Thursday, October 31, 2013

Post-Provincial Posting

Well, I have returned from Newport Beach having attended the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Catholic Church. It has been a very encouraging time and it has been wonderful to be with so many people committed to continuing the Catholic faith through our shared Anglican heritage.

Much of the focus of this Synod has been on the issue of Evangelism - spreading the Gospel. The question is, just who will receive the Gospel? Of course, anyone can, but the method of reception is as varied as the person that receives it. Each person has a unique way of understanding how the News is in fact Good News and this understanding is born from intimate needs and desires of the individual heart. Before Evangelists can deliver the Gospel, they must understand the innermost needs and heartfelt deficiencies of the target audience. One cannot reach an introvert using extravert techniques, nore vice versa. The material poverty of Africa will not be receptive to the Gospel of empty hands just as the spiritual poverty of the West will not benefit from thousands of pounds being thrown into bank accounts and coffers. Real needs have to be met in a non-superficial, non-categorical and non-judgemental way. To preach the Gospel is a mandatory requirement and a truly Catholic requirement, however one cannot take a blanket approach to matters which arise from individuals.

A Gospel that is carried with judgmentalism and legalism bears none of the Good News that the Lord God wants us to bear, There is no magic formula to evangelism; there can be no magic formula to evangelism for the result of formulaic evangelism is superficial faith. It is simply sowing the seed among the briars and the thorns. The fact of the matter is that we have to accept the complexity of real life and the pain and suffering that this complexity brings.

The Gospel we bear has to embrace complexity, and we have to be aware that we cannot bear that Gospel alone as individuals because the complexity of our own lives blinds us to some complexity in the lives of others. Individually, we are doomed to failure, abject failure. We can only succeed when we play our humble and flawed part in the Holy Catholic Church. The Church is very much a collection of individual failures, but a group nonetheless that has Christ at our centre and the interests of people and loving those people standing with Christ at our centre.

Unity is thus a good thing as is adherence to those principles that spread unity. We cannot reach souls if we resort to practices that compromise the very principles at the heart of our faith. Bodies may be saved by relaxing our principles, but souls will be lost. The ends never justify the means! He who seeks to save his life shall lose it!

The whole point of the Good New is Redemption! The commonality of the Human Condition is the Fall - we are all failures! Our life, our work, our belief, our hope, our justice, our mercy, our attempts to be good are all doomed to failure. This is common to all humanity.

This leaves us with two options. Either we can deny our failure by calling it "success", and satisfy ourselves that all is well and, further, use it as a canon with which to beat others and declare them imperfect, loudly, volubly and with no real compassion at all; or, we can recognise our failure and apportion the blame for that failure on our families/upbringing/orientation/genes et c and hope that this will excuse us from any consequence from our failures.

These are the only two options the world hears. There is, in fact, a third option - Accept the Good News! The Good News is that Christ not only forgives the failures of those who recognise those failures in honesty and humility, but can even transform those failures into something so much better. We may indeed have to live with the consequences of failure all our lives, but not are those consequences temporary, but in Christ they work for a greater good than we might have achieved had we succeeded. Romans viii.28 tells us this quite categorically.

This greater good is seldom necessarily evident immediately, and more likely evident after death. Indeed, it may not only be completely incomprehensible, and even sickeningly scandalous, but this shows our need for faith in what Christ Jesus has achieved.

If we believe and trust in Jesus Christ, that He is indeed King of Kings and able to do infinitely more than we can conceive, then we have to trust that He can and indeed will turn every misery into true joy, every act of unkindness into true worth, every death into true life, completely turning the value judgements of this world on their head and squashing the all-dominating power of pain. We believe in Jesus Christ and we believe that He will raise the Dead in order to give them Love, Happiness and Peace. That is real Good News. That is real Gospel. So how do we preach it?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Provincial Synod and Provincial Anglicanism

On Saturday, I fly out to Newport Beach for the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Catholic Church. My intention is to keep some form of a diary or at least a series of reflections on this important event. It's important, obviously, for the life of the Anglican Catholic Church, but also in my life and work since, for the first time, I see the Church on a larger scale, and meet many friends who I've know for a long time and yet never seen face to face.

