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This blog aims to offer an insight into the inner working of St John’s Wood Church, whether letting you know what the vicar gets up to when he isn’t taking services, or what it is those people in the office actually do all day….Updates will happen as and when, but notifications of new posts will be included in the e-newsletter; to join the mailing list, email the Parish Office.

 
 

The text of the sermon preached by Fr Jeremy
on 31 December 2017 at the 6.30 Evensong, 
Eve of the Naming and circumcision of Christ (New Year’s Eve),
6.30 Sung Evensong    Jeremiah 23.1-6
                                     Colossians 2.8-15
 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that anyone has preached a sermon at Evensong. I was in two minds about whether to preach this evening, but when I saw the readings I couldn’t resist.

In the Old Testament Lesson the prophet Jeremiah denounces the political and religious leaders of his day: “Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings”. In 2017, just as in the past few years, the western democracies have seemed to be afflicted with a profound distrust of the political classes, of those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of government.  It feels as if a sort of malaise is afflicting our political culture. The distrust for the old elites is not without reasonable foundation, for there are any number of examples of corruption and self-interest and incompetence. But there is great danger that this malaise is being exploited by those who are themselves seeking power for their own ends.

And in the New Testament lesson, St Paul warns us: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit”, and 2017 has certainly had its share of vain deceit, of fake news and
alternative facts.

And reflecting further on the readings led me into thinking about the place of the universal and the particular in our faith and in our politics, and to the realisation that the clash of the universal and the particular has quite a lot to do with the forces at work in the world as 2017 draws to a close.

On the face of it, Jeremiah appears to stand for the particular. His focus is on the people of Judah and Israel, he speaks in the name of the God of Israel. This is not a universal message, this is not a message for all people, for all the world, for all time. It is a particular message to a particular people in a particular time in a particular place.

St Paul, on the other hand, appears to stand on the face of it for the universal, writing of a universal message of salvation that depends not on the particularities of human traditions.

And in the world we see the onward march of the universal, of the increasingly globalised economy, of the internet which makes possible communication, friendship and commerce across local and national boundaries, of an increasingly globalised popular culture in music and television and social media.

Of course there are different visions of the universal.

There is a free market vision, with its emphasis on individual liberty and economic growth, and its suspicion of local custom, convention and law which stands in the way of the development of free markets.

And there is a socialist vision too, with its emphasis on equality and social justice, and its suspicion of local tradition and custom which it sees as the antiquated relics of unjust and unequal societies, and barriers to progress.

You could even argue that the vision of Isis is a sort of universal vision, a vision of a pure Islam purged of all local and cultural elements, and attracting followers from around the world.

And yet as 2017 has been a year of the rapid advance of the universal, of that which transcends local and national boundaries, it has also been a year of the fightback of the particular. It has been a year in which local movements have attempted to fight back against centralising and globalising forces, whether in Trump’s American, in Brexit Britain or in the independence movement of Catalonia. There is a profound dissatisfaction with the tendency of the big universalising forces of business and the internet, often allied with national governments, which tend to weaken the ties of culture, tradition and even family which bind people together at a local level.

Christians can be found on both sides of this argument. On the one hand, Christians can often be found on the side of the particular, seeking to defend a local Christian culture against the
encroachments of the secular forces of globalisation. On the other hand, Christians can often be found on the side of the universal, placing the ethical imperative to show love to the poor and the downtrodden over the defence of local cultures, and seeing in the teachings of Jesus a message of salvation which transcends the particular.

Turning back to our readings, it is easy to see Jeremiah and St Paul as being representative of the Old and New Testaments in their relationship to the universal and the particular. We might
think of the Old Testament as being about the particular, as being the story of God and God’s chosen people, the people of Israel.  And we might think of the New Testament as being about the
universal, about the universal message of salvation through Jesus Christ, in whom there is no “Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female”.

