Iona Worship via Zoom

The Tuesday Morning Worship on 9th June, the day on which the Church of England commemorate St Columba of Iona, was based on songs and liturgy from the Iona Community. The service was led by Rev’d Louise Courtney and Rev’d Liz Morris.


Open the Book

Many aspects of ministry here in France are, of course, very similar to what I experienced in England. There is, however, one thing that I greatly miss – the joy of working with Primary Schools. In the Leadon Vale Parishes, where I last ministered, we had four Church of England Primary Schools and so I and my colleagues were in school most days during term time leading assemblies (or Collective Worship as it is now called), helping with Religious Studies or fulfilling duties as Governors.

One initiative that was started about 20 years ago in primary schools across the UK is ‘Open the Book’. The principle is that a group of people from the local church goes into school regularly to tell Bible stories. The idea is simple. Using (initially, at least!) the wonderful Lion Storyteller Bible as a script, these people would perform a short enactment of one story each week. There would be a short introduction and a reflection and prayer afterwards. From its inception, ‘Open the Book’ has now become an important part of outreach to schools in many areas and is universally enjoyed by the children, staff and ‘Open the Book’ teams alike.

In this time of lockdown, my sister Sue, (who is Chair of Governors of a CofE Primary School in Wantage, Oxfordshire) decided to see if she could provide the children with an opportunity to enjoy ‘Open the Book’ stories whilst everyone is at home. I thought that it might amuse some of you to watch what she has produced – including roping her brother and sister-in-law into her new ‘virtual’ team!

It’s amazing what your Chaplain is getting up to while stuck at home!

Blessings, Tony

Church Life

Holy Saturday – what do I do?

So we have now arrived at the point in our Lent/Easter journey that I have always found difficult and confusing. Holy Week is a special time of prayer and contemplation culminating, this year as much as ever, in the thought-provoking and touching liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

And then we have Saturday!

There is a temptation to treat this as a bit of a ‘day off’ between the sombre mood of Good Friday and the joy of Easter, but I have always felt that this is actually one of the most fundamentally difficult parts of the Passion story.

This is the day on which Jesus is dead!

Whilst I was training for ordination, I attended a residential training during Holy Week ending after a sunrise (literally!) service on Easter morning so that we could all be home with our families for the main Easter morning celebrations. With a few others, I was asked to prepare a service for Holy Saturday morning, but we really struggled to decide how, if at all, one can worship and praise on this most ambiguous of days.

Let’s think about it – very briefly. If the Crucifixion means anything then it is essential that Jesus died – not figuratively or partially, but literally and completely. If Jesus (wholly human and wholly divine) was dead, where does that leave our trinitarian understanding of God? I can only conclude that, over this period between Christ’s death on the cross and his joyous Resurrection, the Godhead must have been deeply effected or even damaged. If we, as Christians, pray “In the power of the Holy Spirit, and in union with Christ” (Church of England: Common Worship) where does it leave us if Christ is dead?

I appreciate that we are, of course, post-Easter people and that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) but, for any of us for whom symbolism and/or remembrance (anamnesis) are important parts of our spirituality, we relive year by year this divine conundrum.

So I will continue to do my Saturday morning shopping trip today. I will, in one sense, take this ‘day off’ before the celebrations tomorrow. But I will also, as always, spend the day feeling slightly troubled and incomplete as I grieve the death of my Lord, my Friend and my Brother.

May he rest in peace, and RISE IN GLORY!

Blessings, Tony

Church Life

The non-AGM!

Dear Friends,

As I sit at my desk writing this blog, I realise that, under the old order, we would have been meeting together at Doudrac today for the Chaplaincy Annual General Meeting.

A short time ago all the papers for the AGM were circulated so that you can have an idea of the things that would have been discussed at the meeting. The Church of England rules have been modified in response to the Coronavirus outbreak so that the deadline for holding AGMs has been extended until the end of September. As soon as we are able, we will, therefore, be reserving an alternative date for our meeting.

In the meantime, I take this opportunity to copy again my report for last year. I find it encouraging to look back at the life and mission of our church and am entirely confident that we will move forward from our current experience with a new vision of our world and our community and having learned things that can make us even stronger, more resilient and more focussed on our mission here in Aquitaine.

God bless!


Church Life

Holy Communion … how?

Many of us are, I am sure, feeling deeply unsettled by our inability to receive Holy Communion. This has been a source of much discussion (and some differences of opinion!) amongst clergy as try to work out how we can best respond to this yearning in so many. I would like to share with you part of a letter recently written to the clergy and Readers of the Diocese by Bishop Robert:

The Eucharist is a core element of our Anglican spiritual practice. The word ‘Eucharist’ relates to a verb: it is fundamentally something we, the whole people of God, do. It is the activity of thanking God the Father as a gathered community in which we offer praise and thanksgiving through Christ our Lord. The Eucharist is very important, life-giving and life-sustaining, but when it cannot be received, God can still bless us, be with us, feed us. 

