Thursday, April 30, 2009

Renewing theological vigour - Fr Andrew Davison

The following article was written by Fr Andrew Davison, Tutor in Christian Doctrine at the House, for the Church Times (3rd April 2009).

I am now definitively in my mid-30s; so I was pleased to hear that I am still officially “young”, at least as far as the Church of England is concerned. There was a meeting of “young priest theologians” at Lambeth Palace last week. To fit its criteria, I had only to be under 40.

The meeting was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s idea, and was put together by the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge. I am glad to be con­sidered young, but the other part of the title is also cheering. Many readers will be pleased that the C of E is encouraging “priest theologians”, young or otherwise.

I know this because of the many enthusiastic responses I received after my article “The Church of England should nurture theology” (Comment, 6 February). Letters and emails came from laymen and -women, parish priests, professors of theology, and bishops. The idea that the Church of England has back-pedalled on theo­logy for too long seems to have struck a chord.

If that sounded a gloomy note, now I have good news. The day at Lam­beth Palace is a reminder of the strong, thoroughly Anglican, tradi­tion of the scholar-priest. A highlight of the day was a paper from the Revd Professor Sarah Coakley. She has recently returned to Britain after 15 years in the United States, and she told us that her time abroad has given her an outsider’s eyes. What she sees is an en­couragement to us all: the sense that Britain is “on the cusp of a turn back to religion”.

If this is true, then we have to think of ways to meet it. Professor Coakley stressed two important resources. The first is the parish system and our commitment to staying in difficult places. The second is a renewed and growing “theological vigour”, especially among younger clergy. She quoted the distinguished American Roman Catholic theo­logian David Tracy as saying that all the most interesting theo­logians of this generation are Anglicans. It is an exaggeration for emphasis, no doubt, but quite a compliment none the less.

The incumbent- (or curate-) theo­logian is particularly well placed to make something of these two strengths: the parish and our theological tradition. The Lam­beth meeting signals a determination on the part of the Church to support those with this dual vocation, as Dr Inge called it.

Neither the meeting in general, nor Professor Coakley’s comments in particular, should be taken as a cause for complacency. They are a call to action. Our scholar-priests are a great asset. It is good that 100 could be found under 40, and there are no doubt others who could not make it or who were overlooked this time.

Yet, if we want to see a revival of theology in the parishes, it will be the work of parishioners as much as the clergy. Studying theology works well in small groups. They foster the sort of friendly and open discussion where people can work on the im­plica­tions of Christian ideas alongside their meaning.

It helps groups to have leaders who are confident of the material, for all that, there should always be a sense of learning together. For this we need a church culture in which many teach and are taught, providing well-trained, well-resourced leaders.

There are part-time university courses, but we should not overlook diocesan programmes, many of which are excellent. For instance, there was a diocesan certificate in South­wark when I was a curate, offering a strong introduction to the Old and New Testaments, ethics, doctrine, spirituality, and liturgy.

It is also important for us to think about new methods for teaching and disseminating theology. The old-fashioned vehicles remain full of life, and can be highly successful when they are done well. In the past week, I have heard of standing-room-only lec­tures at St Albans Cathedral, and study groups instantly oversubscribed at the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Bristol. We need more of these initiatives.

Still, there are plenty of people left cold by these styles of learning. Three suggestions that occur to me are short booklets, podcasts, and brief online videos.

One task is to reach Christians who are not enthusiastic readers. They would be put off by a full-length “Christian book”, but would pick up a booklet or tract from the back of church. To see how this might work, look at the literature rack at the back of the next Roman Catholic parish church you visit.

I have recently discovered the podcast. When I walk into the centre of Oxford, it may well be that I should concentrate on the birdsong, but I do not. I catch up with broadcasts from Radio 3, about books, films, and Am­er­ican politics on the “ cultural gabfest”. There are people who might fill idle moments with a little doctrine, or a discussion of this week’s lectionary readings.

