New Direction’s deadlines require articles a month in advance which means that this is being written while we are in deepest lockdown. I hope it is being read in greater and healthy freedom. In lockdown there are no exhibitions to visit so what follows is not an arts piece but a piece of parish life.
The late Fr Michael Shields C.M.P., S.S.C. used to preach stewardship sermons for the Diocese of Rochester. One of his favourite lines was; There is good news and bad news. The good news is God has given you all you need. The bad news is, it’s in your pockets.
That goes for more than money. St John Henry Newman put it like this when he wrote that God has placed each of us on earth with a particular purpose. There’s always something God has for us to do and He’s always given us the tools to finish the job. And that goes for parish life as a whole. There’s always something which God has given us His grace to perform. There is a divine plan which may well require us to do something different from our neighbour, and might not feature much in the Deanery Plan either.
All of which is to say that the Parish of St Gabriel, Pimlico is currently blessed in many ways. Some of which may be of interest to readers, but that’s not to say that what we’re doing is what other people should be doing, it’s about what St Gabriel’s can do.
The parish is physically small, not much more than a square mile, but with a population of perhaps 16,000. We have some very wealthy people and people who Government statistics describe as within the most 10% deprived in the country. Local schools might have between 30-40 different languages spoken at home by the children.
There is no one way to reach out to the parish and we’ve developed a series of different partnerships to do what we can. One partnership is with the Pimlico Musical Foundation (P.M.F.), a charity set up five years ago as an initiative between the St Gabriel’s P.C.C. and a local resident, Ralph Allwood, one of the leading directors of young choirs in the country. The charity, which is faith-blind, is independent of the church though it has church representation on its board of trustees and some of its work takes place on our property.
Why did we set up this charity? Because we could and it is worth it. Our part of London is rich in musicians, especially young musicians who are open to a challenge. And music is beneficial for children and a good way to bring people together. So, the idea was to offer choral singing to local primary schools as a way for children to experience possibilities outside of what they were used to. We chose choral music because it is the basis of an important element of the musical tradition in this country and we had the opportunity to work with excellent choral musicians. And choral singing is more flexible than instrumental music, though it has been important to provide free instrumental lessons to our most enthusiastic children. Furthermore, local choirs are a feature of our country’s musical scene and a way to bring different people together.
Today P.M.F. works with five local schools, leading singing assemblies, teaching musicianship and supporting after school clubs, in all reaching pre-covid 700 children a week. It has two children’s choirs; the Children’s Choir (no audition required) which meets weekly in term time and performs a concert once a term, and the Foundation Choir, an advanced group which meets twice a week and sings Evensong once a week. This choir includes 8 Teacher Singers, professional singers who provide musical and pastoral support for the children. This choir also sings at our termly concerts where all the children are supported by an Adult Chorus drawn from Pimlico and beyond. In this way we hope to bring together the different elements of local society.
What have we achieved? Not everything we want, but it is still very early days and we’re addressing deep-seated social issues. But we have had wonderful concerts where the many different parts of Pimlico have come together. The children have had experiences which they would not have had otherwise. The most public of these was singing with E.N.O. Regent’s Park Opera in the summer of 2019. They have also sung with the choirs at Magdalen College, Oxford and Westminster Cathedral. Some have progressed to music scholarships. Others have spoken about how singing has helped their confidence and become something they really enjoy.
The P.M.F. has also begun to develop relationships with Westminster School and are an Additional Provider for the local Tri-Borough Music Hub. It has other projects in the pipeline. And it has genuinely diverse and inclusive choirs which work with local schools and naturally reflect the locality.
How has this been achieved? P.M.F. was fortunate to recruit at its start James Day who as Artistic Director has driven forward the work with passion and compassion, and, especially in the time of covid-19, hard work and creativity. During the most difficult times of the pandemic P.M.F. has been able to provide the social support which children and families needed both by actual contact with them in a new summer school and by developing online methods of working. His work and that of such excellent colleagues as Sarah Rennix and Dan Turner means that it is very much a case of ‘watch this space’ as P.M.F. prepares for more community work as lockdown eases, be it singing for the isolated or bringing the London Handel Festival into the classroom.
St Gabriel’s has projects with the local community which are ‘missional.’ Its partnership with P.M.F. is not one of those, but St Gabriel’s support for P.M.F. with organisational expertise and buildings resource has been a way which the church can help others. It’s not a model which can fit every parish or which every parish would be comfortable with, but it works for us. And it’s worked for local children.
If you wish to know more, please visit the website, www.pimlicomusicalfoundation.org.uk.
