The holy season of Advent is upon us in a few days time. A short Advent because Christmass Day falls on a Tuesday so there is barely time between Advent Four (23rd) and Christmass Eve (24th). At long last, the weather has turned colder and I forget how much I enjoy celebrating mass in a cold church. (Others may find this hard to understand!) Robert Runcie, sometime Archbishop of Canterbury, complained that there was nothing less conducive to prayer than a centrally-heated church with fitted carpet. There was no substitute for a cold stone floor, hard pews, and a threadbare kneeler (hassock). Prayer, he argued, had to include an element of penitence and rigour. (I can think of occasions when, on a feast day, I have sat in church saying Evening Prayer and clutching a gin and tonic. Bob Runcie would not approve, but then he managed to pray with Pope John Paul II (now Saint John Paul the Great) in Canterbury Cathedral, both of them kneeling on deep-pile hassocks.)
What has happened to penitence and asceticism in the life of the church? Dan Brown raised protestant suspicions with his pseudo religious order complete with self-flagellation and the like. Anglicans just don’t go in for that sort of thing – unless it involves dodgy clergy instructing others and then being sent to prison for their pains. Hmmm! What has happened to kneeling? As a teenager I was immediately deeply impressed by the people at S. Luke’s Tranmere kneeling for prayer. (Anglicans did.) Now it is a rare sight. Even younger clergy loll about on on their seats following the verbal instruction in the Prayer Book to meekly kneel upon our knees.
I think it is all to do with donkey stones. A childhood remembrance is of women kneeling to scrub floors and to wash the front step of the house. The donkey stone was to provide a white edge to the stone step. Labour-saving devices means that we rarely get on our knees to do the cleaning, hence the inability to kneel for any length of time. We have also lost the idea of offering up to God our aches and pains. “Offer it up for the holy souls in purgatory.” was the automatic response of RC women in the old days. Now, of course, everyone is bound to become an angel in heaven. (“Wrong!” is the correct response.)
Whilst on the subject of the avoidance of kneeling, I have to confess to the discomfort experienced through climbing the stairs in my little house in Norton Green. Having lived in a vicarage with shallow, wide treads, I didn’t realise how unaccustomed I had become to steep terrace-house stairs. Clambering up and down involved clutching the one bannister and contemplating getting another fitted – failing that, getting a stairlift installed. A month later and I was able to go up and down without even thinking about it. A form of natural physiotherapy.
Forgive the digressions. “And Christ is born.” writes John Betjeman in the midst of the hustle and bustle of his poem “Christmass Shopping”. One of the Breugel’s painted a wonderfully busy scene of Bethlehem at the time of the census. The painting teams with medieval villagers, soldiers, clergy, sellers, innkeepers – and Mary and Joseph and the donkey make their way through the busyness. There must be sixty or more people in the picture – and Mary and Joseph are painted to scale. It is the art of the artist which provides the sight-lines which draw the viewer to the apparently insignificant trio. The aim of the artist is to show that Mary and Joseph made their unobtrusive way into the Bethlehem scene. God’s Son equally made his way unobtrusively into the world. hose who read this column will know that my favourite Advent hymn is “When came in flesh the incarnate Word.” (number 13 in the English Hymnal) The verse continues, “the heedless world slept on, and only simple shepherds heard that God had sent His Son.”
That is the heart of the Gospel. God sends His Son in order to bring us, through the Cross and Resurrection, and Ascension, back to Himself. As with Breugel’s painting, our world is busy with preparations for a Christ-child-free Christmass – and, yet. Christ is there. He comes into the world. We make that moment present as we approach the altar-stable to greet, not a plaster Jesus, but the Lord of Glory under the form of bread and wine.
“O come let us adore Him.”
Every blessing for this wonderful and blessed season. Make way for Jesus.
“Give thanks for a remembrance of his holiness” (Ps. 97:12)
The psalm has been reinterpreted by the early Church and makes reference to the presence of Jesus at the ancient Jewish Feast of Dedication – a festival which was observed each year to mark the anniversary of the cleansing and re-consecration of the Temple in Jerusalem, after Judas Maccabaeus, that great Jewish hero, had recaptured the city from the pagan occupying forces, in the second century before Christ. You can read the story in the First Book of the Maccabees, or listen to a musical celebration of it in Handel’s Oratorio about Judas Maccabaeus.