There is also YouTube, the video-sharing website, which for many is a favourite filler of work tea-breaks. With a data projector, these videos can be used in group teaching and discussion. Already there is a growing collection of addresses by the Arch­bishop of Canterbury. I heard this week of a parish study group where Alister McGrath’s responses to Richard Dawkins have gone down well. The important thing is that the production values are high, and this requires money.

Supporting young priest theo­logians is a terrific development. I hope it indicates a return to teaching in the Church. It will be nothing, though, without full lay involve­ment. An exploration of new media would also be useful — a fresh expression of theology.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Join us for the 2009 Open Day!

The annual Open Day at St Stephen's House will be on Saturday 16th May 2009 from 10.00am - 4.00pm. Tea and coffee will be available from 10.00am and tours of the college will be given at 10.30am and 11.15am. There will be a Sung Mass at noon followed by a Buffet lunch.

In the afternoon there will be a series of Vocations addresses and an opportunity for those exploring lay ministry, ordained ministry, or the religious life to put questions to a panel of vocations advisers. There will also be the chance to find out more about studying at Oxford and about the range of courses that the college offers (BA, BTh, DipMin, DipTh, MTh, PGCE, and research degrees).

Afternoon Tea will be served at 3.00pm and Solemn Evensong & Benediction will conclude the formal part of the day at 3.30pm. There will be displays about the life of the House throughout the day.

If you’re a potential student, thinking about your vocation, or just interested in seeing the college, you’re welcome to join us. Children are welcome.

More information is available here. Why not join the Facebook event page for up to the minute information? Just click here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Easter III - Canon Robin Ward

This homily was preached by the Principal, Canon Robin Ward, in Merton College Chapel on Sunday 26th April 2009, Easter III

Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3.2

The Christian hope is the hope of resurrection: we do not hope that we will survive death, we do not hope that there will be some continuity between this life and such consciousness as may remain to us once we have died, we do not hope that something of what we have been will never be lost when we have gone; we hope that we will rise again to glory. Parish clergy who take funerals know that they encounter very little doubt about life after death, and much hope that there will be reunion with loved ones and a continuity of interests and experience, enough to give confidence that death will not be a complete demolition of what it is to be human. Indeed many funerals have an almost Egyptian enthusiasm for memorializing the dead with the most distinctive accoutrements of their earthly existence. My own experience of this has included making a circuit of Romford dog track behind a hearse on top of which, in a triumph of the florist’s art, an enormous tribute in the shape of a half smoked cigarette waved mournfully in the breeze.

But this hope is not the Christian hope, the hope of resurrection. To have this hope we need to set aside the speculation of the philosophers on the immortality of the soul, and the intuitions of shamans and sages that the dead in some oblique way have still some part for good or ill to play in the fortunes of the living. We need to stoop down with the beloved disciple, and look into the sepulchre of Christ and find it empty, and in so doing learn that it is through our incorporation into the rising of the Son of God that our own hope of rising again is grounded.

This asks of us a particular sort of courage in this life, a courage which the theologians call purgatorial fortitude. For the offer and prospect of eternal life is not a glib answer to all the anxieties of the human condition. The acute spiritual writer Baron von Hügel tells us Heaven is not a necessary environment for not cheating in the sale of peas or potatoes, for not smashing street lamps, for not telling calumnies against one’s wife or brother. Athenians and Confucians have thought hard about moral human living without the need to hope that the dead will rise again. The courage which is asked of us is the courage to embrace as our ultimate end a good which is more than natural, a good which is supernatural. This establishes in us a well founded hope for a life which is not simply the continuation of what we have known but without pain and the thwarting of our ambitions, but a resurrection life which is founded in nothing less than participation in the divine life itself.

