Yesterday the holiday club focused on the theme of Japanese customs and festivals. We learnt about the Setsubun festival at which people dress up in masks and shout ‘bad luck out and good fortune in’. The children threw bean bags into the mouths of these sinister looking Setsubun characters. The children then decorated their own monster masks.

After the sinister masks were complete we needed something a little more serene. And so attention turned to Japanese lanterns. These turned out really well and the children worked very hard making them look beautiful. They look especially good with a candle inside at night.

It was then time to head into church for a devotional talk on the life of St. Magdelene of Nagasaki. This devout Japanese lady lost her parents to martyrdom in the 17th Century and went to work as a catechist and translator for the Augustinians. Sadly she then lost both her mentors to martyrdom at the hands of the oppressive Japanese regime of that time. Eventually, wanting to hide her faith no longer, she dressed up in her lay habit and handed herself into the authorities explaining she was proud to be guilty of being a Christian. She was tortured for several weeks and eventually suffocated by being hung upside down in offal. Another reminder to us of the price some people have paid for freedom to believe.

There was then time for lunch and finishing off activities. The katanas were bound in brightly coloured tape and the boys rather enjoyed waving them dangerously in one another’s faces.

We ended with games in the paddock. My favourite was “Ahiru, Ahiru, Gacho!’ more commonly known as ‘duck, duck, goose!’ The children learnt the Japanese translation very quickly and giggled as they played. The sound of children’s laughter is one of the finest sounds in life. One day to go…

Yesterday the St. Anselm’s summer holiday club, for Primary aged children, went off with a bang! This year’s theme is Catholics in Japan which has afforded us many exciting topics for craft and activities.

The first thing the children learnt was that Japan is a nation made up of thousands of islands, though most people only live on the four main islands. The country is also home to lots of volcanoes- and so the first craft activity saw the four groups create their own. It is rumoured that on the final day, thanks to the marvels of science (some bottles of pop and a packet of mentoes) these four volcanoes is set to erupt! Time will tell…

The children also learnt about Samurai and how they used katanas to fight. And so in the next activity they made their own which will be decorated with brightly coloured tape tomorrow once the paint is dry.

The devotional talk explained to the children how most Japanese people are not religious. However many attach themselves to Bhuddism or Shintuism for family festivals. There are however 500,000 Catholics in Japan today who can trace their origins back to the Jesuit missions of the 16th Century. This led into a talk about the martyrdom of St. Paul Miki and companions.

After lunch the children helped create a collage. They also got to try on a kimono. We are fortunate that one of Hayley’s friends, Tomi, is Japanese and able to ensure that what we are teaching is correct. She also has lots of authentic Japanese items for the children to see.

The final craft on the first today saw the children produce beautiful fans. There was also time for lots of games and laughter and a shared picnic lunch. Lots of fun and two more days to go….Watch this space.

Rt. Revd John Wilson was installed as the new Archbishop of Southwark on Thursday. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology you can now watch the service via the link below.

One of the most loyal members of our congregation, Diane, was widowed this week when her husband, Malcolm, passed away after illness. Of your goodness please pray for his soul and for his family who mourn him.

A requiem Mass will be held at 3pm next Monday. All members of the congregation are very welcome to attend and support Diane.

It was Mrs. T’s birthday on Saturday so, after celebrating Mass for the feast of St. Wilgefortis, I took the family for lunch at the Mark Cross Inn situated near Wadhurst on the other side of Tunbridge Wells and recently refurbished after a terrible fire. It is a favourite of mine as the food is delicious and the beer well kept. I highly recommend it.

Benedict was certainly impressed as he loudly announced his burger to be the very best he had tasted. High praise from something of a connoisseur of local burgers! As you can see it was a definite thumbs up!

Jemima and Gus meanwhile opted for ham, egg and chips, an old British favourite, whilst I enjoyed lobster thermidor and Hayley a beetroot, parmesan and halloumi risotto. All of which has to be washed down so it was welcome news that the pub was hosting a mini beer festival with live music that weekend. Anyone might think I was tipped off…

The cheery looking fellow at the bar, in his jolly camp shorts, is Brian Whiting. He is the owner of the pub and a friend of mine. He is also a long standing supporter of Tunbridge Wells rugby club which he supports annualy via sponsorship of the Whiting and Hammond 7s Tournament. Here he is pictured with the recent winners.

Brian’s company, Whiting and Hammond, own several pubs in Kent and Sussex including the Little Brown Jug in Tonbridge which recently won an award for the best restaurant served fish and chips in the country!

