The Catholic Herald kindly asked me, this week, to produce an article reflecting on the most recent General Synod within the Church of England; which served as yet another blow to those who value the traditional teaching of the Christian faith in all ages. You can read it by following this link.
Around 30 children descended on St. Anselm’s this week for the annual children’s holiday club. This year the theme was “Catholics in India” which gave us a rich source of ideas for craft, activities and games.
Each day the children enjoyed creating art, small and large, and playing games together in the church grounds. Old favourites like ‘what is the time Mr Wolf?’ and ‘stuck in the mud’ proved especially popular.
After refreshment of juice and biscuits, demolished in seconds, the children came into church each day for a short talk on the faith. The overall theme was “Being Saints” and, given the topic, special focus was given to St. Thomas, who took the faith to India, St. Theresa of Calcutta, who famously cared for India’s poorest and St. Alphonsa, the first Indian female Saint beatified by Pope Benedict in 2008.
Sanskrit T-Shirts were made as well as giant maps of India, complete with geographical features like mountains and rivers. The children learnt about the Indian national animals, plants, sports and much more.
On the final day, this morning, the children made a giant Mango tree. It was a lot of fun even if most of the helpers ended up with as much paint on them as on the tree!
And a herd of Elephants were created by clever use of milk cartons. It has been noted that the elephant at the back seems somewhat alarmed!!
Marbled images of jungle animals helped the children think about camouflage. Can you spot the beasts lurking within?
And amidst all the activity there was lots of laughter and friendship. Many of the children are now veterans of the holiday club and eagerly look forward to taking part. Most attend our church but we also attract children from other churches in the local deanery.
Lotus flowers and peacocks took up yesterday afternoon. The names refer to the owners not the birds, I think….
And we used coloured rice to create some beautiful images on card. Here you can see the Indian flag as well as various patterns.
Alas we could not produce the wonderful coloured spices which you can see in an Indian street market. But we all agreed the stained rice looked almost as good…
We owe a debt of gratitude to all the adult helpers and especially to Hayley, who spends weeks planning the craft and getting everything ready. Her hard work produces so much joy for the little ones. Whatever will the theme be next year?
A truly wonderful day in Pembury as six children received Holy Communion for the first time. We also had a confirmation of an adult and a special administering of a minor order. All in the presence of our Ordinary, Mgr. Keith Newton, who was the celebrant at Mass.
There are so many lovely photographs of our first communions and confirmations today that a simple blog post will not do. So head on over to my flickr account to enjoy them all. There are some absolute corkers!
We are very grateful to Brian for acting as photographer and uploading them to me so swiftly. And very grateful to all the people who worked so hard to make the event such a success. Thank you! And God bless all those who took another step forward on their journey of faith today.
Since its inception the church has been at war, battling against all sorts of wrongful ideas and beliefs. We call these heresies and they are treated as toxic to the soul because they lead us away from revealed truth. Most heresies end with an ism, we might consider Arianism, Donatism, Nesotrianism, and it is a constant battle to overcome them because, like weeds, they tend to die down for a bit but then come back with great vengeance.
The latest heresy to re-emerge, which was all the rage back in the 2nd Century, is Gnosticism. Gnostics taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, a demiurge, and that Christ was an emissary of the more remote supreme divine being. Through secret knowledge (gnosis) the spirit could free itself from the vile trappings of the flesh and find redemption. Gnostics held that the entire material realm was essentially evil and that the Spirit, being pure, needed freeing from it. This was the purpose of faith; no resurrection of the body for them!!
Although nobody, to my knowledge, has resurrected the gnostic belief in a demiurge we are nevertheless witnessing a massive revival of the other aspect of Gnostic belief; that materiality is bad and Spirit alone matters. A clear rebellion against Christian belief which maintains man is created as a unity in distinction in which body and soul together form a sacred identity. Created matter is important as witnessed by the incarnation of Christ and his physical resurrection from the dead.