The Christian religion proposes to us as our hope a belief far grander than mere survival. It proposes resurrection, the reconstitution of the fullness of human living after its destruction by death; and it proposes the glory of heaven, resurrection life which has as its immediate end the vision of God himself. The great monastic theologian Anscar Vonier wrote:

The resurrection of our bodies is the acid test of our orthodoxy; no man is truly Christian in his intellect unless he firmly believes that in the world to come mankind will be, not a multitude of ghosts, however glorious, but a race of distinct personalities, composed of body and soul as here on earth.

My soul is not me: without my body I may possess by God’s good grace the sight of His face which is the reward of the blessed and the Beatific Vision promised the saints, and possess it in that degree of intensity which reflects the measure of grace to which I have attained in this life; but I will not possess it to the fullest extent until I enjoy it having received back my body in the resurrection. Dante expresses this yearning of the blessed thus: The lustre which already swathes us round/Shall be outlustred by the flesh, which long/ Day after day now moulders underground.

But this gift of resurrection does not exhaust the fruits of Christ’s paschal mystery. We remain finite, created human beings, and the promise of heaven is the promise that we shall see God face to face. Both S. Paul and S. John emphasise this in their spiritual teaching: Paul tells us that now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; John tells us when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And Paul identifies this capacity to see with the gift of glory: he tells the Corinthians And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another. The New Testament writers are sure that the Christian vocation has as its terminus nothing less than the sight of God face-to-face in the resurrection life; but they are clear too that no created mind can possess such a capacity without receiving it as an outstanding gift from God, the gift of the light of glory. The psalmist describes this gift of God of the ability to comprehend Him when he writes In thy light do we see light.

When the scriptures talk to us about this resurrection life they draw attention in a rather curious way to clothing. Elijah, as he goes up to heaven in his fiery chariot, lets fall his cloak as a commission to Elisha; the Lord’s garments are transfigured with Him and shine white as light upon the mount of Tabor, as are those of Moses and Elijah; the men who announce the resurrection to the women at the tomb in Luke’s gospel wear dazzling apparel; the woman of Revelation appears in heaven clothed with the sun. This manifestation of glory in a tangible way, this association of the life of heaven with the glorious clothing of the human form, calls to mind the Pauline teaching for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

For S. Paul reminds us that the resurrection life begins within us at our Baptism: We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Just as the Christian hope for heaven is the hope for a supernatural good, the vision of God, so the Christian life now is one which is determined and inspired by a supernatural end. The Book of Common Prayer emphasizes this in the rite of Baptism when it describes the Christian moral life as one characterized by the theological virtues, virtues called theological because they have God as their end: steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity. With these virtues we are equipped to so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally we may come to the land of everlasting life.

The Resurrection of the Son of God is the means by which through faith and Baptism we become children of God, and in becoming children of God we know that even if now we see through a glass dimly, still in the life of the world to come we shall see Him as he is, and in so seeing come to be made like Him. In the words of S. Augustine: We shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Easter III - Fr Edward Dowler

At this stage of Eastertide, we perhaps find our attention being drawn away from a historical mode, contemplating the events of Jesus’s death and resurrection, towards a more existential one in which we ask questions like, ‘this has happened... so what?’; ‘what does it all mean for me?’ And with that in mind, I’d like to offer some comments on the life both now and in the future that we are promised in the light of Jesus’s resurrection.

Near to the start of the many problems that he encounters towards the end of his life, Shakespeare’s tragic hero King Lear despairingly asks his fool a question: ‘Who is it that can tell me who I am?’ It’s a question that gets more and more important for Lear as the play goes on, even as the answer becomes less clear, and a question that has clear echoes for each of us: who am I? Where can I find my true identity? Do I even know that there is a real me at all? It’s a question that all of us ask, though it’s perhaps particularly pressing for certain groups of people and not just philosophers who make a living out of asking such questions, but also adolescents, the mentally ill and people undergoing mid-life crises. Such people have a strong and immediate sense of a truth that many of us like to hold at bay, that in some ways we don’t know ourselves terribly well. ‘I am become a question to myself’, writes Augustine in his Confessions, ‘and therein lies my downfall’.

