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That’s Paul-ine (not as in the female name Pauline), reminiscent of the Apostle Paul.

By resisting California’s local and state government, the Revd John MacArthur is walking into St Paul’s territory.

When I last wrote about the travails of Pastor MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, he was still in battle with Los Angeles County. That was in mid-August.

His and his church’s fortunes have not improved since then.

Before going into Grace Community Church’s struggle in detail, an unfortunate situation has resulted from the coronavirus. This is universal and separate, going on throughout Western countries.

It might have happened by accident or by design, through lockdown.

However, the unchurched or the formerly-churched who wished to find comfort and succour in a church community because of a pandemic were unable to do so because of lockdown.

Some Christians often say, ‘Church is everywhere you look or what you make of it personally. If you don’t, it’s your own fault’.

Those from a Calvinist tradition strongly maintain that church is not a building. The Church of Scotland holds to that tenet. Their attitude is: ‘Lockdown? So what?’ Someone from the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) lambasted John MacArthur here a few weeks ago.

For the rest of us, however, that belief does not hold true. In fact, not being able to worship in person in community, particularly at a difficult time, can be deeply unsettling at a time when people feel the desire for a spiritual — and physical — connection more than ever.

RedState, much improved since the departure of Erick Erickson, posted an article by Kira Davis: ‘The Church Has Spectacularly Failed the COVID Test … and the Faithful’.

Ms Davis met up with a friend of hers in California. Her friend was clearly upset about not being able to go to church during lockdown. She said she thought perhaps she was having a crisis of faith.

Ms Davis diagnosed her friend’s problem differently (emphases mine below):

Listening to her in person made me realize a couple of things. For one, she wasn’t really expressing a loss of faith. She was expressing a loss of connection. Having suddenly been disconnected from all the things that kept her grounded and the community that regularly helped her explore her relationship with God, she was left floating without an anchor.

The second thing I realized is that people are suffering under lockdowns much more than we may think. My friend has a beautiful family and they’ve been able to continue working through COVID shutdowns. She has a lot to be thankful for and on the outside she might strike one as very adjusted. That is the veneer she — like many of us — has had to adopt in order to keep life as normal as possible for her children.

Davis rightly chose to put the blame where it properly lies — with our clergy. I don’t live in the United States, but even those of us in other Western countries have experienced limitations on our fellowship. In England, at least, we need to sign in to attend a religious service, wear face coverings, observe social distancing, bring our own liturgical printouts/Bibles, realise we mustn’t sing and remember to greet from a two-metre distance.

At least we can worship indoors.

In California, the state mandates outside worship, more on which later:

Church leadership has fooled itself into believing that YouTube services and drive-by food donations count as “serving” the community. Even as churches begin to accept limited permission from the state to meet, we have to make reservations and worship outside in order to enjoy the privilege of religious freedom.

Our world is currently burning around us. There are no answers to the current state of our national angst without the Church and yet the Church has voluntarily put on a muzzle. People are desperate for answers, even more desperate for connection. These are the two things we are best at.

Too right!

During normal times — the rest of our lives, bar 2020 — priests and pastors have been telling us that we must attend church for the state of our souls:

Every pastor will tell you at one point or another that we humans are born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts and we spend our entire lives searching to fill it.

Yep. Except when there’s a pandemic.

During this crisis, those same clergy — men and women– have scurried from sight, just when so many of us need them:

There are a lot of holey hearts out there right now. Space abhors a vacuum. Something will fill those empty spaces and the Church has been willingly sidelined. We no longer have community — our most powerful draw — to offer. What is left to fill the vacuum? Rage without resolution, bitterness without forgiveness, punishment without grace. Alcohol, drugs, loneliness, resentmentall of these things are filling those lost empty hearts out there without much challenge from the institutions God has appointed to lead and to serve.

With John MacArthur in mind, Davis then zeroes in on the current conflict between Church and State. She nails it perfectly:

Whatever their personal feelings about John MacArthur may be, California churches should be supporting his move to defy a state authority that has thwarted our human and constitutional right to assemble and worship. Every Sunday, we’ve heard our pastors proudly and loudly share stories of how Jesus was a revolutionary, a direct conduit of the counter culture of the Kingdom. We brag about this aspect of our God, even as we cower before state authorities who have no interest in keeping our tax-exempt sanctuaries thriving because God…the Church…is always and always has been direct competition to the gods of the state. We don’t even pay them taxes. We are worthless to them and it is beyond tragic how our pastoral leadership has, for the most part, confirmed as much.

She concludes:

The specter of losing our church properties to fines or penalties scares us more than our brethren (people like my friend) losing their faith and their communities. It is not lost on me that Peter obviously later redeemed himself by becoming one of the most influential Christians in human history. It is also not lost on me that the ultimate price Peter paid for his eventual obedience to the name of Jesus was to be crucified in an extraordinarily brutal fashion.

California church leaders aren’t even willing to incur a fine in the name of Jesus.

Nope.

Fortunately, at the age of 81, with a full life of ministry dating back to the late 1960s, John MacArthur has decided to don St Paul’s mantle.

No doubt, he and his godly wife Patricia have prayed together over this issue since July.

On September 16, MacArthur told Laura Ingraham of Fox News that he and his church were still under threat of fines or imprisonment. He said, ‘Bring it on’:

That day, RedState‘s Alex Parker compared him to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry in The Enforcer: ‘Pastor John MacArthur Backs Down Not an Inch: If California Wants to Jail Him, “Bring It On”‘. Citations follow below.

It’s hard not to cheer along with the congregation at this announcement of his from August 9, because the only legitimate way to assemble en masse these days is through ‘peaceful protest’:

Returning to his interview with Laura Ingraham, he expressed his deep admiration for Paul the Apostle:

We received a letter with a threat that we could be fined or I could go to jail for a maximum of six months. Of course, my biblical hero apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the apostle Paul, and when he went into a town, he didn’t ask what the hotel was like, he asked what the jail was like because he knew that’s where he was gonna spend his time. So I don’t mind being a little apostolic if they want to tuck me in a jail.

He also reminded Ingraham and her audience of the COVID-19 figures and the absurdity of prohibiting state-wide public worship:

We believe that the governor, the county, the city, and the health department are going against the Constitution,” MacArthur said in the Tuesday night appearance on Fox News. “And just to remove one obvious question, the rate of COVID in California is 1/100 of 1%. So 1/100 of 1% of 40 million people have COVID and that eliminates freedom to worship from the entire state.

He told Ingraham that President Trump is also on his side. Excellent news, even if MacArthur is self-avowedly apolitical:

I am so thankful that President Trump has told me personally that he supports the church as essential and the churches need to stay open. So, with the Constitution on our side and the president’s backing, we’re open.

A few days earlier, on Sunday, September 13, MacArthur appeared at the pulpit to resounding, if not deafening, applause and cheers. If you had heard only the audio, you would have thought that President Trump were standing there.

MacArthur had a long list of demands from the State of California to read to his congregation:

He thanked them and said, by way of compliment:

You people are out of control. Thank you, thank you.

The requirements follow.

Keep in mind that thousands of worshippers attend Grace Community Church each Sunday:

– No indoor meetings;

– Registration of every person on church property;

– Screening and temperature checks upon entry;

– Six feet of social distancing mandated, including in the car park and in restrooms;

– Every other parking space must be left vacant;

– Everyone must be masked;

– Restrooms must have monitors;

– Floors must have tape markings;

– Restrooms to be used during the service, rather than afterwards to prevent queues;

– Hymnbooks, Holy Communion and Bibles are forbidden;

– No one can shake hands;

– Mandatory seat covers must be in place;

– Services must be shortened (congregation laughs);

– Worship must take place in a tent with a maximum of 350 people;

Anyone who comes in contact with someone outside of their family afterwards for more than 15 minutes must self-quarantine for two weeks.

A lot of those sound like what we have in England.

MacArthur concluded:

Obviously, this is not constitutional but, more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the Church.