The history lesson complete let us now examine the thinking of the modern culture. And what, but gnosticism, drives the ridiculous (but popular) notion today that God given biological status is irrelevant? Does a man wish to be a woman, or vice versa, no problem; deny observable material truth because, as the gnostics ever held, your identity is solely who you are on the inside! The physical body is poo-pooed, even mutilated and butchered to create a false reality. For it is only seen as a vehicle, an accident of birth, a restrictive cage in which the real person is trapped. This is gnosticism writ large. For the person is no longer an embodied soul but rather an enslaved soul whose evil material body is a prison.
Gnosticism is also behind the modern drive for same sex marriage. For here the necessary biological materiality, requisite to create that ‘unity in distinction’ at the heart of marriage – the coming together of man and woman- is again rejected. The only important consideration, we are told, centres on love between two kindred spirits. The biological aspect is denied at a cost, I would argue, to the needs of children. We witness the denial of everything the church ever taught about marriage and family.
Finally gnosticism is also running amok within Christian understanding. For what, but a denial of the biological aspect of the person representing Christ at the altar, lies behind a call for female priests? We would never cast a hairy chested man as the Virgin Mary in a passion play,it would descend into farce, but many seem comfortable doing the reverse; asking a woman to stand in persona Christi at the Eucharist as if his incarnate self was incidental not revelatory. There is not space to unpack this here but the bottom line is that the nature of God revealed as man has a huge bearing on theology. (Email me for an article on the subject)
The gnostic tendency of many modern Christians should not surprise us. For poorly catechised believers have always looked to the prevailing culture for their lead and been vulnerable to attack. At one point the entire church almost sold out to Arianism before pulling back from the brink. So today we see a huge number of prelates, priests and people in thrall to gnosticism and modernism and hungering for a revolution that would allow historic Christian teaching to be replaced with something more suited to the spirit of the age. But this must be resisted. It is the battle to which the Christian is ever called. We must deny error and stand for truth.
So I do my best to stand firmly behind Christ and against modern Gnosticism. It doesn’t win me many friends but I must do this because I believe God created us in love and that our identity is not an entrapped soul fighting against a wicked body but found in acceptance of our God given identity; body and soul. Furthermore I believe God created humanity male and female and called them together in love for the furtherance of the human race. This unique coming together- of man and woman- is a coming together of two halves of an intended equation. A complementarity is achieved in which each perfects the other through essential difference. This must be cherished and not lost.
Which does not mean I lack compassion for people who struggle in life. The person with same sex attraction needs respect. Where people opt to live outside of the Christian faith I accept the need for legal protection and recognition. Holding to traditional thinking does not mean we are unkind to those who are mentally anguished and imagine they are something they are not. Like the anorexic who imagines they are fat- we must help transexual people without colluding in the fantasy. We can be loving and respectful yet hold to the Christian creeds. At least when the debate is not being closed down by those who would label us haters.
This view might not be trendy. But I believe it is truth.
The last few years have been busy at St. Anselm’s as we have forged ahead, despite limited resources, with a vision to transform a tired 1960’s dual use hall/mass centre into a proper church fit for reverent worship.
And the great news is that God has richly blessed our endeavours. What we have given has been multiplied, when we have needed funds they have arrived. Meaning a minor miracle has occurred in Pembury; for less money than a nearby parish built just one parish room we have renovated the space to the glory of God. Here is what it looked like five years ago.
This was a time when the church had to be laboriously set up for every use. Plastic chairs set out in lines with rubber kneelers and the altar wheeled in. It was not conducive to devotion for the moment Mass ended, instead of kneeling before the sacrament in prayer, the congregation was launched into operation clear-up. It rather encouraged a view of Sunday only Christianity. God packed away for another week.
Here is what St Anselm’s looks like today. Wooden pews have replaced the plastic chairs. Stations of the cross have been erected. A hall built. Beautiful hassocks replaced the rubber kneelers. 72 leylandii were hacked down and a lawn laid. And so many salvaged items have found a permanent home here, from the magnificent altar in limed oak to the two new reredos which add beauty to the whole. We are so grateful to everyone who has helped us to get this far. Thank you!