During these times when the community cannot gather, most of us will be fasting from the Eucharist. This is hard, especially when we feel that Lenten discipline should be moving into Easter joy. Nonetheless, most of us will, in these times of crisis, not be receiving the elements of holy communion this Easter Sunday, and that includes us as your bishops. We await in eager anticipation an occasion, hopefully within the Easter season, when the community can gather again to make Eucharist. 

Many will be familiar with the tradition (set out in the rubrics for the service of the Visitation of the Sick in the Book of Common Prayer and Canon B15) of making a spiritual communion. This practice embodies an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the sacrament and to know his loving embrace as though we had received him in the elements. We attach a possible service order for this (see link below) that some may wish to use, for example on Easter Sunday.

I have been in discussion with my clergy colleagues here in Aquitaine and we have decided that our Easter morning service will include a celebration of the Eucharist. Whilst it will still not be possible to share the bread and wine physically, I do hope that you will all feel that, as Ingrid and I receive those elements, you too will be able to sense that you share that reception with us.

Together with Bishop Robert, I long for the time when we can, once again, be together to worship, pray and share Communion physically rather than virtually. Hopefully that will be during the Easter season (which ends at Pentecost on 31st May) but even if it is not, we are always ‘Easter People’ celebrating the Resurrection each time that we meet in the name of the Risen Christ.

We are now just about to enter into the sombre time of Holy Week so we must lay aside, for a short time, our focus on resurrection as we journey with Jesus along the road that will take us to Calvary on Friday.

With every blessing for a Holy Week. Tony.

Church Life

The building is closed!

Many of you have probably seem this cartoon by Dave Walker circulating on social media and, for me at least, he hits the nail squarely on the head.

I have been amazed at the ingenuity and imagination with which many have approached the challenges of being church at the moment. Some, unwittingly, have given us much-needed amusement by getting it spectacularly wrong (My favourite is still the guy who managed to set fire to his jumper from a candle!) but many have provided heartfelt (even if sometimes imperfect) worship in a variety of forms.

I have been surprised, however, that many clergy still seem to feel the need to broadcasting from a church building. I tend to feel that we are currently, as someone on social media put it, a people in the wilderness and so should be worshiping God from a tent rather than tying ourselves back to a Temple. For me and Ingrid, church is currently found in our sitting room, in our garden and at our desks – anywhere where we can feel connected to God and, in spirit at least, feel connected with the rest of you as we pray our way through these final days of Lent.

I don’t know if you saw the pictures yesterday of Pope Francis giving his regular ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing alone in an empty and rain-swept St Peter’s Square.

On one level, this seems to be exactly the problem I was bemoaning above. However, I also found this an extremely poignant symbol of the importance of corporate prayer and of Pope Francis’ role as leader and pastor of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. I am sure that it was of huge comfort to many millions of Catholics (and others) to know that the Pope continues to prayer for them and for the world despite his isolation. As with our service offerings on this site, the wonder of broadcast technology means that, even if we’re not joining together in a church building, the living, praying, worshipping Church of Christ Jesus, in all its many forms and denominations, is most emphatically open to one and all.

God bless! Tony

Church Life

Call to Prayer

Today, March 25th, is, as you have probably realised, exactly nine months before Christmas.  It is, therefore, on this day that the catholic churches commemorate the Annunciation – the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary announcing the conception of Jesus.  In the English-speaking world this is also known as Lady Day which was one of the Quarter Days on which taxes were due to be paid.

Today, Pope Francis has called for Christians across the world and of all denominations to pause at 12h00 CET (ie. 11am GMT) to pray the Lord’s Prayer as a mark of solidarity in the face of the Coronavirus.  The Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the single greatest unify factor in the Christian church and it is highly significant that the Pope should have chosen noon as the time to pray.  This is the time when, especially today, Catholics would normally pray the Angelus, an ancient prayer celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Incarnation of Christ.  To replace this with a prayer that can be shared by all denominations is a sign of the importance that he places on all Christians being able to pray together at this time.

So, please do take the time to pray the ‘Our Father’ at noon today and, in so doing, remember our sisters and brothers across the world who are also living though similar restrictions to our own.

I hope you might be inspired by this musical version of the prayer by the French worship group, Glorious.

Church Life

Day 8 – Tony

So, we have now survived two Sundays without being able to meet together in church. It still seems very odd, although there is the advantage that the church I now attend has good heating, a nice comfortable sofa and no-one seems to mind if I turn up in my slippers!

It has been really interesting to see the various offering that have been put online from churches all over the place. I was amazed when I received a message on Sunday evening from someone in Bermuda who had seen our posts and had shared the text of the sermon with the people in his Lent Group!

It has struck me that this situation has had the effect of levelling the playing field between widespread Chaplaincies like ours and single church Chaplaincies elsewhere. It doesn’t matter whether your nearest neighbour is 100 metres away or 100 kilometres, we all still have to find ways of being church individually at home.

