Author Archives: Rachel Feltham

Maundy Thursday – March 28th 2024

 Maundy Thursday

1 Cor 11:23-26, John 13 1-17, 31-35

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

In March 2005, when I was still an ordained deacon and waiting to be ordained priest in July 2005, the team parish I was in had the Bishop visiting us for our worship during Holy week. In the run up to this, several months earlier I without really thinking about it, agreed on Maundy Thursday I would give the homily.  I was still in the early days of preaching. Part of why I agreed to do this was my absolute enthusiasm for Maundy Thursday, which I still have. Jesus’ last opportunity to get his message across to his disciples this side of the cross. Jesus sharing in the context of intimate love and service and the laying down of doing all this in remembrance of him.

It wasn’t until much later – I realised that that meant the pressure was rather on for me to say something sensible as the Bishop was listening – I hope you don’t mind if I share with you these thoughts – what I said that day. It still holds water and as I approach the 20th anniversary of ordination this summer. I am still in awe and wonder at how Jesus showed his love for us.

So here we go – FYI There is reference to having feet washed, which we did back in 2005 – we are not doing that today….

It is very easy in our gospel reading this evening to get distracted and be left with the impression it is all about feet! I, for one, am enormously grateful that our cultural approach to foot washing has changed since the time of Jesus. I am really pleased that before every meal after a long day, we do not go through the ritual of communing with our own and each other’s feet. Needs and cultures have changed. Not least because our approach to footware and hygiene are both very different.

Part of my problem with foot washing is that like many people, my feet are probably not one of my best features. Really rather smelly – to the extent that a couple of years ago my mother gave me something for my birthday, which I thought initially was talcum powder – In reality it was a deodorising powder called ‘trainer fresh’.

My feet are really not the first thing I want to share or show to others. It would be interesting to see how many of us here present with the prospect of bearing our feet looming large, have spent some time before we came here attending to our feet.

When I think about Jesus settling down to wash the disciples feet, it makes me wince. I can feel the tension rising, as Jesus grabs the towel, kneels down with the spirit of love and service flowing through his veins, to get on with the job at hand. I can almost see myself sitting next to Peter –a character I regularly identify with. I find his discipleship with his human frailty such a comfort in the ups and downs of my Christian life. I can almost hear myself siding with Peter in not wanting to have my feet washed. My answer where Peter said ‘Lord not my feet only, but also my hands and my head’ is likely to be a slightly different variant ‘Lord, please anything but not my feet….’

But all this concentration on feet is missing the point of this incident. In these actions, Jesus meets the deepest need of Peter at this point by washing his feet. Jesus meets the deepest need. To allow for this Peter needed to submit, surrender himself to the loving touch and cleansing that Jesus offers. Peter needed to let go of all his preconceptions and let Jesus minister to him in this menial and lowly task. Jesus’ love shown in his actions met real human need. Jesus’ love marked by humility and service

Sometimes I think we soldier on in our own strength, keep going, keep going we say to ourselves…. and we don’t take the time to let Jesus meet us in our deepest needs. We can wrap it up in religious words and called it striving but more often than not it is more likely to be that we are too preoccupied or too set in our ways or too distracted with our own ideas and plans to let Jesus meet our deepest needs (a bit like us coming tonight with pre-washed feet!)

I never cease to need to learn that lesson that’s its God’s plan and God’s perspective that matters and not mine. We can forget the need to stop and submit, to surrender ourselves to the loving touch and the cleansing that Jesus offers. That Jesus offers to meet us and embrace us in our deepest needs.

Tonight let’s surrender our lives afresh to God. Let’s give time as our worship unfolds to let the Holy Spirit move in our hearts and minds, and to meet our deepest needs. Let’s give time for God’s love to fill us and renew us at this eucharist, which celebrates the first eucharist. At the Chrism mass at the cathedral this morning as the bread and wine were placed on the table, they captured the sense of this in the words

Pour upon the poverty of our love and the weakness of our praise the transforming fire of your presence.

Tonight, see afresh Jesus girded with the towel, kneel before us and embrace us tenderly with the loving affection he showered on the disciples – in washing their feet. Let Jesus touch our deepest needs as they are. Then refreshed and renewed, Let us walk from this place taking up the towel to serve others, and care for them.

Jesus said Love one another, just as I have loved you.

In short – What Jesus shows us here is the love we need to show one another. Jesus’ love meets real human need. Jesus’ love marked by humility. Jesus’ love marked by service. These actions are designed to show how much Jesus loved his disciples and therefore how much God loves us, Jesus’ disciples today, and longs to meet with us in our deepest needs too whatever they are. Amen

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible 1989 © 1995

Some words from the liturgy are copyright Church House Publishing 2000-2024.

Mothering Sunday – 10th March – Penny Ashton

Mothering Sunday

It is odd that some passages in our Bibles – often as today’s readings important, key stories in the narrative, do not have any mention of God.  It is well known that God is not mentioned once in the whole book of Esther, and yet his guiding hand is apparent through the whole story.  Similarly, there is no actual mention of God anywhere in today’s passages, but again it seems clear that Moses was, from birth, a person for whom God had great plans, and in order to work out these plans, he guided Moses from birth, and used the families and social structures that were in place at the time in order to bring about his plans.  This follows on from the theme of the readings a couple of weeks ago when we considered Abraham, and his faith that God would do what he had promised, even though it did not seem possible.

Recently I have heard several stories about parents taking extreme action to safeguard their children.  The story of the life of Sir Nicholas Winton, one of those who worked on the Kindertransport bringing Jewish children from Czechoslovakia to escape the Nazi invaders has been made into a film this year, starring Anthony Hopkins.  Sir Nicholas and his organization were able to rescue 669 children before the outbreak of the second world war in 1939.  The intention then was that the children would be kept safe for the duration of the coming war, and returned to their families once it became safe again.  Their parents had to send them off with no real knowledge of where or to whom they would go but knowing that it was almost impossible for that to be worse than what seemed to be coming. 

