On the Feast of Corpus Christie I gave a lift home to Sis Columba, a dear friend and great source of inspiration, after the service. Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ is a celebration of the Institution of the Holy Communion. It is a great festival of joy and many countries still make it a very public event. What can be more appropriate than to process the ‘Corpus Christi’ the Body of Christ through the street of our cities. The Tradition is still alive in many cities of the United Kingdom. I was sent the image of a procession above from All Saints, Margaret Street in London. For our own part in Aberdeen, we gathered on King Street outside the St Andrew Cathedral Church (SC 001058) sang the hymn of praise, ‘Now thank we all our God’ in Scots and Igbo!
On the way home, Sr Columba challenged me, yet again, the lack of 'Epiclesis' in the Liturgy we used at the Thursday morning Holy Communion. What is your problem now, with Can’t Pray – Won’t Pray: you may wonder?! Well, it is simply this. In the service of the Holy Communion, the bread and the wine are set on the Altar. The People of God gather around the Altar and offer prayers. It includes prayers of Confession, prayers of Intercession and the Great Prayer of Consecration i.e. the prayer offered by the community in Thanksgiving for bounteous Gift of God in Christ Jesus who is present, mysteriously, in the bread and in the wine. The Ordinary is transformed into Superordinary in and through prayers. Any more discussion on this mystery will only expose my ignorance.
Epiclesis is part of this Great Thanksgiving prayer when the Priest invokes God to send the Holy Spirit upon the Bread, the Wine and the People gathered around it. It is my most favourite part of the prayer where we enjoy the wonderful moment. Some churches make this explicit and the others implicit. The implicit is powerful as it avoids the risk of some people misunderstanding their power to summon!
‘Send you Holy Spirit upon Us and upon this Bread and this Wine’ are the words used to summon. It was suggested to me that if a priest has a propensity for dominion, this prayer could fuel their problem and make governance of a community, a very difficult process. This risk is avoided when it is implicit, I am told.
I took this matter to a friend, in a monastic community, to reflect. He said, he loved the simplicity of the Eucharistic prayer of Addai and Mari. This is a prayer from the Eastern Syriac ancient Christian community. The beauty of this prayer is its simplicity. The friend said that all we regard as important such as the words spoken by Jesus also knows as the words of ‘Institution’ and the ‘Epiclesis’ the invocation of the Holy Spirit is beautifully diffused in the simplicity of the prayers by Saints Addai and Mari that it reaches the core of the soul with the message of love. I was overwhelmed to hear it put across in such a profound manner because I know this to be true from experience.
In 2001 I was invited by the then Bishop to consider the role of the Rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen. After due process, the Trustees invited me to be their Rector. The People’s Warden, Tom Ferguson Sr and his wife Jessie, cradle Episcopalians, devout and deeply committed to the Mission of the Church had a single desire to grow the church community, spiritually and numerically. They were the core members of a midweek Eucharist on Wednesday evenings meeting the choir vestry. This small group met for a simple form Eucharist prayer and Songs from Taizé. Numbers were added to this congregation as a member of the church who also served as a psychiatric nurse brought people to this service. After much thought and prayer and in consultation with those who formed this community felt that the simplest form of prayers would be most appropriate given the mental state of some people attending regularly. The prayers of St Addai and St Mari was chosen. While questions were raised by a few liturgical puritans about the appropriateness of the use of this form of prayers, the benefits were very evident as it happened to be the most efficient and direct vehicle of delivery of the message of the Gospel delivered direct to the troubled souls of people with mental health issues.
For Darren and Mark, the simplicity of prayers are most effective when the soul is longing for God. it is this simplicity at the heart of ‘Peace Makers’. The prayer for peace from the First World War would be an appropriate end this three part reflection on, I can’t Pray. I won’t Pray. Lord teach us to pray.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
Can’t Pray. Won’t Pray. Our Father …
On Trinity Sunday, Darren was baptised following an epiphany that nothing but the Grace of God can transform his life and asked to be baptised. He came to it with utter conviction but with great trepidation as the business of public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ is a great privilege and responsibility.
It was providential that the day Darren gathered his courage to come and ask for baptism, Mark Walker, my companion on the Platinum Jubilee Walk and Darren’s class mate was in the Cathedral for Thursday Communion Service. Mark encouraged Darren in his decision to be baptised. And this humble beginning became a beautiful story of Growing in Grace.