Opening the Box of Delights:
A stunning visual celebration of John Masefield’s Christmas classic
Philip W. Errington
Darton Longman & Todd, £20
An announcement of this book in the Church Times caught my attention, because it seemed a curious work for a religious publisher like DLT to adopt. The Box of Delights, a children’s story by John Masefield, is not at all in the Narnia mould, where the underlying Christian meaning justifies the attention of no less a theologian than Rowan Williams. Would the author comment on the mixture of Christian and pagan images which Masefield employs? Would he put the book in the context of Masefield’s conventionally Christian works?
John Masefield’s star has long been in decline among the literati. He was Poet Laureate for a long time, but his poetry is rarely referred to now, apart from the indestructible Cargoes (‘Quniquireme of Nineveh’) and Sea Fever (‘I must go down to the sea again’). His novels, historical and autobiographical writings and plays have disappeared from view. However, two books for children, The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights have been steadily reprinted, and rightly so. The latter has received several dramatizations on radio, and notably on television in 1984.
Masefield was a born story teller, both in prose and verse. Indeed, he was a notable narrative poet writing in English in the twentieth century. (Reynard the Fox should be far better known.) He possessed the indispensable gift when writing for children, an unfettered imagination, and he wrote well. His influence reaches to authors such as J. K. Rowling.
For those who treasure The Box of Delights, Philip Errington and DLT have provided a beautiful and richly illustrated companion, full of information about the story’s origin, its publication history, its characters, its setting and its adaptation for radio, television and stage. The book gives enjoyment rather like rummaging in a chest full of surprising and fascinating objects.
But I remain puzzled by what attracted DLT to this study. Dr Errington tells us that Masefield was not religious, and refused to act as a godfather when asked. Yet he could write of the church next to a childhood house, describing ‘the intense strange feelings roused in me by the Church. At a very early age, I felt the beauty of its mystery and its link with eternity.’ (Church modernisers, please note.) And how does apparent religious indifference square with his Christian themed plays, such as The Coming of Christ? That play began the experiment in drama pioneered at Canterbury Cathedral by the great George Bell when he was the Dean. Murder in the Cathedral was to be its finest fruit. Bishop Bell’s work for the arts must be remembered with his ecumenical labours and absolute moral integrity. He even assisted Masefield with technical information needed for The Box of Delights.
How are we to assess the position of a supposedly non-religious man who could write a long poem, The Everlasting Mercy, about the Christian conversion of a sinner? Controversial when it appeared because of its ‘bad language’, its admirers have included Evelyn Underhill, J.M. Barrie and Ronald Blythe. Full of the rural sights and sounds of Masefield’s native Ledbury, it contains the following:
O Christ who holds the open gate,
O Christ who drives the furrow straight,
O Christ, the plough, O Christ, the laughter
Of holy white birds flying after.
Lo, all my heart’s field red and torn,
And Thou wilt bring the young green corn,
The young green corn divinely springing,
The young green corn forever singing…
And we will walk the weeded field,
And tell the golden harvest’s yield,
The corn that makes the holy bread
By which the soul of man is fed,
The holy bread, the food unpriced,
Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.
Could someone wholly lacking religious sensibility have written that? (It sings superbly to Gonfalon Royal.) I would have welcomed exploration of Masefield’s religious outlook in connection with The Box of Delights, where the story hinges on preparation for the Christmas Midnight Service in a cathedral.
However, we must be grateful for what we have been given here – a refreshing journey back to the time of quiet countryside, radio Children’s Hour, church bells sounding at night over winter fields, magical adventures where children and animals work to outdo wicked adults, Punch and Judy shows, and (above all) of steam trains.
Barry A. Orford
The Sunday Gospels for
128 pp, £14.99, 978 0 232 53478 8
The Sunday Gospels for
Advent, Christmas, Lent
112 pp, £14.99, 978 0 232 53476 4
Darton Longman Todd
These two volumes of reflections on the Gospels cover the whole three-year cycle of readings found in the Lectionary. Throughout, Father Graffy’s style is simple and brief in presentation, yet full of insight and explanation: the work of a seasoned parish priest and a distinguished biblical scholar.
Each Gospel passage is printed in full, and the other readings that accompany it are noted. Following the reflection, two questions to help prompt personal reflection are offered, as well as two suggestions for prayer. Some of the questions are along the lines of self-examination whereas others explore reaction to the passage of scripture in the style of lectio divina.
All in all, these would be helpful to anyone looking for a closer engagement and reflection on the Gospel week by week. In fact, they would make an excellent addition to the printed service sheet for people to take away with them. Maybe that is how they started life in the author’s own parish? I’m sure an electronic version with rights to reproduce the texts in this way would be attractive to many.
