On Saturday 26 March St. Tudno’s Church on the Great Orme will be holding a Vigil for Earth Hour, joining people around the world in committing to care for the planet. Earth Hour was started in 2007 by WWF and partner with a symbolic lights-out event in Sydney, to raise awareness of climate change. Earth Hour now “engages supporters in more than 190 countries and territories, all taking action to ensure a brighter future for people and planet”, and on the last Saturday in March each year supporters turn off their lights from 8.30 – 9.30 pm local time.
At St. Tudno’s our candlelit vigil will begin with prayers for the planet and will include prayers in the darkness as we consider the darkness in Ukraine. We will then enjoy some fellowship, with hot drinks and cakes served, and we invite you to join us – but please wrap up warmly as there is no heating at St. Tudno’s.
We continue our study of the medieval Anglican cathedrals of Wales with the third cathedral visit of my sabbatical, to Brecon. Each session is held in person at St David’s 11am on Wedensdays during Lent. We consider one of the cathedrals and a theological them that arise as part of my visit. The next session will be on Wednesday 23rd March 11am and we will be looking at Newport cathedral.
Has anyone visited Brecon or its cathedral? Why? I had never visited before so everything about it was a first for me.
This is how the cathedral describes its history (from the cathedral’s website):
Brecon Cathedral started life in 1093 as the Benedictine Priory of St John the Evangelist, built by the Normans on the site of an earlier Celtic church. At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537 it became Brecon’s Parish Church. It became a Cathedral only in 1923, on the establishment of the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon.
The Cathedral is at the heart of a Diocese which stretches from Beguildy in the North to the Gower Peninsula in the South, including the City of Swansea and most of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Diocese and offers a ministry of worship and welcome to all who visit. Although a building of relatively modest proportions, the Cathedral is set in a walled Close, unique in Wales. The remains of the former monastic buildings today provide the administrative centre for the Diocese as well as housing for the Cathedral clergy and a Heritage Centre and Restaurant. This remarkable collection of buildings is the finest of its kind in Wales.
I would describe Brecon city and its cathedral as small but perfectly formed!
Theological theme: ceremony
Can you think of any Bible passages that refer to ceremony?
I couldn’t find all that many that use the word specifically, although there are many ceremonies and festivals described as part of the Jewish observance of faith.
It was pointed out in our session today that the Bible can be quite scathing about ceremonies, e.g. Amos 5:21-24: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!“
One more positive passage is as the nation of Israel is being formed, as the Israelites ready themselves to escape from slavery in Egypt. It is the instigation of the ceremony of Passover.
Exodus 12:24-27: ‘Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” then tell them, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.”’
What is the purpose of the Passover ceremony? To sacrifice to God and to remember what he had done for the people.
What is definition of the word ceremony? A formal act or series of acts prescribed by ritual, protocol, or convention; an action performed only formally with no deep significance; a routine action performed with elaborate pomp
Henry V – soliloquy on ceremony: Sitting alone in his camp, disguised as a commoner, Henry reveals the crushing responsibilities he feels on his shoulders. Henry describes the lonely isolation of power, which is combined with the need to be eternally vigilant. The only consolation Henry can see in being king lies in pomp and “ceremony”, which Henry’s word for the opulent show of royalty, with its rich clothes, parades, traditions, and self-aggrandizement. To Henry, ceremony is essentially empty, no more than an idol, a “tide of pomp” beating on a shore. Henry says that he would trade all that ceremony for the peaceful sleep of the slave, who has no greater concerns in his head than his stomach and who has no idea “what watch the King keeps to maintain the peace”.
So what is the point of ceremony? Is it really just an empty show of poncing around for no purpose other than to keep everyone in their proper places?
My experience at Brecon
At St Asaph and Bangor, Mark and I had gone during the day when there were no services on, but at Brecon we attended Evensong.
What is evensong? From Classic FM’s website:
A wonderful thing about religion for many is the comfort, togetherness and sense of occasion its traditions and ceremonies provide, day in and day out. Daily, weekly and yearly services fill the Christian calendar to inspire solemn worship and appropriate celebration for people of religious faith. And a key daily service of the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church is Evensong.
Evensong is a church service that’s traditionally held every day as the sun goes down, marking the passing of another day in faith.
The service is introduced by an officiant, who welcomes the congregation and leads prayers, and it is attended by a clergy, choir and organist, as well as the congregation. Most of the service is sung by the choir on behalf of everyone present, although the congregation is invited to join in with some prayers and communal hymns if desired.
The modern Evensong service is based on a pattern laid out by The Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church, and it features choral music, readings and prayers, which the congregation listens to, and either responds to or joins in with, depending on the part of the service.
