St Helen’s Church

carol service 2023CHristmas at St Helens 202326th November 2023. Sunday before Advent (Christ the King)

Prayers for today:

Eternal Father, whose son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven that he might rule over all things as Lord and King: keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace, and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously be rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those whose year’s mind is about this time we remember John Harding, Bobby Gordon, Mary Moore, Alys Dodds, Lilian Chester Alexander and Christo Swanepoel.


Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24

11 ‘“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

20 ‘“Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: see, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

 Psalm 100.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness:
come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God:
it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,
and into his courts with praise:
be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting;
and his truth endureth to all generations.


Matthew 25: 31-46

The sheep and the goats

 31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

37 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”

40 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

41 ‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”

44 ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”

45 ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

46 ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’

Thoughts on today’s readings

A few days ago I was visiting a lady in this parish who loves animals and keeps pygmy goats. They all have their little characters and she loves them like her own children. It’s hard to understand why goats would be a symbol for those who will not be coming into the kingdom of God.

Yet for the image and meaning of the sheep we do not have look far. If you travel to the flatlands of Lincolnshire or to the villages of East Anglia you will find the great mediaeval wool Churches. Built on and, in a way, celebrating the wealth derived from the trade in wool from England across into Europe in those centuries, they remind us of an era when sheep were the source of the wealth of this country, a wealth derived not so much from  meat as from the yearly harvest of fleeces, when wool was the king of textiles. The sheep in this image given by Jesus stand for those who are valuable, precious if you like, to the king, and the goats are those who are not, who have proved to be worthless.

It has been said that it is because they cared for the followers of Jesus –‘these brothers and sisters of mine’ – that the sheep are rewarded, rather than because they have cared for any and all, but it’s very clear to me that there is no such calculation in the kindness of the ‘sheep’. Rather they are surprised at the idea that they might have done anything out of the ordinary. On the contrary, they have been doing what was normal : carrying out what in the Jewish world were known as the acts of charity, and doing it now, in response to the need they encountered, rather than putting it off or being too busy or self-absorbed.

In these weeks when we have heard of dreadful massacres in Israel, of lives and communities being literally crushed in Gaza, of families of hostages and prisoners waiting to see if the ones they love are on a list or not, today’s readings remind me of even grimmer times in the last century when exhausted and terrified human beings arrived at the camps of Eastern Europe to be separated into those who were selected to work, and those who were sent to their deaths. This cruelty was carried out in the name of a government which trumpeted its technological progress, and passed laws promoting the survival of the strong, and judged those considered weak, disabled or of the wrong genetic makeup to be unworthy of life.

But as it is written in the Talmud, the texts of the rabbis of Israel, ‘If you save one soul, who have saved the whole world.’ True humanity has a way of surviving and of finding its voice and its courage even in the hardest of times. There are those whose names are known, like Oskar Schindler, a nazi who in ordinary times would have been written off as a corrupt individual, yet who used his wits and influence to save over 1000 Jews, but surely also so many who are no longer remembered, who opened their homes and their hearts to strangers, and often put their own lives in danger.

Today’s prayer speaks of the Lord stirring up our wills. Now, even in this darkest time of the year, is the time to be ready, to be awake and alert. Who knows in what form we will encounter the Lord? It may be in the patient in hospital, struggling to make themselves understood after a stroke, who needs someone who will listen. It may be in the homeless person sleeping in a shop doorway: who knows how their life brought them to such a pass? We were not called by Jesus Christ to judge the world but to announce his good news in our words and in our lives. We learn from our mistakes but do not dwell on them, for ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil therof.’ We have been given the living way to follow in Jesus Christ the true shepherd of the sheep, and we have been fed and given all we need to be ministers of his gospel. Let us give thanks for the example of those whose faithfulness has shone like light even in the darkest of places and times, and may we be used so that others too may live and find their way to him.

19th November 2023. 2nd Sunday before Advent.

Prayer for today: Heavenly Father, whose Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil and to make us children of hope and heirs of eternal life: grant that we, having this hope, may purify ourselves even as he is pure; that when he shall appear in power and in great glory we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever, Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those whose year’s mind is about this time we remember Walter Milburn, Terry Atkinson, John Watling and James Clark.