This is such a wonderful occasion because, from diverse places, we draw together to strengthen what we have in common - our Anglican Catholicism. We Anglican Catholics hold to a very simple principle. Our dogma are rooted in the Undivided Church, revealed through Holy Scripture and its interpretation by the Church Fathers before East split from West. Of course, there are many good doctrines which we may hold, but these can only hold the level of pious opinion unless they can be proven by the Undivided Church.
This does make for "regional variations". Some of us may indeed hold to the Articles of Religion, others may hold to the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. Some of us may rejoice in Benediction and Exposition, others may find it against something they believe. However, each delegate will hold to two very important facts about us. First that we believe ourselves to be Catholic and that our Catholicism is expressed through an Anglican lens. Our noun is Catholic, our adjective Anglican. We all try, in some way, to live that as our expression of our worship of the Lord Jesus Christ Whom we love and adore.
Of course, it is our definition of "Anglican" that can be seen as the prime cause of our regional variations. The word simply means "English". The Church in England is described as Ecclesia Anglicana from at least as early as 1246. There may be a lot of political wrangling over the idea of the freedom of the Ecclesia Anglicana but the essence is there. Anglican simply means English.
How do we interpret that? Well, I've blogged on this idea before several times. Some seek to make that identification with the English via the Book of Common Prayer and the doctrine found therein with the Articles. Others will demand communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, or with the Queen of England. All of these are fair enough.
For the Anglican Catholic, again we have to turn to the Undivided Church for our understanding of "English" and one might be forgiven for thinking that this is where it gets rather tricky, since "England" itself only really existed from 897 and that was only the southern part of the country. However, history is rather kinder to us than that. English unification happened in the 10th century and so there is very much something in the Undivided Church that can be considered "English".
For the Anglican Catholic, to define Anglicanism as dependent on the doctrine of the prayerbook is problematic since not all the doctrines of the Reformation are at all prominent in the English Church of the 10th Century or before, but the seeds are indeed there. A certain following of St Augustine of Hippo does indeed yield to the Protestant understanding of predestination and election, but this understanding is not universal - it is not a Catholic dogma. Not everyone thinks St Augustine was always right. Limbo is a case in point, though this was an attempt by St Thomas Aquinas to soften St Augustine's much harsher judgment on the unbaptized.
What is clear to the Anglican Catholic is that being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Queen does not define Anglicanism for precisely the reason that neither the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Queen publically assent to the Catholic Faith (at least since 1992, possibly from the mid 1980s).
We English Anglican Catholics (there's a tautology if ever there was one!) see our Anglicanism very much as part of our upbringing, but we cannot assume that our Anglicanism is any more definitive than any other Diocese for the simple reason that the Anglican Catholic Church as a separate body from the Anglican Communion was started in the U.S, so we English don't have a great deal to boast about.
Our Anglicanism stems from the use of English Liturgy, the Sarum and Gregorian rites used in England before the Reformation translated by those who sought to re-Anglicise the Church with the use of English language. Miles Coverdale, the masterful translator of the Book of Psalms, also translated the Gregorian Canon. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer has its roots in the Sarum Liturgy. The language is English at its most poetic and precise. In this sense, we are very akin to Orthodox Churches in that our Ritual is based on a regional version of the ancient Eucharistic Canons as well as the Sarum Use and the Benedictine Rule of prayer.
As I mentioned earlier, there are several definitions of Anglican two of which an Anglican Catholic may legitimately hold. We acknowledge communion with the Anglican Communion simply is not Catholic and therefore not truly Anglican because it is not Catholic. This leaves the Prayerbook Anglicans who use the prayerbook to define Anglicanism doctrinally and the Ritual Anglicans who use the English Rites to define it from a ritual point of view. There is much common ground, and much upon which we hope to build at our synod.
One characteristic of Anglicanism that needs to make its presence felt is the tolerance of other viewpoints within itself. The Anglican Communion has become too tolerant of non-Catholic and indeed heretical practices. Other Churches (like some Protestants) are not tolerant enough. Prayerbook Anglicans and Ritual Anglicans have much to agree upon - the doctrine of the Undivided Church is no small thing - and our Anglicanism gives us a common language in which we can express ourselves well and eloquantly.
I am looking forward greatly to speaking this language to my colleagues from all over the world and hope that our drive for unity from Province to Parish may bring much joy and Good News to the World.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dressed to impress?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity


 “I’m sorry, you’re not dressed correctly.


