Monday, 26 December 2016

These are just some of my favourite things:

Five for each:

Favourite foods

Lamb
Turbot
Asparagus
Pasta
Fresh bread

Favourite people from history

Thomas Cranmer
Elizabeth I
Benjamin Hoadly
William Cobbett
Queen Mary


Favourite places I've been

New York
Galilee
Rome
Foz do Iguacu
North Sea coast at Norfolk and Suffolk

Favourite animals

Blue and gold macaw
Orang-utan
Indian rhinoceros
Wren
My cats

Favourite plants

Aspidistra
Sycamore tree
Orchids
Forget-me-nots
Fig tree

Favourite novels

I, Claudius
Persuasion
Brideshead Revisited
Animal Farm
His Monkey Wife

Favourite writers

Jane Austen
P G Wodehouse
Gore Vidal
Alice Thomas Ellis
Giovanni Guareschi

Favourite things in my home

40th birthday teapot
Icon of the Trinity
Icon of the Mother of God
Galileo thermometer
Persian rug

Favourite pieces of music

Paul Bunyan
Magnificat
Flanders & Swann
Cole Porter
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Favourite films

The Godfather
Remains of the Day
Parting Glances
Beautiful Thing
The Wedding Banquet

Favourite characters from fiction

Jeeves
Don Camillo
President Bartlett
David Fisher
Francis Urquart

Favourite saints

The Mother of God
Seraphim of Sarov
Julian of Norwich
John the Baptist
Peter

Favourite garments

Canterbury cap
Ordination stole
Christ Church duster tie
Summer dressing gown
Brooklyn baseball cap

Favourite things made of metal

Wedding ring
Engagement ring
Copper weathercock
Pyx
Indian brass pot

Favourite things made of wood

Crab apple walking stick
Ash walking stick
Side table with wonky legs
New Zealand oak holding cross
Roll-top desk

Favourite pictures

The Twelve tribes
The Baptism of Christ
The Upper Library
Lady with Parrot
Achilles at Duke of Wellington Place


Favourite machines

Coffee-maker
Computer
Clocks
Camera
Slow cooker



Friday, 25 November 2016

An amusing little quiz (answers):

An amusing little quiz, passed on by Erika:
1. Are you named after someone?
No, very much by design - too much naming-after in my parents' families. And no one else has my names and no others.
2. When is the last time you cried?
Friend just diagnosed with a tricksy cancer. Crying not permitted.
3. Do you like your handwriting?
Yes, on a good day, although with the broken wrist it's quite funny. My teachers hated it, and talked of nothing else in every school report from 8-13.
4. What is your favorite lunch meat?
Smoked salmon.
5. Do you have kids?
A stepson I've never met. And two cats.
6. Last book you read?
"Plum Pie" by P. G. Wodehouse
7. Do you use sarcasm?
Wouldn't know how.
8. Do you still have your tonsils?
As far as I know. What do they do?
9. Would you bungee jump?
Why would anyone?
10. What is your favorite kind of cereal?
Not big on cereals, but muesli with apricots has its moments.
11. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?
Normally, yes, but can't do laces with a broken wrist.
12. Do you think you're strong?
No.
13. What is your favorite ice cream?
A really good vanilla.
14. What is the first thing you notice about people?
Whether they come in peace.
15. Red or Pink?
Red, but not much.
16. What is the least favorite thing you like about yourself?
Self-doubt. That was probably the wrong answer.
17. What color pants are you wearing?
No idea.
18. What was the last thing you ate?
Pitta bread filled with taramasalata and cucumber.
19. What are you listening to right now?
Radio 4 - "The Archers"
20. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?
Scribbly blue.
21. Favorite smell?
Rain.
22. Who was the last person you spoke to on the phone?
My poorly friend's partner.
23. Favorite sport to watch?
Never done it.
24. Hair color?
Mainly grey.
25. Eye color?
Irish grey-blue.
26. Best place you've ever been?
Either the falls at Foz do Iguacu, Brasil or the Sea of Galilee, Palestine. Both wet.
27. Favorite food to eat?
Asparagus.
28. Scary movies or happy endings?
Happy endings.
29. Last movie you watched?
"The Wedding Banquet".
30. What color shirt are you wearing right now?
Bright orange (sober blue saved for tomorrow's visit to mother).

An amusing ittle quiz: (questions only)

1. Are you named after someone?

2. When is the last time you cried?

3. Do you like your handwriting?

4. What is your favorite lunch meat?

5. Do you have kids?

6. Last book you read?

7. Do you use sarcasm?

8. Do you still have your tonsils?

9. Would you bungee jump?

10. What is your favorite kind of cereal?

11. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?

12. Do you think you're strong?

13. What is your favorite ice cream?

14. What is the first thing you notice about people?

15. Red or Pink?

16. What is the least favorite thing you like about yourself?

17. What color pants are you wearing?

18. What was the last thing you ate?

19. What are you listening to right now?

20. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

21. Favorite smell?

22. Who was the last person you spoke to on the phone?

23. Favorite sport to watch?

24. Hair color?

25. Eye color?

26. Best place you've ever been?

27. Favorite food to eat?

28. Scary movies or happy endings?

29. Last movie you watched?

30. What color shirt are you wearing right now?

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Unity: Respecting the Image & Likeness

From a homily for the Sisters of the Love of God, Fairacres, Oxford
Thursday, 15th September, 2016, 9 am

Readings: I Corinthians 12:12-26 & John 10:11-16

Unity: Respecting the Image & Likeness

+ May I speak in the Name of the Divine Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen.

Despite long years of listening, reading, trying to make sense, it's only this morning that I've finally realised that Saint Paul, who generally comes over as a dry old stick, actually had a sense of humour. His imagery of a body at war with itself, of ears thinking they could do without eyes, of one part deciding it could take over the whole show, is pure comedy. It's reminiscent of Jesus's image of a man with a plank in his eye, which Eric Sykes turned into a comic silent film. I don't think it's normally considered Biblical commentary, but that's what it is.

This morning I was caught on the hop. I ought to have thought you might be keeping the feast of Unity. At vicar school in Lincoln we did this every Thursday. Very few people there would have called it a "mass of special intention", but that's what it was. So, what I had prepared to say was on readings that weren't read, and by great good fortune, I was rescued - as you may think - by a sheep from "another fold".

At 5.42 or so this morning, on Radio 4's Prayer for the Day, an imam was telling us about Sharia Law. He said at its heart is the idea of contract, and contracts are not to be broken. This means a Muslim person living in a country where Sharia is not the law of the land has a contract with that country to be a loyal citizen, and it means he cannot break that contract, even for the benefit of his fellow Muslims overseas. For a Muslim in Britain to scheme against this country, or to go abroad and plot to bring harm to us there, is to break the contract, to break Sharia.

Well, I certainly didn't know that, and I rather think a great many Muslims don't. I've heard several over the years lament at how poorly their own faith is taught. And it's not possible to hear that without thinking how poorly the Christian faith is taught, even in the ease and comfort of Christian countries. When we don't understand our own faith deeply, with its complexities, the gulf between us grows, even, eventually, to the point of extremist violence. We have seen it in our own country in Northern Ireland, where neither side in The Troubles could claim the name of "Christian".

The heart of this understanding of our living together is respect. Sharia requires Muslims to respect the law of the land in which they find themselves.

Respect is a tricky business. We can say "well, I respect your right to say ...", but do we? And does it serve any purpose to paper over the cracks of our disagreements and pretend they don't exist? That is to deny dialogue, without which there can be no communion, and even dis-communion is better than that. Can we truly respect someone's views when it is simply not possible for their views and ours to be true, or right, at the same time?

Our prayers speak often about "in the unity of the Holy Spirit". That refers most usually to the economy of the Divine Trinity, the three persons and one God who are the heart of our faith, but it also refers to the way in which, through the Holy Spirit, we become part of that Divine economy, and part of one another. It is the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who shakes the image and likeness of God alive in us. And that image and likeness is in all created humanity, whatever bits and pieces of the Body they might happen to be.

There's a little book, accredited to Saint John of Kronstadt (although he didn't write it) called "Counsels on the Christian Priesthood". Doubtless you all have it on your shelves - heaven alone knows where I found my copy! But it's very good. It's partly good because it's little, which commends any book to me. In the chapter on confession he advises the priest that they cannot honestly and rightly take confession unless they see in the penitent a creature with all the dignity of one made in the image and likeness of God.

It is in that dignity that our respect, when all else fails, when our fury, anger, despair, hatred, fear, and loathing, of our fellow human beings, has the better of us, when we cannot respect a thing they say or do or value, must take refuge. The image and likeness of God cannot be unmade. And we cannot but respect it.