An order of service will usually prompt those present as to where in the service they have got to, and where they can join in, if they wish. Attendees can follow closely along with the prayers of the service and speak and sing when instructed, or simply choose to bask in the glory of the beautiful music. Traditionally, the music featured in Evensong includes settings of psalms, canticles, and anthems. These are punctuated by scripture readings and prayers.
In terms of structure, Evensong usually starts with a welcome from the officiant and a set of responses, before a psalm and a set of canticles is sung. There will then typically be readings, and further responses and prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer. A choral anthem is sung before a set of prayers relevant to the life and times of the congregation, and a final set of readings and spoken prayers, brings the service to a close.
Who is evensong for? Or, to go back to our initial conversation about the theological theme – what is the point of ceremony? Who is it for?
What if no congregation turned up? Would the choir and presider still go ahead?
Common Worship says evening prayer MUST be undertaken. Why?
But if it is undertaken begrudgingly or because it MUST be done, doesn’t it risk becoming idle ritual? Or, as Shakespeare in Henry V puts it, ceremony itself becoming the idol?
I know we here today don’t usually worship at a cathedral and the rules in our own churches about what rituals have to be observed are somewhat different, but the questions still remain.
What worship do we have to undertake and why?
I could put the question in a more personal way. Do we, you and I, have an appropriate attitude when we come to worship? Do we come thinking, “Am I going to get anything out of the service today?”, “Is it a good preacher?” “Will my friends be there?” “Will there be a cup of tea afterwards?”
Even if we come thinking “Will I learn anything about how to be a better follower of Jesus?” it is still focused on us.
Is worship about us or about God?
But if it is about God, does that mean God NEEDS us to worship him in a church together? Does he not exist if we don’t?
The very first words used at Brecon service were Exurgat Deus, from Psalm 68: “Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered. But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God, let them be merry and joyful. O sing unto God and sing praise unto his name. Magnify him that rideth upon the heavens. Praise him in his name and rejoice before him.”
“Let God arise.” “May God rise up.” That’s an invocation. Is that what worship is for, to invoke God, to conjure him up like some sort of magic spirit?
No? Then why do we come together to worship God in our churches? What is it all about?
What is the purpose of worship? If our motivation was really pure, would we still do it? Why?
When I attended Brecon cathedral evensong I was struck by the number of times the same phrase was said or ung, at least five times in the short service, and I think the phrase gives us the direction we need. “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.”
And the Westminster catechism states that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Here are the clues we need about the purpose and focus of our cemerony and worship. The purpose of worship is to glorify God – not because he doesn’t exist if we don’t, not because we have to invoke him from the ether like a genie, and not because God is some sort of extreme egotist who demands that we tell him how wonderful he is.
It is much simpler than that. We worship because, as the catechism so beautifully suggests, both God and we enjoy it. We enjoy being together with one another. We enjoy spending set aside time with each other and telling each other that we love each another. Just as any lovers do.
It’s love! Or it would be if we could only get away from the machinery of worship, the monument, the idol that we have built of ceremony and ritual. If we could only get back to the person then we would be truly worshipping.
Ritual can help. All lovers have little ways they show each other their love, little ways by which they share together and show particular understanding and intimacy. And when religious ritual is done well, be it in song or action or words, then that’s what is achieved.
That’s what evensong (or any other worship) is about. Right at the heart of it is the opportunity to tell God just how much you love him. It is a special sublime moment of sheer intimacy with the maker of the universe!
Brecon cathedral says this on the front page of its website: “The purpose of the cathedral church is to worship God.” The purpose of the cathedral is stated clearly and simply. It is to worship God. It is an offering of love to him.
Brecon cathedral has a phrase on the front of its welcome leaflet. “We proclaim God’s love in worship so that holiness can dawn and lives be transformed.” This is a reference to our side of the worship experience. If we could only allow ourselves to let go into the intensity of worship, immerse ourselves in the experience, we will encounter God, lover of our soul, in a moment of glorious intimacy. Worship becomes truly holy and transformational.
The chief end of humanity, each and every one of us, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever! Amen!
This song expresses that immersion. Perhaps you can make it your personal intimate message to God.
Helen Cooper shared this with us at St David’s yesterday morning.
Thirty years ago our daughter, Sarah, had the opportunity and privilege of a school exchange in Ukraine.
I vividly remember the Ukrainian youngsters arriving at the school, having spent two days and nights travelling continually on the coach. It was the cheapest way they could get to Britain. Yet, they came laden with gifts for their hosts. The table runner which was on our communion table today was just one of my gifts from Nina. It was made by her grandmother.