I have also recently both watched and read stories of evacuee children from the large industrial and port cities in this country to the countryside where it was believed they would be safe from the expected bombing.  Again, they were able to take very few belongings, and were loaded on to trains wearing luggage labels bearing their names, not knowing where or to whom they would be going, or indeed when they might return.  This was made harder for the parents, when it was almost a year later that the blitz started in full, and during that time, some made the decision to fetch their children home again.  Parents have taken and continue to take extreme risks to ensure the safety of their children.  I am sure that similar – often heart-breaking decisions are being reached, even now in Ukraine and Gaza if it is possible.

Our first reading today is another similar account of a mother who was prepared to deprive herself of her much loved baby, in the hope of possibly ensuring his safety.   It is a story I love, as it involves resourceful women getting the better of the unjust and cruel actions of the ruler of the state.  The first of the women to outwit the king were the Hebrew midwives, who were given the task of killing any male baby that they delivered to Hebrew women.  This order they bravely disobeyed, and when questioned by the king had their story ready prepared that they were unable to get to the Hebrew women in time.  It is good that it is recorded that God blessed the midwives for their act of courage.  It is also my guess that a great many small boys at that time were disguised as girls for as long as it was possible.

 Although we do not know any details of the princess in the story, my commentary tells me that it is not impossible for it to have been Hatshepsut, as the dates are coincidental.  She went on to become both regent, and subsequently pharaoh in her own right.  She would also have been strongminded enough to defy the Pharaoh of the time, and she later presided over a great deal of building work, all of which fits with the Exodus narrative. 

 Some of the language used in this story is also interesting.  The phrase used when describing Moses – that his mother saw that he was a fine child, is the same as used only once elsewhere in our bibles, in the creation story when God looked upon all he had made, and it was very good.  This was obviously a baby that God had his eye on from the beginning.

The language used to describe Miriam, implies that she would have been in her early to mid teens at this time, and she too shows herself to be both brave and resourceful, and as soon as she saw that the princess had found herself in charge of a baby that she wanted to keep, but that was both illegally alive and also – as babies often are – was crying lustily.  It would have been out of the question for a high-born woman such as the princess to nurse or care for the baby herself, however determined she was to keep him, and so Miriam’s offer – to fetch a Hebrew woman to nurse him was perfectly timed.  And in Miriam’s eyes, who better to do this than the child’s own mother.  The outcome of the story of resourceful thinking, and possibly some careful planning was that Moses’ mother not only received her baby back, under the protection of the princess, and with the instruction to care for him, but also that she would be paid to do so.  As we would say nowadays – result!

Our gospel reading today also tells of a more famous mother, but also one who is doing her best to ensure that her child has the best possible start in life.  We know little or nothing of Mary’s early life, except that she ‘found favour with the Lord’.  This implies that she was devout in her religious observance, and this is born out by her obedience both to God, and under the law in the stories we read at Christmas and at Candlemas.  Today’s gospel reading takes only the very last part of that story – a part that sometimes gets missed out, of Simeon’s words of prophecy to her of what is to come.  The child will bring about national and religious turmoil, and acute pain to his mother.  She is being warned that she will need all her strength, and the support of her faith in God to get through what is to come.  Like the women from our first reading, she shows that she is equal to the task – as she demonstrates on the occasions when she is mentioned again in the gospel stories.

There is truth in the saying that history is written by the winners – and throughout much of history, nearly all the winners seem to have been men.  It is good to know that while women had apparently little or no power or authority, that did not prevent them from using their wits to work around situations to achieve the ends that they intended.

We read in history that Mothering Sunday is not, in fact a festival of motherhood – although it has rather become that in our lifetimes.  The origins of Mothering Sunday are in the tradition of returning to your mother church – where you were baptised or confirmed, which may have been your parish church, or the nearest cathedral.  Looking at the mothers in today’s reading, it becomes clear to see why the church is portrayed as a mother.  As an organisation, even today the Christian church has little power, but it does have what is known nowadays as ‘soft power’.  We will need all our resourcefulness and quick wits to use that if we want to have any effect against the powers that we will need to oppose.  It is good to know though, that just as he was with the families of Moses and Jesus, God is with us every step of the way.

Lent 2 – 25th February – Penny Ashton

Lent 2 2024

Our readings today seem to focus on trusting God even when nothing seems to be happening or we don’t understand the plan.  We often use a prayer which contains the phrase ‘God is faithful and just’ in it, but it is not always easy to understand where he is leading us.

In our reading from Romans Paul is writing about faith using the example of Abraham.  In the Old Testament reading set for today we read of how Abram and Sarai are given new names and the promise of descendants.   It’s worth remembering that they have already travelled from Ur – probably in Iraq via Haran which is in modern day, Turkey through Canaan to Egypt and then back to Canaan.  Abraham had received promise of the land of Canaan for his descendants in a vision, but in today’s reading God seems to be more direct.  Sarai had no children, which in those days was considered to be a shame, and so she and Abraham had tried ‘help’ God to achieve his promise with Hagar.  Although this did result in a son for Abraham, it also caused all sorts of problems for them – which can often be the case when we try to take over from God.

But this time the promise is more specific – that Abraham and Sarah would have a son and many descendants – not just Abraham by another woman.  This promise was made not just to Abraham and his direct descendants, but, as Paul points out, to us as those who share his faith.  God’s promise is to make him the ‘Father of many nations’. 

In our reading from Romans Paul is contrasting faith with adherence to the law using Abraham’s faith as his example – he continued to have faith even though had not yet seen any result of God’s promises.  We need to remember that adherence to the law is not relevant at this point in history, as Abraham comes many years before law is given, but it would have been important to those people that Paul was writing to, as many of them would have been Jewish by birth.  The promise is given several times over several years before it is actually fulfilled but Abraham’s faith doesn’t seem to waver although Sarah is not always convinced. One occasion she laughed when she heard it, which is why Isaac was given a name that roughly translates as laughter.