If only we dare to search it out and know it, to find the image and likeness in the other, we stand a chance of making the unity of which Jesus speaks. We might even begin to build a kingdom.

Amen.


Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
September 2016

Thursday, 8 September 2016

O Taste And See! - my book. Link herewith, for those who are e-book compatible.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taste-See-Containing-Eccentric-Unhelpful-ebook/dp/B01KSB3WC8/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473372283&sr=1-2&keywords=richard+haggis

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Sister Helen Columba - Portrait of a Friendship

How did we meet? Well, I met this lady on a train coming down on the train from my first ex's family in Edinburgh. We got talking. I don't normally talk to people on trains. She said "you must know Fairacres!", and I said I didn't. She said it was about time.

It was the autumn of 1988 and I was writing a letter to the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (the guy who has to filter out the complete loonies before they ask for the bishop's permission to become priests), and I thought, well, why not? So I wrote a loony letter saying I'd met a lady on a train, and I was very happy to meet them, whoever they turned out to be.

And they turned out to be Sister Helen Columba.

Back then, she must have been about 60, a nun for perhaps fifteen years, a Glaswegian Scot, of short stature, and with shiny, bright intelligent eyes, and eyebrows above that rose and fell with the occasion. We only ever met, as one might say "at her place", and she was always in uniform (brown habit and scapula, black veil, and in those early days, white wimple), except at the very end when I visited her in the infirmary and she was bludgeoned out of bed in her nightgown.

My situation back then was that being with my first partner, and harsh things having been said about gay people at the 1987 General Synod, I was not immensely hopeful. At Fairacres, I was welcomed wholeheartedly.

We never used the words "spiritual director", but that's what she became. Some people find it an odd idea, rather archaic, and redolent of the controlling sado-masochism of a certain kind of Christianity which thinks of "priestly formation" in terms of breaking the person you were before, and telling you what to do next. But she never told me what to do, on the contrary her wisdom and her ideas and her receptiveness to the new, made my world so much bigger, and safer, and more exciting. It was a relationship in which it really was "all about me", so I gleaned relatively little about Helen Columba herself - she wouldn't have thought herself a very interesting subject - but over 27 years, you do hear, and remember a thing or two.

She'd never had the chance to go to university - her mother was poorly, and she had to look after her younger siblings, and I doubt her family was the sort that sent children to university anyway, even in erudite Scotland. Nonetheless, she was an avid reader, and a self-taught theologian, and that is perhaps where we clicked, because we were both eccentric and eclectic in our interests. She, of course, knew much more than me, and two wonderful worlds of knowledge she introduced me to were the works of Carl Jung, and the Russian theologians. "Answer to Job" (C G Jung) and "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church" (Vladimir Lossky) I read at her advice, and they were life-changing books. Both focus on how we are, more than how we got to be that way, and tell their stories as they happened, not as the church would prefer them to have happened. That was a key things for us - truth-telling. Because I told the truth about being gay, my admission to the selection process for the C of E ministry was delayed for five years. But also because I told the truth, when the selectors eventually turned me down, the bishop discarded their advice, and sent me to start training. I have been a priest now for twenty years, and without Helen Columba's prayers, I strongly doubt it would have happened at all. Her dedication was "of the Holy Spirit".

The monastic life fascinated me - and she did wonder whether it might be my own calling in the end "a lot of gay priests end up called by the cloister" - and coming on retreat was an amazing new experience. We guests sat in the visitors' chapel while the sisters - round the corner, we couldn't really see them - sung the psalms to us, and back in those days really quite poorly sisters with dementia would be in the chapel too, muttering, and humming away, during the services. Then we ate our meals in silence together in the refectory, out of wooden bowls, with a spoon. And if you didn't finish your first course, your pudding would arrive on top of the leftovers! Lunch was called "Dinner" and after Vespers we went for "High Tea", which was a cafeteria-style help-yourself system in the kitchen, but also eaten in silence, except for the occasional mewing of the convent cat, which made everyone laugh. Helen Columba told me that the sisters were not permitted to hurry, because the rule required them to manage their time, nor to discuss their health because "imagine! a community of women at all times of life - we'd never stop!".

We talked sometimes of marriage and family life, which she said she'd always expected and hoped for for herself, "but now, I have more sons and daughters then I could ever have had as a married woman in Glasgow". I had become one of them. She might have seen my rather chequered lovelife over the years as a sign of a calling eventually to be a monk, and it's a shame that her last, frailer, years, coincided with my time of happiness, and getting it right with Ricardo. He was the only partner, now husband, of mine she met, briefly, at a Fairacres garden party open day one summer.

She followed my career with interest, and, as it had more downs than ups, with concern. One time I was struggling with colleagues, one of whom feuded with me about praying for the dead, and the other, about the role of Mary. "If they argue with you about those things, no good will come out of that place", she said. For me, none did, so I moved on.

She was possessed of an intense spiritual sensitivity, something which I recognised, without sharing, and it caused her to contact me one time about an interesting pastoral matter. Ostensibly, she was after my genealogical understanding, because there was a couple she knew for whom there was a background of abuse and unkindness, and the perpetrators were dead, so unable to repent, or be forgiven, in person. So she asked if I would celebrate Holy Communion with a special intention for Reconciliation, in the family's new home. I did as I was bidden, amongst the boxes and jumble of a recent move. We had candles but not, I think, incense. Maybe holy water. I never concentrated more in my life, on the words, the prayers, the people, the names. When it was done, Helen Columba said she had seen figures walking out of darkness into light. This was about the time that she was going through a mystical period of her own - "seeing the reality of things, seeing the Holy Spirit". A sceptical reverend mother said "we've got a leak in the laundry room, see if you can see that". And she did. I have no deep spiritual aspect to my soul, thank God, but I have no reason to question what she saw at those times. She was a great enthusiast for the Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov, who from time to time showed in himself the signs of transfiguration. I think it gave her a great sensitivity to the light of Christ in this world.

My life in ministry was as much a struggle as my journey to get ordained, and we sometimes spoke in - I think - the Prioress's office, where on the wall was a carved wooden Christ crucified. No cross, just the body. It was a most impelling image, and we fell to talking about it. She spoke of the cross as the point of meeting, and of tension, between God and man (she had no time for inclusive language), between heaven and earth, life and death, hope and despair. That carved figure now presides over the refectory, much more fittingly, under the word "sitio" ("I thirst", in Latin, one of the last words from the cross). Sometimes its eyes seem to look up at you, with arms outstretched, and ask "will you hug me?"

She loved music, and was an accomplished singer, and tried her best to teach me to sing when I was ordained. I couldn't do it then, but a little later, under other pressure, I did learn, my teacher building on the foundations she'd laid. Mind you, the chosen song for my first lesson with her was "You've got to Accentuate the Positive!" She did not confine herself to plainchant and Latin introits. She had worked for Scottish Opera years before, and when she worked at Iona, sometimes she would go out and sit on a rock and sing to the seals. In a hazy time, towards the end of her life, she mentioned this and her carers thought she'd lost the plot. But no, it was a fond memory coming back, of a place she'd loved deeply.

We shared an interest in, and awareness of, the created world. I'm a bird nerd, and would often arrive to see her with reports of the wildlife I'd seen on the way. One time it was goldfinches - "a symbol of the Holy Trinity". I'd seen three of them - "a trinity of trinities!". And the wren. This one she had to look up, but it turns out the wren is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, maybe because you hardly notice it's there, and then its voice is louder than any other. My contribution one time was a homily at the morning mass about the kingfisher as an icon of Mary, adorned with the glorious blue of heaven, over the russet of the earth.

She fell ill at some point in her late sixties, and told me with relish that her doctor had only given her five or six years to live. I obviously looked aghast, and she said "but it's the whole point of this life, getting rid of this old crock" (the body) "and starting again". At first she resisted the relatively simple heart operation that would ameliorate the problem, thinking, and hoping, that she'd have a nice tidy heart attack and die in the night. But she didn't - people seldom do in such circumstances - so she accepted the operation, recovered from it, more or less, and that gave her another decade or so which the rest of us perhaps enjoyed rather more than she did.

As she was ebbing away on the Friday night before she died, we said the Jesus Prayer together. A staple of the Orthodox tradition, I'd never have known it without her. Maybe her hand responded to mine as I said the words, I don't know. But I do know that that prayer, and breathing as you pray, and praying as you walk, are gifts I owe to her. The first time I tried breathing the Jesus Prayer in and out, within a month my asthma was conspicuously better. Since walking and praying, my black dog depression is at bay.