1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11

We do not need to write to you about times and seasons; you know the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are still talking about peace and safety, destruction will come on them as suddenly as labour pains on a woman. They will not escape.

But you, sisters and brothers, are not in the dark. You are children of light; we do not belong to the night. Then let us not sleep like the drunkards, but be awake and sober. Put on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation for a helmet. God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to be saved through Jesus Christ.

He died for us so that, awake or asleep, we may live in him. Then continue to encourage one another and build each other up.

Verses from Psalm 90.

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,
even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.

Thou turnest man to destruction;
and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
and as a watch in the night.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep:
in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up;
in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.

For we are consumed by thine anger,
and by thy wrath are we troubled.
Thou hast set our iniquities before thee,
our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

So teach us to number our days,
that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.


Matthew 25: 14-30

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like when a man, going on a journey, summoned his servants and entrusted the care of his property to them. To one he gave 5 talents, to another 2, and to another 1, according to their abilities; then he went away.

The one who had received 5 talents traded with it, and made 5 more.

In the same way, the one with 2 talents made 2 more. But the servant who had received 1 talent dug a hole in the ground and hid it.

After a long time the master returned and asked his servants for their accounts. The one with the 5 talents said, ‘Look , Master; I have made 5 more talents.’ The master replied, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant. From now I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

The one with the 2 talents did likewise, and again the master said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been trustworthy in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ But the one who had received one talent came and said, ‘Master, I know you are a harsh man. You reap where you have not sown, and gather where you did not plant seed. I was afraid, so went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ The Master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant. So you know that I reap what I have not sown, do you?  Then you should have invested my money with the lenders, and on my return I could have received the interest. Take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the 10 talents. For to all who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance. But from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  As for this worthless servant, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’

Thoughts on today’s readings:

Our readings this morning put me in mind of an old farming proverb: ‘Farm as if you were going to live a thousand years; live as if you were going to die tomorrow.’ Jesus’ parable is a call to urgent action; hiding in a bunker is not an option.

Note how the Master does not give each servant the same level of responsibility. He recognises that they are different, and entrusts them with his wealth, according to their abilities. Note also that “I can’t do it,’ is not an option.

The sums are still huge. It would have taken an average labourer somewhere between 15 and 20 years to earn a talent.

One focus of the story is on the wretched ‘one talent servant’.  He is motivated solely by fear and self-preservation. Literally, he is trying to cover himself. He has no love for his Master and cannot conceive that his Master has any affection for him. Interestingly, there were rabbis who taught that, if you were entrusted with another person’s property and buried it, you were absolved from all blame in case of loss: you had taken the safest course of action.

The servant then thinks, “I have done nothing wrong.’ Yes, but he has done nothing worthwhile either. If he did not dare risk anything through his own efforts, did he not care enough to let others, bankers in this case, make his Master’s wealth work and earn interest?

He has been concerned to save his skin but, as Jesus taught, ‘Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will gain it.’

The reward for the servants who laboured to increase their Master’s wealth is not rest, but greater responsibilities, and their Master’s joy. The faithless servant is worthless. He has condemned himself and is cast out.

We believe God knows us in Jesus Christ. As Christians we believe we can find our meaning and purpose in God’s purpose for us, in accepting and following our calling, whatever that is, in believing that each one has been entrusted with gifts and talents unique to us, and by using our lives and our talents in the service of our neighbour and for the joy and to the glory of God.

Faith, love and hope will protect us from fear, discouragement and despair, even in the hardest of times.

We cannot number our days or predict the future: it has not yet happened. ‘The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.’

We cannot waste our time speculating on such things: we have been given a life to live, we have been given those around us to love and to serve, and faith involves believing that God has given us the means to fulfil his purpose in us, and Jesus Christ has sown us the depths of his love for us.

As someone who does not sleep particularly well at night, I find the idea of ‘staying awake’ unattractive.  I do not find sleeplessness makes me function better as a human being, and I would say ‘being ready’ is perhaps something I would prefer to aspire to.