Peter, in the passage just before today’s gospel has just made his great declaration that Jesus is the Christ and the son of God.  In Matthew’s account of this Jesus tells Peter that this knowledge was given to him by God, and promises to Peter that he will be the rock on which church will be built, and to him will be given the keys of kingdom.  And yet very shortly after this great high moment, Jesus is calling him agent of Satan.  We have noted before that the disciples always try to stop Jesus when he tells them of what is to happen to him, but Peter goes too far this time.  He has gone in short time from making a great declaration of faith to the complete opposite, of knowing better than Jesus.

Jesus then goes on to give the hard challenge to Peter, the disciples and the whole crowd – and by extension to us.  Nowadays we have rather glamourised the cross – we wear it as jewellery and as a badge of office and we perhaps forget quite how dreadful this kind of death was, and what Jesus was asking of people and of us when he tells us that we will have to take up our crosses if we want to be his true disciples.   Jesus chose to continue towards Jerusalem, and the end that he knew well was waiting for him there.  In a sense we could say that it was at about this point in his ministry that he began to take up his cross as he tells us that we will have to.  It is also possible that Jesus recognises in Peter’s denial of his coming fate, an echo of the temptations that came to him in the wilderness – a time that we have based the 40 days of this season of Lent on.  It is worth remembering that Jesus’ temptations did not end when he returned from the desert to Galilee. 

There is a recent modern day example of a similar act that we have been reminded of  this week when we have so recently heard of the death of Alexy Navalny, who was such an inspiration to so many in Russia, and who chose – after recovering from being treated for Novichok poisoning – to return to Russia, even though he must have been aware that he was heading back into danger and his possible imprisonment or death.

 We have a saying that problems or difficulties that arise in our lives are our cross to bear; often this is used today about ill health or unwanted problems in life, but that is not what Jesus was referring to.  Everyone has occasional difficulties in their lives, but this is something very different.  Jesus is telling us that we need to be willing to lose our lives for his sake and for the sake of the gospel or as some versions translate it, ‘the kingdom’, and this involves faith. 

One of the other readings set for today is the beginning of Hebrews 11, which contains a wonderful definition of faith as ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  (Hebrews 11: 1 NRSV).  Here again, Abraham is a good example.  He had faith in God and his promises even though they were as yet unfulfilled, and God credited his faith to him as righteousness. But having faith is not something we can claim any credit for as Paul explains in Ephesians; ‘ For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.’  (Ephesians 2: 8-9).  In a sense we have travelled in a circle – the faith we need is also a gift to us from God through his grace.

So, in essence, being good (keeping the law) will not get us any particular credit with God.  After all, there are a great many people who have no faith at all, and yet do amazing amounts of good for others.  We are only credited with righteousness by having faith, but that faith is freely given to us by God.  Everything is a gift,

Brian Draper in his lent reflections:  The Desert will Bloom #4 – The way of Jesus quoted an on-line post by Dan Sadler which sums it all up quite well:

‘Walk in confidence (for there’s nothing you can do to lose the love of God).’ And, ‘Walk in humility (for there’s nothing you can do to earn it).’

Copyright acknowledgements: The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

The Desert shall Bloom copyright Brian Draper

Lent One – 18th February

Lent one – 18th February 2024 – Rev Alison Way

Genesis 9.8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-end, Mark 1.9-15

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen

Because Mark says so little about Jesus time in the wilderness, just two verses:-

12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

We have been given an insight by the powers that be that select our readings into the events immediately before and after this time of prayer and fasting, and preparation for Jesus’ active ministry of teaching and healing – proclaiming and enacting the good news of God.

Immediately before the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, he is baptised by John. A significant moment accompanied by a sign from God. The reading says Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. It doesn’t indicate that everyone else who was there saw it – just that Jesus saw it. But it is hard to believe the assembled crowd didn’t hear the voice or at least a noise – sometimes prior to this – the voice of God has been heard like the noise of thunder by others witnessing it rather than the actual words.

The voice came from heaven, said ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ These words were a real affirmation of Jesus journey to this point. We recognise in our own personal experiences that someone saying to us ‘with you I am well pleased’. Is usually a pretty enjoyable and affirming experience. As is knowing we are loved – when someone genuinely tell us they love us as we are or that we are their beloved, it generally feels good.

God saying to Jesus – You are my son is also pretty significant. Mark’s gospel does not try to explain Jesus’ parentage or the technicalities of his birth. That is left to Matthew and Luke to describe (and the accounts do really differ from one another). In the run up to next Christmas 2024 may I commend reading the first 3 chapters of Luke and the first 2 of Matthew so we can see the significant differences and the continuity within them.

Getting back to the point today – In Mark this ‘You are my son’ is very direct and clear and as we continue to listen to Jesus in Mark’s gospel over the weeks ahead of us, we will find there is lots shrouded in mystery and the disciples are regularly told to keep quiet about who is is and what he is about. In a way this makes this clear statement You are my son from the voice of God quite surprising. But also this statement is likely to have been lost – as those who heard it witnessed an isolated event and would not have been significant in Jesus’ onward journey, as it was some 40 days after this that anything else happens in the public domain.

I suspect virtually everyone here has experienced baptism and has been baptised (though the vast majority here in keeping with our anglican tradition will have been baptised as infants). And therefore are unlikely to remember their own baptism. At some point in each service I generally say – Hearing and doing these things provides an opportunity to remember our own baptism and reflect on the progress made on our journey with God.

