Funerals – Ministry for Mission in a Time of Pandemic

Don Cupitt,” said Bishop Paul in a conversation, “asks the right questions, but comes up with the wrong answers.” It was one of the many wise things that the Bishop of Liverpool has said to me, and one of several that I have gone away and written down. It’s spot on. I love reading Cupitt. He writes beautifully and he does ask the right questions.

Three of Cupitt’s books are among my favourites:

The Meaning of it All in Everyday Speech (SCM 2011)

The New Religion of Life in Everyday Speech (SCM 1999)

And, The Kingdom Come in Everyday Speech (SCM 2000)

Cupitt is interested in what language we use for the ultimate. Which idioms describe what is meaningful. He spends much time examining idioms including the word ‘life’, but is also interested in the way in which ‘it‘ carries meaning:

“A particularly interesting family of terms is the group It, It all, Things and Everything, which enter into dozens – perhaps hundreds – of idioms . In these idioms it seems to indicate the whole of a person’s circumstances, considered from a finalising point of view … it is evident that the It-group of terms could be shown to figure in a large number of idioms that have a markedly theological flavour … For when we say: ‘This is it, the real thing!‘ we posit a kind of divine completeness, a totality, an unsurpassable finality, more clearly than we ever do with the life-idioms. In its flowing contingency, life is closer to Being; whereas it is perhaps closer to the traditional God,”

The New Religion of Life SCM 1999, pp 104-105

I’ve been re-reading these books during the lockdown and they have worn well. What drove me back to them was a ministry of funerals that I have been exercising, in the area where I live, to help out the local clergy and friends and acquaintances who are vulnerable in some way and have been self-isolating.

When I was first ordained I took plenty of funerals in my two curacies. Since then I have been working full-time in education and I have tried to do one or two funerals during the school holidays to keep my hand in. But most of the funerals I have taken have been relatives, friends or, in tragic circumstances, members of staff, and even, children.

Observing regular funeral ministry from the outside has enabled me to notice two major developments. The rise of civil celebrants. Not just radical humanists and secularists opposed to religion in general, but non-clergy and sometimes ‘inter-faith’ celebrants who will perform ceremonies which are distinctly spiritual and often include elements of Christian liturgy. Most commonly Psalm 23 and theLord’s Prayer. Many clergy are deeply scathing of these services. To those of us who are committed, believing, Christians, there clearly is something missing. But many people I meet speak very highly indeed of the service provided by Civil Celebrants. Many of the Funeral Directors I have spoken to rate them highly. Yes, it can be more convenient to Funeral Directors to have people who are not doing other work and are easily available or who can even commit to certain periods of time a crematorium. However, what is always mentioned to me is the flexibility that Civil Celebrants show in crafting the service and the care they take to provide what the bereaved want. Many of them have clearly developed very high skills in pastoral care. A good number also offer continuing pastoral care, links to counselling, work with Undertakers to invite families to an annual memorial service.

The second factor I have noticed is the number of clergy who tell me that funeral ministry is a waste of time. Using exactly that language. In particular a sense in which funerals for very elderly non-churchgoers where there are no living family and friends are dismissed.

My, negative, reaction to these comments is based, I think on four things:

a) a catholic belief in praying for the dead and the importance of that

b) a strongly Anglican commitment to the Parish, although the parish system as a comprehensive totality was probably always somewhat mythological, recent decades and the events of the Corona Virus are seeing it moving from life-support to palliative care, I think we need to hold on to a theology of parochial-community life in which we genuinely serve the whole population

c) the pastoral instinct to provide care and nurture for those who mourn. In the Beatitudes Jesus, does, after all, declare those who mourn to be blessed.

c) my own experience that funerals are a profoundly missional opportunity. Some of the individuals who it has been my privilege to accompany on a journey to faith have been though funeral ministry. Some of them still keep in touch with me many years later and one is now a priest.

For the Church of England reduction in fee income from funerals (and weddings) is a very significant issue, particularly in a diocese, like my own in Liverpool where there are virtually no historic assets. Earning income should never be the purpose of pastoral ministry but good stewardship demands that we address this issue. As good stewards if clergy are not conducting funerals we need to suggest ways to replace this income.

An innovative approach taken in Liverpool has been the creation of the Good Funeral Company and the recruitment of a remarkable and gifted, priest, Mother Juliet Stephenson to run it (if you ever need clergy training on funeral ministry she is your woman!). You can read more about the GFC here. The mission statement is wonderfully simple and jargon free:

Making good Christian-based funeral services available, personalised, accessible, and affordable for anyone in the Diocese of Liverpool who wants to mark a loved one’s death through prayer.

As soon as it became apparent that I would have some funeral ministry in this crisis I emailed Mother Juliet to ask what she would recommend. Her email reply was enormously helpful, I reproduce it almost in full:

“I attach the service that I am doing in an hour. (it is not what we did as curates…because what we did as curates is not wanted by anyone who is fringe…and on the edge)

Some bits from Iona / celtic stuff and reworked prayers from over the years.

AND…I do not cut and paste, I have several hundred ways of saying the God loves everyone…

He forgives us all, because of JC…

I usually get a bible reading in there…but can be amazingly creative with lyrics from Eric Clapton songs too!

You will see the poems and reading and tribute, that the family have provided…

And I welcomed it all…that’s amazing, that’s wonderful…because this is what THEY want.

I am the MC…and the one who will bless.

I was asked, to do this…because the FD’s know that I do a celebration of life with prayers, and I am good.

The woman used to go to church, but the family have no connection at all….

If I couldn’t do it, they would have had a celebrant, and NOT a vicar

Like I say, I think the success of the GFC, is that we are being offered as celebrants that pray…celebrants that pray and bless…and are authorised to do so.

This is what the FD’s like about what we do.

I get asked to do ‘celebrations of life’…because the perception of vicars is that we can only recite pre-prepared words from the book, and say very little about the woman in the box…

This is why we lose out, over and over again.