Being ready means we are not consumed with self-absorption and worry. It means we are open to listening to God in prayer and listening to our neighbour, and therefore able to respond.

As St. Paul wrote to those early Christians in Salonika, ‘Build each other up, encourage one another.’

And so may your light so shine that all people may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in heaven.


5th November 2023. Last Sunday after Trinity

Prayer for today:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that through patience , and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Bos Wigmore, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those who have died we remember Audrey Henderson.

Her funeral is here in Church on Thursday 16th November at 11 a.m.

We also remember Moffitt Reed, Gordon Grubb, Ken Barron and Harry Robson whose year’s mind is about this time.


Colossians 3: 12-17

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Verses from Psalm 119.

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?
by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
10 With my whole heart have I sought thee:
O let me not wander from thy commandments.
11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart,
that I might not sin against thee.
12 Blessed art thou, O Lord:
teach me thy statutes.
13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.
14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies,
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate in thy precepts,
and have respect unto thy ways.
16 I will delight myself in thy statutes:
I will not forget thy word.

Matthew 24; 30-35

Jesus said to his disciples:

20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again.

22 ‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Messiah!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you in advance.

26 ‘So if anyone tells you, “There he is, out in the desert,” do not go out; or, “Here he is, in the inner rooms,” do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

29 ‘Immediately after the distress of those days

‘“the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”[a]

30 ‘Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth[b] will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.[c] 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

32 ‘Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: as soon as its twigs become tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it[d] is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.


Thoughts on today’s readings:

Driving along a quiet country road near my sister’s home in New Jersey, I realised with a shock that I was looking at the ugly naked head of a turkey-vulture at the side of the road. There was no need to speculate as to why it was there, and sure enough, when we looked more closely, there beside it was the body of a deer, no doubt knocked down by a car. Jesus used this very blunt image to illustrate the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the age: his coming would be unmistakable. There have always been prophets of doom, would – be messiahs and saviours; Jesus warned his disciples not to be deceived.

Reading these verses I am reminded how the ruthless and bloody attacks of October 7th took place in the early morning of a public holiday in Israel, when people were relaxing and their guard was down. Jesus’ prayer that his people would not have to flee on a sabbath, when the gates of every town and village remained locked, or in the winter, when the roads were impassible with mud, seem particularly poignant today. In Isaiah 11: 10 the prophet told how the root of Jesse would stand as an ensign to the peoples: just as clear, Jesus promised, would be the sign when his chosen people were gathered in.

Over and over the bible warns us to be ready: but this is not about digging bunkers or laying in stores of tinned food. Since the final sign will be the coming of the Son of Man, our readiness consists in focussing on Jesus here and now, on conforming ourselves and our lives to him, and this, it seems to me, is what Colossians is telling us to do in the words of our first reading. Lists of virtues were popular in the ancient world: the Book of Wisdom lists virtues beloved of the Greeks as those taught by Wisdom: self-control and prudence, justice and courage, and the writer of Colossians has a different list: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, but then tells us that above all else we must be clothed in love -agape- which is the beginning and the end of all virtue.

These virtues must not be, as it were, stored away in a cupboard, or referred to in documents, but used and exercised every day, like the muscles of our body. These verses emphasise the importance of our common life and mutual encouragement. It is so that we may be ready to serve that we are told to teach and encourage one another, learn from each other and, yes, worship. The Christians of Paul’s time sang psalms and hymns: singing the verses of the bible so that they might the more be a part of their minds and their lives. The word translated ‘gratitude’ is the word ‘eucharist’, the name for our celebration when we come to the Lord’s table.

For a short hour this morning we too turn aside from the world and its agendas and focus on the Son of God. We come to be refreshed, to learn from one another and encourage each other, to remember and celebrate the wonder of life and of creation, and the love and grace of God which we have received, and to be thankful.

So may we focus on Christ today and every day, that when the times of trial come faith may continue to guide us, hope never leave us, and love sustain us.

29th October 2023. Celebration of All Saints and All Souls.

Prayer for today:

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those inexpressible joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for Bos Wigmore, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan, Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett, Hayley Gennery, Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead, Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde.

