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Our front cover image this month shows the entering into earthly life of the Light of the World: the Incarnation. The sacramental symbolism of living in the north of Europe allows the liturgical calendar at this time of year to really come to life! As our days become ‘shorter’, darker and colder, we are reminded of our need for the light and warming love of God in our lives. The end of the year approaches but in the preparation of Advent and the celebration and thanksgiving of Christmas we are reassured that in Christ there is no end, only new beginnings. Let us then joyfully prepare and gladly celebrate the greatest gift ever given, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
A Letter from Derek:

Dear Friends,

Christmas without carols and Carol Services is unthinkable but, like many familiar things, we do tend to take them for granted and not realise much about their history. It may come as a surprise to some that the word “carol” comes from the French “caroller,” which means “dancing around in a circle”.  This brings a rather startling image of going to a Carol Service and ending up dancing in a circle in the Nave! You may be disappointed or more probably relieved that this will not be on offer this Christmas in our churches! 

What it does remind us is that originally carols were often a joyful and popular expression of the faith. They were songs (and dances) for ordinary folk to celebrate.  Some of them have a clue to their origin and perhaps the nearest we will get to dancing is experiencing a Carol beloved of Kings’ College Cambridge “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day” with its lively tune and dance-like rhythm.  It does, at any rate, make us feel like dancing with joy at the coming of the Christ.

With the more sober and solemn church in the Victorian era, many of these popular songs were disregarded and more traditional Christmas hymns written. So much so that it took collectors of folk music to realise the popular heritage at the turn of the 20th century and hunt down many traditional carols before they disappeared altogether. A pivotal book was the “Oxford Book of Carols”. It was first published in 1928 by Oxford University Press and was edited by Percy Dearmer, Martin Shaw and Ralph Vaughan Williams. The traditional carols they had discovered and edited (not all of which were for Christmas and not all of which from this country) have been adapted and often made more complicated by choirs with descants, complex harmonies and the like. 

Many of them have tales to tell about their origin or their meaning. To take one or two examples the Coventry Carol was sung in one of the city’s medieval mystery plays on Corpus Christi. It has a darker sub-text with the women rocking their babies to sleep in the hope that King Herod’s soldiers will not find them and kill them. No thought of dancing here. Others have a mysterious text like “I saw three ships”. Notwithstanding its lively tune the ships can’t really be sailing to Bethlehem, for there is no water there. Perhaps they came from the medieval legend of three ships bearing the remains of the three wise men, or perhaps they are referring to camels, often known as “ships of the desert”. Other traditional carols were simply heard by chance. What a loss it would have been had Vaughan Williams not been in the village of Monks Gate in 1904 and just happened to hear a Mrs Verall singing the lovely Sussex Carol.

So now, in a sense, we have the best of both worlds. We have the congregational carols for us all to sing, many of which come from the Victorian Church. Some, like “O Little Town of Bethlehem” are very fine and have a story of their own and others like “O Come all ye faithful” are older (originally written in Latin) and are perfect for rousing congregational singing. That favourite to end Carol Services, “Hark the Herald Angels sing”, comes from the pen of none other than Charles Wesley, to a fine tune by Mendelssohn. We add to these in our services many of the rescued traditional carols, beloved by choirs, for the congregation to listen to, with their haunting tunes and fascinating words. No wonder that carol services are so popular.

You will have plenty of carol services to choose from in our group alone. May the words and the music speak to your soul, fill you with goodwill and bring you some joy and peace. And if some of them make you feel like dancing, then so much the better!

A very happy and blessed Christmas.

Revd Derek Earis.


Praying for Peace

Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth

Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust

Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace

Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe

Peace, peace, peace


Not everyone will have come across this world prayer for peace, but the separate phrases can be useful “prompts” for different aspects of prayer be that for peace, personal issues, the sick etc.

