The Parish Magazine of St Faith`s Church, Great Crosby
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From The Ministry Team
AN IMPOSSIBLE GOD
‘Never preach about the Trinity - congregations find it much too difficult.’. So I was advised when I was training as a Reader. Presumably writing on the subject is just as hazardous! And yet perhaps something needs to be said. As we found out during the Emmaus course, many of us have real difficulty in believing in a three-in one God. The whole idea, as they say in Liverpool, ‘does your head in’! And easy explanations, like the three-leafed clover and the ‘ice, water, vapour’ analogy don’t seem to get us very far. Its tempting to think that it would be easier and simpler to have a ‘one person God’ like the Unitarians. And Moslems find the idea that there are three Persons in the Godhead to be close to polytheism, and therefore heresy. So how can we come to terms with this ungainly, impossible concept of God, a concept which nevertheless lies at the heart of Christianity?
To start with, we have to accept that the nature of God Is bound to be Just a little bit difficult for us to understand. After all, if there were nothing mysterious, unknowable, ‘other’, about Him, then He would not be God. But perhaps the easiest way to approach the Trinity is to remember how people of faith have experienced ‘God’ down the centuries. Most fundamentally, as human beings, we recognise Him as our Creator, as the source and sustainer of all existence, of all life. We meet Him in Jesus His son, who by becoming flesh and blood has taken our humanity up into the Godhead, and has made us children of God and part of the heavenly family. And we experience Him as Spirit, as the love-power who fills individuals and communities with the warmth and the fire of the divine nature. And yet these experiences cannot be separated, since in all of them the same undivided love, which lies at the heart of the universe, is revealed to us.
The Orthodox churches have a vision of the Trinity which will help us. If you have time, please read Genesis 18. It tells the story of how the Lord appeared to Abraham as three travellers needing hospitality. While Abraham was entertaining them outside his tent the visitors promised that they would return again in the spring. When they did so, Sarah, Abraham’s aged and infertile wife, would have a son! Sarah, lurking behind the tent-flap, overheard this conversation and started giggling — the whole idea was so outrageous!
There is a wonderful 15th century icon of the ‘Hospitality of Abraham’. On the Parish Retreat we were all given a copy of this picture; it shows the three visitors sitting at table. There is a fourth empty place and it is for you. The truth behind the Trinity is that within the Godhead there is a community of love, a mutual exchange of love, which is ours to share. That community of love is the inspiration and the model for all human societies, induding the Church. And that love gives us, as it gave Sarah, the joyful hope of new life.
Maybe it takes an impossible God to make impossible things happen to us, and to the world. Maybe no other sort of God could make us burst out laughing at the sheer outrageousness of His generosity.
• SUNDAY 28th JULY at 5.00 pm
Barbecue for Choir and Altar Servers of St Mary’s and St Faith’s in the Vicarage garden.
Holy Days in August
• TUESDAY 6th AUGUST
THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD
9.30 am Holy Eucharist with hymns.
•THURSDAY 15th AUGUST
THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
8.00 pm SOLEMN EUCHARIST followed by wine in the Vicarage garden.
Preacher. The Reverend Irene Cowell (Rector of Sefton.)
• SUNDAY 18th AUGUST at 4.00 pm
Barbecue for St Mary’s and St Faith’s congregations in the Vicarage Garden. Bouncy Castle! Tickets on sale soon.
Services during August
The only public recitation of the Divine Office will be Morning Prayer on Mondays at 10.00 am.
There will NOT be a 7.30 pm Eucharist on Thursdays during August. Other services as usual.
With reference to Neil’s opening letter in the May issue of Newslink, I endorse wholeheartedly the need for the Diocese to provide realistic training and understanding for parishes joining a United benefice. As I have openly mentioned on many occasions, St Mary’s had the advantage over St Faith’s, we having had the experience of being united with Christ Church for ten years after the retirement of Revd Charles Pennell.