Among those who have recently died we remember Audrey Henderson, Hendrik Nieuwland and Bill Harvey, and also 

Margaret Robson, Isla Baynes, Muriel Clark, James Henry Short, Millett Ridley, John Pickworth, Joyce Best, Douglas Capes and Keith Herdman, whose year’s mind is about this time.

We are also asked to remember: Harry Davison, Robbie Hutchinson, John Gilbert Graham, Anthony and Julia Graham, John William and Lilian Lowdon.

If there are any whom you would like remembered in prayer during this morning’s service, please write their names on the paper provided, bring this to the altar before our prayers of intercession begin and, if you wish, light a candle for them.


Revelation 7: 9-17

I saw a multitude, too great to be counted, from every nation and tribe and people, and they stood before the throne and before the Lamb. They carried palm branches in their hands and cried out, ‘Salvation comes from God our King, and from the Lamb!’

And round the throne stood all the angels, and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honour, power and might be to our God for ever and ever. Amen.’

The one of the elders asked me, ‘Who are these, clothed in white, and whence have they come?’ I said to him, ‘You, sir, know this.’

He replied, ‘These have come through the great persecution. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God and worship him night and day within his temple, and the one on the throne will shelter them. No longer will they hunger or thirst; the sun will not strike them, for the Lamb on the throne will be their shepherd. He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.’

Psalm 34

I will bless the Lord at all times:
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make her boast in the Lord:
the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he heard me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
They looked unto him, and were lightened:
and their faces were not ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him,
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him,
and delivereth them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good:
blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
O fear the Lord, ye his saints:
for there is no want to them that fear him.
10 The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger:
but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.

Matthew 5: 1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. Then he sat, and his disciples came to him. He taught them, saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn: they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful: they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they revile you, persecute you, and speak evil and falsehood against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Thoughts at All Saints

In the early years of the 1400s a little book appeared which has continued to influence people on their Christian journey up to the present day. It was written by Thomas from Kempen, a town near Cologne, a priest and one of the Brethren of the Common Life. In short chapters it seeks to guide the reader to a closer following of the christian life by focusing on the person of Jesus.

All Saints is a time when we are reminded not only of those we consider to have been saints, but also that each one of us has been called to be a saint. In our baptism we were consecrated as holy to God and each one of us is called to fulfil our vocation and calling in our own way. The letters of St. Paul were addressed to ‘the saints’ of whichever church he had written to. This is not a judgement on their virtue as people – in many of his letters Paul is critical of the people he is writing to – but illustrates how he sees them: as a people chosen by God, who have made a response of faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

All Saints reminds us that we too were called, and this is our daily journey as God’s holy people. To find our way we need to trust our guide; this is Jesus Christ and that daily journey must involve engaging with his word in the gospel, and focusing on him in prayer.

Like Thomas and his Brethren we need one another for guidance, encouragement and understanding, and All Saints is also about giving thanks that we are part of that great communion which none can number, of every race and tribe and people.

The words of Jesus for us today are from St. Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus sat and taught his disciples.

The word ‘blessed’ has a rather theological and remote sound about it; in other translations and in other languages, French for instance, it is given simply as ‘happy’.

It is good to be reminded that being a saint isn’t about hair shirts and getting through life with gritted teeth and ceaseless effort.

Jesus is telling his followers how to find true happiness.

But how to be happy with Jesus? How to be happy on that journey?

What is striking about the words from our reading is that they do not immediately equate with success, whatever that may look like: those who grieve; those who are meek; those who are persecuted; those who hunger and thirst; those who are poor in spirit.

They contain an acknowledgement of our dependence upon God and they place God and the needs of our neighbours at the centre.

True happiness, that is to say, blessedness, does not consist in the pursuit of ambition or the satisfaction of our appetites.

Many years ago when I was a young naval officer I thought I knew where I was going in life. I was engaged to a very brilliant young woman and I was saving hard to buy a house and provide a home and all the things I thought were needed for a happy life.

However I was also very immature and really unfit to be married to anyone. My fiancée had more honesty and courage than me and broke off the engagement. I was of course terribly unhappy, and didn’t know what to do with myself.

