Sermon on the Transfiguration, August 8th 2021, from Rev’d Ian Tattum

The story of The Transfiguration is read twice every year: once in Lent, and the other time, now, in August. Because of the timing of the festival of the Transfiguration on the 6th of August, it became associated with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – on the 6th and 9th of August 1945, respectively.

Those of us who were around in the 1960s and 1970s will recall the fear of nuclear annihilation suspended over us like the sword of Damocles, and the appalling death toll and nature of the obliteration in a ball of incandescent fire haunting the world. We lived with an historical and potential future Transfiguration of a terrible kind, where lives were snuffed out by a blinding light, and sinister cinder silhouettes were, in places, all that remained – a type of anti- transfiguration, in which life is consumed by a destructive, man-made light.

The Gospel story, of course is about God’s glory shining out upon Christ and being witnessed by a tiny group of disciples. However, the church has rarely understood this passage as being just about Jesus; it has seen it as also about the experience of the disciples, and by extension, of all believers – including us. And I think we sometimes fail to make that connection. Partly to blame might be the cautious habits of those who have seen themselves as being responsible for making sure that ‘ordinary’ people don’t get the wrong end of the stick or, even worse, slip into some kind of heresy. I mean those who expound the meaning and significance of a biblical event or saying in a way that can turn it into a thing, a matter or subject to form an opinion about, rather than a universal story of what it is like to be a Christian, or indeed a human being, living life in the shadow of mystery and revelation.

A reminder that most of the evidence we have leads to the conclusion that St Mark’s was the first gospel to be written: the main reason that is thought to be the case is that St Mathew and St Luke follow the same order as St Mark, and use many of the exact same words, but slip in little changes and other traditions of what Jesus has said. We know about all the long and most beloved parables thanks to Luke, for instance. But there is a directness about St Mark’s Gospel that sets it apart. One aspect of this is that the disciples closest to Jesus are painted warts and all. I heard a preacher once describe them as ‘a right shower’, and another came up with an ingenious explanation for this negative portrayal – that the gospels were written by the next generation of Christians who had become very critical of their predecessors. To me, a much better explanation is simply that they were all human beings, with faults and a tendency not to ‘get’ what was going on.

St Peter becomes the representative figure for the baffled Christian. He is called by Jesus, by the shores of Galilee, from his ordinary practical life as a fisherman. On the night Jesus is arrested he can’t keeps his eyes open whilst Jesus prays alone in the garden of Gethsemane, and he goes on to deny having anything to do with him to save his own neck. And in the account of The Transfiguration, when, in a vision, Christ’s identity flashes forth, when he is bathed in the divine Glory, St Peter seems to want to trap the moment. As Elijah and Moses also appear in the vision, St Peter suggests building each one a little mini Temple – a tabernacle, in which to stay. But, of course, such experiences are fleeting and the very essence of the Christian Gospel is that God is not a stationary God, but a fast God, an everywhere God.

We should not be too hard on St Peter. His confusion reminds me of St Francis, that other utterly human saint, who had a vision in the broken down church of San Damiano, where Christ told him to ‘repair my house.’ St Francis took him literally and rebuilt the church building, only later to realise that a renewal of the church’s spiritual life was needed. Was that physical rebuilding wasted or was it part of the journey?

The sort of mistakes, miscalculations, and misunderstandings that St Peter made are ones we all make. It is hard to carry the vision of Christ into our ordinary lives and in the face of a world which often treats it as folly. I continue to find inspiration in Edwin Muir’s poem The Transfiguration, which he wrote in the wake of World War 2 and as fresh anxieties were being generated by the dawn of the atomic age. We live in an age of anxiety again, so perhaps it speaks to all of us who, like St Peter, have glimpsed God’s vision for people and the whole of creation but sometimes, understandably, become heavy-hearted.

But he will come again, it’s said, though not
Unwanted and unsummoned; for all things,
Beasts of the field, and woods, and rocks, and seas,
And all mankind from end to end of the earth
Will call him with one voice…
Then he will come, Christ the uncruciified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled –
Glad to be so – and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree,
In a green springing corner of young Eden…

Sermon on Ephesians 4.1-16 from Rev’d Ian Tattum

‘I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.’