On Trinity Sunday after the Service, Mark took Darren to have a burger for lunch after the Baptism, like Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement.. They needed time to reflect on what had just happened. It transpired in the conversation, I believe, that they shared a struggle – the business of prayer. Mark was honest and shared his struggle with prayer and more so in the company of others in the church! I thought, how honest can two disciples of Jesus Christ could be towards one another.
One of Darren’s struggle was praying in Church with others. Not that praying in the closet was any easier for him as it is for most of us, with the wondering mind and restless thoughts can be overwhelming. But praying together with others is equally hard because words can be as much as help and equally be an hindrance. Darren’s struggle with prayer is as ancient as the human soul that longs for God yet be distracted easily as of Eve and Adam.
Much has been said about our struggle with prayer that we could say with the Preacher, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. It is a paradox between the longing soul and the fragmented life. It is providential that the reality of ‘I can’t pray. I won’t pray’ surfaced on the Feast of the Trinity for Mark and Darren.
Our affirmation of faith in the Triune God opens for us a space where we can simply be and not strive towards something. It is the mystery of the Blessed Trinity in action where love, joy and peace, with their counterparts of truth, justice and forgiveness coexists with an unending prayer of, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy. This must be at the heart of the Triune God and Darren and Mark just walked into that mystery unawares.
I reflected further on this conversation in holiness. Firstly, I came to the conclusion that it is impossible to share in the life of the Communion of the Trinity with defiled hearts and corrupt minds. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ Would the reverse be true? Cursed are the corrupt in heart, for they shall see nothing but the reflection of themselves? It is tempting to dabble with this form of thought. So, I went for a confession to a friend and former Monk. My confession was somewhat linked to the conversation on prayer between Mark and Darren.
When Darren spoke about his struggle with prayer, Mark suggested visiting Pluscarden Abbey where prayers are short and sung in Latin. While what is sung may not be heard and understood by the reasoning mind, it enters the soul of a saint and fulfils its purpose i.e. the union of the longing soul with God. One longing soul talks to another longing soul and together they find the place of peace. I shared this with my confessor who acknowledged the life of God in the soul of man, fragmented and troubled.
It is hard to persevere in prayer therefore the Lord made ways to help us with our infirmities in prayer. Prayer in Latin is better than the prayer that distracts me. I can’t pray. I won’t pray. Lord, teach us to pray.
I have one more story to add to this dialogue on prayer!
Walking forty days, an average of 16 miles a day for about five to six hours from Easter to Ascension meant that I had substantial amount of time to focus on the voice of the Risen Lord say, ‘Peace be with you’ and respond to it in contemplative prayer and speak to people I met, about it. The key outcome of this pattern of contemplative prayer on a singular invocation of a Divine Life (Risen Lord) is a fundamental change in my understanding of peace. I would like to explore something here on this business of ‘Peace’ and ‘Peace Making.’
The encounters I experienced on Trinity Sunday at the Sung Eucharist with Baptism and the Fellowship afterwards, my reflections on that experience, was brought to a sharp focus on Monday morning as I said Morning Prayers in the company of the few others online. The Readings were of particular stimulus for this blog post. Also, my email to the congregation on the Trinity Sunday morning commenting on the past week was generally received with ‘thank you’. However, I was counselled by a fellow Trustees and friend to be mindful of commenting on media coverage of situations in the church. I would like to offer my apology should what I said in my email was not compassionate and Godly. I believe you should make up your own mind about what we have heard in the media and pray for God to heal and transform our Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Ross Hempseed reported the completion of Platinum Jubilee Walk on the 31st of May 2022 Aberdeen minister completes 40-day walk to London whilst helping those suffering mental health issues and suicide (pressandjournal.co.uk). Marc Horne reported on Thursday last week Charity regulator investigates ‘misleading’ accounts of church | Scotland | The Times. And this report was published on last Saturday Church under scrutiny paid legal fees to trustee partner’s firm | Scotland | The Times
Reflections in my Letter to St Andrews Network on Trinity Sunday 2022 was influenced by these three pieces of news. While I felt we can do nothing but pray and invite you the People of God who have proved beyond doubt your commitment to prayer, to pray; I am equally compelled by the spirit of truth to do the work of a Peace Maker.
Now returning to the change I experience as a result of 40 days of walk through our blessed Great Britain, I am mindful that I am beginning to hear the Scriptures distinctly differently now from how I have done at various stages of my life. Hearing the Scriptures in the Hebrew and Greek Bibles of the Christian Faith is a transformative work of the Spirit. I have read the Bible cover to cover once a year from the age of 12 when I learnt that Isaac Newton wrote more on the Bible than on Science. I read it devoutly and I read it as literature. I loved the poetry and I loved the stories. The wit of the gospels filled my heart with joy like none other. I have kept company with Jesus far too much. But my experience during the Platinum Jubilee Walk that I had with the Risen Lord in the Eastertide of 2022 is something unique and powerful like no other. I believe, you did it with your prayers for which I am deeply indebt. It will have consequences for St Andrew’s, for the Scottish Episcopal Church and I pray, for the Anglican Communion and beyond.