Unfortunately, there are also a few problems with this otherwise promising resource. The quality of printing (at least in the copies I received) is not great; the paper used is of the kind more suited to an airport novel and the clarity of the type in one was quite poor. The same goes for the glued bindings, which do not inspire confidence in their longevity. It’s a pity, because if these were better quality volumes, they could make an excellent confirmation present.
The other issue is one of timing. The lectionaries of the Revised New Jerusalem Bible (RNJB) are now certain to be replaced by new versions using the English Standard Version translation in the course of 2022. One hopes that notwithstanding the authors evident enthusiasm for the RNJB, it will not be too much trouble to revise these reflections when that moment comes and publish a new edition.
Nevertheless, these are recommended. There are a fair few series of reflections on the Sunday Gospels available, but not all are as concise and even in quality throughout. They are neither condensed homilies nor truncated commentaries but well-constructed short reflections – a genre which, as anyone who has tried to write them will know, is not at all easy to master, as Graffy has done here.
THE GOSPEL OF EVE
Darton Longman & Todd £20
This is a shocking first novel. The shock is in the first sentence of the Prologue. “Evie hung from a low beam in the chapel.” So the gruesome end is in sight at the beginning of the book, a risky start for a mystery thriller. The chapel is that of Littlemore College, a thinly disguised Ripon College Cuddesdon (not Rachel Mann’s college), that isolated community outside Oxford dedicated to the training of Anglican priests. It is in the best Anglican tradition to present any account of theological colleges under the form of the novel. Then those of a squeamish disposition can enjoy the fiction, while the old hands can discern the terrifying truth beneath. The Gospel of Eve is set in the 1990s. I bet it’s all true. I was at an even more isolated Cuddesdon twenty years earlier, and as we battled through the havoc of competing orthodoxies, special friendships, emotional breakdowns, shifting alliances, and The Myth Of God Incarnate, one lifeless body hanging from a beam would not have merited a second glance.
A theological college, like a desert island or St. Trinian’s, is a useful literary device to depict a closed world of fantasy and danger. The second device used by Mann is to give her main characters a public school background, thereby adding much colour to the tale: eccentric clothes, wild transgressive behaviour, unbelievable erudition, cookery skills and a native capacity to subvert any institution. The ordinary folk, those just trying to get to the end of their college courses without being labelled introverts by the staff, get short shrift from Kitty, the narrator, who is desperate to join the unpleasant elite cabal. “The college also had a whole swathe of plump, middle-aged women with undyed hair called things like Audrey and Jeanette. We christened them the pastoral vampires because they instinctively sensed other people’s vulnerabilities and fed on them in a mumsy way.” Presiding over Kitty’s little group is a distinguished Medieval scholar called Professor Albertus Loewe, who steals rare books.
The more the reader comes to dislike the characters in this novel, the better the book becomes. All stray from their ways. They listen at keyholes, they lie, they persecute, they invent a Medieval theology to support warped disciplinary practices, and, above all, they betray. Betrayal is the theme of this novel. Everyone betrays and is betrayed. Betrayals are never forgotten in a human life, whichever you might be, the betrayer or the betrayed. And although this novel can be a fun page-turner, there is a sadness or wistfulness about it, the knowledge that what is done cannot be undone.
The nicest characters in the novel are the old books themselves, a Chaucer manuscript and many obscure medieval texts new to most readers, here lovingly explored, handled and brought to life in lyrical passages. “Gently [Albertus] removed the object from its silk bag. It was, unsurprisingly, a book. A very old book, slim and bound in brown, aged leather. What I noticed, despite the room’s ambient scent of stale tobacco smoke and the trace of perfume and after-shaves, was its smell. It smelt of old gloves and autumn walks. It smelt of centuries of hands and touch.” Yet it turns out the book is stolen, while other medieval texts are betrayed by their unprincipled use at the hands of these strange medievalist ordinands. The novel ends with a sensational bibliographical discovery, but at the cost of the life of Kitty’s friend Evie. So I recommend this lockdown read about locked-in human beings, unfortunate souls, trapped, not just by the confines of a rackety college, but by their own ideas. What anyone unfamiliar with the training of Anglican priests might make of it, I cannot tell.
Gateways to the Divine
Transformative Pathways of Prayer from the Holy City of Jerusalem
Cascade Books £17
‘The Via Dolorosa … is crossed by Jewish Orthodox hurrying down to prayer at the Western Wall, and at the same time it witnesses Muslim men kneeling on their mats at the time of prayer in their shops. It passes a place for the rehabilitation of blind refugees and others with disabilities. Along its route today are found soldiers, beggars, pilgrims, and tourists; street sellers, laughing children, and disabled elderly. This river of prayer and passion flows in the broken heart of the city, as a potential source of healing and forgiveness’. In such words Andrew Mayes takes us to the Jerusalem with which he is familiar, its prayer and passion, opening up testimonies across faiths and using the city gates as the device to frame this book on transformative spirituality.