Those who think that this letter to the Ephesians was actually written by St Paul will point to the beginning of that sentence and say that the mention of being a prisoner dates it towards the very end of his life, when just before his execution, under the Emperor Nero, the great apostle was a prisoner in Rome.

Those who are unsure that St Paul did write it will point to the length of the sentence and say that it is very strange that at the very end of his life the apostle suddenly became longwinded and, unlike in any of his earlier letters, started writing in very long sentences.

Make what you will of these sorts of arguments (there are many more, and more complicated ones); perhaps it doesn’t really matter. The traditional Christian understanding of Scripture – whether the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament – is that the writing is inspired. Much of it, including some of the greatest bits – most of the psalms and the Book of Job, for example – are anonymous. The wisdom and the truth reside in what is written, not in the identity of the author. This isn’t as alien to our more modern ways of thinking as we might sometimes think. Only in cinema are you likely to come across, ‘Tolstoy’s War and Peace’, or ‘Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice’; usually, even if we care about the author, it is the creation that counts.

Holy Scripture is the work of many voices – many known, but many not. But we trust in it all being inspired – ‘God breathed’ – even if we can’t always say who is responsible for a particular bit. Bearing in mind its age, that isn’t at all surprising either!

There is one obvious exception though. Christians do put Jesus Christ at the centre. His life, example and teaching are seen as the most vital, in all senses of that word. Importantly, we see the entirety of His being as the heart of the matter.

Which brings me back to the letter to the Ephesians and the long sentence I began with. The more important question is not, ‘did St Paul write this?’ but ‘what wisdom does this contain about Jesus Christ and how can that inspire our lives?’

One of the reasons that many theologians have been divided as to whether St Paul actually wrote this letter concerns the way that it comes at themes which were central in Paul’s other letters, and which will be familiar to all of you, but gives them a twist. Once again you can see how that could be taken as St Paul, late in life, rethinking or reframing is earlier ideas, or as someone else taking those ideas and doing something slightly different with them.

Are we saved? Are we reconciled to God? By the faith we have in Jesus, or by what we do? That is the central question at the heart of the Reformation, which splintered the Church in Western Europe in the sixteenth century.

The writer of the letter to the Ephesians – who might have been St Paul – shifts the perspective slightly by flirting with the idea that it is God’s faithfulness which is decisive. He shifts the responsibility upwards, if you like, liberating the people he was writing to, and us, from a false dichotomy which has haunted the church to destruction and tortured those who fear they will be doomed, or at least deemed worthless, because they lack faith or are too flawed as human beings.

In this letter both faith and ethics are gifts initiated by a God who is, over and over again, described as kind and loving and, through Christ, the reconciler and bringer of peace. Seen in this light, the whole of this section of Ephesians can be seen as an inspiring summons to lead a Christ-guided love, shaped by that vision of a God, a loving parent.

‘I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.’

Our context might be very different from that of the letter’s original audience, but the letter still speaks eloquently of the difference being part of the church can make, but in a way which does not set us above, or condemn, those outside or beyond the walls. It is a very compelling and attractive vision of the beauty of a community modelled on a loving God and is well worth celebrating and seeking to embrace and nurture.

As the letter goes on, hopefully, you will notice that the peace that we share every Sunday echoes the vision expressed here for what it involves to be a Christian.

‘There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.’

Sermon on St James the Great Day, 2021 from Ian Tattum

During the first year that I was a student in London I was a lodger in a vicarage in Bethnal Green. I lived in the basement, and the church, which, sadly, is now closed, was dedicated to St James the Great.  From those days I can remember the odd conversation about the difference between St James the Great and St James the Less, who also had churches dedicated to him.

I discovered then that although little is really known about either of them, the James in question this morning was the brother of St John and had a very stormy temperament. He was one of that little group of inner disciples of Jesus, who were there from the beginning. He was witness to the Transfiguration and was one of those who could not stay awake with Jesus as he prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was also the first of the Apostles to be executed for his faith. It is quite intriguing, actually, that both saints are best known for things that came to be associated with their names after their deaths.

For St James the Less, it is the short but important New Testament letter attributed to him, and for St James the Great it is the world famous pilgrimage site in northern Spain at Santiago de Compostela. This is the place where, according to tradition, St James is believed to be buried and which has drawn millions of people over the centuries, since it became popular in the high Middle Ages.

