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Decently habited, CLVIII

September 17, 2014

AT Choral Evensong held in Southwark Cathedral on Monday 26 September, 2011, to commemorate Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, pupil at Merchant Taylors’ School, among the first Governors of Charterhouse, and translator of the King James Bible.

The verger leads the procession.

The verger leads the procession.

The Revd Canon Hugh Wiliams, Preacher and Deputy Master of Charterhouse, leads the prayers.

The Revd Canon Hugh Wiliams, Preacher and Deputy Master of Charterhouse, leads the prayers.

The Bishop of Southwark gives the blessing. Note the Canterbury cap.

The Bishop of Southwark gives the blessing. Note the Canterbury cap.

The Dean and Chapter of Southwark depart.

The Dean and Chapter of Southwark depart.

The Bishop departs, followed by his chaplain.

The Bishop departs, followed by his chaplain.

Tomb of Lancelot Andrewes.

Tomb of Lancelot Andrewes.

Decently habited, CLVII

September 16, 2014

Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall attended a Service to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of Combat Stress, at Westminster Abbey, on Tuesday 12 May 2009.

If you don’t know what Combat Stress is or what it does, see their website, and see what Sir Patrick Stewart has to say about it.

TRH are met at the West Door by the Very Revd Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster.

The Prince of Wales speaks with the Dean of Westminster and General Sir Charles Redmond Watt, with David Conner, Dean of Windsor and Bishop to HM Forces, looking away.

Order of service
Sermon text

A fine tonic

September 14, 2014
Dr Morris.

Dr Morris.

“BY THE END of his first year as rector, Dr. Morris had established as the norm for Sunday worship at Saint Thomas the service of Morning Prayer, reducing the frequency of Holy Communion as the principal Sunday service from twice a month, the standard set long ago by Dr. Stires, to the first Sunday of each month only. He accomplished this by first listing the change in the weekly service leaflet and in the monthly bulletin at the beginning of the summer of 1955 as being merely ‘The Summer Schedule'; but then when fall arrived the same schedule continued to be listed, the word ‘summer’ being removed but no pastoral explanation given. No reason was given in his message in the Year Book for 1955 either, nor was any notice of the change recorded in the Vestry Minutes for the summer or the fall of that year. Some years later, however, a rationale was offered. Morning Prayer, according to Dr. Morris, was a more evangelical and missionary service, providing the means for those unfamiliar with the Episcopal tradition to learn its ways and then to be led to the advanced step of receiving communion. Morning Prayer Sundays, in his view, were properly understood as a preparation for the monthly celebration of the Holy Communion. Dr. Morris strongly believed that this ‘rhythmic’ pattern of worship contributed to ‘a higher appreciation of Holy Communion and is helpful in avoiding the inattention which so easily follows upon a too constant and too entirely unvaried sameness or uniformity of procedure.’ Thus he did not agree with the growing liturgical belief of the Episcopal Church — with which an increasing number of Low Church Evangelicals concurred — that the Holy Communion should be the main service every Sunday. Indeed, it was incumbent upon Saint Thomas and other parishes, he urged, to champion the Morning Prayer tradition in order to maintain the true character of the Episcopal Church as both catholic and evangelical.”1

1. J. Robert Wright, Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Grand Rapids, Mich. : William B. Eerdmans, 2001), 177.

Decently habited, CLVI

September 13, 2014

Clergyman, outside Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry, Oxford.


Decently habited, CLV

September 12, 2014

John Scott directs the St. Thomas Choir of Men & Boys.


A man of faith with a firm grip on reality

September 11, 2014

Rowan Williams has deftly punctured the New Atheists’ accusation that religious belief is at odds with reason

Gentle nature: the force of Rowan Williams’ views has been widely missed

Gentle nature: the force of Rowan Williams’ views has been widely missed

By Rupert Shortt. August 23, 2014. Reposted from The Telegraph.

AS I researched Rowan Williams’ biography, it became ever clearer that the former Archbishop is the foremost Christian apologist in the English-speaking world. Partly because of his gentle nature, however, the force of his arguments against Richard Dawkins, A C Grayling and the other so-called New Atheists was widely missed.

Two especially dubious assumptions stand out among current attacks on belief in God – that religious faith is all about assenting to dodgy propositions; and that atheism must represent the default stance for a reasonable, “objective” person.

From a Christian or Jewish or Muslim point of view, the response to the first of these assumptions is that religion is a path of understanding (akin to some of the ancient philosophical schools) that can say little to those who have not set out on the journey. Dr Williams was fond of pointing out that disengaged study misses the point: it is like analysing a piece of music in terms of the decibels in its constituent bars.
But this is certainly not to suggest that Christians and others should ignore reason as they seek to elucidate their creeds. On the contrary, Williams added, it is the second assumption that looks especially wobbly from a believer’s point of view.

Anyone out of short theological trousers should know that God is understood in the monotheistic traditions to possess being in itself, and that therefore God is not any part of reality as we understand it. You can’t add up God and the universe and make two. One of Dawkins’s odder refrains is that any creator of the world would need to be complex, that this complexity would need to arise from natural selection, and that there is no evidence that any being more complex than humanity has evolved so far.

