Think about Candles

I must have been quite a young choirboy when I was first taught to sing words from an ancient Greek hymn, Phos Hilaron, translated by John Keble and set to music by John Stainer:

 Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest,
The lights of evening round us shine,
We hymn the Father, Son and Spirit divine.

The “lights of evening” could possibly refer to the stars, but for centuries, and for those who could afford them, it was a candle that illuminated the evening and saw folk safely on their way to bed.

In our home we’ve always loved candles, but we have to be a bit careful where we live now: the fire alarms are rather sensitive!  The love of candles seems to be quite universal, and Leicester Cathedral is no exception.

Using candles as an aid to worship was brought to my attention quite dramatically on the day in 1963 when I was instituted to my first Leicestershire parish.  We came from a tradition where the use of candles was more or less restricted to power cuts, to a church where (in those days) there were seventeen candles on, around, and above the altar.  The Bishop (Ronald Williams) commented on this in his address, while a local non-conformist minister said to me afterwards:  “What are you going to do about all those Romish candles?”  I said I saw them as a sign of the warmth of the welcome the people were giving to their new pastor.  It was a bit of quick thinking, if not strictly true!  But the inclusion of this spot of history does remind us that the use of candles in the English Church has not always been general, often controversial, and at times possibly illegal.

Back to Leicester Cathedral, where each Sunday the faithful acolytes carry in their candles.  During Advent a candle was lit on the Advent Ring, and we were reminded of the characters in the Advent story that the candles represent.  One Sunday we shared in the Sacrament of Baptism and the Paschal or Easter Candle was on hand to light the Baptism Candle.  This is given to the godparent on behalf of the child as a reminder that we are all challenged to “shine as lights in the world to the glory of God the Father”.

We then joyfully celebrated Christmas with crowded candle-lit services, with the splendid new nativity figures bathed in soft candlelight.  Candles were used at a multi-faith service to celebrate the life of the late Nelson Mandela.  No special candles appeared during the Epiphany season, which is surprising, as the whole season from its very name is a season of light.  I suspect candles will be used for a rather different purpose at the St Valentine’s Eve event – to create something of a romantic atmosphere?

And now, as I write, Candlemas is just round the corner.  The Promise of His Glory (my 1991 edition p. 259) speaks of Candlemas as being the climax of the whole Advent to Epiphany season.  I wonder?  Surely the climax, (i.e. the most important point) of the season is the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  Candlemas is a fitting end to the season; a turning point (which the same page in The Promise goes on to say) when we look in a different direction: through Lent and Passiontide to the greatest climax of all: Easter Day.

But why is Candlemas so called?  There are so many things to think about that day: The Purification of the Blessed Virgin, (but did, or when did, the Virgin Mary become impure?); The Presentation of Christ, with the dramatic prophecies of Simeon and Anna.  But why Candlemas?  The best reason I can come up with is from a Folklore Calendar on the internet.

“In pre-Christian times the day was known as the ‘Feast of Lights’,” (halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox), “which celebrated the increased strength of the life-giving sun as winter gave way to spring… it was the day of the year when all the candles that were used in church during the year were brought into church for a blessing”.

The many facets of Candlemas are well expressed in Elizabeth’s Cosnett’s Carol (CP 80).  There are 13 verses in all, all useful teaching material.  Here are just the first and last verses.

When candles are lighted on Candlemas Day
The dark is behind us, and spring’s on the way…

The candles invite us to praise and to pray
When Christmas greets Easter on Candlemas Day
A glory dawns in every dark place,
The light of Christ, the fullness of grace.

Our Cathedral is perhaps best known for its major diocesan and civic services.  But some of its important work is done quietly and regularly in small groups.  Recently I have had reasons to attend the Cancer Care Group.  This was set up by Sue Mason over 10 years ago and has met faithfully almost every Tuesday afternoon since.  Currently there are about 150 names on the prayer list, and these are read out each week, and as we seek to pray (just four or five of us) votive candles are lit.  The word is from the Latin votum: ‘expressing a desire’.  These candles certainly do express a deep desire – for those who suffer the pain and uncertainties of cancer and other serious illness.

