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A well known Catholic priest from Glasgow, the Revd James ‘Big Jim’ Doherty, died earlier this month.

On January 10, 2022, Tim Stanley, a Catholic and a columnist for The Telegraph, related one of his favourite anecdotes about Big Jim:

A tribute to another outspoken Catholic

Speaking of outspoken Catholics, I’d like to pay tribute to Fr James Doherty, AKA “Big Jim”, a Glasgow priest who died last week, of whom the stories are legendary. On one occasion, a man appeared at the presbytery with a notepad that read: “I am homeless, deaf and dumb. Please help.” The cleric had seen this trick before.

“Can you lip read?” asked Big Jim. The man nodded. “Well, I’ve nae money, honey, but if you’ll come into the house, I’ll make you a sandwich.” Thank you, the man nodded.

As they walked past the huge gong the house keeper would use to summon the clergy to lunch, Jim whacked it so hard it rang like Big Ben. “Good God!” cried the homeless man, “What the Hell did you do that for?!”

“Oh, it’s a double miracle!” said Big Jim. “Ye can hear and ye can speak!!”

“Aye well,” replied the man, rubbing his ears, “you’ve got to work bloody hard to get any money out of people nowadays.”

Jim made the man his sandwich.

That’s one of the best anecdotes I’ve read in some time.

Lying does not pay, especially to a priest. Priests have heard or seen everything under the sun. They are not to be underestimated.

Over the New Year, a few tweets from Anglican priests caught my eye.

The first is from the Revd William Pearson-Gee, vicar of Buckingham Parish Church, whose sermon about not closing church for coronavirus went viral on Sunday, December 19, 2021:

He has the following suggestions for 2022, which will serve us better than easily-broken resolutions:

The Revd Steve Collier encourages us to put away fear and embrace living:

As far as coronavirus is concerned, Mr Pearson-Gee would like a focus on meaningful data rather than scary statistics:

He was bemused by a panicked mother who drove her child from Kent to Milan for the vaccine:

On the deeply sad news that 400 Anglican churches have closed in England over the past decade alone, he made an unintentional yet inspired typo. He meant to say ‘conversation’:

I am pretty sure that the Church of England hierarchy is responsible for a number of those closures, as they advocate for online church and only a hub of actual buildings. Philistines! The laity are fighting back. We’ll see who wins.

At least Mr Pearson-Gee’s church is doing well:

People know that they need more human contact rather than online participation.

The Revd David Horrocks of Barkham Church in Wokingham

… pointed out the late Revd John Stott‘s prediction 40 years ago about this sort of thing:

Stott also warned about the effect of television on children:

In closing, why do we persevere with our faith? Because our Lord and Saviour did. He set the example:

Jonathan Edwards, who was a Congregationalist, can teach us a few eternal truths from long ago. It’s all in the Bible.

More’s the pity that the Church of England isn’t more rigorous in its seminary curriculum. At least Mr Horrocks reads a lot of solid theology books, such as this one by a Presbyterian, Sinclair Ferguson, in his own time:

There is a remnant of Anglican clergy who are truly devoted to Jesus Christ and, through Him, God the Father. We read so much about the irritating hierarchy and so little about the good local priests leading their flocks to light and truth.

I will pray that they continue to be faithful servants.

On Tuesday, October 12, 2021, Sir David Amess MP (Conservative), posted the following tweet promoting his upcoming constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex:

These surgeries are an opportunity for constituents to present their problems to their MP. They might be seeking help with schooling, crime or health, among other things. Meetings are face-to-face, one-on-one. One’s MP then cuts through bureaucracy to achieve a successful resolution to the problem.

It seems this type of in-person connection between a member of the public and an elected constituency politician is unique to the UK. Long may it continue.

Two days later, Sir David posted a photo of himself and the Emir of Qatar. Amess was the chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group fostering good relations between Britain and Qatar:

That same day, the MP for Southend West tweeted his gratitude for the government aid to Southend-on-Sea, no longer a smallish, seaside resort, but a town with a population of 160,000. Sir David has been campaigning tirelessly in Parliament for it to have city status. Winter fuel poverty was another of his big causes:

Little did he realise those would be his final tweets.

Just before noon on Friday, October 15, I was watching a heart-warming segment on GB News about the Westminster Dog of the Year charity event, to be held on October 28 in Victoria Tower Gardens, London. Isabel Oakeshott was interviewing Matt Vickers MP (Conservative) and his dog Karen. Karen was paying attention to the conversation. As soon as it turned to dog-napping, she began barking.

The public can vote up for their favourite MP-dog pairing until October 27. Sir David had already registered with his French bulldog Vivienne. Recently, he said:

If I am feeling down, the dog lifts my spirits as she is always pleased to see me and she makes me smile.

Little did I know watching the GB News segment with Matt Vickers and Isabel Oakeshott that Sir David was minutes away from his last breath.

Amess’s last meeting was a Zoom call about the Children’s Parliament, which pairs up an MP with a young member of the public. The meeting ended at 12:02 p.m.

At 12:05, Sir David was gasping his final breaths, having been stabbed multiple times in the church hall.

The Times reported:

It was just moments after midday on Friday when Sir David Amess had his last appointment.

Richard Hillgrove, a PR professional, shared a call with Amess to discuss the Children’s Parliament, an event where kids are matched with members of parliament to debate the important issues of the day.

As usual, the MP for Southend West was firing on all cylinders, full of buzz and ideas for the event: the running order, the voting system, what software they should use. Hillgrove’s daughter, Lola, 11, had been matched with Amess, who visited her at school so they could have their picture taken.

Hillgrove says he ended the Zoom call at 12.02pm, so that Amess could host a constituency surgery at the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea. It was his final farewell. By 12.05pm, Amess had been stabbed to death.

A few minutes later, Hillgrove saw the first reports of the murder on television. “I didn’t even realise it was Sir David at first,” he recalled. “I was absolutely horrified, every minute that came passed seemed like an hour, the longer it went, the more concerning it got.”

Eventually the unimaginable news filtered through. Lola came home from school in tears. “I was honoured to have known him,” said Hillgrove. “He was such an inspiration, his engagement was incredible. He made sense of a crazy world.”