When it was first suggested that we would probably have to ‘share’ a
Vicar with another Church, together with not knowing which one, we
very disillusioned: there were two different factions — some members of
congregation strongly disagreed and the rest of us were prepared to accept the situation, as it was the only solution that the Diocese was prepared to offer!
Admittedly there were problems, but nothing unsurmountable. A few members from both churches stopped attending but, by and large, everything fell into place after the Revd Ray Hutchinson was appointed Vicar to Christ Church and St Mary’s. There were changes, of course there were, for how else are we to make progress? Ray had a really rough time for the first two years (so he told me!) and then everything seemed to settle down. There was criticism, but isn’t there always? Eventually we built up an excellent relationship between our two churches, and even now, five years since Ray left, that friendship is still strongly evident.
I feel that St Mary’s and St Faith’s Churches are now benefitting from being a United Benefice. There are differences of course, but the gap has gradually become narrower, thanks to Neil and his team. There will always be slight diefferences, human nature being what it is. Personally, I could never call Neil ‘Father’, and there is certainly no disrespect intended, but as far as my reasoning goes, my earthly father passed away a few years ago, and I have yet to meet my heavenly Father.
Since our Churches were united I have got to know so many lovely
belonging to St faith’s, previously just nodding acquaintances or even
strangers; and not forgetting the additional benefit our Church has
from the visits of Dennis, Joyce, Fred and Jackie, and also your
monthly Newslink Magazine.
‘From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me - holy is his name.’ (Luke 1)
Earlier this week, I mapped out in my mind roughly what I wanted to say this evening. If you are shocked that I should leave it so late before starting, remember that I don’t usually start Sunday morning’s sermon until late on Saturday evening! Essentially, my sermon plan hung around a quote that I thought I’d read in one of the histories of St Faith’s. So, late last night, I got out both the George Houldin history of the first fifty years, and then Chris Price’s seventy five years. I have to admit that I’d forgotten much of the early history of the parish - an often stormy past with its ups and downs. But there was the lighter side, too.
Chris picked out comments from the Service Register, where two comments were juxtaposed. On one occasion, it read ‘Mattins: Rev. R F G Smethwick appointed Rural Dean’ and at Evensong the same day ‘Dead March in Saul for Rural Dean’. And even better was the evening when the choir sang the anthem ‘And behold there was great earthquake’ and a marginal note beside it which read ‘Stormy Night’. But best of all ‘Rev. W A Reeves at Sefton’ and ‘Very Wet” I will, of course, be checking the register after tonight’s service -just in case...
I got so side-tracked that I never did find the quotation I was looking for. It concerned the early days, and particularly the strong local feeling that the creation of St Faith’s first caused. This was a largely Protestant, evangelical area, and the introduction of St Faith’s was, by marked contrast, unashamedly Anglo-Catholic. The quotation I was searching for said, in effect, that the local people remained suspicious about the practices that they thought might be going on inside this building, and so stayed away in large numbers. They simply didn’t have the courage to find out for themselves. Reading the history again, I’m inspired by the courage of those who came along in the first place to find out for themselves.
If all that seems a little extreme, think again. I suspect the reason why we get so few new people coming to church these days is not that they don’t want to come, because there is a significant interest in spirituality around, but because they are afraid of coming in alone. They won’t know where to sit, and are afraid of doing something wrong, causing others to point at them or laugh It’s a mixture of suspicion and fear of the unknown. And it’s not limited to those who never come. Part of our human frailty is to be suspicious of the unknown. Of course, once we cross the threshold, the fear is beaten and we take great comfort in our new-found situation.