I know I am not the only member of our church who has walked proudly into the cathedral there after a long journey. Even if, embarrassingly in my case, I came via coach and the P&O liner Canberra!

But I have spent a lot of Sunday mornings lately talking about people, so this morning I want to talk about a prayer: the psalm set for the day, number 126.

There is no doubt in my mind that the scholars who picked Psalm 126 for today did so because it has the language of a joyful pilgrimage. It captures the spirit of completing a pilgrimage, like the one to Santiago. When finally arriving, exhausted after a long and perilous journey, the traveller enters a beautiful sacred building and is filled with a suitable sense of thanksgiving and wonder.

‘we were like those who dream,
Then our mouth was filled with laughter
and our tongue with shouts of joy.’

From internal details we know that this psalm was written after the return of the people of Israel from exile and the reconstruction of the Temple in the fifth century BC, but festivals centred on its themes went back 500 years before that, to the time of Solomon’s Temple.

But the context was not quite the same as for our modern pilgrimages. People going on a Christian pilgrimage have gone out of a sense of adventure, or self-discovery, deep penitence, or in order to feel closer to God – Muslims who go on the Haj will say similar things about their pilgrimage to Mecca.

But many of the psalms originated in harvest festivals, of which there were three main ones: Passover, Pentecost and Booths. So these psalms were more about giving thanks to God for crops that fed the body and the heart. The grain harvest and the wine harvest were both celebrated in this way.

There is a powerful link with what we do in church when we celebrate the Last Supper. We call this service the Eucharist because that is the Greek for ‘thanksgiving’. And not only does it have bread and wine at its core, it also is about what God has done. Just as the psalm is a thanksgiving for both the return from exile in Babylon and the earlier liberation from Egypt – themes brought imaginatively together in reggae – the Eucharist is a thanksgiving for God’s action from creation until now. And it should be, like the psalm, a transformative moment of coming home, renewal and joy.

So let us read it or hear it again.

Psalm 126

1When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion
    we were like those who dream.
2Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.

4Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.
6Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.

Reflection on William Cowper from Revd Ian Tattum

Most people know the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ and almost as many will know, if not the hymn, the opening line of ‘God moves in a mysterious way’. The first by the ex-slave trader John Newton, and the second by the poet William Cowper.

There was a link between them which has a strong personal connection for me and one which I have found getting stronger as the years go by. That link is the little, but growing, Market Town in Buckinghamshire called Olney, where my parents and my brother still live and which was also the parish that supported me when, over thirty years ago, I first set off on the journey to see if I might have a calling to the priesthood. Newton and Cowper published both hymns together in the Olney hymn book in 1779. They were friends and collaborators who have, church and local history-wise, become metaphorically joined at the hip as a result. Newton is much better known because of the drama of his life, which has even been turned into a film: a boy sailor who was later press-ganged before rising up the ranks to captain a slave ship, converting to evangelical Anglicanism and becoming the vicar of Olney and an active and vociferous abolitionist. The theological plot of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, of being overwhelmed by the grace of God, repenting and having one’s soul renewed, is the story of his life!

Things are very different with Cowper. Most of the drama in his life was internal. He is remembered, if at all, as a provincial poet who retreated to the country after a shattering mental breakdown whilst studying law in London. To me, it is interesting that Newton, the penitent sinner, is more cherished than Cowper, the man who suffered in turn from catastrophic and chronic periods of mental illness but who developed a unique sensitivity to the world around him. He has often, rightly, been hailed as a forerunner and inspiration for the Romantic poets, but that has often meant that the richness of his own, profoundly Christian, vision has been overlooked.

That plaque on his old home in Olney, which is now the Cowper and Newton Museum, acclaims him as the translator of Homer, which he was, but much more besides. He was the favourite poet of Wordsworth but also one of the most often quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote a philosophical poem inspired by a sofa (pictured right, now on display at the Newton & Cowper Museum at Olney).

He befriended hares. He was a friend of fire and brimstone preachers like Newton and of the firebrand, pioneer feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

He was chronically mentally ill but a kind companion.