The events of Friday afternoon have pierced the quiet provincial calm of Leigh-on-Sea, leaving the tight-knit Essex community fearful and furious. A deep, heavy sadness hangs over this seaside town. Yesterday, the flower bins were empty at the Co-op on Eastwood Road, just 100 yards from where Amess was stabbed 17 times by a 25-year-old man. Every tulip, rose and pansy had been scooped up and deposited at the tribute for the man alternately known as “Sir David” or simply “Dave”.

The Telegraph reported that Amess’s staff, women, witnessed his horrifying murder. Paramedics from an air ambulance worked in vain for two hours trying to stabilise him:

Sir David was attacked seconds later, stabbed repeatedly in front of his horrified staff.

Sir David’s wounds were so many and severe that paramedics were unable to stabilise him sufficiently for a transfer to hospital. After two hours of vain struggle to stem his injuries, the air ambulance took off empty.

The Telegraph spoke with the aforementioned Richard Hillgrove:

Mr Hillgrove recalled how, during their conversation, Sir David had periodically glanced to his right.

He assumes this was towards trusted assistant, Rebecca Hayton, upon whom Sir David, not being the most technologically savvy parliamentarian, relied for help when making video calls.

It was she who witnessed at close quarters the full ferocity of the knife attack, running from the Belfairs Methodist Church hall screaming. Her screams alerted Sir David’s other assistant, Julie Cushion, who was positioned in the church hall lobby.

Shortly after the attack, Stephan Aleyn, a former Southend Conservative councillor, spoke to Ms Cushion.

“She is in absolute bits,” he said. “What she saw is going to stick with her for the rest of her life.

“It was a normal surgery and they were assisting Sir David in helping his constituents.

Julie and Rebecca thought this man was just another constituent who needed help from their MP, when suddenly he launched his attack on Sir David.

“For anyone to witness that sort of shocking, unprovoked assault is awful. It was a lovely, normal, sunny day – then this.”

After stabbing Sir David several times, his assailant sat down next to his body, making no effort to evade police, it has emerged.

A Southend Conservative Party source said: “One of Sir David’s office staff was in the hall with him, and it now appears that after attacking Sir David, this man sat down and waited for police to arrive. It’s absolutely chilling.”

The article says that 999 calls were made at 12:05 p.m. Police, including an armed response unit, and the air ambulance responded immediately. The suspect went quietly with the police:

The 25-year-old suspect was detained inside the church hall and led out to a police van. A knife was recovered.

Amess’s staff must have also contacted a Catholic priest he knew. The Revd Jeffrey Woolnough showed up shortly afterwards and asked police to be admitted to administer Last Rites — or Extreme Unction, as it used to be known. However, he was refused entry:

He was denied entry, however, and so stood on the street with another man reciting the rosary. He described it as a “great disappointment” for a Roman Catholic not to be able to receive the last rites.

“It was remarkably calm by the time I arrived,” Fr Woolnough told The Telegraph.

“I prayed from outside and I just hope David received those. I know he would have done, because any prayer said that is sincere is received by the recipient.

“I was praying the rosary – it’s a half hour prayer going through all of those intentions, asking that whatever was going on in there, for God’s will to be done. That’s all I could pray at that point in time.”

I did not know until he died that Sir David was a devout Catholic, but, given his serene demeanour, sincere smile and gentle wit, it does not surprise me that he was a churchgoer.

The Spectator‘s Melanie McDonagh, also a devout Catholic, expressed her displeasure with the police response regarding Last Rites:

It’s not known whether Sir David was alive when the priest arrived at the scene, but he still should have been there. Nothing should come between a dying man and the mercy of the Church. Of course the police were dealing with a tremendously difficult situation and would have been shocked and confused – how could they not have been? – but it doesn’t excuse this failure of judgment, which we can assume stems from a failure of training.

Essex Police sent The Spectator a statement, which says, in part:

As with any police incident, it is of the utmost importance that we preserve the integrity of a crime scene and allow emergency services to tend to those in need. A cordon is put in place to secure and prevent contamination of the area. Access into a scene is at the discretion of the investigating officers. This is a fundamental part of any investigation to ensure the best possible chance of securing justice for any victim and their family.

McDonagh says that the priest was ‘an emergency service’. I cannot disagree:

The most troubling element of the statement is that the police wanted to ‘allow the emergency services to tend to those in need.’

A priest is an emergency service. In the case of Sir David, the priest was someone who could help see him into the next world, not just keep him in this one. You don’t have to share a belief in the efficacy of confession to go along with this; you just need a very elementary knowledge of and respect for the faith to refrain from standing between a confessor and a dying man. As for the reference to the ‘emergency services administering potentially life-saving treatment,’ Catholic priests are used to operating together with medics for precisely this reason.

You might like to know that Essex police recently engaged in that exercise in cultural conformity, Hate Crime Awareness Week. Perhaps in future, some awareness of Christianity might be part of the training.

Monsignor Kevin Hale, who knew Sir David, told GB News how Catholicism informed the MP’s life. Amess’s mother was a Catholic and she brought him up in the faith:

Monsignor Hale said that Sir David had grown up in the East End of London and attended St Bonaventure’s Roman Catholic School in Newham. It is a secondary school for boys.

The Right Revd Stephen Cottrell, the Anglican Archbishop of York, lived for a time in Amess’s constituency and paid a warm, faith-filled tribute to his former MP and friend in The Telegraph:

It was said of Sir David Amess that though he had opponents, he didn’t have enemies. As we come to terms with the horror of his murder on Friday, this is a distinction worth pondering.

I think of David Amess as a friend. Leigh-on-Sea is my home town and, for ten glorious years as Bishop of Chelmsford, part of the diocese I served. We often met: in parliament, but usually in his constituency, Southend West.

He was, as we have heard over the weekend, a dedicated, zestful, persevering constituency MP. He loved Southend, as I do. He rooted for it. He exemplified that vital, but overlooked, root of our democracy that Members of Parliament may get elected on a party ticket, but, once elected, serve everyone

David Amess was a kind man. The word kind is related to the word kin. When we are kind to someone, it doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with them, or even like them, but that we recognise a kinship, a common humanity and treat them accordingly; or as we sometimes say, “treat them in kind”.

David’s robust kindness came from his Christian faith. He was a devout Christian, a Roman Catholic. But the idea that we human beings belong to one another and have a responsibility to each other is not self-evident. Observation of our behaviour and attitudes shows us the opposite. Our worst desires can be seen everywhere, leading us to separation, fuelled by selfishness, and bearing fruit in hatefulness and the possession of each other.