From death to life              

for those who are terminally ill, especially in hospices

or those who are suicidal, or considering termination [e.g. in Switzerland]

for the starving in war zones

From falsehood to truth    

for politicians

for those working in the media or publicity

for all who teach

for those involved in the justice system

for counsellors

From despair to hope        

for those suffering mental illness

for those facing rejection, or isolation

for those who are enslaved

From fear to trust             

for those who are bullied, and those who feel the need to be the bully

for those who fear immigrants, or other ethnic groups

for those who are exploited 

From hate to love       

for divided communities

for areas of religious intolerance

We have been praying for peace especially in the last month. Perhaps this could be an addition to our monthly intercessions? Over to you,

Vera  Silberberg

 

Environmental Issues

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the Earth”

Anglican Communion: 5th Mark of Mission

In October this year, the IPCC and the WWF produced reports. This month there will be a review of the 2015 Paris Agreement in Poland. 

As you may know, the IPCC is the global body that assesses the science related to climate change. According to this report, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees could reduce the impact on ecosystems, human health and wellbeing. This would make it easier to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The WWF Living Planet report is issued every two years. The 2018 report “provides the scientific evidence to what nature has been telling us repeatedly: unsustainable human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge”. Over the last 40 years there has been a 60% decline in world wildlife. There are various other organizations, both Christian and secular, that encourage ‘transition living’ to a low carbon society, ending our dependence on fossil fuels which is thought to be a major factor contributing to the situation in which we now find ourselves.

One such organization that I find interesting and keeps me updated on environmental issues is Green Christian, www.greenchristian.org.uk  formerly Christian Ecology Link. It provides articles for church magazines, so I thought you might like to read this one about Trees and Forests.We may feel as individuals, we cannot do much about global warming and climate change, but this article, and Green Christian offer a range of ideas if you want to get involved.

Monica Lawrence

 

Trees and Forests

Do you remember the seventies slogan: “Plant a tree in ’73, and plant one more in ‘74”? We were just waking up to the devastating destruction of the rainforests and the loss of trees in our own country. Rainforests are home to an amazing number of animals, plants and insects, from the orangutan to passion flowers, and to small wasps called fairyflies.  

Today, there is good and bad news. Deforestation has been massively reduced in the Amazon, but that hasn’t happened elsewhere. Large tracts of tropical forests, which hold vast amounts of carbon, are still being lost in central Africa and in Indonesia, largely due to palm oil production. In the UK the Woodland Trust is celebrating the news that our oldest woods have won much tougher protection from the bulldozers. But warming temperatures are also fuelling huge fires in forests in higher latitudes, such as in the hills around Manchester and in Sweden this summer.

Ed Echlin wrote in a recent article in The Universe, “As Christians, we have a special responsibility to lead our planet to mutual friendship and symbiosis. We have special responsibilities because we are tree people. People and trees go together (Gn. 1.11; 2.9). I am always struck by the beauty and fittingness of the trees growing on road verges and in parks and gardens. Together they contribute shade, cover, wind protection, food, and gentle climate.”

Trees play an important part in combating climate change. By protecting and restoring forests, the world would achieve 18% of the emissions mitigation needed by 2030 to avoid runaway climate change. Trees and other vegetation currently absorb around a quarter of the CO2 humans are adding to the atmosphere, softening the potential impact of climate change. We need to cherish trees.  

Chris Warwick

        

Preparations for the Passion Play in Oberammergau

David and I visited Oberammergau recently, for the launch of the 2020 production of the Passion Play which a group of us will be attending. We were privileged to be present when the people of the village ceremonially renewed their vow and announced the cast.   

First, though, we spent some time in the Passion Play Theatre with a guide, learning about the history of the play and touring backstage, full of wonderful props and costumes. Also hearing anecdotes about previous productions, many of them involving weather in the days before the retractable roof was built over the stage!