You will see very little of the purple book…

And yet, 

– we still gather, we reflect, we offer tributes, a bible reading and short ‘popular religion’ reflection and prayer.

We are (at least I operate now)  in a world where people want white feathers as signs, robins for comfort, shooting stars across the sky to wish upon.

– rather than words from scripture about men they have never heard of…’Lazarus’

We are amidst folk who want Whitney Houston, YNWA, Perry Como and Monty Python.

– rather than hymns, psalms and symphonies…

And if we can’t connect with this world, with the grace of God, and stop being precious about ‘Lazarus’ or ‘penitential prayers’…we lose it.

We can still talk of hope, forgiveness, resurrection.

We can still offer formal prayers, encourage the corporate saying of the Lord’s prayer

And commend and commit and bless.

If we use comforting, and familiar phrases…like the words to enter into the chapel ‘Jesus said I am…’ that’s good.

If we say with conviction ‘in sure and certain hope…’ that’s good.

If we listen to their heartache, and connect where they are, and see how they gain comfort and assurance that God is real, and heaven is worth believing in…because a white feather drifted onto the windscreen of their car…then that also is very good.

This is what the civil celebrants can’t do effectively…they have to rely wholly on the ‘universe’ and ‘stars’…

We have Jesus…

And we have Easter…

Amen brother! 

This may never be the way you would ever choose to do services…it works, and people pray at them. 

I also asked members of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to to send me their compiled texts and had a number of conversations with them. This was really helpful. As was a conversation with Fr Daniel Ackerley, a deacon-aspirant to the Sodality who is an experienced Funeral Director. Among many other things he said:

Somebody once said that a funeral service should be like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winters day. Every word should be soothing.

There is a bit of me that baulked at this. No! We are here to admit that we are sinners, in need of a Saviour and to pray that the dead may have forgiveness! But then I got real.

Famously, a principle of mission for the Jesuits is to go in and learn a language, a culture to be able to speak to it and understand it. Fr Daniel knows well that what people are wanting in a funeral is that cup of hot chocolate. If we stand on our liturgical, theological preciousness and do no translation we will not be understood.

Having been taught early on never to throw anything away in ministry I also had the funeral service I developed in my second full-time parish (St Mary, Portsea). This drew on what must have then been ASB, but I had looked at books more widely, I can’t now remember which. There may have been some Iona, and possibly the Uniting Church in Australia. I had become a correspondent of Jim Cotter and he offered some helpful advice too.

The service I have developed is posted at the top and bottom of this post. I shared the original version with members of the Sodality and also with one or two others. One or two of the local Funeral Directors have also commented positively and with helpful suggestions. Last week I took a funeral for the partner of a woman who was a published poet and is a poet herself. She worked in great detail on the text we agreed and this was really helpful in improving the English. Finally, Fr Steven Shakespeare, an aspirant to our Sodality, and a well-known, published liturgist has published a book of liturgies The Earth Cries Glory. I have used elements from this woven into the service (and one complete set of intercessions), these are marked SS. I am trying to persuade Fr Steven to produce a book of pastoral liturgies.

I am not making any great claims for my liturgy. It is a ‘work in progress’ and offered for discussion more than anything else. I would welcome any comments. I hope that you can see that I have taken Cupitt’s questions seriously particularly in using the word ‘life’, but also and perhaps less surprisingly ‘love’. ‘It’ is more complex but I do find myself using that sort of language in my more informal words. Using the language of everyday life is, of course, exactly what Jesus did, always talking about himself in this way and avoiding institutionally religious language: way, truth life, gate, bread, shepherd …

Don Cupitt perfectly captures the language that our culture uses around what is meaningful, how to describe the ultimate, the significant. However, he comes up with the wrong answers, a non-realist interpretation of God. Civil Celebrants are doing the same thing. The question is the right one, what language (not just words, but music, images actions) speaks to people where they are? As a Christian I know that their answer is not enough. The world does need a Saviour, but it is our task to speak of Jesus in ways that our culture understands, because Jesus is, yes, so much more than a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night, but he is that too and what more important time than now to need that. Each day as I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament I pray “Sweet Sacrament Divine”:

Sweet Sacrament of rest,
Ark from the ocean’s roar,
Within thy shelter blest
Soon may we reach the shore;
Save us, for still the tempest raves,
Save, lest we sink beneath the waves:
Sweet Sacrament of rest.

Sweetness indeed, sweetness on a cold winter’s night, sweetness in a time of death and pandemic.

Deep from the Great Tradition: Litany in a time of Pandemic

When we wrote The Manual, the way of life of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to, we included this important paragraph:

Sodalists will be at the forefront of those seeking to understand what it means to ordain men and women to all orders of ministry; we will particularly celebrate women saints and integrate the writings of women and men into our experience and understanding of priesthood.

Slightly tongue-in-cheek, in the early days of the Sodality I described us as ‘Extreme Anglo-Catholics in favour of the ordination of women.’ Tongue-in-cheek as it was ( and far too limiting of the breadth of the vision God was calling us to) there was some truth in it. I quite liked it when the bishop of Croydon described us as the Trappists of the catholic stream of Anglicanism “of the Strict Observance.”

Rigour and high demands are important, and were what led to the flourishing of Anglo-Catholicism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They enabled the ministry to the poor and the work for social justice that was the essential outworking of that spirituality. Without outward facing work for justice, spirituality simply strokes the ego and enhances rather than crucifies the ego. Rigour and high demands are not rules to be kept or hoops to be jumped through. Better to think of them as a balloon flying freely into the sky, or a kite carried by the wind.

The Great Tradition (see footnote below) is ‘ever ancient, ever new’ (St Augustine). Drawing deeply from the tradition is vital, and it must bear fruit in the new. My great mantra for the Christian life is : Jesus centred – Spirit filled – bible based.

There is great flowering of creativity in the Sodality: blogs, litanies, such as the one above written by Mother Ayla, Mother Berni, Father Angela, Mother Sally and Father Steven.