Please do keep looking at this site and at the e-bulletins that Amy will be sending out. Charlotte and I are working hard to expand and improve our worship offering. Various of you have said that you would like to see us – so as to get at least an impression of human contact. We are also aware that many would like there to be some music involved. We will have to grapple with the restraints of copyright etc. and also realise that not everyone likes the same sort of music. We are also hoping to find ways of involving more people in our worship so that you don’t get bored of the same voices all the time.

I really hope that, over this time of enforced separation, we will learn exciting new ways of keeping in touch over this large Chaplaincy which will then continue to be of use to us in the future.

Stay hopeful!

Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns of Inspiration 2 – Bramwell

2. Dear Lord and Father of mankind

The history of this hymn is one of the most interesting that I know….. For it was never written as a hymn….

John Greenleaf Whittier,  (1807-1892) was a strong advocate of the abolishment of slavery. His early writings were nearly all about the plight of the slaves in America .

He was also persuaded by the Quaker way of life and it’s approach to worship. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that Whittier would not have approved of his words being used as a hymn !

The words to the hymn we know as ‘Dear Lord and father of mankind’ were actually just five stanzas of a seventeen verse poem called, ‘The Brewing of Soma’ written by Whittier. Imagine singing seventeen verses … there would be enough time to cover the collection in a very large church ! 

‘The Brewing of Soma’ was a poem written by Whittier to highlight the weaknesses that he saw in the Christian worship.  Soma was a drug used in Whittier’s time in Hindu religious practice to get the people into a drug- induced frenzy. Whittier likened this in his poem to the ascetic practices of the Catholic Church waving incense or the over-energetic practices of the evangelicals. He believed that worship should be God-centred and that this meant ‘centering-down’ (as the Quaker’s call it) and that too much incense or waving of arms was detrimental to worship. Quiet and contemplation, he believed, would help the Christian to find peace in the presence of God.  As a curate I was licensed to six country parishes in Cambridgeshire and I could be swinging incense at 10 am and singing choruses and clapping at an 11 am service just five miles away. It is one of the greatest strengths of the Anglican Church that we can embrace so many diverse forms of worship !

I have always wondered whether Whittier meant the word ‘ordered’ to be a positive or a negative word. 

‘And let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace’. 

I have found that whenever I have sought order in my life God makes a demand of me that upsets everything. Just as I seem to have order in my life the Lord demands that I leave it all and start again. Perhaps what I consider to be ‘order’ is not that at all? Perhaps that’s why flesh has to retire and senses dumbed.

I have certainly found that God often speaks in that ‘still small voice of calm’ and this hymn holds a special place in many people’s hearts because we would all love that ‘simple trust like theirs who heard beside the Syrian Sea’ . 

  • Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
  • Forgive our foolish ways
  • Re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
  • in purer lives thy service find,
  • in deeper reverence, praise,
  • in deeper reverence praise
  • In simple trust like theirs who heard,
  • beside the Syrian sea,
  • the gracious calling of the Lord,
  • let us, like them, without a word,
  • rise up and follow thee,
  • rise up and follow thee.
  • O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
  • O calm of hills above,
  • where Jesus knelt to share with thee
  • the silence of eternity,
  • interpreted by love!
  • interpreted by love!
  • Drop thy still dew of quietness,
  • till all our strivings cease,
  • take from our souls the strain and stress,
  • and let our ordered lives confess
  • the beauty of thy peace;
  • the beauty of thy peace.
  • Breathe through the heats of our desire
  • thy coolness and thy balm;
  • let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
  • speak through the earthquake , wind and fire,
  • O still, small voice of calm;
  • O still, small voice of calm.
Church Life

Day 6 – Tony

When Ingrid was a class tutor at Sir William Romney’s School in Tetbury there was something of a running joke with her class. At the end of every tutor group meeting, Ingrid would send them off with the words, “Stay Safe!” It became something of a catchphrase and the kids would be disappointed they didn’t get the ‘proper’ send-off.

Last week, I found myself using this phrase as a regular sign off on my e-mails and messages. Indeed, I have noticed that I am certainly not the only one and “Stay Safe!” has now become a fairly regular ending to messages. I am sure that I will, on occasions, continue to use it myself but some of you might have noticed that I have sometimes added “Stay Hopeful!”

In my sermon last week and also (spoiler alert) in my sermon for this Sunday, I have made mention of the importance of Hope in my own spiritual life. Everyone, if sensible, can take measures that greatly increase the chance of them staying safe but, in so doing, they can also feel that they are cutting themselves off from all those things that make life enjoyable. For people in that situation, I pray that they might find true Hope; a vision of life enfolded in God’s love where the future is sure – even if the details are somewhat blurred.

Finally, and simply because I found it amusing, I leave you with a video of a South Gloucestershire acapella folk group called The Longest Johns doing their bit to encourage us to “Stay Safe!”