You’ll have to leave,”

says the tall, thin, waspish man at the door

as he gives your dress a thoroughly disapproving look

 as if you’d come dressed in a bin-liner

and wearing a traffic cone on your head

 rather than what you are in fact wearing.


“Why?” you say, confused.

“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?


I’m perfectly decent.”


“But not for here,” comes the reply, “goodbye!”


Has this ever happened to you?


In what circumstances do you think this would happen?




We’re used to dress codes.


 These range from black tie dinners

to “No shoes, no shirt, no service” at the local pub.


 Police officers would have no respect at all

 if they dressed in tutus and we would be rather shocked

 if the bishop had turned up at our Patronal Festival

 wearing a Hawaiian Shirt and Micky Mouse ears.


There’s always a debate about school uniforms.


Some will say that they’re expensive, ugly and hard to wash.


 Others will say that they are smart,

set a good standard

and give a sense of corporate identity.


 Every day, school children around the country

are sent home to change because

they have not put on the uniform

 that they are required to wear.


Their act of trying to be an individual

results in them being punished by being sent home.


So is there a dress code for Heaven?




According to Our Lord, yes there is!


Remember, that when Our Lord speaks of a Wedding banquet,

He is referring to the Kingdom of Heaven.


Here at this banquet,

we find a man standing before the king

who is not wearing a wedding garment. 


The king says

“Friend, how earnest thou in hither,

not having a wedding-garment?


And he was speechless.


Then said the king to the servants:

Bind him hand and foot,

and take him away,

and cast him into outer darkness:

 there shall be weeping

and gnashing of teeth.”


This seems rather unfair!


What was wrong with what the man was wearing?


Was it not smart enough?


What if he could not afford a proper wedding garment?


Surely at a celebration like this,

 a man should be free

to choose what he wears.



If it was such a celebration,

you’d want your guests to feel comfortable wearing

what they wanted to wear,

wouldn’t you?


Is God going to cast us out of heaven

for wearing Adidas

 instead of Nike?


Will we find ourselves in Hell

for wearing Wippel’s

rather than Watts and Co?




Let’s just look a little closer here.


Our Lord tells us that

 the man was speechless before the king.


If he had any excuse,

then he surely would have said something.


Why is this man so silent?


Why has he no excuse?


He has no excuse

precisely because there is no excuse.


It is the custom at such weddings

 for the King to provide the wedding guests

with wedding garments.


This man has clearly refused to wear it.


Does it really matter?

Of course it does!


We’re talking about a king here!


 If a king gives you something to wear

then you wear it.


Not to do so is out and out disobedience.


This man has accepted an invitation

from the king to the wedding feast of his son,

a time of joy and celebration,

and has refused to wear a garment

representing precisely that joy

and celebration.


It’s an insult.


Just like a school uniform,

this wedding garment represents

the desire to be part of the community,

part of the moment.


It shows the intention of sharing

in the joy of the bridegroom and bride.


 This man has disregarded

the day of the bride, groom and King

in one fell swoop.


What does this mean for us?




In the Revelation to St John the Divine,

we read of many people

being given white robes.


In particular, Our Lord Jesus says to the Church in Sardis,

“Thou hast a few names even in Sardis

which have not defiled their garments;

 and they shall walk with me in white:

for they are worthy.


He that overcometh ,

 the same shall be clothed in white raiment;

and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life,

 but I will confess his name before my Father,

and before his angels.”


Our sin defiles our garments.


Does this mean that we are in danger of being cast out of heaven?

In the Revelation again,

we see with St John

“a great multitude, which no man could number,

 of all nations, and kindreds,

and people, and tongues,

stood before the throne,

and before the Lamb,

clothed with white robes,

and palms in their hands.”


And who are these?


St John tells us,

“These are they which came out of great tribulation,

and have washed their robes,

and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”


Our sins are indeed washed away

in the Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.