Many of the world’s great religions make use of candles: Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism to name but four, as well as our own Christianity.  Leicester Cathedral would be a very different place without its candles.  Symbols are good things.  The word means ‘thrown together’.  It’s opposite is diabol – thrown apart, from which we get the word for devil.  Symbols, but only symbols, not the reality.  The reality for us is Jesus, Jesus the light of the world.  As John the Baptist declares in the Christmas Gospel:

“This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all people… full of  grace and truth.”

Finally, some random candle-thoughts which bubble up:

(1) The two altar candles have been moved to the same (south side) of the altar.  This is more a matter of aesthetics than theology which I happen to like.  A mirror-image dualism is not the only way of presenting things.  Balance is more important, which is gained by the presence of the small arrangement of flowers on the north side of the altar.

(2) Has there ever been a thought about giving up candles for Lent and giving the money to the Food Bank?  Quite a challenge!

(3) King Alfred the Great is in the news at present: he used candles to measure the passing of time – so here’s a belated Advent thought: Time passes. We need to be ready.

(4)  Finally, I repeat the words of Dean David already quoted in a previous blog:

“When we have fed the poor and cared for the needy, then we can polish the candlesticks”.

This puts it all into proper perspective.

© Canon John Seymour, Epiphany 2014


Advent Reflections: Part 2 – Putting Good Friday before Advent?

I’ve spotted a sort of complication in the way Advent, (with Christmas, Epiphany and Lent in between) precedes Holy Week and Good Friday.  Actually it doesn’t – well, not always.  There is at least one sense in which Passiontide actually comes before Advent.  It looks as if we need a sort of liturgical u-turn or loop somewhere, to sort it all out!

This strange reflection is prompted by the Cathedral Eucharist on 3rd Sunday of Advent (15 December).  Once again it was the hymns that set me thinking.  Hymns are so important for the congregation, particularly in the Cathedral:  they are a way in which we can keep singing and use our own voices to share in the worship.  At the conclusion of the liturgy on this particular Sunday we sang with considerable gusto some strong theology put into verse by Charles Wesley:

Those dear tokens of his passion
Still his dazzling body bears…
…with what rapture…
Gaze we on those glorious scars.

So, when the acclamation “Christ will come again” is finally fulfilled, the Christ who comes again as judge will be the judge who bears in his own body the signs; the ‘glorious scars’; the ‘dear tokens of his passion’, which achieved our redemption.  As it used to say at the end of some Psalms: “Selah” – “Wow! Think of that!” ‘Rapture’ is not the sort of word we reserved Anglicans use too readily, but seems perfectly appropriate in this context.  Anyhow, it’s all another cause for worship and thanksgiving.

Of course, the Christian Year is a great asset which enormously enhances our worship and the teaching of the faith as the seasons follow each other in regular succession.  But there are limitations.  Every Sunday is a day of resurrection, not just Easter Day.  The presence of God’s Spirit may be known 24/7, not just on the Day of Pentecost.  And the coming of Jesus may not be in Advent, but possibly on Septuagesima Sunday (if you remember when that is or was).  Or on St Stephen’s Day?  (But, alas, that might be a bad day for finding the People of God awake and alert and ready, as Advent constantly reminds us!)

But there is more: the offertory hymn in the same service was entirely new to me.  Christopher Idle (b. 1938) has written some good hymns, and “When the King shall come again” looks like one of them.  The third verse celebrates the Signs of the Kingdom (as listed in the Isaiah 35 lesson and the Matthew 11 Gospel, both read at this same Eucharist):

Deaf ears hear the silent tongues
Sing away their weeping;
Blind eyes see the lifeless ones
Walking, running, leaping.