He walked miles around his home and noticed things and he was a writer of hymns which were forged out of deep personal trauma. ‘God moves in a mysterious way’ is not an optimistic declaration that with God it will be alright on the night, but a re-telling of the drama of the Book of Job, from the point of view of someone whose security had been similarly swept away but eventually finds a glimmer of solace and meaning in the wake of the storm.

water meadows in Olney

I too once walked around the fields of Olney in the grip of a depression that I feared would never subside.

Cowper was someone who suffered but was drawn by the experience into a deeper presence in the world, where everyday places and creatures became more significant, and people – he was as much disturbed by the cruelties of the lace-making industry in his own town as he was by the agonies of slaves.

Here are a few extracts from his poems that show the breadth of his sympathy, and I am sure you will not only get a glimpse into the past he inhabited but find echoes of your experience of the present, where we find ourselves bombarded by troubling news.

Here is a quite lengthy quotation from ‘The Task’, his poem written in 1784 inspired by his sofa and one of Jane Austen’s favourites. It probably isn’t quite what you would expect.

Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumour of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more! My ear is pained,
My soul is sick with every day’s report
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is filled.
There is no flesh in man’s obdurate heart,
It does not feel for man. The natural bond
Of brotherhood is severed as the flax
That falls under the touch of fire.
He finds his fellow guilty of a skin
Not coloured like his own.

You might have noticed the reference to the prophet Ezekiel slipped in there, where he hears the promise of God that he will change hearts of stone to hearts of flesh?

I mentioned earlier Martin Luther King, Jr.’s love of his poetry. Cowper wrote ‘The Negro’s Complaint’ in 1788. As it was set to music – to the tune of ‘Admiral Hosier’s Ghost’, or ‘As, near Porto-Bello lying’ – it could be seen as a protest song. And like the previous passage, it was rooted in a theological vision of the world.

Is there, as ye sometimes tell us,
Is there One who reigns on high?
Has He bid you buy and sell us,
Speaking from his throne the sky?

Ask him, if your knotted scourges,
Matches, blood-extorting screws,
Are the means that duty urges
Agents of his will to use?

Hark! He answers!—Wild tornadoes
Strewing yonder sea with wrecks.
…are the voice with which he speaks.

I will give just one more example that speaks of Cowper’s contemporary bite.  ‘The Poplar Field’ speaks to our increasing sensitivity to the loss of nature – not just the extinction of creatures we have only heard about through the media, but the destructions we witness locally and that change our place as they deprive us of sound and sight.

There are people who know trees so well that they can identify them from the distinct sound that their leaves make. If you ever listen to the sound of poplars in the breeze, you will know that this famous verse is not poetic whimsy but description. And the river Ouse is a mirror that witnesses any loss of greenery.

The poplars are fell’d, farewell to the shade
And the whispering sound of the cool colonnade,
The winds play no longer and sing in the leaves,
Nor Ouse on his bosom their image receives.

I wonder if having considered all the above we can hear or sing Cowper’s other famous hymn quite the way we did before. Our sense of what a closer walk with God might involve might have been enriched.

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame;
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!


Thoughts on the Birth of John the Baptist from Revd Ian Tattum

A warning to begin with. Be careful not to get your Herod’s muddled up. The King Herod who was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents was a client king of Rome who governed the province of Judea from 34 BC until close to the time Jesus was born. The Herod who had John the Baptist killed was one of his sons, Herod Antipas, who was put in charge of the province of Galilee by the Romans after his father’s death.

I know these things can be confusing – Herod Antipas had two brothers, who were also called Herod!

If you hear the name John the Baptist, I wonder what immediately springs to mind. Is it the scene where he plunges Jesus into the river of Jordan, even as he declares he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, or his eccentric diet or clothing – locusts and wild honey and camel hide? Certainly, when I was a child, it was that horrific image of his head being served up on a platter at one of Herod Antipas’ feasts.

John the Baptist was a forerunner of Christ, a prophet who divested himself of the trappings of civilization and status to be better placed to point to the failings of his powerful contemporaries, and eventually he became a martyr. There is testimony from outside the Gospels to his character and his fate in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, but Josephus is coy about why Herod Antipas had John killed, beyond saying that he feared his preaching might lead to a rebellion. So our richest sources of evidence are the Gospels themselves, but it is sometimes forgotten, not only how many details they give us, but more significantly, in my opinion, where they begin.