But the work is not yet done and we are now launching a final appeal to finish the work we have begun. This final phase will see us install a beautiful new stained glass window in place of the current glass above the sanctuary. This is desperately needed because the current window, fashioned for hall use, is so bright as to ensure a glare that dazzles the worshipper and draws the eye away from the sacrament. This photograph of last years first communion candidates shows how bad it can be.
The other work that needs doing is less exciting than the window but every bit as necessary. We have to renovate the lighting; for at present we have but two settings. We either use the existing flourescent tubes designed for hall use in the 1960’s – which are so bright as to kill all and any atmosphere…or else we use the two standard lamps we have, and then the place is gloomy and reading hymn books becomes very challenging. Furthermore the current lighting was not designed for ad orientem worship and so the priest casts a shadow over the missal- which can prove rather challenging during evening celebrations.
So we are asking for financial help to ensure we finish the work we have begun. Ours is only a very modest parish, so benefactors and friends are hugely appreciated. Could you send a gift to help us? We have to raise around £10,000 so need all the help we can get. Donations can be sent to The Presbytery, 31 Henwoods Crescent, Pembury, TN2 4LJ.
NB: for those able to offer a significant gift we are offering a once in a lifetime opportunity. The window will be installed, to the glory of God, in memory of a few loved ones whose names will be inscribed on a commemoration plaque. Might your relative or friend be remembered in this way?
A reminder that this coming Sunday is going to be a day of great celebration for the parish. At 11am Mgr. Keith Newton will celebrate Mass at which several children will make their first communion. In addition a young man will be received into the Catholic church and confirmed. And Roy, a deacon in training attached to the Sevenoaks Ordinariate Group, will be admitted to the minor order of reader, an important stage on his spiritual journey.
It is going to be standing room only in church, so arrive in good time to secure a seat. We are also requesting that you refrain from using the car park- it is only for the disabled- as we need to utilise space for the celebrations. There is plenty of parking in the surrounding roads and a public car park at the recreation ground.
After Mass there will be a BBQ in the parish grounds. We have a barrel of Tunbridge Coppernob arriving for beer lovers and other drinks for those who prefer something else. We ask for a donation to cover the cost of meat and people are asked to bring a salad dish for the table.
And this will also be a gift day for the parish. We need to raise money to install the new stained glass window, pictured above, and renovate the terrible lighting. Leaflets detailing the project will be distributed and a gift box will be placed before the sacrament after Mass. Please place your gift here and remember to sign the gift aid form if applicable. Let us finish the magnificent renovation we have begun.
The children’s summer holiday club is almost upon us and lots of fabulous games and craft activities are being planned. To help one planned activity take place we are asking if people could lend us old hockey sticks? Bring them to church or to the Presbytery and we will return them to you after the event.
We also need milk containers. These will be transformed into something fun for the children. Please bring them to church this Sunday or next and bring the lid as well please. They are no good without them….don’t ask me why because I am only the messenger!
Because I am married the question of priestly celibacy crops up often. People ask what I think about mandatory celibacy for priests. I tend to duck the issue, partly out of deference to the church which granted me dispensation, partly because I see sense on both sides of the argument. But before I share a personal view let me clear up a few issues which often confuse the debate.
Usefulness is not determined by marital status
A favoured argument- one I find insulting- suggests single men devote themselves to parish life in a way no married man can. It sounds compelling for it evokes a romanticised image of the heroic priest only and ever about the care of his flock, but it crumbles under the scrutiny of actual lived experience.
Marriage does not hamper the dedication of surgeons, soldiers and those in the emergency services so why do we assume it hampers the dedication of clergy? The reality is more complex and, in truth, there are good/bad (effective/useless) priests regardless of marital status. A singleton might well have more time on his hands but this doesn’t mean it is spent effectively. Indeed the married man might be in the parish more often, due to family ties, than the singleton jetting off at every opportunity to spend time with friends.