For the seventeenth century philosopher, René Descartes, the key to finding an answer to Lear’s question, ‘Who is it that can tell me who I am?’ can be found in the fact that, whatever else we do or don’t know about ourselves, we know one thing for sure: that we are thinking beings. In his well known declaration cogito ergo sum, ‘I think therefore I am’, Descartes argues that our capacity to think is what makes us absolutely sure that we do in fact exist. When I know that I think, I know a key fact about who I am and, secure in this knowledge about myself as a thinking being, I can go on from that basis to experience God, the world and everything else, because I already have that primary knowledge of who and what I am. (See Hemming, L.P., Worship as a Revelation, Continuum, 2008, 33-6.)

Today’s New Testament reading from the first letter of John, however, sees things in a very different way: ‘Beloved we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is’. These words represent a very different vision of where it is that we find our true identity, a very different place in which I can find the answer to the question, ‘Who is it that can tell me who I am?’ The knowledge that we have of ourselves is knowledge that is not yet complete. It is only in the future that we will know who we are, since as the reading puts it, ‘what we will be has not yet been revealed’. The resurrection of Jesus points us forwards. True knowledge of ourselves comes to us from the future. It is not something that we have in advance, but rather it will be revealed in the light of the resurrection.

Because we don’t yet know everything about ourselves that is to be known, Christian life shaped by the resurrection becomes, then, one of adventure and of discovery. We don’t know ourselves fully yet, and so we are constantly finding out new things about ourselves, new dimensions to our character. As we travel towards the future resurrection life that God has in store for us, we experience the way in which he constantly moulds and shaping our identity, conforming it more and more into the image of Christ. This means that even when we go through rather painful and difficult experiences, we can often in some sense welcome them because they open up new dimensions of who we are, help to shape us into the new and surprising Christ-like shape that comes to us from the future and draws us forward towards what we shall be in the future, which has not yet been revealed to us in its totality.

Towards the end of King Lear and right at the end of his life, the old king announces rather pitifully to his daughter Cordelia that ‘I am a very foolish fond old man’. The reason for this is that he has experienced memory loss. He tells her that ‘I am mainly ignorant/ What place is this; and all the skill I have remembers not these garments; nor I know not/ Where I did lodge last night’. Lear’s words seem to suggest another question... If, as I’ve been trying to say, Christian life in the light of the resurrection is essentially future-oriented and we look to the future to tell us who we truly are, does that mean that, like Lear, we have a sort of amnesia in which our past experiences, all that we’ve done and been up to now are just lost and forgotten about.

Well, no. In today’s gospel, the risen Jesus shows his disciples the marks of the nails in his hands and feet from his crucifixion some days earlier. He eats fish with them as he has done before and he reminds them of the words that he spoke to them while he was still with them. In other words, we’re constantly aware in Luke’s account of the resurrection that there is a strong continuity between Jesus as he was before he was crucified and Jesus as he is in his resurrection life. Luke’s narrative emphasises that, although this is a new Jesus who lives in a new dimension of resurrection life, his past has not just been lost and forgotten about, but rather is caught up and incorporated into what he has now become.

And that is what we also can hope for. Yes, in the light of the resurrection, we receive a new identity which comes primarily from the future but this does not obliterate our past history but gathers it up into a new reality. All the things that have made us the people we are now: our experiences, our character and most especially our pain and our wounds will not just be forgotten. The individual histories that each of us carry with us will become part of the new reality of our resurrection life. The risen but wounded body of Jesus indicates to us that even, or perhaps especially, those things about our past that are most painful and difficult, and seem to be least healed, will be transformed by the resurrection, turned into something glorious by the God who is able to bring all things to work together for good in those who love him. Our resurrection life comes to us from the future but gathers the past into itself whilst redeeming and transforming it: a wonderful thing to live for and to hope for.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

St George - Fr Edward Dowler

The whole question of nationalism is one that has become rather more acute in recent years. On the one hand, many people now express concern that, in an era of globalisation, multiculturalism and immigration, we’re gradually losing a sense of English and indeed British identity. In the face of this, the Prime Minister and others have attempted to shore this up with a variety of initiatives and, more worryingly, extreme nationalist groups such as the BNP seem to have taken on a new and frightening impetus in recent years.