The Litany is a great example of ‘ever ancient, ever new’. It is deeply rooted in the tradition and also creative and responsive to the needs of our time. I am deeply grateful for this gift.

Another example of this is the book Prayers for An Inclusive Church. by Fr Steven Shakespeare an aspirant to our Sodality. The title doesn’t quite reflect the content. It is a deeply traditional collection of Collects for the three year cycle of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. Traditional in that each Collect is constructed with the ‘noble simplicity’ of the western Collect form, at which Cranmer was so gifted. Creative and new in the images used, which are truly Jesus-centred and Spirit filled, drawing on the Scriptures in the lectionary it is bible-based.

There is much in the tradition to help us pray this current pandemic. Christians have lived with plague in many circumstances and many times. I often find myself at the moment re-reading Julian of Norwich who experienced plague more destructive than our current afflictions and who saw in the cross a life-giving tree. Ever ancient, ever new.

The Great Tradition

This description of the spiritual life of the church is one I first came across as a teenager at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Crawley Down in West Sussex, I would recommend Fr Steven Underdown’s book Living in the Eighth Day: The Christian Week and the Paschal Mystery as a further explanation of this. He writes in that book:

“Three men, whom CSWG now accounts its joint-founders, not only shared a common experience of ministry among the disadvantaged and marginalised, they also shared the conviction that is was the specifically spiritual dimension in Christian life that was most in need of renewal. A saying attributed to Fr [William] Sirr has been seen as encapsulating their common belief:

“The mission of the church is weak because its prayer is weak.” Only though the renewal of the Church’s mystical and ascetic traditions – that is its vision of God and its tradition of conversion of life – could the life and witness of the the Church be renewed.”

(Update 4) Texts and music for live-streamed Eucharist and Compline

UPDATE 10 June 2020

UPDATE 5th June 2020

UPDATE 17 May 2020

We are a few weeks into the live-streaming now. I am deeply grateful to those who join me or watch later in the day and am much encouraged by your gratitude. It is nothing other than a privilege to offer intercession at the altar for the many names received.

Regular visitors will see that I have been experimenting with the chant a little, using more traditional plainsong (with English texts) as well as the material from the English Gradual. I have also added in a chanted version of Psalm 42 (43) as a transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Sacrament), almost a ‘prayers at the foot of the altar’. The experiment with seasonal insertions to Prayer H didn’t really work, getting the grammar right to lead into “on the nigh he was …’ is too complicated and needed insertions in two different places. With the new chant at the Offertory – using a Gelineau tone which I like to do – may mean that I omit a seasonal chant after the post-communion prayer and just use the Sodality Anthem to Mary, Mother of Priests.

Apart from that the rite, and especially the way in which I have tried to include those watching and unable to receive Communion seems to work. The changes and a couple of typos corrected are in this version of the booklet:

Update 27 April 2020

I got very tired of the 8-fold Alleluia so here is a revised Compline with a traditional mode viii antiphon and tone for the psalms.

Eucharist: no change except that I trying out using seasonal inserts into Eucharistic Prayer H, based on the Short Prefaces in Common Worship and inserted before the institution narrative.

It has been really good to experiment with live-streaming worship in Holy Week and the Octave of Easter.

During the continuing lockdown I shall live stream the Eucharist at 6:30am BST each day and Compline at 7pm. After the opening verse I will read a poem. I probably won’t choose this until just before the Office but will try and Tweet it when I have done so.

I have been experimenting with the way to livestream through one fixed camera in a very small space. The layout of the Oratory has changed a little and I have tried to include those watching in a meaningful and non-trite way without intruding myself too much, I hope.

Here are the forms I shall be using for the time being:

Eucharist

It is pretty much as before although the introduction I have devised for those watching just didn’t work and I have removed it, as also the post-Communion prayer. I have extended the Prayer over the Gifts to include mention of ‘lockdown’ and extended the intercessions with more material on the pandemic. There is a ‘statement’ (not really a prayer) before receiving communion to include those watching and not receiving communion. I am not sure about it but will give it a go.

In communion with those who cannot receive communion,

with all who watch this Eucharist

and with all the faithful in every time and place, in heaven and on earth:

The bread of heaven in Christ Jesus.  Amen.    

The cup of life in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The readings are from the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary – I read them in the Jerusalem Bible version mainly because that means I can use the monthly Magnificat booklet which is easier to juggle with everything else on the legilium.

For the Introit and Concluding Chants I am using Abbot Alan Rees’s music published by Belmont Abbey in An English Gradual, it is really good. I will use one chant at each point for a whole week (except on feasts). It is only £7:50. A real ‘must-buy’. Which you can do here). Each refrain is provided with verses from the psalms (Grail psalter),

The responsorial psalmody is by Fr Anthony Ruff OSB (St John’s, Collegeville) Responsorial Psalms for Weekday Mass in the Seasons. They are very simple modal chants and work really well. All the texts are those set in the lectionary but it should be noted that they are the ICEL texts not those in British liturgical books.

I have also added the texts and music from the monastery at Crawley Down (Community of the Servants of the Will of God) to greet and give thanks for the Gospel. It just seems a bit ‘naked’ without something.

I aim to have longer silences after the gospel and after Communion. I have been a bit cautious so far when live-streaming given that many people just ‘dip in’. But now that we are out of the high seasons will go for it.

Compline:

Again this is pretty straightforward. The English Anthem to the BVM is a version by Aelred Seton Shanley Obl. OSB Cam. an English hermit who lived in the Unites States for many years and died in the mid 1990s. I very much like his material, including Office hymns and these anthems to Our Lady. A few of the hymns have been published here. I am grateful to have been given a copy of the whole Office. The Antiphon on the psalms at Compline is the 8-fold alleluia that was popular when I was a teenager and will make many groan. I don’t know whether it will wear singing every night but thought I would try it.

On Saturdays and Sundays I will sing Compline in Latin.

It is such a joy to have people praying with me even though remotely, I am profoundly grateful for the prayerful support that offers and it is wonderful to be able to pray so many prayer intentions. There is a very real sense of communion and ‘inter-being’. I could not be more grateful.