But we do need to make sure

that we put on the wedding garment

that we are given by God.


This garment is earned through

obedience to God’s command,

by naming Him as the king of our lives

and of our hearts.



This is a garment which

we must accept and put on

even if we think it doesn’t fit,

or is not the right colour

or doesn’t flatter our figure

or go with our eyes.


 This is a garment that we only accept

by committing ourselves wholeheartedly

 to God in Christ Jesus Our Lord.


It is a garment which means

 that we belong to God and belong with God,

rejoicing and singing and being truly happy

 into Eternity itself!


Where is your wedding garment?


Is it still in the wardrobe?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Stitching with the Saints

On St Francis' Day 2003, I was admitted and licensed as a Reader in the Church of England. Since then, I have acquired two new anniversaries - Michaelmas and St Bartholomew's Day - for my ordinations. Of course, it's early days to see precisely where this will take me, after all I do have to follow Cardinal Newman's thought that one step should be enough for me, so seeing the distant scene is definitely out.

Yet, I am now gathering quite a few heavenly friends. St Benedict holds my oblation, St Thomas Aquinas my attention, St Francis my Readership, St Michael my Diaconate and St Bartholomew my participation in the Sacred Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. if I were a superstitious man, I would start to think that I had to emulate each of them in each of those areas of my life as specified. My fiancée would be very distressed if I suddenly took it upon myself to become a Benedictine monk who preached like St Francis, served at the altar like an archangel. Of course, as a priest, I share in the same priesthood as St Bartholomew anyway. Nonetheless, as much as I would like the devotion of St Benedict, the intellect of St Thomas, the joie de vivre of St Francis, and the valour of St Michael, I have none of these things. So, my poor, long-suffering fiancée has nothing to worry about.

There was once a bit of a fad in neuro-lingual programming which suggested that one tried to become one's heroes in order to follow one's own path in life. I often hear it said, and even once thought it myself, that the Church in England needs a new Oxford Movement, or a new Wesleyan Revival, et c. Apparently we need another Newman, another Pusey, another Keble, another Fr. Ignatius of Llantony. Why? They have all passed to their Eternal rest, their legacy remains, but like Newman himself showed quite wonderfully, these men have crumbled to dust on earth and live with God.

And the world still moves on. These folk cannot exist now: their time is part of them, an intimate part too. People cannot be lifted from one time to another and remain the same person. The fabric of history and causality relies upon its integrity of which each of us is indeed a part. We are products of our time, our choices are influenced by our time, and we produce, influence and shape our time around us.

This is, of course, how we are affected by the Fall as the causal nexus around us contains the rents in its fabric which signify the presence of Evil. Evil, being the privation of anything good, makes us call out for something to fill the void, or someone to fill that void. If Evil exists as the tears in the fabric of God's good creation, then somehow we have the opportunity to try and hold things together, and to preserve that which is truly Good. Our duty as Christians is to step into the breach and fill the hole and allow ourselves to become part of the fabric of our temporal world, rather than be bystanders, or content with the holes in our lives.

The Church is the Royal Priesthood, and every Christian is called to participate in that priestly ministry, to become a pontiff, a bridge-builder spanning the gaping wounds that Evil forms, so that Evil itself ceases to exist. There is a hole that only we can fill, even bearing the holes in our own being from our own sin, and no other person can fill that void. Our Lord reminds us that "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse." Newman cannot cause a new Oxford Movement today. It wouldn't work.

We know that, one day, we shall stand with St John the Divine when he says, "I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." If this new heaven and new earth were markedly different from the present heaven and earth, St John would not have recognised them. What he sees is our heaven and earth made whole again without the trace of Evil ruining the integrity of His creation. It is God who makes things new and not we ourselves.

All we have to do is to keep choosing God and living our lives in His way. He gives us room to be ourselves because that is what He created us to be. While we may want to emulate our heroes, and their influence will certainly be strong in us, we are not our heroes, we are us. We must not apologise for not being another St Thomas Aquinas, but seek to discover our own peculiar vocation in our life and find which hole we are meant to stitch. God has given us ourselves and that is Good News, He has also saved us from the Evil within us, that is also Good News, and He also promises the New Heaven and New Earth for us to enjoy if we choose to be with Him. That is the Best News of all.