What should Christians think about these questions of national identity? Well, overriding all national loyalties for Christians must surely be our loyalty to the Kingdom of God. Our primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and not to any particular nation state: ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness’. However, that’s far from being the end of the story. As Jesus reminded his hearers when asked about whether taxes should be paid to Caesar, we have a duty to give to Caesar what is Caesar. For sure, this is a very limited amount compared with giving God what is due to God’s, but it’s still significant and important. Similarly, St Paul urges obedience to those in authority, and urges Christians above all to pray for those in authority. Christians have traditionally believed that, under normal circumstances, it is right to uphold the law; right to respect the state’s role in keeping the peace and providing the conditions in which we can live our lives in peace; right to contribute willingly in the social and political life of our city and our country, even though we know these are sometimes murky or ambivalent. ‘Given that social life is surrounded by such darkness,’ asks Augustine, ‘will the wise man take his seat on the judge’s bench, or will he not venture to do so?’ ‘Clearly, he will take his seat,’ he replies to his own question, ‘for the claims of human society, which he thinks it wicked to abandon, constrain him and draw him to this duty’.

Moreover, belonging to a national Church like the Church of England puts us in a particular relationship with the country. For clergy, particularly those serving in churches that have an important civic role, will often be called upon to celebrate the national identity of British life, to articulate what is good about it and to encourage a right sense of pride in our national heritage and institutions. These tasks should not be sniffed at, as I myself would once arrogantly have done. They offer invaluable opportunities to present to our fellow countrymen and women a sharply different and more hopeful vision of what membership of this country means to that, say, of the BNP.

The danger of being a national Church, visible at a number of points through history, is that is that we’ll lose our distinctiveness as Christians, and be co opted as an arm of the state; that we’ll only be valuable to the country only if we tell people only what they already know and have decided in advance that they are prepared to hear. A second century writer offered a compelling vision of how Christians might live in the countries where they happened to reside: a way that is not separatist and stand-offish, but which also, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, resists inflated nationalism. I finish with his words:
They do not dwell off somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor do they practice an extraordinary style of life... But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast...the constitution of their citizenship is nevertheless quite amazing and admittedly paradoxical. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners...every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland a foreign country.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Not quite "Why does Easter move?" - Canon Robin Ward

The Principal, Canon Robin Ward, reviews The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era by Alden A. Mosshammer (OUP £65) (978-0-19-954312-0) in today's Church Times.

The thesis of this book is simply stated. Conventional scholarship thinks that early in the sixth century a Scythian monk, Dionysius Exiguus, decided to replace the usual Dio­cletian calendar in the Easter table he was compiling, and use instead a system of his own devising, in which the consecutive numbering of the years began with the date of Christ’s birth. This caught on, and gave us the division of recorded time into BC and AD (now losing ground in academic circles to the dreary so-called Common Era).

But scholars also think that there is a howler in Dionysius’s mathe­matics, which is why virtually every­one agrees that AD 1 is not the date of Christ’s birth. Mosshammer doesn’t agree: he argues that Dionysius adopted an existing usage from the Church of Alexandria, in which a 19-year Paschal cycle and a method of calculating time accord­ing to a Christian era were inheri­ted from the work of Julius Africanus. Dionysius’s contribution was to pass this on to the West and thereby make it universal.

This thesis is argued with monu­mental erudition. In four parts, it explains why Easter moves according to a lunar cycle, how Easter tables were compiled and used, how dif­ferent ways of calculating the date of Easter developed in the patristic period, and how the calculation of time according to a Christian era related to the birth of Christ evolved. The reader must be warned to expect encounters with the epago­menal days with which the Egyptian month of Mesore ends, the 95-year exemplar of Cyril of Alexandria, the futile efforts of Anania of Shirak to supersede the Armenian mobile calendar, and the solar eclipse recorded by Phlegon in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad.