“Seven times a day I praise you” (Ps. 119:64) – live-streaming a day of worship in the Oratory

“Pray constantly”, said St Paul (1 These 5:17), using two simple words to describe something that would exercise the minds of many, and thousands of volumes of books by Christians, through the centuries. Almost all modes of spirituality and Christian practice (Jesus Prayer, Divine Office, Little Hours especially, Practice of the Presence of God) aim to help us remember God and that we are in the Divine Presence always. To pray constantly.

I have been doing a bit of live-streaming of the liturgy during the lockdown as I celebrate it each day in the little Oratory at home (which is how I use an old lean to on the house). It’s been good to have a few old and new friends join me for that. Several have asked for more. I am something of an introvert and although I arrange the live-streaming in such a way so as not to focus on me (I hope) it does feel a little intrusive and less relaxed so I won’t be doing this all the time (you will be relieved to know) but as a one off on Friday 17th April I am going to live stream all the set prayers for a day.

My first experience of the Office was at Douai Abbey and of the monks singing the whole of the Office. That experience marked me indelibly and even though I am not a good singer (as you will find if you tune in at all), I love to sing and find it relaxes me in ways that simply reciting the Office does not. Somehow it engages different parts of my brain. When (in another life) I was doing a lot of driving, if I stopped and sang an Office it felt far more refreshing when I started driving again than if I had simply recited it, and reading to myself in my head never seems like praying the liturgy at all, but on trains, buses and planes is usually necessary.

Since Holy Saturday, and partly because for live-streaming the text is more accessible, I have been singing the Divine Office, the texts are in the Universalis app which does charge but only a very small amount. The Universalis website sadly uses a different translation of the psalms. The antiphons and hymns I use are in the setting of the music for the Office that I have done and is available here (a revised edition should be available in the not too distant future and will be posted on this blog very soon). The booklet below this post puts them together in order with the usual texts and music for this single day of live-streaming, you will need the booklet together with the psalms, readings and prayers from Universalis to be able to follow everything. Please note I use a different set of Collects – translated from a French Cistercian source (from Proclaiming All Your Wonders, Dominican Publications).

I wrote yesterday about the joy of coffee, tea and lunch breaks in our Zoom driven working days. I have always maintained little spaces to pray at least one daytime Office and that has kept me going through many hard times in my working life. If you haven’t discovered it yet do give it a go.

So, the timetable for the day:

5:30 am Office of Readings/Vigils (two nocturns the Mid-Day prayer psalms as in Universalis – but omitting sections of psalm 119 – providing the second group of psalms) a triple alleluia antiphon for all psalms. The psalms at Vigils are sung to traditional plainsong tones.

I will switch off live streaming between each Office/devotion – a chance for me to get a cup of tea or check the dog doesn’t need to go out …

6:15 am Rosary the Luminous Mysteries

I would normally celebrate Mass at 6:30 but am doing that later in the day, at 12:15, in the Octave.

7am Lauds (Morning Prayer)

Jesus Prayer

About 7:45am Prime with Martyrology – Psalm 119 (118) shared across the Little Hours in a day – see the booklet for the text.

I should point out that this is a rather luxurious lockdown schedule. On normal working days I would tart at 5:20 combine Vigils and Lauds (or Sing Mattins/Morning Prayer when praying BCP or CWDP), go straight into Mass, then Prime. Rosary and Jesus Prayer prayed as I drive.

10am Terce

12 noon Sext and Eucharist

2:00 None

4:30pm Vespers

6:30 Devotions on Hebrew Heroes – Deborah –

and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

7pm Compline

Again normally on a working day Vespers would be either stopping on the way home or as soon as I get home, often quite late, and Compline much later, ideally just after dinner but sometimes just before bed, ideally at 9 to 9:30.

BOOKLET:

Learning from the lockdown: re-discovering lunch breaks

The first Spiritual Director I had, when I was fifteen or sixteen was in many ways an impatient man. In one meeting with him I explained some injustice or bad deed I thought I had suffered. “Well, there’s no point whining,” he said, “What have you learnt from it?”.

I don’t recommend this as good practice on all occasions in spiritual direction. However, it is an ill-wind and all that. I’ve been thinking about what I am learning during the lockdown. Apart, that is, from the necessary skills of using Zoom (I can do break out rooms and everything); Go To Meeting, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams and more.

Yesterday, in a messaging conversation with my dear friend the Assistant Diocesan Secretary in the Diocese of Liverpool, I suggested we have a Zoom conversation, “How about one’o’clock?”, he returned. “Sorry, that’s lunchtime,” was my response, before we settled on a time later in the week.

It was only afterwards that I realised how extraordinary my response had been. Not because Stuart minded in the least. But because I haven’t taken lunch breaks for over twenty years, since I was appointed Acting Deputy Head at Emsworth Primary School in 1998.

I remember lunch breaks in school staffrooms before that as rather good times, friendly banter, much of it with colleagues who remain friends to this day. Birthday celebrations, cakes, those piles of books and odd objects that companies sold in staff rooms. Even my friend Becca introducing us to the Physalis in her lunch box one day. Exotic stuff indeed.

Since then, however, lunch has been always on duty, walking the corridors and playground, chatting to pupils or seeking out colleagues for whom this is a chance to have a quick ‘meeting’. School leaders are, and I am one of them, proud of this. Whenever Heads are together on a conference or residential training and have a sit down lunch somebody will soon comment on never sitting down to eat usually.

When I moved to the role of Director of Education here in Liverpool I brought these working habits with me. Like my colleagues in the team I am often driving around. So there are breaks between schools. I have learnt what food I can eat in the car as I drive without making too much mess. Sandwiches are hopeless. Thank goodness for Samosas and Baby Bel cheeses.