It is St Luke who tells us the most about the very beginning. The reading today is about John’s birth and naming, and the church festival we are celebrating is called the Birth of John the Baptist, but St Luke begins John’s story even before that.

If you were to open your Bible at the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel and read, the first thing you would come across is the author explaining that what you are about read is an orderly account, relying on eyewitnesses, but it doesn’t say, intriguingly of what. But then it plunges into the narrative, not in Nazareth, and without any mention of Mary or Joseph. Instead we read: ‘In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah.’ And he is a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem.

If that beginning has jogged your memory, then you might remember what happens next. An angel of the Lord appears to him, right next to the altar of incense. Just like other characters we know better because of the Christmas story, he is terrified and filled with fear. He is the first person, even before Mary herself, who is told by an angel – one we later hear is the angel Gabriel himself – ‘Do not be afraid.’

Zechariah hears how he is going to have a son who will be amazing and holy and filled with the Holy Spirit – how he will change the hearts of many. But because he does not believe this is possible, on account of his and his wife’s great age, he is struck dumb, but with the assurance that when his son is born he will get his voice back.

Something that leaps out at me about this account is that the overlap between what John the Baptist will do and what Jesus does is much greater than we always might notice. John the Baptist not only points the way and prepares the ground for Jesus, he covers the same territory.

A little historical mystery underlines this. When, in the famous meeting that later happens between the two pregnant women – Elizabeth, John’s mother to be, and Mary, Jesus’ mother to be – Elizabeth describes her son as leaping within her, and Mary responds by saying the words of the Magnificat. But in some early church writings these are described as Elizabeth’s words. You can see why there might have been the confusion.

Bringing down the powerful from their thrones and lifting the humble to their feet was something that both John and Jesus talked about and did. They both were challenging enough to the high and mighty to earn their murderous attention.

However, the distinction is always maintained. When Zechariah can speak again, and agrees to the naming of his son John, he too becomes a prophet who sees what is to be. John will prepare the ground, but it is Christ who will bring salvation by forgiveness. These are such beautiful words, with which Zechariah concludes his hymn:

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
    to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
    and guide our feet into the way of peace.

The fact that St Luke wrote both the Gospel with his name and the Book of Acts is not always given the attention it deserves. Otherwise we might notice the great themes that link the two parts. The story of salvation begins in the Temple in Jerusalem but it ends in Rome with Paul’s teaching. The Gospel begins small and provincial but flowers to the ends of the earth.

But more vitally to us, the Gospel relies on questioning and flawed human beings, who can struggle with belief – people like Zechariah, who literally had no words at one point, and St Paul, who is rarely short of them but describes himself as having a thorn in his flesh. We are called as we are, forgiven as we are, as we seek to embody the Gospel in our loves in response to that loving action of God.


Evelyn Underhill and other saints: sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity (20 June 2021) from Rev’d Ian Tattum

What is spirituality?

I assume you will have some ideas about this and expect that the spiritual dimension is one factor in your involvement with church. I don’t want to set about defining what the spiritual life is this morning using lots of abstract ideas. Instead, I want to approach it through personal experience and courageous lives – lives which I have found have helped me get a handle on spirituality, and which I hope will help you.

The trigger for doing something like this this morning is one of the characteristics of the Church of England which has been very prominent during the last few days: the practice of remembering on most days – not just big name saints, like St Barnabas himself – but other people who have wrestled with the big questions in life and put into words and lived in ways that have gone some way towards providing answers. This last week there has been an amazing person, or people, every day, many of whom will be unfamiliar to most of us. And yet all have been the subject of studies and books and have influenced and impacted – and this is no exaggeration – millions.

Take Wednesday for example. The 16th of June is the feast of someone who is less remembered as an actual living person than for a prayer he wrote, or to make matters even more confusing, for a bit of a prayer he wrote:

O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

This is the second half of a prayer by Richard of Chichester – a Bishop from the thirteenth century. His prayer is actually a very good place to start, as it is a prayer to Christ for guidance on the spiritual path, to seek His help in calming the storms which afflict our inner lives and assault the landscape of the world.