My personal motto has been for quite a long time “keep singing”.  But the idea of “sing away weeping” is seriously good.  Singing doesn’t solve all of our sorrows, but it can sometimes make them a lot more bearable.  The therapeutic effect of music and singing is widely accepted and is within my own experience.  So keep singing, and sing away weeping!

We sang these words to what I think is a truly wonderful Victorian tune (I just love it) named after St John Damascene, and often sung to a fine Easter hymn:  Come, ye faithful raise the strain.  Rightly so, for this same St John of Damascus, (c. 754) wrote the words.  However, next time we sing Christopher Idle’s hymn, (why not at next year’s Advent Carol Service?) it might be noted that it goes very well to Good King Wenceslas!  It would help us to worship with a smile.

In a way it’s a pity that many folk at the Cathedral leave their Order of Service behind.  I know the staff are eager to recycle ‘used’ material.  But we can do the recycling at home, after we have re-read and thought about any part of the service which particularly spoke to us.  If you did take this particular booklet home with you (and not yet recycled it) you would still have the words of Michael Foster’s Advent hymn which the choir sang as an introit to music by Michael Fleming.  It would reward a second reading.  I’d love to hear it again, but I can’t yet find it on YouTube.  Sometimes the diet presented in the Cathedral is so rich and generous, we need time to digest it!

One last thing:  A Happy Christmas to all who may get round to reading this blog and have read it to the very end!

© Canon John Seymour, Advent 2013


Some personal reflections on Advent and the Carol Service

“This wonderful season of Advent” began the introduction to the Cathedral Advent Carol Service on the First Sunday of Advent.  Agreed:  Advent has for a long time been my favourite season of the year.  There is so much to celebrate!

First, as the preamble to the service reminded us, there is a whole catalogue of comings: the coming of the child Jesus at Bethlehem; the coming to us of the Holy Spirit; the coming of Christ in the breaking of bread; his coming to us (and this was a new thought for me for which I am grateful) “in the joy of human lives that are shared”.  Then, most importantly, is the looking for and preparing for the future coming in glory of Christ the King.  But there is one other coming which surprisingly for Leicester Cathedral seems to have been left out: the coming of Christ to us in the poor – refugees and orphan children and the long list of the down-trodden of this world.

We look around and see thy face, disfigured, marred, neglected.
We find thee Lord in every place, sought for and unexpected.

 (From a hymn by Charles Ambrose (which sadly seems to have had a very short life in the hymn books.)

“Today,” the preamble continued, “…we enter the solemn season of Advent”.  But solemn doesn’t mean gloomy.  Solemn is really the opposite of casual and informal.  Weddings are referred to as the Solemnization of Matrimony – there’s no intention that the ceremony should be gloomy and sad!  But marriage is a serious matter: and so is Advent.  We do need to be contrite and never blasé about the world of sin in which we share.  Lenten purple is the colour of Advent, and traditionally we forgo the singing of the Gloria in the Eucharist.  These are small but useful symbols.  But there is a need for balance, especially for those who can easily get depressed.  The Advent Responsories reminded us: “People of God, be glad and rejoice!  Your God delights in you!”  And that foundation stone of all Advent worship, the Veni Emmanuel, repeatedly calls on us to “Rejoice!  Rejoice!

There is a third aspect of Advent which I think is also very important.  “This wonderful season of Advent…” the preamble already quoted goes on to remind us “…is full of longing, yearning, and expectation.”  It’s the yearning that I like to highlight.  Here are some words from Julian of Norwich:

By repentance we are made clean,
By compassion we are made ready,
And by yearning for God we are made worthy.

And Charles Wesley captures this so succinctly:

Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Singing this verse moistens my eyes every Advent.  It is the longing heart that will in the end find and know the joy.  The Bob Chilcott carol sung by the choir, “The heart-in-waiting” (words by the poet Kevin Crossley-Holland) warmly reinforces this idea:

‘Here and now’, said the heart-in-waiting,
‘This is the place where you must be born’.