The picture of humanity that God gives us in Jesus Christ offers something else. In this regard, perhaps the most radical words Jesus ever spoke are the ones most of us know and many of us say every day: “Our Father.” In saying these words we don’t just acknowledge we belong to God, we acknowledge our belonging to each other as kith and kin

David Amess, the friend with whom I sometimes disagreed, had the same values and the same vision. It shaped his life and it is what made him such a loved and effective constituency MP and an exemplar of what our democracy can be.

He was always very kind to me. He supported the Church. He cared. He liked to build coalitions of goodwill so that people could work together. Kindness and kinship, it turns out, gets things done.

My heart goes out to his wife and family and the constituents of Southend West. I am praying for them …

David Amess didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He wore it in his heart. That’s the best place for it. It means it runs through your very being.

Late on Friday, the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command took over the case from Essex Police:

Early on Saturday, October 16, it was established that the suspect is a Briton of Somali parentage.

The Mail on Sunday reported that the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, Dominic Casciani, downplayed the suspect’s parental origins:

The BBC‘s home affairs correspondent was accused yesterday of trying to downplay the suspect’s reported Somali origins …

Although every national newspaper with the exception of the Financial Times mentioned that the suspect had Somali ‘origins’, ‘heritage’ or ‘descent’ yesterday, Casciani appeared to wrestle with the issue on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Presenter Nick Robinson asked him: ‘The suspect is a British citizen, but he’s also of Somali origin. Is that regarded as significant?’

Casciani replied: ‘The Somali element – erm, no. The reason why some reporters have established this fact is that there has been some misreporting …’

Twelve hours earlier, he had tweeted: ‘We have learnt from official sources that detectives have established the individual is a UK national, seemingly of Somali heritage. We report this in the interests of accuracy’ …

The BBC says Casciani ‘focuses on stories relating to law, order, society and belonging – including immigration, ethnicity’.

The Telegraph reported on the Met’s discoveries made on Saturday. The suspect lived in London, far from Sir David’s constituency:

On Saturday, officers from the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism team, which is leading the investigation into his death, were searching three addresses in London – at least two of which were believed to be in the east of the capital. One search had ended but the others remained ongoing on Saturday night. The suspect, a British national of Somali origin, is thought to have acted alone and travelled by train from his north London home to Essex to carry out the attack.

The Daily Mail told us that the suspect lives among at least one celebrity in London, the rest of his neighbours clearly well-heeled, and might have spent a week planning the bloody attack:

Ali, who is thought to have been targeted by the Government’s anti-terror Prevent programme, may have lived in Sir David’s Southend West constituency in Essex in the past.

His most recent residence is believed to be in London. Officers have been carrying out searches at three addresses.

The security services are providing assistance to Scotland Yard, which is leading the investigation. Last night, detectives were granted a warrant of further detention, allowing them to keep Ali in custody until Friday.

Police officers were yesterday standing guard outside the North London council house where Ali lives. It is in a street of £2 million three-storey townhouses where the late actor Roger Lloyd Pack, who played Trigger in Only Fools And Horses, used to live.

That day, news emerged that Sir David had received a menacing threat just days before his murder. However, police believe that the two events are unconnected, according to The Telegraph:

The threat to the veteran MP was made in the past few days and reported to police …

It is understood that Essex Police received a report of the threat, but they are not connecting it with Friday’s attack.

John Lamb, the former Mayor of Leigh-on-Sea and a close colleague of the murdered MP, said Sir David had received the “upsetting” threat in the past few days …

Mr Lamb said it had been Sir David’s idea to hold his surgeries in places like the Methodist church, so he could be more accessible to his constituents, rather than in the local Conservative Party offices in Southend.

It is understood this came despite concerns being expressed by some of his staff over the potential security risk at more open venues.

Mr Lamb said: “Sir David used to hold them at the Conservative Association, but that made it hard for older people to see him so around a year ago he started going out into the community. He didn’t want to hide away, he wanted to be visible and accessible. He told me: ‘I want them to be able to see me in their local area’.

Before this, the last time an MP was murdered was in June 2016, just days before the Brexit referendum. A white male fatally stabbed Labour MP Jo Cox outside her own surgery. He was said to have had mental health problems, aggravated by the threat of eviction. His mother was also in poor health. That is not in any way to excuse his horrific crime of murdering a young wife, mother and MP. However, at the time, the media said the motive was because he was pro-Brexit and she was not.

Sir David, along with every other MP, was deeply affected by her death. He mentioned it and attendant security issues in his 2020 book, In Ayes and Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster, published last November.

He wrote:

The British tradition has always been that Members of Parliament regularly make themselves available for constituents to meet them face to face at their surgeries. Now advice has been given to be more careful when accepting appointments. We are advised to never see people alone, we must be extra careful when opening post and we must ensure that our offices are properly safe and secure. In short, these increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.

He also said that he had to check the locks on his property and that certain ‘nuisance’ (his word) members of the public occasionally showed up outside his home. Other MPs have installed CCTV cameras on their properties.

Jo Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, is now an MP in her former constituency, Batley & Spen. She tweeted her condolences:

The Emir of Qatar also sent a message of sympathy. Last week, he and Sir David were discussing Afghanistan refugees who are currently living in Qatar, awaiting settlement in other countries:

On Sunday, October 17, the father of the suspect in custody spoke. The Sunday Times reported:

The father of the suspected killer of Sir David Amess said he had been left “traumatised” by his son’s arrest after the stabbing of the veteran Tory MP.

Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed that his British-born son, Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was in custody. Kullane said that anti-terrorist police from Scotland Yard had visited him.

Speaking at his sister’s home in north London last night, Kullane said: “I’m feeling very traumatised. It’s not something that I expected or even dreamt of.”

The suspect was a “self-radicalised” lone operative known to counterterrorist police, according to Whitehall sources. He is believed to have been referred to Prevent, the government’s deradicalisation programme, before allegedly stabbing Amess on Friday

Investigators are examining the theory that he was radicalised online during lockdown.

Officers were yesterday granted a further warrant to detain him until Friday under terrorism laws. Scotland Yard said that early inquiries had uncovered “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.

Amess, 69, an MP for almost 40 years, was a devout Roman Catholic who was guided in his daily life by his strong faith

Intelligence sources said the suspect had not been on the radar of MI5, which is monitoring more than 3,000 people who it is feared could be plotting a terrorist attack. However, he is believed to be one of thousands of extremists who have been referred to the voluntary Prevent programme after displaying potentially disturbing behaviour such as inflammatory postings on social media.