A good friend, who was then a Captain in the Church Army, told me I needed to go and look after other people, and so I spent that Christmas not at home, but in a Care home in Ryton, looking after retired miners and others. Was I happy? I certainly had some peace for the first time in a long time, and in the service I was able to offer a sense that I was worth something.

While I was in the North East I met an old friend of my parents, and she advised me to go and work as a volunteer with the Cyrenians, providing homes and support for single men.

I have to say I had some great times; maybe I did provide some help and service, but I also received a great deal.  I was taught to cook by some of the residents, and I came to realise how precarious life can me. Those men were not so different to me: how easily illness, family traumas and other misfortunes can lead to isolation and homelessness.

So this All Saints may we reflect on our calling as saints;

May we focus on Jesus, look on him, listen to his voice, draw near that we may more closely be imitators of him.

May we encourage one another, and be signs to one another of what it means to be happy, to be blessed, to find our joy, our purpose, and liberation in the service of God and of our neighbour.

22nd October 2023. 20th Sunday after Trinity

Prayer for today:

God the giver of life, whose Holy Spirit wells up within your Church: by the Spirit’s gifts equip us to live the gospel of Christ and make us eager to do your will, that we may share with the whole creation the joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Among those who are sick we pray for    Bos Wigmore,  Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan,  Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett , Hayley Gennery,  Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead,  Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde .

Among those who have recently died we remember Hendrik Nieuwland and Bill Harvey, and also Theresa Gibson, Annie Parker, Kathleen Webber, Betty Common and Ivon Moore, whose year’s mind is about this time.

Next Sunday will be the celebration of All Saints and All Souls, and a time to remember  all those who have gone before us.


Isaiah 45: 1-7

‘This is what the Lord says to his anointed,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him
and to strip kings of their armour,
to open doors before him
so that gates will not be shut:
I will go before you
and will level the mountains;[a]
I will break down gates of bronze
and cut through bars of iron.
I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
For the sake of Jacob my servant,
of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name
and bestow on you a title of honour,
though you do not acknowledge me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things.

 Verses from Psalm 96

O sing unto the Lord a new song:
sing unto the Lord, all the earth.
Sing unto the Lord, bless his name;
shew forth his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the heathen,
his wonders among all people.
For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised:
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols:
but the Lord made the heavens.
Honour and majesty are before him:
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people,
give unto the Lord glory and strength.

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name:
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness:
fear before him, all the earth.


 Matthew 22: 15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the poll-tax[a] to Caesar or not?’

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’

21 ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

 Thoughts on today’s readings

Our first reading has a strange, almost disruptive sound about it. Here is an oracle describing the pagan Persian emperor Cyrus as God’s anointed – the words for that are ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’, and it seems all the stranger because it comes after a chapter and another word of God emphasising how God created Israel and chose them from the moment of their birth. Yet read on and it is clear that God has not chosen Cyrus for his own sake, despite all the riches and victories with which he will be blessed. The words emphasise that Cyrus has been appointed by God to help his chosen people Israel, and so that the whole world may know that the God of Israel alone is God. Again what is remarkable is the statement that all this will happen even though Cyrus does not know the one God.

In St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ dispute over the payment of the poll tax to Caesar, the evangelist begins by emphasising how isolated Jesus has become. Here are not only Pharisees but also supporters of Herod, who would normally be arch-enemies, united against him. Behind the flattery of their opening words is something uglier: they are trying to trap him with his words. The Roman coinage for paying the taxes were inscribed with the words, ‘Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus’. For many Jews, the depiction of a living figure was idolatry, and the claim that he was divine was blasphemy; hence the point of the coin. Jesus senses the hypocrisy of their posturing. What is the credibility of their outrage, if they are prepared to carry and use the very coins which have been issued on the authority of the same Caesar? They have no answer and go away.

Behind the questions these readings may raise about the legitimacy of authority and the requirement for christians to pray for those in authority is a question about the source of authority and the mind and purpose of God. There is no evidence that Cyrus ever declared his faith in the God of Israel; nevertheless the words in Isaiah state that, whether he acknowledged it or not, Cyrus had been chosen by God to fulfil his purpose for his chosen people. Behind these words is an understanding that God was not like the gods of the pagans: the god of a particular people or of a particular place, or to be petitioned for particular areas of life, the harvest for instance.  This is God who was before all things and is the source of all things and can work in and through all things and indeed through all people, and that includes pagan kings and emperors.