The ceremonies started with a procession from the Parish Church through the village to the theatre. There, the huge stage had been dressed with candles and flowers and the crucifix from the parish church before which the original vow had been made. There were a full choir and orches­tra and church and civic leaders. The heart of the ceremony was the remaking of the vow. It was pronounced by a beautiful little girl in national dress, holding the precious register book of 1634, listing the names of the plague victims before the vow was taken and empty of names after that.

The action then moved to the square outside the theatre, where two huge blackboards had been set up with the names of the speaking roles in the play down the centre column and space either side - all the major roles are double cast. The whole crowd watched intently as the scribe started to write very slowly in beautiful German gothic script. The first stroke was an upright, which then became an F, the crowd already speculating about what would come next, and then a Fr and eventually Frederik – but which Frederik in a crowd which must have contained several of them? – anyway, it became Frederik Meyer, who was one of the Jesuses in 2010. And so it went on, and on, the tension in the square still very high, as each announcement was so important to those who were hoping for a part.

We found the experience very moving – the music during the ceremony was superb and uplifting, the importance of the fulfilment of their vow to God was very clear, their eagerness to continue to improve their productions so that the last was the best so far and the next will be even better. And it renewed our excitement about being there in 2020 and sharing it with some of you.

Sue Rushton (rushton.sue.e@gmail.com)

 

The first… and the last

Of the fifty-seven men whose names are recorded on the St Olave’s Great War Memorial, the first serviceman to lose his life was Arthur Duncombe Shafto, son of Charles and Helena Shafto. Although born in London in 1880, he was brought up in Durham, his home county, where he was a King's scholar at Durham School. He was a keen rower, and in his final year was Captain of the Boat Club. He went on to Sandhurst as a cadet, and was commissioned into the Northumberland Fusiliers in 1899. Lieutenant Shafto then served with his regiment for the whole of the Second South African War, where he was twice mentioned in Dispatches, and was awarded a DSO. He married his wife Marguerite in 1904 and they had two children, Mark born in 1905, and Betty, born in 1906. He transferred to the Royal Scots Regiment in 1908, and his connection with St. Olave’s may come from the time that he served as Staff Captain of No. 5 District (York) from 1908 to 1910. He was by now an experienced and thoroughly competent professional soldier.

At the outbreak of the Great War on 4th August 1914, Captain Shafto was serving with the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots stationed in Plymouth. During nine days of frenetic activity the battalion mobilised, assimilated reserves, trained and prepared to travel to France, before on 13th August, it boarded the SS Mombassa and set sail from Southampton for Le Havre. By 20th August the 2nd Royal Scots was with the 3rd Division of the British Expeditionary Force’s (BEF) Second Corps which was ordered to move forward into Belgium, where it first met in battle with the German army at Mons on Sunday 23rd August. Second Corps had the almost impossible task of defending a nine-and-a-half mile front, to the east and north of Mons. The Royal Scots suffered few casualties that day, but the BEF, although inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, were overwhelmingly outnumbered by the whole of the German First Army and were forced by late afternoon to withdraw to the South West. The retreat from Mons, took the BEF back over the border into France, the infantry marching for two days on cobblestoned roads and in sweltering weather under an unrelenting sun, the rear-guards constantly harried by the pursuing Germans. Second Corps passed to the West of the Forest of Mormal, officers and NCOs encouraging those exhausted men who were close to collapse. On the night of 25th, units were still trudging into the town of Le Cateau past midnight. Their Commander, Lt General Sir Horace Smith-Dorien, took the decision to turn and fight, intending to administer a “stopping blow” in order to avoid Second Corps being over-run by the enemy.