Nina now lives in Chernivtsi in western Ukraine, about 6 hours drive from the Romanian border. She lives there with her husband, her three teenage sons and a young daughter. It is peaceful in that area at the moment, but the war has still impacted on their lives. They now have 21 adults and children living in their house – her family, her brother’s family, some friends and some friends of her sons who have fled from Kyiv.
Nina does not want to leave at the moment as that would mean being separated from her husband and her eldest son. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have to make that decision, but thousands of families in the Ukraine have already had to face it.
The following prayer comes from the Methodist Church Website.
Loving God, your Son Jesus Christ, wept over Jerusalem. Today, we weep over Ukraine. We weep for those uprooted from their homes and lives. We weep for those cowering in basements. We weep for those who have witnessed death and destruction on their streets. We weep for those separated from parents, from children, from spouses and siblings. We are amazed at the resilience of people seeking to comfort those in need and so we pray for Governments opening up borders so that Ukrainians can have safe passage. We pray for churches and individuals providing food, clothing and shelter. We pray for medical workers ensuring that shattered bodies are put back together again. We pray for ordinary Russians demonstrating and voicing their disapproval of the military actions in Ukraine. May the Holy Spirit give us the willpower to turn our tears into action also. May we, through our words, prayers and example pursue the things that make for a just peace in the world today and especially in Ukraine. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen
This Sunday worship is at St David’s 10am (led by me, Rev Bev) and 11am St John’s (led by Mark Ramsden). There is no livestream this Sunday because of the electrical work going on at St David’s, but I attach my service for St David’s below. This Sunday is the second Sunday in Lent and the service theme is “foxes”.
A reminder that St David’s and St John;s are having a special collection for the DEC Ukraine appeal this Sunday.
Trinity Church, Llandudno, is open from 12-1pm every day for prayer for Ukraine.
Mike Harrison (Cytun Llandudno) says: “Over 150,000 people have signed a parliamentary petition asking the UK government to “Waive visa requirement for Ukrainian refugees.” Please email your MP now asking them to vote in favour of this motion in the debate on 14th March and ask your church members to consider doing the same. For those in Llandudno, the address is: firstname.lastname@example.org“
We continue our study of the medieval Anglican cathedrals of Wales with the second cathedral visit of my sabbatical, to Bangor. Today’s session at St David’s 11am had plenty of attendees but we have room for more so if you want to join us next week, please do – Wednesday 16th March 11am St David’s. We will be considering Brecon cathedral.
Who has visited Bangor cathedral? Why?
I have visited several times before, including when doing the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way (part of my last sabbatical), and when doing a reprise of that with members of the two Llandudno Methodist churches. Who came on that trip?
Can anyone tell us anything of the story of Bangor cathedral? From the cathedral website:
About the year 530AD a man of noble birth named Deiniol settled on the site. Having been given land, probably by Maelgwn, King of Gwynedd, he enclosed it with a fence constructed by driving poles into the ground and weaving branches inbetween them. The native technical term for this type of fence was ‘bangor’. Within this enclosure Deiniol built his church.
He and his followers erected huts or cells in which to live. They were missionaries, going about to evangelise and encouraging others to join them. All who came, individuals and families, built their own dwelling places and all would worship together in the little church. Thus a Celtic monastery or Clas was formed.
c546 Deiniol consecrated Bishop and his church becomes a cathedral 1073 Vikings robbed and burnt the Cathedral c1100 Gruffudd ap Cynan regained Gwynedd c1130 Gruffudd and Bishop David rebuilt the Cathedral 1211 Cathedral destroyed by King John’s men 1402 Parts of the Cathedral destroyed during the Glyndwr revolt 1480 Rebuilding begun in earnest 1870-80 Restoration by Sir George Gilbert Scott 1966 Central tower raised, with pyramid shaped cap 1987 Major restoration of outside stonework and roofs begun, and continuing
Theological theme: look, see
Which do you think is the stronger word – look or see?
Look might be a glance or a command. It is about directing one’s gaze.
See suggests understanding. If we see, we don’t just look towards briefly, we focus, we see, we engage and seek understanding. The dictionary uses words like perceive and discern to describe the word.
Can you think of any Bible verses of passages about looking or seeing, specifically about looking for or seeing God?
Miracles of the blind being given their sight, e.g. John 8:25, “I was blind but now I see!”
“Though seeing they do not see, though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” Matthew 13:13. But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. Matthew 13:16
“How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:46
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. Matthew 5:8
Jesus said, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ John 20:29
My experience of Bangor:
It was blank wintry day, one of those days when it isn’t actually raining but it is damp and dark and dreary. I wasn’t in the best of moods and certainly not in high expectation after my trip to St Asaph.