When we are baptised in its own way God is saying to us as much as he did to Jesus, You are my child, beloved, with you I am well pleased. And we stay God’s beloved children all our lives, recognising his amazing, overflowing love for us, and God’s hand in making us for his purposes on earth – and each to a unique and special blueprint is part of what our baptism is about. God loves his creation and has made us as we are reflecting the sense that with each of us God is well pleased. However what we do with how God has made us is another matter.

We have been made to fulfill his way and purposes for us, which are just ours and just what we should be doing to further God’s kingdom on earth. We have a clear choice about how we live as one of his special children – Recognised and dwelling in the heart of God as part of his family on earth. Perhaps it might all be easier if once we were baptised, the Holy Spirit just took over all the choices and decision making, and we were no longer capable of making choices for ourselves as to how we live, breathe or have our being.

That would certainly stop us making so many poor choices and straying off God’s path for us, but that would also make us mindless automatons and would deny us any ability to show God any meaningful love in return for his passionate love for us. We have discussed before the difference about how we feel about things we are compelled to do rather than things we choose to do. Clearly and thankfully the work of the Holy Spirit does not just take us over like this, and we don’t become automatons. The Spirit needs our co-operation – the spirit can work in us and through us in ways that can amaze and surprise us. I am currently being reminded of this in our Alpha material as we work through the course. But we need to be open and willing and available and with heart’s desiring God’s way for us in his kingdom  (and not whatever we think we want for ourselves in little kingdoms of our own construction).

The second half of the sentence I say at every baptism gets to the heart of the challenge. As we watch someone else being baptised we are urged to ‘reflect on the progress made on our journey with God’. How are we doing with our choices? How does our life and our lifestyle look from the outside looking in?

As we know words are one thing- but our actions so often speak louder than our words. I suspect I have discussed before the difficulties I have experienced driving in a dog collar. Where my actions are what is on display rather than my words. And I first really noticed this now nearly 20 years ago when I was first ordained. I hope this is not too trivial an example. But it makes a valid point. I suddenly found myself – realising that with my dog collar on I really needed to drive like a Christian. With a dog collar on – people give you very dirty looks if you are discourteous behind the wheel! Or cut them up! And people look very surprised if you have done some frankly dodgy or an inappropriate manoeuvre and pull away dog collar to the fore.

The truth is that I need to drive like a Christian all the time, Dog collar or not. The dog collar has brought to the forefront of my attention that I am not always doing that! And no one much likes being found out. What this means is I am not always showing the personal integrity. I would wish to demonstrate and that would best show God’s love for his world. At one level this is a trivial example – but it makes a deeper point. If we love God and recognise his power and love in our life and love him first- our lives near to bear clear witness to that in everything. In the days ahead this means we are embracing the sense that what needs to be visible in the baptised Christians which make up the church and as such represents the church itself is lives that proclaim the good news of God. That live in accordance with what Jesus taught us and where we are guided and moulded by the Spirit’s influence within us. And living the way that God has for us and that builds up his kingdom on earth.

As I have said before when I talk about lives proclaiming the good news that isn’t quite what it immediately sounds like. I am not talking the stereotypes – of Christians standing on street corners and calling everyone who passes by to repentance and faith in God – though we do at times need to stand up and be counted and be clear about our principles. Nor should we aspire to be a Christian that bring their faith into each and every conversation irrespective of how insensitive or inappropriate that might be. Or Christians that see every encounter as an opportunity to convert someone rather than to love them as they are and as God made them

Remove those stereotypes from your head – Living lives proclaiming the gospel, the good news is about living with our love God first in our hearts and visible in who we are and how we are, and our actions to speak in accordance with our words, and that our words and our actions – speak first of our love of God

Yes back on my stereotypes – We will need to stand up to be counted for what we believe sometimes and that may not always be comfortable. Also we may need to help other people on their journeys of faith

and help them recognise God’s love for them too. But neither of these things will be our default setting. Our default setting will be loving God with all our heart, mind and strength, and loving our neighbours as ourselves, and in our loving our neighbours we want them to really understand how much God loves each and every one of us. And there are many many ways of showing that in our words, actions and lifestyles

Jesus after his time of prayer and reflection in the wilderness, proclaimed the good news as the teacher God made him to be would. Jesus needed to lead, preach and teach. We need to do what God has made us to do in his kingdom. God may not have made all of us to lead, teach and preach, but he has made us to do what we are uniquely suited for to further his kingdom and we all need to live thinking and adhering to Jesus example of a life lived with integrity. Jesus lived with his words being matched by his actions and his lifestyle. We need to proclaim the good news in the way only we can (whatever way that might be for each of us), but also with our words matching our actions and our lifestyles.

St Francis understood this in his own unique calling too – Preach the gospel he said – but if you must use words. Amen

Some material is copyright © the Archbishop’s Council 2000-2023 and The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © 1989/1995

Ash Wednesday – 14th February 2024 – Rev Alison Way

2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our strength and our Redeemer, Amen.

Ash Wednesday comes around as we begin Lent, the traditional season of preparation for Easter, thinking through and dwelling on our Lord’s passion and the lengths Jesus was willing to go for us. The words of introduction I read earlier in this service described this as a season of penitence and fasting.

We will deal with the penitence after I have spoken today, with a period of self-examination and confession. Much longer than we normally do and aimed at wiping our slates clean with God (and maybe identifying areas where we might need to seek the forgiveness of people we have wronged). The latter is much more complicated sometimes, but necessary self-discipline when God points out in our hearts those things we need to address.

The second word there is fasting, which for most 21st century Christians is a pretty challenging word. At a trivial level I find fasting challenging as a Spiritual discipline, and my go to resource on spiritual disciplines – Richard Foster’s “A Celebration of discipline” remarks from the vantage point of 1978 (when this classic was written) that fasting was rather out of fashion (and in terms of consumerism our consumption has only got more complicated since the heady days of the seventies).