(Incidentally, I have since down-loaded the Naxos CD of Bob Chilcott carols which I’m sure will give new thoughts and enrich Christmas this year.)

Two other matters come to mind.  I wonder if it is appropriate to call the service an Advent Carol Service?  My Oxford dictionary defines a carol as “a religious folk song or popular hymn particularly associated with Christmas”.  We know there are also a few Advent carols, and some were included in this service.  But from my seat in the congregation I over-heard a couple of visitors thumbing through the booklet clearly expecting the sort of content described in the dictionary.

My other query concerns the inclusion of Britten’s Hymn to the Virgin.  I would welcome this lovely music in a concert, but in the context of worship some of us may have to opt out – (can’t quite cope with the theology).  My consolation is that it is important to some people whom I know, whose spirituality I detect and whose friendship I value.

And so my most grateful thanks to all involved in the planning, rehearsing and presenting of a very special and thoughtful service.  I felt that Dean David didn’t just read the prayers, he prayed them, and helped us in the congregation to do so too.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

But now I want to fast forward – a kind of preview or trailer of the next episode in the story – to the birth of Jesus on Christmas Night.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us can quite legitimately be translated as “he pitched his tent among us.  I wonder where he would have pitched his tent if the precincts of Leicester Cathedral had been the chosen place?

Maybe in the Grand Hall in St Martins House?  Probably not, although we may meet him there in meetings and friendships and hospitality.  At the nave altar in the Cathedral?  Probably not, although we may meet him there in bread and wine.  Maybe in the choir stalls or organ loft?  For we may meet him there, too, through music and song.  My evangelical background pops up again and suggests the pulpit where the Word of God is regularly proclaimed?

But just possibly it might have been in that rather untidy spot in Peacock Lane, just outside the gate to St Martins House.  It’s a meeting place where folk gather together for a smoke and a chat.  It can be a bit cold on a windy day, but there is some shelter between the brick buttresses.  Could there be some symbolism here:  a Parable of the Kingdom?

Revd Canon John Seymour
Advent 2013

O Thou, the central orb… O Thou – the what?

For thirty-seven years I was involved in parish ministry as a parish priest, and for ten years (since retirement) as a parish church organist.  During much of that time, with a strong pastoral heart as well as a love of music, I was concerned to choose hymns and songs which were congregation-friendly. This doesn’t mean just repeating popular tunes over and over, as I had (for example) a positive policy of introducing, after a brief pre-service practice, “this month’s new hymn”.  (Once or twice, I note, Canon Johannes has introduced new congregational music in this way at some special services at the Cathedral).

So what about an announcement that the anthem today will be “O thou, the central orb”?

Not exactly words that would be immediately understood by the majority of the men and women in the pews when I was working in a north London back street parish behind King’s Cross, or on the council estates of East Worthing, or among the miners of the  Leicestershire coalfield.  Orb is hardly a word in common use, except in derivative forms as in orbital motorways and the orbit of satellites.

However, the anthem is greatly loved by choirs that are up to it.  It was included in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee service last year in St Paul’s.  It was sung by a strong choir at our Cathedral on the recent Harvest Sunday, and most recently formed the climax to the quite remarkable ‘Legacy Concert’, also at the Cathedral.  But what do the words actually mean?  Are the words just a platform for the music?  I hope not!

The first stanza is not too difficult to understand and begins with an unusual rhyming pattern – ABBA:

O thou, the central orb of righteous love,
Pure beam of the most High, eternal Light
Of this our wintry world, Thy radiance bright
Awakes new joy in faith. Hope soars above.

 The poet was H R Bramley (1833-1926), a priest and Oxford academic at the height of the Oxford Movement, and later Canon Precentor of Lincoln.  He has been described as a “high church conservative”.  Be that as it may, my first thought is that perhaps this text may be comparable to the great metaphysical poets such as John Donne and George Herbert of two centuries earlier?  Comments welcome.