I began the walk on Easter Sunday with a singular purpose of carrying the message of the Risen Lord into the land of the birth of Authorised Version of the Holy Bible, ‘Peace be with you.’ I was on a mission and I found my vocation affirmed in the course of that Mission and now I am beginning to see the meaning of the words of the Canon Precentor at York Minster, ‘You are a captive to peace.’ I hear the scriptures differently and I find it deeply transformative. So, I return to the experiences of Trinity Sunday and Scripture readings for Trinity Monday Morning Prayer. (I made the Trinity Monday up)
Experiences of Trinity Sunday
The scripture readings from a. the wisdom of the Proverbs, b. St Paul’s daring claim to peace in the sharing the Glory of God and c. the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ to bless us with the gift of the Holy Spirit came as a bolt that will shake the foundations of corruption. The Spirit of Truth who guides us into all Truth set me reflecting on the Trinity as the expression of God’s love for us.
Darren Lock was baptised as part of the Sung Eucharist. He came on Thursday to ask for Baptism as a means of finding the Grace of God and peace of mind from the torments of mental ill health . We explored the meaning and significance of it and he asked to be baptised on Sunday. He was nervous but was much encouraged and supported by the presence of his classmate Mark Walker who was a great companion on my walk. During the Baptism, the Nwajiuba Girls, Zara and Chidram sang, ‘When Jesus say, ‘YES’ no body can say ‘No’. Darren punched the air and declared his commitment to following Jesus. We pray God will answer his prayers for peace.
We gathered for fellowship afterwards in the John Skinner Centre when one of the people who made a submission to the Torrance Report mentioned that the nightmares have returned as the news of the denial of ‘bullying and harassment’ were dismissed as ‘rumours’ appeared in the Times article on Saturday. I was deeply troubled by it and spent the rest of the day thinking and praying about it. How do I respond to this emergence of Trauma to the news of ‘bullying’ denial.
Morning Prayer on Monday the 13th of June 2022
On Trinity Monday I said Morning Prayers online with a few people joining in. The 1st Lesson was from Joshua 7, the record of the defeat of Israel by the weakest enemy of Ai due to the sin of one man, Achan. It takes just one person to bring defeat and disgrace to the entire community and the issue of dealing with such a person is an unprecedented and unpleasant challenge to the defeated and traumatised community. How do we hear God today in the light of Joshua 7 given all that we know, heard and have experienced? What should I do as a ‘Peace Maker’ to bring peace to the one in my care as the Priest of Christ, traumatised and troubled?
The second lesson from the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to St Luke, the Parable of the Good Samaritan simply confirmed the message of the 1st Lesson. I have seen someone wounded and bleeding in my way on Trinity Sunday. I have tried to walk past the wounded and traumatised, the first time. I do the THURSDAYS IN BLACK in solidarity with the World Council of Churches movement towards a world without rape and violence. Should I walk on by so that my peace is not disturbed or do I risk being attacked by the religious mob for stepping out to pour the oil and the wine in the wound of my sisters in Christ? I hope you see my distress and dilemma with the situation in our diocese.
I am reminded of the parable of a man who was woken up in the middle of the night by his friend looking for food for his visitors. And Jesus goes on to teach about the need for persistence in prayer. His affirmation was that God will hear our prayers. Will you give a scorpion if you child asked for an egg? Will you give ‘Mediation’ if your daughters ask for truth and justice? No amount of Thursdays in Black is going to heal my sister who is traumatised and having nightmares.
I remain in prayer even when I look for truth and justice in vein. I hope you see my struggle!
I can’t pray and I won’t pray. Lord teach us to pray.
Thank you dear friends for your prayers, wishes, words of encouragement and generosity, the ONE THOUSAND MILE WALK from the Feast of Epiphany when I made a commitment to walk to the day I arrived at St Paul's, Knightsbridge to a very warm and generous welcome from our former Organ Scholar, the Revd Canon Dr Allan Gyle at the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord.