In our gospel reading today, we have some words of Jesus about fasting. First of all questioning our motives. Jesus was pointing out that false piety and practice (needing people to know we are fasting is not a good start). To use something that can be good for us, to our own ends is not the right choice! Or taking something like this, to get God to do what we want. Who has done deals with God, if I fast regularly, pray or read the Bible every day can this happen, please God? These kind of deals never work! We live in a consumerist, transactional world but we don’t have a consumerist, transactional God!

Richard Foster talks about the importance of fasting being about our relationship with God. He says ‘Fasting must forever center on God’. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained’.  He goes on to say that fasting reveals what controls us.

As Spiritual Disciplines go, I have to say I am not good at fasting. Like many adults I have a complicated relationship with food, and take some regular medication which makes this difficult (ie I take it twice a day, and I should not take it on an empty stomach!). But I was very interested that fasting has taken on a different meaning in the last few years, following some very wise words of Pope Francis in the early part of 2021.

Pope Francis said this – (and I have printed out some copies of it for you to be able to look at it now and take it home).


  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and have trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints; contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness; fill your hearts with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words; be silent and listen.

Pope Francis Lent 2021

There is quite a lot of those. Any one or two of them would be good for us. Perhaps this Lent, each time we find ourselves heading towards one of the things we could fast from – take time to follow the second part of the sentence.

I want us to identify up to 3 of these this evening that we could fast from this Lent. Mark up and consider them on the sheet with the pen provided, whilst I play a piece of reflective music – Be still by Keith Duke and featuring Kevin Duncan.

This time has just between us and God, and I will finish this thought – by reading them again (asking the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to our love and our commitment to God).


  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and have trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints; contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness; fill your hearts with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words; be silent and listen.

Pope Francis Lent 2021


A celebration of discipline – By Richard Foster – originally published in 1978

Sunday before Lent – 11th February 2024 – Rev Alison Way

11th February – The Sunday before Lent.

2 Kings 2:1-12 and Mark 9:2-9

May the words of my mouth, and meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight – Our Lord and our Redeemer, Amen.

We find Elijah and Elisha on the cusp of something really significant for both of them. An ending and a new beginning. For Elijah an ending of his earthly life – Being swept up to Heaven in a whirlwind, and for Elisha the beginning of his time as a prophet – asking Elijah for a double share of his spirit to enable him to do what was before him. We are also on the cusp of something significant with Lent starting on Wednesday and something different coming along in parochial matters as I move off to pastures new at Easter and the parishes enter a new phase with further parishes to work with on the horizon. In view of all this change and new things coming along, against the worrying backdrop of world events and the potential for escalating conflict rather than increasing world peace –  Let’s see what we can learn from Elijah and Elisha’s journey.

We find them on the start of their journey from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho and the river Jordon – This in total is about 35 miles (so very likely to have taken more than a day to do especially in view of what unfolds on the way!). Let’s think about each of these places and what is significant about them!

So the start was Gilgal. Gilgal was very significant – it was the first place that the Israelites camped after they had crossed the red sea and escaped from the Egyptians. They set up 12 stones taken from the river Jordan – (so it was a place of stones). From here Joshua set out with the people into the promised land. The stones were there as a big reminder of how God had saved his people, and God who acted on behalf of the people.

The spiritual meaning of Gilgal is rolling or rolling away or separation. God had rolled away their past, and the rule of Egypt over the people of God, and separated the people into a closer relationship with him.  Our Lenten fast will culminate in Easter, with another kind of rolling away for us (of the stone on the tomb) a physical sign of resurrection, which is how God has saved all people, and the way God wants us to understand especially how our lives should be separated via seeking the living God, as living sacrifices in our worship of God.

The next place Elijah and Elisha went too, was Bethel which means house of God. This is the place where Jacob had an amazing vision in a dream – of the stairway resting on the earth and the angels going up and down it. God made big promises to Jacob. When Jacob awoke he named it Bethel as he had had such a strong sense of the presence of the Lord.

In those days people would go to Bethel to ask questions of God and it speaks to us of the Lord’s presence. This is something we also really need in changing and challenging times ahead to live desiring and seeking the presence of God and being guided through the Holy Spirit. Attending to our spiritual disciplines in Lent (particularly prayer, worship and bible reading) would be such a good thing.

The third place listed is Jericho. What happened at Jericho? Walls came a tumbling down in the days of Joshua. This was the site of the first battle the people of God had as they entered the promised land. Remember this was 40 years on from the events at Gilgal – after years of nomadic wandering as the people of God. At Jericho we are watching the evidence of people walking by faith – not relying on our strength but leaning into God’s love for us. Really important in the times we are in at the moment that we lean into God’s love for us. We were talking about living by faith in Alpha this week, it has made me think how important it is for us to follow God’s prompting (and especially no matter how much it may not make sense to us at the time!). I have often described this as letting go and letting God – especially helpful when we really aren’t sure of the next step. Our most important action is to trust our God who loves us so much.

The final place Elijah and Elisha travel to is the river Jordan. What happened here – well two things – the start of Jesus ministry and his baptism. Baptism by baptism I add some holy water from the river Jordon to the font as we mark another Christian’s new start. Also what happened here was another miraculous parting of the waters – this time enacted by Elijah not Elisha so they could cross.

As we move towards Lent and remember Jesus’s walk and his journey of teaching, worship, praying, sacrifice and resurrection, we see the way God has saved us today (a little different from the exodus event for the people of God). We know the call of God comes to us through Jesus love for us. Elijah experienced this really dramatically at this point as he ascended into heaven.

This lent let’s spend the time recognising our lives as living sacrifices, seeking the presence of God, walking in faith and wondering at the length God went to through the saving love of Jesus Christ.

Let’s follow the call of God where-ever it may leave us in these changing times. Amen

References: Bible Study on Elisha’s journey by Ian Gordon.