And yet closer reflection will reveal this to be a serious oversimplification. Because there is much in the Hebrew scriptures which deals with the universal. The creation story with its account of a common ancestry for the human race is surely a story which points to the universal in common origins and a common destiny. The story of God’s covenant with Noah is likewise a story of the universal, of God’s dealings with the entire human race. And in the prophets too we find intimations of God’s plan to use his chosen people Israel to bless the whole of humanity.

And although the New Testament very clearly deals with the universal, proclaiming a universal message of salvation for all people, yet it is also a story of the particular. Because God chooses to open to us the possibility of universal salvation through a very particular story. Universal salvation is found in a particular baby born in a particular time in a particular place in a particular culture, circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with a particular religious law. In Jesus, the universal and the particular are brought into harmony. In Jesus, the particular becomes the means through which universal grace is given.

Julian Lennon once said of his father that he “could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him”. This seems to me to encapsulate the problem of espousing the universal at the expense of the particular. The universal without the particular is doomed either to vacuousness or to totalitarianism; but the particular without the universal is simply the worst kind of chauvinism.

So my hope for 2018 is not in the politics of a Trump or a Corbyn or a Macron; my hope remains in the God who chose to redeem us in a way that respected the particularity of human existence,
embodying the universal message of love in a particular baby in a particular time in a particular place. And my prayer is that in 2018 we may see the stirrings of a different sort of politics. I might even call it the politics of Christmas: a politics which recognises that universal values must find expression in and through the particular.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Amen 

Fr Jeremy and and his wife Maura recently visited Seymour Place, one of our chosen Christmas Charities for 2017. Here Fr Jeremy provides an insight into the charity’s work.

When we walked into the reception area at Seymour Place (formerly known as the West London Day Centre), the first thing that struck me was the variety of the faces. Young, old, male, female, different complexions, different cultures. The second thing that struck me was how calm and orderly it felt. And the third thing was how many people were smiling at us.

Maura and I were met by Mark Palframan, the fundraising manager at Seymour Place, who took us on a tour of the facilities. We were impressed by what was on offer, from the most basic practical needs – hot meals, storage space for bags, showers – to more complex services such as podiatry, and training in the skills needed to find work. Although Seymour Place do not provide overnight accommodation, they do help to connect people with organisations who can help them to find housing.

We had a very interesting conversation with Mark, talking about the changing nature of homelessness in London. He was very clear that the numbers are rising, and that there is increasing diversity in the sorts of people who are homeless. In the past there has been a significant proportion of homeless people suffering from substance abuse problems. Whilst those problems have not entirely gone away, there are now many people on the streets who are recently-arrived migrants who have struggled to find work and housing, and also people who have been made homeless through changes in the benefits system. It is also increasingly common to find people sleeping rough who are holding down jobs. Although any rise in homelessness is clearly unwelcome, the silver lining is that these new kinds of homeless people are relatively easy to help compared with people struggling with problems with drugs and alcohol, and with the right support their stories can and do end well.

Seymour Place is a part of the West London Mission, which has been serving people affected by homelessness and poverty since 1887. They are part of the Methodist Church and run a wide range of services which empower people to live more fulfilling lives.  

Fundraising is a constant effort for Seymour Place, and there is more demand for their services than ever before. So this year St John’s Wood will be supporting Seymour Place as one of our three Christmas charities.

A Collection of Private Devotions

Written by Fr Jeremy Tayler (March 2017)

I am currently reading John Cosin’s A Collection of Private Devotions. First published in 1627, it was intended, its title suggests, for private prayer, in addition to the public services of the Book of Common Prayer.

