Vocations Sunday – prayers for Samuel

Founder Member and Associate Samuel Patterson is to be Ordained Deacon at Petertide and serve his title in Magor Ministry Area. On this Vocations weekend we pray for God’s blessings on his new ministry.

Samuel (right) as Joseph in the Walking Nativity

Sam will Deacon our end of term Mass on the Feast of St Benedict (July 11th).

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Thy Kingdom Come

The Community will again lead this initiative in Abergavenny this year.

Writing in the May Parish Magazine, Our Sub Prior, Fr Tom Bates says:

Thy Kingdom Come

Words from the Lord’s Prayer. Simple words which in the midst of an ever faster paced, increasingly complex world resonate deep in the heart, and can draw us no only back to the wellsprings of our own faith, perhaps our childhood, but back to the fundamental roots of 2000 years of Christian heritage. Simple words that have hung upon the lips of so many people each day, in every kind of situation and condition of human need. When we consider that, even these very simple words can blow us away with their awesome power and far reaching influence.

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Those simple words can blow us away, because by their simple eloquence we can come to know the Father as the Son, and in those simple words we, mere dust and shadows, can become children of God as we dare to call him ‘Our Father’.

In the gospels, we learn about prayer as a participation in the life of the Trinity from the person of the Son, Jesus Christ. We witness not only what he taught his followers about prayer, but most importantly we have the example of how he himself prayed. We are granted a glimpse into the inner, family life of the Most Holy Trinity, and in glimpsing we are caught up in, and incorporated into that life.

A prayer initiative, started by the Church of England, is marking out the period of time between Ascension and Pentecost: that period of ten days when we read that the disciples themselves were gathered together in ‘constant prayer’ with Mary the mother of Jesus, waiting for the promised ‘Comforter’, the Holy Spirit.

The ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative was started in recent years by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and it has spread to become and ecumenical period of prayer all over the world. During these ten days between Ascension and Pentecost, from 30th May – 9th  June we are invited to pray with special fervour for the ushering in of Christ’s kingdom here on earth.

There are many ways for everyone to be involved, and we will be doing things as a church, including a set of ‘journey through the Bible’ prayer stations at St Mary’s along with opportunities for corporate prayer.. I hope that you will commit to setting aside a short time each day for those ten days to pray for the Church’s mission here in this place and worldwide as we prepare to celebrate her birthday at Pentecost

I pray that this period of ten days will be a blessed and holy time for you, and that you will have confidence and faith in the vital work in which you are participating.

Br Josh’s Easter Day Evensong Sermon

Texts: Isaiah 43: 1-21, John 20: 19-2.

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

When I think about God, I tend to want the biggest, grandest, most powerful God I can get: the God who is all powerful, all good, all knowing, unchanging, without parts; the God who is absolutely distinct from and superior to all of His creation; the God who is not subject to past, present, and future, but sees all in an instant.

This tendency of thought, if it gets out of hand, can find itself in tension with Christianity. This is brought out forcefully as we celebrate the events of Holy Week and Easter. Whatever God is, we celebrate that God came to Earth two thousand years ago, died a criminal’s death, and rose again on the third day. This can be hard to square with our favourite pictures and theories of an all-powerful God. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing such a God ought to do.

Now I don’t want to encourage throwing out the traditional idea of God. It is a vital part of Christianity. We’ve just said in the Apostle’s Creed “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” We have also heard God’s declaration in Isaiah that “I, I am the Lord and besides me there is no saviour … I am God, and also henceforth I am He; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?“

But Holy Week and Easter are a particularly good time to let our incomplete pictures of God be challenged by the radical acts of God in history. This, especially challenges our idea of God as beyond or ‘above’ time. Tonight, I’d like to share a way of thinking of Easter, derived from the work of the recently-deceased Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson, that both challenges me at this time. I hope it will be useful to you as well.

Jenson’s thought has two emphases which fit perfectly with our two readings tonight: God as trinity and God as a maker of promises. In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we are sent, as he is, in the name of the Father and then gives us the Spirit. In our reading from Isaiah, God’s promise making is front and centre.

Indeed, God’s making of promises is present throughout scripture. To Abraham, God promises that his descendants will be more than the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore; to the Israelites fleeing from Egypt, God promises a land of milk and honey; to the Judeans in exile in Babylon, God promises return and restoration.