Presentation of Christ – 28th January – Penny Ashton

The Presentation at the Temple

The timing of our different festivals in late December and early January has always confused me slightly.  After celebrating the birth of Christ on 25 December, we celebrate the coming of the magi roughly 2 weeks later, when it is possible that Jesus was 2 – 3 years old, before celebrating his baptism – which we know happened when he was about 30 years old a week later.  Today we revert to counting back to his possible date of birth and moving on 40 days, which takes us to 2 February, when we celebrate his presentation at the temple.  After this, things settle down a bit, however, and in just over 2 weeks’ time from now we shall again return to his adult life and start on the 40 days of Lent leading us up to Easter.

In thinking of today’s festival, it is interesting to speculate on what the attitude of Joseph and Mary must have been towards their infant son.  Although they received, and most certainly believed and obeyed the messages brought to them by the angel, I can’t help feeling that that they perhaps put the message to the backs of their minds and cared for Jesus as a normal child.  They do appear to be fulfilling the requirements of the law just as they would for a normal baby, and, as any new mother will tell you a normal baby gives you quite enough to think about and do without considering how God’s son should be raised.   I think this is likely, and relevant to our thoughts today, since it is more than likely that when Simeon first saw Jesus and recognised who he really was, in all likelihood what he saw was a crying baby.  I have never been too happy with the line in the Christmas carol that tells us that ‘Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes’.  We know that Jesus felt hunger and thirst, fatigue and most certainly pain, and a baby has no way of making known how he feels other than by crying, although I am told that babies start to smile and make different sounds at around 5 weeks old, and at 6 weeks are beginning to be able to lift their heads a little.  Their eyesight is also improving, so that they begin to take more notice in what is going on around them, so it is possible that Simeon met a baby who was as interested in him as he was in the baby.

In a homily on this subject a couple of years ago, Pope Francis pointed out that we see the major characters in our gospel reading in two different attitudes.  The first attitude for each of them is one of movement.  They had all made a conscious effort to come to the temple on that particular day.  Mary and Joseph had come to offer the required sacrifice to ‘redeem’ their first-born son, as the law required, as since the Passover, all firstborns had belonged to God, and needed to be ‘bought’ back.  Mary also was required to undergo purification after childbirth, which was specified to be carried out 40 days after the birth.  So it was that Mary and Joseph had made the journey to Jerusalem – probably from Bethlehem, which was about 6 miles from Jerusalem, as we know that they were still there when the magi arrived – some time later.  Simeon, we are told was moved by the Holy Spirit to come to the temple on that day, and as he believed that he would not die before seeing God’s Messiah, and we think that he was by then old, he must have come with some expectation of an encounter.  We are told less about Anna, but we do know that she was a prophet, of a great age and that she seldom left the temple, spending her time in prayer and worship.  She had already come to the right building, but also managed to come to the right people within that large and crowded place. 

All four of these had moved in obedience to God, and the lesson for us is that we too should be prepared to move.  We cannot always expect people to come to us inside the building that we love so much – perhaps we should be more motivated to take what we believe out into the places where the people are, and where they feel comfortable.  Our faith needs dynamism – and we must be ready to be moved – as Simeon was – by the Spirit to take our faith where God wants us to go.  If Simeon had decided to stay at home on that day, he would have missed the encounter.  Fear of missing out – FOMO – is a 21st century phrase but has always been relevant.  We must be prepared to go to where God is at work, or we may miss out.

 The second attitude in which we find our characters today is one of wonder.  To Mary and Joseph, this must have been a simple requirement of their faith that they attend at the temple in Jerusalem to make the required sacrifices.  To Simeon, the day may have already been one of anticipation, as he knew that God was moving him to go to the temple for a purpose and believing that one day he would see God’s promised one, must have made almost every day one of excited anticipation.  For Anna, the place where she found the greatest joy was where she already was – worshipping God in the temple as she did daily. 

The temple that is mentioned in our reading is the one known as the second temple, or Herod’s temple.  It was originally rebuilt during and after the time of exile, and the account of this can be found in the book of Ezra.  King Herod extended and embellished this temple to such an extent that it appears not to have been completely finished by the time of his death in 4AD, and so it is possible that the outer court – or court of the gentiles – which was the largest part, was not only a busy marketplace, but also possibly still something of a building site.  God can be found in the noisy busy places, as well as in stillness, and so it happened on the day in question. 

Whichever part of the temple this meeting took place in, it would have been full of people busy about their business, and yet in the midst of it all, Simeon and Anna found Mary and Joseph and their baby, and recognised the significance.  They were moved initially to praise and wonder, after which Simeon went on to deliver disturbing words of prophecy to Mary, while Anna was moved to worship, and to sharing the good news of what she had seen with everyone she met, just as the shepherds had done on that first Christmas night.  We are not told much about the reaction of Mary and Joseph, but just as in the encounter with the shepherds, surely they were inspired to the same sense of wonder by these encounters, and again, as with the visit of the shepherds stored all these things in their hearts, and pondered them.

The attitude of wonder again should strike us, as it struck these four, very different people.  Just as we must allow ourselves to be moved by the Spirit as they were, so we must also take with us the sense of wonder that they surely felt.  Anna could barely control herself – we are told that she told everyone about the child.  Have we perhaps grown a little complacent in our faith?  Do we have the excitement that Anna had?  Excitement is not exclusively reserved for the young as she shows, and there is nothing more infectious than sharing someone’s enthusiasm.  Does our enthusiasm shine out when we leave this place and talk with our friends?  How different would the effect be on others, if everyone who was in church on Sundays burst out with renewed enthusiasm and excitement about meeting with God.  Something to ponder in our hearts perhaps?

Plough Sunday – 14th January

Isaiah 55:6-11, Matthew 6:25-end

In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

This first reading for me is really, really familiar. It is one of the passages used as a canticle in Morning Prayer. In ordinary time it is the recommended one on Wednesdays and as one of the options for Lent! It contains 3 different voices, which is not that obvious.

