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The photograph above shows the state of the Paddock area next to our church three years ago. I was testing out our new tent. The overgrown leylandii had starved the ground of light and the debris from the trees made the ground dusty and hard. The ground compacted and rainfall would turn the ground into a swamp. It was far from ideal and the trees were beyond easy maintenance.

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Stage one of operation rescue the paddock consisted of felling over 70 huge trees. With a group of wonderful volunteers we used axes and chainsaws and began the process of shifting all the logs. It was, as you can imagine, hard work. Remember you can click on all the images for an enlarged view.

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Once the trees were down the next task was to create a new hedge. We planted lots of blackthorn. The choice of bush chosen by Father Nicholas who is rather keen on producing some gin with the fruit. Indeed he has renamed the paddock as the gin yard. Watch this space for news on this special produce.

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Keeping volunteers well fed and watered has been a central part of the many working parties at Saint Anselm’s over this last year. Which has delighted the owner of the Pembury fish and chip shop. I even got a free bottle of tomato sauce yesterday to show appreciation for the regular custom!

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Hands on clergy have joined the laity every step of the way. Lead by example, they say, although it has been suggested that the clergy do rather more gossiping together than grafting at times!

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The land was left in a terrible state once the trees were down. But we had to wait for the spring before we could think about turfing. And so, a couple of weeks ago, we set to work again. Here you see big Mike rotivating the ground. Before we set about clearing all the dead leaves and debris with a couple of large bonfires.

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Yesterday we finally set to the task of laying new turf. And what a glorious sunny day it was for the volunteer army.

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Filling the gaps would take as much time as laying out the main area. Little wonder we needed a lengthy and leisurely lunch!

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And the end product? Well the paddock looks beautiful and is a much improved area for the use of the church and pre-school group. But this is not the end of the work understand! Next we set about shifting the last of the mulch and creating a rose garden to sit alongside the paddock. And the building work continues with vigour. As you can see it is proving to be a year of activity at Saint Anselm’s. But what a transformation!

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Oh and a final noting of auspicious dates. The building is due to be completed on June 12th of this year. A date provided by the builders not us. This is not only the feast of St. Barnabas this year, the patron of the church from which the local Ordinariate pilgrimage began, but it will also be 4 years to the day from our first Mass, at Pentecost, which launched us. Co-incidence or God-incidence?

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favourite quote:

“The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes, but is tolerant in practice because she loves. Enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe, but they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.” Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

The quote highlights the problem I have with modernist calls, ahead of the next Synod on the family, for radical change in church teaching regarding the admission of divorced and re-married people to communion. I fear the liberal desire falls into the latter category. Let me use a story to explain what I mean.

As a former Anglican I have already served within a church that relaxed its teaching and practice where divorce and re-marriage are concerned. So that today the vast majority of Anglican parishes offer re-marriage without recourse to annulment. So long as the local vicar is satisfied the marriage goes ahead. A few refuse to perform these services but the majority do.

At re-marriages the same vows are made as at first marriages, which is clearly problematic. A man or woman vows to remain with new spouse “till death us do part, for better or worse” even though everyone is aware that those vows were already said to another. How can it not cheapen the vows if most people endorse the breaking of them when things don’t work out? Should they not be rewritten to suggest the new transitory nature?

In defence of remarriage the case is made using the language of mercy. Poor old Mr X made a mess before, but he is now sorry and seeks a new start with Mrs Y? The vows are explained away as representing the intention in marriage, even if human frailty cannot ensure they will stand up. I get the argument, I really do. But if this is where the debate finishes then we are in danger of losing sight of the larger picture. Which is to say that the real victims of divorce are silenced and receive no mercy at all. What of the former Mrs X? What of the children?

Mercy matters but so does justice. And the problem is that divorce is never as clean cut as liberal arguments would have us believe. For every person who is lucky enough to move on to the point that new vows seem desirable, so there are victims languishing in sorrow whose pain never leaves them. I will never forget a grandmother telling me on her deathbed that she still wept about the man who had deserted her sixty years before.

