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Sunday, 27 December 2020
This morning we celebrated a Eucharist for the feast of St John the Evangelist, and the celebrant was Father Roger. This was a said service, as the choir is not in session until after the new year. After being battered through the night by storm Bella, it was a clear cold winters day and the service was a moment of calm after the wild weather. We were not entirely without music, as Joanna played a recessional piece at the end of the service.

Visitors from a strange land are approaching the Manger

Fr Roger's address

St John’s Day

The feast of St John the Apostle and Evangelist, who – like some other worthies - is honoured with a day close to Christmas. Jesus came into a difficult world. Straight after Christmas we remember Stephen the first Christian martyr. Tomorrow, the babies Herod murdered, and baby Jesus’ escape to Egypt. Archbishop Becket got murdered on 29th. Immediately after Christmas Day we are reminded of uneasy realities.

Today we are thinking of John the fisherman, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, the brother of James, and of our sophisticated John’s Gospel. That is complex and well-organised. Published perhaps 60,70,80 years after the resurrection, apparently having been developed and refined by an ongoing group of followers. The gospel is built around seven ‘signs’ – significant actions of Jesus – which point to his stature – things like changing water to wine, feeding 5000, raising Lazarus. There are also 7 prominent ‘I am’ sayings. I am the true vine. I am the good shepherd, and so on. Sayings made weighty because ‘I am’ was the name of God himself given to Moses long ago. The followers of John who finalised the Gospel were reflective and well-organised, and would doubtless hope our church would be too, and united. For it is in John’s Gospel, chapter 17, that Jesus prays so movingly, and at length, on the night before he dies, for the unity of his followers. Maybe Church organisation and unity are the uneasy themes that St John will point us to today.

So often people might focus on what they would like their local church to be like, or what it will be convenient and possible for their local church to do. But the church is not ‘theirs’, and not merely something parochial. it is the household of God. Indeed, we are only allowed to meet here during the pandemic because we are not a normal household, and not just a social club. Our calling is not to do our own thing, but to be a genuine local manifestation of the whole wider church, preferably at its best, looking to God and to what he seems to want of us! Things which might not appear comfortable, or easy to achieve, or to our liking. The whole church will include especially the ancient churches, Orthodox and Roman, besides the strong points of the many offshoots. One thing we usefully do now, is to use the same Sunday readings as many other churches, week by week, and the same calendar and festivals as much of the wider church. And we should do that with a sense of discipline and commitment, to keep in step, and not mess about with those things too casually at parish level.

As for our Anglican part of the whole Church, the best model for that, I believe, is one which has never been made very official, but which seems right. The model of a rope made of three strands: Scripture, Tradition and Reason. In a rope, the three strands have to work seriously together in a balanced way. Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

Firstly, Scripture, which must always have a central place. But how we achieve that is not always clear. Some will want weird and wonderful interpretations of the Scriptures, and some will want virtually no interpretation, taking things too literally. “It says here in plain English”, - never mind that it is actually written by ancient people living far away, with different cultures and no plain English, but rather in various styles of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. “No need to study all that stuff,” some think, “we know what it says.” That is how the creationists are, especially in America, picking a quite inappropriate fight with decent science, concerning evolution.

Secndly,Tradition. That is something serious. Not simply, ‘we’ve a wonderful tradition here, we clean the church on the second Wednesday of the month at 5.30 and then eat cup cakes’. Christian tradition is more serious. It’s about what’s been handed on to us from earlier centuries, the approaches which God seems to have led his people into, over many years. Things like having sacraments, bishops, priests and deacons, clergy vestments attending to the Bible together - celebrating the Eucharist as a priority on a Sunday, and doing it in certain ways. We are under an obligation to take tradition of that sort very seriously. But, the question is, how do we best do that?