Jesus who is for us Christ, the anointed, the Son of God and the revelation of the face of God, reveals also the nature of God and the purpose of God to us. He was not sent for his own benefit or that he might be blessed with ease and plenty, but gave up his life for the world which was his and which was his creation. In the action of this love, unselfish, unquenchable, and stronger than death, the purpose of God is revealed. Born in poverty, dying in obscurity, the Word of God reaches out his arms to embrace the whole world. And so, unwittingly, even those who  called him a blasphemer and shouted for his death, and the soldiers of Caesar who stretched out his arms on the cross have been instruments of God’s purpose.

And so when we worship, may we embrace the whole of God’s world. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before him, all  the earth.


Sunday 15th October 2023      The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Our service this morning is led by the Revd Canon Chris Simmons

Hymn 4           Lord, as the day begins

The Collect

O God, forasmuch as without you we are not able to please you; mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

The letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses1-9

My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Canticle: A Song of the Lamb

 Let us rejoice and exult                                              and give glory and homage to our God.

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,   whose judgements are true and just.

Praise our God, all you his servants                           all who fear him, both small and great.

The Lord our God, the Almighty reigns:                     let us rejoice and exult and give him glory.

For the marriage of the Lamb has come                    and his bride has made herself ready.

Blessed are those who are invited                             to the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

To the One who sits on the throne                            and to the Lamb

Be blessing and honour and glory and might,            for ever and ever. Amen

Let us rejoice and exult                                              and give glory and homage to our God.

The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verses 1-14

 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’


This morning’s gospel is a real cracker, and a real shocker. In fact, if I were less of a coward, I would have processed in this morning wearing some rough old trousers and a T shirt, and waited for the horrified reaction – the vicar’s stand-in couldn’t be bothered to put on the proper robes for the occasion! (The silly old fool’s finally lost it!)

The way Matthew tells the parable of the wedding feast is challenging at three levels: first, it is so violent and so far-fetched as a story – a king who reacts with such arbitrary and disproportionate retribution. Are we to believe that this is the picture of God that Jesus intended to communicate? Second, therefore, there is an intellectual challenge for gospel scholars. Is the story right, or has there been some kind of distortion between what Jesus originally intended, and what Matthew wrote? Third, in the way the story ends – with words of exclusion and condemnation – there is a challenge to a powerful present-day fashion, the desire to be inclusive whenever we can – because of course inclusiveness is the great guarantee of our own salvation.

Now God’s love is not exclusive. The whole point of the ministry of Jesus is to show that. But is that a threat or a promise? In his life, Jesus offered God’s love to everyone he met – but we know that generally speaking respectable, upright, sane people treated him as a threat, while disreputable, downcast and diseased people greeted him as a promise. That pattern is reflected in the first part of the story of the wedding feast. The king’s generous invitation is treated with absolute contempt by his first choice of guests, so others, not so worthy, gathered in at random from the streets, come in to fill the empty places and taste the delights of royal hospitality. Easy to see that in the context of his own time, the authorities – particularly the religious leaders – would have found that an offensive story. They knew it was aimed at them.

But it doesn’t particularly offend us today because broadly speaking we probably don’t think of ourselves – or at least, I don’t think of myself – as belonging to either group. It’s just a story.

Well, yes, it is “just” a story, and we need to keep reminding ourselves of that. But the whole point of the stories Jesus told is that we should go on thinking about them until we have made the connection between Jesus and ourselves. Again, we need to look at the words of Jesus in relation to his actions. When the extortionate tax collectors and the hardened prostitutes and the chronically ill and the seriously deranged came to Jesus he didn’t say to any of them, “you’re alright as you are”. Change was part of the deal for them, and it still is for us. That’s not exclusiveness, that’s God treating us as mature people, able to acknowledge that actions have consequences.