Our Feast of Dedication recalls that ancient ceremony, marking the purifying and rebuilding of the house of God, the dedication of the Temple; and what we celebrate, in the first place, is the dedication of this temple, this particular church building as a particular place of God’s presence with us in Word and Sacrament. But
there are several levels of meaning to be considered here. According to the Scriptures, the Temple means not only the building, but also the spiritual community which gathers there – “a spiritual house”, St. Peter recalls in his letter, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession”.
We can say there are two temples at work here: The Temple in the sacred building – the Temple as the spiritual community. And there is still a further dimension; the Temple means also the house of God within each one of us, for we ourselves are “living temples” of the Lord, “holy and acceptable to him”. On all these levels of meaning, the Temple is the locus of God’s presence, the place of the meeting of the soul with God, in knowledge and in love, and the building which we celebrate is, as it were, a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of that gracious indwelling presence within us. You look at a Church and there is a constant reminder that within the very ‘ground’ of your being there is that ‘high castle’ as Meister Eckhart calls it or a Cathedral in which the Lord is enthroned. That uncreated spark or essence caused by the passion and resurrection is yours by grace and participation in the holy mysteries.
This building stands here as a sign, a reminder, a call to remembrance, a call to recognition of a sacred reality, a remembrance of the holiness of God. In a very secular culture with its very secularized institutions, the church must be a continual reminder, (sadly this is perhaps all we can. be): the building and all that belongs to it, and all that goes in it, must reaffirm the sacred. Everything that goes on here, day by day – the faithful recitation of common prayer, the solemn commemoration of the work of our redemption, all the words and all the music of our liturgies – must be reminders: a remembrance of the holiness of God. That must be our dedication.
It is significant that this particular church building is part of the communities life: a reminder that our community, like most others, is historically rooted in the church; but also a reminder of something vastly more important than historical circumstance: a reminder that the integrity of our intellectual life ultimately depends upon our dedication to absolute truth which we seek to know and love. Without that dedication, without that unity of focus, there can be no genuine community, but only a plurality of information and techniques with no coherence of final significance. This is not just a building for the convenience of those who want to go to church, but the very heart of the whole community enterprise; and what goes on here, whether it be some great ceremony, or just a handful of people faithfully maintaining the daily offices, is of primary importance to the true meaning of the community. The truth is sacred, and to be sought with prayer.
Our dedication must be to the affirmation of the sacred as the true character of the church’s mission in this community and in a secular culture generally. We must insist upon the sacred in the spirit and the forms, and even in the language and the manners of our worship, in the music and the architecture and all the arts pertaining to worship; we must insist upon the sacred in those standards of belief and those standards of moral life which are founded in the sacred word.
And if we would be practical about our dedication, we must continually build up within ourselves the spirit of penitential adoration, and train ourselves to lift our eyes to look upon our spirits’ home, the new and free Jerusalem, which is above. That will be a renewing of the Temple, the rebuilding of God’s house, among us and within us; and that must be our dedication, and the meaning of our festival today in which we offer our praises to God, and “give thanks” for a remembrance of his holiness”.
And now we go on to complete that great act of remembrance, which sets before our minds and hearts the sign and means of our redemption. “We wait for thy loving kindness, O God, in the midst of thy Temple”.
The centenary of the Armistice was commemorated at Sneyd Church with a mass of requiem. During the month of November, the war memorial was decorated with poppies commemorating those who served in the Armed Forces and died in the two world wars. White poppies signified all who have died in warfare, including civilians, together with prayer for peace. Purple poppies are a reminder of the dogs and horses who died.
Many thanks to those who knitted, stuck, cut out etc. etc. the many poppies which make up the display. The camouflage netting was originally used in army exercises. The statue of S. George was brought from the church in Nile Street in 1956 and was present at the consecration of the church in Hamil Road in 1958. The small plaque below the shrine was originally in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the former parish church.
feast of dedication
When the present Holy Trinity Church was consecrated on November 19th 1958, part of the marble floor of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was inserted in the wall on the right side of the sanctuary. According to the account in the Sentinel, the Bishop of Stafford made the Sign of the Cross on the stone. Soon after the consecration, the cross was incised in the stone, as can be seen in the photograph. The copper plaque below the stone came from the church in Nile Street. This bears the inscription:
“The corner stone of the CHURCH founded for the District of SNEYD and intended to be dedicated to THE HOLY TRINITY was laid on the 8th day of July AD1851 by SMITH CHILD ESQ., one of the representatives of the Northern Division of this County in Parliament..”
Pray for those who founded the church and parish and for those who were instrumental in moving the church to its present location.