The ‘central orb’ must be the poet’s way of describing Jesus, who was foretold to be the Sun of righteousness, shining forth the eternal light of God the Father.  An orb symbolizes kingship, both ‘King Jesus’ and also, presumably, is the reason why the anthem is sung on royal occasions.  The Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned, but the Trinity is completed implicitly by reference to the greatest of spiritual gifts:  faith, hope and love.

The wintry world and the following verb to awake strongly suggests an Advent theme, as does the truly lovely rhyming couplet (quite Shakespearean) that follows, although the use of the word heaven here is surprising.   Maybe we are sometimes blest with glimpses of heaven even in this darksome world.

Come, quickly come, and let thy glory shine,
Gilding our darksome heaven with rays Divine.

So far, so good.  But it is the next stanza is more difficult.  At least it is clear that we have moved backwards in the calendar from Advent to All Saints Day:

Thy saints with holy lustre round Thee move,
As stars about thy throne…

But then I think I get a bit lost in a haze of metaphysical obscurity!

                                      …set in the height
Of God’s ordaining counsel, as Thy sight
Gives measured grace to each, Thy power to prove.

Any suggestions?  I wonder why grace is here described as measured.  It is abundance which is frequently associated with grace in the New Testament.  Fortunately it ends returning to the Advent theme, in words that I can both understand and be thankful for:

Let Thy bright beams disperse the gloom of sin,
Our nature all shall feel eternal day
In fellowship with thee, transforming day
To souls erewhile unclean, now pure within.  Amen. 

Charles Wood’s (1866-1926) setting must be a delight to sing:  it is certainly a joy to listen to.  I have a recording by Magdalen College Choir, Oxford, (by co-incidence H R Bramley’s old college) from their English Anthem Collection.  But the text truly came alive when sung ‘live’ to us by the choir in the context of the Cathedral Eucharist on this recent Harvest Sunday.  I put this wonderful, memorable service, to which the music contributed so much, on my ‘thank-you’ list for that day.

But what about the culture/obscurity problem I began with?  I’m still working on that.

© Canon John Seymour

Reflections on a Recent Eucharist

Liturgical experts call it ordinary time.  But there was nothing ordinary about the Cathedral Eucharist on this particular Sunday.  Indeed, as we entered at about 10.15, the choir was having a final practice of the Gloria from Widor’s Mass for two Choirs.  To be greeted by such glorious music so confidently sung by a very large choir, with bursts, tutti, from the organ, was as dramatic as it was uplifting – even before the service began.

It was end of term for the Cathedral choir.  Dr Chris Johns and his team should be well satisfied and encouraged by the progress the choir has made during this past academic year.  Not unrelated to this is the fact that the size of the congregation appears to have increased recently, partly, I suspect, due to the presence of new choir parents and grandparents.  Once or twice recently we have been asked to share Orders of Service, as supplies ran out.

Next came the opening hymn: An Easter hymn on Trinity Six!  Every Sunday is a sort of Easter Day.  “That we, with our hearts in heaven, /here on earth may fruitful be” could be a good motto for any church or cathedral.  In case we hadn’t noticed the Easter emphasis, the Dean then welcomed us by reminding us that we were there to celebrate both the love of God and the resurrection of Jesus.  After that glorious Widor Gloria, the Collect had a memorable petition: “May we discern you in all that we see, and serve you in all that we do.

Dean David began his sermon with a direct challenge: “How do you picture God?”  We might have guessed what he was driving at as the OT lesson and the gradual hymn (words based on Dame Julian of Norwich) gave us a clue:  “Mothering God…Mothering Christ…Mothering Spirit”.  As a sub-plot there was a memorable sound-bite:  “When you have (another Isaiah quote) shared your food with the hungry, opened your home to the homeless poor”, then, added David, you can polish the candlesticks.  The recent request for us to bring with us each Sunday something from our weekly shop for the newly set-up Food Bank is most welcome.  But why has it been difficult to find the box to receive the items?  Last week we found it under a table.