On Thursday, September 24, Ryan Helfenbein of the Falkirk Center interiewed John MacArthur at length (26 minutes). This is the second of a two-part series on COVID-19 and the Church:

Ryan Hefelbein asks him about his critics decrying his reopening of Grace Community Church.

MacArthur says that Scripture says that the members of the Church are called out to meet together. There is no such thing as an ungathered church.

The notion that the church is scattered is an un-scriptural belief:

That is a foolish statement to make.

MacArthur and his legal counsel had appeared in court that day — September 24 — and presented the enduring infinitesimally low statistic of contracting, let alone dying from, coronavirus, especially between the ages of 30 and 60:

On the basis of statistics alone, this [lockdown] is completely arbitrary.

He says that, even though he is cautious, he believes that whether we live or die depends upon the:

purposes of God.

MacArthur says that his mission in life is to make sure that as many people as possible hear the word of God.

He said that there was only one person, a physician, who had COVID-19. The doctor recovered.

As such, word got around the congregation. MacArthur said that many wondered if the alarm surrounding the pandemic was justified. Through nothing of his own doing, people began to return to church. That would have been in July. Prior to that, he and his assistants had been doing online worship broadcasts in several different languages.

He said:

The Church should never close its doors.

He spoke about the irony of our clergy lauding the heroes of the Reformation (Martin Luther, John Knox), yet they will never run that risk of being in danger — especially surrounding a virus. He pulled a face, disapprovingly.

He took exception to the vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris comparing COVID-19 to the Second World War:

Last I knew, no one was bombing LA.

Nice one!

MacArthur said that more and more people have been attending his church’s services every week. That’s probably because there is nowhere else for them to worship normally.

He dismissed ‘conspiracy theorists’ but posited an ongoing ‘conspiracy’ in California and elsewhere in the West — pre-COVID — undoing the tenets of the Gospel as expressed in the Book of Romans:

This culture has done a massive work on destroying the law of God in the heart.

He said that the only remaining bulwark is the Church, but, that, too, has been restrained, not only this year but over the past few decades:

What the hell is going to keep this culture from going to Hell at warp speed?

He said that the only solution is to:

keep preaching, living godly lives, confronting these things

Ryan Helfenbein asked if the coronavirus had changed him.

He replied that, no, it hadn’t. The word of God and his ministry had not changed. Yet, the culture has certainly changed.

Incredibly, he ventured into politics, which is somewhat of an unknown frontier for him, because in past sermons he says he was not interested in the subject. Yet, today, he says that the parties have divided along moral lines (19 minutes in):

For a Christian, a real Christian, I do not believe they can vote Democratic …

Not only do Christians have to uphold righteousness, they must take the side of those that uphold religious righteousness … God wants you to take the stand for righteousness’s sake …

He reiterated not to vote for a platform — the Democrats’ — which goes against God’s will as expressed in the Bible:

Certainly not to vote for that, otherwise you have complicityMurder and perversion is not an option for a Christian on any level. I think it’s come down to that.

He says that the Republican platform — not necessarily the personal lives of their candidates — is on the side of biblical morality.

True to form, MacArthur has a can of Fresca by his side on the desk. He loves Fresca. So did my late maternal grandmother.

Fresca has a weird taste, but if you grew up with it, as I did, it brings back fond memories.

Returning to a serious note, MacArthur reminds us that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and the Ruler of the world. MacArthur warns us about the different forms of wrath that can be wrought against a culture.

In Romans 1:24-26 and 28, he says, that God will deliver persistent sinners unto their own devices: serious sin, including sexual immorality. Essentially, God gave them over to a ‘reprobate mind’ i.e, insanity.

He believes that, by and large, we are now ‘in a reprobate mind’ — not all of us, but too many — and that God has unleashed judgement. However, MacArthur says the judgement is temporary, provided that we, as a people, repent.

MacArthur ended by saying:

The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

Part 1 of the interview is here.

Last week, I ran a series on the Revd John MacArthur and the court battle involving his Grace Community Church regarding indoor worship in Los Angeles County.

It seems as if John MacArthur is an outlier, with no support from clergy from other churches.

Last week ended on an optimistic note: ‘A court win for John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church’.

One of my readers, H E, sent in the following comment concerning religious and other restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Some time ago, H E gave me permission to repost his comments, and I am happy to do so now. This is excellent (emphases mine below):

Thank you for your series of articles about Pastor John MacArthur and his court fight to permit his church to hold indoor services.

I concur with John Cheshire that it is disappointing that mainstream church bodies generally have not supported Pastor MacArthur’s efforts.

I live in the US. In elementary school, I was taught that the rights enumerated in the US Constitution (freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc) are inalienable, natural rights given by God (teachers could say ‘God’ in those days) which pre-exist and supersede civil law.

What troubles me is that governors and mayors in the US issued dictates that forbade a citizen from exercising his God-given rights, despite the fact that, at their inauguration, these officials swore to uphold the Constitution which guarantees free exercise of such rights. I live in the state of New Jersey. Our governor, Philip Murphy, stated on television that he had not considered the effect of his restrictive executive orders on the Bill of Rights. In that interview he stated “the Bill of Rights is above my pay grade.”

(As a sidebar, there have been no calls for the removal of Governor Murphy on the basis that either he lied when he swore to uphold the Constitution or he is incompetent. On the contrary, his approval rating is about 70%).

Policemen are sworn to uphold the law. Implicit in this oath is the understanding that a policeman should not enforce an illegal law. Nonetheless, policemen in New Jersey, acting on an executive order from the Governor, walked into a Jewish religious service, arrested the Rabbi, put him in handcuffs, and hauled him off to jail because he had the temerity to hold a religious service that violated the Governor’s dictates.

For the police to disrupt a religious service and arrest the person leading the service is appalling to me and unheard of in the US, in my personal experience. This is something I would expect to see in China. The legal system in the US is normally reluctant to interfere with religious activities and arrest religious leaders. (I understand that this is a reaction to the shameful way the courts and the police treated Mormons in the 1830s and 1840s). In fact, all one needs to do is to call himself ‘Reverend’ and establish a ‘church’ and he pretty much can do what he wishes. As an example, see Al Sharpton who for decades has been a political rabble rouser, but somehow is untouchable by the courts and the police.

It’s good that the court ruled in Pastor MacArthur’s favor. But what if it hadn’t? Would this mean that Pastor MacArthur’s inalienable right to assemble and worship God is void? How can this be? How can the exercise of one’s God-given, inalienable rights be dependent upon a decision of a local court judge, whose normal job duty is to adjudicate parking tickets?

In my opinion, the issue here is that there should never have been orders by local officials to close church services. They simply don’t have the legal authority to do this. And policemen should never have obeyed orders to enforce such unlawful directives.

The problem we face is that our society has devolved to the point where God-given, inalienable rights have been reduced to the level of municipal ordinances, subject to the whims of petty public officials.

How do we get our rights restored? Through the courts? I don’t see this as likely since the courts are an arm of the state and work to uphold the interests of the state against the citizens. Elect new representatives? We elected Donald Trump as President and the Deep State has blocked nearly every action he has tried to take. I don’t know what the answer is.

I replied:

I don’t have an answer, either …

I am not surprised, though, that other churches aren’t openly supporting John MacArthur, although, no doubt, they’ll gladly take any benefits accruing from a court decision in Grace Community Church’s favour.

First, most pastors in established denoms are left-wing. Secondly, the last thing they want to do is stick their heads above the parapet. A lot of those denominations have hierarchies, too, therefore, individual pastors cannot take those sorts of decisions independently.

The independent Evangelical pastors probably want a quiet life but will gladly let MacArthur do the heavy lifting and then reap the rewards any wins bring.

Today, by chance, I came across an article at LifeNews.com:

‘Judge Fines Church $3,000 for Holding Worship Service, But Abortion Clinics Can Kill Babies’ chronicles the stories of two other California churches that have fallen foul of the law recently. One is in Ventura County. The other is in Santa Clara County:

California Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks appeared before Judge Vincent O’Neill in Superior Court of Ventura County on Friday, August 21 and was held in contempt of court.  Godspeak Calvary Chapel was fined $500 per three services, for two Sundays, or a total of $3,000.