This is not the book to hand to a parishioner who asks you: “Why does Easter move?” or “When was Jesus born?” But if you have a taste for abstruse learning, classical, theological, and calendrical, the sort of taste which inspires the compilers of those useful annual ecclesiastical calendars that help us out so much, this is the Paschal book for you.

Photograph of the Easter Vigil at St Stephen's House, 2008

Reassessing Liturgical Reforms - Fr Edward Dowler

Fr Edward Dowler, Vice-Principal, looks at a reassessment of liturgical reforms in today's Church Times
  • Worship as a Revelation: The past, present and future of Catholic liturgy by Laurence Paul Hemming (Burns & Oates £15.99) (978-0-86012-460-3)
  • Worship as Believing: Faith and reason in search of a theology of eucharist by Aelred Arnesen (Trafford Publishing £14.75) (978-1-42512-145-7)
In his important and cogently argued book, Laurence Hemming, drawing on the work of Margaret Barker, argues that the roots of early Christian worship were primarily in the Temple in Jerusalem. This, and not the Jewish synagogue, was the place of human-divine encounter, and the body of Christ is the new temple (cf. John 2.21), into which Christians are incorporated through baptism.

Consequently, the shape and layout of the Jerusalem Temple, the detail of its furnishings, its altar, and its liturgical rites were fundamental to how Christians, from the begin­ning, understood their worship, their scriptures, and indeed their whole identity and the nature of their life in Christ.

The picture of early church wor­ship as groups of Chris­tians “coming together infor­mally to sing hymns, pray, break bread and bless wine” is, he says, “quite false”. It was participation in the colourful and complex rites of the Catholic Church — which stood in direct and conscious continuity with Temple worship — that shaped the identity of Christian men and women until a new understanding emerged not only of the Christian liturgy, but also of the human self.

It is on this interface between philo­sophy and liturgy that Worship as a Revelation is particularly inter­esting, because of the author’s un­usual ability to combine detailed liturgical analysis with philosophical expertise. Thus, he is able to con­duct a pincer movement on much mod­ern liturgical thought, accusing it not only of historical unsound­ness in its understanding of the roots of early liturgy, but also of philosophi­cal naïvety.

Those associated with the Litur­gical Movement have, he argues, imbibed modern assump­tions based on Descartes’s dictum cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) — that human beings are essentially self-positing, rational entities. In this view, I know who I am essentially through a rational process, and the self-knowledge I gain through reasoning precedes all my other activities such as reading a book, thinking about God, walking the dog, or going to mass.

But, in some of the book’s strong­est and most compelling passages, Hemming insists that liturgy should work exactly the other way round. As members of the body of Christ, we are inserted into the eternal conversation between the Father and the Son, as enacted in a liturgy whose “meaning is primarily for God, only secondarily for us”.

It is through this that we come to understand who we really are: our identity is not something we have already worked out in advance, but is given to us from the future. The liturgy “disturbs the rational, predictable order of things in order to open the understanding still more widely to the things of God”. Rather, then, than our seeing the liturgy as something that we engage in, control, and shape for ourselves, the liturgy essentially shapes us.

It is within this context that Hemming criticises the reforms of the liturgy, most evident in the Liturgical Movement, but stretching back to those of Pope Pius X in the early 20th century. In the old dis­pen­sation, (Catholic) Christian identity was formed by the vast and complex web of interrelationships between the mass, the Offices, and other devotions: an ongoing conver­sation into which they were caught up, even if they were not always present.

In contrast, the simplicity, trans­parency, and predictability that were essential to the new rites re­flect, he argues, an individualistic, rationalistic, Cartesian view of the human person, which is non-traditional and essentially non-Christian.