More than 6,000 people were referred by police and other agencies to the programme in the year ending March 31, 2020.

By the way, referral to the Prevent programme does not include monitoring by police and/or security services.

That day, the Amess family issued a statement thanking the public for their messages of support and urged the Government to grant Southend-on-Sea city status.

The Times reported:

Sir David Amess’s family have said that achieving city status for Southend would be a way of paying tribute to a “patriot and man of peace”.

In their first public comments since the MP’s murder, his family thanked people for the “wonderful, wonderful tributes paid to David following his cruel and violent death. It truly has brought us so much comfort.”

Amess, 69, was married with five children and in a statement tonight they said: “The support shown by friends, constituents and the general public alike has been so overwhelming. As a family it has given us strength.”

They urged people “to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all” so that some good might come from their father’s death. His family said there was “still so much David wanted to do” insisting: “This is not the end of Sir David Amess MP. It is the next chapter and as a family we ask everyone to support the many charities he worked with.”

They cited his efforts to raise money for a statue of Dame Vera Lynn and said: “Closer to home, David was working hard for Southend to gain city status. In his memory, please show your support for this campaign.”

As I write on Monday, no known motive for Sir David’s gruesome murder has emerged.

Some of his friends believe it was because he was a devout Catholic. I’m not sure about that. I did not know he was one until he died, and I’m a political junkie and frequent viewer of BBC Parliament.

A radical Islamist preacher says it was because Sir David was pro-Israel, as the MP had been an honorary secretary of the Conservative Friends of Israel since 1998.

However, let us not forget Qatar and the current tensions in Somalia.

In Monday’s Times, speculation arose over whether Amess was murdered because he headed the APPG fostering relations between the UK and Qatar. Qatar supports the current regime in Somalia:

Meanwhile, members of the public are calling for those voting for the Westminster Dog of the Year to choose Sir David and Vivienne as a fitting posthumous tribute to the tireless yet cheerful MP, who will be sorely missed.

I will have more on Sir David’s life in tomorrow’s post.

My deepest condolences go to the Amess family, Sir David’s staff and his many friends. May the good Lord grant them His infinite grace and comfort in the days and months ahead.

Eternal rest grant unto your servant David, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in your eternal mercy and peace. Amen.

In response to reader H E’s guest post last week on declining church numbers, another faithful reader of mine, George True, responded with an excellent comment about a truly Catholic priest in Arizona.

It’s too good to leave there, so here it is in full:

There is a firebrand priest here in the Phoenix AZ area by the name of Father William Kosco. He has publicly, from the pulpit, denounced the Catholic bishops of America for their cowardice in going along with all of the cultural Marxist insanity. He has also publicly denounced Joe Biden as someone who is diametrically opposed to every fundamental teaching of the Roman Catholic church. He has said that Joe Biden would receive Holy Communion at his church only over his (Father Kosco’s) dead body. He has declared that Joe Biden, being a public figure, must PUBLICLY repent of his sins against God and his nation in order to be allowed Communion.

The pews at Pastor Kosco’s church, St Henry’s in Buckeye AZ, are FULL.

At this point, allow me to post a tweet that I saw shortly after reading George’s comment. It ties in well, as it shows a church full of worshippers (click on the tweet, and when it opens in a new tab, click the image to see it in full):

Now on with the conclusion of George’s comment:

He is showing all priests, Catholic and Protestant, how to put butts in the seats. Start boldly and fearlessly declaring the truth, speaking out against evil, and affirming the fundamental precepts of our faith. People are hungering and thirsting for the truth, and they will flock to shepherds who exhibit courage in the face of evil.

One cannot say better than that. May the good Lord continue to bless Father Kosco and his congregation.

The 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.

1 Corinthians 9:8-15

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

———————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s reasons why ministers in the church should receive a salary for preaching the word of God.

In today’s passage, he gives biblical reasons supporting his principle.

He says that it is not his personal belief but a mandate dating back to Mosaic law (verse 8).

John MacArthur tells us how the verse is structured in Greek (emphases mine):

“Say I these things as man?” And the Greek – the form of that question in the Greek implies a negative answer. “No, I’m not just talking in human terms.” … I’m not just saying these things as a man, “or saith not the law” – and he means the law of God – “the same thing?” Is this just human reasoning, or does God’s law say the same thing? And the second question has implied in it a “yes” answer. Greek – the way they form a Greek question in the Greek language will give you an idea as to whether it’s to be answered yes or no. This second question has a yes answer. “Do I say these things as a man? No. Or doesn’t the law say the same thing? Yes.” God’s law. … This isn’t just a human analogy or a human reason, God has something to say.

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4, which instructs the Jews to allow oxen to eat a bit of grain while they are treading it to remove the outer husk (verse 9). It would be inhumane to put a muzzle on an ox preventing it from munching some of the grain while he treads it.

MacArthur explains how treading was done:

Now, the Egyptians had an interesting custom that the Israelites picked up. Whenever they wanted to separate the grain from the husk, they would throw all of the stuff on a great floor, a great flat area. And they would get oxen, and they would tie to the oxen a great big, round, flat stone. And the oxen would just walk all over that grain, dragging that stone, crushing the husks and releasing the grain out of it. And that’s the way they separated it. And the law said, “Don’t muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads the grain.” You want to have one frustrated ox, you just muzzle him and make him tread that grain; you’ll really frustrate him. That would be inhumane. That would be unjust. If the ox is going to drag that rock around all day, he ought to be able to take a few bites now and then. That’s the point, see?

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 to illustrate that a man should receive a salary for preaching. In the second half of verse 9, Paul asks if God is that concerned for the oxen’s welfare. He answers his question in verse 10: no. The point of the verse from Deuteronomy is to say that a farmer, a thresher — and even the oxen — should be able to partake of a harvest.

MacArthur says:

When God wrote that, he wasn’t really talking about oxen; he was talking about people. And it’s – incidentally, in Deuteronomy 25, there’s no mention of animals anyway; it’s talking about social and economic relationships between men. And he just puts this one in a metaphor, “Men ought to be able to earn their living from their labor.” A simple principle.