Each chapter links to a gate of Jerusalem and ends with reflections and spiritual exercises suited for individuals and groups. We start with the sealed Golden Gate and the invitation to unblock prejudice against other faiths and be open to their spiritual riches especially faiths under the patronage of Abraham. Fr Mayes draws on his knowledge of Christian spirituality across traditions and first-hand experience of the joys and sorrows of Jerusalem. We hear from Jews and Muslims as well as Christians practising in Armenian, Syriac, Franciscan and Orthodox traditions.
The first spiritual exploration is of Judaism and particularly the tradition of Kabbalah, literally ‘that which is received’ with its invitation to ponder the mystery of creation. We read how ‘Kabbalist Isaac Luria (1534–1572) taught that in the mystery of creation, God poured his divine light into vessels over the world. These could not contain the effulgence of God’s presence and shattered into many fragments, trapping sparks of the divine light amid their shards as they fell to earth. It is the vocation of humanity, taught Luria, to release and unlock these holy sparks amid the world’s brokenness and return them to God through prayer and service. We are to discover the hidden presences of God amid the world’s mire. We must discern opportunities for “gathering the sparks”- taking small steps to release the trapped glimmers of light that lie half buried in the dust of the world’s confusions.’ Fr Mayes ponders how God’s light glints around us inviting us into ‘a divine-human synergy’.
In the section on Syriac tradition, the author mentions Saint Ephrem who encourages prayer for a ‘luminous eye’ to see God in all things in these words: ‘Let our prayer be a mirror, Lord, placed before your face; Then your fair beauty will be imprinted on its luminous surface’. Orthodox spirituality celebrates the dazzling light of Christ’s Transfiguration with wisdom on spirituality as being about transformation by grace. One of the most powerful ceremonies in Jerusalem is a liturgy of light. The Holy Fire ceremony in the Church of the Resurrection takes place every Easter when the Armenian and Greek patriarchs enter Christ’s tomb emerging with a transforming fire that spreads ultimately across the Christian world. Keeping the flame of faith burning in a Holy Land more and more denuded of Christians is a contemporary challenge.
In this book we are led on a tour of Jerusalem by a tour of faiths. One devotional aspect that they share is the invocation of the names of God. ‘In the Hebrew tradition, to do a thing in the name of another, or to invoke and call upon his name, are acts of weight and potency. To invoke a person’s name is to make that person effectively present . . . The power and glory of God are present and active in his Name . . . attentively and deliberately to invoke God’s Name is to place oneself in his presence, to open oneself to his energy, to offer oneself as an instrument and a living sacrifice in his hands’ (Kallistos Ware). We are reminded how the repetition of the Holy Name in the so-called Jesus Prayer of Orthodoxy has some parallel with the Sufi practice of reciting the name Allah. Such mystical making present of God is transformative not just of the believer but of the world through their active involvement in it.
‘Gateways to the Divine’ is a profound exploration of both the soul of Jerusalem and the human soul and how we get transformed into what we were made to be. This accessible book informs us about age old Christian disciplines, invites us to build friendship across faiths, and gives a reminder that God has shown his face in Jerusalem for the good of the world – so the missionary component of the Faith remains as vital as ever.
Book of the Month
The Church of England – Living in Love and Faith
Christian teaching and learning about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage
Foreword by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York
Church House Publishing 2020 £19.99 480pp, ISBN 9780715111673
‘Before we ever are the object of our own gaze, or the gaze of those around us, we are the objects of God’s gaze. God’s gaze is deeply loving, but it is also perfectly truthful. To know ourselves as God knows us is to know ourselves as deeply loved, but also to face up to our scars and sinfulness. God affirms us, but God also challenges us to discover and inhabit our identity differently. God sometimes challenges us to let go of things we thought were core to who we are, and sometimes to take on things we had not considered before. But those challenges are never an imposition on our true selves; they are always about being freed from the narrow confines of lives turned in on themselves in order to find our true flourishing with others, and pre-eminently with God’. Such words give a taster of a rich Christian document as it sets forth the transformative good news of Jesus and its relevance to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage in a context where many are looking to the church for change towards ‘equal marriage.’ Commissioned and led by the Bishops of the Church of England, ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF) celebrates the Christian good news with profundity looking at what the Bible, Church tradition and contemporary Christian experience have to say about sexuality alongside the social and biological sciences. There is a celebration of marriage, friendship, celibacy and a hard-headed, largehearted, unprescriptive engagement with the issues of same sex marriage and gender fluidity. The book is accompanied by materials for group study including a video and podcast.
