need to oversee the health of others in our lives too.
This is my Christian witness – to prevent unnecessary hurt and pain, to promote a better way which locates kindness at its heart. This is the way of Christian love which seeks to restore the soul of those who feel beleaguered and even tortured. We may, at one point (or more) in our lives feel like this. But there is hope, there is new life and understanding to be gleaned from out of the darkness and despair by those who feel lost and alone. Each soul is precious to God and every soul can be restored to his likeness.
Now watch the Church in action! It is the Seventh Sunday of Easter – the time between the Ascension of Our Lord and Pentecost.
This is the time to pray for the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon the world and each other. Join in with the local prayer initiative called The Upper Room: community called The Upper Room. Find out more details here: https://www.upperroomoxford.org This is a city-wide initiative to pray for God’s blessing upon our community. The Archbishops’ have been asking us to use this octave to pray for the Spirit’s guidance. They call it, Thy Kingdom Come. Pray each day in this ‘in-between time’ for the breath of Christ to touch the lives of the grieving, the lost, the hopeless. Start where you are at; the place which you inhabit today. God is there – kindling a fire within you.
Please also see the craft for this week which is attached. Thank you to everyone who contributed to our weekly digital offerings.
Please go on to social media and tell others about the saving benefits that kindness brings. Share this blogpost as an act of kindness. See our website for news and events.
We are praying in this ‘in-between time’ for God’s presence not only for ourselves but for those who are broken, dispirited or in danger.
(Another chance to view this blog written 3 years ago. The message has added relevance today).
The period between Ascension and Pentecost is traditionally used by Christians to pray for the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon the Church and the world. These 9 days are an opportunity to ask God for help and sustenance both individually and corporately. We don’t just ask but we beseech God, “leave us not comfortless!” In these dark days when the value of life seems to be reduced to nothing by extremists and nihilists, we have a need to implore God to send us his Spirit of truth. We feel like orphans in need of a parents loving guidance. God has gone up in the form of the ascended Christ. God has yet to descend in the form of the Holy Spirit. We are praying in this ‘in-between time’ for God’s presence not only for ourselves but for those who are broken, dispirited or in danger.
A helpful image of the work of the Holy Spirit is that this is the breath of Christ, his loving breath, which gifts his people with the charisms necessary for the growing of God’s kingdom. This is not a kingdom ‘out there’ but something which is tangible and real, of this time and age. God builds people up, he takes us for who we are. We are not asked to be someone else, God is only interested in who we are now. The breath of Christ’s love is present, kindling a flame, a divine spark. When we encounter God, like the lost and fallen Moses in the desert, this spark becomes a fire.
The burning bush is a wonderful metaphor of the hiddenness of God, yet his utter faithfulness in us. Whatever our personal circumstance, God wants to build us up to do his work in the world. This is the work of peace-making, reconciling, community singing, church planting, nation-building… This is the work that God offers us – godly employment. Moses was offered an incredible vocation – to lead God’s people out of the mess and degradation of slavery into a promised future. Moses did not feel up to the job but God gave him reassurance, authority and energy.
What does God want us to step up to today? Become part of a local praying community called The Upper Room. Find out more details here: https://www.upperroomoxford.org This is a city-wide initiative to pray for God’s blessing upon our community. The Archbishops’ have been asking us to use this octave to pray for the Spirit’s guidance. They call it, Thy Kingdom Come. Pray each day in this ‘in-between time’ for the breath of Christ to touch the lives of the grieving, the lost, the hopeless. Start where you are at; the place which you inhabit today. God is there kindling a fire within you.
Today, we hear the sound of birdsong once more. Can you hear it?
I remember growing a fascination for the First World War when I was training for ordination. A number of books were published on the subject at the same time – among them – Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. Mine wasn’t a morbid interest in weaponry, battle or death, but a pastoral curiosity about how people came to survive in the midst of the most terrible suffering and chaos. I discovered that many of the First World War chaplains displayed common virtues and characteristics – they were contemplative, compassionate and courageous. These 3 ‘C’s’ (as it happens) are pivotal in the Diocese of Oxford’s common vision for the Church today.
Birdsong is heard in the midst of the carnage and murder of the trenches. It is the sound of resilience and of recovery – the resilience of the environment and the recovery of the human condition. The imagery of birds and the call of their song acts as a counter to the brutal cacophony of war. The birdsong transcends the misery.
Some of the poets and artists, the theologians and philosophers, who lived through these days of barbarism were able to display this same resilience and recovery. It is not surprising that the 1920’s and 1930’s led to an explosion of enlightened works of literature and musical composition. The new pioneering spirit led to adventures of travel and scientific discovery. Birdsong – its beauty and clarity – would overcome the call of military gain and hopeless sacrifice.
