Sermon – God of Peace and Strength: our new Collect for St Frideswide

Sermon St Frideswide, Patronal Eucharist 21st October 2021

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

God of peace and strength,

whose abbess Frideswide

built a community of love and learning

with the gifts of the Spirit

and in the strong peace that comes from you:

renew us with healing waters of salvation,

increase in us courage and resolve

and inspire us, like Frideswide, to teach your truth

and bring hope to your world;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

If you have a small black Book of Common Prayer in reach, you may want to turn to page 87. You will see there that this is where the ‘Collects, Epistles and Gospels’ begin. They continue to page 292, making this the biggest section of our Prayer Book alongside the psalter. There is much that could be said about the arrangement of Scripture, the Epistles and Gospels, in this section, but this evening I want to reflect on the Collects.

The Collects are the short prayers that we use at Morning and Evening Prayer and at the Eucharist. No one is entirely certain why they are called ‘collects’, but the most convincing explanation I have read is that they are called this because they are the prayer that is prayed once the people have gathered, collected together.

Collects of this short style and form are unique to Latin Christianity, the church and churches of the West. Eastern churches have much longer prayers of a completely different style.

In Latin the Collects have a sparseness of language, a spareness of phrase and a density of meaning that is really quite extraordinary, this is very much the ‘genius’ of the Latin rite.  A ‘noble simplicity’. Many of these prayers are very old indeed almost certainly dating to the seventh century.

The Church of England has long treasured the Collect form of prayer, Thomas Cranmer’s translations and his new Collects in the Prayer Book rightly seen as a unique treasure handed on to us. In times past Anglicans would learn these prayers by heart to win prizes at Sunday school but also we hope to deepen their prayer.

The Collect has a particular form, although with considerable flexibility.  A good example is the one for the current week in the Prayer Book, on page 241:

First of all God is addressed “O Almighty God”, quite a lot of the traditional Collects begin with this phrase for this week, Trinity 20, additional information is given about God, he is described as “most merciful”

A request is then made “keep us we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us” and then the consequence, the benefit of that petition being granted is explained “that we, being ready, both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done.”

It is a delightfully simple formula. I have often taught it in schools and even Primary age children can enjoy writing their own Collects.

I should point out that liturgical scholars would wince at my simplified version of the Collect form. Daniel McCarthy, for example, suggests that the simple fourfold shape I have described should really be seen as 8 elements:





Cause or motive

and Premise.

Well liturgical scholars have to justify their existence somehow!

In modern times many new Collects have been written. very often this is to expand the language to be both more inclusive and also richer and more poetic.

There is no ancient Collect for St Frideswide, a ‘common’ collect, for abbesses was used. Several modern Collects have been written for her. The latest appears in today’s booklet for this Eucharist, it was written by our Precentor, Philippa, and is rather lovely I think.  A few of us stuck an oar or two in at various draft stages. There are many dangers to writing liturgy by committee but I hope you will take your booklet home and pray this prayer. We need much prayer here at Christ Church and it would be good to think of you praying for us using these words.

So to turn to our Collect. 

God of peace and strength,

The first line addresses God very simply and offers a description of his attributes, peace and strength. This is of course the meaning of Frideswide’s name. For the bible peace is an important attribute of a life lived in harmony with God. God’s shalom, in the Hebrew Scriptures is fundamental to his intention for the world. Shalom is not simply the absence of conflict but a sign of God’s wholeness, of completion.

For Muslims and Jews shalom is a common greeting, shalom aleichem / aleichem shalom. Last week after the Court Service here the High Sheriff Imam Monawar Hussain took many of us out for a curry.  After dinner he invited various people of different faiths to speak. A Jewish man present sang one of my favourite pieces from Jewish worship: Oseh shalom … “may he who makes peace in high places, make peace for us “

Few of us would argue that peace was not a key concept for the Bible and for Christians. Strength is more complex though. We can be nervous about strength, we even talk about ‘brute strength’.  The key is, I think, where the strength comes from. If it comes simply from muscle power, or position, it means little.

But the psalmist says: “the Lord is my strength and my shield” (Ps. 28:7 ) when the strength we rely on is God’s it is utterly reliable. Be strong and courageous says Deuteronomy (31:6)

and “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” writes St Paul (Phil. 4:13)

We yearn for peace but we need strength to endure the lack of peace which is part of the reality of our lives. So,

God of peace and strength,

our prayer begins.

whose abbess Frideswide

built a community of love and learning

Community too is fundamental to Christian living. Right at the beginning of the church we are told in the Acts of the Apostles (4:32) that the early Christians shared all their goods in common and were ‘of one heart and mind’. Christians have always gathered, collected, together to practice our faith; we gather for worship; church, from ecclesia means those called out to be together.