The anthem – Philip Stopford’s setting of Come down, O love divine – added a further course to this spiritual feast.  So beautiful.  I love the four single-syllable words: “for none can guess…” (another good motto).  The bass entry is worth waiting for, providing a base for the trebles’ soaring descant.

F Pratt Green’s excellent words which followed are often sung at Harvest Festivals.  They combine the harvest theme with both the world-wide task of caring, and the Harvest of the Spirit.   The set tune is good enough, but next time can we have it to Ar hyd y nos, which I think fits the words admirably?  A final burst of Widor from Simon Headley (what an asset he is to the Cathedral) brought the service to a triumphant close.

Thank you, Cathedral staff – both ordained and lay – for another glimpse of the heavenly banquet.

The Revd Canon John Seymour

PS: We did sing Ar hyd y nos at an Evensong recently.  Much appreciated!

Change and Decay

I went recently to Dr Chris Johns’ organ recital at the Cathedral.  There was a good attendance with some 60 of us forming an appreciative audience.  But why so few from the Cathedral congregation?   You missed a treat.

I particularly enjoyed Hebert Parry’s Choral Prelude on the hymn tune Eventide.  It’s always helpful to know the tune, and everyone knows this one – written especially for the evening hymn Abide with me and frequently sung at funerals and famously at Wembley cup-finals.

During many years as a parish priest I was always happy to help sing these words at parishioners’ funerals, including, as it does, some mostly healthy Christian spirituality.  And if (for some) it represents a form of folk religion, let’s build on that, not decry it.  The author, the Reverend Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847), was a brave and generally cheerful man who suffered long spells of asthma and bronchitis.  I can sympathize.  But it was much worse for him, as even today with so many effective medications available, it can still be a very distressing condition.  I’ve sometimes thought that Charles Wesley wrote the hymn I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath as a kind of asthmatic’s anthem.

Clearly Henry Lyte had in mind the story told by St Luke of the post-resurrection walk to Emmaus.  “Abide with us, for it is towards evening and the day is far spent.”  Although Jesus didn’t in the end stay over-night with Cleopas and his friend/wife/partner; he didn’t leave before he had made himself known to them in what must have been the first post-Easter Eucharist.

Both at Emmaus in AD 33 and at Brixham in the 1840s (Lyte’s final parish) when darkness fell it really was dark.   “The darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide.”  And at the time, Lyte was also approaching that other darkness: the valley of the shadow of death.

“I need thy presence every passing hour.”  Many of us can resonate with that.  The Pauline question quoted in the line “O death, where is thy sting?” reminds me of a funeral I once conducted in a local cemetery when we were all positively scared to approach the open grave: a swarm of bees had beaten us to it and decided to take up residence there.   We did manage to complete the committal and later thought that we had at last answered Paul’s question, and found that dreaded sting.

But perhaps some of the sentiments expressed in the hymn are a bit on the depressive side.  “Change and decay in all around I see.”  I’m not so sure about that.  “Change OR decay” seems to me a more positive attitude.  My nature has been to go along with Bing Crosby and “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don’t mess with Mr In-between.”   So sometimes for funerals I chose a text from the reading in Revelation 21:  “Behold, I make all things new!”

And this doesn’t just apply to funerals:  it seems to tie in with all that is happening at the Cathedral at present, as outlined in the Dean David’s recent video!   Certainly, if change is outside our comfort zone we shall find life in God’s kingdom unsettling.  Undeservedly for many of us, we shall be changed “from glory to glory.  Lost (again Charles Wesley) in wonder, love and praise.”

However, perhaps the Bing Crosby song didn’t capture the whole truth.   It may well be that Mr-In-between has a point.   A touch of realism to temper generous optimism might prevent some disheartening disappointments.  I think this is one of the chief lessons I have learnt after many years in Christian ministry!