After decades of what he sees as liturgical degeneracy, Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging an approach to liturgy that stresses the importance of continuity with the ancient rites. Hemming’s book is a powerful and articulate expression of this crucial shift.

Impressive and convincing as it is, it leaves me asking whether the approach of the Liturgical Move­ment was quite so shaped by rationalistic considerations as he argues it was. “Simplicity” and “predictability” are, after all, import­ant attributes of God as the Chris­tian faith has traditionally taught. And “transparency”, although it is indeed a buzzword of tedious bureaucrats (some of whom are inside the Church), has also a nobler sense: “A man that looks on glass, On it may stay his eye; Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass, And then the heaven espy.”

In Worship as Believing, Aelred Arnesen argues that the eucharist should be rethought for the 21st century, in line with what, in the aftermath of Descartes, we now know about God and ourselves. Exploring the themes of atonement, remembrance, presence, and epiclesis, he argues that our practice should be “in reasonable accord with our view of ourselves and of the world as we know it today”.

Complex hierarchies and rituals must go, to be replaced with an ongoing sense of the Lord’s tran­scendent presence. His argument is, in other words, exactly the opposite of Hemming’s. Christian theology can be very disorienting sometimes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trinity Term 2009

Trinity Term began on Monday evening with a Solemn Mass in St John's Church, Iffley Road. Students returned to the House from the vacation and numerous Holy Week placements (in London, Leeds, local Oxford parishes, Plymouth and Washington D.C.) for the final term of the academic year.

For ten students, this will be the final term at the House as they prepare (God willing) for diaconal ordination:
  • Mary Ashton - Benefice of Hook & Heckfield w/ Mattingley & Rotherwick (Winchester)
  • Paul Atkinson - Castleford Team Parish (Wakefield)
  • Peter Boyland - The Tove Benefice (Peterborough)
  • Dexter Bracey - St Mary the Virgin, Torquay (Exeter)
  • Milesius Brandon - Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell (London)
  • Stephen Hearn - St Guthlac, Market Deeping (Lincoln)
  • Josephine Houghton - The Handsworth Group (Birmingham)
  • James Rodley - All Saints, Southbourne w/ St Clement, Boscombe (Winchester)
  • Daniel Sandham - St Mary w/ Christ Church, Hendon (London)
  • Jennifer Swinbank - North Cheltenham Team Ministry (Gloucester)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Vestments

It's not just the residential buildings and teaching facilities that are being renovated. St Stephen's House has taken delivery of a number of complete new sets of Mass vestments and frontals for the House Chapel and Church. Most of the frontals in use to date came from Norham Gardens and have been in need or repair for some time.

Thanks to recent benefactions, the House has been able to purchase complete sets of vestments in most liturgical colours (white, red, purple, green and black), and frontals to match. The altar in the chapel of the Holy Name, the High Altar, the Nave Altar and the altar of St Cyprian of Carthage (where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the House), are now all vested.

The work was carried out by the local firm, Luzar Vestments. Further photographs can be viewed here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Former Student praised in Theological Essay Competition

Fr Peter Anthony (SSH 2003-05) has been awarded second prize in the Conference of European Churches 2009 Youth Theological Essay Competition. His essay "Hope: mystery and communion" was praised for its "effective combination of current experience and biblical exegesis, and for its strong ecumenical perspective."

Entrants were invited to submit a short essay on the relevance of hope in contemporary European culture with particular reference to the 2009 Conference Assembly's theme, "Called to one hope in Christ".

Entries from across Europe were submitted but Fr Peter's work, along with two other entrances, will be rewarded by the presentation of awards at the 13th Assembly of the Conference of European Churches at Lyon in July this year.

Fr Peter, who is currently serving as Assistant Curate in Hendon, will be returning to St Stephen's House in September 2009 to undertake postgraduate research on apocalyptic literature in the New Testament.

The CEC Press Release can be viewed here.