If God requires that an ox spending his strength serving man should get his reward, how much more a man who spends his strength serving God? If an ox shouldn’t be muzzled, why should a man of God? Why should a minister?

And, you know, there’s a built-in incentive, too, I think, in this. I think, when a man gains his living out of his labor, it may tend to make his labor all the more diligent. I think sometimes that when a person in Christian service has to go out and learn his living, and he knows that in his Christian service he’s not earning his living, he tends to be slothful there because his success is not really that significant in terms of accruing to himself earthly benefit.

And so, that’s a simple, biblical principle. And now look at verse 10 again. He say, “This is written” – now pick it up right in this third line there – “This is written, that he that plows should plow in hope.” In other words, the guy plowing the field ought to be able to hope that out of his plowing he’s going to gain a reward – “he that threshes in hope should be a partaker of his hope.” In other words, he should be working, realizing there was going to come something in the future. He’d have a hope for something in the future, and indeed it would come. Hope for the servant.

Paul concludes: as the ministers provide their flock with spiritual truths, should they not reap a material reward for it (verse 11)? As ministers are preaching God’s word, are they not even more entitled to receive a salary for their higher calling (verse 12)?

This is still the situation in most denominations. Clergy salaries are notoriously low. In the Episcopal Church, of which I was a member in the US decades ago, most clergy were what we now call ‘trust fund babies’. They had a private income to supplement the poor salaries they received.

Paul was not advocating for ministers to become wealthy, as so many shyster televangelists are today. He just wanted them to live comfortably, meaning more than modestly. They should be able to buy their own clothes, for example, rather than receive hand-me-downs from their congregations.

MacArthur gives his own real life illustration of discussions about wages for clergy:

Paul makes a direct application in verse 11, “If we” – and this is really straight – “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a big deal if we reap your material things?” Now, that’s an interesting statement. He says, “Look, Corinthians, if we sowed unto you the things of the spirit, life transforming things, eternal things, forever things, is it any big deal that you would give back to us some material things?” It’s an obvious question, isn’t it? No. I mean it’s no big deal.

But so many times the mentality of Christians in history has been, “Make sure the servant of God can barely make it. Don’t give them too much. After all, they’re serving God.”

And you see, my philosophy on the thing is, “Hey, if he’s serving God, I mean what higher calling? Give him a whole bunch.”

Sometimes somebody’ll come to speak somewhere, and I may be in the discussion, and they’ll say, “Well, let’s see, if he gasses his car,” and we’ll maybe kick this around in some group somewhere, and we’re talking about a camp or a conference with different pastors or something, and somebody will say, “Well, it’ll only cost him, well, let’s say we give him an extra, we can get away for $150.00.”

And I’ll usually say, “Well, that’ll be good; let’s give him $350.00”

“What’s he going to do with the extra?”

“What would you do with the extra?”

“Oh, well, let’s see, I’d buy – fix – pay my bill.”

“That’s what he’ll do with the extra.”

You see, the point is not just make sure he never has enough, but give him more than he needs, and then you let him worry about how he is a steward of it. You let him – generosity. You know, we think about a missionary, and invariably, you know, you say, “Well, we don’t want to – don’t want to overdo it. After all, they’re only missionaries. And the missionary comes home, and you say, My brother, I know you need a new suit, and I’ve got one here that I don’t wear anymore … Right?” In your income tax, you write off $45.00 suit given to missionary. Hmm. See? Real good, real good.

You know, what you ought to do is take him down and buy him one just like he’d like to have. And then you worry about how he’s a steward of the suit you gave him. Don’t you worry about keeping him poor.

In the second half of verse 12, Paul states, using the royal ‘we’, that he did not ask for a salary from the Corinthians because he did not want to put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel. He restates that again in verse 15.

However, it is clear he expects the congregation to pay for other ministers’ work in furthering the Good News and Christian doctrine.

Paul refers to the verses in the Old Testament that specify what parts of a sacrificial animal the priests received (verse 13). Not all of the animal was burnt. The priests received the hides to sell and they also received most of the meat.

Therefore, Paul reasons, it is only right that ministers in the Church receive a salary for preaching the Good News (verse 14).

MacArthur explains how the sacrificial system worked in the Old Testament:

For example, a priest is in the temple, and people are bringing offerings in the Old Testament. The man would bring a burnt offering. There were five different offerings that the Jews would bring. Let’s say he’d bring a burnt offering. Now, this alone was the one that was totally burned up. The only thing left would be, according to Genesis 32, the stomach, the entrails, and the sinew from the thigh, and that you wouldn’t particularly want.

But what was left out of the burnt offering was the hide. And the priests would take the hides, and they would use those hides to sell to make money to live. So, out of the burnt offering came the hide of the animal.

The second offering that the Jews gave was the sin offering. Only the fat was burned, and the priest kept all the rest of the meat. The third offering was the trespass offering; the same thing. The fat was burned; the priest kept the rest of the meat.

There was the meal offering, where they brought flour and wine and oil. A small token of it was burned; the rest of it went to the priests. The peace offering, which was the fifth one, were the fat and the entrails were burned. The priest received the breast and – it said the right shoulder, and that all has symbolic meaning – and all the rest of it went back to the worshipper.

So, in every case, there was something for the priest in order that his livelihood and his support and his sustenance might come out of his service. The priest received the first fruits of barley, wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey – all of those things – some of the first fruits of everybody’s crop had to go to the priesthood to support them in the Old Testament. They received one tenth of the Levite’s tithe. They received what was called the Terumah which was the 1/50 of any crop. They received what was called the Challah, and that had to do with dough. When anybody made bread, 1/24 of the batch had to go to the priests. If you were a baker, 1/48, because you were making more bread.

And so, the priests in the Old Testament, according to these truths – and you can find them in Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 18, and many places – they were sustained by their ministry. And so he says in verse 13, “Don’t you = know that those who minister about holy things live of the temple? And those who serve the altar are partakers with the altar?” In other words, the support comes right out of that ministry. Simple truth.

Paul ends by saying that he never asked for a salary for himself (verse 15, repeating verse 12). He is saying that he enjoys his work so much that he wouldn’t ask for or accept pay. When he was given donations by other churches, as Acts and his other letters show, he gave those funds to needier congregations.

Paul’s point, however, is that other ministers should be paid.

Matthew Henry explains:

… it is not given in charge to all, nor any preacher of the gospel, to do his work gratis, to preach and have no maintenance out of it it may sometimes be his duty to insist on his maintenance for so doing

1 Corinthians 10 deals with idolatry. More to come next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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.