Love hardly needs any comment at all. God so loved the world. (Jn 3:16). Love is the motivation for the incarnation, for Jesus who saves us and died for us. Love in all its facets is the test of the Christian life. The famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13 is a challenging read at the end of any day if we ask ourselves:

Have I been patient?

Have I been kind?

Am I envious?

Do I boast?

Am I proud?

Do I dishonour others?

Am I self -seeking, easily angered?

Do I let go of wrongs, delight in evil, rejoice in the truth?

Do I always protect, trust, hope and persevere?

A community of love is demanding indeed.

But Frideswide’s community was also a community of learning. Of scholarly activity.

This is hugely significant. Love is wonderful. But we can all too easily – perhaps in our times more than any other – regard love as a feeling, an emotion. This is not how Christians have classically understood it. For Augustine love is an act of the will.

It is only by learning, by studying theology. By knowing the Bible that we can experience the fullness of faith and challenge the misconceptions of the world.

The next two lines of the Collect make it clear where that fullness comes from;

with the gifts of the Spirit

The ‘gifts of the Spirit’ can, of course, relate to a sort of generalised sense of the presence of God imparting grace to us, but in Christian history it has been used to identify seven gifts, referred to first of all in Isaiah 11. This is a passage about God’s kingdom of peace, shalom and the longed for Messiah who will come with 






delight or piety


fear of the Lord

Augustine linked these to the Beatitudes and they are traditionally said to be the gifts received in Baptism and Confirmation.

Next in our Collect we have the line:

and in the strong peace that comes from you:

Clearly, this is an echo of the opening line reflecting on the meaning of Frideswide’s name. It makes clear that this peace and strength is the fruit of faith, and that it comes from God not from our own power. This is the gift of salvation we receive in baptism, our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That death when water and blood flowed from his side. Which we enter into in baptism and renew our selves in in the Eucharist, water and blood. These are the healing waters of salvation that the Collect refers to next:

renew us with healing waters of salvation,

increase in us courage and resolve

But it is also the water associated with Frideswide, the well at Binsey that so many of us value visiting, to which students in our chaplaincy will be walking on Sunday afternoon.

I like the mention of ‘courage and resolve’. Frideswide had courage, she refused the way of life that was to be imposed on her and was determined, resolved to live a life in Christian community.  A resolve which is a reminder once again that Christian living is not just feelings, however fine, not some spirituality but a decision,  resolve, a determination, an act of the will.  As we say to the candidates in baptism who are old enough to respond, after we’ve recited the Creed. Is this your faith? And they answer, we hope with courage and resolve: “This is my faith.”

And so we come to the end of the prayer:

and inspire us, like Frideswide, to teach your truth

and bring hope to your world;

The gift of faith is never for ourselves alone. We are all, every baptised person called to teach the faith. It is not possible to watch the news, it is not possible to listen to the needs of those who come to us, it is not possible to look at our own lives and not realise that we need a Saviour, we need Jesus. And that is why this prayer, every Collect ends with five simple words. 

through Jesus Christ our Lord …

We pray only through Jesus, we know him as the Christ, the anointed One, the one chosen by God to do this for us and we name him, we acknowledge him as Lord.

In the end it is all, St Frideswide, the well at Binsey, this cathedral church, the Augustinian canons, the life of Chapter for five centuries, even our beautiful music. It is all pointless, if it does not bring us to him, to Jesus.

God of peace and strength,

whose abbess Frideswide

built a community of love and learning

with the gifts of the Spirit

and in the strong peace that comes from you:

renew us with healing waters of salvation,

increase in us courage and resolve

and inspire us, like Frideswide, to teach your truth

and bring hope to your world;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.


At home: Freshers’ Week Sermon 2021


Christ Church Cathedral

10 October 2021

Proper 23 B  (28B) Eucharist

Fresher’s Week

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Who founded the Church of England?

A recurring irritation for Anglicans is the accusation that our church was founded by Henry VIII.  Most of us would prefer to think of our founder as Jesus Christ. And if one were to choose a monarch Elizabeth the first probably has as much claim on foundation as her father; not to say Charles the second making a not insubstantial claim after the interruptions of the Commonwealth.

If the question turns to Who founded Christ Church? at least frees us from looking back to our Lord and Saviour. Henry’s claim here is stronger, but of course Thomas Wolsey is a very close second. Dean Fell after the Protectorate can surely place a stake for re-foundation. And we must not forget Prior Sutton Augustinian builder of this church whose tomb lies at the edge of the Latin chapel, and probably none of us would be here, of course, without Frideswide before even him.

Like the Church of England it is easy to characterise Christ Church as an anomaly, a random historical accident, an English eccentricity. All of that may well be true, but the gospel we have just heard includes two words that make that historical accident, that random eccentricity important for those of us here who are Christians.