What do I have to show for these 27 years? An exquisite little book about the Jesus Prayer by Mother Maria, an icon of the Trinity, by Rublev, and another icon of the life of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, her tchotki (prayer rope, like a rosary, given by Sister Eve), a piece of Iona marble ("carry it, and you won't ever drown" - and I do, all the time) her morning oblation, written in her own hand, and given to me by the Warden, many letters and cards over the years, but, most of all, the sheer fun and joy of having known her, memories which will never fade, and words she said to me one dismal time "nothing is lost". And nor is she, nor I, nor our friendship, which, as she has exchanged time for eternity, is marked forever on eternity's map.


Sister Helen Columba - Saint Andrew's Day 1927 to Saint Bernard's Day 2016

Rest eternal grant unto her, O Lord
And may light perpetual shine upon her
May she rest in peace
And rise in glory
Amen

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
September 2016

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Little Quiz of Englishness ...

A bit of fun for HL, in his temporary exile in Brasil:

1. Where, or what, is Ulster?

2, Who was the last British monarch to claim to be monarch of France?

3. Who were the first, and last, Empresses, of India?

4. The British Cabinet has three "chancellors". What are their full titles?

5. What is a quart?

6. What is a pre-lactarian?

7. Who founded the Church of England?

8. What are the Queen's other names?

9. Who is the Heir Presumptive?

10. What is the wife of an earl called?

11. Name three London Underground lines.

12. Name three "national treasures".

13. Where are the Crown Jewels kept?

14. When is tea served?

15. "Sofa" or "settee"?

16. What is a "closed season"?

17. What is haggis made from?

18. What is "the West Country"?

19. What is "the Black Country"?

20. What is Blackpool famous for?

21. What's the nickname for people from Liverpool?

22. England has two ancient universities (Scotland has four) - which is the older?

23. How old do you need to be before you can apply for a car driving licence?

24. When was the NHS founded?

25. Who is the third most senior bishop in England? (two answers will do, double points for explaining why)

26. Which of these are part of the United Kingdom - The Channel Islands, Wales, the Isle of Man, the Falklands, Gibraltar, The Isle of Wight, Lancashire, the Isle of Man?

27. Who, in literature, and song, made the aspidistra famous in the 20th century?

28. By treaty, which country is England's oldest ally?

29. What are "the Home Counties"?

30. In which fictional village is "The Archers" set? (extra points for fictional county)

31. What is "toad-in-the-hole"?

32. Where do the Crown Jewels live? And what unusual birds guard them?





Sunday, 21 August 2016

Some thoughts on eternity, in answer to a kindly Sister

Your thoughts raise echoes in the sounding chamber of my own empty head! I use the phrase - nicked from a memorial tablet in Ely Cathedral (just on the right, as you go into the Lady Chapel) - "exchanged time for eternity". And in some of our conversation, especially to do with Jung, and collective consciousness, and praying for the dead, I think Helen Columba and I explored that a little together.

Every moment is eternal. All that will be always has been. We glimpse - as you say - the eternal fleetingly now, because more than that would overwhelm us. It's like a kind of map - the geography lies under, but from the surface, we can't always see it. And the space is as eternal as the moment. We locate ourselves in the eternal geography of time.

I've never found the words to say these things well, and they have eluded me yet again, but maybe there's some glimmer in there.

I do wish people didn't have to die, but sometimes you look at them and you know it is right. Another thing Helen Columba said to me - often, when I was whinging about some wasted disastrous part of my life! - "nothing is lost". And this is why.

Maybe God is like a kind of roadsweeper, tidying up the dust and ashes of our broken lives, but instead of consigning them to landfill, taking them home and weaving them back into the glorious tapestry of life for which we were always meant?

Or, I might be bonkers!


Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
August 2016

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Transfiguration - a snapshot of light from 6 years ago

Some thoughts on the Feast of the Transfiguration
9th August 2010

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-8

“This is my beloved son, in whom I take delight”

In the Orthodox churches, the Transfiguration is one of the great feasts of the year. Bafflingly, our Anglican reformers left this utterly Biblical occasion out of the Book of Common Prayer, until it was put right in the rejected Prayerbook of 1928.

On Friday morning I went down to Fairacres to celebrate the feast with the Sisters of the Love of God. I was sitting in the visitors’ chapel, and a priest I have known for many years was the celebrant. It was bright, and sunny, and all was well with the world … until my mobile ‘phone rang. After years of telling people at weddings and funerals to turn their ‘phones off - lest it seems in the first case as if someone has thought of a “just cause or impediment”, and in the second as if the dear departed has thought of a loophole and wants to appeal – I was finally hoist by my own petard. But worse, much worse, was the ringtone that His Lordship has put on the telephone, and which I can’t shift. It says “pick up, bitch, pick up, bitch”. Fairacres chapel has the most amazing acoustic, and I was most amazingly embarrassed. I ran for the door at a most unusual speed, and wouldn’t have returned if I hadn’t left my hat behind. A very naughty friend said that the suave thing to do would have been to hand the ‘phone to the nearest Sister and say “I think it’s for you”.

But I’m very glad I did return. Something happened at The Peace, which transfigured my experience, and, I’m sure, that of many others there. They say of the saints, and of the dying, and even the dead, that sometimes they are transfigured. The great Russian mystic, Saint Seraphim, is perhaps the most famous. They say he often glowed with the mystic light of God, in the same way that Jesus did in our story in the Gospels. More prosaically, when my godfather died, and it was a hard dying, nobly borne, his wife said “he looked so peaceful, you couldn’t wish him back”. She was lost without him, and that was a sacrificial thing to say. Without knowing it, she’d hit on what transfiguration is all about – peace.

Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid. Fear corrupts us, but love casts it out. And when love is allowed in, peace prevails. Love, of course, is hard work. When we look to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, or the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland, peace has been made by hard work, by self-sacrifice, by forcing ourselves to see the face of God in our former enemy, by committing ourselves to the welfare of our brothers and sisters now, rather than harking on about the injustices of the past.

We find it in our own lives, too. In domesticity, with partners, or children, we can choose to fight a battle, or choose to let things go. We can let peace in. My mother always says that with children it is far better to distract than to confront. They’re behaving badly – of course they are, that’s what children are for – but face them head-on and they will transfer their anger to you, and peace becomes impossible. Of course, some instances need to be addressed directly, but most don’t, and the awful task of the parent is to tell the difference. The wonder is not that so many get it wrong, but that so many get it right. And the parent is the midwife of the child’s transfiguration to adulthood.

And every so often we do get it right. We sit on the sofa with a lovingly-made meal (or even at the table if we have space for such luxuries), and “dinner’s at seven, and God’s in his heaven, and everything’s right with the world”, as Joyce Grenfell joyfully sung.

And that is peace. And it transfigures us.

There is a better prayer than this, but what I can remember is “God, give us your peace, in the world, in our nation, in our homes and families, and in our hearts, now, and always. Amen.”

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A Homily for the Curé d'Ars, patron saint of parish priests

A Homily for the Sisters of the Love of God at Fairacres, Oxford
4th August 2010, 9 a.m.

Feast Day of Saint John Vianney, the Cure d’Ars

Imagine my delight after pondering how to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the birth of the late-lamented Queen Mother, as well as the 96th anniversary of the even-more-lamented outbreak of the Great War, to discover, on consulting my e-mails at 5.30 this morning that you were keeping the feast of the Cure d’Ars, patron saint of parish priests.

I’d heard of him, read quotations either by or about him, but never really paid any attention. I was a know-nothing. So, of course, to the Incomparable Betsy, the editor of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christ Church, quite the best reference work in the world. And so, I had a thought.

Maybe you too have had the experience, at a time of spiritual fervour, of wishing you could become a saint? To convert multitudes by the brilliance of your preaching, the humility of your life, the wisdom of your spiritual advice, the gentleness with which you deal with the poor, the sick, and the dying? Fortunately, it wears off, and you spend the rest of your life wondering where it has gone. Reading Saint John Vianney’s story makes me realise why. He was said to have seen up to 20,000 people a year. That’s 55 a day. I get exhausted when someone comes to the front door with a questionnaire. He spent 16-18 hours a day listening to people in the confessional – and he must have been good, because the multitudes kept coming. I spent five hours taking dictation from horse dressage show judges on Sunday, and by the end was fit for the knacker’s yard myself. Maybe I don’t really want to be a saint after all – it’s too much like hard work.

Saint John was of course a Roman Catholic. You know he can’t have been an Anglican because if he was, he’d probably have been married, and an irate wife would have dragged him out of the confessional to go shopping. And I wonder if communities, friends, partners, families, children, are all given to us by God to save us from becoming saints? Of course, in all those relationships we can, and do, exercise our sainthood in different, more low-key ways.