And it is almost always women and children who suffer. A third of children whose fathers leave the family home eventually lose contact altogether. I know of somebody who had no childhood relationship with a grandfather who abandoned his wife and sons for his secretary. Though he eventually patched things up with his boys he would always look to the second family as his own with a more distant attachment to the first. A situation causing more pain than I think he ever actually realised.

So to my story which shows how easily the real victims of divorce are neglected- I am changing names to protect identities.

Colin, an Anglican clergyman, had an affair and broke the heart of his wife, Claire. The first time she forgave him but when he repeatedly returned to his transgression it caused the death of that marriage. A painful divorce followed that inevitably hurt everyone involved.

If we follow his story alone then he suffered as the marriage collapsed but went on to marry again. And, scandalously, during the breakup he was able to remain in office, living in the vicarage and preaching from the pulpit as his lover sat in the pews. The diocese did not want to get too close to what they deemed to be a personal matter.

But for Claire, the victim let us recall, she not only lost husband but home. She was sent packing with less than a months stipend depending on benefits and handouts to survive. Today she holds several low paid jobs to make ends meet and lives in cramped accomodation. The divorce impacted negatively even if time proved a healer. Two decades supporting a clergy family counting for nothing when disaster struck. For a Church of England soft on divorce was impotent to help. As the archdeacon explained to her- it is happening so much we simply don’t have the resources to help you…so much for mercy.

We have to be merciful but never naive. And mercy without justice is no mercy at all. Last time the Synod met we heard much concerning same sex couples and those hungering to have their second marriages acknowledged. We heard nothing about jilted spouses and damaged children- the fallout of broken family life. Why was that? Forget legalism, often touted by progressives as a rebuke to those who resist, simple justice alone surely demands we acknowledge victims of family break down and care for them? That we do not hurt them even more by publicly acknowledging the new relationships that cause them so much pain? 

I always imagined the Church stood up for marriage as lifelong union for two reasons. Firstly because God revealed it. That is enough. Secondly because it is the only way to protect those who could so easily be abandoned and deeply wounded if the slightest suggestion is given that divorce is OK. Heaven knows marriage is hard enough, at times, without the sense that leaving it for somebody new doesn’t really matter. 

In an era when families are falling apart, we should be using the Synod and year of mercy to highlight the needs of children and to double our efforts on holding all families together. Not acquiescing to the prevailing culture under the pretence that divorce can ever be a merciful thing worthy of the church’s praise.

The bottom line: I am genuinely interested in finding new ways to offer hope to sinners in need of mercy. Heaven knows I am the lousiest of sinners myself. But let us move with eyes open and beware laws of unintended consequences. The anulment process is already amazingly generous and helps people move forward. But what else can we do? In helping the remarried find their way forward we must not further betray the real victims of divorce. Those so often forgotten in debates on marital life.

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Eastertide is the season for baptisms and here at Saint Anselm’s we have not been slacking but busy ensuring our babies are added to the family of God! Last Sunday, during the Easter morning Mass, baby Harry Grech was baptised. He is pictured above with mum Marie and dad Darren.  The family are regulars at our 9:15am Mass.

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This afternoon it was the turn of baby Gabriella Gloria, whose family regularly attend our 11am Mass. I think the photograph of her wailing beside her smiling parents is wonderful. Definitely one for the Hoare family album. Proof that we accept reluctant Christians as well as enthusiastic ones at this church.

Let us pray for Harry and Gabriella and all baptised throughout the world in this great season of Easter. We welcome you with great joy into the body of Christ. As ever you can click to enlarge the photographs.

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The Holy Father has released a Bull of Indiction entitled Misericordiae Vultus. A teaching document centred on the need for mercy and announcing a Jubilee Year of Mercy which will be launched on 8th December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, this year.

The purpose of this special Jubilee year is to highlight Christian teaching on God’s mercy that the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective…opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. We should take time to read the document which can be found here.

This document is beautiful and  I look forward to planning some special events at Saint Anselm’s to help us connect with this special Jubilee Year of Mercy. There will also be diocesan events to look forward to.

Above all it will be a time when the Sacrament of Reconciliation (must be) at the centre once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace.  Where there is genuine repentance and the sincere desire to lead a new life, there God’s love and forgiveness are always to be found.