It is this last promise that we have heard in our reading from Isaiah: “I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation” and “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”.

Now the promise-making God is one who lives in time and history. Promises concern the future. In fact, a promise can be thought of as the gift of a future. If I promise you something, then your future opens up with new possibilities for growth and change. Because, for instance, I promise that I will look after your dog, you can go away on holiday and return recharged. More serious promises offer a whole life as a gift (as in marriage vows or traditional monastic vows).

The God who makes promises is quite different from one who sets up, once and for all, a set of eternal patterns that things must always follow. Claimed gods of this sort cease to be believable when their “eternal patterns” break down. For instance, if a kingdom believes it was established forever by some god, and then the kingdom falls, their claimed god falls with them.

A promise, on the other hand, can be held on to even when everything seems to be falling apart. This is exactly because promises concerns the future and not the past. Israel began with a promise to Abraham before it possessed any kingdom or lands or status quo or set of laws. This meant, in turn, that even after both Israel and Judah fell, their God could still be present in promises for the future (“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing”).

Now, as Jenson understands it, in the death and resurrection of Jesus God makes an ultimate and final promise. And, unlike our own promises, all of which are unreliable to a greater or lesser degree, the promise made in and by Jesus is actually successful.

What usually goes wrong with promises is that they end up with conditions attached. We tend to turn gifts into obligations or laws. For instance: If you cover my next shift at work, then I’ll look after your dog; If you behave nicely, then you can have an ice cream; If you continue to be exciting to me, then I’ll stay with you.

We also tend to turn God’s promises into laws. If things don’t seem to be coming together as we think they ought to, perhaps we aren’t sufficiently fulfilling all the conditions that we ought to. This is the motivation for a lot of human activity.

Even if we don’t explicitly put obligations or demands on others, our attempts at promise-making still end up with conditions attached. I might promise to visit you in hospital, but the bridge I needed to drive across is blocked or perhaps I myself will fall ill. Tough luck. These things happen.

And no matter how much we attempt to avoid adding conditions to our promises, there’s one that we can’t get rid of: death. I can do everything in my power to gift you a future, but if I die, you’re out of luck. I’m taking your hopes with me.

To truly make a promise, then, death would have to be defeated. There would have to be something or someone who could be relied upon without fear that they might die and take our hopes for the future with them. A good thing, then, that Jesus Christ is risen.

In his life and resurrection, Jesus also short-circuits our attempts to turn God’s promises into laws. In his life, he constantly refused to place conditions for our worthiness to be part of his Kingdom. By overcoming death in his resurrection, he removes the last possible condition.

Ok, you might be saying to yourself, but what is the promise, already?

The answer is that what Jesus did in his life on Earth will continue into the future without limit. What did Jesus do? He lived his life entirely for others. Jesus’s life was perfect self-giving love. If Jesus is risen, then this self-giving love will go on without limit. And, as alive, we can expect him to surprise us just as any other living person does.

If Jesus’s life of self-giving love is without limit or condition. This means, for one thing, that we are met where we are with all of our hopes and aspirations for the future. If Jesus is risen, then somehow something will be made of them. Whatever they are, they will be interpreted by the love of Christ.

As Jenson puts it, “Jesus will speak the word of love, to all [people] and to every incident of their lives.”

This is a very practical point. It makes sense, for instance, of why Christians should do things like, as we engaged in recently, a day of prayer concerning Brexit. If Jesus is risen, then the whole mess of hopes and fears and conflicting interests thrown up by that issue will, in the fullness of time, be interpreted by love. This is a hope that is worth sharing which the Church, confident in the promise of Christ, can offer.

That the promise of Jesus can be held on to no matter what, is of great comfort. I don’t know about you, but in recent time I have frequently found myself waking up in the morning and squinting my eyes at my phone screen only to see some new horror in the world. This morning we heard the terrible news of more than one hundred dead in Sri Lanka, many of which were celebrating their own Easter Day mass.

If Christ is risen, then we have hope for all those who were lost today. Their lives also can rise again with Christ. But even more radically, if Christ is risen, the church bombers and mosque shooters of the world are not hopeless cases. Their hopes, however twisted, for justice or harmony or to be loved will be fulfilled (even if they would not recognise as they are now). Christ speaks to all of us in our individuality and where we are.