And do parish clergy need a patron saint? Do they know “trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity”? All of us here know that they do. I think it might be the loneliest job in the world. You can’t talk to the laity for fear of gossip, you can’t talk to the archdeacon and the bishop for fear of kyboshing your next job. You have to love everyone, but also challenge and innovate, and everyone hates change apart from THEIR change. You must be “all things to all people”, and be seen as a hypocrite. So, the parish clergy need the prayers of Saint John Vianney, and if he could deal with 20,000 a year in this world, imagine what he is achieving in the next! But they also need our prayers, our ears, our help, our love.

Let us close with a prayer:

Gracious God, guard and guide the guardians of your flock; give them humble and noble hearts, fortitude, compassion, inspiration, and love; and inspire all of us to be good friends to them in times of joy and times of trouble, so that in the fullness of time, we may all be celebrated as saints in your eternal kingdom. Amen.

Richard Haggis
Littlemore, Oxford
August 2010

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Lisa's Quiz - blank

1. Do you like blue cheese?
2. Have you ever smoked?
3. Do you own a gun?
4. What is your favorite flavour?
5. Do you get nervous before Doctor visits?
6. What do you think of hot dogs?
7. Favorite Movie(s)?
8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning?
9. Do you do push ups? .
10. What’s your favorite piece of jewelry?
11. Favorite hobby?
12. Do you have A.D.D.?
13. What’s the one thing you dislike about yourself?
14. What is your middle name?
15. Name three thoughts at this moment.
16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink?
17. Current worry?
18. Current annoyance ?
19. Favorite place to be?
20. How do you spend New years eve?
21. Where would you like to go?
22. Name three people who would complete this?
23. Do you own slippers?
24. What color shirt are you wearing right now?
25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets?
26. Can you whistle?
27. What are your favorite colors?
28. Would you be a pirate?
29. What songs do you sing in the shower?
30. Favorite girls name?
31. Favorite boys name?
32. What’s in your pocket right now?
33. Last thing that made you laugh?
34. Best toy as a child?
35. Worst injury you ever had?
36. Where would you love to live?
37. How many TV’s do you have?
38. Who is your loudest friend?
39. How many dogs do you have?
40. Does someone trust you?
41. What book are you reading at the moment?
42. What’s your favourite candy?
43. What’s your favourite sports team?
44. Favorite month?

Lisa's Quiz - answers

1. Do you like blue cheese?
Yes
2. Have you ever smoked?
Tried, made me wheeze
3. Do you own a gun?
No
4. What is your favorite flavour?
Asparagus
5. Do you get nervous before Doctor visits?
Only if I haven't worked out what's wrong
6. What do you think of hot dogs?
OK if I make them
7. Favorite Movie(s)?
The Godfather, Parting Glances, Remains of the Day
8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning?
Tea, but I usually have coffee
9. Do you do push ups?
Whatever for?
10. What’s your favorite piece of jewelry?
My wedding ring
11. Favorite hobby?
Digging up the dead (genealogy)
12. Do you have A.D.D.?
Did you hear that noise outside?
13. What’s the one thing you dislike about yourself?
I fret most about the least important things
14. What is your middle name?
I was deliberately not given one by a father who hated his
15. Name three thoughts at this moment.
How am I going to sort out this invoice for the naughty people who used the room at work far later than they said? Where am I going to put my enormous cock? Will the ratatouille keep?
16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink?
Wine, coffee, water
17. Current worry?
Getting my husband home, for good
18. Current annoyance ?
Idiots (Home Office, Council Tax Office, you name it)
19. Favorite place to be?
Home
20. How do you spend New years eve?
On my own
21. Where would you like to go?
Back to Jerusalem
22. Name three people who would complete this?
Liz, Robert, Sharon
23. Do you own slippers?
Good reminder!
24. What color shirt are you wearing right now?
Purple
25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets?
Never tried it
26. Can you whistle?
Not for money
27. What are your favorite colors?
Blue
28. Would you be a pirate?
For the travel by water
29. What songs do you sing in the shower?
I don't, I shout at the radio
30. Favorite girls name?
Marie, Elizabeth, Rosa
31. Favorite boys name?
Matthew, Paul, Joscelino
32. What’s in your pocket right now?
Wallet, purse, camera, mobile, handkerchief, work keys
33. Last thing that made you laugh?
My boss being wound up about my using incense at mid-day prayers while she was away (which I didn't!)
34. Best toy as a child?
Lego
35. Worst injury you ever had?
Countless ankle sprains
36. Where would you love to live?
In a house of my own
37. How many TV’s do you have?
Two
38. Who is your loudest friend?
Cat Minor
39. How many dogs do you have?
None - yet
40. Does someone trust you?
Everyone trusts me. HAHAHA
41. What book are you reading at the moment?
"Is there a science of God?" by Austin Farrer
42. What’s your favourite candy?
I liked the mint chocolates I was given for my birthday (by Mr Wind-Up, No. 33)
43. What’s your favourite sports team?
Sport is an instrument of Satan
44. Favorite month?
April, when I met the love of my life.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Surprised by Nuns - Some Epiphanies

There had been a death in the family. "Perhaps I ought to leave?" The funeral was scheduled for right in the middle of my stay. "Oh no, this is what it's all about for us, death isn't the end, it's the beginning we've been looking for". So I stayed, and attended the funeral, although I wasn't bold enough to join the procession round the garden at the end, before the coffin is loaded into the hearse for burial at Rose Hill cemetery - a place which later became part of my daily walks, and I often read the names on the memorial stones in the two community plots there.

That was back in March 1989, my introduction to the Religious life, whilst on retreat with the Sisters of the Love of God, at Fairacres, Oxford. The sister departed was Sister Jocelyn Mary, who was mentioned on Friday morning at the requiem mass for Sister Isabel, of Jesus Glorified, who was under Jocelyn Mary's tutelege as novice mistress, back in 1960 when she made her vows to the community and to God.

When they die, after a decent interval, the Sisters' names are carved in stone on the wall in the cloister, just outside the vestry where visiting clergy robe before going in to chapel to celebrate holy communion with them. I've often had a few minutes to pause and be reminded of familiar names - particularly from articles in the Fairacres Chronicle and the many Fairacres Press publications - and sometimes familiar faces, on the rare occasions in this largely silent community that there have been introductions. Counting from Sister Jocelyn Mary, Sister Isabel will be the thirty-third name I have known over these last twenty-seven years. Rather fewer new names have arrived in that time.

I've only attended those two funerals. The first, because I was invited and encouraged to do so, because it would give a flavour of the community's life and faith and hope in the resurrection. The second, because I owed Sister Isabel a debt of gratitude. She had a bright, sharp, clever face, with a strong sense of underlying impish wit, and you felt, seeing her across the chapel, or the refectory at lunch, that she would be rather fun to know, and that she would know interesting things. The address at her funeral, from Sister Rosemary, who was Reverend Mother at the time I was admitted to the Fellowship of the Love of God some years ago, made it abundantly clear that this impression was true - not only the humour, which was at times a tonic for the community, but she also won acclaim for translating poetry from Romanian. In total, I had had two conversations with her.

The first was one summer evening, shortly after we were married in 2007, when a kind friend had invited us to house-sit for him, and I was out walking his dog, and met Sister Isabel, walking her stick (she later graduated to rather high-powered and nippy electric chairs, which she manoeuvred with aplomb), in the unmistakeable Fairacres garb, of brown habit and black veil. We got chatting, and she remembered my name, and knew my story, and said "then you must come and celebrate for us", and one way or another before long I was standing at the altar in their chapel, and have been doing so about once a month ever since. It was a lifeline for a priest without a parish, nor the possibility of having one, trying to work out what vocation might now be for. And, in the miasma of depression and bereavement that follows the loss of a ministry and subsequent unemployment, it was envigorating to be able to do again what I'd been doing for years, and doing well, and which had become part of me - celebrating the sacrament.

The second was briefer, little more than an encounter. Another sister, Mary Magdalene, whose name is now inscribed on that, wall shared her birthday with me. It was 2010. I was 44, and she was 98. It's possible that she was already the longest-lived sister ever - she went on to be 101 - and there was coffee and cake after the service, and I was invited. I had a soft spot for Sister Mary Magdalene because the way she smiled and listened, and laughed, during my little homilies made me think (vain fellow that I am) that she was "fan club material". So, I went over to thank her for being one of the few people who could make me feel young, and for being so encouraging during my sermons, and Sister Isabel giggled and said "she's deaf as a post, can't hear a word you're saying - never could!" So what I had taken for "fan club" was really kindness. And that can only be the better gift.