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I have seen it claimed that the Native American Indians were slow to defend themselves because they were dumbfounded by the very notion of land ownership. How could anyone own land? Surely it was provided for the benefit of all living creatures who had every right to harvest its fruit.  This may or may not be an accurate representation but it does lead to an excellent point and it behoves us all to remember it. Every border in existence is an artificial construct. A man made fabrication that is often the result of greed and resource grabbing.

This is not to suggest that cultural and national identity is unimportant. One of the main thrusts of the Ordinariate is to reclaim distinctive elements of English Spirituality lost at the reformation. There are positive things about local customs and practices and I wish we did more to celebrate our English identity. Alas the flag of St. George has been somewhat hijacked by unthinking racists today and too many people have an erroneous and flimsy grasp of the past. So we should do more to celebrate the local as a nation, as communities and as families.

But there is also a negative side to local identity and borders which arises when they are used to exclude. When the desire to protect one’s own identity becomes the excuse to deny another’s freedom. Celebrating the local must never come at the cost of failing to delight in the Universal. Which is why the Ordinariate, bound up in the local on one level, is equally concerned with playing its part in the wider life of the multicultural global Catholic church. We aim to be a small yet necessary part of the larger body we have joined and our congregations delight in diversity.

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And anyone who has experienced the wider Catholic church knows that its diversity is one of its greatest strengths. As an Anglican everything tended towards the white and middle classed. But as a Catholic one mixes with all races and classes and ages. In our tiny village congregation one can find people from Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Argentina, Malta, India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Poland. I am sure there are others.

It is a truly wonderful thing! And one soon comes to appreciate just how decent and hard working many immigrants are. They do valuable work and often accept the jobs that many local people seem too lazy or unwilling to do. They deserve recognition and my teeth are set on edge whenever I hear the fear mongering that is often used to denounce immigration.

Which is why I was very struck by a poster campaign that seeks to challenge people’s misconceptions. I know nothing of the group who has produced these posters- so this is not an endorsement of them- but I do endorse the message contained within. The truth is that I have met quite a few feckless people in life but none of them have been immigrants! In start contrast they tend to be hard working people who want to provide for their children and family. Let us be a nation of people who welcome them and all that they do.

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Your prayers please for an Anglican clergyman and his wife who are in the process of informing archdeacon, bishop and parish about a desire to enter the Catholic Church as members of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. If all goes to plan they should be part of the congregation in Pembury within a matter of weeks. They need our welcome, support and prayers. Outsiders do not always appreciate the sacrifice they make to follow their conscience.

Yet God returns our gifts a hundredfold and I do not know of a single person who has regretted the move.  Nevertheless it can be an unsettling bitter-sweet journey from one communion to the other. A time when those hostile to the Ordinariate can be cruel and when friendships and family relationships can be strained. Yet also a time of growth and delight as a new home is found and friendships forged.

Sometimes people like to imagine/suggest that the Ordinariate is not developing as it should be. I disagree. The reality is, despite little in the way of resources, four years on and there are lots of encouraging signs especially at the local level. Yes some groups are struggling to survive and some people seem disinterested in upholding the Anglican patrimony and delivering on the promise, but others are doing great work and punching well above their weight. And this ensures that the seeds planted by Pope Benedict are showing signs of growth. Remember 4 yrs really is a drop in the ocean in terms of church history.

Here in Pembury there is much for us to be grateful for. We look ahead to a new parish room being built by the end of June. We celebrated a wonderful Holy Week and now have a fifth clergyman to process into the Catholic church! Myself, Father Nicholas, Father Gibbons (now in Maidstone), Father Jack and one in the pipeline making up the (in)famous five! And it is very encouraging, and a little humbling too, to hear from at least three of those on that list that this blog played an instrumental part in guiding them home. I really do urge all Ordinariate groups to engage with social media as part of their mission and mandate.

And I also urge you to develop a thick skin and dare to be bold and honest in what you say. For the truth does not need to be defended, it just needs letting loose that it might defend itself! A loosening that does not always allow for timidity out of fear of offending other people…

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Lent is over and so the parish treasurers have been busy counting up the pounds and pennies placed in the offering in aid of this year’s charity, the Saint Barnabas Society. Drum roll please..