The universality of the promise made in Christ is present in what we have heard from Isaiah, where all of the nations assemble before God and where God promises to gather His people from the four corners of the world, and where even “the jackals and ostriches” will honour God. If Jesus is risen, then everything is part of the story of Easter.

The mystery of Easter is inexhaustible. It’s unlikely that any other event has been thought about in as much detail as the events of Easter. And yet there is always more to say and consider. One consequence of this is that it is hard to know when to stop talking!

I’ll conclude with something about our role in this story. In our short Gospel reading, Jesus says “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. What Jesus is, we are to be too. We do this by allowing ourselves and our hopes to be transformed by the living love of Christ.

Our Gospel reading also suggests some of the means by which we can be transformed. In it, Jesus gives ‘the Spirit’ to his apostles. One thing this represents is an authority (to ‘forgive sins’ in our reading). This authority was passed on to their successors right up to the Church of the present day. In the life of the Church we both directly encounter the risen Christ in the sacraments and hear his word in scripture. (It is not an accident that we move straight from claims about the Spirit to claims about the Church in the creeds).

The Spirit will, as Jesus says earlier in John’s Gospel, “guide [us] into all … truth”. This is another promise, and, as such, directs out attention to the future: to what we will be. As Jenson understands it, the idea that God is trinity is an insistence that God acts in time. God, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, ensures that the past (our origin with the Father) and future (our living in to the Spirit) hold together. For if Jesus touches all of us in our own situations, then what we have been (the past) will be turned by Jesus’s love into what we will be (the future).

The resurrection thus gives us a freedom to act in the world. Because Jesus is risen, we can live confidently in to the future no matter how hopeless things might appear. The love that Jesus showed in his life and death will transform us, and by virtue of that love, we will become ever more fully who we really are. The triune God ensures, as Jenson puts it, that the past and the future will ‘rhyme’. There is, for my money, no greater freedom than that.

LENT & HOLY WEEK IN THE COMMUNITY

I guess you might be wondering how we mark Lent and Holy Week.

Veiling the Crucifix in the Priory Church ready for Passiontide

During Lent Br Josh has been leading a Bible Study for the Anglican Congregations on Wednesday evening at St Mary’s Priory and Friday morning at Holy Trinity Church. The study is called the Bible Course, and provides a general overview of the entire Bible. This is very helpful for being able to place our lectionary readings in their context and for our own engagement with the Bible.

Saturday evenings have seen us walking the Stations of the Cross. On the Eve of Passion Sunday it was great to welcome Fr Tom Reagan OSB to lead us in the Stations.

In our reading slot, usually dedicated to Patristics, we have been studying a Lent Book written by our old friend Jane Williams, entitled The Merciful Humility of God. This book has formed the basis of our study in our Community Meetings on Tuesday evenings.

The book invites us both into the form of humility shown by God in the life of Jesus and into contact with lives that have been transformed by God’s humility. God’s power is, she says, to be understood in terms of God’s humility. That is, God doesn’t need anything from us and so is free to serve us in a completely gratuitous form of humility. Something like this is then seen in the lives of figures like Augustine and Julian of Norwich, who have been touched by the humble God.


We have added None to our daily public round of prayer each day during Lent. Our community lunch in now bookended by the Office. The addition to our daily prayers of Psalm 126, with its promise of a joyful harvest, and Psalm 127, with its reminder that it is God who is responsible for our growth and not us, have been a blessing to us during this Lent.

During Holy Week we will be actively involved in the round of Liturgy at the local Anglican Churches. For details See here. This means that offices will not be said publicly over the Triduum.

This year we as a Community are again responsible for the Easter Window in the Town Centre, on behalf of the local Council of Churches. We last did the window depicting the story of the Passion and Resurrection in 2015

Looking forward to our new year

Now that we are reruting for new members to join the Holywell Community we are starting to think about our new year.

We are very pleased that the founder Abbot of Mucknell Abbey, Rt Revd Br Stuart OSB will be the preacher at our Commissioning Service on Sunday, August 11th at 11am at St Mary’s Priory Church, Abergavenny.

A week later Bishop Dominic Walker OGS will lead our Retreat at the Convent of the Sisters of Jesus Way on the Wirral.