That's why I went to the service last Friday, togged rather implausibly in a black cassock (covering the more casual gear I'd be wearing for my Friday afternoon job, pushing a man in a wheelchair) and a big wooden holding cross that I was given by Sister Catherine when she was prioress, and organising the diaries, and I was in search of a cross, and she had a box of also-rans that they'd considered as new kit for the community. I sat next to Father Hugh, who was once dean of Jerusalem, later vicar of S. Mary Magdalen's in the city centre here, and has retired to a house right next to the convent, most of which, including converting a cellar into a library, he has refurbished with his own hands. For light relief, he writes learned works about the Orthodox liturgy. And next to him was Father David, formerly a warden of the community, and before that headmaster of Soho School, which used to be within the purlieu of one of the charities of which I was a trustee whilst at the neighbouring parish of S. Giles-in-the-Fields; I knew two of his successors in that post, and he was a great help to me in a troubled time, recommending spiritual exercises of breathing which have developed into my daily therapeutic walking, which keep the Black Dog at bay.

The intercessions were led by Sister Margaret Theresa, who was prioress when at Sister Isabel's encouragement I returned to Fairacres, and who put in a good word for me with the local undertakers in the hope that I would be able at least to make a little money in straitened times by taking funerals (which I did, and I recognised Julian, one of the undertakers' men, as they were preparing the hearse after the service).

And this time, I did go out with the procession, urged to join by Sister Avis Mary, the present prioress, and say a last blessing, and a brief hello to Sister Tessa, who these days lives mainly in the infirmary, but who led a retreat for the Fellowship some years ago, at Chester and told me about William Vanstone whose books I had much admired, and she had known, and she said he was a most cheerful man, when from his books you might think him a little melancholy. And then I had to slip away to my other life.

From the occasion, I took away a profound sense of belonging, and connectedness, to the place, and to the community, living and departed; there had been a death in the family, and this time, I was a member of that family. And also words from Sister Rosemary's address, that were either Sister Isabel's, or attributed by her to the great Father Gilbert, warden of the community at about the time she arrived, and remembered with great fondness by an older generation of sisters: "the cross is the epiphany of Christ". I can't claim fully to understand it, but epiphanies are about revelation of the truth. It has reminded me of something Sister Helen Columba (the sister to whom I was first assigned after writing them a barmy letter, at the urging of a stranger I had met on a train coming back from Edinburgh in 1988, and who also these days lives mainly in the infirmary and seldom leaves it) said about the cross as "a place of tension, where heaven and earth, God and us, eternity and time, are held".

One other thought I am left with is that whilst the best people perform acts of kindness unthinkingly, and for their own sake, they still merit our thanks, and perhaps before there is a next time it would be better to express them whilst they are still alive.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
Jubilee Month, July 2016

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Evangelical Christians - I Was Wrong

Evangelical Christians – I Was Wrong

There have been a lot of journey stories in the public discussion and debate about the churches and gay relationships in the last couple of years. This is mine.

Like most English people I was Christened. I wasn’t quite a baby – nearly 14 months, and already walking and talking enough to argue – but it was a family rite of passage. My grandmothers were one Italian, and one Irish, Catholic. But I never saw or heard of them going to church. My parents taught me what are fairly basic “Christian” morals – don’t cheat, steal, kill, murder, be horrid to people, or put your elbows on the table. They also had a deep sense of justice – that everyone should be treated fairly. This didn’t run to gay people. My father thought that religion was for weak people who wouldn’t know otherwise how to behave themselves. They had the usual lower class prejudices against gay people. If we couldn’t conform, or hold it in, then we ought really to be killed. This was the 1970s, a decade after the passing of the “Sexual Offences Act” which decriminalised gay men.

So I grew up fairly sure that I wasn’t a Christian, and hoping very much, despite the increasingly obvious evidence, that I wasn’t gay. And then I went to University. Before I went, having studied lots of Reformation history in the sixth form, we’d been challenged to read the New Testament as background reading to a deeper understanding of the arguments of those times. That was a life-changer. I read it – in the Authorized Version, which I’d never recommend to anyone now – and was fascinated by it. I didn’t understand it all by any means, but I knew it was important, and above all, I was drawn, attracted, by the figure of Jesus. Though it wasn’t anything to do with the subjects I had been accepted to study, I spend a lot of my gap year learning theology, and deciding that although there weren’t a lot of answers, the questions were much the most important one could ask. I went to evensong in the village church one night to try it out. This was not a success.

When you arrived at Oxford in those days – maybe still – you are bombarded with invitations from religious outfits. There was the college chapel (in my case that happened also to be the cathedral of the diocese), the neighbouring evangelical churches, St Aldates and St Ebbes, the Christian Union, the Catholic Chaplaincy, the University Church, Pusey House, and for all I can remember, thirty years later, the URC, Methodists, Quakers, and Baptists (for whom I now work). I accepted them all. Best of all, I made friends with two people who were regular and natural church-goers, one a Catholic, the other a low-church Anglican. I was presented with a picture of religious observance being normal, natural, and right. And there was nothing weak about it. I threw in my lot with the college chapel (it was nearest) and with the Christian Union. The CU reps – Karen and Robert (both tremendously attractive people) suggested that believing the Gospel was not enough, I had to do something about it. By March the 1st I was confirmed in the cathedral. I’m not sure that’s quite what Karen and Robert were after, but they were supportive all the same.

It had been an easy journey so far. But other things were stirring. I was drawn to this God who was love, and where there was God, there was love. Because I really wanted a bit of love. Incarnate love. And that would be with another man, and I reckoned that would be OK with God, despite everything I’d learnt as a child. At the same time, in fact from the day of my confirmation, I started wondering whether I ought to become a priest. I explored changing course to theology at the time – from PPE, a direction unheard of since the War, one of my tutors told me – and I mentioned it to my CU friends. Karen said “aren’t you worried that if you study theology you might lose your faith?” “If I do, it’s because I don’t think it’s rational to believe in it any more, so that’s OK”. That was the wrong answer.

That’s when I started to understand the evangelical-catholic split in the Church of England which I had just very publicly joined. This was 30 years ago, and at that time members of Christian Unions who had any position of responsibility, especially for teaching, had to sign up to a code which was essentially Fundamentalist. Not only did they have to believe six impossible things about Scripture before breakfast, but things like the “penal substitution theory of the atonement” which isn’t even in Scripture at all. They didn’t like women, either. The head CU rep was always a boy. So, even before I fell in love with another man, I was drifting away from a world which I knew would be unfriendly to me at best, rejecting at worst. Eventually I was removed from Bible Studies classes (because I’d taken Scripture more literally than the convenor – it was about money, and she was very rich) and after remedial classes with one of their heavyweights (a man who was of enormous and respected scholarship in the day-to-day life of the college) I was set adrift.

So that’s how I left it, with evangelicalism. Nice people, crap theology, can’t take an argument, and not really very keen on love.

The annoying thing about being young is that you are young. And you don’t know it. And for most of thirty years, despite having from time to time met and talked to and even been given advice by much more enlightened evangelical Christians, my own mind was set there. My reality was something they could never see. And it was vital to my existence that I gave them no credence, lest they chew away at the little of the image and likeness of the God who is love that I had learnt to discover in myself.

I was eventually ordained, despite being totally open about my sexuality, and later, moved from one job to another with the full knowledge of the authorities. That should have given me much more confidence than it did – but the authorities never acknowledged that they were ordaining and appointing gay men (and later women). When I came across evangelical Christians at deanery and ecumenical gatherings we’d talk about this and that, but I never trusted you with the truth about myself which I’d given to the bishops.

That’s my sin of omission. I never gave you the chance to relate to me, a relatively popular and successful (do those words mean anything in the Kingdom?) curate, and a gay man with a worked-out theology of why who I am is OK with God. You might have disagreed, but I didn’t even give you the chance to think it through. I didn’t trust you. I should have taken the risk.

Worse, as now we are finding out each day (but many of us could see all along), evangelical congregations teem with gay men and women who long for acceptance, and love, ideally from someone they love too, but ultimately, from God, their maker and redeemer. Those people, my brothers and sisters in the faith, as well as in the LGBT world, were on the receiving end of a far harsher ministry than the ministry of hypocrisy and “let’s pretend we didn’t hear that” that we High Church Anglicans received. Nor could they even get to know those of us who’d got to the place of acceptance, the God-given place, the place of OK with God.

Once I asked a wise man why it is that evangelicals argue – as indeed did Parliamentarians in the same-sex marriage debate – that if gay people are allowed covenanted love - it will undermine marriage? He replied “because in their world, when someone comes out as gay, they are usually married, have children, the marriage breaks. It isn’t the being gay that broke the marriage, it’s the making of a marriage out of the wrong materials. But it’s hard to tell them that”.