The foggy dawn of 26th August saw Second Corps taking up its positions in rolling open countryside, the 2nd Royal Scots in the centre of the front line and between the villages of Inchy and Caudry, South of the straight Roman Road that runs North West to Cambrai. With only hastily dug slit trenches to shelter them, the soldiers came under heavy bombardment by enemy artillery from 6-00 a.m. Although their devastating rifle fire repulsed attack after attack by the German infantry, by early afternoon another attack began to make a breach in the line between the Royal Scots and the Gordon Highlanders on their left flank. The battalion held on until at 4-30 p.m. it received the order to withdraw, and doing so in full view of the enemy, the Royal Scots took its heaviest casualties of the day. The Colonel was severely wounded and had to be left behind, to be taken prisoner along with 174 other ranks including wounded men. Twenty-six others were killed including Captain Arthur Shafto who most probably died from shrapnel wounds. He was 34 years old, and left a widow and his two children. Initially buried in plot 1.5.A at Audincourt Cemetery, his remains were moved to Caudry British Cemetery in 1924. Ref II.F.23. The inscription on his headstone reads: RIP ‘Let perpetual light shine upon him’. Arthur is also commemorated on the Newbury Great War Memorial, and in the Durham School War Memorial Chapel (Pillar 7, lower panel).

History tells us that the battle of Le Cateau succeeded in its aim of saving the BEF from annihilation, so the sacrifice was perhaps not in vain.

George Nicholls was born in 1898, son of John Henry and Annie Elizabeth Nicholls. In 1901 the family was living in Rougier Street, later moving to Clayton Street, Marygate, a short walk every morning across Scarborough Bridge to the NER carriage works where his father and his elder brother William were both railway carriage painters. George was one of seven children, and his eldest brother William would be killed in France in 1917. There were also Arthur and his three sisters; Lily, Emily and Annie.

George was attested on 21st October, 1918. A GPO linesman by trade, he was assigned to the Royal Engineers Signal Service, the forerunner of the Royal Corps of Signals. He was called up to report on 25th October 1918, to report to Bedford. He held the rank of Pioneer, established in 1912 with an enhanced rate of pay, as a means of addressing skills shortages in the Army. By that date, the armies of the Central Powers were in full retreat before the combined forces of the Allies, and an Armistice would be signed just seventeen days later, bringing over four years of fighting to a close

The Great War claimed the lives of 11 million military personnel and around 7 million civilians. By contrast, the influenza pandemic of 1918 affected around 500 million people in communities worldwide (about 30% of the world’s population), claiming the lives of between 20 and 50 million people. It is estimated that a quarter of the population of the United Kingdom were affected, of whom 228,000 people died, fifty-five of them in York. It cannot be known with any certainty where the deadly virus originated, and initial cases in Europe were reported from Spain, resulting in the name “Spanish ‘Flu”. However, one theory is that the very first victim may have died in an army training camp in the United States, the virus spreading to Britain and continental Europe with the arrival of American soldiers as Allies in the final year of the war. The damp and confined conditions in which troops lived on the Western Front meant that the ‘flu was very infectious. Additionally, the constant movement of soldiers going on leave to all parts of the British Isles and returning to the front in tightly packed trains, will have assisted in its spread. It was not until the mid-1940s that a ‘ flu vaccine would be created and become available, first to military personnel and then in 1946 to civilians.

Symptoms of the Spanish ‘flu were much as we experience them today: a sudden fever, an aching body, fatigue or exhaustion, a dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, difficulty sleeping, and a loss of appetite. Many of those affected felt unwell for three or four days, and then recovered, but the symptoms were especially severe and particularly affected persons between the ages of twenty and thirty. A victim might feel well on waking in the morning, then suddenly present with symptoms which became worse over the course of day and, developing pneumonia, could be dead within twenty-four hours.

Sometime between 25th October and 3rd November 1918, Pioneer George Nicholls contracted influenza. He was admitted to Bedford Military Hospital on 3rd November 1918. He died as a result of pneumonia at 3-00 a.m. on 5th November 1918, at the age of 20. He had been in the army for only 11 days. George is buried at York Cemetery, Grave Ref: A62708. He is remembered on the Micklegate Trinity National School Memorial, in the King’s Book of Heroes at York Minster, and as the last soldier to die, on the War Memorial at St Olave’s.