Preaching to the Choir

On Friday nights the Choir’s trebles sing Vespers and are given a short homily. The following is from Br Josh, reflecting on their singing of Psalm 73:23-26:

“Yet I am always with you
you hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with your counsel
and afterwards receive me with glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing upon earth that I desire
in comparison with you.
Though my flesh and my heart fail me
God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever.”

When I was younger I was very snobbish about music. I’m still a bit of a snob, but I’m slowly getting better.

I hope that you don’t suffer from the same problem that I do. You’re all excellent musicians and you obviously care a lot about your music, so you would have an excuse!

One kind of Christian music which I really did not like when I was a teenager is what sometimes gets called “Jesus is my boyfriend” music. You might have heard some if you’ve ever attended Christian youth events or perhaps at worship services in other churches.

It’s goes something like: “oh, oh, oh I need you, I need you, I need you” or “I want to feel your warm embrace”, or whatever. One song even has the line “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss”.

You wouldn’t need much to turn some of these songs into non-Christian love songs. Because of this, I was quite cynical about the people who really liked them: ‘they don’t care about Jesus, what they really want is a boyfriend. Gross.’ I on the other hand was a good strong non-sentimental Christian.

Now no matter what you think of how good the kind of music I’m talking about is (and I still don’t like it!). I was being a terrible snob. But much worse, I was being a terrible Christian!

What many of the fans of these worships songs see, and what I failed to fully grasp, is that love of God is something like the love of another person.

Thankfully, you don’t need contemporary worship bands to have access to this idea. It runs throughout the Psalm you’ve just sang and in most of the Psalms you sing on Sundays.

God, through Jesus, can be thought of as (in verse 23) holding your hand, (in verse 24) giving you advice and welcoming you home, (in verse 25) as more important to you than anything else on earth, and (in verse 26) as someone who you can rely on no matter what happens to you in your life.

Thinking that God is worth more than anything else doesn’t mean that you should think any less of the other people and things in your life. In fact, rather than bring other things down, you can think of other things as bringing God up. Every time you experience something good, your idea of what God is can expand. God is, almost by definition, the best thing and every new experience of a good thing can help us to grow our idea of what the best thing is like.

Finally, one other thing which runs through the Psalms is the idea that God is always with us. And this is one way that God is different from anyone or anything else. Everything in our world can break, but God is not like that. This means that we can rely on God to be there no matter what happens.

Anyway, all this doesn’t make me want to sing modern “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs. I’d much rather listen to you singing the Psalms. But it does make me regret how condescending I was to my fellow Christians when I was an teenager. These ideas also help me to engage with the Psalms when I read them. I hope you will find them useful as well.

Alumni Reflections (2): Joanna

I came to the Holywell Community a year after graduating university, having spent a year working in university administration, and beginning to explore my sense of vocation in the Church. At this time I thought that I might have a call to the Religious Life, but I wasn’t yet sure, and wanted some time to reflect, grow in my faith, and examine the different options available to me. My university chaplain passed this email on to me, and after visiting the community, I decided to move to Abergavenny and take a step forward on my vocational journey. 
My year in Abergavenny gave me the opportunity to live in a Christian community, and explore what that might mean, in all its blessings and challenges. Working alongside clergy, lay readers, lay leaders and leaders from other denominational backgrounds gave me a chance to reflect on what areas of ministry I might be called to, and to step outside of my comfort zone. Over the year I helped with an ecumenical youth outreach centre, helped lead a toddler group, preached at Evensong, gave talks on life in community, learnt to make a decent cup of coffee, and much more! The support of the community and the time to pray built into the monastic rhythm of our life gave me time to think about my own journey, and led me to joining a traditional Anglican Religious Community as an Alongsider, and more recently as a Postulant. 
Spending time in a new monastic community isn’t just for those who think they might be called to the Religious Life, or even to the Priesthood (although it’s a great way to explore those options.) Previous members of the Holywell Community have gone on to a diverse range of careers, and different ways of serving the Church. Spending a year living in Christian community and having the joy of talking about my faith every day was transformational for me, and I’m very thankful for the support of the Anglican parishes of Abergavenny and the Holywell Community on my journey. 

Joanna Postulant SSC (2017/18) is now at Ty Mawr Convent