Thoughts

CHRISTMAS MIRACLE IN BETHNAL GREEN

Every year an intrepid bunch of local Bethnal Green singers faces a daunting challenge. With only non-professional experience between them, they put themselves under the exacting baton of Dr Christopher Maxim for six weeks of intensive training in the detailed art of cathedral-style choral performance. Their aim? A high-quality Christmas service of lessons and carols at St Matthew’s church in Bethnal Green.

'We call it our annual miracle.' said Rector of St Matthew’s, Fr Kevin Scully. 'We are more than lucky to have Christopher as our regular Director of Music at St Matthew’s and the work he and our singers put in to making this big service a success is simply wonderful.'

Dr Maxim is a local professional musician, choir trainer and composer with numerous published works to his name. He directs a City chamber choir, the Giltspur Singers, and is also Head Teacher of a highly regarded secondary boys’ school.

'Christopher has extremely high standards and never lets us get away with any sort of sloppy singing.” said choir singer Fiona Green, who has joined the choir every year for five years.

'The best fun is when he brings a handful of professionals in on the day to boost us. Last year we had two international opera stars as well as members of the wonderful Giltspurs who always come to help.'

This year the choir is to be joined by an astonishing array of ‘extras’. No fewer than three theatre Music Directors, from the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the West End, are lining up with the basses. The altos will be joined by a Call The Midwife singing nun and a vocalist from Dr Who soundtracks. And the tenors include a member of the emerging Australian new-wave psychedelic band Yon Yonson.

Local opera singer Adey Grummet has been a part of the ‘annual miracle’ since it was suggested by a member of St Matthew’s church congregation seven years ago.

'I simply love the chance to gather everyone together like this to create such beautiful, well-loved music. And I love letting rip in the famous descants to the carols!'

St Matthew’s service of Carols By Candlelight will be on Sunday 18th December at 6pm.

- Adey Grummet

 

SPLASHING WATER ON THE CAB INDUSTRY

Could we pray for a blessing for you?’ This fairly simple question was part of the kit that Kevin and I carried with us along Three Colts Lane on the 1st of September, the feast day for St Fiacre, patron saint of cabs and the cab industry. This question, along with a generous supply of holy water, propelled us from the old cab garages to the new, lined up underneath the railway arches, some buzzing with activity, others yet to receive their early customers, some parked up with cabs whose cabbies were still on holiday. At each place, we mentioned St Fiacre’s celebration, and asked if we could bless the cabs, cabbies, garages and mechanics.

We spoke with people about their experience of ever-changing Bethnal Green: the railway arches that had been gutted to make way for new businesses, the coffee shops, the difference that private cab companies made for business. At some garages, the mechanics were content for us to pray quietly for their business and for each vehicle. At others, some cabbies warily laughed and elbowed each other: ‘I’ll tell you who really needs a blessing, Father…’  At still others, cabbies and mechanics came up and asked us to bless themselves personally and their work.

By the end of an hour and a half of blessing — and stopping in a caff for a strong cuppa — the two of us had lost count of the number of blessings we’d given. We were blessing cabs standing still and dark, blessing them parked up waiting for customers, blessing them as they drove by.

There is a mental phenomenon called ‘semantic satiation’ which happens when a person repeats a word over and over and it goes all funny in their head, losing or changing meaning, becoming temporarily new and strange. As Kevin and I walked around on St Fiacre’s day, we repeated these actions again and again: the sign of the cross, a gentle hand on the forehead, touching a palm to a doorframe or a wing mirror, the splash, splash, splash of holy water from the aspergillium, the invocation of God the Trinity. As we continued these repeated actions, I felt this ‘semantic satiation’ happening: what we were doing, the words and the actions, became new and strange. We were doing the blessing, but what did that mean? What did this word and this action of ’blessing’ convey? I had to trust in God’s spirit to bless when I invoked the words, trust in God’s spirit to already be present in the water and trust in those who were being blessed to receive that spirit of blessing. Although we were blessing, it became necessary for us to get out of the way and let God work. 

Which, when I think about it, is a good summary of life as a Christian: be willing to get up and go, but on the way and at various stops and destinations, trust God to bless, comfort and sustain you and those you meet. 

- The Revd Erin Clark

 

RULE OF THREE
a sermon prached by the Revd Sr Judith Blackburn SSM
on the Feast of the Glorious and Undivided Trinity 2016.

The rule of three is a very general rule in speaking, in writing, and in music, that states that concepts or ideas presented in threes are inherently more interesting, more enjoyable, and more memorable. One could almost say that all good things come in threes: the Three Wise Men; the three little pigs; the Three Musketeers; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Yes today is the day when we celebrate not just any ‘Three’, but the Holy Trinity . . . the triune God; God who is three but also one.

When one thinks of characters from literature who come in threes, such as the three piggies or the Musketeers, one of the elements of the story is that each person of their particular trinity has their own individual strength that contributes to the whole: so with the piggies only one of them had the nous to build their house with something that could stand up to the huff and the puff of the big bad wolf whereas the other two were certainly creative when it came to their choice of building materials. Yet in the Holy Trinity we are not presented with a God who waters himself down to take on its three personas because each one is wholly God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit is of the same character, essence and divinity as each other.

In the gospel reading Jesus tries to explain how the three persons of the Trinity are not just linked but are of the same body and substance, and actually it makes a little more sense if we read what Jesus says back to front, so to speak. Jesus says, “All that the Father has is mine” . . . God and Jesus hold all things in unity and equality, so God the Father does not have greater power or substance than Jesus. Then, when speaking of the Holy Spirit Jesus says, “He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you;” so Jesus is saying to his disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes it will be bringing with it all that Jesus is, and all that the Father is . . . they hold all in unity. The three persons of the Trinity is a testament to how God is working to make himself / herself/ Godself known to us . . . closer to us, and that challenges us to actually make the effort to get closer to God; to deepen our relationship and not just succumb to the images of God that we were taught as children.