Looking round tonight, there are lots of furnishings and fixtures that have been introduced since the building was consecrated. One of the most glorious of all is the triptych hanging above the altar. If it was suggested that it should be removed, there would rightly be an outcry. But listen to what was written at the time it was installed: ‘This wonderful work of art set the district aflame again, for such a treasure was not to be found in any Anglican church anywhere. The central panel came in for much criticism for being completely “Popish”.’ What was once a source for deep suspicion has now become one of the great treasures of this church
Tonight, we meet to give thanks to God for the life and example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I suspect, if we are honest, that Mary falls into the same category of suspicion that I’ve just been talking about. Many Anglicans, even today, look with deep suspicion on anyone who nurses an affection for Mary in their spiritual life. Despite the huge steps forward that have been taken in the name of ecumenism, this is one of a few sticking points that many people seem unwilling or unable to pass.
And that’s a shame. It’s a shame for two reasons. First, I think we
should have the confidence and the courage to try new experiences.
tried them, we may then decide that they don’t speak to us, or don’t
us, but to dismiss them out of hand means missing a potentially
aid to our spiritual journey. And secondly, I think it says something
the fact that we are more open to other people’s prejudices than we
It suggests that we don’t want to be marked out as different, so take
easier route of sticking with the crowd. I think I’m simply saying,
up your own mind and try it out for yourself.
Here at St Faith’s, there has been a long and time-honoured history of learning from the lives of the saints as we try to grow in faith. I guess the collective knowledge of St Faith, for example, held by this congregation, is second to none. And in the mother of our Lord, there is a great deal we can learn that will help us on our pilgrimage towards the Father. The saints are signposts on our journey, and the rich variety of their lives points us in the direction that leads to God. Mary readily accepted God’s calling, even though she can’t have understood a fraction of the true implication that went with it.
Mary also showed great fidelity in her life. Simeon wasn’t far wrong when he told Mary that a sword would pierce her own soul, too. For a mother to stand at the foot of the cross on which her own son was being crucified is taking fidelity to the ultimate. 0 that we could have a fraction of her faithfulness, or even of her ready acceptance of the will of God.
For me, one of the signs of Mary’s true saintliness can be found at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Knowing there’s nothing she can do herself when the wine runs out, she simply hands the problem over to Jesus, certain that he can do something. How often do we pray without ever expecting that anything will ever come of it? Yet if we offer our prayers to God, in the way of the Blessed Virgin, we too should expect the almighty to do great things, for holy is his name.
Mary was, above all things, human - and that too should give us great hope -for if Mary could do it, so can we, with the grace of God. Mary ought to be given a place in our hearts, no matter what our background or tradition, because she is the epitome of all we strive to be.
And our response to his love and his grace? Simply to do as Mary did, as we magnify the Lord, today and for evermore.
Saturday 13th July at 12.30 pm following the lunchtime recital
When Christians consider the way they give financially to the Church, many try to take as their inspiration the Biblical principle of ‘tithing’, that is, giving a tenth of what they have to the Church. Often many parishes try to do the same with their money (to give away 10% of what they have) to charities, whether home or overseas.
For many parishes - certainly S. Faith’s and S. Mary’s - that is quite difficult when we are constantly raising money to pay the bills! However, after a few years of not being able to give anything away we managed at S. Faith’s to give away our Christmas collections to Afghanistan and we have raised the best part of £3,000 for Malawi since Easter, so our outside giving is I think back on a healthy and realistic footing - we must thank God for that (and of course thank our Treasurer for her diligent book-keeping).
The idea of the CHARITY FUN DAY is that members of both our churches work together towards a day which can be great fun (what could give you more pleasure than a good BBQ hamburger, spending half an hour in the beer tent and then throwing a wet sponge at the Vicar?) but would also be an opportunity to give to charity. Four charities have been chosen - JOSPICE, Save the Children Fund, Malawi and the Tandanani Senior School in South Africa.
All ideas and offers of help gratefully received, whether you come
church regularly or not! This can be and will be a great community
If you can make something or donate something — whatever it is — please
let us know. Many of the stalls will need prizes - raffle, bingo,
etc - so please do what you can to help. There may be a stall which you
can run which isn’t yet included. Let me know!