John Stanton

 

The Community of the Cross of Nails: Information and Invitation

This international community is founded upon the lifelong search for peace and reconciliation. Born out of the terrible damage and loss of life of the Second World War it has flourished all over the world.

Our local partnership with the Community is based at St Martin Coney Street.

We extend an invitation to like-minded people to join us in our work and life.

As Christians, we know an integral calling in our lives is to constantly aim to live in peace and seek reconciliation when peace breaks down. This group is a tangible example of this aspect of our Christian vocation being lived out in the world.

The community’s 3 aims are:

To heal the wounds of history,

To learn to live with difference and celebrate diversity,

To build up a culture of peace.

If this is something you would be interested in hearing more about and being involved with, please do be in contact, or come along to one of St Martin’s weekly services where someone will be able to offer you more information. Our weekly divine services, held around the ethos of the Community, are:

On Wednesdays at 12.15 there is a short Eucharist held at St Martin’s which always begins with the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation praying for forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. 

On Fridays at 12 noon joining with partner churches all over the world, there is the Community of the Cross of Nails prayer service with a short topical Reflection. It concludes with the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.

And on Saturdays at the 10 am Eucharist, where the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation is also used.

Both these services are followed by a friendly ‘Bring Your Own’ snack lunch in St Martin’s upper room. Fair Trade coffee/tea and biscuits are always served. We look forward to seeing you.

Alternatively, why not send us an email? We can send you more information and you can see if this is something that you’re interested in!

Contact: stmartin.yorkgroupccn@gmail.com  

A Prayer of the Community at St Martin Coney Street, York

God of Life, we give thanks for the diversity of human life. In encounters with those of different ethnic groups, may we value dialogue, and inclusivity of different cultures, to promote social cohesion in local communities.   

Amen.

 

Advent is the time for Hope

While searching for appropriate Advent reflections in theological forums, I came across this wonderful piece from 2016 by the former Dean of St Edmunsbury and brilliant theologian, Very Rev’d Dr Frances Ward. Some aspects refer historically to 2016; however, the political, societal and theological reflections offered are well worth including and apply very well to us in 2018 and beyond. I hope you enjoy it.

Liam Page


Advent 2016 brings to a close a year for which the new word is – as the Oxford English Dictionary has declared – ‘post-truth’. What hope, we might ask, for a post-truth world?

We have witnessed two election campaigns where truth and fact were in short supply. Since Brexit, we have learned not to trust the polls. The events of previous months have revealed an enormous disconnect between what’s in hearts and minds, and the political systems that we take for granted in Western democracy. So many who simply don’t believe, anymore, in the established democratic processes. What lies underneath that disaffection?

Many things, of course. A sense of unfairness, as some experience real poverty and see others growing richer: the widening inequalities of society. There’s a retreat, too, from the idea of unity across regions and nations, a retrenchment: why should we think about the needs of strangers and aliens, when we’re up against it? A sense of being overwhelmed by the immense global movements – 60 million fleeing war, violence, famine, insecurity; seeking a new home. And no longer do people trust experts, professional politicians, those with experience and learning – they belong to a political system seen not as democratic, but as elitist and corrupt. The fears and disaffection are not difficult to understand. It’s a world of change, of disrupted stabilities. A post-truth world.

A world also increasingly dominated by fear. It swirls around, transferred and contagious. It undermines trust between people, between nations. It’s fuelled by those who want the fear, who deliberately terrorise to destabilise. Or who themselves are expansionist, ready to take advantage of weakness. We are caught up in global forces, including the serious threat of global warming and climate change which makes us all more fearful than we tend to admit. Massive global forces at play which stir deep fear and destroy trust.

Dante put those who undermine trust at the very bottom of hell. Without trust, societies can’t function. We need a basic trust between people, between nations, for stability and negotiation to happen, for politics rather than war to prevail.

The most tempting thing to do, as we feel the fear, is to fall into the same dynamic ourselves. To start to think tribally, to divide the world into us and them. To lose compassion for the other – whoever she or he might be. To fail to see the humanity and dignity of all. To distrust rather than trust. And then fear begins to have its head.

