Monday, 31 July 2017

The Communion of Saints

The Communion of Saints

"The definition of a saint is someone whose private life has been under-researched." So said a former colleague, a church historian.

Since coming to work and worship with you at New Road, I've been teasing the deacons and others in the "hierarchy that isn't" by noting the saint's day on my endless e-mails. I know full well that keeping saints' days isn't a reformed-church thing, but it's something that appeals to the genealogist in me.

As with children, and cats, we're not meant to have favourites, but we can't help it, we do. Mine include John the Baptist, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Seraphim of Sarov. They all make God either surprising, or warm, or both, and it’s the example of their intimate relationship with God that can help to draw us closer too.

And it's not just the ones who made it into the official Kalendar. There was Grace, another mystic, from my first congregation in Romford, who had visions and said at the church door one morning "you know that bit in the service "with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven?” Well, I looked up, and there they all were! Wasn't that nice, dear?"

The “Communion of Saints” is something Christians affirm in the Apostles’ Creed (BWP 424), and by it we celebrate our fellowship not only one with another, here and now, but with brothers and sisters unseen and unknown all over the world, and with all those who have gone before us in the faith, ever since the time of the Apostles (the Orthodox go further, and include the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament). In the Baptist tradition too, those who lived the Gospel and cared for the people are remembered – think of John Bunyan Church in Cowley, or the way that Richard Tidmarsh, James Hinton, and Ronald Hobling are honoured in the rooms here – not forgetting George’s Cupboard.

Most of us would be uncomfortable claiming to be a saint right now, preferring perhaps to be seen as a work in progress, but there are saints among us all the same, and here’s an interesting test. It is from a sermon by Rowan Williams based on the novel (although more of us had seen it on the telly) “Brideshead Revisited”. He contrasted Lady Marchmain, full of good works, endlessly concerned for the welfare of others, most of all her children, and doing her best with some force, to direct them in the right way, with her younger son, Sebastian, who is dissolute, lazy, decadent, gay before it was legal, and yet blessed with a sense of wonder that brightens the lives of all those who know him. “What’s the difference between a good person and a saint? Good people make you feel worse. Saints make you feel better”.

So, you’re bound to know a saint or two. And from time to time, you might even be one yourself.

Richard Haggis


  1. It's interesting that Anglicans mark Saints, while other reformed churches don't. Coming from a Catholic background, there were endless saints marked virtually every day of the week with a Mass.

    Nowadays, it seems that Catholic feasts are routinely transferred to Sundays, reducing the times that Catholics attend Mass to a virtual Sunday routine.

    They still have Holy Days of Obligation, but invariably, the mass for it will be arranged for the evening before or the evening of the day, so not to inconvenience those who work or have care responsibilities

    As a child in a Catholic School, we all used to troop off to Mass on these days, as a School - wouldn't it be lovely if the modern curriculum permitted this in Anglican Schools.

  2. A smashing sermon, Richard. Interesting angles.
    How modern would such a curriculum as you suggest have to be, Ernest ? I began my education in an Anglican School Nursery in 1951/52.There were no masses or any other services to mark any Saint's day then and I've never heard that there's ever been. My mother attended an Anglican Church School in the 1920s, like me from Nursery upwards, and although she could recite liturgy by heart,she apparently never went to masses either. I doubt she could name any Saints other than the apostles and the British 'patron' ones.They didn't usually teach that sort of thing in schools anywhere apart from RC ones. I'm not sure what type of school my father attended but the chances are it was also a Church one. I can't for a moment imagine any of my grandparents or their neighbours wanting their chldren to be taken to masses for Saints. A half-holiday on the patronal day,if that, would have been the most any of the generations of schoolchidren I've ever heard of could expect.I'd imagine even these days most non-Catholic people, expecially parents, would find the very idea of a mass appalling.