Pastor McCoy received an order from a Ventura state judge on Friday, August 7, banning the church’s in-person services. Superior Court Judge Matthew Guasco issued a temporary restraining order to Pastor Rob McCoy, the Church, and Does 1-1000, along with anyone “acting in concert with them” who might attend worship in the future. Governor Gavin Newsom ordered no singing or chanting, and then ordered no worship, even in private homes with anyone who does not live in the home.

Godspeak Calvary Chapel (Church) held three worship services on Sunday, August 9 and August 16. An evidentiary hearing is set for Aug. 31.

North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California was also fined $5,000 for singing in each of the two worship services yesterday, although social distancing was practiced. The four-page letter posted on the front door of the church said, “North Valley Baptist is failing to prevent those attending, performing and speaking at North Valley Baptist’s services from singing. This activity is unlawful. The county understands that singing is an intimate and meaningful component of religious worship. However, public health experts have also determined that singing together in close proximity and without face coverings transmits virus particles further in the air than breathing or speaking quietly. The county demands that North Valley Baptist immediately cease the activities listed above and fully comply with the Risk Reduction Order, the Gatherings Directive, the State July 13 Order and the State guidance. Failure to do so will result in enforcement action by the county.”

Santa Clara County had North Valley Baptist Church under surveillance:

Santa Clara County acknowledged in its cease and desist letter they had been sending agents into the church to spy on the congregation during worship services.

In his defence, the church’s pastor pointed to the Bible:

Pastor Jack Trieber said, “You can’t have any law against assembling in God’s house. None. I know we have a Constitutional right to worship, but we have a Higher Power that we answer to. I have a biblical mandate. We have obeyed authority in this church. We’ve always obeyed authority. But when local authority begins to disregard this authority, we go with this book right here,” he said pointing at the Bible.

This is the crazy situation that Newsom has created during the coronavirus outbreak. You can meet in church for anything except worship:

Gov. Newsom’s orders allow the church to feed, shelter, and provide social services, but the same people in the same building cannot worship. In order words, non-religious services are acceptable but religious services are banned. People can receive food, but not take communion. People can be housed overnight, but cannot hold a short worship service, Bible study, or meet for prayer. People can receive counseling to find work but cannot be counseled on finding eternal life.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The same governor who encourages mass protests, bans all worship and is now fining churches for their right to assemble and worship. The same governor who says the church can meet for secular services, bans the church from having religious worship. This unconstitutional hostility against religious worship must end.”

Absolutely. I could not agree more.

Thank you, H E, for another excellent comment. The quotes from LifeNews.com reinforce your salient and important points on this topic.

It is cruel that, during a time when church becomes even more important during a life and death health situation, California’s governor forbids his residents from seeking communal solace in God and in Jesus Christ.

While all was quiet in our streets during lockdown, many changes have no doubt been taking place in relative silence.

One of them was Sheffield Cathedral’s decision to disband their choir. The recently hired choirmaster felt he should resign. The choirmaster was not involved in the clergy’s discussions.

It is unclear what exactly infected the minds of the Church of England clergy during lockdown, but some of the ensuing results, such as this, are questionable.

On Thursday, July 23, 2020, The Guardian reported:

In a break with centuries of tradition, Sheffield cathedral is to stand down its choir in order to make a “completely fresh start” with a new team of choristers that reflects and engages with an increasingly diverse city.

A statement published on the cathedral’s website on Wednesday said “significant change” was needed. The cathedral’s governing body, the Chapter, had decided on “a new model for Anglican choral life here, with a renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion”, it added.

Although the cathedral’s music department had been the subject of a review, the closure of the choir was unexpected and is likely to infuriate traditionalists in the Church of England and classical music circles.

Apart from a handful of adult singers, the current choir is drawn largely from schools in the Sheffield area (including private schools) and mainly performs music from the Anglican choral tradition.

Clicking on the link for the Cathedral’s statement produces a pop-up window stating (emphases in the original):

Sheffield Cathedral is your Cathedral

Your Cathedral has seen many adversities throughout history to present time. Now we are faced with overcoming the challenges of COVID-19. 

Sheffield Cathedral is a beacon of hope for the whole community. People have been gathering on this site for nearly 1,000 years. With your support now, people will be able to gather here for many more years to come.

Please help your Cathedral to continue to be ‘A Place for All People’. Thank you.

The Very Reverend Peter Bradley, DL
The Dean of Sheffield

Well, that no longer holds true for the choir or the choir director, it would seem.

The Cathedral’s statement of July 22 reads, in part (emphases mine):

For some years the Dean and Chapter have been looking carefully at the music offer of Sheffield Cathedral. They have come to the conclusion that there needs to be significant change. This is in order to create a Music Department and Choir ready for the exciting future of the mixed urban community in which we live and work.

With the Diocesan Bishop, Chapter are appointing a new Canon Precentor in August, responsible for Cathedral worship and music. They hope this will bring increased creativity and stability.

Following a review of the Music Department in 2019, Sheffield Cathedral Chapter has decided that a completely fresh start is needed. As a result, Chapter concluded this is the right time to close the current Cathedral Choir.

This decision has not been easy because it will directly impact several colleagues and indirectly impact us all in our close-knit community. However, we believe this is in the best interests of the long-term mission of the Cathedral

For some time, Chapter has been considering a new model for Anglican choral life here, with a renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion. They recognise that this will require flexibility, imagination and experiment …

They look forward to working with our partners throughout our City and Diocese to make this renewed vision a reality under God.

Dean Bradley told The Guardian:

“We need to be engaging with people who are part of this changing city. We believe strongly in equality and giving as many children as possible the opportunity to sing at the highest level.”

The appeal of church music was wide but sometimes “presented in a way that can be seen as elitist”, he said.

Bradley acknowledged the decision to close the current choir would “cause genuine grief”. He hoped that some of the existing choristers would become members of a new choir, which will be formed after the appointment of a new canon precentor this summer.

The new choir will continue to perform music from the Anglican choral tradition but will broaden its repertoire, he said.

“This sort of change in our sort of institution can be immensely painful, but that’s not a reason not to move forward. My view is that many cathedrals will be making similar changes over the next few years.

“It’s going to be a bit torrid for us, but we’re not going to sit in a bunker.”

You can see photos and biographies of the men who made the decision here. Perhaps they should consider making a ‘new model’ — borrowing their words — for cathedral leadership themselves. Given their own logic, they could resign.

But I digress.

Back to The Guardian, which says that one professional vocalist who had sung at Sheffield Cathedral was deeply disappointed by the decision:

James Bingham, a former member of the Sheffield cathedral choir who now works for the Irish National Opera, said he was appalled by the cathedral’s statement, tweeting: “It implies that the Anglican church’s rich choral tradition is to blame for its declining influence.”

“Choral music is one of the great cultural legacies of the Church of England,” he told the Guardian.

The idea that classical music was elitist was misguided, Bingham said. “At Sheffield [cathedral], they’re making amazing music on a daily basis in the city centre that is free to everyone.”

As a student at Sheffield university, Bingham had sung as a choral scholar five times a week for three years. Choirs were strong communities bound together by frequent performance and rehearsal, he said.

“The cathedral choir still holds a big place in my heart. If this had happened while I was still there, I would be heartbroken.”

I agree. I sang in my church’s choir as a teenager, and it was a very close-knit group of people, young and old, male and female.

This was the Cathedral’s tweet on Saturday, July 25:

Good.

You can read more disappointed reactions here.

Another tweet, by way of reply, posted a link to the petition ‘Save Sheffield Cathedral Choir’. When I wrote this post at the end of July, the count of signatories went up and up as I was reading the petition.