Cosin was born in Norwich in 1595. He studied at Cambridge, and attracted the attention of both Lancelot Andrews and John Overall, at the time bishops respectively of Ely and Lichfield, becoming Overall’s secretary. He was then appointed as a domestic chaplain to Bishop Richard Neile of Durham, in 1624, where he remained until 1634. He went on to be Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, until the he was ejected by parliament in 1640. His whereabouts during the turbulent years that followed are not entirely clear, but he was certainly in Paris in 1645 and remained in exile in France until the Restoration, when he returned to Peterhouse. Shortly thereafter he was consecrated as Bishop of Durham, where he served as an energetic bishop until his death in 1672. He was also a significant influence on the revision of the Book of Common Prayer that produced the 1662 book we know and love today. He wrote the collects for Advent III, Epiphany VI and Easter Even, and more generally attempted to bring prayers and rubrics closer to the ancient liturgies of the church.

Cosin’s Devotions is a deeply practical book; it seeks to redeem the time by providing simple offices to be prayed at regular intervals throughout the day, as well as short prayers and passages of scripture to be committed to memory and used at appropriate occasions. Among these are prayers to be used at the beginning of the day, which struck me as something that I could use – mornings in our household are all too often a time of stress and hurry, with two adults struggling to get themselves and two not-entirely-co-operative children out of the door on time – and I felt I could benefit from the injection of a little spiritual discipline in that context! I have (slightly) simplified and modernised Cosin’s prayers “for our first Holy Exercise in the beginning of the Day” in the hope that they may be useful.

When we first awake:

Open my eyes, O Lord, that I may see the wonders of your law (from Psalm 119)

and/or

Awake, you who sleep, and arise from death, and Christ shall give you light (from Ephesians 5)

When we get up:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
Blessed be the holy and undivided Trinity now and for ever.

and/or

I laid me down and slept, and rose up again, because the Lord has sustained me (from Psalm 3)

When we wash our hands (or shower – standards of personal hygiene have doubtless moved on from Cosin’s time!):

Wash me clean, O Lord, from my wickedness, and purge me from my sins (from Psalm 51)

When we dress:

Clothe me, O Lord, with the ornaments of your heavenly grace, and cover me with the robes of righteousness (from the instructions of St Basil)

and/or

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (from Romans 13)

And then, commending ourselves to God’s protection:

Into the hands of your blessed protection and unspeakable mercy, O Lord, I commend my soul and my body this day, with all my capabilities, powers and actions of them both, asking you to always be with me, to direct, govern and sanctify me in the ways of your laws and in the works of your commandments, that through your protection I may be preserved in body and soul now and for ever, to serve you through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

At our going out:

Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths (from Psalm 25)

and/or

Lead me, O God, in the way of your truth, and guide me for your mercy’s sake (from Psalm 5)
 


Reflecting on the Bible Challenge

Written by Fr Jeremy Tayler (February 2016)

Reflecting on the Bible Challenge

At our last Bible Challenge tea, it felt as if we had all covered so much ground in our reading of the bible, that there was no way we could do justice to the range and depth of issues that might arise in one afternoon session. I also realised that there are some people who have been and will continue to be unable to get to the Bible Challenge teas. So I decided to try to write short reflections on some of the books we have been reading as we go along, to share online in a way that makes it possible for people to respond and share comments, and I hope to continue to do this at regular intervals in the coming months.

Reading the bible, or reading almost anything for that matter, is in some ways a personal business. For although, when we read the bible, we read with the church through the centuries and around the world, nevertheless what we find in the text depends a great deal on our personalities, our personal histories, or the things that happen to be on our minds at the time when we are reading. We can read a text, and find that a particular sentence or phrase speaks to us in a particular way; reading the same text six months later, something quite different about it might strike us as being significant.

Reflecting on God in Leviticus

I have found reading Leviticus interesting and thought-provoking. I realise this may not be everyone’s experience! My situation in life is perhaps quite unusual – since worship has become my “business” in a changed way in the last six months, and since I am preparing for ordination to the (Christian) priesthood, Leviticus has not seemed to me to be an arcane set of rather strange rules, but something relevant. It has stimulated interesting questions for me about the way we think about God, the significance of sacrifice, and the relationship between Levitical worship and priesthood, and the worship and priesthood of the Christian church.