Today, we hear the sound of birdsong once more. Can you hear it? https://soundcloud.com/user-913560870/bird-song-march-2020 Many people have commented that the birds’ call seems louder in this period of lockdown than ever before. Is this, then, nature saying something to us about our current battle against Covid-19? Nature’s beauty focuses our attention; the birdsong distils our thoughts. Might we use contemplation, compassion and courage as a way of seeing, believing and acting as we fight the Coronavirus? As we look upwards, as we seek to detect the daily songbirds in our hedges and streets, might we remember that nature continues to transcend hopelessness; the environment continues to recover throughout this lockdown.
Indeed, could birdsong be the voice of this global crisis? That we might learn more about ourselves, about our world, and, yes, about God?
The Cluster Care Network continues. If you are not connected yet and would like some pastoral support (although this is just a light touch) or prayer support, please contact me.
Thank you to Susie Snyder for giving us her reflection this week. Susie, like many in our parish, is juggling a young family as well as working – so a massive thank you to her and prayers for all others who are caring for family members and holding down jobs! Susie asks that you contact her if you would like to engage with her thoughts. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
As lockdown regulations lessen, do take time to go for a walk in the church gardens. They are beautiful and I am very grateful for the care that our team of gardeners are investing – it is certainly worth it!
Thy Kingdom Come is an initiative launched a few years ago by our two Archbishops, Justin and John https://www.thykingdomcome.global/ It focuses prayer into the octave between Ascension and Pentecost. Now we have an opportunity of concentrating this prayer into our local context, asking for God’s grace to encourage and empower our city of Oxford. Dan Heyward from St Andrew’s Church is asking us to occupy some space in a virtual prayer room called “The Upper Room Oxford.” All you need do is sign up for an hour of prayer between 21st May – 31st May. This is a 24/7 resource. Details and resources and the sign up link will be available shortly at this address: https://www.upperroomoxford.org.
James Shone, former headmaster of Monkton Combe School.
We all heard the cry, well not so much a cry as a scream! The swifts have returned soaring across these blue skies of May. They are a wonder to see and hear. Admittedly I was not sure, for certain, whether these aerial combatants were swifts, swallows or house martins. I was reassured that they were swifts from others wiser to the journey of the swift than I!
We have a special concern for swifts at St Michael’s. We erected swift dwellings on the north wall of the church in the hope that they would settle and nest. Wouldn’t it be great if we could report that the swifts have taken dwelling.
Making dwelling places – how we live and breathe and pray together and in isolation – is a key point in Nicholas Bradbury’s sermon this week. How do we live together well and how do we live with God? These are important, life-giving questions which many of us have not been able to ignore in these days of lockdown.
I am particularly interested in the subject of dwelling places with the good news that clergy have been given permission to enter into church once more. This means that I will be able to celebrate the Eucharist (with members of my family) and broadcast this to you. I will be able to say my prayers in church, light a candle or two and begin to prepare for a bigger, wider congregation to follow.
Yet it seems wrong that we cannot all share the joy of being ‘in communion’ with Christ together. There has been much talk whilst our churches have been shut about spiritual communion. This is how the Church of England describes the practice: “The term ‘Spiritual Communion’ has been used historically to describe the means of grace by which a person, prevented for some serious reason from sharing in a celebration of the Eucharist, nonetheless shares in the communion of Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, “the Book of Common Prayer instructs us that if we offer ourselves in penitence and faith, giving thanks for the redemption won by Christ crucified, we may truly ‘eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ’, although we cannot receive the sacrament physically in ourselves.”
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Although this text from John needs a lot of unpacking, we should take heart that no matter how isolated, how close to death, how ostracised by relations or friends, we have hope because Christ cannot leave us. Even if we feel distanced from God, his house, his people, we are assured of Christ’s presence even if we are denied the Sacrament. Why not play this recording of O Taste and See by Ralph Vaughan Williams as you consider God’s constant invitation for us to dwell in his presence. This is the anthem that the choir would have sung this Sunday in Church.
We have a number of children’s activities in order to share this Gospel with our younger members including the link to the Roots website. Please also see the crafts that Leah has shared on Facebook. A virtual Messy Church is happening this Sunday looking ahead towards Pentecost. If you would like to take part, please email email@example.com for a Zoom invitation.
And finally…. talking about looking upwards for those swifts, I heard a wonderful testimony from a former headmaster of a school who, after 6 weeks, had a brain tumour removed. He lost his job, 90% of his eyesight and his identity as a human being. He was asked how he managed to survive. He said that he decided to “look up, look forwards and look outwards.” A very powerful and compelling testimony which takes us to the very source of this man’s faith.