1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Paul Surrenders His Rights

9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife,[a] as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded Paul’s answers to the Corinthians on the subject of marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 8, he answered their questions about food. Stronger Christians should not trouble weaker Christians about the food they eat. Instead, stronger Christians should accede to weaker Christians in their preferences, lest the weaker ones suffer a pang of conscience and leave the Church.

In this chapter, he defends himself against charges from some of the false teachers in the Corinthian church about his eligibility to be an apostle. He also explains why those ministering to a church should receive a salary or a stipend.

John MacArthur gives Paul’s discourse a title (emphases in bold mine):

… we could kind of title this thing, “Six Reasons to Pay the Preacher,” “Six Reasons to Support a Missionary,” “Six Reasons to Take Care of the Ministers.” That’s just what he’s talking about: why is it that a minister of God, a servant of God, in whatever ministry he has is worthy of the support of the people?

Matthew Henry explains the background to this chapter:

Blessed Paul, in the work of his ministry, not only met with opposition from those without, but discouragement from those within. He was under reproach; false brethren questioned his apostleship, and were very industrious to lessen his character and sink his reputation; particularly here at Corinth, a place to which he had been instrumental in doing much good, and from which he had deserved well; and yet there were those among them who upon these heads created him great uneasiness. Note, It is no strange nor new thing for a minister to meet with very unkind returns for great good-will to a people, and diligent and successful services among them. Some among the Corinthians questioned, if they did not disown, his apostolical character. To their cavils he here answers, and in such a manner as to set forth himself as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter.

In verse 1, he poses the questions asked about him. Was he not free in Christ Jesus? Was he not an apostle? Did he not see the resurrected Christ? Were the Corinthian converts not among his work for the greater Church?

MacArthur examines these one by one.

First, Paul avers his liberty as a Christian.

Paul says, “All right, I’m in your boat, too. Am I not free? Could I not do whatever I want? I’m not just a Christian like the rest of you. Am I not an” – what? – “an apostle? As especially appointed apostle by Christ, do I not at least have the liberty that you do, and maybe just more? Am I certainly any less than you in my liberty? Don’t I have the same freedom you do?” …

Secondly, he reminds them that he had indeed seen the risen Christ, therefore making him an apostle:

Now, some of them may have said, “Well, I’m not sure you’re an apostle, fella.”

So, he says in verse 1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then he gives two reasons, or two verifications of his apostleship. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Now, the qualification for an apostle was that he be appointed by the resurrected Christ. An apostle had to be appointed by Jesus Christ personally, which means he would have had to have seen the resurrected Christ. Paul would have. Had Paul ever seen the resurrected Christ? He says, “I have seen the Lord.”

In Acts 1:22, it says that whoever was to be appointed as an apostle, to take up the place of Judas, had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. To be an apostle, you had to see Jesus Christ. Paul had that experience.

In Acts chapter 22, in verse 17, he says this, “It came to pass, when I was come again to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in a temple, I was in a trance; and I saw Him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem. They will not receive your testimony,’” and so forth.

“And I said, ‘Lord,” – so, it was in Jerusalem in Acts 22 that Paul was having a little conversation with the Lord. The Lord appeared to him.

In Acts chapter 9, earlier in the book of Acts, Paul was walking along on the Damascus Road, just on his way to persecute a few Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks. He feel down; he saw the blazing glory of the Lord and was blinded and he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He saw the Lord on the Damascus Road. He saw the Lord later in Jerusalem. There was a third place that he saw the Lord, and interestingly enough, it was in the city of Corinth.

In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, and the 9 verse, when Paul was in Corinth, it says, “Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee.’” There a third time he saw the Lord. He had a vision of the Lord.

So, he had seen the resurrected Lord three times at least. And he says, “This is proof that He called me into the apostleship. I have seen Him. I am a witness of the living Christ. I am a witness that He is arisen from the dead.”

Finally, he reminds them that he planted the church in Corinth:

Not only was the seeing of Christ a verification of his apostleship, but so was the Corinthian church. “If you have any doubts about my apostleship” – he says – “look at yourselves. Where do you think you came from? Aren’t you the fruit of my labor? Aren’t you the verification of my ministry?

He affirms that by saying their congregation is proof of his apostleship (verse 2). Paul is upbraiding them for their disrespect.

Henry explains:

This church at Corinth had as much reason to believe, and as little reason to question, his apostolical mission, as any; they had as much reason, perhaps more than any church, to pay him respect. He had been instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge and faith of Christ; he laboured long among them, nearly two years, and he laboured to good purpose, God having much people among them. See Acts 18:10, Acts 18:11. It was aggravated ingratitude for this people to call in question his authority.

He defends his position (verse 3). This involves not only a mention of the lives of other ministers of Christ in Corinth but also a soldier and a farmer.

He begins by asking if the ministers of the church have no right to food and drink (verse 4). By this he means a stipend or a salary to provide daily sustenance.

He then asks why the Corinthians would object to some ministers having wives with them and others not (verse 5).

He asks why the Corinthians would deprive Paul and Barnabas, his companion in ministry, of a salary from the church and make them work for a living in addition to their church duties (verse 6).

MacArthur rewords this for us:

what he’s saying is, “I have a right to support from you. And if I wanted to” – he wasn’t married at this time … – “if I wanted to, I could take a Christian sister as a wife and expect that you would support her as well. That’s my liberty. That’s my right to ask of you.”

Now, this is interesting. He is saying that the church has the responsibility to support its leaders, its pastors, its evangelists, its missionaries.

he says, “If I wanted to take a Christian sister along with me, you should be able to support that sister as well.” And I think what you have there is a verse that affirms the right of a minister to have an unemployed wife.

MacArthur says that he personally finds his wife’s presence a comfort:

You know, I feel like so many times someone will ask me to speak someplace, and they’ll say, “You know, we want you to fly,” for example, “to Cleveland, Ohio. And there’s a tremendous opportunity for a Bible conference here, and would like you to come, and we’d like to bring your wife as our guest as well.” You know, I really appreciate that, because me and my wife are one flesh. You know? And when she’s with me, I’m a lot better off. I really am. I’m happier, easier to get along with. I can concentrate better on what I’m doing in ministry, and she can be supportive of me, and we share our life together. And that’s an important thing.