‘In our society, equality with regard to sexual orientation is becoming a litmus test for moral competence. Distinctions made between acceptable sexual behaviour for gay or lesbian and straight people are seen to render the Church of England, and other religious bodies of the same mind, untrustworthy moral guides not only in this but in other areas of human life… For some, the deepest problem is that of sexual abuse. Members of the Church of England, clergy and lay, have been responsible, shamefully, for perpetrating abuse, for mistreating survivors of abuse, and for covering up the activities of abusers. Some of the relevant practices and attitudes have had deep roots in the church’s institutional structures and culture – and some believe that the situation was made worse by aspects of the church’s moral teaching’.
The Bishops do not pull their punches on the gravity of this reality, whilst remaining level-headed on the challenges that are being made to existing teaching, set forth by them most recently in 1991: ‘Homophile orientation and its expression in sexual activity do not constitute a parallel and alternative form of human sexuality as complete within the terms of the created order as the heterosexual. The convergence of Scripture, tradition and reasoned reflection on experience… make it impossible for the church to come with integrity to any other conclusion.’ That statement, which binds gay ordinands and clergy to celibacy, is coupled to affirming God’s love being as great for homosexual as for heterosexual people, a truth distinct from the unalterable givenness of marriage. Thirty years on in LLF the House of Bishops provide a catch up on how the world has changed and an outline of new thinking within the Church of England and her ecumenical and other faith partners. This is coupled with an invitation to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance for fresh perspectives on the disagreements and differences which exist both within and without the household of Faith.
How do Anglicans see authority? LLF clarifies the importance of scripture, tradition (including natural law) and Christian experience in building consensus on truth and falsehood, right and wrong. This ‘three-legged stool’ is presented, with clarifications on use of the Bible and natural law, helping explain the heated divisions in the Church and the ecumenical implications of any change in marriage. In 2007 the International Anglican–Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission provided a summary of agreements and disagreements stating: ‘In both our Communions marriage has a God-given pattern and significance, entailing the life-long exclusive commitment of a man and a woman, encompassing the reciprocal love of husband and wife and the procreation and raising of children’. In almost 500 pages LLF makes one reference to the ordination of women although those involved in the ongoing discernment in that realm will feel at home with its ambience. It is a struggle to sift sound development from innovation, weighing age old practice against calls for change, in marriage, ordination or other realms. Compared to the occasional emotiveness which characterised the other debate, LLF steers evenly through the issues with intellectual and spiritual rigour, helped by repeated and fair presentations of rival positions. Readers are invited to eavesdrop on a series of conversations at the end of the book between those who disagree on issues of sexuality and check whether they can identify with contributors including celibate and sexually active gays and trans gender folk.
In a brief review it is hard to select or summarise the material from the social and biological sciences which is a vital component of LLF. The fall in Church of England weddings by 27% from 2007 to 2017 is telling. Meanwhile 64% of the British public were saying same-sex relationships were ‘not wrong at all’ in 2016, up from 47% in 2012, and 11% in 1987 near to the last reiteration of Christian teaching by the Bishops. There is a good explanation of the ever-changing LBTQ+ vocabulary. Though the Bishops do not address trans issues directly they mention the Evangelical Alliance report, Transsexuality (2000). This outlines the dilemma as to whether obedience to Christ for trans Christians means ‘learning to accept and live with their given biological identity because this is the identity which God has given them’ or ‘seeking a new post-operative identity on the grounds that it is this which will enable them to more fully express the person God intends them to be.’
LLF gives consideration to the misuse of power in sexual relations, sexual abuse and the ascendancy of internet pornography. ‘Sin is at work whenever we treat another person simply as a means to our own ends, when we are inattentive to their needs, when we fail to recognize that they, too, are delighted in by their Creator. And sin is at work when we fail to see that we, too, are delighted in by God.’ The beauty of LLF is its continual return to such tested Christian wisdom in its explanation of ethical teaching alongside the good hearing it gives to people struggling with the restriction of sexual activity to heterosexual marriage. In inviting debate on how things can develop pastorally the authors admit they disagree on whether there is a clear Anglican approach on sexuality. With echoes of the ordination of women they conclude ‘we see an ongoing and evolving argument in Anglican history about the proper answer to these questions, with different sides marshalling the evidence of Anglican history in different ways, to suit their differing answers’. The future will tell and meanwhile this resource serves to settle misinformation and encourage church members to relate more truthfully in love and faith.
John F Twisleton