My evangelical sister and brother Christians are making great strides towards equality, justice, and openness to the Spirit. After three decades of hostility, anxiety, even fear, I look forward to the day when I can go to Holy Communion with you openly and in peace, as sons and daughters of the same good God, made in his image and likeness, who delights in his creation. And maybe you will find it in your hearts to forgive me the craven days when I didn’t tell my truth, which would have been speaking out for yours.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
June 2016

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Green Card Game ~ Twenty More Questions (and answers)

Green Card Game ~ Twenty More Questions

21. What did I call my grandparents?

Grandad, Nan, Pop, Irene. Nan and Pop were still alive when we married.

22. What was the first place I went to by plane, as an adult?

New York.

23. Where was I ordained priest, and how long ago?

S. Edward the Confessor Church, Romford, 23rd of June 1996.

24. Which items do I like to have in every room (two main contenders)?

A clock and a radio. You could have a point for a dictionary.

25. Which was my Cambridge college, and what was I (meant to be) doing there?

Trinity College. I was allegedly a chaplain.

26. Which two members of the royal family have I met?

HRH Diana, Princess of Wales, and HRH, the Duchess of Gloucester.

27. Who was my favourite 20th century Prime Minister?

Harold Macmillan (1894-1986), OM, 1st earl of Stockton, Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

28. Which election (not referendum) have I only had the chance to vote in once?

Chancellor of the University of Oxford, in 2003 (voted for Lord Bingham; Lord Patten won).

29. What was my favourite 45th birthday present (it lives near my desk)?

Gracie, my aspidistra, from Ricardo.

30. What creatures did I start keeping in 1982?

Seven geese. We later ate two.

31. Which is my favourite tea?

Orange Pekoe, from Cardew's in the Covered Market, Oxford.

32. Burial or cremation?

Cremation.

33. Name three writers I admire.

Somerset Maugham, Jane Austen, P G Wodehouse, but many others would get points.

34. What’s the proper name of the nuns for whom I say mass from time to time?

The Sisters of the Love of God, Convent of the Incarnation, Fairacres, Oxford.

35. Where did I train to be a priest?

Lincoln Theological College. It was decided to close it down while I was there. Not my fault.

36. Who gave me my desk, and where did it come from?

My parents. My father found it in a shed at his scrapyard, originally bought by my Grandad to chop up for the wood (oak and yew).

37. Which is my favourite British bird?

Kingfisher. But I'd have accepted wren.

38. Milk in first, or milk in after?

First for tea, after for coffee.

39. What’s the title of my (unpublished) book, and where does it come from?

"O Taste And See", Psalm 34:8.

40. What dreadful things happened to my ancestors in Newcastle in the 1870s?

Alexander Bonner killed his wife, Ellen Robson, in a drunken fight on the 4th of July 1873, and then threw himself in the Tyne on the 6th of July 1875. They were my great-great-great-grandparents. My birthday is the 5th of July.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Green Card Game ~ Twenty More Questions

Green Card Game ~ Twenty More Questions

21. What did I call my grandparents?
22. What was the first place I went to by plane, as an adult?
23. Where was I ordained priest, and how long ago?
24. Which items do I like to have in every room (two main contenders)?
25. Which was my Cambridge college, and what was I (meant to be) doing there?
26. Which two members of the royal family have I met?
27. Who was my favourite 20th century Prime Minister?
28. Which election (not referendum) have I only had the chance to vote in once?
29. What was my favourite 45th birthday present (it lives near my desk)?
30. What creatures did I start keeping in 1982?
31. Which is my favourite tea?
32. Burial or cremation?
33. Name three writers I admire.
34. What’s the proper name of the nuns for whom I say mass from time to time?
35. Where did I train to be a priest?
36. Who gave me my desk, and where did it come from?
37. Which is my favourite British bird?
38. Milk in first, or milk in after?
39. What’s the title of my (unpublished) book, and where does it come from?
40. What dreadful things happened to my ancestors in Newcastle in the 1870s?

Monday, 16 May 2016

Green Card Game ~ Twenty Question ~ The (Or Some) Answers

Green Card Game ~ Twenty Questions ~ The (Or Some) Answers

1. When is my birthday? And what day of the week was I born on?

5th of July, Tuesday

2. What are my parents’ names?

Ingrid & Gordon

3. When are our anniversaries?

19th April, 16th June, 15th December

4. Name three of my favourite composers.

Tallis, Bach, Britten

5. Name three of my favourite films/TV series.

Six Feet Under, The Godfather, The West Wing

6. How will I vote in the EU referendum?

In

7. Name three of the best things I have seen abroad.

The World Trade Centre, the Sea of Galilee, the falls at Foz do Iguacu

8. What will I call my macaw? And why?

Percy. My great-uncle's nose.

9. Who is my favourite Queen?

Mary, consort of George V, the Queen's grandmother.

10. Name three things I cook well.

Fish pie, farting soup, roast potatoes

11. Which two radio channels do I listen to?

Radio 4 & the World Service

12. If I could have a peerage, which rank would I choose?

Marquess. Like Lord Marchmain, and George Nathaniel Curzon, that most superior person.

13. Which two universities do I have degrees from?

Oxford & Nottingham

14. In the store cupboard, what never runs out?

Lavatory paper, catfood, and canned tomatoes.

15. What do I always do the week before going to Sussex to see Mother?

Get a hair cut.

16. What do I use to shave with?

Somerset's Shaving Oil, and disposable razors from Wilkinson's.

17. What is my favourite church?

S. Giles-in-the-Fields.

18. Which London club did I belong to (and will re-join when the good times come)?

The Savile Club.

19. Where was I born?

Wimbledon, London.

20. I’ve only had one operation as an adult, what was it for?

Peritonitis & exploded appendix.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
May 2016

Belief & Unbelief

Thoughts from a Homily for Holy Communion on
Monday , 16th of May, 2016, 9 a.m.

for the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Priory, Oxford

Mark 9:14-29

14 As they were rejoining the disciples they saw a large crowd round them and some scribes arguing with them.

15 At once, when they saw him, the whole crowd were struck with amazement and ran to greet him.

16 And he asked them, 'What are you arguing about with them?'

17 A man answered him from the crowd, 'Master, I have brought my son to you; there is a spirit of dumbness in him,

18 and when it takes hold of him it throws him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and goes rigid. And I asked your disciples to drive it out and they were unable to.'

19 In reply he said to them, 'Faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.'

20 They brought the boy to him, and at once the spirit of dumbness threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell to the ground and lay writhing there, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the father, 'How long has this been happening to him?' 'From childhood,' he said,

22 'and it has often thrown him into fire and into water, in order to destroy him.

23 But if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.'

24 'If you can?' retorted Jesus. 'Everything is possible for one who has faith.' At once the father of the boy cried out, 'I have faith. Help my lack of faith!'

25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd was gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit. 'Deaf and dumb spirit,' he said, 'I command you: come out of him and never enter him again.'

26 Then it threw the boy into violent convulsions and came out shouting, and the boy lay there so like a corpse that most of them said, 'He is dead.'

27 But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him up, and he was able to stand.

28 When he had gone indoors, his disciples asked him when they were by themselves, 'Why were we unable to drive it out?'

29 He answered, 'This is the kind that can be driven out only by prayer.'



Belief & Unbelief

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.


Mindful of the stern admonition in yesterday’s Sunday programme on Radio 4 that the faithful do not want to hear sermons with jokes and personal anecdotes, and thus consigning 95% of my homiletic output to the bin, I shall confine myself to the Gospel. I shall not be telling you what happened on this day in 1942, for which a certain person was lastingly thankful; nor the amusing story of the man who spoke Latin with a German accent; nor even about the cuckoo I heard on Saturday morning, in Barton. No indeed. No monkeying about. We’re having the Gospel, plain and simple.

Turning to this morning’s reading was a rather amusing contrast after yesterday’s Pentecost (or Whitsun, in the old money) fun and games. Then, we were being assured that Jesus loved us so much he’d send his best friend, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to look after us, and keep as safe, and lead us into all truth. Today’s Gospel strongly implies that Jesus doesn’t really like us very much at all. Mark’s Gospel, and the Jesus he portrays, is often like that, if we put ourselves in the role of the disciples, “how long must I put up with you?”.

Consider how he berates their lack of faith, and the reading ends with “this kind can only be cast out by prayer”. It’s hard not to imagine the disciples scratching their heads at that point and thinking “isn’t that what we were doing?” But no, it wasn’t, or if it was, they were doing it wrong.