And I feel, as a church, when we ask someone to come and speak here, it would be the thing to do to say, “Would you like to bring your wife? We’d be more than happy to support the coming of your wife so she can share these days with you.” It’s a question of generosity. It’s a question of having the right attitude. And when somebody has asked us for support for some ministry or some mission or something, it ought to be with that kind of generosity and concern that not only his needs are met, but those of his wife so that they may minister together. I think a reason that you have divorces among people, even in the ministry so many times, is because you’ve got one of them running around all over the place and never paying any attention to the other one. And I don’t think it’s a question always of counseling; it may be a question of dollars so that the wife could go along. This is really important.

To drive his point home, Paul cites examples: a soldier and farmers (verse 7).

Are soldiers not paid to fight? Of course they are.

MacArthur says:

If a guy’s in the Army, they’re going to pay him. Not a lot, but they’re going to pay him enough. They’re going to sustain him. They’ll give him food, lodging, and whatever clothing he needs, and they’re going to give them a little bit of money. Nobody goes to war and pays himself. In other words, it is human custom that a man earns his living by his work. That’s all he’s saying.

Furthermore, what farmer does not avail himself of the fruits of his labour: either produce or milk?

Paul writes this to get the Corinthians thinking about their criticisms of him:

his conclusion is, “So, why not the servant of God? Why shouldn’t the servant of God be equally cared for out of his occupation? It’s just human custom, as well as apostolic right.”

Those well versed in Paul’s letters know that he made his living by making tents. He never took a salary through his ministry and he states that later in 1 Corinthians 9. This is why this chapter is titled ‘Paul Surrenders His Rights’.

However, he wants to establish the principle that those ministering to a church have the right to a reasonable salary provided by the congregation. He has more to say on the subject, which I will cover in my next post.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:8-15

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 the back of exploring what’s on Episcopal priests‘ minds, I am crossing the Atlantic, returning to the UK, to explore what Anglican priests are thinking about.

I will continue both series.

The Revd Marcus Walker, serving in the Diocese of London, deplores the bewilderment and criticism surrounding the recent group photograph of Mike Pence and his coronavirus team in prayer.

Note that they are not praying in public, as detractors have said. Press photographers happened to be present for the meeting.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer has such a prayer, which can be said during the Litany. Highly useful during the coronavirus scare:

In the time of any common plague or sicknes.

O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wildernes for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron, and also in the time of King David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembring thy mercy didst save the rest: have pitie upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sicknes and mortality, that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angell to cease from punishing: so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sicknes, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Marcus Walker later located his ‘jumbo book of State Prayers’ and noted the following shift in emphasis in them from the 18th to the 19th centuries:

Turning to the opprobrium heaped upon the American vice president and his team, this is what Mr Walker and his readers tweeted:

Nor do I.

The Revd Giles Fraser, formerly a Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and current Rector at the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington, told the readers of his online magazine Unherd how he has changed the Communion service during the coronavirus outbreak (emphases mine):

I have a cough. I have had it for weeks. A deep hacking affair that brings up nasty thick greenish goo. It’s not the virus — I haven’t got a high temperature or any other symptoms. But it is dramatic enough to clear the seats next to me on the tube.

In church on Sunday, too, I could feel the anxiety radiate out from my coughing away behind the altar into a twitchy congregation. We have suspended sharing the peace for the time being. Instead of shaking hands or kissing, we wave at each other. So, too, we have decided to take communion in one kind only — that is, we share the bread but not the common cup of wine. And in this context, the symbolic handwashing the priest performs before the Eucharist is no longer simply a ritual act. It feels like a necessity. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

As one of my posts explained last week, the Cup can be suspended during health emergencies under a) the Doctrine of Concomitance and b) the 1547 Sacrament Act.

The Doctrine of Concomitance says that Christ’s substance in the Eucharist cannot be divided. The bread and the wine are both the entire real presence of Christ.

Giles Fraser and one of his readers helpfully tweeted about both:

Someone responded — possibly an agnostic — taking to task Christians who are panicking over the coronavirus. He has a point:

It amazes me how those who pontificate so much about life thereafter being so wonderful succumb to panic at the thought of death. Just a pause for thought. The Lord’s supposed to be our protector but only if it means it protects us from death. Come on religious people! Get a grip.

I don’t understand it, either.

On that note, and from a Catholic perspective, Dr CC Pecknold, a professor who also writes for First Things, tweeted about the plague in Venice between 1630 and 1631:

Exactly. However, that is what stubborn secularists, such as those criticising Mike Pence and his coronavirus team, refuse to understand. Christians pray for guidance and relief during troubled times.

There was more to the conversation. Someone was disappointed that the Peace had been suspended in his diocese:

How true.

In closing, after the plague had left Venice, the citizens of that city built a magnificent church in thanksgiving:

Would this happen now were, heaven forfend, the coronavirus to become an epidemic? No. Not at all.

More’s the pity.

In Italy, churches are closing their doors for the next few weeks:

This church in Rome is open but has taken additional precautions:

Meanwhile, let’s continue to pray that we may be guided in the correct practical direction during this pandemic and ask the Lord for it to harm as few people as possible.

I do think these health disasters are ‘come to Jesus moments’. Is anyone out there listening, including some notional Christians? Or are we all going to panic?

Today’s post features the Revd Scott A Gunn, an Anglo-Catholic serving in a Midwestern city. He is also the executive director of Forward Movement in the Episcopal Church, a co-author of Faithful Questions: Exploring the Way with Jesus and a religious editorial writer for Fox News.

Last month, I posted his thoughts on respecting the Church calendar.

Scott Gunn loves Lent. What follows are his impressions of Ash Wednesday and the season as a whole.

Before delving further, unrelated to Mr Gunn, this was the street scene in Houston, Texas, last Wednesday. These Episcopal priests are associated with the city’s Christ Church Cathedral. Excellent:

Ash Wednesday

Last week, Scott Gunn was in Tokyo for Ash Wednesday:

He wrote an editorial about Ash Wednesday for Fox News, which was well received:

Excerpts follow from ‘Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent — here’s why it’s important’ (emphases mine):

The name Ash Wednesday comes from the tradition of marking people’s foreheads with ashes in the shape of a cross. The ashes are a sign of our mortality, and they are given with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

At first, it might seem depressing to contemplate our inevitable death. But Ash Wednesday is just the opposite. Today reminds us that our earthly life is very short, but it is a gift from God. We are meant to use this gift well. In that way, Ash Wednesday is hopeful, encouraging, and inviting.