Lastly - please support this event and publicise it as widely as you
The Lord Runcie Memorial Window is at last installed and dedicated.
That simple sentence hides more than a little anxiety over the months,
weeks and days leading up to Wednesday, May 15th last. Those who have
the saga of the window from its inception as a tentative idea in the
following Lord Runcie’s death two years ago will know something of the
lengthy process of gestation since those early days. Through floating
idea, costing it, discussing what it should feature, commissioning it,
raising money for it (E6,000, since you ask!), getting permission for
chasing it up and finally watching it being put in, there have been not
a few anxious moments.
it is no secret that there were from the start those who, quite understandably and in good faith, expressed concern about the rightness of asking for money for a decorative luxury when the church’s mission seemed to need the money more. Indeed, at one PCC meeting the prospect of putting the whole project on indefinite hold seemed quite likely. In the end, of course, every penny of the cost came from friends, members and well-wishers of Lord Runcie and St Faith’s, past and present, and the only cost to the church was in terms of blood sweat, toil and (almost) tears, not least from this writer!
Once the project was established, the faculty granted and the cash
the bank, the worries were transferred to its designers and
Long periods of silence from the firm finally resulted in the
of the various pieces of coloured glass and wire on the Monday before
there followed two intensive days of work, hacking out, making good, strengthening crumbling stonework, putting in place, boarding-up and unboarding and the fixing of protection. It transpired that Linda Walton of Design Lights Stained Glass, to whom we are vastly indebted for her creative enterprise and artistic imagination, had actually only started the work some three weeks before the installation date: it is perhaps as well for our blood pressure that we only found this out as the installation was under way! And then, as quite a few people now know, close scrutiny of the finished product revealed two transposed words in part of the text, and an intrusive apostrophe in another part: anathema not least to an English teacher! Following urgent representations, the faults were corrected and only the photos I took at the time remain as evidence of this final trauma.
The service: Festal Evensong, Dedication of the Window and Benediction, was a wonderful occasion: dignified, colourftil, musical and moving at all times. Our thanks are due to Fr Neil for his invariable liturgical skills, to the choir and servers for their usual professionalism in performance, and to Bishop James Jones for presiding, preaching, dedicating and giving a smoke-wreathed Benediction: all the rich panoply of Anglo-Catholic ritual, in fact, as if to the manner born. The service was full of joyful thanksgiving, and the superb spread afterwards added to the delight of a vintage evening: undoubtedly one of the Great St Faith’s Occasions.
The pictures will tell something of the story in black and white to those who cannot get to St Faith’s. Many of those who contributed have by now received a colour picture: anyone who hasn’t, or would welcome one, is invited to get in touch with me. It only remains for me to offer renewed thanks to the many people who have made this memorial possible. What we have created is a thing of power and beauty which, I feel, has changed St Faith’s for the better and for all time. It is easy to miss the window as you enter church. But to catch sight of it as you leave the Chapel of the Cross, look down the aisle from the Lady Chapel or simply turn round in the pew to see who has just come in is to get a shock of delighted recognition. The colours, especially in the afternoon and evening when the sun is westering, glow wonderfully and make the south west corner of St Faith’s more like a cathedral or a medieval church.
The very real gratitude of St Faith’s, then, to all who, with me,
helped to bring this project to its triumphant conclusion. To those who
gave their ideas, their money, their talents, their moral support and
time to the planning and funding of the window; to those who in any way
helped to make Mayl5th so memorable; to those who over the years,
St Faith’s at its altars or finding their vocation here, are here
and especially to Robert Alexander Kennedy Runde, Archbishop of
and always much-loved and loving friend of our church: on all these
light now shines in the images of the Lord Runde Memorial Window.
Lord, how can mart preach thy eternall word?
He is a brittle crazy glasse:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.
But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy stone,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preachers; then the light and glrnie
More rev’rend grows, and more doth win;
Which else shows watrish, bleak and thin.
Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and awe: but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the care, not the consdence ring.
(The 16th century poet George Herbert abandoned a 1ife of social position and pleasure to become a much-loved Anglican parish priest. He wrote widely on religious themes, including these verses on the significance of stained glass windows to the Christian life. Ed.)
Just a short note to say how much I enjoyed the Service of Dedcication, and to admire the beautiful window. There was a feeling of anticipation when I first walked into the church, followed by the superb singing of the choir and organ music. I didn’t stay for the refreshments, but I heard they were superb too. I’m sure the choir would be gasping for that glass of wine (Or two. Or three. Ed.). A big thank you to all who helped to make the service such a memorable one. I’m sure Lord Runcie was there in spirit too. It was a great privilege to be part of it.
PS I was able to meet up with Mona Turmer too after many years.
Thank you very much, as always, for Newslink and especially, of course, for sending me a copy of the Dedication Service and the lovely photograph of the Runcie Memorial Window. I thought of you all on May 15th and so wish I could have been with you on that very special day, with all the fond memories it would have had for me of St Faith’s and ‘Bobbie’ Runcie, as we then knew him. And it was touching to see photos of Jessie Gale and Audrey McCulloch whom I remember so well. But sadly my travelling days are over and such long expeditions are now more than I can cope with.
It is many years since I began my ministry at St Faith’s, in 1938, with dear Fr John Schofield, but I shall always remember those early days with the greatest affection and gratitude.
(Fr Bob Honner. Ed.)
Anglicans at the Top of Britain Chris Price
Over the years, during my journeyings to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, I have visited quite a few of the places of worship in various far-flung communities. To look round, and to worship in, these places is an intriguing experience. Severe and extreme Protestantism holds sway in a good many areas (too many, actually): especially the north west Highlands and the northernmost Hebrides. In those places everything doses for the sabbath (even the lavatories are locked: no relief for the visitor!), many B and B establishments dose, and the ferries don’t run (even quite recently a minister led a protest against an attempt to run a Sunday ferry by lying down on the slipway). The services are often in Gaelic and are the ultimate in ‘hymn/prayer sandwich’ worship, with long and fierce sermons; this writer has yet to darken the doors of such a church.
The established church in Scotland is of course, the Church of Scotland (the Kirk), whose services are not unlike those of the Methodists or the U.R.C. south of the border. On the island of Coil we once attended the morning service on Pentecost Sunday: it was homely, welcoming and worshipful, but not until afterwards did we realise that neither in the hymns, the prayers or the sermon was there a single mention of the Holy Spirit!
The Anglican Communion in Scotland is represented by the Episcopal Church (the ‘Piskies’), in full communion with the C of E and with ancient roots in Scottish Christendom. Identified with the English gentry (they are also labelled the ‘English Church’), they are in fact thoroughly Scottish and, although few in numbers, have congregations throughout the country and its islands. Outside the cities and the lowlands, where people are spread thinly, one priest often covers vast areas and covers huge mileages bringing the sacraments to handfuls of folk, sometimes in shared churches and people’s houses. On our travels, Angie, Lillie Wilmot and I have worshipped at Oban Cathedral and a good many smaller churches, and, on our recent pilgrimage to the Shetlands, encountered the Episcopal congregations there.
The Church of St Magnus in Lerwick has a resident male priest and an assistant female priest, covering two churches. Despite the churchmanship here and throughout the Episcopal church being reassuringly Catholic (plenty of candles, robed crucifers and choirs, vestments and sometimes even a whiff of holy smoke), they have seemingly no problems with women priests and indeed seem likely to see their first woman bishop before long.
We dropped in on a coffee morning in their hail on the previous day, were made very welcome and learnt, during the notices on the Sunday, that they had raised some £1,500 on the day (helped by much raffle ticket selling!). It all seemed reassuringly (or do I mean depressingly?) Anglican: a small congregation, subdued singing, far more women than men, hardly any young people and a cash crisis...
