VISITOR’S FORMAL WELCOME- October 13th

The Rt Revd Lord Williams of Oystermouth (Dr Rowan Williams) will make his first official visit to the Community as Visitor on Sunday October 13th.

He will preach at the 11am Sung Eucharist and be presented with the Visitors Pectoral Cross by the Prior.

Bishop Rowan became Visitor on April 29th this year. He is a former Archbishop of Wales & Canterbury and a former Bishop of Monmouth.

Lord Williams on a previous visit to Abergavenny

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Another Community Year draws to a close

The Holy Eucharist for the Feast of St Benedict celebrated at 6pm this evening marks the close of the Holywell Community Year.

During the Eucharist Celebrated by the Prior and Deaconed by Founder Lay Member Revd SamuelPatterson, a new Banner for the Community House made by Liz Brown was dedicated.

Although the Community is officially down until August 11th we will be undertaking some duties:

  • saying our offices privately
  • this Saturday the Prior, Sub Prior & Br Seb will be at the Glastonbury Pilgrimage
  • Br Josh will be at the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage

Jacob and Esau (Evensong Sermon for 30th June)

Texts: Genesis 27:1-40; Psalm 59:1-5, 16, 17; Psalm 60; Mark 6:1-6.

Is it possible to be a good thief?

In one sense, yes. Think of classic heist movies like the Italian Job or more recent films like the Oceans franchise. There’s something exhilarating about watching someone skilfully lowering themselves through a window into a jewellery store, weaving through a laser alarm system, or expertly piloting a mini through Italy. So: one can at least be skilled at stealing things. In this sense, you can be a good thief.

But in another sense, the answer is less clear. The purpose of theft is, almost by definition, bad. To take something that doesn’t belong to you, is to take from someone else. Now, we can imagine various situations in which we might think of theft as justified (Robin Hood comes to mind — and I’ve just been told about Twm Sion Cati), but it remains that in normal situations it is not. No matter how impressive the skills of someone stealing your TV are, these skills are part of a life oriented around a bad purpose. In this sense, you can’t be a good thief.

In other words, we can distinguish between appreciating skilful means for carrying out some end and appreciating the end itself. How well something is carried out, and whether it is done for a good reason or not are different questions.

Now, imagine the following, thankfully fictional, situation: Fr Mark approaches you and says to you “we’re in dire financial straits, but these lay members of the Holywell Community, they’re insured for £1,000,000 each. I’ve decided we’ll have to get rid of that pesky Br Josh. What do you think I should do?”

Now there are two different kids of answer you could give. You could pause for a moment and scratch your head, and say something like “well, he likes his coffee, you should add some rat poison to it”. Alternatively, you could say “yikes! what are you thinking! you need to see a therapist immediately!” That is, you could offer some action which you hope will stop Fr Mark from wanting to kill me.

The first answer says something like “If you want to kill Br Josh, then you should poison his coffee”, the second says “If you want to kill Br Josh, then you need psychiatric help.” The first leaves the purpose (“if you want to kill Br Josh”) standing, the second challenges Fr Mark’s stated purpose.

Again we see the distinction between evaluating whether an action is a good way of carrying out some purpose and whether a purpose is a good one to have.

Sometimes it’s hard to draw the distinction. It’s all well and good to imagine how you’d rob a bank, but we can easily be put off by people who spend their time imagining what the best way to murder someone (in the previous example, me!) or other even more serious crimes.

While we need not be comfortable pondering the finer points of the practice of extreme moral evils, it can be useful for us to try and do it in less extreme cases. And I want to suggest to you tonight, that it can be valuable for our reading of the Bible.

Our Old Testament text, tonight, provides a good example of this. In our reading from Genesis, we hear of the twins Jacob and Esau and how Jacob tricked their father Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for Esau.

Jacob is, in many ways, the hero of this part of the Bible. He follows on from Abraham and Isaac as, lets say, the main protagonist. Yet here he is, straightforwardly lying to his father in order to trick his brother out of something which was his. This seems hardly a way for God or God’s people to act. The very thought that our Bible encourages this sort of behaviour might make us balk and move on.

Let’s try to set aside our moral evaluation of the situation for a moment though, just as we would when watching a good heist film, and let ourselves inhabit and be entertained by the story for a bit. We can (and will) return to moral evaluation later.

First, lets consider the characters of the twins Jacob and Esau; the smooth man and the hairy man. Esau is hairy, incredibly hairy. He’s so hairy that his hands can be mimiced by the hair of a goat. Jacob couldn’t grow a beard to save his life. Esau is keen on hunting, while Jacob sticks to the fields.

While they were twins, Esau emerged just before Jacob, with Jacob coming out grasping Esau’s heel. Esau thus took the all-important status of first-born male. However, in a slightly earlier episode he gives up his birthright in exchange for a lentil stew. He’s hungry and wants to be fed now! Forget the future. (Here perhaps, supporters of agriculture are mocking the fusty and old-fashioned hunter-gatherers).

Biblical scholars will be quick to note that these two figures stand in for two different groups of people: the Edomites and the Jewish peoples. In the Hebrew, the description of Esau is full of references to Edom… and as we have just heard in the Psalm, the Israelites weren’t particularly keen on Edom (‘on Edom I hurl my shoe’). So Esau is, amongst other things, a bit of a caricature of local rivals.

We then come to their parents: Isaac and Rebekah. Rebekah prefers Jacob and Isaac prefers Esau. Isaac offers his blessing to his favoured child. Rebekah overhears and sends Jacob in instead.