Ash Wednesday, and the whole season of Lent, invites us to turn away from what doesn’t matter and turn toward what does matter. As Christians, that means we recommit to following Jesus and to sharing his love with the world.

For some, that will be a new way of contemplating Ash Wednesday.

He then discusses the spiritual disciplines that characterise Lent:

Lent begins with an invitation. In the Episcopal Church, the invitation tells us how to observe a holy Lent. We do this “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

Self-examination and repentance are counter-cultural. It’s much easier to go through life blaming everyone else and talking about how wrong they are for whatever they did. But Lent invites me to think about the ways I have fallen short, to say I’m sorry. Lent invites me to try again.

I am happy to see that he encourages fasting, accompanied by prayer:

Lent is a time for prayer and fasting. Prayer is pretty common, and most of us know what it is, and we have at least a vague idea of how to go about talking to God this way.

But fasting is much less common. Again, fasting is counter-cultural. In a culture that tells us our worth comes from what we have, we are always urged to acquire and to consume more and more. Fasting means we cut back on the most vital of activities, eating. We might avoid food altogether, or we might severely limit the kinds of foods we eat.

Fasting creates a void of sorts in us. Our hunger reminds us of what we are missing. The awareness of what is missing reminds us that we survive only by God’s steady provision for us. And in this fasting, we are also reminded of suffering — of Christ’s suffering for us and of those who suffer daily due to poverty. Fasting reminds us that the world isn’t about us. Amidst the glitter of this age, fasting teaches us we all need the basic stuff of life, and we all need God.

I was even happier to read that he encourages reading the Bible. There was a time when Episcopalians knew the Bible very well. That’s no longer true.

Therefore, Lent is the perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with the Good Book:

And, finally, we get to my favorite part of the Lenten invitation. We are invited to read and meditate on God’s holy word. Reading the Bible reminds us of God’s vast love for us. From the moment of creation until the end of time, the Bible tells the story of how God desires our redemption.

When we read and meditate on God’s word, we are reminded of where we fit into this love story. In a world that values short-term thinking, the scriptures remind us to think eternally. In a world that tells us to give up when it gets tough, the scriptures remind us that God never gives up on us and we shouldn’t give up on God. In a world that magnifies fear, the scriptures tell us to be fearless. In a world that tells us to look after ourselves, the scriptures remind us to look after others as we seek God.

Ultimately:

Two thousand years ago, Jesus showed us perfect love, in his life, in his death, and in his resurrection. This Lent I want to try to see that perfect love anew, so that I might share it with a world in need of hope, mercy, and grace.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember God’s grace, and by grace alone do we all live. Remember.

Lent

On March 1, the First Sunday in Lent, Scott Gunn was in Yangon (Rangoon, in days of yore):

Unfortunately, he had to cut short his stay:

He encouraged the faithful to begin Lenten disciplines, if they hadn’t already done so:

Excerpts follow from his brilliant explanation for Fox News: ‘What is Lent and why does it matter?’

Mr Gunn explains that, as far as he is concerned, Lent is the best season in the Church year for self-examination and self-improvement:

Before I try to convince you that Lent is the best season, let’s review where it came from.

From ancient times, one of the ways Christians prepared for Easter was by providing a time to repent of grievous sins. While that sounds severe, look at it the other way. The church gave people a second (and a third, and a fourth) chance. You could mess up badly and still have an opportunity to make it right.

Lent was also a time for people to prepare for baptism. Those to be baptized had to be taught and prepared. They had to learn the important things about the Christian faith.

Lent has always been about renewal, about second chances, about new life in Jesus through the waters of baptism. Lent has always been about the important things.

Over the centuries, Lent evolved into the season we now keep. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting until the week before Easter Sunday, the Lenten season is forty days (excluding Sundays). This echoes the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry.

Indeed, Jesus’s time in the wilderness was the Gospel reading on March 1.

Here is something I did not know:

The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word that means “spring season.”

Spring is a good time to clean not only our houses but also our souls:

Many of us do a spring cleaning of our homes, and I like to think of Lent as a spring cleaning for our souls. You don’t have to be Catholic or to be part of Christian church that observes Lent to make your own journey through the season. Lent can be for everyone. It is, quite simply, a time to remember and to practice the most important things.

There is something to be said for self-denial:

No one should give up something for Lent for the sake of misery itself. Misery is not God’s desire! Instead, we might give things up that take us away from Jesus to make more room for those things that bring us closer to Jesus

In so doing, I am reminded that I depend on God, not on things. In other words, giving things up can help me notice that it’s not all about me.

Some people like to add a new religious activity to their lives during Lent:

Lately, it has become more common to take things on for the season of Lent. People might decide to read the Bible or pray more. But we might also decide to focus on something like forgiveness. How can we practice forgiving others? Who do we need to forgive?

Best of all, Scott Gunn indirectly referred to Jesus’s words to the Pharisee about the greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) …

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

… and Hebrews 13:15-16:

15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

He wrote of Lenten sacrifices of love:

We have all that we need in God’s grace. We aren’t meant to look after ourselves alone, but rather to offer sacrificial love to our neighbors. We don’t need to fear anything.

Loving God and loving our neighbors are the most important things. And Lent is a wonderful way to remember that life is about love, not about our own desires. Lent is the best season, because it’s all about the best things.

That’s a splendid, positive way of thinking about Lent.

Continuing my series what’s on Episcopal priests’ minds, the Anglo-Catholic FrKeithV posted a succinct tweet on inclusion in the Church:

I couldn’t agree more. We should be transforming our lives through the gift of faith and God’s infinite grace: becoming more Christlike and rejecting the bondage of sin.

It is unclear whether his next tweet is related to inclusion, but one of the reasons people find inclusion upsetting is that a handful of those who wish to be included do tend to demand it, rather than approach the Church in humility and goodwill.

One remedy for this is to rely on Scripture rather than one’s personal feelings — emotions:

It is hard being a Christian. Sometimes we love our personal baggage, which often keeps us in a sinful cycle. Satan can readily supply us with any number of excuses not to grow spiritually, to remain in his snare.

Our emotional resistance — wilful disobedience — to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is one of the devil’s best tricks. Don’t fall for it.

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