The honour of being the northernmost congregation in the Anglican Church goes not to St Magnus, but to the little church of St Colman on the island of Yell, only some few miles south, as the crow (or the borixie) flies, from Muckle Flugga and the barren rocks that are the first landfall south of the Arctic Circle, and round which we sailed on a wildlife cruise. We called in (and signed in, leaving greetings from St Faith’s) at this lovely little church.
But there is an Anglican presence a little further north again. On
little island of Fetlar there can be found 5011, the Society of Our
of the Isles:
an Anglican sisterhood founded in recent years to bring the religious life back to the northern isles. Time did not allow a visit there, but I have been reading the books of Mother Mary Agnes, foundress and for seven years sole member of the order and recently herself priested, and will tell something of her fascinating story in that remote and beautiful place at another time.
Shetland is a wonderful place: all sea and islands, with the biggest
oil terminal in Europe to bring it prosperity, fund a swimming pool for
every 2,000 inhabitants and build fine roads to link the many isolated
settlements. Its cliffs are ‘seabird city’, peopled by puffins,
terns and gannets (and those bonxies); its people look to Norway rather
than to Scotland and burn a replica Viking Longship in the dead of
it has a fully-furnished bus-shelter with its own website, where this
ate cucumber sandwiches and sang, as instructed, the National Anthem on
Jubilee Monday; its places have abrupt and harsh Nordic names like
Unst and Skaw; it is a midge- and bagpipe-free zone; it lies further
than Bergen in Norway, which for its northernmost inhabitants, is the
railway station; its people are relaxed and so very friendly - and,
it lacks the unyielding intolerance of the sabbatarian ‘free’ church
further south. Its quiet ecumenism and lack of fanatical excess
complement the scenic beauty of these distant islands at the very Top
I find it quite amazing that, by the time this edition of Newslink is distributed I shall have completed my last residential and had my last lecture of the second year at Luther King House on the Northern Ordination Course. The second year seemed to fly by and I’m sure next year will go just as quickly. With God’s grace I hope by then to be looking forward and preparing for ordination. The prospect is quite uplifting but is also quite scary - I hope and pray that I am able to fulfill God’s will for me wherever I may be placed as a curate. I should know very soon where I shall be going, it will be a real wrench after 50+ years as a member of St Faith’s and I pray that the clergy and congregation there will be as supportive as you have all been.
I have recently completed my 2nd year placement at Jospice in Thornton after a period of four months. I learnt so much from the staff and the patients. It was an extremely humbling experience and a great privilege to share some of the last moments of a person’s life. I once read that with God, death is merely a comma and not a full stop. I think this analogy is so apt. I met some wonderful people who really touched my life in a very special way and I hope that in some small way I was able to offer all the patients, their families and friends some comfort and hope and, wherever possible, some laughter as well. Although the college side of the placement is finished, I have agreed to continue to visit and to be available as an Anglican Chaplain.
I am writing this sitting in glorious sunshine outside our caravan in Anglesey. As you know, I have a special relationship with the congregation at St Maelog’s. I am thrilled to be able to tell you that the Revd Madelaine Brady, the (very newly appointed!) Rector, is coming to preach at St Faith’s on Sunday June 30th. On that day I shall be sub-deaconing for the first time as well, so I’m really looking forward to the Sunday Eucharist.
Next Sunday I am reading at a little church off the coast of Aberifraw. The church is in the seas and only opens for two services each year: one in June and one in August. We have to climb over rocks to get there and the service times are dependant on the tides. (Thank you, Mike Holland, for your offer to rescue me should I get marooned!)
The studies continue to be challenging but nevertheless exciting. It would be great if all the modules didn’t have to be supported with essays and assignments! At least now there is light at the end of the tunnel I was pleased to receive my second year report recently, which also gets sent to the Bishop; it was really encouraging and affirming.