The petition explains that the choir is already quite diverse:

In recent years, Sheffield Cathedral Choir has made great advances in encouraging the role of women and non-binary members among the lay clerks and choral scholars of the choir. It also supported a girls’ choir and a Schola Cantorum, serving university student communities. Cathedral musicians, past and present, led the Cathedral’s outreach work which took music across the city. Notably, this included the Sheffield Cathedral Sing! Project, which worked with 2,000 children from 30 primary schools each year, including children of mixed heritage, disabilities, and of socio-economic disadvantage. Through this work, cathedral musicians connected meaningfully with schools from some of Sheffield’s most disadvantaged areas.

The petition also takes exception to the accusation about privately-educated choristers:

Regrettably, the Dean and Chapter’s statement also advances a misleading argument regarding the proportion of choristers at Sheffield Cathedral that were privately educated. Over the last 20 years, privately educated children have typically constituted a minority of the choristers at Sheffield Cathedral. In fact, we are aware that the Dean and Chapter were seeking to establish a formal partnership with Birkdale School, a private school in the city this year. These actions seem to be at odds with the Dean and Chapter’s statements.

The mother of one of the choristers wrote a lengthy explanation of the background to the choir situation on Facebook. That post is a copy of a letter she sent to the Church Times. The Master of Music — choirmaster — who has since resigned was a recent hire. Excerpts follow.

See what changes lockdown can produce:

This is my understanding of what has happened, from my vantage point as a choir parent since 2011:

There was a very short review (perhaps two days?) last summer, but changes were made and the choir went from strength to strength from September 2019 to March 2020, evidenced in Chapter’s unanimous decision to appoint Joshua Stephens as Master of Music, taking up his post on 8th March to everyone’s great delight. However, with the onset of coronavirus, Mr Stephens was furloughed and the cathedral failed to communicate this to any of the choir. Mr Stephens allegedly experienced harassment from the cathedral management and silence from the clergy while furloughed. This was not unusual behaviour for the cathedral as others have experienced the same in the past, but lockdown sharpened the focus and made it more evident. I made a formal complaint but little action was taken, and Mr Stephens resigned at the end of June stating that he was not compatible with the prevailing culture in the cathedral. Chapter accepted his resignation without talking to him to understand his motives. Lay-clerks, parents, and choristers were distraught and begged Chapter to initiate mediation. But instead they decided to close down the choir and start afresh, with no encouragement to ex-choir members to be part of the new vision.

The lady posting on Facebook said that the choir had been considering a tour in Berlin, a wider recruitment programme and a means of providing continuity for boys whose voices were changing.

The clergy apparently did not care too much about the choir during lockdown, although the choristers’ parents did their best to maintain morale:

The choir was energised and optimistic, but during all the pressures of lockdown as well as the fire at the Cathedral Archer Project, the clergy admitted that the music department had “slipped through the net”. Nevertheless choir parents and layclerks kept up morale amongst the choristers with zoom parties on the theme of different composers each week, but there was no communication at all from the cathedral to the choir from the last choir rehearsal before lockdown until 24th June when the Dean talked about bringing Mr Stephens back off furlough and preparing to start up again.

BUT:

Mr Stephens was not copied into that email and he resigned the following day.

HMM:

The fourth Director of Music to leave Sheffield cathedral in five years.

His departure precipitated other resignations:

The cathedral’s Head Steward has also since resigned in protest, as did the leaders of the 100-strong Toddler group last year, and as has one of the choir chaperones, stating that she feels unsafe and unsupported.

Wow.

The first the choristers and their parents found out about the disbanding of the choir was through the media:

Indeed the press heard about it before even the choristers did!

Something is very wrong with the Church of England. They have used coronavirus to make rather unwelcome changes. Our churches are now becoming increasingly politicised.

Instead of offering succour to those who had a hard time getting through lockdown and the loss or illness of loved ones, they have turned their attention to the prevailing cultural movements of the day, rather than to our loving Saviour and merciful God our Father.

How un-Christian. How unbiblical.

I hope to post an update when I find out more news.

The coronavirus lockdown has been a blessing for Church of England clergy who want to re-do worship.

At the end of March, shortly after lockdown began, the Church’s archbishops — led by Canterbury (Welby) and York (Sentamu) — forbade clergy or congregants going into church to clean or check on its condition from praying while they were there.

This did not meet with universal approval from Anglican clergy:

There is a question as to whether this prohibition is actually legal:

Quite!

Not every diocese has adopted such stringent rules, although the congregation are not allowed inside:

Therefore, services are online. Most are live-streamed and require registering as well as being able to access the right platform, in some cases:

I realise that church closures aren’t a huge deal to people who don’t attend church, but for those of us who do, it is. We were brought up to worship and that needs to be done regularly in what we knew as children as ‘God’s house’. That is an entirely different matter from a collective church comprised of people who evangelise when they are not worshipping.

This year, we missed out on worship on the Church’s greatest feast, Easter. We missed Pentecost 50 days later. We missed Trinity Sunday, which was June 7.

Churches might not open in England until July 4. A Conservative MP asked Boris Johnson at PMQs on Wednesday, June 3, if the reopening could occur sooner. He burbled a bit and said he completely understood the desire to worship in church. Personally, I doubt anything will happen before July but am grateful that the MP asked the question.

On May 14, the Church Times reported that some Anglican vicars’ priorities are different to their congregants’ (emphases mine):

Far from rushing to unveil plans for opening up their premises, individual churches showed a marked reluctance this week to embark on any kind of detailed planning. Most acknowledge themselves to be too busy and have simply ‘parked’ the issue of return for the time being.

On May 29, the Church Times had an article about church after lockdown has been lifted:

Such rejuvenation may help to release us from the prison of our church building, which, for many, have become shrines to the past which not only soak up energy and resources, but also perpetuate concepts of division and hierarchy harmful to a mature understanding of who we are.

Right.

So, all of a sudden, after nearly two millennia of gathering to worship in church buildings, we should abandon them. Apparently, those who went before us and have worshipped in churches had an ‘immature’ understanding of Christianity and themselves.

Okay, sure (not).

The article also accuses people who enjoy attending church of:

over-indulgence in churchiness

Wow.

The article advocates a strong emphasis on online services.

Are we supposed to consecrate our own hosts for Communion, too? Probably. Wrong, on so many levels!

This is the cartoon that accompanied the article. How true:

On May 23, Catherine Pepinster wrote an excellent article for the Telegraph: ‘Whisper it, but the C of E might not mind that much if the Covid crisis leads to church closures’.

She provided an insight into Pentecost Sunday, traditionally known as Whitsun, which was May 31 this year:

Could there be a quainter title for a poem than The Whitsun Weddings? Philip Larkin’s 1955 work harks back to a once familiar tradition for church weddings to take place on what was known as Whit Saturday, the day before Whit Sunday. Today, most people will have absolutely no idea that next Sunday [May 31] is Whit Sunday and that it is a Christian feast to equal Christmas and Easter, marking the moment when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles after Christ had ascended to heaven. But this year on Whit Sunday, like Ascension Day which should have been marked two days ago, the churches will be empty as if Whitsun is indeed now a quaint festival, a throwback to Larkin’s England. There will be no choirs, no readings, no congregation.

She has spoken with vicars during lockdown, and the news is not good:

Anglican vicars around the country, from London to Liverpool, Buckinghamshire to Lincolnshire, have been telling me how fearful they are of their parish churches going bust. Reserves are being spent. They know they are storing up more financial headaches the longer they are in lockdown. Nobody has recently crossed ecclesiastical thresholds to carry out any repairs or refurbishment, storing up costly maintenance problems in historic buildings that need regular care.

It was bad even before coronavirus:

Just a few weeks before lockdown, a report with a startling statistic dropped onto the desks of church officials: that the greatest reduction in the Church of England’s stock of churches since the 16th century is under wayStruggling, Closed and Closing Churches  – produced by the Church Buildings Council – said that in the past 50 years 2,000 churches have closed, which is about 10 per cent of the stock. Now vicars fear plenty more could be shut for good.