The London Diocesan campaign ‘Capital Vision 2020’ has a strapline that is also a trinity – ‘Confident, Compassionate, Creative’. These are three watchwords that are seen as guides towards evangelism . . . telling people about God. Unless we have a deeper relationship, have a more intimate knowledge of God, then we will lack the confidence to proclaim the Good News; but first we need confidence to believe that we are entitled to that intimacy with God. The heart of the Holy Trinity is God’s desire for closeness with his children by sharing all that we are and by offering to us all that God is and all that is asked of us is that we have faith . . . faith in God, and faith in ourselves, that God can and does love us and we are worth loving.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he says that faith is the only justification that we need to be at peace with God, and that it is through Jesus – God sharing what it is to be human – that we have had this door to the heart of God opened up for us. So God desires closeness and in taking human form is able to transmit that desire; but it does not end there. God’s love for us never grows cold. Over the centuries since Jesus shared our life the flame of God’s love has been kept alive . . . and more than alive, active, creative and transforming . . . through the Holy Spirit: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” ‘Given to us’, not earned by us, not begged by us but given to us freely, constantly and unconditionally.

The Holy Trinity therefore, is wholly God in each of its three persons, God who constantly reaches out to us in love and demands nothing yet desires that we respond with an equally urgent love, and not just offering that love back to God but offering it to one another. It is that response that will bring about the kingdom of God when we love ourselves and one another as God loves us.

The whole concept of the Holy Trinity can seem a little difficult to understand . . . how can something be three but one and the same? There have been sermon illustrations such as the three leaf clover (which really doesn’t work for me . . .it’s always just one leaf); and one that I quite like is the illustration of water which can be so cold that it becomes ice, or so hot that it becomes steam, but is always H20. However, all these illustrations still do not convey the real gift of the Holy Trinity and that is its invitation to relationship; the sense that if we open ourselves up to its power we can be partners in its power to transform the world. That is where we return to the other trinity I mentioned – Confident, Compassionate and Creative.

Are we confident in speaking with others about what God is doing in our lives and the life of the world? Are we confident to acknowledge that God believes that we are worth the time and effort that God invests in us – that we are loveable? God loves you! This is not some old cliché along with Jesus desire for us to be a sunbeam, but God thinks you are wonderful; so what are we going to do with that knowledge, how are we going to respond? Compassionate . . . a gift that God has shown us in spades through Jesus life; through the gifts of life and the gifts to sustain life that our Creator / Father God has given us; through the ongoing encouragement and strength that the Holy Spirit brings down upon us; are we as compassionate? Can we see beyond our own fears and prejudices to reach out a hand to others in need? And Creative . . . God has made us co-creators in this world to work to make it a better place not just for us but for those brothers and sisters in Christ that are yet to come; what are we leaving them? Are we being good stewards of God’s creation and are we being creative in our responses to life trials and challenges?

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity is a blessing, a gift and a challenge. A blessing because of the unconditional love that God has for each one of us; a gift because that love has saved us and offers us life eternal with the source of all love; and a challenge, because what are we going to do about it? Keep it in a little box in our homes and bring it out on Sundays when we come to church? Or proclaim it from the rooftops; work constantly to let others know that God’s love is for them too; and work to grow closer to God in prayer, in study and in action so that we can understand God’s desire for us more and more. The Holy Trinity is not a two dimensional character found on the pages of a good story, but is a living force whose chief desire is to be part of our lives – all that is asked of us is that we let God in. Amen.

 


TAKE UP THE CROSS

When a crucifix was stolen from and returned to St Matthew’s by the same man within 24 hours in the first week of Lent, I gave an account of it which tried to reflect the multi-layered nature of life and culture in this part of London.

It was not perhaps as attractive as some of the other journalistic takes on the incident which highlighted both personalities and aspects of the story which, in my account, could be considered questionable. But no-one version amounts to the truth, despite what fundamentalists tell you.

In my blog I threw out a challenge to my brother to calculate the mathematics of tweets, retweets and megatweets. Paul is also a poet and, to my surprise and delight, he did not come back with arithmetic but a verse.

It is published below with his permission.

- Kevin Scully

 

The Faithful Road

Brick Lane a jawline in a face daubed with noon-sweat

and clamour though barrowless this time of the week

a young man with a hillock-shaped head humping

a crucifix along the street   a woman in a shop doorway

kneads her hands with a towel   a cloth-capped onlooker

darkened by a stranger’s reluctance nevertheless offers

help if the destination is close at hand    another observer

clicks his phone camera

 

                                  The crosswise thief

is swamped by a twitterwave   and its wake of Lenten

remorse and guilt   hails a cab and directs the driver

to Saint Matthew’s the parish church where   in its garden

of crushed leaves   unheard despair had prompted his act

A guardian of the chapel’s morning wrapped in prayer

opens her shawl to welcome the return of the sacred object    

 

On the pages of a less well read book a trinity of crimes and
                                                          crosses

a skull-shaped hill outside the town walls: two thieves of goods

the third of goodness and order   so his Sanhedrin accusers said

A face turned in faith or a wager in default of other options   a
                                                          promise

of paradise    Sometimes a story relived is a story believed  

 

- © Paul Scully

 

 

Click here to read more thoughts

 

How to Find Us:

Contact Us:

Our address:
St Matthew's Row,
Bethnal Green London E2 6DT

Email us: enquiries@st-matthews.co.uk

Our Services

Sunday:
Our main Sunday service is the
Parish Eucharist at 10.30am

Mass, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are offered most days.
See Parish Notices for more information