As I endeavour to grow in faith, understanding and confidence, I
and appreciate the tremendous support which Bruce and all my family
given me. I would not be this far without their help and the very real
love and support that I have received from all of you.
Local School Links with S. African School
The headteacher of Archbishop Blanch CE High School, Kathleen Zimak, saw an advertisement last year which made her decide to broaden her school’s horizons. The advert was offering 60 teachers the opportunity to go as Millennium Award winners on a five-week placement to one of three African countries, including South Africa. The placement included helping with developmental projects at a school and establishing links with other schools in the local area. Kathleen, much to her delight, was chosen to go. In her presentation she had to explain how she would raise awareness back at home and how she would involve other schools in the local community.
She was placed at Tandanani Senior Secondary School. The school, in the Eastern Cape, was in an area formerly part of the black homeland of Transkei and white faces are still quite rare especially in the rural areas. The welcome was very warm and the school and the local community found it quite a novelty to have a white person living amongst them. In such a deprived area, with high unemployment, one of the most difficult tasks for the teachers was motivating their students. One of Kathleen’s suggestions was to invite back former pupils who had been successful in getting jobs in neighbouring areas.
During the visit she also attended the Mothers’ Union Conference, in Grahamstown, celebrating 125 years since its foundation by Mary Sumner. This was a fascinating experience with over 600 delegates, almost wholly from black parishes, who were all heavily involved in campaigning for women’s equality and the education of people to prevent the spread of Aids.
The project at the high school was to build from scratch a new
on a better site. This meant parents, pupils, teachers and the local
actually building it themselves, once they had raised the funds.
‘I felt I could have taken out a lot more in terms of resources, but it lifted their morale that I was showing an interest, and living in the community.’
To experience African life to the full, she lived as a guest of a retired primary school headteacher and his wife, she cooked a traditional meal and met many of the neighbours. At the school she taught a few demonstration lessons.. Despite the ancient text books and the limited resources, Kathleen said: ‘We still had things we could share in common and I felt their sense of humour was very similar to ours.’
She was taken on the long walk made each day to the river by the women and watched how people bathed and washed their clothes as a community. She was taken to a Methodist Service, which had no apparent start or end but was filled with dancing!
One of her main tasks was to work with headteacher Mr Mbanga on their school development plan and link it to the school’s mission statement. in the hope that they would get the necessary funds for implementing their plans. Kathleen was able to suggest that there needed to be less about the building and more about the development of the pupils. She also suggested attendance could be improved with rewards and work could be given merits to help improve pupils’ performance records.
Part of her time was also spent visiting five other primary schools, which was not an easy business. Telecommunications are not good in that part of South Africa, with most people relying mainly on cell-phones. To reach these schools involved long journeys on dirt tracks, and through rivers. The welcome reception was wonderful at every school.
Since her return Kathleen has reported back on the projects to five Church of England schools in the Liverpool area, had a meeting with each school’s link teacher and started visiting the schools and making presentations in school assemblies. She has worked hard to maintain the link made in the summer and she and her husband plan to go back this year. She also hopes the South African headteacher can visit Archbishop Blanch. ‘When I showed the South Africans photos of our school they asked me if it was a hotel. I would love to show Mr Mbanga the headteacher everything here. He is longing to visit.’
What she remembers most fondly is the kindness of the people. She said: ‘I knew there was going to be a party in my last week and I was dressed in traditional costume and taken to it. I was touched to see the whole village there: the children had rehearsed and danced for us all.’ Archbishop Blanch School is now looking at how it can help the South African School. Already the walls have been built in the new school and the sixth formers at Archbishop Blanch recently held a concert and plan to donate all the profits to the new school. Kathleen is confident the link established last summer will benefit both schools in their understanding of other cultures and the education they can offer one another in different ways. She can recommend the scheme to others who maybe interested in a unique experience.