Watch the Service here: Solemn Eucharist on Ascension Day 2022 at St Paul's, Knightsbridge
I have walked an average of 8 miles a day from Epiphany to Easter and 16 miles a day from Easter to the Feast of Ascension. The distance is done and the destination is reached and a new vision is given and a new mission has begun, we are ready for the Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Church ready for action with Peace Makers.
Let us hear the prophet Zachariah, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.' It is in that power that we are sent out to do the work of Peace Makers. Let us go out and the set the world with the fire of God's love.
I believe it was a big celebration at the base camp at St Andrew's Cathedral, Aberdeen with the blessed visitation of our dear global family friends, Marion and Chris from Canada. Marion joined the St Andrew's worship online at a very early stage of the lockdown and remained friends and now visiting in person. This was the third and most successful attempt. There was suitable joy with a large gathering at the Sung Eucharist and lunch at Tony Macaroni at Marischal Square, Aberdeen afterwards!! Just a couple of weeks away and there is large gatherings and partying! Well, that is the whole point of being the disciple of the Lord, you move about with the Risen Lord and share his invocation, 'Peace be with you.'
Today, began with a Big Breakfast at the Everitts and much joy leading to most beautifully sung Mattins, a delightful reunion with Dr Tim Morgan who is St Andrew's Choir now living in Durham until the home coming to Aberdeen in a couple of years time, just in time for the reopening of the fully restored Cathedral, to sing and make music to the Lord. We were truly transported by the music and preaching, a blessing that will be cherished in the days and weeks to come.
Set off from Durham at 2pm and walked through Ferryhill now settled for the night at the Premier Inn Durham at Newton Aycliffe car park. The Receptionist, Chelsea was extremely kind in offering a space to park the caravan for the night.
The business of misleading Christian Hos(pita/ti)lity of Alnmouth Friary and the kindness of a Premiere Inn remains a challenge in my mind. How, complete strangers like Chelsea who was not only kind and helpful but gentle and delightful while the 'Guest Master Monk' was rude and ruthless in asking us to stand outside. This habit of lying in the name of Jesus must change and the attitude of the church towards people who are different must change. I pray God will grant me grace to help make this change in our generation that the next generation will come to believe in the message of Jesus Christ.
Durham was fully of young people energised and vibrant. It is hard to believe that even this lively and vibrant student community was once hit by hostile atmosphere in one of their colleges. It was very good to see a lot of young people in the Cathedral. The spirituality and the preaching should be an attraction.
The walk today was about 12 miles, hilly up to Ferryhill and flat there after. Green and most beautiful and the people are generally warm and friendly. A good days work deserves a good nights rest in the caravan. My left arm is aching with wishing over 500 people driving past with, 'Peace be with you.' 'Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days' says the Preacher. (Ecclesiastical 11.1) It was good to cast a lot of the Bread of Life' upon the people, praying that it will yield fruit in due season.
Please keep the prayers going.
The day began with the glorious sunrise over the Durham Cathedral and continued with delightful breakfast at the Canon Pastor’s palace. The breath taking natural beauty of the region and its rich heritage of the arrival of St Cuthbert and St Bede has simply highlighted the significance of God’s goodness in this place. I was reminded of the walk yesterday from St Bede’s Church in Jarrow to his resting place in Durham Cathedral which took me through Stanley, Chester le Street, Sacristan and the many mining communities and thick woods.
The crook of the Weir is the tip to the location of this glorious house of God. The Cathedral can be seen from around it from the riverbanks of Weir. The Southbank becomes the Northbank by the crook and there is something to ponder on journeys and perspectives with the Risen Lord. The Cross and the Resurrection are two inseparable perspectives of the Lord’s love for the Creation. The fifty days (about) lead up from offering of the Christ Child by the Blessed Mother Mary at Candlemas to the Offering of the Incarnate Son by the Father at the Cross, His glorious Resurrection on the Easter Morn is only the beginning of fifty days of Easter where we hear and proclaim his message, ‘Peace be with You.’ Carrying this message through this land on foot is nothing but joy and delight.
This was captured by the two sermons today at the Cathedral. One that caught my attention was the refusal of the Lord to answer the question posed by the Jews, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ The seductiveness of a question with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answer is very powerful. Recently I was invited by someone to enter into a ‘Mediation’ exercise. I was taken by surprise by this invitation and couldn’t see the point of it as I couldn’t see a conflict to mediate. So, I invited my invitee to walk with me on this ‘Walk 22: Peace be with you’ Walk of Prayer for Healing, Peace and Revival. My invitee insisted on this ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answer. I was acutely mindful of the implications of such answer because I keep bad company like the Lord who refused to answer his adversaries in ‘tell us plainly’ answer. Instead, I invited my invitee to join me on the walk. Oh the graciousness of the Lord that fills my heart with joy as I walk along proclaiming, ‘Peace be with you.’