In the first week of the lockdown, like many other people I was introduced to Zoom. I think it is wonderful. I hope never again to ask people to drive to attend a meeting that takes a fraction of the time they were travelling. I have renewed old friendships and given real life to existing networks. It is a good thing. But that week I was frazzled. I learned how much I needed those driving times between meetings. Zoom meetings came thick and fast with barely time to pop to the toilet or make a cup of tea. Texting for a cup of tea to be brought to me during one meeting really made me realise how bad it had got. It was utterly unsustainable.

So I made some rules. Coffee at 10 every day, away from the desk, not a long break but time enough to make and drink a coffee; lunch for an hour from 1 to 2, tea at 4 – again just time to make and drink a cuppa, and not drunk at the lap-top or even on the phone. No Zoom meetings for work after 6. I still do early meetings when people want them, often early phone calls; so I don’t think I am being lazy in any way. Of course I have to be a little flexible, there awesome meetings I can’t control the times of, but then I move the break time.

This is the learning. Aren’t lunch breaks wonderful. It’s been helped, of course, by being able to sit in the garden most days. But taking time to make a proper meal (no more Samosas or sausage rolls), sitting down and eating it, conversation about something different to work, eyes off a screen.

Is this a lesson I can put into practice once this is over? I don’t know. Is it possible to do this as a Headteacher – perhaps some of my colleagues will tell me that they do? And, even as I write, I realise that in this crisis I am immensely privileged (not just in having a garden to sit in), most of our schools are open, most of our Heads are in school every day (I keep telling them not to be) and as for NHS staff and other Carers the idea of a lunch break must seem like a distant prospect.

In our Anglo-Saxon world we have always looked jealously at cultures where proper meals are part of working life – my dad used to drive five miles home and back to have lunch with mum and us during the school holidays. Even in the little village where I live the farm workers pass by as they walk home each day for lunch.

Corona Virus 19 is going to change our world. So many of those changes will be devastating and awful, but perhaps a few of them could be for good.

“Sorry, that’s my lunch break.” I’ll ask Stuart if he noticed. I am slightly proud of myself.

‘Village religion’ on Zoom: worship for Easter Day

‘Village religion’ is how one priest-friend describes the worship in the village where I live. It’s true, it is common to many village churches I visit to preach or preside in. It doesn’t just describe the liturgy or the rite, or the way it is performed but also the relationships, the community, the sense of being together in a particular way. A church that belongs to everybody even those who don’t attend very often. A place full of collective memory and simple welcome. Our village churches are ‘inclusive’ in ways that many city churches can only dream of. There is certainly no room for ‘churchmanship’ or partisanship in any way. It is a very beautiful way of being Anglican. A Sunday when I am presiding and preaching in our 14th century church, visible from the garden is a total joy.

For the last two weeks in this village and the villages around, all part of the same benefice, have been worshipping together on Zoom. I was sceptical about how it would work, and how many people would be able to access this strange new technology. In fact on Easter Day 41 computers were logged in and most had more than one person viewing them. I put together and led the liturgy, a simple liturgy of the word (see below). Our vicar preached a short and powerful sermon, a house for duty priest in the parish led the intercessions. We will swap those roles around over the coming weeks. The liturgy was designed to be familiar. Hymns we know well (played via Spotify playlist) and familiar texts. The most daring liturgical creativity is an ee cummings poem I put at the start.

There was nothing remarkable about what was happening other than that these times are entirely remarkable. For me it had a lovely ‘village religion’ feel to it. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, not people I know well, but people who belong, have belonged here longer than I have. In ‘unprecedented’ times, when all seems made strange, familiarity was just what we all needed. I’ll take ‘village religion’ any time.

Praying the Easter Octave with Hebrew Heroes

There is such intensity about Lenten observance and particularly about Holy Week and the Triduum that it is possible to mis the great eight days, the Easter Octave that follows. The liturgy which has seen such variety for three days suddenly becomes very repetitive. Partly that’s necessary, and the first simple celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Monday is a necessary tonic after the rich diet of the preceding week.

This year in our isolation I am going to be meditating on some of my ‘heroes and heroines’ in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the first time on Sunday morning before dawn I was able to read all nine readings at the Paschal Vigil, slowly and with plenty of time for reflection between them, I did this by a fire in the garden as pictured. I found it profoundly moving. From Common Worship: Times and Seasons I chose the ‘Women in Salvation’ series. Given that women are under-represented in our lectionaries I would value doing that every year. I used the Anselm canticle (from Common Worship Daily Prayer) with the ‘mother reading’ from Isaiah 66 and found that especially moving.

I am not going to reflect simply on women this Easter week but on a variety of figures:

Monday – Isaac

Tuesday – Sarah

Wednesday – Ruth

Thursday – Nehemiah

Friday – Deborah

I will Livestream these meditations each day 6:30 – 7pm BST and they will consist of poems and prayers with short reflections in the way of a monologue with the character by me, one sung responsorial text and silence. At 7pm I will sing Compline, in English in this version:

Liturgy of the Paschal Vigil

Here is the slightly revised liturgy for the Vigil. The two differences to the earlier version is that the whole of the text of the Exultet is used. I just couldn’t bear to omit it. I have put it in as a responsorial text with an offering of incense refrain, this is slightly odd but I know the refrains nd tone well so will be able to sing it while censing the candle and the icons. I have also added a tone and refrain for the Collects after each of the nine readings and psalms/canticles of the Vigil.

A Liturgy for Good Friday in a time of pandemic

What is very obvious from live streaming liturgies in a small space and using a fixed camera is the difficulty of liturgical action. Without any action it is really just audio, but the action is difficult to capture without camera movement.

Anyway, here is my attempt at a liturgy for Good Friday in this strange year. In the absence of the action of the veneration of the cross I am using the poem After the Seven Last Words by poet Mark Strand. I think it is a rather stunning meditation. I shall intersperse the readings with Responsorial psalms and end with the Beatitudes. I will be interested to see how it works. It may be a bit rich for Good Friday – losing the starkness of the liturgy.

I shall use the Grail Psalms for all but the final Psalm (Ps 22) which will be from the BCP and sung to a traditional plainsong tone.