The portrayal of God in Leviticus may seem strange and uncomfortable to modern Christians. God appears to have a remarkable concern for detail; the prohibitions of foods can seem ridiculous to a modern reader, and the punishment of Aaron’s sons in Leviticus 10.1-3 – for offering the wrong kind of incense (“strange fire” in the words of the KJV) – seems monstrous. The emphasis seems to be on God’s holiness, God’s otherness, and on God’s requirement of obedience, even in matters of small detail; on the face of it, God seems to have little tolerance for human weakness. All this seems to sit awkwardly with the Christian understanding of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

But there are more continuities than may at first appear obvious. For behind all the meticulous detail, the underlying point about Leviticus is that God is graciously present to the people of Israel in the Tabernacle, just as God is graciously present to us in Jesus. And the sacrificial system is in part designed to deal with the problem of human weakness; through sacrifice, through obedience to law and rubric, through the Aaronic priesthood, the people of Israel can dare to approach their dangerously holy God, and can live with God’s presence among them in the Tabernacle.

The idea of a God who consumes liturgically inept clergy with fire is not attractive to a new curate! And yet, I also wonder if we are not in danger of domesticating God, of creating a modest, undemanding God who we find easier to live with than the holy, fierce and sometimes incomprehensible God we encounter in Leviticus? Are we losing that sense of working out our salvation with fear and trembling that St Paul urges in his epistle to the Philippians?
 


A reflection

A month in, our new curate Fr Jeremy Tayler looks back at his and his family’s transition to life in St John’s Wood (written early August 2015)

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
On our first Sunday in St John’s Wood, the dining room at 3 Cochrane Street strongly resembled a florist’s. It was a wonderful welcome to the parish; that weekend, and the ten days or so that preceded it, was something of a roller-coaster ride. We had the joy of friends’ ordinations to attend amidst organising our own move, and Maura and the girls camped in a near-empty Cambridge flat whilst I unpacked and got the house ready here. Then there was the ordination retreat, the ordination itself, and finally my first Sunday in the parish. I am very grateful for the welcome we received – the flowers, the bottles, the cards and perhaps most of all the kindness and warmth with which we were treated.

…wine that maketh glad the heart of man: and oil to make him a cheerful countenance, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Fr Jeremy talking with parishioners at his welcome lunchThe excellent lunch which we all enjoyed on our first Sunday in the parish set the tone for the coming weeks, as I visited a number of parishioners, and was regularly plied with coffee, tea, cakes, biscuits, sandwiches, soups, pastries and wine. During my two years in Cambridge I managed to avoid the notorious “Westcott stone” – the weight traditionally gained by Westcott ordinands as a result of the college’s carbohydrate-heavy cuisine; whether I can avoid gaining a “St John’s Wood stone” remains to be seen! I have enjoyed some very interesting conversations with some remarkable people in the course of my visits, and I look forward to many more in the coming weeks.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
It may be that one of the very special things about the life of a minister in the Church is the way in which we are invited to share in the highs and lows of people’s lives; whilst there has been much rejoicing in the gifts of welcome, hospitality and conversation, there has also been sadness. Sadness in some of the prayers people leave in the Church; sadness in the stories I have heard and situations I have encountered; and sadness too at home, as we all struggle to adjust to the loss of the community which sustained us at Westcott, and acclimatise to our new environment and changed roles. At times it has been hard, especially for Maura and the girls, but little by little we are adapting to the change, and discovering a different community as supportive in its way as the one we left behind. And there have been joys for us too in reconnecting with old London friends we seldom saw during our time in Cambridge.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
A white clerical collarOn Monday, my day off, I had a slightly strange moment as I put on my casual clothes – the clothes I used to wear every day, but now put on quite rarely; it was almost like an unvoiced question in my head asking “who am I, now?”. As the ordination approached, I told myself again and again that ordained ministry is not all about me, that it is about God and what God does, partly perhaps to try to stop it going to my head, and partly to reassure myself about my capacity for facing the coming challenges. I had to learn and will have to keep learning to put my trust in God, and not in myself. And yet, we believe in the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, in a God made manifest in a particular person in a particular time and place, in a God who calls and works through particular people for particular purposes. So it is and it is not about me! Amidst the flowers, the coffee, the cake and the wine, amidst the rejoicing and weeping, amidst the remarkable conversations with the remarkable parishioners of St John’s Wood, amidst the daily prayer and the Eucharist, I am also quietly working through a strange sort of identity crisis, trying to work out who I am now and how it relates to who I was before and where God might be at work in all of it.
 