The only real love in this story is between the father and his son, and even there we find compromise. He challenges Jesus with “IF you can do anything …” and gets challenged back, evincing the plaintive response “I do have faith, help the little faith I have” (Jerusalem Bible, from the Daily Missal of the English Roman Catholic Church). This got me thinking, because I am more familiar with the older, Authorized Version rendering “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief”, so I did a rare thing and went to my Greek New Testament, scrubbing the dust off it, and had a look. The word is – not sure how to pronounce it (see how the amusing anecdote about Latin with a German accent would have fitted?) – “apistia”. It’s unbelief. Not little belief. So our translation misses something rather important, which is that we believe, and we don’t believe. Contrary to the spirit of the present age, we live in a world not of fifty shades of grey, but of black AND white. Spiritual – and perhaps emotional and all other kinds of – maturity is to be found in understanding and accepting this, that there is light, and shade.

But wasn’t the whole point of Easter that the light has won? Yes, it’s true, the Paschal Light shines for all eternity – in eternity – but we’re not there yet. We live in time. And time has light and shade. It’s why a sun dial works. “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief”.

Whilst not for a moment wishing to discount the challenge to our faith, and to our prayers, that this story poses, might I suggest for a moment that we make a mistake if we place ourselves in the position of the disciples. It’s a weakness we have, to identify with the heroes of the faith – and that’s what the disciples became, the apostles on whose heroic words and deeds the church was built. But maybe we’re not heroes. Rowan Williams observes in “The Wound of Knowledge”, summing up the theology of Saint Augustine, that God wants “not heroes, but lovers”. It’s the sort of thing he could say back then, and now can again, having laid down the burden of Canterbury. And he’s right, not heroes, but lovers.

So let’s cast ourselves in the story not in the role of the hopeless disciples, who have no faith, and can’t pray, and are a bit rubbish, but of the harmless, helpless, child who needs to be cared for, to be loved. We don’t much like being harmless, because we like to be thought of as people with a bit of an edge, and we don’t want to be helpless, because we’d much rather be the people doing the helping. But let that go. And then we become the people, the afflicted child, that Jesus unconditionally helps and heals and restores to a live more abundant.

Belief, or unbelief, light or shade, he loves us anyway, and always. And that is the Good News. Amen.


Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
May 2016






Saturday, 14 May 2016

For New Road Baptist Church magazine

For the New Road Baptist Church Magazine

A Word of Introduction:

Genealogy is one of my great pleasures; the way it makes history come alive delights me, so faced with the uncomfortable challenge of telling you about myself, that’s how I’ll start:

By birth I’m a Londoner, born to parents who were also Londoners. Further back, my roots extend to Kent, Norfolk, Lancashire, and the Black Country; more widely, to Ireland, north and south, Italy, and there’s even an American in there. My partner is Brasilian, of Spanish, Amazonian Tupi, and African heritage.

My acquaintance with Oxford started on a visit with my father and sister on Good Friday 1984, followed by application for a place at the university (there was only one in those days!) and coming up to Christ Church in 1985. I was the first member of my family to go to university. I arrived to read PPE, and left with a degree in Theology. After that I drifted a bit, picking up tutorial work and organising lectures for an outfit at St James’s, Piccadilly, before eventually being sent to train for the Church of England ministry at Lincoln in 1993. Ordained deacon in 1995 (still am – in the C of E, it’s for life not just for meetings) and priest in 1996, I served in Romford in Essex, Trinity College, Cambridge, St Giles-in-the-Fields in the West End of London, and finally Holy Trinity, Sloane Square. The greatest blessing has been making friends in all those places, of all sorts and conditions, and having the chance to learn so much about life.

Coming back from four months in Brasil in 2006, we had nowhere to live, but a friend in Oxford had a spare room, so I re-made my acquaintance with my adopted city, moving a year later from Cowley Road to Littlemore, and three years ago to Barton, where I live with two small black cats, an aspidistra, and, pending victory in visa wars with the Home Office, once more with my husband of nine years. I walk to work – it’s a 40-mile week, and very good for the soul.

Coming to New Road has been a new experience in many ways, with so much to learn about another way of being church, and new responsibilities for things which once I assumed other people would be taking care of. Everyone has been immensely welcoming, and working with Kat, I sometimes think she plays Tigger to my Eeyore. I have especially appreciated David Stevens’s wisdom, generosity of spirit, and elephantine memory, in helping me to learn how to do the job he did himself, faithfully and well, for so many years.

It amuses me to tell my friends I am a “non-conformist administrator”, which has an air of anarchy about it. Coming here has definitely been Good News for me, and I hope it will prove to be true that even admin can be done for the Gospel!

Richard Haggis of Barton-upon-Bayswater & the Office

Green Card Game ~ Twenty Questions

Just thought this would be a bit of fun.

Green Card Game ~ Twenty Questions

1. When is my birthday? And what day of the week was I born on?
2. What are my parents’ names?
3. When are our anniversaries?
4. Name three of my favourite composers.
5. Name three of my favourite films/TV series.
6. How will I vote in the EU referendum?
7. Name three of the best things I have seen abroad.
8. What will I call my macaw? And why?
9. Who is my favourite Queen?
10. Name three things I cook well.
11. Which two radio channels do I listen to?
12. If I could have a peerage, which rank would I choose?
13. Which two universities do I have degrees from?
14. In the store cupboard, what never runs out?
15. What do I always do the week before going to Sussex to see Mother?
16. What do I use to shave with?
17. What is my favourite church?
18. Which London club did I belong to (and will re-join when the good times come)?
19. Where was I born?
20. I’ve only had one operation as an adult, what was it for?

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
May 2016

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Dear Archbishop Justin,

I've not troubled you before, and have little hope that this letter will make any impact or difference, but after the goings-on at the Primates' Meeting in Canterbury this week. I feel compelled to write about something you might not have had the opportunity to ponder in your thinking about gay people and our relationships.

Overall, the hierarchies of the various nominally Anglican churches would seem to have regarded the proceedings as a success. The Americans aren't particularly crestfallen at being marginalised for refusing to treat LGBTI Christians as second-class members, the Africans are feeling encouraged in their view that we are not Christian at all. The "Anglican Communion" still exists. And you have issued a fulsome apology for the way we have been treated over the years, and continue to be, and will be in the future.

And we're not very grateful. The reason for this is that we understand a lot more about truth and lies than the hierarchy of our church does. Growing up gay, and eventually coming to terms with it, in a world which because of attitudes like those espoused by the Primates' Meeting last week, is fundamentally hostile, is a costly business. Many of us go through phases of lying to others, family and friends as well as strangers, and even to ourselves, about who we really are. And then the pretence ends, and we take the leap of faith that "the truth shall make you free", and it does. And telling the truth hurts. It can break up friendships, and wreck family love. It is a scary business, and we cannot know its outcome. But telling the truth does make us free. And once the truth has set us free, we are free for the love that casts out fear too.

This is why the finding of clever forms of words which manage to conceal, or avoid, the truth leave us cold. We've taken the chance, we've been brave, we've risked our lives and happiness, for the sake of the truth, and for love.

And we do not find you doing so.

Don't tell us you love us, when your actions show you don't. Don't apologise for past offences against us when you do nothing to stop their being repeated now and in the future.

If you want to impress us, then telling the truth in word and deed will achieve it. Even if it's not what we want to hear. But we're sick of being lied to, and lied about. We understand lies, and we see right through them.

Yours sincerely,

(The Revd) Richard Haggis
formerly a Church of England, but still an Anglican, priest

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Thought On A Day Off - after a week's work!

It's been eight years since I had work like this. And the Night Shelter wasn't quite like this, as it was three days on, three days off. A most peculiar regime, and I should have thought an absolute nightmare for anyone with children who needed looking after (and do any children not?). But here it was, 9-1, then 8.30-12.30 the last day to let me get to my other job, every day, Monday to Friday. And today was a day off work. Unheard-of!

Now, as Max Miller might say, here's a funny thing. It's a new thing to be respected (bear in mind, I live alone at present, and am butler to two difficult cats). Not in any pathetic and subservient way, but in a "you're doing this thing for us, and you're going to be OK" sort of way. There was a new desk, a new chair, a new computer, and a new printer. They all work. People telephone asking for the last chap who ran the office, and I have to say "no, but there's me". And they are generally OK about that. And usually they ask after the last chap, because he is the soul of kindness and generosity, and has obviously given a good impression of my place of work these long years. Happily, he is still around to give much needed advice and direction.

For me the church is a sympathetic building. I've never been a rococo Anglo-Catholic, and its clean Georgian lines remind me of my favourite church ever, S. Giles-in-the-Fields. I think perhaps the lines are just a little too non-conformistly clean to count as "Palladian", but it's not far off. And there is a commitment to welcome, to anyone who comes in from the street, wanting a cup of coffee, or to look round, or even to pray. They can light candles. I didn't think Baptists would approve of candles. I was wrong. I tried to introduce them at S. Giles, but I was narrowly outvoted.