I would have liked to use some recorded music. I thought Hania Rani‘s Esja would work really well. But then I would be adding the action of turning on the music etc which would spoil my own engagement with the worship and also probably break Facebook’s copyright rules.

“The aroma of love” – Guest post from the Bishop of Warrington

Monday in Holy Week is the day when the Diocese of Liverpool gathers at the Cathedral for the blessing of oils and the Renewal of Commitment to Ministry. In this time of pandemic the diocesan communications team prepared a video service. The Bishop of Warrington, The Rt. Rev’d. Bev Mason, offered a reflection on the powerful gospel reading John 12:1-11. It is a profound and deep meditation that moved me greatly. I am grateful to Bishop Bev for allowing me to post her words below. You can watch the service here:

In our reading, Jesus is back in Bethany. It’s after the raising of Lazarus so you can imagine his celebrity status there, and the cult following he’s attracting.  It’s also just 6 days before the crucifixion, and he’s having dinner with Lazarus and his friends.

Wouldn’t you have just loved to have been there, listening and participating in the conversations. Undoubtedly, he was preparing them, as well as himself, for his formal entry into Jerusalem as the Messiah. (We’d have celebrated this, from our places of confinement, yesterday on Palm Sunday).

Well! Suddenly the conversations are interrupted by Mary – she’ the one, remember, who would sit with the disciples at Jesus’ feet as they’re being apprenticed.  I don’t know that anyone would’ve noticed her getting up …. But they’d certainly have noticed what happened next! She quietly fetches some nard oil … she goes back to Jesus,  she kneels down and she pours the oil over His feet.  

Now Nard was an exotic oil –  it comes from the Himalayas and so imagine how costly this was.  And she doesn’t just take a few drops – she takes a pound of Nard. She gently massages it into his feet. And then letting down her hair, she wipes his feet with it. 

It’s so intimate, that it almost feels intrusive that anyone else should be present:   In this most tender and beautiful expression of love,  the oil is soaked up from one body to the other … and the aroma of love, fills the room.

Usually when hear of incense and aroma in the Bible, they’re associated with priestly offerings and sacrifice.  Mary would have known this – as I’m sure, she’d have known the teaching from Hosea, where God says, 

“I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, 

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. ESV Hos 6.6

In this ritual Mary is participating in Jesus’ death. 

I wonder if she knows that in doing so, she’s participating, too, in his risen life.  

Mary was a disciple of Jesus. She’d listened and watched and prayed and learned from Him. 

She knew that had Jesus been present when her brother was ill, he would’t have died. 

She saw him raise her brother from the grave.   

Through Jesus’ proximity to her and her, what we call,  teachable spirit, her asking and searching …. and desire to learn, Mary grew in the knowledge of God.  

Did she know she was in the presence of God?

At Jesus’ trial, just a week later, the Chief Priest will ask Jesus outright:  “Are you the Messiah? Are you the Son of God’… .  News that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead had spread and this was clearly what people were claiming on the streets of Bethany and in Jerusalem.  

Is this what Mary believed?  

I suspect so!  And I suspect it’s the knowledge of this and the fear of how this was all going to unfold, that brought her to her knees before him.  

This is a woman before the Messiah, the Son of God,  giving herself to him.

Today in this (Not the Chrism Mass!), from our places of isolation, we recall and we shall renew our commitment to God’s call upon our lives …  and the promises we’ve made to :

give ourselves to Him; 

and to follow and to serve him ….. in the good times and in the challenging times.  

We are each called in different, yet life-changing ways 

and each tasked with particular vocations and responsibilities.  

Friends,  I believe Mary teaches us so much about the Christian vocation.  

She sets before us a model of humility and service … 

She dares to buck stereotyping; 

In a room of men, she lets down her hair and exposes herself to rebuke – even though she’s about the service of Christ.  

She pre-figures the footwashing by Jesus of his disciples, in the Upper Room.  (I wonder if Jesus recalled this moment, as he washed his disciples’ feet!  

Mary embraces the drama of the anointing …. without explanation or commentary …  and in no small measure she pours out the costly oil, which speaks of the immeasurable love Christ pours upon us; and WE, in turn are to pour out upon others.

One of the immense challenges for each of us in these days of Coronavirus, is understanding what vocation means when things are unfamiliar. When we can’t minister in the tried and tested ways and when we mustbe distanced from people.    Mary draws us back to LOVE which is the essence of our being, our thinking, our actions, our service.  I think it’s this that Jesus was driving at, when he said, ‘I no longer call you servants. You are my friends.’

God calls us friends as he calls us to minister to him, and through him, to the world.   

And at the heart of calling and service is love.

This is exactly what we’ve been seeing in these present trials:

Friends, Bishop Paul and I are so very deeply touched and profoundly humbled by the faithful, creative and imaginative ways colleagues have adapted to the Corona crisis and how you’ve endeavoured to support, encourage, pray, lead praise, and provide pastoral care and bereavement support.  This is happening in parishes, hospitals, schools, prisons and very many other work places. Each in your way, and under very challenging circumstances, are pouring out the NARD of blessing of your calling – we want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your inspirational ministries!  

For some Colleagues, confinement is something of a gift of time to pray and  read and learn. I encourage you all to make time to  attend to and build up your inner life.   

And as we journey, each in our way, through Holy Week, to the Cross and the Empty Tomb, 

may the life and joy of the resurrection touch and bless each of us, making us   ready for the new morning – and the world beyond isolation.    

God fill your heart with love.  God keep you safe and bless you.  Amen

Compline in Holy Week

For Compline in the Sacred Triduum, Thursday, Friday and Saturday I will be using Latin for all but the poem. Here’s the booklet for Holy Thursday. Compline will be live streamed at midnight on Holy Thursday, and at 7pm on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Compline daily in the Easter Octave live streamed at 7pm BST preceded by 30 minute meditation:

At one level our communion with one another is always invisible, or at least largely invisible The people we gather with in church Sunday by Sunday, however large the congregation, are just a fragment of the many millions we are in communion with in heaven and on earth in the Body of Christ. We also share a deep, consubstantial, inter-being with all human beings in every time and place, and indeed with everything that exists, through our creation from the matter of the earth.