And introducing…

Written by Jeremy Tayler for our May 2015 newsletter

Our incoming curate Jeremy Tayler will be ordained deacon by the Bishop of London in St Paul’s Cathedral on 4 July, and welcomed into the parish on Sunday 5 July. He and his family will move in to Cochrane Street in late June / early July.

I am currently coming to the end of two years of study and formation at Westcott House, Cambridge. Before my time at Westcott, I mainly worked as a research administrator in the charity and university sectors, but I have also been a stay-at-home parent, the manager of an internet café, and both a religious studies teacher and a nursery nurse in Helsinki.

Jeremy, Maura, Blanche and Ginevra at a cricket match in CambridgeAlthough I was born in Lincolnshire and grew up in Bristol, I have lived most of my life in London, and moving back to London after two years away will feel like coming home. My interests include history and politics, and I enjoy gardening and country walks.

My wife, Maura, is from Finland; she will be returning to her job at the University of Westminster, and loves classical music. We both enjoy cooking and entertaining at home. We have two children, Blanche (6) and Ginevra (nearly 5). We are all very much looking forward to coming to St John’s Wood and getting to know you all, and would be grateful for your prayers.
 


Minority Reporting

Written by Fr Anders Bergquist (Vicar) after Good Friday, 3 April 2015

The noise started about half-way through the Three Hours’ Devotion on Good Friday: some sort of shouting and disturbance within earshot of the church, and any number of police sirens, and the unmistakable sound of a helicopter swooping backwards and forwards over the area. I always find that helicopter sound particularly disturbing. A couple of members of the congregation slipped out to make sure that we didn’t need to evacuate the building, and preacher and people alike did their best to work through the distraction. At 3pm the noise still continued, and as I came out of church I could see a cluster of St George’s flags waving on the opposite side of Park Road from the entrance to the Mosque. “The English Defence League, ” I thought to myself. “Time to show some solidarity with our friends at the Mosque.” So I walked down, still in my cassock, and quickly realised that there were in fact two demonstrations. On the west side of Park Road were the EDL and their friends, not very numerous, but noisy. On the opposite side of the street was an even smaller Muslim counter-demonstration – not people to do with the Mosque at all, but a group among which I recognised at least one face familiar from Newsnight, where he talks across the other guests as he expounds his pretty extreme views. He was, unsurprisingly, talking to a TV camera. Two small knots of unrepresentative people, I thought, tying up enormous police resources, and each as bad as the other.

Five people of various faiths sit at a table together for a discussion of scripture

Fr Anders (centre) at a meeting of the Pathways Interfaith Forum at London Central Mosque, January 2015

In the courtyard of the Mosque, I immediately ran into kind and reasonable people, as I knew I would. I came across Jayde, who is the Mosque’s new interfaith co-ordinator, and is doing a great job. And, to my delight, I also ran into Sheikh Khalifa, the longest-serving of the Mosque’s imams. We talked, and when we had finished talking, and when I had extricated myself from generous offers of hospitality, Khalifa and I walked together back to the main gate. A number of mobiles pointed in our direction to capture the image of friendship and mutual respect. The TV camera remained obstinately pointed at the demonstration. Which is the truer image? Alas, the one that will be less seen.