After lunch we headed home for desert- an amazing birthday cake which had been specially baked by Jemima. She is becoming an accomplished baker and has an ambition to star on the hit show ‘Bake Off’. With cakes like this she is well on her way. It really was yummy!!

Today, as well as being my wife’s birthday, is the feast of Saint Wilgefortis, a little known martyr referred to as ‘the bearded virgin’. Hers is a curious and unfortunate tale which, though it may first sound preposterous and amusing, is actually worthy of deeper consideration. My own view of this Saint has changed dramatically over the years.

I first encountered Wilgefortis at Westcott House, an Anglican theological college in Cambridge. Yet it was the local pub, not the ecclesial institution, that held her veneration in high regard. For her story was a firm favourite of Terence, eccentric landlord of the St. Radegund arms on King Street. A pub I frequented a little too habitually. Indeed such was Terry’s love for regaling her story that he toasted her whenever a future cleric was present. And he was absolutely delighted when I later helped organise a procession in her honour, from college to pub, at which all taking part sported false beards as well as full pint pots. It was great fun. But joking aside who was she and what is her story?

Legend says Wilgefortis was a teen-aged noblewoman who wanted to enter the religious life. But her wicked father decided to thwart this vocation by spitefully promising her in marriage to a Muslim king. To thwart the nuptials, and thus preserve her vow of virginity, the young Wilgefortis prayed in earnest that the Lord would make her truly undesirable. And, in answer to that prayer a miracle occurred; she sprouted a beard which so revolted her potential suitor that he left in revulsion and horror. Yet the tale does not end well as her father, in anger, then had her crucified. Her prayers produced a beard but did not save her from suffering.

A cult grew up in her honour throughout the Middle Ages and she became fairly popular especially throughout Northern Europe. However the devotions in her honour proved problematic and the church had to ban images of her because she was so easily confused with Christ himself.

I am sure you can see why the story amused the locals at the Radegund. The tale lends itself to send up and seems, at surface level, highly spurious. Beards do not often sprout miraculously on the chins of young ladies only for such strange miracle to lead the bearers to a most hideous death. What then shifted me from mere amusement to take the saint seriously? The answer lies in the area of mental health.

A few days after toasting Wilgefortis with my old friend Terry, on an evening when he had also sung ‘the long and the short and the tall’ to me with a beer towel on his head, I found myself in Fulbourn psychiatric hospital on a college placement. A doctor was speaking about anorexia to me and explaining that the condition often causes a strange side-effect…it triggers an abundance of body hair. This got me thinking. Might poor Wilgefortis, raised by an abusive father and therefore likely to have been susceptible to mental illness, have suffered with this condition? It seems very plausible to me. In which case we soon shift from a strange tale with a pantomime feel to a very sad story of abuse that all should take seriously.

Thus today I always invoke the prayers of St. Wilgefortis when I encounter the horrors of domestic abuse. This poor girl, whose own father treated her so despicably, strikes me as the perfect saint for abused people everywhere. So pray today for children who suffer cruelty and for all who are abused, suffer anxiety, loss of liberty and/or problems with mental health.

Oh and pray for the repose of the soul of Terry, now deceased. He was the very definition of ‘a character’, a warm and generous friend and a great guy when he wasn’t grumpy due to a hangover (which was often!!). I hope they have beer towels in heaven, should he make it, which I very much hope that he does.

Yesterday afternoon a very special Sung mass was held at St. Anselm’s during which baby George received the sacrament of holy baptism. Along with parents, John and Laura, he is a regular member of our congregation. I am delighted to say that he was very well behaved only having the tiniest of whiffle when, to his surprise, I soaked him with holy water.

The service was followed by delicious food and drink in the hall. The congregation comprised family and friends and, in a first for me, two godparents joined us from the United States of America courtesy of an iPad! They were not only able to witness the ceremony in real time but also answered all questions asked of them. It worked surprisingly well. The iPad being held by Laura’s infamous brother- the excellent apologist and pro-life campaigner Peter Williams. It was good to catch up with him.

We have a good number of young families joining our parish at present which is genuinely wonderful news. In September a special BBQ is being planned to help bring them together socially that they might support one another in raising their children in the faith. Please pray for them.

Nineveh is mentioned repeatedly in scripture. It was the heart of the Assyrian empire first mentioned in the book of Genesis, and also by Nahum, Hezzekiah and other old testament prophets. It is where Jonah went to preach after his fishy escape plan failed. And ever since the first days of the Early Church it has been home to Christians. A community that has suffered terribly under Muslim oppression in recent years. For today Nineveh is called Mosul in the wart torn region of Iraq. Just look at the scale of destruction seen in the photograph above.