But as we approached the cathedral, I could see through the glass doors – light, lots of light – twinkling white Christmas lights, the whole place bathed in light. It was welcoming, encouraging.
And once we got in there it was even more welcoming because there was a steward there on duty to welcome visitors. He saw us and welcomed us and invited us in, telling us he was there to answer any questions we may have. How important a good welcome is in our churches, whether on a Sunday morning at worship or when our churches are open for visitors to walk in. It doesn’t matter whether they are there fore prayer or for a quick look round – how we welcome them speaks volumes about the welcome of God for all people.
There was plenty to see in the cathedral. I found this painting for example, painted by Brian Thomas in 1955 and showing all six cathedrals.
There were other paintings to look at too, like this one, the Entombment of Christ by Anglesey artist John Granville Gregory (1967) based on Caravaggio’s original.
And my very favourite painting, of which I bought a card copy when last there: “Still Doubting”, a modern interpretation of Caravaggio’s painting of St Thomas, by the same artist.
What artistic skill is Caravaggio particularly known for? He is famous for his use of light. Do you know any examples? Have you seen any originals?
I’ve seen several, most memorably on my pilgrimage to Rome when I visited the basilica in the Piazza del Popolo. There, two of his paintings hang, unprotected and open to anyone and everyone. One is the Crucifixion of St Peter. The other is the Conversion of St Paul.
As you can see, the horse is more prominent that the saint and, apparently, an exasperated church official said,
“Why have you put a horse in the middle, and Saint Paul on the ground?”
“Is the horse God?”
“No, but he stands in God’s light!”
Well, exactly. We all stand in God’s light. He sees us clearly, completely, right through.
But do we see God as clearly? Or even ourselves?
The painting by John Granville Gregory fascinates me. It follows Caravaggio’s use of light and his basic positioning of the figures, all drawing us to focus on the pointing hand and the wound. But what is different?
Modern faces, modern dress, including the glasses! What a fascinating addition – glasses to help someone struggling to see to see more clearly.
And what is Jesus doing in both paintings? He is holding his clothers to expose the wound. And he is holding Thomas’ hand. But is he holding his hand back or drawing it nearer?
So, is Jesus holding Thomas’ hand back or pulling it closer? Definitely the latter. v27
Jesus wants Thomas to look – more than that – to see, to know.
And when Thomas sees Jesus’ wounds, really sees them and understands them, what does he say? “My Lord and my God!” Surely the strongest statement of faith in the gospels.
Elsewhere in John’s gospel, some Greeks come to the disciples with a request. “Sir, they say, “we would like to see Jesus.”
Well how about you? Do you want to see Jesus? I mean, really see, as in come close to, understand, be one with?
That surely is that aim of any disciple of Jesus – to be a follower, someone who gets so close to Jesus they are right in his footsteps, so close they could reach out and touch him. They can hear every word he says, can see him truly for what and who he is.
This Sunday’s worship (6th March) is led by Rev Philip Berry at St David’s 10am and by me, Rev Bev, at St John’s 11am. It is the first Sunday in Lent, a time when we consider the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
Because St David’s are having major electrical work done in the period through to Easter there will be no livestream possible for some weeks. I will keep you posted on when the livestream is back online. But, in the meantime, I attach a copy of my service for this Sunday so that those at home can at least share in the service that way.
I will put up a written version of our weekly sessions though, if this morning’s is anything to go by, coming along to listen to the shared conversation is definitely going to be something special! But, of course, if you cannot attend in person (Wednesdays, 11am, St David’s) then I hope this version will assist.
The Medieval Cathedrals of Wales
My sabbatical was entitled “finishing off Wales” (because I am leaving in the summer). I decided to do this by visiting each of the medieval cathedrals. There are six medieval cathedrals in Wales, which is another way of saying the Anglican ones (there are three 19th century Catholic ones).
Can you list them?
Mark and I did four trips to visit them – St Asaph; Bangor; Brecon, Newport and Llandaff (Cardiff); St David’s. The plan for the next six weeks of Lent is that we do one cathedral every week, reflecting on one theological theme arising from my visits. We will do them in the order I visited them.
Have you visited the cathedral? Why?
I have visited several times before, including when doing the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way (part of my last sabbatical), for an Aled Jones’ concert and for Sunday morning worship (when the congregation commented on Mark and my “lovely singing” – that’s Methodists for you).
Do you know the story of St Asaph cathedral?