All we have to do is to look for our place to stitch. Of course, some people get nailed into that place.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Palsy and Penitence

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.
The common cold is a miserable affair.
 It often starts with that
tell-tale tickle at the back of your throat
which then gradually makes your throat sore
that you can’t sing or speak.

There’s sneezing and coughing
and a general feeling sorry for yourself.

And you think “If only I hadn’t stood
too near that old lady with the cough on the bus.

If only I’d had that orange at lunchtime
instead of that Kit-Kat.

If only… if only… if only…”
“If only”s are very much like “what if”s.

 They only give you a glimpse
of what could have been,
but they can never be real.

The Past is the Past and it cannot be recovered.

 For now you have to spend
the best part of a week or more using up
 the entirety of Medway’s allowance of Kleenex.

Is it really our own failure to take proper care
that we catch colds and other diseases?


The Jews upto the first century
are very much of the opinion that
 if you suffer terribly,
it must be your fault.

Job’s friends try to convince him
that his awful sufferings are the result of some secret sin
which he should know about,
 despite the fact that Job keeps
protesting his innocence.

If you’re in pain then it’s your fault
because somewhere down the line you sinned.

That’s the reasoning here.

Do you believe that?

Well, it seems like Our Lord Jesus does.

Look at how he acts
with a man on the bed lying sick
with the palsy.

He says, “Son, be of good cheer;
thy sins be forgiven thee.” 
Then, to prove the Pharisees wrong
 in their thinking that He is blaspheming,
He tells the man to pick up his bed and walk home.
Is there really a link between
the sins of this sick man and his sickness?

If the Pharisees hadn’t complained,
would Jesus not have healed this man?

Telling a sick person their sins are forgiven
 is not going to make them better
unless their sins are actually
the cause of their sickness.

So it seems that Our Lord does indeed believe
 that we suffer sickness because of our sins.

Do you think that too?

Well, appearances are deceptive.

 Our Lord is not actually saying
that our sins necessarily cause our suffering at all.

 Indeed, when he hears that some Galilaeans
had been murdered by Romans while offering their sacrifices
, Our Lord says quite categorically,
 “Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners
 above all the Galilaeans,
 because they suffered such things?

I tell you, Nay:
but, except ye repent,
ye shall all likewise perish.

 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell,
and slew them,
think ye that they were sinners above all men
that dwelt in Jerusalem?

 I tell you, Nay:
 but, except ye repent,
ye shall all likewise perish.”

Our Lord is saying that our sin
 is not the cause of our suffering
but that they both come from the same place
 –the presence of Evil among us.

 The sick man whom Jesus heals
 is not just sick with the palsy, but sick with sin as well.
His sins need forgiveness
and so Our Lord gives him forgiveness and,
to show that He has the same authority
over physical sickness as spiritual sickness,
He heals him of the palsy too. 

For Our Lord,
forgiving sin is just as easy as healing sickness.

However, if the Lord grants authority
 to His Bishops and Priests the ability to forgive sins,
why doesn’t He give them authority to heal sickness?


only God really knows the answer to that,
 but there are indications as to possible reasons.

A sickness of the body dies with the body;
a sickness of the immortal soul is itself immortal.

This is why repentance is so important,
so that we do not die to God by refusing to be healed
from our spiritual sicknesses.

For God,
this is a much greater priority
than our physical sickness.

 This is why the forgiveness of sins
is constantly mentioned
in the Old and New Testaments,
proclaimed by prophets, 
and an integral part of the life
of the Church.

St Paul reminds us,
“put off concerning the former conversation the old man,
 which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
And that ye put on the new man,
which after God is created
 in righteousness
and true holiness.”

We must repent of sin in order to be free
just as much as we must take our medicine
to get better.


The Church is not a place
for the folk who are well.

 It is the place for those
who need their lives healed.

 It is a hospital in which the Priests
act as nurses dispensing the medicine of the sacraments.
These nurses, however, are just as ill
as the patients for we are all human
and all in need of healing.

The doctor, of course,
 is Our Lord who will heal
all those who come to Him.

Have you taken your medicine today?