Two members of our congregation, Fr. Benedict Kiely and Tim Stanley, have been visiting Mosul this week. Fr. Benedict because his entire ministry is now given over to support of the persecuted church via his founding of Tim Stanley as a national reporter for the Daily Telegraph who wishes to report back on his findings. Please hold both in your prayers. Any visit to that region is risky indeed.

Both have been tweeting pictures from their visit and I share them with you today. Above Fr. Kiely shows the destroyed grave of martyr Fr. Ragheed Ganni in the desecrated church in Karamles. He contrasts it with today when restoration has allowed for a simple shrine to be built. Testament to the resilience of the Christian community.

The next tweet came from a packed church for Mass in St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Ebril, Iraq celebrated by Archbishop Warda. An old friend of Fr. Benedict’s who is something of a hero having risked his life to help the thousands of displaced Christians forced out of the region by ISIS who were in desperate need of food and housing. Many of whom were also grieving the death of loved ones.

Fr. Kiely enjoyed the liturgy in Iraq tweeting after one Mass that ‘they almost used as much incense in the Chaldean Cathedral as at St. Anselm’s in Pembury’ That is good to hear. I would have been mortified if it was more!

Meanwhile Tim Stanley, seen here in Nineveh, was performing the task of every good journalist; soaking up every detail of his trip in order to report back. He has already produced a powerful article entitled ‘The West owes Iraq’s persecuted minorities a lot more than just talk”

I was particularly struck by this image, which Tim tweeted, of a relic of the desecration of a Christian church on the Nineveh plain. I think it is hauntingly provocative. Proof that beauty triumphs even in the face of the ugliest violence. This statue was destroyed in hate and yet restored in love. A symbol of our faith in resurrection. Never lose hope in Christ for all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.

Pray for the persecuted Church in the Middle East. Pray for the Yazidis and all who have suffered at the cruel hands of extremist Islam. And thank God for the safe return of Fr. Benedict and Tim and for the important work they are doing.

You get no prizes for guessing what our next charitable cause as a parish is going to be. 

Yesterday Roy Cavey was ordained a deacon for the Ordinariate alongside three other men being ordained deacon for the Archdiocese of Southwark. This means we now have two deacons in Pembury which is wonderful news and a real blessing to us. Rob & Roy..sounds a bit Scottish to me.

This morning Deacon Roy assisted at the altar for both our 9:15am and 11am Mass. We prayed for him at those services and asked that God would enable him to proclaim the Gospel not only with his lips but also by the example of a life of authentic holiness. He will be mentored this year by Deacon Rob who has been a close friend of his for many years. Both are married men with young families.

We recently held a much needed stewardship drive in the Parish to enable us to budget effectively and better meet our costs as a parish.

Thank you to those who have reviewed their giving. We are sincerely grateful to you. If you have not yet responded please do so by returning the form to church. We really do need every worshipper pulling together to enable us to flourish in accordance with God’s will in the years ahead.

Ours is a small parish (100-140 on any given Sunday) Yet what we have achieved is significant. We have seen the congregation double, have seen a tired hall transformed into beautiful space for worship, have built a hall and renovated grounds. And we have given generously to various charities. None of this would have been possible without the love and support of a fantastic congregation and some amazing well wishers who have donated to the cause. Thank you.

What we have achieved is especially amazing when you consider that we surrendered all savings to Paddock Wood when Pembury became autonomous (on arrival of the Ordinariate) and that we receive no help from above. All that has been achieved then started with the bank account at zero and less than 100 worshippers. So there is much to rejoice in.

The reason for this latest stewardship drive is to honour the generosity of recent years. We want to secure our long term future by putting the church on a firm financial footing in the years ahead. And whilst the church is now looking great many challenges still face us as a parish. Not least an annual deficit (until hall loans are repaid) and a presbytery in a very poor state of repair indeed. So we continue to need your help.

Regular stewardship drives are also necessary because of inflation. Since our last campaign, some six years ago, inflation has risen to the point that every pound pledged then is only worth 87p today! So please look again and give generously. If any blog reader wishes to support our parish financially then please get in touch with me direct.

Finally thank you for all that has been given. We are truly grateful for every act of generosity. Without it we couldn’t survive. My pledge to the congregation is that we will use your gift prudently and wisely. We will seek to ensure the investment is worth it by continuing to keep costs as low as possible and punch well above our weight as a parish.