At a recent Cathedral Eucharist we sang Bishop Bell’s (1883-1958) fine hymn: Christ is the King! O friends rejoice.  (I only just missed him in Chichester diocese as I went there for a second curacy in 1960.)  Many readers will know that he was one of the founding fathers of the Ecumenical Movement, a friend and supporter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and a great internationalist.

For this last reason I am bold enough to suggest that in this hymn he got just one word wrong.  The last verse reads:

So shall God’s will on earth be done,
New lamps be lit, new tasks begun,
And the whole church at last be one.  Alleluia.

 I think that if he had thought of it, he might have preferred “…and the whole WORLD at last be one.”

This, I suggest, is much more exciting theology.  Jesus prayed (John 17:21) that the church might be one, so that the world may believe.  The church exists not for its own sake, not even to achieve its unity as an end in itself, but to serve  and to watch and work and pray for God’s kingdom of justice and love and peace, proclaimed and  inaugurated by Jesus, to come on earth, as in heaven!  A primary challenge for all of us at Leicester Cathedral.

© Revd Canon John Seymour

The Low as Well as the High

One big privilege of regularly sharing in the worship at the Cathedral is the consistently high quality of the preaching. Cathedral clergy may perhaps have an advantage over their parochial colleagues; parish life can involve the preparation of multiple addresses and sermons each week. Quality inevitably suffers from sheer quantity.

Not so at the Cathedral, and not so when Pete Hobson recently preached on the Galatians text: All one in Christ Jesus. He invited us as a congregation to make sure all were welcome and valued, without reference to race, sex or gender. He also alluded to the existence of the old ‘high’ and ‘low’ manifestations of the C of E.

This led me on to reflect on whether or not we are as good in this department as hopefully we are where race, sex and gender are concerned. Perhaps I am aware of this as I was trained theologically in a 1950s conservative evangelical environment. After seeking primarily to be a follower of Jesus, I’m next also an incurable Anglian. But there is still that evangelical background which I think it is important to not despise. Cutting off roots may not be the best encouragement for healthy growth, (though pruning them may sometimes be a good idea).

The sermons at the Cathedral are so often evangelical in the best sense of that word: proclaiming the good news of Jesus and working out its implications for today. The Cathedral is also rich in music and fellowship and active in its concern for poverty and injustice, and, as I have personally discovered, pastorally very supportive. All of these are vitally important.

So the fact is accepted that there is a kind of package deal. A package which may include a good deal of ‘high church’ ritual and sometimes theology, to which for some it may be necessary to turn a blind eye or deaf ear.

All one in Christ Jesus: Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free. It’s not nearly as important as the other things, but we mustn’t forget the low as well as the high!


© Canon John Seymour, August 2013

“I” Hymns or “We” Hymns?

I sometimes suffer from earworms: a mild annoyance caused by a simple tune going round and round in my head, continuously and quite uncontrollably. Following a recent Cathedral Eucharist I was quite happily and productively “earwormed” for quite a while afterwards.

Now I’ve lived with and loved hymns for a very long time. Quite often they can be divided into either “I” hymns or “we” hymns.

I suspect that our hymn-choosers at the Cathedral get the balance right. It’s worth doing in order to prevent our worship becoming either too individualistic, subjective and inward-looking, or conversely, being only concerned with community so that we lose the personal element of our faith.

But back to my earworm. The final hymn we sang that morning (by C A Walworth 1820-1900 – nothing else seems to be known about him) begins as a “we” hymn:

Holy God we praise thy name
Lord of all we bow before thee

It has a very congregation-friendly German tune (a good influence of Canon Johannes here?) and continues as a meditation on the mystery of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then – strangely, as doxologies usually, even always, conclude a hymn – it descends from the heights of wonderful trinitarian theology right down… to “me”!

This descent I find quite dramatic and heart-warming. It ends with just two lines in the first person singular:

Lord I put my trust in Thee
Never, Lord, abandon me


© Canon John Seymour, July 2013

Sacred Space – Redefined

Christian buildings, even those of great architectural or historical merit are always meant to be somewhat ambiguous.  That ambiguity has been played out recently at St Pauls.