That’s when our Christian faith needs to kick in. Because if faith in Jesus Christ means anything, it must give us the resources to dig deeper than the fear, to find a bedrock that is secure and enduring.

If our Christian faith gives us anything, it is the strong assurance that the fears and terrors of this present age are not the final word.

St Paul wrote to the Colossians of Christ:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1.20

As Advent begins, that deep, rich, full time in which we prepare our souls to receive the Christchild at his nativity, his rebirth at the heart of the creation, we would do well to think more profoundly who Christ is. St Paul contemplates Jesus Christ, and sees in him all the fullness of God. As such Christ is the realisation of true humanity.

Karl Rahner wrote of the Eucharist as the anticipation of the eschaton – the fullness of the end and wholeness of all things. The eschaton, for Rahner, becomes not so much the chronological endpoint of time, but rather the full completion or wholeness of all things, already realised in Jesus Christ. The Eucharist becomes the Eschaton. Each time we celebrate Eucharist together, we are already there. We have arrived at the heart of fullness of God, the heart of the fulfilment of all things created by God. There is no other moment so full of God’s love and grace as that moment.

We cannot know how God’s thoughts and ways comprehend what we call evil. We know the destructive, callous, cruel evil that is passive harm, causing untold suffering; we know also how evil can take on a life of its own, and generate systems and forces that destroy, and leave survivors suffering for generations. We know how the erosion of trust, how terror destabilises nations, how evil works; how it undermines the foundations required for a flourishing life.

If there is nothing more than the fullness of God, where is evil? Is evil beyond God? Surely not, for then there is something that is beyond God’s love and God is less than God.

The theologian Katherine Sonderegger asks what God knows of evil. What can God know of evil, without compromising God’s own goodness? She writes most interestingly of the way God comprehends all things – even evil.

The Divine Wisdom comprehends evil in its scope and depth and shocking negation, its utter poverty and lack. God alone comprehends evil as such (The Doctrine of God, 2015).

In this time, when we see through a glass darkly, we can know that God comprehends evil. God knows the cruelty of callous evil, and the consequences of natural disaster, creating havoc on peoples and communities, suffering beyond human imagination. God knows this; comprehends. Sonderegger’s account of Moses’ encounter with the Living God – I AM THAT I AM – in the Burning Bush, recalls the utter magnitude of the fullness of God, that consumes all that negates God. In the Fullness of Time, when all comes at last into the presence of the Fullness of God, then all dross will burn away, will be no more.

To affirm this is to affirm the ultimate goodness and truth of the Fullness of God.

As we gather for Eucharist, we know that in him all evil is embraced by God, comprehended by a power that is greater than anything evil can do, for that power is love.

All our mundane time revolves around this Eucharist moment. This moment that takes us to the heart of everything, where we are embraced within the heart of God. At that moment we enter the fullness of God, we are held in everlasting arms, surrounded, comprehended in love, our dross and sin judged and burned away.

In that moment of fullness, we know the fullness of time, which is realised once and for all in Jesus Christ. It was realised in his birth, life, death and resurrection. It is realised again, and again, in Eucharist. All life revolves around this reality.

And because we know the fullness of God’s superabundant grace and love at that moment, we can also know that all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

This Advent – as we contemplate the post-liberal, post-truth world in which we now live – let us hold fast that central Advent hope that the truth and reality of the fullness of God is realised in Jesus Christ. We are caught up into that truth and reality whenever we gather in Eucharist, whenever we are the Church worshipping, and receiving the real presence of Christ, in word and sacrament. This is the true reality, the ultimate truth. This is the reality that is God’s love, in which all things, all time is redeemed and finds fulfilment. This is the fullness of time, already realised in Christ, and God’s gift to us, now in this moment, and forevermore.

Frances Ward is Dean of St Edmunsbury, in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.