Yes, the C of E has made loans to churches during this time, but that will not be enough:

Given the Church Commissioners have huge amounts of money tucked away this might be surprising, and they have lent the dioceses £75 million to pay salaries during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet it’s not enough to keep every church going. Liverpool diocese, for example, has already furloughed some of its curates. But it’s the money that comes in via the parishes themselves that normally props up the whole system, especially those dioceses without big endowments. That is what is lacking now.

Bishops, she says, will be eager to get rid of local churches in favour of larger ones requiring transportation to get to:

Some bishops are already saying they will bring forward decisions they have been putting off and will close some churches for good. That will be popular with the accountants – but also with the people in the Church of England who like talking about ‘hubs’ and ‘places of strength’. The jargon is used about a slimmed-down Church of England that focuses on buildings that can house large congregations to which people drive from miles around while everything else goes online.

I fully agree with her conclusion:

a church isn’t just a Facebook singalong. It’s a place that evokes those who went before us and are now remembered in plaques on the wall, in the stained glass, and in the adjoining graveyard. It’s a building that connects us to the present, that acts as the beating heart of a neighbourhood, even for those who do not attend on a Sunday. And if Covid-19 means some churches never re-open, that beating heart will be stilled.

The incoming Archbishop of York denies a Sunday newspaper report that he will begin closing churches. I bet he is considering it:

On June 2, the Church Times posted an article about the delay in reopening churches: ‘If shops, why not churches? Government challenged over restrictions’.

Based on what I’ve written above, I think it’s rather disingenuous to put all the blame on the government.

Churchgoers want an earlier opening than July:

A Savanta ComRes opinion poll commissioned by the National Churches Trust and published on Sunday suggested that the public backed the early reopening of churches and chapels, provided they could maintain social distancing. Forty-six per cent of the adults polled supported reopening earlier than 4 July: a tentative date mentioned at the start of May. This figure rose to 66 per cent among respondents who attended regularly.

At least one Anglican bishop has written to MPs asking for churches to reopen:

In an open letter sent on Monday to MPs whose constituencies lie in his diocese, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, writes: “I hope that you would lobby for an urgent review of the continued closure of our church buildings to individuals who seek solace in such places [church buildings]. . . 

“At a time when tensions run high, I believe that there is a deep thirst for access to churches and cathedrals as places of prayer for people of committed faith, or for anyone who is in search of space in which to find peace.

“I am fortunate to live near to Chichester cathedral. Each day I see individuals peering in through its glass doors. I know from personal experience what pressing and intimate needs find expression in the prayers that they write down and leave behind.

“We urgently need places and experience that build hope, trust, and endurance. The capacity of the Christian Church to engender those virtues through prayer and stillness in its buildings should not be underestimated.” 

Another bishop has been resorting to Twitter. After the daily coronavirus briefing on Pentecost Sunday:

the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, suggested: “I think we should be arguing (a) that it is too soon to open other buildings; or (b) that our churches should be allowed to open alongside them. To suggest that our churches should remain closed while other ‘non-essential’ shops and buildings open is to condone secularism.”

The benefits of prayer were “not generally of such direct economic benefit”, but that did not mean that they didn’t matter, he observed. “The risk to a person sitting quietly to pray in a church which is properly cleaned and supervised is surely not greater than a trip to the supermarket?”

He was joined by Bishop Tom Wright, who wrote in The Times:

Absolutely!

Here’s a Episcopal priest’s view from across the pond in Cincinnati:

You can take a Church Times survey, for a limited time, on the state of the Church in England. It’s got plenty of room for extended replies.

If you love the Church and live in England, please make your voice heard.

On Sunday, May 24, the Telegraph posted an article that brightened my day: ‘Churches must be allowed to reopen, MPs demand in letter to PM’.

We haven’t been able to attend church since the middle of March, which is also true for other houses of worship.

I am mystified as to why the House of Commons is able to social distance adequately, with alternate benches closed and designated seating, but religious leaders cannot be trusted to do the same in their places of worship.

Fortunately, 20 Conservative MPs wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, expressing their incredulity that we can go to a supermarket but not to church (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson has been urged by a group of Conservative MPs to allow churches to open for prayer, weddings and funerals as soon as next month.

The 20 MPs, including former ministers and senior backbenchers, questioned why shoppers can go to a “busy supermarket” to buy food and drinks but worshippers in need of spiritual sustenance cannot currently pray in a largely empty church.

“Weddings (whether in the church porch or inside), christenings and other services are wanted; safely and soon”, the MPs said. “Ten can gather in a crematorium yet one cannot be in a church.”

The Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy published earlier this month put churches and other public places of worship in the same bracket as pubs and cinemas, and said that could not reopen until July 4 at the earliest.

It added that some of these venues may not be able to open even then because “it may prove difficult to enact distancing”.

However, in a letter to the Prime Minister, a copy of which has been seen by The Telegraph, the MPs make clear that “many [of us] want further faster opening of churches and places of worship”.

They said: “We ask for clear guidance, rules removed and discretion allowed as local faith leaders stay alert and make churches, chapels and places of prayer and worship available to the faithful. Everyone understands the value of appropriate social distancing and the obligation to avoid contamination”

The letter was sent to Mr Johnson and his Parliamentary Private Secretary Andrew Bowie this weekend. It has been organised by Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley. Other signatories include Tim Loughton and Sir Bob Neill as well as senior members of the influential backbench 1922 committee of Tory MPs such as the chairman Sir Graham Brady and executive officer Bob Blackman.

The group warned Mr Johnson that “the Cabinet and you know the strength of backbench feeling”, and expressed concern that some places of worship might not even be able to open in July.

They said: “Even that may be extended by delay in publishing regulations, decisions by diocesan bishops and local circumstances.

Quoting a representative Catholic pastor, they tell Mr Johnson: “I ask you to put pressure on the Government for private prayer as soon as possible. Two-metre social distancing is easy (easier than in a supermarket) and sensible hygiene precautions can quickly be put in place.

“It seems odd that you can go for a walk, enter a busy supermarket, get on a bus, but cannot go to a large virtually-empty-for-much-of-the-time building.”

They add: “We ask that our leaders, Government and church, especially the Church of England, together find reasonably safe ways to reopen our churches for prayer, for funerals even with limited congregations and for worship sooner than July.”

That day, I heard an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury on BBC News. He said he was more concerned about Mental Health Week at that time than reopening churches. It seemed an odd remark. Surely, church can help assuage mental health symptoms as those so afflicted can focus on faith, salvation and fellowship — especially during the coronavirus crisis:

At present, the Church of England has instructed clergy that they may go in to church to clean it — but not to pray! Daft.

The Archbishop of Canterbury films services in his kitchen:

However, the Bishop of London, the Right Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, a former nursing chief, disagrees …

… although she films sermons from her home:

Her flexible instruction, it seems, was a wise one, as some clergy were unhappy with Welby’s wholesale closure:

Bishop Mullally, who was UK’s chief nursing officer from 1999-2004, said priests could livestream services from within a church building if they could access it via an internal door from their home, or without leaving the curtilage of the church.

The Archbishop’s wholesale ban upset priests who felt he does not have the right to order clergy who are answerable to their own bishops.

One said: “He’s panicked and shut everything down,” while another vicar who used Zoom to conduct a Palm Sunday for a 90-strong congregation and will do so again on Easter Sunday, said: “The whole situation is ridiculous”.

That said, this Good Friday tweet appears to contradict that flexibility:

On Good Friday, London’s St Bartholomew the Great filmed a service with priest and choir:

Hospital chapels are another area of contention, as this letter to the Times, from St Bartholomew’s rector (shown in the above video), reveals. Click on the image to read the letter in full:

I like this priest. He’s eager — and rightly so — to have his congregation return:

This is amazing (as in awful):

That brought another set of replies from a curate and a gentleman in Montreal:

I fully agree with the ‘social service agency’ sentiment.

The discussion returned to Mr Walker and a random Twitter user. This is great. I’m so glad the priest took this man on:

Excellent reply.