The god pictured by Dawkins is therefore a product of nature, as well as its creator. The mind boggles in the face of such elementary confusion.

Dawkins’s intellectual fig leaf is provided by the physicist Lawrence Krauss, whose book A Universe from Nothing is coy in acknowledging that a “self-explaining” cosmos is dependent on the prior existence of a quantum vacuum, out of which the Big Bang can emerge. But a quantum vacuum is not “nothing”, or even a static medium. It is marked by a series of chaotic fluctuations in which particles appear and reappear in a manner consistent with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

The uncomfortable reality for an atheist is that it’s impossible, in the terms naturalism allows, to say how anything could exist at all.

So the grounds for maintaining that the universe was created are more robust than sniffier unbelievers allow. Resistance to this sort of argument is indirectly linked to a more solidly based worry among secularists: the misuse of religion as a vehicle for repression and authoritarianism in parts of the Muslim and Christian worlds. Faith is like fire, to cite a sobering analogy. It warms; but it can also burn. No fair-minded observer can deny that religion has sometimes been put to deeply corrupt use. But it is a mistake to infer from this that spirituality must thereby be swept to the sidelines. The desire to muzzle faith communities can reflect an equal and opposite form of secular intolerance.

As my work unfolded, I regularly encountered not only a series of convincing protests against the New Atheism, but also a critical distinction made by Williams between good and bad models of secularism: the “procedural” and the “programmatic”. Procedural secularism grants no special privileges to any particular religious grouping, but denies that faith is merely a matter of private conviction. “Larger commitments and visions” should be allowed to nourish the public conversation.

The former Archbishop views so-called programmatic secularism in a far less positive light, because it insists on a “neutral” public arena and hives religion off into a purely private domain. Far from resolving clashes of world view, Williams warns, procedural secularism risks inflaming social conflict. His recipe for harmony is “interactive pluralism”, which encourages robust dialogue among faith communities and between them and the state. No one has received the whole truth “as God sees it”, so all have something to learn. Such an engagement is held to contrast with the relativism implied by multiculturalist attitudes: “tolerance of diversity” can conceal a multitude of sins. During all the fury over Williams’ ill-advised comments on sharia law in 2008, his broader argument was obscured.

Sane religious voices matter more than ever for two reasons. Firstly, because secularism has gone into reverse. Three-quarters of humanity now professes a religious faith; that figure is projected to reach 80 per cent by 2050. Secondly, because despite religion’s status as the pre-eminent source of social capital on earth, the destabilising effects of religious fanaticism are nevertheless plain to see far from Iraq and Syria.

In his own defence of theism, Williams appeals to the imagination as putting human life in a fresh perspective. This narrative is at once bold and reserved. Bold in seeing a potent pointer to God in this worldly existence. Bold about the resources good religion offers for addressing love and loss, transgression and redemption. Reserved in warning about the risks of saying too much too dogmatically. And Williams can still write of the Communion he led from 2002 to 2012 as a trusty home for visions of this kind. As he put it recently, Anglicanism at its best has tried to evince the Benedictine values of courtesy, hospitality, generosity and a reflective, practical faith. This vision forms a pearl of great price.

The new edition of Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop, by Rupert Shortt, is published by Hodder

What is a choir for?

September 10, 2014

Canon Clammer.

Canon Clammer.

WHAT is a cathedral choir for? What is its purpose? Why bother? What are all of you for? And I’m not just looking at the year 8s here, but all of you choristers, and the chaps as well. What are you for? Let’s get a bit existential on this final service of the chorister year.

An easy answer is that you are here to safeguard the English choral tradition. And there’s a lot of truth in that, but it doesn’t really get the work done because then you have to get behind that question and say, “well what is the English choral tradition here for?” We’ll come back to that. The choir are certainly not here primarily to raise money for the cathedral. Sometimes that happens, and Alleluia for that, but anyone who has looked at my budget knows that the choirs of this cathedral are one of our greatest expenses. So again, why bother? You’re not here primarily to attract tourists to this place either, though that happens too, and praise God that people come here from all over the country, and far beyond it, to hear the most exquisite singing and music. The Southern Cathedrals Festival these last four days proved that. But that’s not what you are for either.

In our second lesson this afternoon we hear of Peter and John witnessing before the high priests and the elders of the Jewish community as to why they are proclaiming the word of God. Look again at what Peter says towards the end of that reading: “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather that to God you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

We cannot keep from speaking.1

When men and women, and children, encounter the divine, when we meet face to face with God, when we find ourselves as it were banging up against holiness, we cannot keep from speaking, from singing, from proclaiming. Our lives are overwhelmed with the need to pray and praise, to lament and cry out, to protest and to question and to adore. And the word we use to describe all of that, is worship. Worship is why you are here. Worship is what cathedral choirs are for. Worship is what Christians do, and we need help and inspiration and the words to say when no words will come, and the harmonies that will lift us up or console us, or help us to deal with all the anger and frustration, all the adoration and wonder and all the bits in between – everything that bubbles up from the heart in that great outpouring of whatever it is that outpours when we recognise that God is here and we are here, and that we need to do something about it.

excerpt from a sermon preached at Evensong
by the Revd Canon Tom Clammer
Trinity V, 2014
Salisbury Cathedral

1. Acts 4:20


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