Neither marriage nor celibacy is a guarantor of happiness
Some suggest marriage would save priests from loneliness. Again this is compelling at face value but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Because the crushing loneliness of a failing marriage can be just as crippling as isolation. Equally a single life can be as fulfilled as a married one. The point being that happiness and misery are found in both estates. Let us then discount this foolish reasoning.
Neither marriage nor celibacy protects against scandal
Others suggest a married priesthood would have spared the abuse crisis. There is, I suspect, a shred of truth here but the argument is still deeply flawed; for married men are as capable of sin as single men, an adulterous cleric wreaks as much havoc as a fornicating singleton. And plenty of abusers are married.
Where then the shred of truth? It is located in the theme linking the majority of recent scandals; they were homosexual in nature. Now clearly there are many celibate and chaste gay men who are an absolute credit to the church, and plenty of married men who have been a disgrace. Be that as it may; we must ponder, and seriously, how the Catholic priesthood enabled a promiscuous gay subculture to grow within itself, often unchecked, which later led to so many grave sins and scandals? The problem seems to have taken hold in the wake of the sexual revolution and its terrible harvest is now being reaped in our day.
For the reality is that too many clergy of the last half century lived a lie; they presented as chaste men of prayer but secretly behaved in a manner to make a prostitute blush! How else to explain clergy caught up in cocaine fuelled orgies in the bathhouses of Rome? Or that most of the abuse crisis involved active gay men hitting on teenage boys? Too often blind eyes were turned, or else we discover that those who should have disciplined were themselves enslaved in the problem. If this issue doesn’t demand an official enquiry I do not know what does.
(An aside: we should note here, however depressing the abuse/scandal crisis can be, it is a minority- most priests at least try to be faithful. And there are rumours Pope Benedict was trying to sort this out but the powerful gay lobby got to him. Who knows?! What I do know is that the frequency of rumour is doing great harm to people’s faith, and my own too at times. It must be sorted, publicly and soon. Should we all write to the bishops demanding to know what is being done?)
A shred of truth then because, whilst there is also a sizeable active gay subculture within, say, the Anglican church, I don’t see its hierarchy so linked to rumours of vice! Marriage seems to have made some difference in other denominations.
No cleric should be dating
It is important to state that a change in discipline would only admit those already married to the priesthood. The notion of dating clergy – just no!
Wives are not uniform accessories
Some say clergy wives would bring great blessings to a parish. A view that the parishioners of St. Anselm’s would undoubtedly agree with given how wonderful my own wife is. But hold those horses. As an Anglican, where marriage was normative, I witnessed a dual reality. Where clergy were married to inspiring and devout people the ministry was often enhanced. But where they were married to people quite unsuited to vicarage life it could lead to total disaster. The gossip, the nag, the jealous spouse, the rude spouse- these can really damage parish life. So were the church ever to admit married men to the priesthood- it would need to scrutinise the spouses very carefully indeed.
What becomes clear is that the issue is a messy one. How could it not be? Human lives are messy and and prone to greatness and error. So the truth is that single or married there is always risk involved for the church and potential of great joy.
Why then am I torn? Because on the one hand I believe a fulfilled, chaste and celibate priesthood serves as a radical example of holiness to a sex obsesses culture; and a precious charism would be lost if celibate priesthood was dispensed with.
Yet I also know my own ministry has not been hampered by my marital status, quite the reverse, and I believe the church might be missing out on some potential when it closes the door altogether to a married priesthood. Might the answer be to look to the wisdom of the East?
For the Orthodox accept both paths- celibate and married. The celibates are most cherished and sent to high office- only the celibate become bishop. Meanwhile the marrieds go into the community to serve families there. A sensible compromise to my mind. How very Anglican of me! You can take the boy out of the C of E….