Whenever church opens, I hope there will be a new market for those who have begun praying at home — and perhaps watching online services — during the past several weeks:

Plans are already underway to work out methods for reopening London’s Anglican churches whilst maintaining social distancing.

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 13:17-19

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

———————————————————————————————

The verses in last week’s post were a final warning against falling into apostasy by following teaching that goes against Scripture and the Good News.

The first verse in today’s selection is a rather substantial one relating to the clergy or, as they were called at the time, overseers (verse 17).

The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, counsels his Jewish converts to obey their overseers and submit to them spiritually, because being an overseer is all-consuming work as, at the end of it, he has to give an account to the Lord. Therefore, we should respect their position, the onerous responsibility of that position and allow them to get on with their work without putting obstacles in their way. If a good clergyman leaves as a result of petty obstacles, ultimately, the congregation loses.

Matthew Henry explains the issue impartially — and well (emphases mine):

It is not an implicit obedience, or absolute submission, that is here required, but only so far as is agreeable to the mind and will of God revealed in his word; and yet it is truly obedience and submission, and that not only to God, but to the authority of the ministerial office, which is of God as certainly, in all things belonging to that office, as the authority of parents or of civil magistrates in the things within their sphere. Christians must submit to be instructed by their ministers, and not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great, to learn from them; and, when they find that ministerial instructions are agreeable to the written word, they must obey them.

It is sometimes difficult in our era to submit, especially to clergy who are quasi-agnostics (I have known a few). To them, I have kept my distance beyond civil pleasantries of a greeting and a kind word on Sundays.

As far as clergy are concerned, Henry — who was an Anglican clergyman himself — says that they are not to lord their position over the congregation:

They have the rule over the people; their office, though not magisterial, yet is truly authoritative. They have no authority to lord it over the people, but to lead them in the ways of God, by informing and instructing them, explaining the word of God to them, and applying it to their several cases.

Henry explains the heavy responsibility of a clergyman:

They watch for the souls of the people, not to ensnare them, but to save them; to gain them, not to themselves, but to Christ; to build them up in knowledge, faith, and holiness. They are to watch against every thing that may be hurtful to the souls of men, and to give them warning of dangerous errors, of the devices of Satan, of approaching judgments; they are to watch for all opportunities of helping the souls of men forward in the way to heaven.

After they have exercised their solemn duties on Earth, they will have to give an account to the Lord:

[3.] They must give an account how they have discharged their duty, and what has become of the souls committed to their trust, whether any have been lost through their neglect, and whether any of them have been brought in and built up under their ministry. [4.] They would be glad to give a good account of themselves and their hearers. If they can then give in an account of their own fidelity and success, it will be a joyful day to them; those souls that have been converted and confirmed under their ministry will be their joy, and their crown, in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, we should think of our clergy as we would a shepherd busy with his flock or, as John MacArthur says, a triage nurse:

I’ll tell you something, that’s a joy. The sweetest joy that comes into the life of a pastor who’s committed to the things of God is when he sees somebody walking in truth and bearing fruit. Believe me, that’s sweet. And the tragedy of all tragedies in the life of the man of God is when he sees those in whom he invests his life who do not bear fruit, who do not walk in the truth, who stray away. That grieves – worse than anything else. We’re like nurses, you know, with critical care patients. We care for your souls …

It’s a serious thing to be a critical care nurse in the church. It’s a serious thing to be a wakeful shepherd of a flock that has sheep that are forever going astray. And we have to labor as those – and I say this even with a sense of reluctance in my own heart to – to even admit that this is true, that I must give an account to God for the way that I minister to the care of the souls that He entrusts to me. And as I’ve said before, that’s why I’m not real anxious to have more people. I’m not too sure I’m doing the right job with the ones I’ve got.

What humility. He preached this in 1973, and, since then, his team’s ministry has gone international. That said, I bet he still has the same concerns — and rightly so.

MacArthur points out that St Paul had his share of faithful and rebellious congregations. The faithful ones made him joyful and the rebellious ones grieved him:

I think sometimes the saddest group of people, the most grieved group of men, are very often ministers, pastors. And I think sometimes the reason is because of the fact that they are dealing with a stubborn and rebellious people who, because they will not submit, rob them of the joy of their ministry.

The idea of the word “grief” here is groaning, over a thankless task, and there are many men whose ministry is a very thankless thing. And he says you ought to submit, just for the joy of the one who labors with you. You know, the Apostle Paul knew about that joy, apparently especially the Philippians were a submissive bunch. He didn’t express a whole lot of joy over the Corinthians. In fact, they were a pain in the neck as well as the heart. But in Philippians 1:4, he says, “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” He said to the Philippians, “You make me happy.” And the reason was because they were submissive.

The author of Hebrews then issued a personal message, requesting the converts’ prayers for him and Timothy (verse 18). (I’ll have more on Timothy next week.) The author is sure both have clear consciences as they attempt to act honourably in all their undertakings.

Henry says this request came because the Jews hated Paul, wrongly so, but the author and Timothy were taking great pains to not offend anyone unnecessarily:

Many of the Jews had a bad opinion of Paul, because he, being a Hebrew of the Hebrews, had cast off the Levitical law and preached up Christ: now he here modestly asserts his own integrity: We trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. We trust! he might have said, We know; but he chose to speak in a humble style, to teach us all not to be too confident of ourselves, but to maintain a godly jealousy over our own hearts.

The author asked for their prayers so that he might be with them again that much sooner (verse 19). MacArthur explains:

And so he says, pray for me, I deserve it. Secondly he says, pray for me, I need it. I need it. Verse 19, “I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.” I want to get there. You say that guy actually believed that prayer works? Does he believe that if he was going 30 miles an hour and they started praying, he’d go 90 miles an hour to get there? He believed that. Doesn’t sound too much like fatalism to me. Not at all. He knew God heard and answered prayer. There’s no blind fatalism.

Sadly, next week’s verses conclude the Book of Hebrews. However, I will follow up with posts on the first eight verses of Hebrews 13, which explain how to live the Christian life. Fortunately, those verses are in the Lectionary.

Next time — Hebrews 13:20-25

In my new series ‘What’s on Episcopal priests’ minds’, here’s a good tweet on eschatology: the theological view of the end of the world, or, in Christian parlance, Christ’s Second Coming.

This comes from the Revd J Wesley Evans, OPA, an Anglo-Catholic based in Texas who belongs to the Anglican Order of Preachers. The Order of Preachers — O.P. — is better known as the Dominicans.

Two weeks ago, he lamented that the Episcopal Church does not preach enough about eschatology. I wholeheartedly agree, for all the reasons he states:

Sadly, a reply he received displays all the wrong thinking of the Episcopal Church and, in many respects, the Anglican Communion in Western countries. Contrary to what the Revd Hill says, eschatology should not be restricted to the season of Advent alone:

So, how does one preach about eschatology?

Here is one useful and rather timely example, given that the Super Bowl took place on February 2, 2020. This comes from a young deacon who is preparing to be ordained to the priesthood (i.e. ‘transitional’). The Revd AD Armond works for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Lousiana as a school chaplain:

If one wanted to preach on eschatology more often, however, how would one do it?

Fr Evans offers his thoughts on preaching in general. There is a fine line to be struck between giving congregants a sense of complacency on the one hand and, on the other, despair.

There’s another important message in the first tweet. God makes no promises regarding our health (N.B.) or wealth:

That last tweet says it all concerning ‘the virtue of Faith’.

One wonders how many other clergy are that concerned about their Sunday sermons. Would that they all were that intent on preaching about our spiritual health — and faith.

Last week — and by chance — I found a few interesting Twitter feeds from Episcopal priests in the United States.

I’m thinking of starting a new series: ‘What’s on Episcopal priests’ minds’.

Without further ado, here goes.

The Revd Robert Hendrickson is rector of Saint Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona. He is an Anglo-Catholic.

This tweet lists his views on Sunday services:

I’m not sure what he is saying about Purgatory, which, as far as I know, is not a belief of the Episcopal Church.