The first voice is the people on earth saying – Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.

This passage was written at a difficult time for the people of God in their story in the Old Testament. They were experiencing the exile, a drift in difficult circumstances in a foreign land far from the land God had given them. An Old Testament understanding was they were far from God at the time – their measure of their relationship (the state of the temple was in ruins! and better times were a long way off).

As a result of the coming, life, sacrifice, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, we now have a different understanding of God’s proximity to us. God is always only a prayer away through the Holy Spirit Jesus left with us. In a way we can understand this as the need to recognise God’s love for us in all things (no matter how good or bad they may seem to us at the time, and to always seek God, and God’s will  for our way ahead).

The second voice is that of the heavens – encouraging the people of God to follow God’s call on their lives (and not to give into the temptation of thinking their own way is best). The heavens say: Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Some of this discontent at the time amongst the people of God was about their current circumstances (thoroughly adrift in a foreign land), but also because some did not like the means of God’s plan at that time for them, and had turned to things of their own design and desire! A particular group had gone in completely the wrong direction, and their way of life and their convictions were getting in the way. The heavens are imploring them to change their ways, repentance will bring pardon and forgiveness (to those who resist God’s call, and insist on going their own way).

We need to be honest about God’s plan for us, sometimes it can be really clear, other times it can be very hazy, and yet other times it can be far from how we would like things to work out for us! God has a way of working everything for our ultimate good, but we cannot always see that. Going our own way can be very tempting in this kind of circumstance, but is never the best idea! The dilemma presented to the people of God at this time is really one of ours too – I mean – We really can’t expect to reap the benefits of the presence of God in our lives if we are not following God’s way for us. Thankfully the voice of the heavens reminds us that God is merciful and will abundantly pardon us when we go wrong too.  

The rest of the reading  comes from the voice of God and contains two distinct strands. The first part reminds us of our perspective and God’s in all his awesome wonder.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I think this immense statement reminds us of our perspective – God’s view of us, the universe and everything is so much bigger than our own and beyond our capacity to understand from our linear existence. It reminds us of our need to be deeply respectful and mindful of the gulf (and to remain committed to following God’s plan for us and not inventing our own plan that appears to suit us better!)

I read in an online commentary this is about like God saying, “This is where you have work to do. You see, My thoughts aren’t anything like yours. I think differently about everything that happens in your life. My way out of your troubles is different than you would expect, too.”

The second part of what God says is the link to Plough Sunday as we have a reference to the world of sowing and growing, the rain and snow watering the earth, and the crops grown to give food to the eater. The natural cycle of how our world should work. Where God is saying to us. – For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Just as we prepare the ground, plant seeds and encourage growth from watering the earth, God is doing that with us. All his guidance to us however it comes, is for the purposes God wants to accomplish in us, to succeed in the things God would have us do. That is how God is at work within us, and we must follow his call and his plan on our hearts and lives. Sometimes we are given the gift of hindsight in how things work out, other times we just have to trust God’s purposes and perspective. Have faith the God who loves us in and through time and space – and to honour that love as Jesus puts it towards the end of our gospel reading – Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So this Plough Sunday, and as we consider what we will plant and grow for 2024 (and in a moment bless any seeds that have been brought for these purposes). Let’s always seek the kingdom of God and the seeds that God is planting in us for God’s purposes, our flourishing and his everlasting kingdom. Amen.


The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © 1989-1995 Isaiah 55:6-11

Christmas Reflection

Christmas Communion

Isaiah 9:2-7 Luke 21-14, 8-20

He is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace, Amen

We know the story

  • of angels bringing messages from God,
  • of a young couple travelling to Bethlehem to be counted,
  • of finding there was no room at the inn when they arrived,
  • of a very important and special child being born in a stable as Emmanuel – God with us
  • and of that child being visited by shepherd, who were also in turn visited by angels encouraging them to go and find the  baby wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger.

What aspect of the Christmas story we hear year in year out most speaks to our hearts? Maybe from what we have just heard as our gospel reading, or from the carols, or a nativity play we may have seen.

Maybe it is always the same thing that strikes us Christmas by Christmas, or maybe it is different things each year? What touches our heart is unique to us, and it is very appropriate to ponder and treasure the impact of this story in our hearts as Mary did all those years ago. Mary had a unique perspective of living it, we have a real need to live guided by this story and sharing the love we experience that came down at that first Christmas.  

It would be lovely if a few of us today shared what is the most special aspect of the Christmas story to us this year? I’ll give us a couple of minutes to talk about it with those around us – and then I hope some will share a short thought as to what is speaking to us this year.

As I often am – I am struck by the angels proclaiming peace on earth – which is something we so need in various parts of the world today, and especially in the lands’ of Jesus life and birth. It has been hard to sing some of the carols which take us to places caught up in all this violence and bloodshed. We need to pray and pray fervently for peace to prevail and peacemakers to find ways of bringing the warring parties together in reconciliation and to the benefit of all.

This is a powerful story – and it is not remotely surprising that this story – for many deeply familiar from their earliest days – that we all see something different in it. It is a wondrous story we will still teach to our youngest, and part of the fabric of our heritage in our country. It sometimes seems to be getting a bit buried in the commercialism of Christmas in our times, but it’s authenticity and integrity speaks through all that direct to our hearts!

We also see different things, because God made us all different from one another, and deliberately so. Each one a special child of God’s and loved thoroughly as we are, with our unique place on this earth and our particular set of jobs to do, and people to connect with (in the way that only we can!)

This is a story with many layers and deeper meaning embedded within (and I think there is always something special for us as we mark how a child was born for us, a son given to us (as those words from Isaiah remind us).