The current crisis has made some of that invisibility visible. I am really grateful for those who have joined me at Mass in my little Oratory and sent messages of appreciation. Several have asked for more of the Office to be streamed. So I thought I would add Compline for this Holy Week.

You will find the text and music I will use in the booklet above. I will do a new booklet each day with a different poem that I will read between the opening verses and the Prayers of Penitence.

As there is no movement or action I will focus the camera on one of the icons rather than on me. Which should improve the experience! I have indicated in the text where I will pause for silences, hopefully it’s not because I have fallen asleep.

I normally sing Compline rather early in the evening if I can, I will try for a consistent 7pm. It’s nice to feel the Office is complete before having family time and early to bed.

SOURCES

The Divine Office as used at Worth Abbey, music by Dom Philip Gaisford OSB:

music for the Introductory verses, the hymn, Responsory and the Refrain to the Nunc Dimittis

Hymn: Text Patrick Lee (Hymns for Prayer and Praise rev. Ed  265)

Samuel Weber OSB: refrains for the psalms

Aelred Seton Shanley Obl. OSN New Camaldoli: the anthem to Our Lady

Common Worship Daily Prayer: texts of the psalms and the Nunc Dimittis

Script for the Liturgies of Holy Week

For the timetable for the week and more thoughts on these strange times see here.

Here (above) is the booklet of how I shall celebrate the liturgies this week in the Oratory. It is not a complete script, but I have included as much as possible, including music, so that I am not juggling with too many books. It does still require Common Worship: Times and Seasons, a separate booklet of readings (above), a psalter (I shall use the Grail) and the Belmont Abbey English Gradual. Sadly, this is not available online, but the wonderful music of Abbot Alan is very singable, modal and simple. The Eucharistic liturgy is the one I have written about here and here. There is not much seasonal variation to it (no proper Prefaces etc) but the simplicity works, I think.

The Gospel of the Entrance into Jerusalem will begin Palm Sunday’s Eucharist, but without blessing of palms or procession.

For the liturgy on Good Friday I have added the insert prepared by the Vatican for the Solemn Intercessions in this time of pandemic, adapting it slightly to match the language of Times and Seasons, I think it works best in that text between the second and third intercession. In the Roman Rite it is suggested for rather later. The Proclamation of the Cross will be fairly informal with readings and poems from outside of Scripture.

At the Paschal Vigil I have followed the suggestion of Times and Seasons for Pattern B with an extended vigil of readings and psalms ending with the lighting of the Paschal candle. I think this makes much more sense than the usual pattern proclaiming the resurrection with the Easter fire and then settling down for the Vigil. As T&S suggests I shall do this by a fire (either in the garden or the fireplace, depending on the weather), but more like a camp fire for story-telling than the Easter light itself.

The only issue with the Pattern B structure is the proximity of the Exultet and the Gloria. Because I am just going to use the very short metrical Exultet that T&S gives and then a refrain to a simple chant Gloria I don’t think that will matter, but if the Exultet was sung solemnly I think it might seem odd to follow it immediately with the Gloria.

I am using the Women in Salvation readings from T&S but have replaced Psalm 113 after the Isaiah 66 reading with the Canticle in Common Worship Daily Prayer from Julian of Norwich which beautifully picks up the image of motherhood.

This is not a polished service booklet but a script for me to use in these strange times. I will, no doubt be adapting it as the week goes on and will post updates. Unless otherwise indicated the music in the booklet is my own adaptation of plainsong chants.

UPDATE Saturday 15:30 – The introductory chant on Palm Sunday is surprisingly underrepresented in my collection of liturgical music. A simple plainsong setting by Br Reginald SSF seemed to be the best I could do. There is a version in the Hymn-Tune Psalter which I have recently acquired, also the ‘Hosanna’ Jacques Berthier / Taizé chant but this is really a canon and seems very weak sung by a single voice. I then remembered the collection by Paul F Ford, By Flowing Waters, which is an English version of the Graduale Simplex. His setting of one of the palm procession chants to mode 1 works well I think. He sets the psalm verses to the traditional plainsong tone; I will use that with a text pointed in the Sarum Psalter or the Grail version with the Conception mode 1 tone as shown below. Or I may even use it twice, before and after the Palm Gospel, with verses from psalm 118 before and psalm 24 afterwards.

Women in Salvation: Readings for the Easter Vigil

Common Worship: Times and Seasons includes a number of alternative, themed, patterns of readings for the Easter (Paschal) Vigil:

  • Baptismal
  • Women in Salvation
  • Salvation
  • Renewal
  • Freedom

All of them require the use of Exodus 14 (rightly !) and there are 22 readings used over the 5 themes. One Easter night I would love to use all of them over the course of the night!

Given that I think that repetition is the key to good liturgy and that women are seriously under represented in both Scripture and lectionaries I would argue for using ‘Women in Salvation’ every year.

So here is a booklet of those readings (in the Authorised Version) in the hope that it might be helpful to some. I shall be using these on my own this pandemic year. T&S includes psalm references and Collects for each reading which are excellent. I may get round to adding those to the booklet, but, for now, the readings:

Liturgy at Home: Holy Week and the Triduum in a Time of Pandemic

UPDATE Good Friday – I tried rehearsing Stations of the Cross live in the garden; sadly it just didn’t work, there was no way of moving the camera (iPhone on a tripod) in a way that wouldn’t have made anyone watching seasick. So no lies team of Stations but I will livestream Compline each night at 7pm Friday and Saturday.

UPDATE 6 April, 15:30 – please note there will now be no Eucharist of the Day in the Oratory, I am leading worship for the parish on Zoom at that time. In addition to the liturgies below I will livestream Compline each day at 7pm BST except for Maundy Thursday when Compline will complete the Watch at midnight.