For everything else, in layman’s terms, he is saying that:

a) the priest should kiss — osculate — the altar. A proper altar should have a consecrated square of stone in it that the celebrant kisses before celebrating the Communion service, as if he were kissing Christ. It is a sign of reverence.

b) the celebrant should wear a maniple, which is an embroidered band of silk worn over the left hand, reminding a priest that he is God’s servant. From Wikipedia, which has illustrations (emphases mine below):

Originally, the maniple was likely a piece of linen which clerics used to wipe their faces and hands and has been described by some modern commentators as being akin to a handkerchief. It appears to have been used in the Roman liturgy since at least the 6th century. The maniple can vary widely in size, shape, and degree of embroidery and ornamentation.

Common symbolic comments refer to the maniple’s likeness to the rope by which Christ was led and the chains which bound his hands. It has also become known as an emblem of the tears of penance, the burden of sin, and the fatigue of the priestly office. This understanding is reflected in the vesting prayer said while putting on the maniple before Mass. Anglican commentators have described the maniple as a symbol of being a servant to the servants of God.

Alphonsus Liguori claimed: “It is well known that the maniple for the purpose of wiping away the tears that flowed from the eyes of the priest; for in former times priests wept continually during the celebration of Mass.”[11]

c) he does not like concelebrated Communion services. Concelebrated services parcel out various parts of the Communion liturgy among two or more priests. (I agree: too distracting.)

d) the Revised Common Lectionary is not very good. (I tend to agree.)

e) the Revised Standard Version of the Bible is preferable to the New Revised Standard Version.

f) facing east — the traditional direction — at the altar is preferable but not better.

g) he would like to see more feast days celebrating Mary, the mother of Jesus.

h) benediction — a blessing — should be offered to all who do not receive Communion.

i) Morning Prayer — what used to be the main Sunday service, with one or two Communion services per month — is preferable over Communion every week. (I definitely agree.)

This is why he dislikes concelebrated services:

Some priests believe that getting in the habit of going up to the altar to receive a blessing instead of Communion accustoms people who are not yet baptised to the altar rail. This is a relatively recent development in the Anglican Communion and, quite possibly, priests might have a point:

Morning Prayer is a big hobby horse of mine, too. Would that it returned:

Robert Hendrickson explains his religious journey, including his love of Morning Prayer, in a fascinating post of his, ‘Morning Prayers with Hymns and Anthems: A Catholic Case for the Office on Sunday at 11:00’.

Like me, he was raised a Catholic. For both of us, Morning Prayer was a big draw to the Episcopal Church. Both of us also read the Book of Common Prayer (different to the English one) and got to know clergy and congregation at the churches we respectively chose.

His experience fully mirrors my own.

Excerpts follow from his defence of Morning Prayer.

His story begins in New Haven, Connecticut. His wife had been raised a Methodist. Both were looking for one church they felt mutually comfortable in.

Enter Morning Prayer, especially Rite I:

Our third Sunday, we visited Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green. The welcome there was warm without being cloying. The music was beautiful. The choir that day was the Choir of Men and Boys. The liturgy was dignified without being self-conscious. It was Rite I Morning Prayer with Hymns and Anthems done with grace, dignity, reverence, and joy. In short, it was classically Anglican and my wife and I both fell in love with the parish.

Coming to New Haven, I had grown up Roman Catholic and my wife had grown up United Methodist. We were looking for a church that we could attend together. The beauty of Trinity on the Green’s Morning Prayer service was that I could participate fully and prayerfully without wrestling with what it meant to come to a “protestant” Communion service. By the time a service of Holy Communion came around at Trinity, I had talked with the priest there, gotten to know parishioners, read large parts of the Book of Common Prayer, and made up my mind that this was the church for me. More importantly, it was the church for us.

Morning Prayer served an evangelical function in the best sense of that word. We were brought into the life of the parish and, over time, made the decision to receive Communion there. It was a service in which the presence of God was made manifest through art and warmth and we were drawn into the Presence of God, in the Sacrament, over time and after much thought. We committed to the parish and felt deeply and warmly cared for.

Hendrickson became a priest, thanks to that profound experience via Morning Prayer:

I daresay that I owe my vocation in the Episcopal Church to Morning Prayer (as well as kind priests who encouraged me).

For those parishes looking for a way to be welcoming while maintaining the historic Reformed and Catholic understandings of the Sacraments, I would urge a re-examination of our Church’s history of Morning Prayer as a central act of worship.

Detractors will say — and they do — that one should not deny the congregation Holy Communion. At the church I attended in the US, the early morning and evening services were Communion services every Sunday. The main one, however, was Morning Prayer on most Sundays. We had one Communion service per month at 11:00.

Hendrickson appreciates what the detractors are saying, however:

If the choice, however, is between Communion without Baptism (an abandonment of the Reformed and Catholic traditions) or regular Morning Prayer with less frequent Communion, then Morning Prayer makes great sense

Now so many have much of the ceremony but little of the theology …

Morning Prayer can be an absolutely beautiful and dignified service full of joy.

It is ideal for newcomers — Christians who are church shopping and especially those who are enquiring about Christianity:

It is a service ideally suited for education, formation, and evangelism. It can prepare believers for Baptism and Communion. For those who are seeking a way to welcome, educate, and form believers for the life of the Sacraments, Morning Prayer is a meaningful and authentic liturgical response.

As more and more people come to our churches with little or no experience of the Church, minimal knowledge of the story of Christ, and virtually no understanding of the Sacraments, regular Morning Prayer may make far more sense than regular Mass. In many ways, it would be a return to a time when we had a Mass of the Catechumens (those being instructed in the faith) and the Mass of the Faithful (those that have received Baptism).

This does not impart judgment or a lesser status! This means we have a group of people being raised up in the faith and that we trust them to hear, learn, and to make the choice as to whether they want to make that step through Baptism to the Altar. If I were to enter a temple, mosque, or any other holy place, I would not expect to be welcomed to their holiest rites as a visitor. In fact, I would assume they were not all that important to them if I were!

Our modern Christian experience is looking evermore like that of the early Church and our practices need to be informed by them. We will have more adult baptizands, more people knowing little of the story of Christ, and less cultural influence. We will have to take the time to bring these folks into the fullness of the faith we have received. It is not our role to dismantle the Sacraments we have been entrusted with but to find new ways to draw those who have never heard to the Remembrance. Morning Prayer may be the perfect Anglican answer for this day and age.

Fully agree!

I see that Saint Philip’s in the Hills still has 100% Communion services, but, here’s hoping the congregation and clergy eventually make the move towards Morning Prayer.

As I close a week discussing Disroyalty starring the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, here are a few more views about their plans as well as a summary of what went on at Sandringham on Monday, January 13, 2020.

Before I get to those, however, it is important to remember that other Royals will have to pick up the Sussexes’ slack, leaving 200 engagements per year to divide among them.

Key points about the Sandringham summit

Here’s what to know about the Sandringham summit on Monday.

The Daily Mail says that Harry arrived at 11:20 a.m.

By then, Prince Philip had already left and was driven elsewhere on the estate. He was reportedly furious last week:

Philip was reportedly ‘spitting blood’ with anger when he found out last Wednesday and yelled at his aides: ‘What the hell are they playing at?’

If he left, he wasn’t feeling any calmer.

Prince Charles had arrived the day before. Prince William showed up 15 minutes before the meeting began at 2:00 p.m.

The meeting was held in the Long Library, which used to be a bowling alley. Princes William and Harry spent much time there as children.

It is located away from other rooms where the Royals might have been overheard.

Meanwhile, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, denied charges of racism (same link):

Ms Patel, speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, said: ‘I’m not in that category at all where I believe there’s racism at all. 

‘I think we live in a great country, a great society, full of opportunity, where people of any background can get on in life.’

Asked if the media had been in any way racist, she replied: ‘I don’t think so, no… I certainly haven’t seen that through any debates or commentary or things of that nature.’

On January 14, the Mail reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson wisely refused to be drawn in on the controversy:

In his first major TV interview since the election, Mr Johnson said: ‘I am a massive fan of the Queen and of the Royal Family…

‘I am absolutely confident that they are going to sort this out.’

