The Green Church
A few weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage. It was one of my regular visits to the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway, a preserved railway that runs beneath the escarpment of the Cotswolds from Broadway to Gloucester. This is a part of the world I first encountered almost 50 years ago, when I was a member of the walking club at school and we did the Cotswold Way. On my regular visits to the railway, I have always seen the signs to Hailes Abbey, which lies close to the line and the name resonated with me from the walking club days. I could actually remember very little about the site, but on this visit to the railway, I made the short diversion on my way home to visit it.
I have to say, first impressions were not favourable. I did wonder if it was really worth spending £7 when all that seemed to be standing were just four walls of the cloister, the quadrangle next to the church where the monks would study. But I did pay. What really struck me was not these walls, but the vast green space next to it, carefully marked out by the mower, that was where the church had stood. I followed what would have been the processional route, through the main door of the nave, beneath where the tower would have stood, to what would have been the high altar where the priest would have celebrated the mass. I tried to be devout, to imagine what it would have been like to lead Holy Communion, not with much success. There was something about just being in that space that seemed to be the really important emotion, not my own analysis.
In the weeks that followed, I have found my thoughts coming back to the vast green space; empty, tranquil and somehow special. In my mind, the place remains holy, even though the building has long gone; perhaps it has become even more the dwelling place of God now there are no walls and it is open to the sky and all sides. Given the present traumas all around us, I am grateful that it is place I can revisit in my mind, to refresh my soul.
Rev David Poyner
And so the nightmare in Israel and Gaza continues. I really have no words that are adequate, perhaps a truly honest posting would finish at this point. But there is one detail this week that has lodged in my mind. Something that does not seem to have been reported in all the coverage about the terrible rocket attack on the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital is that it is administered by Episcopalian Church in Jerusalem; the Anglican (ie Church of England) church in the Middle East. It was founded in 1882 by the Church Missionary Society, the missionary society of the Church of England. At its core, are the Christian values of love and service, although it offers care to all, regardless of creed or nationality. Within the church, we often speak of ourselves being the “body of Christ”, the people who attempt to do the Christ-like work in the world, bring the Christ-light into the world. So often this just seems to be words; just ocassionally I can see it in happening.
Rev David Poyner
Despair and Hope in the Middle East
Then the soldiers led Jesus into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus]. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’
Rev David Poyner
Over the last few weeks I have attended a number of events organised by our local churches that might be termed “social gatherings”. A coffee morning at Billingsley a month ago, a breakfast at the Down organised by Glazeley and Chetton churches, the harvest supper at Chelmarsh. None of these are explicitly “religious” gatherings; the nearest we came was when I said grace at the harvest supper. The coffee morning and the breakfast are to raise money for the churches; the harvest supper is simply to thank the local community for supporting the church. However, for me the most important thing that all these events do is to bring people together. It is always a pleasure to see new faces at them. For the most part, these people will not come to church and may have no formal religious faith at all. However, we welcome them as part of our community, no matter what they may or may not believe, following the insight of the Hebrew scriptures that we are connected as we are all made in God’s image. As a vicar, I believe that God is at work in these gatherings every bit as much in a church service. There are words (sometimes) attributed to the poet William Blake which speak to me about this; “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see; I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three”.
Rev David Poyner
Sexual relationships have been much in the news over the last couple of weeks. There has been GB News, where a presenter spoke of how no “self respecting man” would want to sleep with a female journalist, whose views he did not share. And still the story of Russell Brand continues; the allegations that he had intercourse with women against their will. He of course denies these and so they remain unproven; his defence was that he was “very, very promiscuous” but all his relationships were fully consensual.
I used to take the line that what two consenting adults did in the privacy of the bedroom was their own business, provided it did not break the law. To some extent, I still have that view. But St Paul in particular, warned strongly against lust and the “desires of the flesh”. In his world, at least in the higher echelons of society, casual sex was often the norm; a means of self-gratification and a way of advancing oneself. Paul rejected this as it was simply lust without love, without any consideration of the long-term effects of a series of casual relationships might have on either person. Mr Brand last came to general attention when he recorded a mocking interview with Andrew Sachs, about how he had slept with his granddaughter. Brand eventually apologised to Sachs; my understanding is that the unfortunate granddaughter was a vulnerable adult with an addiction problem, in no position to give effective consent. To Brand’s credit, it has been reported that he eventually apologised to her as well and paid for her treatment for addiction. But perhaps this illustrates the problem with saying that being “very, very promiscuous” is OK as long as it is consensual; one person’s self gratification can so easily be at the expense of the others wellbeing. Paul knew this.
Rev David Poyner