The dynamic of me - an Anglican - working for them - Baptists - feels good. The reason is that I have no idea how to be a good Baptist, and wouldn't presume to tell them. The different church polity, the ten deacons, the monthly "church meeting" for every one to chip in, this is all so very new. It's fascinating. If I were working in this capacity (administrator) for an Anglican church, I'd be telling them how to get it right. It's really rather liberating to know nothing, and to have to learn.

There have been spikes and prickles, of course, but also little triumphs, like securing a room booking which should make a decent amount of money for relatively little effort apart from the toil that went into creating the room in the first place. On Friday it was time to print the Sunday service sheet. The photocopier wouldn't switch on. Friday is the one day I have to leave smartly on time to attend to my wheelchair-pushing other job. Should have checked the thing on Thursday. First thing next week, it will be fixed, but at least we know we have a spare printer that can do the job more laboriously and probably expensively, as a stop-gap.

After these long years mainly alone in my intravert's cave, I find it stimulating to be around cheerful people. This is a very good thing.

The journey there and back - walking, of course - is also a part of it. I have generally resented having to go into central Oxford these last months, as I was being required to turn up by the Jobcentre or Maximus (the outfit they farm out the no-hopers to in the expectation that they will either be bullied into submission, a lousy job, or an early death). It's rather different when you're going to earn your crust, and quite voluntarily. The mornings are beautiful. The birds, rain or shine, shout the heavens down. It's glorious to listen to - as you follow early-bird schoolchildren with plugs in their ears from the bundle of plastic and string they're holding in their hands, which mean they can't hear a real thing.

The school children can be amusing in their way. The last time I posted, I'd noted some girls, and a correspondent wondered why there were no boys. A day or two later there was a boy - those same girls were ahead of him - an aficionado of the cult of the skin-tight trouser leg. Apart from his good head of hair, he resembled Max Wall, as he ambled along. I doubt many people have the slightest idea who he was! You often saw him on "Variety" shows on the telly when I was small. He was a bit creepy. I hope this particular fashion soon dies its natural death.

Walking back one afternoon, round the edge of a playing field, beyond Mesopotamia, I was thinking to myself "well, there's a pretty, fair, little thing". As he passed me, I saw he was wearing a dogcollar. That must surely be the definition of middle-age - that even the clergy look like youngsters.

But in my new job I am no longer clergy - although I've been invited to take mid-week prayers (as a layman!) - I am just trying to make things work well for this rather interesting, well-resourced, hopeful, church, in the centre of our town.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2016






Monday, 4 January 2016

Thoughts On A Walk To Work

THOUGHTS ON A WALK TO WORK

Needless to say, it was a sleepless night. You apply for a simple job, after years of not being employed at all, and your mind can't settle. Nor be realistic. I got up shortly after four. The World Service was very interesting. I was going to iron my trousers, and then decided against, as I'd only get it wrong and I couldn't afford to make them worse. I chose a jacket. They are pretty informal types at the Baptist Church, and I'd have worn a jumper, but all mine are in the wash. Or rather, in the laundry bin, waiting for enough jumpers to justify a wash, and the central heating required to dry them. And then I posted things on Facebook. It must have been five by then, and still dark. And the cats demanded to be fed, and that done, to be let out into the unknowable gloom. Tea, of course. Shoes. Diary. Notebook. Nearly out the door, and then remembered the church keys. All 40 of them. And then out into the light that would smack you in the face if you called it twi.

At the top of the hill, at just before 7.30, I looked over the reluctant dawn over an even more reluctant Barton. It is always a most inspiring view. So English, tranquil, uninterested. It invites you to play, but if you don't want to, well, it doesn't much care.

Through the underpass, following three girls on their way to school. Teens of some sort. Two quite modishly skinny, the other broad as a bus. Fat or thin, they couldn't work out that to get through the bars that are welded into the pathway to slow bikes down, you can't go two abreast. I sped up, pondering whether the plump girl was keeping up with the cool girls, as her face hung around them like a nosebag. It was a nice face, compared to the other two. But what do I know about girls?

I overtook, and carried on through Old Headington, and the newly-tarted-up tower of S. Andrew's Church, and through into Marston. It was a nice time of day, not night, but not light. I saw early starlings flittering and hoped for brief moments that they might be late bats. Of course, you never see bats that size in England. (You do in Brasil, though, and they're fruit bats, and shit all over the cars, and are VERY unpopular.)

Then through Mesopotamia. The waterways have never, in the two and half years I've been walking this route, looked so high so busy and so furious. Like angry, but milked-down, streams of irate coffee, with the mud and silt all stirred up. No roe deer. Some determined people cycling or jogging or just nose-down and power-walking into work. The University is still asleep - Hilary Term doesn't start for a while yet - but we were told on the Farming Programme at 5.45 that there are not one, but two, agricultural conferences going on in Oxford this week. I'd rather like to listen. But that would be eccentric.

And then I was there too soon. What to do? Anxious enough for the loo, that was open. And wandering round the market, to see that the Poles haven't quite finished off all the carp (did you know Eastern Europeans like to eat carp at Christmastime? Tried it once, thanks to my friend the Gastronome. Fiddly, and fatty, but once you've got over that, not bad meat).

I couldn't find Werther's Mints in Sainsbury's (they never melt, depressingly, in your pockets), so suddenly it was time. I walked to the door. There were no lights on. Would one of my keys open it? What if an alarm went off? Better to wait. Others arrived, for a different part of the building, so I was admitted to another, in which I could try out my keys. I felt quite clever. Two out of forty isn't bad odds. I rootled round the drawers in the desk. And then someone arrived, a grown-up, to show me around and what's what. And gradually this knot of uncertainty became little problems that could be solved. With other nice people who also wanted to solve them. It was very different from being at home alone. I always want to solve problems - so do the cats - but we're not so good at the nice bit.

And eventually, far sooner than I would had guessed, the time had passed, and the computer and the printer and this and that were set up, notes made, and a fire alarm test done, and there was a real small sense of achievement in my (I was alone now) office.

I hadn't worked like this for years, if ever, and I had survived. And I had enjoyed it.

But the day wouldn't be complete without my last visit to Maximus. Although officially signed-off, I was told that this could be beneficial. I am a compliant beast, as anyone knows. The deal is not miserably ungenerous, although it is certainly eccentric. Maximus can't give you money to tide you over, but it can give you vouchers. Not any old vouchers (what is cash but a voucher?) but for favoured, very large, stores. I made a fuss about the sum not being enough to get me a free delivery. I got my wish. We shall see what arrives.

Home was more than welcome by then, through streets now darkened by the dying of the light, but not, I'm sure, as badly as just before Christmas. I passed the tall elegant figure of a jogger wearing that rather odd modern combination of stockings and shorts, and thought "how nice" until he coughed violently into a hedge (whilst still jogging), and changed my mind. He was followed by two equally athletic, but diminutive girls. I suppose another man might not have still been thinking about that nasty cough.

And so I happened again on my view of Barton, now in darkness.

Well, that had been a new thing. And it would continue tomorrow. But it was a good thing, and that too might continue. Until the cats caught sight of me and berated me soundly for stranding them outside all day in the rain. We went indoors, and I consoled them with ham.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2016




Saturday, 2 January 2016

My Sixth Year Of Six

A friend on Facebook was pondering the anniversaries that this year will bring round, so I got to thinking too. For good measure, I thought I'd add in the half-decades too:


1966: I was born. Something happened in the world of football. Landslide General Election for Labour. Good year for claret and port.
(50th)

1971: We moved to the house in Wimbledon where I spent most of my childhood. Decimalisation.
(45th)

1976: The year of the Great Drought. Harold Wilson unexpectedly resigned as PM. 150th anniversary of London Zoo (that's a sesquicentenary).
(40th)

1981: My paternal grandfather died. First O-levels. We moved to Sussex, and my father and I became commuters.
(35th)

1986: Irene, my maternal grandmother, died. Went to Ireland to meet her brother. Changed course to Theology.
(30th)

1991: Left teaching training course. Left first ex after (nearly) five years.
(25th)

1996: Became an uncle & member of the Older Generation. Was ordained priest. Met second ex. Went to the Holy Land.
(20th)

2001: "9/11". Second ex left after five years. Became a charity trustee.
(15th)

2006: Sacked by the C of E. Lived in Brasil for 4 months & saw the Falls at Iguacu. Started work in a homeless hostel.
(10th)

2011: Cats arrived. Appendix departed.
(5th)

2016: Starting work for the Baptists (admin, not vicaring). Intending to get published. Will (almost) inevitably be 50.
(pending)


Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2016