Llanelwy is the Welsh name for the town of St Asaph – the sacred religious enclosure on the banks of the River Elwy. It is impossible to give an historically accurate account of the beginnings of Christianity in the early settlement at Llanelwy. Legend and tradition are confusingly mixed and there is no archaeological evidence or written record before the twelfth century. The legend of the founding of the church and monastery between the year c.560 and c.573 is to be found in ‘The life of St Kentigern’ written by Jocelyn, a monk of Furness Abbey c.1180 (so that’s quite a bit later!). St Kentigern was the bishop of Strathclyde; he was driven into exile and founded a monastery at Llanelwy where he remained until his return to Scotland in 573. St Asaph replaced him as abbot-bishop when St Kentigern died in 596. The see and cathedral itself were created by the Normans as part of their plan to control North Wales.
The theological theme arising from my visit is “listen, hear”.
Can you think of any key Bible phrases including the words hear or listen?
Having done a quick review of the verses in the Bible about hearing/listening, most of them are about people pleading with God to listen to them. The rest are mostly either about people listening to other people who often lead them astray or about listening to God who leads them in right paths.
My experience at St Asaph started with a noticeboard in the car park which had a section saying:
Words and music
Maybe it’s something to do with its inspirational setting in the beautiful Vale of Clwyd but St Asaph has always been a city of poets and musicians. Felicia Hemans, author of “Casablanca” with its immortal opening line “The boy stood on the burning deck” lived here in the early 1800s. The Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote some of his most famous sonnets at the Jesuit college in nearby Tremeirchion. And every September the cathedral’s magnificent acoustics attract world-class musicians to the North Wales International Music Festival founded by Willliam Mathias, who wrote an anthem for the wedding of the prince and princess of Wales in 1981.
So words and music, sound, were my expectation of the visit.
But, when I entered the cathedral, I heard nothing, nothing at all. It was silent. There was no one there but Mark and I. I listened hard but the only sound I could hear was the sound of traffic going down the road and round the corner at the top of the hill.
I couldn’t hear God either. There was nothing. It felt empty, completely empty.
So much so to me that my overall feeling was that the whole place was empty…ignored, forgotten with the drivers passing by outside only seeing the cathedral as an obstruction to be driven round as quickly as possible.
This feeling was a surprise to me. I had gone with high expectations, based on the three previous visits I have already mentioned, all of which involved sound and singing and life.
What had gone wrong? Had anything? Maybe my assessment was correct – the place was forgotten and ignored, at least by most people. But maybe it was inside me – perhaps I had gone with the wrong expectations, as a tourist rather than as a pilgrim, someone wanting to hear from God.
Do you find you have this sort of experience sometimes? When?
After we had finished poking around the cathedral (which didn’t take long) we walked down the hill to the river and wandered around there for a bit. We came across this!
Look how appropriate it is to the theme!
The bat’s whole body is designed to listen, to tune in to the sound of its squeaks echoing off its surroundings. Its ears are huge in comparison to the size of its tiny body.
How do we make our spiritual ears huge? How do we find places and spaces where we can listen to God? How do we cultivate an attitude of listening?
What is the risk of having big ears, especially in today’s society? So what is important for us to listen to and how do we tune in to what is important?
On the way back to the car we popped in to the parish church which, happily, was open.
And what a revelation. It was beautiful – small and tucked neatly into the river floodplain just before the start of the hill up to the cathedral, so old and nested in it almost looked like part of the hill itself, or so it looked to me. But inside it had recently had a lot of work done on it – the floor had been renewed, new facilities added but almost all done in wood so it looked lovely, leaving the old items in place wherever possible. It was a lovely combination of old and new, the one complementing the other. And the place was lit gently and beautifully.
And, suddenly, I could hear, hear God I mean! There he was, waiting for me in this simple, cared for place, so lovingly maintained and watched over. The efforts of those people, who had put so much love and effort into their church, enabled me to finally connect to God. There was no one there but I could feel them and the God they worshipped. Their God, my God, our God. I worshipped him there too.
One of the continuing themes that kept coming back to me as I went round the cathedrals over my sabbatical was this one – how the efforts of the people responsible for these places either enabled or disabled my experience of connection to God. Yes, of course, my attitude as I entered was key to this. But their approach, their presence even when they weren’t actually physically present when I was, also deeply affected me.
We need to be so aware of that, I think, in our own churches.
How does what we say and do affect others experience of God? How does the way we present our churches even when we are not actually in them affect their experience too? How do we ensure we do not get in the way but, rather, encourage an awareness of God’s presence? We cannot affect the attitude with which people come into our churches but we can provide a supportive and enabling atmosphere. How do we best do that in our own particular context? How have we failed to support others in connecting with God?