‘We are about to open a school for God’s service,
in which we hope nothing harsh or oppressive will be directed.’
Few saints have left such a palpable impact on the world as St. Benedict, the monk whose Rule set a standard for the Western monastic tradition. And yet the sources for his biography are limited. Virtually all that is known is contained in the brief account of his life written by Pope Gregory the Great almost fifty years after his death.
St. Gregory records that Benedict was born in Nursia of a distinguished family and was later educated in Rome. Disgusted by the moral squalor of his fellow students, he abandoned his studies, gave up his inheritance, and devoted himself to the quest for God. At first this took the form of penitential solitude in a cave at Subiaco. But gradually he attracted the attention of other spiritual seekers. He was induced, much against his will, to assume the leadership of a nearby monastic community. But apparently the monks bridled under his discipline and even tried to poison his wine. By miraculous means (a typical recourse of the narrative) Benedict foiled the plot and henceforth returned to his preferred solitude.
Still disciples continued to seek him out. Eventually he agreed to organize them into a group of monasteries, each with its own presiding abbot. He himself assumed the leadership of one of these communities. After some time he established the famous monastery at Monte Cassino, later renowned as the birthplace of the Benedictine order. There, at some point, he wrote his monastic Rule. And there, in time, he died and was buried, beside the grave of his beloved sister, S. Scholastica.
Gregory’s account lays particular emphasis on the fantastic and miraculous, and thus gives little sense of the man behind the Rule. But if there is one personal quality to which the stories bear witness it is Benedict’s extraordinary power to read and discern the souls of others. In this respect Gregory’s portrait is consistent with the Rule itself, which provides ample evidence of Benedict’s rare insight into human nature.
Whereas earlier monastic experiments had stressed rigorous asceticism and often superhuman self-denial, Benedict’s Rule was designed for ordinary human beings. The element of discipline was shifted from externals to the interior, from the flesh to the wilL His monks were not to be de med adequate food or sleep; they were in fact counselled to avoid any extraordinary or selfimposed mortifications. Their discipline was to lie in humility, obedience, a commitment to stability, and an accommodation to the requirements of community life.
Community was, in fact, the key feature of his monastic vision.
than writing for a collection of individuals competing against each
in their solitary quests for perfection, Benedict stressed the value of
community life as a school for holiness. The community for Benedict was
ideally suited to bring individuals to their highest potential.
in effect, was thus a team effort, like the performance of an orchestra
under the skilled direction of a conductor. Much depended in this
on the wisdom and holiness of the abbot. He must be stern, yet kind and
flexible, adapting his methods to the needs of each monk and the good
all. He was eternally accountable for the salvation of his monks and he
must regard them as his sons and brothers.
If this sounded like a dictatorship, there were softening features.
For one thing the monastery was a place of equality; social hierarchy
distinctions between freedmen and serfs did not obtain. And in serious
matters, so Benedict stressed, the whole community must be consulted,
the youngest brother.
Benedict’s balance of work and prayer, his validation of community life and his regulation of monastic discipline eventually set the pattern for Western monasticism as a whole. In part this was aided by the official sponsorship of church authorities like Pope Gregory — a monk himself, who may have had direct experience of Benedict’s Rule. But a significant factor in the Benedictine success was the intrinsic attraction of the Rule itself and its underlying balance, moderation, and humanity.
Apart from its effect on the history of monasticism, Benedictine
had an even wider influence on medieval society. For centuries the
monasteries presented the challenge of an alternative worth governed by
the spirit of Christ. At a time of extreme social hierarchy they
an ideal of equality. At a time when manual labour was derided, they
the spiritual value of work. During a time of cultural disintegration,
they maintained islands of learning and civilization. In a time when
was commonplace, they lived by the motto of peace. The Benedictine
represented a vision of health, wholeness, and ecology in a world badly
out of kilter. To the extent that the world remains our world, the
of St. Benedict retains its relevance and attraction.