Fourteen months ago when I arrived at Christ Church I could have had no idea of the year ahead. What a year it has been. That long year ago I had no experience of Oxford, the university or even of working full-time in a cathedral. But I am now convinced in a way I could not have been then of the blessing that our joint foundation can be to the church and the importance for the academy of this meeting of higher education and a faith community.

Good teacher, Jesus is called in today’s gospel. It is good to have some of our academic staff here with us this morning. I am not in any position to judge whether they are, like Jesus, ‘good teachers’, but the fact that they are teachers is important to us.

Jesus is addressed directly as teacher 45 times in the gospels, 12 times each in Matthew and Mark, fifteen in Luke and six times in John.

As someone who has spent most of my life as a teacher it puzzles me that this designation of Jesus as teacher has been so neglected.

Puzzling too because it ignores Jesus own command to bring the children to him, or the Deuteronomic imperative, prayed three times daily by Jews in the Sh’ma to teach the Torah to children and write it on our hearts.

I have been observing teaching for over twenty years. Judging the quality of lessons and the progress that children make. I am fascinated by pedagogy, the art of teaching, how we learn. And I am fascinated by pedagogy in this university, by the tutorial system, lectures and the work expected of graduates and undergraduates. The requirements to teach and supervise others that comes so early in academic careers. Fascinated too by the limited interest shown in pedagogy and relative lack of reflection on the very systems of teaching being used.

On holiday last month one of the books I read was Amartya Sen’s memoir Home In The World.  An economist and mathematician, but really a polymath he reflects on his childhood in what is now Bangladesh and the interaction there of religious communities Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist. Sen takes the title of his book from Rabindranath Tagore’s Home and the World. The fundamental question for Sen, for Tagore and, surely for all of us is how we can be at home in this world.  We can try and force ourselves to be at home by creating what is comfortable for us or we can be at home by valuing the diversity and difference of the world.

This week has been my first real Freshers’ Week. It has been good to see – because of Covid spacing reasons – all our freshers here in the Cathedral for many of their induction talks. Becoming ‘at home’ here in the House.

It will be good this coming week to welcome Oxford’s High Sheriff and his team, a first, of chaplains from many faiths. And after Evensong is finished to hear each of them read a short text from their own tradition.

On this Safeguarding Sunday we all know that religions can be forces for bad as well as for good. Fundamentalisms exist when there is a failure to bring academic scrutiny to claims to truth. The church, all religions need to be examined by the academy. We need the rigour of departments of theology, academic scrutiny from the inside; and the challenge of knowledge in all academic fields.

The academy too needs its practitioners to include people of many faiths, to bring the experience and practice of faith into its life, which is, of course, anyway unavoidable.

Jesus the Good Teacher. He is a good teacher because his method, his pedagogy is rarely to tell. His method is so much more like a good tutorial, he asks questions, he causes his hearers to think and to reflect.

Amartya Sen describes a world in which religious traditions mingled with mutual interest and mutual enrichment. 

Our joint foundation means nothing if it is simply a sharing of a building, a parallel existence for this building as college chapel one minute and cathedral the next. 

It has been a very beautiful thing to see the Freshers in this building this last week not just at the induction events but also in the evenings when the chaplaincy team opened it up with candles and lights and music. To see our undergraduates coming to be at home here in their chapel, their cathedral.

Over the next few weeks I hope that all of you who are regulars here will visit the restored Chapter House. It too is a beautiful building.  A Chapter House is, of course, a place for discussion, conversation.  A space for encountering others.

One of my hopes is that it will allow us to be even more a place where people of many faiths and of no religious faith encounter one another and can feel at home together.

The encounter of the world’s religions is still in its infancy. I can think of only one living systematic theologian who takes this encounter seriously in every area of his theology.  

Christopher Lewis, the last Dean of Christ Church edited a book on Inter Faith Worship and Prayer with the subtitle “We Must Pray Together”, one of its contributors is the Muslim Imam who is now the High Sheriff of Oxford.

The joint foundation is an opportunity not just for the academy or for us as a Chapter, a congregation; but an opportunity to encounter good teachers and to demonstrate that we can be good learners.

In the Preface to his memoir Amartya Sen writes:

“From the Crusades in the Middle Ages to the Nazi invasions in the last century, from communal clashes to battles between religious politics, there have been tussles between varying convictions, and yet there have also been forces for unity working against the clashes. We can see, if we look, how understanding can spread from one group to another and from one country to the next.  As we move around we cannot escape clues to broader and more integrative stories. Our ability to learn from each other must not be underestimated.”

Dear Christ Church freshers here we are at one of the world’s leading universities. You will be taught by great people, you will have many good teachers, but you will learn much from your friends too. We hope that you will be at home here in Christ Church, at home in this your cathedral your chapel and most of all that you will never underestimate the ability we human beings have to learn from each other.