I am about to set off to Newton Aycliffe from the Cathedral. My companions and I are delighted with this stop, blessed and healed by the hospitality of Ruth and Fr Michael, fired up and ready to go. Come, let us walk together, in the name of Jesus, the Risen Lord.
We arrived at the Durham Cathedral and parked our dotty old caravan in the grounds of the cathedral. Nigel can’t believe that he has managed to get this caravan into the ground, a familiar place for him and the family.
We washed up and were served with a most delicious meal and chilled white wine. Hospitality is this. Openness to the strangers with open arms. I found no where in the Cathedral website that ‘Hospitality’ is their business but by gum, the hospitality extended here is a true reflection of the hospitality of the Lord, in the Wilderness or in the Upper Room. I must register this that the Franciscans at the Alnmouth Friary who over use the term, ‘Hospitality’ in every sentence of their self description have been most hostile in the interaction that I and my companion encountered. There is a coldness of the passive aggression in the monk who challenged us at the door, ‘Can I help you?’ ‘Stand here while I check if you have sent the request for hospitality’ was deeply distressing. Making false claims is against the regulations of the Charity Commission. I hope they will read this blog and remove the use of the word, ‘Hospitality’ from their descriptions as it is misleading. ‘I was a stranger and you did not welcome me’ was the word of the Lord in me to the Alnmouth Friary.
The joy that was lost with the hostility at the door of Alnmouth Friary is not only restored at the hospitality at Durham Cathedral but strengthened and renewed my joy and confidence in the capacity of Christians to extend true and authentic ‘hospitality’.
Walked a good distance today from Alnmouth to Blyth along the beautiful Sunderland coast. It was a pleasant walk to Amble and said a prayer at St Cuthbert’s, Amble. What a joy to have a church warm, open and prayerful. God bless the people here.
I walked along the main road and the traffic was heaven so drifted back to the sea shore and got caught in a farm. The Farmer Michael was most kind and showed a shortcut through his far. The cows were most hospitable and welcoming, something that hostile people can learn from.
The day got very wet and we looked for a caravan park and found it close to Jarrow. We pitched at Rowlands Gill and the host was most kind and offered a FREE PITCH for the night.
There is lot to reflect here today with meeting Benny along the beach who took pity on me and offered a lift to Blyth. We spoke about walking and my purpose. He was most kind and insisted that I should take lifts when offered. May be he was the voice of God teaching me humility. Oh the wonderous ways of God.!
The dinner tonight in the natural light of darkness we had smoked kipper from .. and some lovely vegetable soup from the Co-op. Parking the caravan tonight proved to be a challenge. Nigel had pitched it on the roadside as there was no room at the Friary at Alnmouth. Nigel and I drove around and found this quiet place with a four other mobile homes near … village. We removed the caravan to this secure place and warmed the kipper and soup and enjoyed it outdoors. Mark had eaten already.
Today, I walked from Bamburgh Castle to Alnmouth as I had sent an email to the Friary that we were coming and were hoping to stay there. However, on arriving the monk who opened the door asked us to stay outside and went in to check if there was an email. The booking form confirmed that I completed the process and that I will hear from them immediately. There was no answer and we accepted that all is well. The monk returned after five minutes and said that there was some mix up, the Friary is full and there was no place for us.
On the night before I read in detail the repeated claim by the Franciscans for their reputation for hospitality. This is the first instance in the three weeks of walking from Aberdeen to Alnmouth that we encountered a firm refusal and it has made me reflect on how much Christian religion has changed from ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ to ‘there is no room in the inn. I said, ‘Peace be with you’ to that monk in shorts and tea shirt and he looked bemused.
In contrast, I came across two saints and seven adventurers walking from Croster to Low Newton and back. The two saints were the two retired gentleman from Newcastle, Paul and John who brought seven adventurers who have been given asylum and refuge in England by the government of Her Majesty, the Queen.
The contrast between lay people in the church and the religious is of something significant. The openness to God and the tenderness of humanity shaped by faith in God in Christ Jesus in the soul of a believer appears far precious than the hardness of heart of the religious. This is exposed by the Lord throughout his life. While the punters were more ready to trust and experience God, the religious pursued the Lord until they were able to put him to death.
It was a journey back to Bamburgh Castle to resume the walk. Stopped in Edinburgh to meet Marion and Chris. What a wonderful moment of joy!