They are built to and for the glory of God but Christ redefined how glory can and should be seen in suffering humanity instead of religious buildings.  Their solidly speaks of God’s faithfulness but struggles to say that God’s people have no abiding home on earth but instead as its stewards such people are citizens of heaven.  The religious building reveals that it is not the church  - the people are the church.

Amongst other things important sacred buildings can further reveal our tendency to idolatry (turning objects into God), our capacity to seek stability when life is more precarious like a journey, our quest for glory and inspiration wherein the beauty of the ordinary or the broken can be missed or obscured, our need for order when chaos may be a more accurate reflection of life. They tell of objective truth but that may seem inaccessible or even disconnected from human subjectivity. They are places of both the powerful and the poor but one can easily cloud out the other.

That ambiguity is further heightened through their core business being worship which of itself can seem worthless, bearing no overt sense of productivity.  ‘Other worldly’ becomes a critique of such practice going on whilst the issues of the world are pressing.  But ‘other worldliness’ is actually critical to all worship if that means connection with the world of the divine which stands as ‘other’ to the known and seen world.

I recently was speaking with a designer who had helped to build a new Hindu Temple in Leicester who spoke of how the identification of a particularly auspicious day within the Hindu devotional  calendar became decisive in identifying the completion date for their building project. Excel spread sheets, quantity surveyor reports etc all had to be re-ordered in the light of worship.

The apparent pointlessness of worship reshapes the world by the bible being proclaimed and preached, praise offered in word, music and symbol, time reshaped by festivals, sacraments and stories of saints.  Through connection with divine space, we can imagine a world which has become more divine – that also means more just! 

So there is plenty of connection with the worship inside the cathedral and the protesters outside.  Both perhaps have a pointlessness as core to their purpose which reveals one space embodying a world made new. We’ve seen the ambiguities of cathedrals and sacred buildings but we’ve also seen what sacred space can offer everyone.

© Canon DAvid Monteith, Canon Chancellor

Reflections from Revd Canon Barry Naylor

Reflections from Revd Canon Barry Naylor

Week Commencing 30  September 2011

Last week Canon David Monteith reflected on Professor Coakley’s address at the Clergy Conference about the necessity of a close relationship with the poor, as we live the Christian life. She also emphasised the centrality of prayer and this is not just true for the priest, but for every Christian. She recommended Father Michael Hollings’, “Living Priesthood”, especially his chapter on being a “Person of Prayer.  This struck a chord with me, as Michael was a good friend and my Spiritual Director.

He wrote: “The priest is nobody, has no power, is empty, no matter how hard he (sic) works, if he is not given over to God in the Spirit – – – to allow God the first place in (his) mind, heart and strength – – – – It demands a firm discipline and determination against a constant assault from all around, and even from inside one-self, suggesting it is a waste of time”.

For each of us prayer, time spent with God, is vital. Prayer is not, primarily, about talking to God, telling him things. Listening to him in prayer, and as we read the Scriptures, is far more important. What is God saying to me, to the Church, to the world? We each need to develop a discipline about our prayer life, seeing it as the most essential time, around which all else happens; not just a few minutes slipped in amidst all the busyness of life. This is so, “come hell or high-water”, no matter what situations we find ourselves in.

Prayer is not escaping from the world but being open to God, so that we may become more fully immersed in, and vital to, the world around us and cooperate in his work of healing and redemption. Listening to God will both challenge and comfort us. We need to pray alone, to pray with others but pray we must, if we are to be God’s faithful co-workers and heirs of eternal life.

Hollings wrote of the priest: “Unless the leader, the inspirer, is given over to God in the depth, totality and reality of prayer he (sic) cannot hope to be the channel God will use for communicating His Word and His Spirit”. A priest is called, above all, to be a person of prayer and by her (or his) example to inspire others to live prayerful lives, appropriate to our many different contexts and situations.


© Revd Canon Barry Naylor