And I am delighted to announce that our little parish has raised a very commendable £982 which I am going to round up to the perfect £1000!!! A huge thank you to all who gave so generously.

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What a glorious Holy Week. Lots of people in church, plenty of obvious devotion from those attending. The Triduum went without hitch and the choir and servers excelled themselves. As one of our congregation remarked, in the pub after the Vigil last night, our little church continues to punch well and truly above its weight. Thank you to everyone who has been part of it.

Yet there is not room for complacency. For as I drove home from church this morning, from a glorious Easter day Mass at which we baptised baby Harry Grech, I was struck by how many people were just about the daily grind. I was struck by how the meaning of Easter is just lost on most Britons today. A bus went passed with shoppers, the rubbish collection service was parked at the end of the road hungry for recycled goods. Joggers and cyclists were exercising aplenty. The public houses are full. For so many people in Britain this was just another bank holiday the purpose of which entirely passes them by. Christ’s resurrection has not touched them at all.

In his Maundy Thursday homily Father Nicholas reminded us that we must care for the salvation of souls. We who love the Lord must take greater responsibility. We have been tasked with going out into the world to proclaim the good news! All of us should be hungry to add new members to the Church he founded on the Apostles. All should be about the work of calling people into the unity.

Have a truly wonderful Easter but do not put your feet up. Get out there and share your faith with love and enthusiasm. Dare to be an evangelist and missioner. Dare to share your faith that you might save a soul from ruin. These isles have been converted more than once having fallen away from Christ. Now is the time for a new evangelisation. And we need outward looking missioners full of zeal. Men and women whose hearts are close to Christ from whom grace can flow to others.

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It has been a morning of activity at Saint Anselm’s this Holy Saturday. Out on the paddock Mike Blande has been busy rotivating the soil in preparation for the laying of the new lawn. As you can see he keeps a cheery disposition despite the labour!

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Inside church there was also much activity. Whilst I dealt with a healthy stream of confessions the children were enjoying the Easter Workshop. This meant lots of craft activities including the production of the Easter Garden. The flower ladies were sat beside them beavering away on the arrangements that will bring such joy to us all at the Vigil this evening.

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Meanwhile Peter, Michael and Geoffrey remained me of a scene from ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ whilst erecting the new canopy over Our Lady. Left a bit, right a bit, up a bit, down a bit…but they got there in the end. This lovely new addition to the Church is given in memory of a wonderful man, Rob Harrison, who died earlier this year. It is not yet complete. The bulb needs replacing with something smaller – some cardboard is currently blocking the glare. And some fabric has been ordered…

IMG_4150…which will hang from the Canopy behind the image of Our Lady.  It should frame the whole thing perfectly. We are also going to place a warm downlighter in the light fitting. And then we will be planning something similar, but in red, for the Statue of the Sacred Heart on the other side of the altar. Watch this space!

Now there is a little peace and quiet until the Easter Vigil at 8pm tonight. Let us make sure we all get there and round of what has been a super Holy Week thus far. But the busy-ness does not end. The builders return on Tuesday to continue with the parish room. And don’t forget the working party next Saturday from 9:30pm when we need lots of volunteers with rakes in hand!

Throughout Holy Week we have been praying in earnest for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. For those who have suffered terribly at the hands of Islamic intolerance. For those who have died, for those who mourn, for those who have been beaten, raped and tortured and for the huge number displaced from their homes. A genocide is under way.

Too often we think of these troubled regions via the vile images Isis loves to spread. The corpses and battered souls that are shown in a dehumanised state. So it is refreshing to see this interview with a delightful little girl who, along with many others, is surviving within a refugee camp in Iraq. What faith she exhibits in humanity and what extraordinary love she has for her enemies. She is a great ambassador for the Christian faith. How the Spirit shines through her to show us the value of grace. And how her witness shames those who have caused such suffering- she exposes their supposed faith as utter, utter sham.

So often I hear people claim that all religious paths lead to the same God. I profoundly disagree. For when you butcher, maim and torture in the name of Allah you are most certainly not worshipping the same God as I do. The same God that brings such comfort and hope to this little girl. The fruit of her prayers is different to the fruit of their spiritual lives. This girl has known hardship that we in the West cannot begin to comprehend but her faith has made her strong.