Several people have asked what I intend to do for the liturgical services of Holy Week. I had been due to preach at St George’s, Paris and am sad not now to be with Fr Mark and the people there. I normally ‘preach’ Holy Week as a guest preacher so I rarely have to organise the liturgies of the week or the Triduum, although I have done a few vacancies over the years and when I was a parish priest always enjoyed working out what would work and what wouldn’t. here’s a picture of the booklet from the last time I had sole responsibility which was at St Faith’s, Landport in 1997:

I have been live-streaming the Eucharist each day from my little Oratory in the garden over the last few days. I am so deeply moved to be joined by people, some I know and am fond of, some strangers to me. I shall continue doing this during Holy Week at the following times:

Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: Eucharist at 6:30am BST (GMT+1)

Maundy Thursday: Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper 8pm, I will keep a Watch until midnight and sing Compline at midnight. Eucharist and Compline but not the Watch streamed.

Good Friday – Stations of the Cross 10am

Good Friday: Liturgy of the Day at 2pm

Easter Day: Paschal Vigil and First Eucharist of Easter: 3:30am;

In terms of what I will do, those who tune in to the stream from the Oratory seem to appreciate the simplicity and silence. Others will be looking for something very different and there are many places offering sophisticated audio-visual material, and grander liturgies. Which is excellent. For this domestic Oratory as simple as possible seems to be best. For the Eucharistic liturgy the rite will be just as I have been doing and as described here.

Normally for a weekday Eucharist in the Oratory I just wear a stole over my usual clothes; to mark the solemnity of this week I will wear the usual vestments on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and at the Easter Eucharists and an Alb and stole on Good Friday at the Liturgy.

As you can see there is no blessing of the palms or procession, no Easter fire, no veneration of the Cross. Times and Seasons (T&S) gives different sets of readings for the Vigil with themes. I have chosen ‘Women in Salvation’. I will sort out what I am going to do at the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday morning in due course and post here when that is done. It will be very simple indeed. The Vigil will start early and be very leisurely which I have done before and works really well, with a rather informal feel. I’m hoping I can do this in the garden at a little bonfire. Vestments put on only at the move into the Oratory for the first Eucharist of Easter.

Music

I love to sing and I love the psalms. So alongside a few simple chants from Taizé and the Iona Community there will be psalms with sung refrains, from Belmont Abbey (An English Gradual, Fr Alan Rees OSB), Br Reginald SSF (Lent, Holy Week and Easter – Services and Prayers). I won’t sing any hymns. I am not a great singer and singing hymns unaccompanied is pretty tough going. On Monday to Wednesday the Chants (sung with verses of psalmody) will be (Mon – Wed Introit Belmont 35, Psalm Belmont 44, Concluding Chant Belmont 42). Other music see below:

Palm Sunday

  • Introit Reginald 9
  • Commemoration of the Lord’s Entry Into Jerusalem (T&S 269 – 271 omitting prayer over the palms and procession
  • Liturgy of the Word – Psalm Belmont 35
  • Intercession T&S 272-273
  • Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual Concluding Chant Belmont 30

Maundy Thursday

  • Introit Belmont 52
  • Penitential verses T&S 294
  • Psalm Belmont 111
  • Intercessions T&S 299
  • Preparation of the Gifts T&S 300
  • Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual
  • Concluding Chant Lamentations (traditional)
  • John 17
  • Watch until midnight before the Blessed Sacrament
  • Midnight Compline: traditional plainsong

Good Friday Stations of the Cross (10am) more detail later.

Good Friday – Liturgy of the Day

  • No Introit
  • Gathering and Liturgy of the Word T&S 307 – 308 Psalm Belmont 181 (The Passion ends at Jn 19: 37)
  • Prayer around the Cross – Jesus remember me, (Taizé), Belmont 178 verses from psalm 26, poetry and silence
  • The Solemn Intercession at the Cross
  • T&S 316 -318
  • Holy Communion T&S 319 – 320 Gospel of the Burial of Christ (Jn 19: 38-42

The Paschal VigilTimes & Seasons Pattern B ( 3:30 am – 5:30 am)

  • T&S Pattern B – outside (if not raining, or by the fireplace), at a fire
  • Introduction T&S 354 –
  • Readings T&S 373 (Theme ‘Women in Salvation’) Refrains for psalms, selected verses, from Sunday Psalms, Kevin Mayhew
  • 1 Genesis 1 Psalm 104
  • 2 Genesis 3 Psalm 51
  • 3 Exodus 12 Psalm 77
  • 4 Exodus 14 Canticle
  • 5 Ruth 1 Psalm 61
  • 6 1 Samuel 1 Canticle CWDP p 572
  • 7 Proverbs 8 Canticle CWDP p 599
  • 8 Isaiah 66 Psalm 113
  • 9 Daniel 3 canticle Benedicite
  • The Paschal Candle is blessed and lit T&S 355
  • Move to the Oratory (5:30am)
  • Metrical Exultet T&S 358 Tune: Woodlands
  • Gloria mode viii
  • Collect
  • Liturgy of the Word Psalm Belmont 60
  • Blessing of Water Chant: Water of Life …
  • Apostles’ Creed
  • The Eucharistic Liturgy continues as usual
  • Concluding chant: Belmont 67

Eucharist of Easter Day

Usual Eucharistic Liturgy with Gloria and Creed, chants:

  • Introit Belmont 67
  • Psalm Belmont 64
  • Conclusion Belmont 56

Taking Farewell of An Oratory

My friend and colleague in the Diocese of Liverpool, Mother Hannah Lewis has recently moved her prayer corner / Oratory from a bay window to the attic. Having prayed in the former space for some years she wanted to mark her farewelling of that space liturgically and has produced this rather lovely liturgy for doing so.

The prayer for taking leave is adapted from “A liturgy for leave-taking a house” in Human Rites compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild

Before Coronavirus (BC) when I was travelling a good deal and staying overnight in hotels and conference centres I always said a little prayer of blessing for the corner of the room I set up for my prayer. I often thought that I needed a farewell prayer as well. I may just work on that at some point …