Christmas comes and goes, and sometimes it meets us in a happy place when the going is good, and other times when we are hurting, grieving or unwell, where it can magnify who is not there, or what we can’t do! The essence of the message of Christmas is the same whatever our circumstances – and is a source of the deepest hope in the darkest or lightest of times in our hearts and lives. In happy times, give thanks for God’s love for us, in difficult times, lean into God’s everlasting love for us and feel God’s peace in our hearts through the child in the manger who went on to save us for now and for ever.

I want to end these thoughts with a Christmas prayer written by Robert Louis Stevenson

Let us pray

Loving Father

Help us to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the songs of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds and the worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate, and open the door of love all over the world.

Let kindness come with every gift, and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May thy Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

A Christmas Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson from the Advent Manifesto by Martin Percy (BRF 2023)

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (1989, 1995 ©)

Advent Sunday – 3rd December 2023

Advent Sunday – 3rd December 2023

In this Advent of expectation draw us together in unity, that our praise and worship might echo in these walls and also through our lives. In this Advent of expectation draw us together in mission, that the hope within might be the song we sing and the melody of our lives. In this Advent of expectation draw us together in service that the path we follow might lead us from a stable to glimpse eternity. Amen

Every 3 years this set of readings comes up and it reminds me of Advent Sunday in 2002 (and makes my stomach churn as I remember how excruciatingly nervous I was). This day was notable for the reality that it was the day I first preached an adult assessed sermon to a congregation of grown ups at a 9am communion service in Llantrisant in South Wales. I was on placement in my first term at theological college, and though in the long run up to going to college and the selection processes, I had led lots of worship aimed at families and youth (and in my work life numerous presentations and training sessions about software and consultancy skills) – speaking theologically to just grown ups was a whole other matter, very intimidating and as was expecting me to share wisdom in a sermon (the first term at college had proved my Biblical knowledge could be vastly improved too). One of my tutors had poured over the preparation with me and was in the congregation waiting to assess my efforts!

At the beginning of this week, I re-read what I wrote that day – which like all good novice sermons had 3 points and a clear beginning and a summary at the end. My points are all still valid that we need to be always growing, to be ready whatever comes along (and alert to God’s hand in it) and to live in the hope Christ left with us.  

Every Advent, we start back at the beginning readying ourselves to mark the coming of Jesus, and the wonder of it. It is hard to get our heads round imagining God preparing the ground of Jesus to come and working in a time ordered way (which is a dimension God is significantly beyond – not being limited to our linear existence but timeless – here yesterday, today and forever). God would have been lining up the prophets, putting the words they needed to speak in their hearts, and then selecting the key players (Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Shepherds, Magi) and the key venues and recruiting Gabriel to pass on his important messages.

It is hard for us to get our heads round this as we don’t know what life was like before Jesus came, we have only known how it is possible to know Jesus personally as the saving power in our lives. As St Paul put it in that first reading – Because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.

Jesus came to open God’s heart of love to all of us and he came as a vulnerable child to do it. This advent we need to ponder the wonder of that deeply – be open and reach out with the love we know to those around us. Christmas affords many opportunities to explain the meaning of the season, we must use the ones we have.

While I was on retreat 10 days ago I finally returned to Glasshampton Monastery. This is a thin place, where the gap between earth and heaven seems smaller, and also it has been a quiet house of prayer for over 100 years, and is currently looked after by some Anglican Franciscan brothers (the same order as are based at Hilfield). It is very special.

And here is a picture of the altar in the main chapel. It is all quite plain – I love the arches that lead to the vestry (which look a bit like a house in Bethlehem, and the simple stone altar and platform (with matching tiles)). In this picture there is a San Damiano cross – this is a replica of the cross that spoke to St Francis in his earliest days – Rebuild my church was the message it had for him.

On my first visit to the chapel for evening prayer, I had a niggling feeling that something had changed I couldn’t put my finger on what. The next morning at the daily early communion, which started at 8am, I was suddenly struck as we gathered around the table for the eucharistic prayer what had been niggling me. Jesus was not there. In this picture behind the san damiano cross you can see a grey cross on the wall. Previously – if we look at this picture (which I took on my last visit in 2019) we can see there is a large (about 5ft) statue of Jesus on the grey cross – which used to dominate the space and was a very acute visual reminder of the lengths Jesus went to to save us.

I was quite flummoxed by the fact that Jesus was missing! But in a way that is one of the things we are remembering in Advent and how important it is to us that Jesus came in the first place, the difference he made and his rescue plan for all people. I found out subsequently from the brothers at afternoon tea (the only time they really converse each day) that Jesus had fallen from his position on the wall a couple of months earlier, and one of his arms had broken in the process, or had given into the strain of anchoring Jesus to the wall. There was a discussion about the fact that at his annual dust on Holy Saturday he had been noticed to be wobbly! They are currently finding 3 quotes for the rather specialist business of mending him.

In our run up to Christmas, the last thing that needs to be missing in our hearts and lives is Jesus. This is a time when we need to reflect on how we are growing, how alert we are to God’s love for us and what God is up to, and how hopefully we are living bathed in the light of Jesus great love for us. St Paul talks about strengthening us and strengthening our testimony to his love in our lives. We need not to be found to be missing either, but living lives where our faith is growing, we are alert and ready for God’s touch and above all hopeful (no matter what may come and go). Jesus love for us as I said earlier (and this is where I will end today) – is in all our yesterdays, all our todays, and all our tomorrows forever. Thanks be to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit he left with us.

Let us pray

God of hope, who brought love in to this world, be that love that dwells between us.

God of hope, who brought peace in to this world, be the peace that dwells between us.

God of hope, who brought joy into the world, be the joy that dwells within us.

God of hope, the rock we stand upon, be the centre, be the focus of our lives always and particularly this Advent time. Amen

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible 1989, 1995 ©

Prayers from an Advent Manifesto by Martyn Percy – BRF 2023 ©