I was happy to read that Harry’s early arrival ensured that he could have a lengthy one-on-one conversation with his grandmother.

Bolter

In 2018, a few months before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married, Germaine Greer gave an interview to Australia’s 60 Minutes in which she said she thought the bride would end up leaving.

The Cut posted the story on April 16. Prescient (emphases mine):

During an interview with 60 Minutes Australia this weekend, outspoken and controversial feminist author Germaine Greer said she thinks Markle “will bolt” as soon as she gets a sense of what life in the British royal family (which Greer refers to as “the firm”) is really like.

“Let’s hope they’re in love. If they’re not it’s going to be totally unbearable,” Greer told journalist Tara Brown. “She will see vistas of boredom that are unbelievable. I think the pressure to escape from the firm is crushing.”

When Brown asked what she predicted for the couple’s future, Greer answered, “I think she’ll bolt.”

“She bolted before. She was out the door,” she said, referring to Markle’s 2013 divorce from Trevor Engelson. “I think she’ll bolt. I hope in a way that she’ll bolt but maybe she’ll take Harry with her.”

When asked why Markle, already a successful television star, would give up her career to marry into the royal family, Greer quipped: “Why would a girl born in poverty marry a man with 53 million quid? I can’t think of single reason.”

It seems Harry might be worth less than that — possibly £30m, but the point stands.

There is also the status involved.

Opportunism

The deputy political editor at the Daily Mail, John Stevens, had this to say about the Sussexes’ announcement last week:

In fact, that is quite possible.

Allegedly, Justin Trudeau knew of their plans before the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family. So did Elton John.

On January 11, the Daily Mail reported:

There was speculation last night that Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have given a cryptic Twitter clue about the crisis that was about to engulf the Royal Family.

When news emerged that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had turned their back on Royal tradition and flown to Canada for Christmas, their powerful friend was one of the first to welcome them on social media.

He wrote: ‘You’re among friends, and always welcome here.’

Just weeks later, the Royal couple were looking to test that ‘always’ by announcing their move to Canada.

And the tweet has done little to dampen gossip in Embassy circles that Mr Trudeau was more aware of the Sussexes’ emigration plans than even their closest family.

Diplomatic sources claim Mr Trudeau and his wife Sophie were consulted about the decision late last year, before members of the Royal family and even the Queen.

The Trudeaus are friends with the Sussexes:

Last night, the Canadian government did not respond when confronted about the claims, but sources close to the Sussexes denied they had discussed the move with Prime Minister Trudeau.

The Canadian First Couple and the Sussexes have been close friends, with Meghan and Sophie even sharing a stylist – Meghan’s best friend and sometime babysitter for Archie, Jessica Mulroney.

Prince Harry, 35, and Mr Trudeau, 48, are two of the younger fixtures on the world stage, with both men appearing to enjoy each other’s company at events such as Commonwealth commemorations.

The two have also encountered each other on multiple occasions through Prince Harry’s Invictus Games for disabled servicemen.

I wonder if the Sussexes are aware that, many years ago, Trudeau once attended a fancy dress party in blackface. He thought nothing of it at the time. Terrible.

Returning to John Stevens’s tweet, here are a few responses:

Money

Although, technically, what Prince Charles does with his income from the Duchy of Cornwall is his business, the British would be annoyed if he continued to finance Prince Harry:

This YouGov poll shows similar results:

This Briton tweeted about the video of Harry touting Meghan to Disney’s Bob Iver for voiceover work:

Naturally, some of the money she would earn from such work would go to charity. Of course:

Trudeau said that his country will pay for the Sussexes’ security detail. Canadians won’t be too happy about that:

Another Daily Mail report said that Canada would pay half the Sussexes’ £1m annual security detail cost. We shall see. On January 14, the Mail published an article quoting Trudeau, who said:

I think most Canadians are very supportive of having royals be here, but how that looks and what kind of costs are involved, there are still lots of discussions to have.

Family

The young Anglican priest who tweeted the following has mistakenly said that the Sussexes are on the Civil List. They are not.

However, the larger point about their role in the Royal Family is what is important:

The Revd Giles Fraser, formerly Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and now Rector of St Mary, Newington in South London, wrote a considered article on the topic that the Revd Philip Murray raised. The Bishop of Dorking (Surrey) complimented him on it:

Excerpts follow:

Do we still recognise moral obligations that exist prior to our having chosen them? That is, it seems to me, the question embedded within the whole Megxit scandal. It couldn’t have been better designed to drive a wedge between two very different ways of seeing the world

But this isn’t just about monarchy. For the same tension exists within the very idea of a family — the Windsors being, as well as royal, the most famous family in the world. How does liberalism — of which Meghan Markle feels like a supreme representative — deal with that age-old sense of moral obligation towards those who have brought you into life and have raised and nurtured you, without you having chosen them for the task. Of course, some families fail in this very basic duty. And most of us parents only get it half right, at best.

Without this very basic idea that we are born into some fundamental unit of existential solidarity, something towards which we owe an allegiance long before we are able to choose it, human life is released from its moorings and we are all deeply lost. This is where liberalism flounders. For when it comes to the most important basis of human flourishing, family life, liberalism has nothing useful to say, other than to remind us that some families are destructive and dysfunctional and best escaped from. Be your own person, it advises. Break free. But this is to cut off the branch on which nests are built.

Sense of duty

A Theology graduate from Cambridge University has the ultimate analysis of the Duchess and her outlook on a sense of duty.

This is a must-read:

So true — especially the closing thought about helping minority Britons!

When they got married, I thought she might look forward to such a role. I was wrong.

Poll on the monarchy

Between Thursday and Friday, January 9 and 10, Deltapoll conducted a survey on the monarchy. This was after the Sussexes’ announcement.

The favourable results were lower than I’d expected:

A Pole responded to that tweet, encouraging us to keep the Royal Family:

Good or bad? It’s important. I come originally from Poland. I read Polish papers and monarchy issues make front page headlines there. The monarchy is ‘s trademark, as it were, recognised worldwide. Try and lose it to see how good it actually is to have it.

I fully agree.

This is a breakdown of the question by age group:

I also agree with these replies:

I do not think that most of our Prime Ministers would have made great Presidents.

The Royal Family are good for Britain. Let’s not discard them because of the actions of a few bad apples.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauOn the First Sunday of Advent a fortnight ago, our vicar (Anglican) urged us to use the four Sundays of Advent wisely.

This is the first time I have personally heard a Protestant clergyman exhort his congregation to examine their consciences before Christmas.

The Gospel reading was Matthew 24:36-44, wherein Jesus described His Second Coming (emphases mine):

24:36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,

24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Our vicar advised us to consider the state of our souls with regard to death. We do not know when we will depart this mortal coil, therefore, we should take every care to make sure we are spiritually prepared.

He said that we put so much time and effort into preparing materially for Christmas — sending cards, wrapping presents and preparing meals — that we forget the deeper meaning of the season.

Just as John the Baptist called upon his followers to repent of their sins in preparation for Christ’s ministry, we, too, would do well to consider if our souls are in an appropriate state.

I wrote about this in 2012: ‘Advent: John the Baptist’s message of Good News — and repentance‘. I cited a sermon from a Reformed clergyman, the Revd Scott E Hoezee, ‘When Advent Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas’ (Reformed Worship, September 1997). In that article, he says of these weeks prior to Christmas:

… if you are to meet and greet this Messiah correctly, you must admit that you need him in the first place. If you don’t, then you’ll have no use for Jesus once he’s born

Only those willing to turn their lives over to God are ready for the Christ. The rest, John says, are fuel for the fire. None of that is very Christmaslike. Or is it?

His sermon cites Luke 3. Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was from Matthew 3, which was a similar account about John the Baptist’s ministry, also mentioning ‘chaff’ and ‘fire’.

By all means, let’s enjoy the festive season within reason, but let us also remember Whose season it is — and why.

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