To put it in terms of the story, the only person to be thrown out of the party was the one who thought he was all right as he was. He was literally not prepared to change! To put it in a word, judgement: real, and fundamentally self-imposed. Does God love serial killers and child molesters and ruthless businessmen and manipulative mothers? Yes. His love is not exclusive. Can a good God allow them to stay at the party if they don’t change? Of course not. God’s kingdom – and remember, Jesus said God’s kingdom is within us and among us – is infinitely capacious, but it’s still not big enough for good and evil to have equal place in it. One will have to leave.

The personal and political consequences of this are dynamite. The truth is that God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which love and justice and mercy and truth and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear to the wedding, and if you won’t wear them, you’re saying you don’t want to stay at the party. That is the reality, as much for our kingdom (Christian nation OK as we are, thanks) as for ourselves, and we must not deceive ourselves or anyone else by pretending otherwise. So:

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

The Prayers of Intercession

 Of current concern: the many signs of climate change; the conflict in Israel and Gaza.

We pray for the sick, and for their healing according to God’s will, among them Bos Wigmore, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan,  Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett , Hayley Gennery,  Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead,  Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde

We remember those who have died recently, among them Tom Cowing and Hendrik Nieuwland, and those whose year’s mind is about this time, among them Edward Ellis Pickworth, John Carter, Shirley Nichol, Jeanette Shotton, Dorothy Johnson and Philippa Jane Dodwell

Hymn 308       Just as I am

The Post-Communion Prayer

Holy and blessed God, you have fed us with the body and blood of your Son and filled us with your Holy Spirit: may we honour you, not only with our lips but in lives dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymn 563       Rejoice! The Lord is King

Next Sunday is the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

The Bible readings will be

Isaiah 45:1-7 and Matthew 22:15-22

They will help us think about the source, extent

and limitations of earthly power


24th September 2023. 16th Sunday after Trinity.

Prayer for today:

O Lord we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you: and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also have the grace and power faithfully to fulfil them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Please pray for Sam Little and Adam Holt who will be married here tomorrow.

Among those who are sick we pray for Tom Cowing,  Bos Wigmore, Daniel Bradley,  Hendrik Nieuwland, Prue Critchley, Ned Ryan,  Daniel Bosman, Suzie Dent, Nick Cook, Christina Baldwin, Lorraine Dodd, Kathleen Lee, Carol McKendrick, Roy Walker, Stuart Bell, Maggie Bennett , Hayley Gennery,  Elizabeth Sambell, Katherine Patterson, Heather Loughead,  Carol Allen, John and Gwyneth Wilde .

Among those whose year’s mind is about this time we remember June Evans, Elisabeth Patterson, Jessica Cosens, Nancy Charlton and Ian Heslop.

Readings for today:

Jonah 3: 10 – 4: 11

Unwillingly, Jonah had obeyed God and gone to Nineveh to proclaim God’s message that the city would be destroyed. The king and the people repented and, when he saw this, God changed his mind and did not do it.

Jonah was filled with anger and rebuked the Lord. ‘Is this not why I fled far away to Tarshish? I know you are a gracious God, slow to anger, merciful, steadfast in love, always ready to turn aside from punishment. Lord, take my life; it is better for me to die than to live.’ The Lord replied, ‘What right have you to be angry?’

Jonah left the city; he made himself a shelter to the east of the city and sat, waiting to see what would happen to the city.

The Lord created a bush; it grew up over his head and shaded him, and Jonah was happy about the bush.

But at dawn the next day God sent a worm that attacked the plant, and it withered and died. At sunrise God sent a scorching east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he was faint. Again he cried to the Lord, ‘It would be better if I was dead!’ The Lord said, ‘It is right for you to be angry about the bush?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Jonah, ‘angry enough to die.’ The Lord said, ‘You are angry over a bush, over which you did not labour, which grew in a night and perished in a night. Then should I not have pity for Nineveh, which has over 120000 innocent children, besides many animals?’

Verses from Psalm 145

I will extol thee, my God, O king;
and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.
Every day will I bless thee;
and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise thy works to another,
and shall declare thy mighty acts.
I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty,
and of thy wondrous works.
And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts:
and I will declare thy greatness.
They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness,
and shall sing of thy righteousness.