Evelyn Underhill, who we remembered on Tuesday, was one of the most influential members of the Church of England last century. She was a self-educated scholar and theologian who thought deeply about interiority – the inner spiritual life, which she was certain was not the preserve of monks and nuns but something every person had a duty to develop. She was one of the people who led the retreat movement, which gave ordinary people the chance to step aside from the business of life to pray and to re-connect with themselves.

As someone who spent a number of years working in a retreat house, I can testify that opportunities to do this stepping back were often more a life-line and a necessity than a luxury. Our guests sometimes came from tough parts of the inner city where they had to face heart-breaking situations and angry people every day. I can say without hesitation I witnessed people returning to the fray, the storm, restored.

But here is a flavour of Underhill’s wisdom, which I came across in a brilliant new anthology of women’s writing on nature and which I think brings it bang up to date concerning the relationship we humans have with creation. She is setting out another way of seeing and relating:

What would it mean for a soul who truly captured it; this life in which the emphasis should lie…on the messages the world pours in on us, instead of on the sophisticated universe into which our clever brains transmute them? Plainly, it would mean the achievement of a new universe, a new order of reality: escape from the terrible museum-like world of daily life, where everything is classified and labelled, and all the graded fluid facts which have no label are ignored. It would mean…the direct sensation of life having communion with life: that the scents of ceasing rain, the voice of the trees, the deep softness of a kitten’s fur…should be in themselves profound, complete, and simple experiences…

It is interesting how, for many people, this sort of spiritual outlook is more associated with the East than, as in Evelyn Underhill’s case, the West, and in her case Hampstead out of Clapham. So, fortunately, yesterday the church remembered Sundar Singh, an extraordinary man who was born in the Punjab in 1889 to a Sikh family and was immersed in that tradition, Hinduism and Christianity. His attitude to the latter was not always so positive, as he allegedly got so annoyed with compulsory Scripture at his church school that he protested by burning a copy of the New Testament. In later life he wandered wide and far, living a simple life, like a Hindu mystic, a sadhu, but instead teaching about Christ. He mysteriously disappeared in Tibet in 1929, and it is believed that he was murdered. The thing is that his spiritual path was attractive and objectionable in equal measure. Indians of Hindu background could listen to him because he did not come to them trailing colonialist condescension, but as a humble man sharing a vision of the divine; but others, including the church authorities, thought that he was dangerously independent.  But his spirituality was perfectly aligned with that of the great early Christian saints – although with somewhat more humour:

Some people become tired at the end of ten minutes of prayer. What will they do when they have to spend Eternity in the presence of God? We must begin the habit here and become used to being with God.

And finally, on Thursday we remembered Samuel and Henrietta Barnett. Samuel was a priest in the Church of England, but it was Henrietta who seems to have been the driving force behind many of their remarkable achievements. Of which I will mention only a few.

At first glance, the Barnetts were at the other end of the scale to Evelyn Underhill. They were highly activist. Rather than stilling the inner storm, they set about trying to still the storm of poverty and the great gulf between the privileged and the poor. They set up Toynbee Hall in 1885 where successful Oxbridge students in particular could come and live and work with the poor. These students brought with them free legal skills and educational expertise but also gained an understanding of people’s struggles and made friends with people they would not normally meet. It is claimed that Pierre de Coubertin was inspired by the social mixing he experienced at Toynbee Hall to set up the Olympic Games. Clement Attlee and William Beveridge also had their ideas shaped there.

Other projects hatched by the Barnetts included the garden city movement and The Whitechapel Gallery – both initiated with the intention of liberating souls cramped by poverty and anxiety.

One of the things that makes me proud to be a member of the Church of England is the example of such people. All set themselves the same task, but went about it in diverse but equally inspiring ways. This task could be articulated by words from our collect prayer today, which in turn could inspire us.

Almighty God, you have…sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father:
give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God.

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We are delighted to be welcoming back regular group activities, both for children and for adults.

As of April 23, 2022, we will have limited availability for party hire.  For the time being, we are prioritizing users who live in the parish of St Barnabas or are church members, as we want to support our local community as we come out of Covid restrictions.  Click here for details.

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