The conservative catholic Anglicans tend to say, something like, ‘whatever happened in the 3rd century is ‘it’’. Nothing can ever change. So women priests and bishops can never be. Others will say, we have a living

God, and the very Bible promises that God’s Spirit will lead his people to new things in new days. Tradition is something living which will gradually evolve under the living God. Others seem to suggest that we need not bother very much with the old ways at all. Some evangelical groups have lively services but never a Eucharist. I’ve known an Anglican Church not always bother with a gospel reading at the Eucharist. Parts of the Church do, surely, treat central parts of our tradition too lightly.

Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Reason. God gave us brains, it seems rude not to use them in his service. Use our brains together, not least about how we should best use Scripture, and how we should best be true to tradition.

Painfully, the C of E has effectively splintered into disparate groups – on one side, conservative Catholics, strong in this part of the country, like Bishops Martin and Will, and our Archdeacon, and on the other hand, there are conservative evangelicals, like the last Vicar of Hunston. None of whom really seems to accept our numerous women clergy. The conservative Catholics don’t, because women aren’t in the most ancient tradition, and the conservative Evangelicals don’t because that doesn’t fit with their particular view of how the Bible should be read.

Then, beside the two conservative wings, we have a central group in the C of E, who do accept and include women priests and bishops. But the central group has its own spectrum, from a catholic end, good on tradition but not necessarily keen on Bible, to an evangelical end keen on Bible and probably weak on tradition. Bishop Ruth is on the Evangelical side of the centre. It works rather quaintly, and we might think, sadly. Conservative evangelicals will not be keen about an evangelical bishop, - if she is a woman, like Ruth. The conservative catholic end of our church will not be keen about a catholic-minded bishop - if she is a woman.

But if, like me, you are in the central group, you may feel that there are good and proper ways of embracing both bible and tradition. Without that, our very many female clergy remain unacceptable to large conservative groups, and will feel unwelcome inside many parish churches, as will some male clergy like me, who support them. That is an issue: I can try to contribute here only because Fr Stephen is friendly and tolerant, even though we have different stances.

Our Church’s unity has been concerning for a long while. Our Archbishops, who should surely be the centre of our unity, oddly, no longer ordain our new bishops, many of whom would not want them involved. New bishops, now, are ordained by three bishops of their own tribe within our Church, so that the separate tribes can continue, separately. That is our official system, that we’re supposed to commit to, but is it really the best that can be done about unity and love? I suspect that those who finally produced John’s Gospel would have things to say to us about it! Not to mention he whose life inspired the gospel.

1 John 1

A reading from the first letter of John.

 We declare to you what was from the beginning, 
what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, 
what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—

this life was revealed, 
and we have seen it and testify to it, 
and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 

we declare to you what we have seen and heard 
so that you also may have fellowship with us; 
and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 

We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you,
 that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, 
we lie and do not do what is true; 

but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, 
we have fellowship with one another, 
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 

If we say that we have no sin, 
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we confess our sins, 
he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins 
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

If we say that we have not sinned, 
we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John 21:19b-end

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

After this Jesus said to Peter, "Follow me." 

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; 
he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, 
"Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" 

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, 
"Lord, what about him?" 

Jesus said to him, 
"If it is my will that he remain until I come, 
what is that to you? Follow me!" 

So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. 
Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, 
"If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" 

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, 
and we know that his testimony is true. 

But there are also many other things that Jesus did; 
if every one of them were written down, 
I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Service Times

Services are suspended.

The church is open during daylight hours for personal prayer and reflection.

Useful links

Here are some links to resources you may find helpful:

  1. Chichester Cathedral will be live streaming services. For the Eucharist and order of service Click here before 10:00am Sunday and follow the instructions.
  2. The BBC Daily Service is available here.
  3. Prayer for today.
  4. The C of E youtube channel.
  5. We will be updating Fr Stephens Message page on a regular basis.
  6. Hearing You is a new phone help line launched by the Diocese of Chichester in partnership with Together in Sussex in response to the impact that Covid 19 has had on Just about the whole community. It aims to provide pastoral support and a listening ear to the recently bereaved and people directly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
  7. COVID-19 advice from the Diocese of Chichester here.