The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion;
slow to anger, and of great mercy.

Matthew 20: 1-15

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers to work in his vineyard. They agreed on the usual wage, and he set them to work. He went out again at 9 o’clock and saw others standing idle in the market place. He said to the, ‘Go and work in my vineyard; I will pay you whatever is right.’ And so they went.

He returned at noon and at 3 o’clock and did the same. At about 5 o’clock he went out and found others standing about. ‘Why are you here idle all day?’ he asked. ‘Because no-one has hired us,’ they replied. He told them, ‘Go and work in my vineyard.’

When evening was come the owner said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and going through to the first.’

Those hired at 5 came, and received the full day’s wage. When those who had come first were paid, they thought they would receive more, but they too were paid the usual wage. They complained against the owner, saying, ‘These have only worked one hour, but you have made them equal to us, who have borne the heat of the day.’ But he replied, ‘Friend I have done you no wrong. Did I not pay you as agreed? Take what is yours and go. I choose to give to these last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what is mine? Are you envious because I am generous?’

And so the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

Thoughts on today’s readings:

We do not generally associate the Bible with comedy, but if the Bible has a comic story, perhaps it is the book of Jonah, with its grotesque and extraordinary tale of the cowardly prophet who responds to God’s call by heading as far as possible in the opposite direction (Tarshish was the western edge of the then-known world, on the coast of what is now Spain), who is swallowed up by a whale which then vomits him up on the beach. Now we read how he does preach God’s warning to this city, which was hated and feared by the Jews. They promptly repent and are spared. Jonah’s extraordinary reaction is, ‘Why did I bother? Why did I go through all this? I might have known you would not destroy the city after all!’

God points out to Jonah the irrational contradiction between his sorrow over the withered bush and his callous disregard for the lives of many thousand of people and living creatures. It was God who created the short-lived bush. Are not the people of Nineveh his creation too? And what of the remarkable aside: ‘besides many animals’?  All life in that city is the life that God has given. Jonah felt sorrow over a bush: surely God can feel pity for this vast city.

For me the story illustrates the word of God in Isaiah 55, verse 8:’My thoughts are not your thoughts; my ways are not your ways.’

The story challenges our assumption that we know or understand God’s purposes, that we assume that what we want, what we think is in our interests, is the will of God. I am reminded of the little girl at our school who used solemnly to pray ‘I will be done!’

The story is a challenge to all that is self centred in human nature, and, yes, all that is self-centred in those whom God has called into his service. It is a challenge to our assumption that our ideas of what is fair and just coincide with the will and mind of God.

That too is part of the point of the parable of the Kingdom in our reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, though it is placed where it is as an illustration of the statement of Jesus, ‘The last shall be first, and the first last.’

Again we have this story illustrating the offended sense of fairness and justice of those who have laboured all day when faced with the grace and generosity of the master.

They would not have been offended if they had been unaware that those who had only worked an hour were being paid the same as them. It is because they are comparing themselves to others that, as the owner puts it, their eye is evil.

Why should they be angry because the Lord is generous?

The point is not unlike that in the parable of the two brothers: the worthless brother, who returns penitent, is welcomed with a feast; the story leaves it open whether the older, hard-working brother finds his way into the hall, or whether anger, jealousy, pride and his injured sense of justice keep him outside.

The point again, is that the prophet was not called for any other reason than to do God’s will and to be his messenger.  Having his focus on the Lord alone allows the prophet to be grateful for being called, and to give thanks for the signs of God’s grace and love for all his creation.

The disciple is not called in order to fulfil their own ambitions and destiny but in order that God’s work for the kingdom may be advanced; how wonderful is the variety and multitude of those who are called.

The Church doesn’t exist in order to ensure its own survival but to be a sign to the world of God’s free and undeserved love, grace and salvation.

For when our work is done, and we have gone to our rest, God will still be calling others to serve. They will do so in ways very different to ours, and the Church of the future may be almost unrecognisable to the one we thought we knew. But if the work is God’s work, and if in this his mercy, his love and grace are active then I for one, who know all too well how undeserved I felt my calling to be, rejoice and give thanks.