One aspect of Isaac’s preference for Esau must be the fact that Esau is a hunter. Isaac claims to prefer game meat. Rebekah sees through this, of course. We can imagine her rolling her eyes as she sends Jacob out to get some kids from their herd to kill instead. The old man can’t tell the difference, can he!? You get the sense that Isaac was the kind of guy who would insist that he can. But Rebekah knows better. This kind of pretension is always (at least a bit) funny to see broken.

Indeed, the whole plot, with Jacob donning his brother’s clothes to take on his smell, and putting on the skin of goats to mimic his hair, is Rebekah’s idea. She knows exactly how to trick the old man. She even offers to take the consequences if the plan does not succeed.

But the plan works perfectly, and Jacob steals Esau’s blessing. Esau is furious. He begs Isaac to take back his blessing — but what is done is done. Perhaps Isaac sees something in Jacob such that he now thinks his blessing is more appropriate. Esau then receives an inferior blessing: while it is promised to Jacob that he will rule over all his brothers, it is promised to Esau that he will live a life of violence and eventually break free of the rule of Jacob.

Having set moral evaluation aside for a moment, now is a good time to bring it back. Before turning to our readings, we thought a little about ends and means and how these factor into whether an action is right or wrong. That is, our purposes and the actions we engage in to achieve them. We know what Rebekah and Jacob did. But why did they do it?

To answer this question we have to flash back slightly to when Rebekah was pregnant with the twins. Their battles began in utero. What could this mean? Rebekah is told by God that she has two nations warring within her (remember: Edom and Israel). She is also told that the younger will rule over the older. This is, in effect, a promise from God that Jacob is to be the one through whom his family on Earth will be continued.

The blessing that Isaac gives Jacob, dressed as Esau, includes the claim that Jacob will rule over his brothers (and be blessed in his dealings with the land, etc). Rebekah, presumably knowing this, sends in Jacob in order to make sure he is the one to rule over his brothers. That is, she is attempting to ensure that what God has promised her will come to pass.

Now, in general, it’s not a bad idea to want God purposes to come about in the world. It’s not a bad idea to actively work for this. When we pray “thy kingdom come”, we ought not to think this is the work for someone else. It is God’s work that we are instruments in. We have a role to play.

The deception of Isaac was carried out for a good purpose. Indeed, you might say the best of purposes, to work towards the realisation of God’s purposes. This is different from the case we imagined before, where Fr Mark is plotting to kill me for insurance money. If we bracket out his desire to fund the Holywell Community, then the problem here is that he has a bad purpose. Any action carried out in order to achieve the bad purpose, would be inadmissible.

Rebekah, trying to satisfy a good purpose, encourages Jacob to deceive Isaac. This is, as it turns out, one way for the promise made to Rebekah by God to be fulfilled. But was it the only way? We can’t know what would have happened had Jacob not deceived his father. He did it. But as a general principle: we can say that God doesn’t require for us to ‘do evil that good may come’. We might think that skirting the rules of morality is acceptable if it leads to good consequences. But this isn’t the what the Christian tradition teaches (of course, it has been the Church’s way of acting in many cases…).

Simply put: the ends don’t justify the means.

Indeed, while the snippet of the text we have just heard might suggest that God is on the side of the bad person in the story, in its wider context we see that Jacob and Rebekah both suffer because of their deception. Jacob has to run away from the wrath of Esau and is himself deceived into marrying a woman he did not want to marry. Rebekah, for her part, does not see Jacob ever again. There are consequences for this deception.

God will not call us to evil actions. So, if we think we ought to do something evil (or merely bad) in order to get something done for God: God doesn’t need this kind of help from us!

Working for God’s purposes is hard. God can be a very frustrating partner in our actions and our ideas about how God’s purposes will be achieved can get in the way of our going along with God’s activity.

This is one of the things that is happening in our passage from Mark. Jesus, having performed all sorts of deeds of power on the other side of the lake (he’s raised someone from the dead! what more do you people want!?) is rejected by the people of his own town.

The words that the people in Nazareth use are quite instructive: isn’t this the handyman!? Don’t we know his family?! Who does he think he is!?

The people of Nazareth think they know what kind of thing God does, and the kind of people that God chooses. They reckon that God can’t possibly choose someone they’ve known… someone from their own place. Perhaps they’ve told themselves that they can’t do anything from their position: and here’s Jesus, from down the road, claiming that he is the means by which the kingdom of God has appeared on Earth.

They reject Jesus. They can’t go along with God’s activity because of their preconceived ideas about what that activity will look like.

Our two readings thus present to us two kinds of mistake that we can make. Rebekah and the people of Nazareth both have some sense of what God is up to in the world. Rebekah has been told directly that the younger of the twins will rule the older and the people of Nazareth are familiar with the promises of a coming Kingdom that have been made by God through the prophets.

Rebekah and Jacob hurry things along by choosing a bad way of bringing about what God has already promised will happen. They deceive Isaac and cheat Esau. No matter how amusing their ruse, (and we should allow ourselves to enjoy it at least a little) it’s still wrong. Good purpose, bad means.

The people of Nazareth presumably think the promise of a Messiah is a good thing, and that the appearance of a Messiah would be a good thing. They think that God’s purposes are good as well. But when they see how God is bringing them about, when they see God in front of them in human form, they think these can’t possibly be the means.

That is, Rebekah tries to bring about God’s work by bad means, while the people of Nazareth can’t even recognise God’s activity when it is right in front of them.

May God help us to avoid both of these mistakes. Amen.

Founder Member Sam is Deaconed

The Prior, Canon Mark Soady states

“The Community came of age today when one of our Founder Members was Ordained Deacon”.

As the Community prepares to celebrate its 5th Anniversary, Founder Member, Samuel Patterson was Deaconed today in Newport by the Archbishop of Wales.

Deacon Samuel: His ordination Stole incorporates the Holywell Cross

Sam joined the Community on the day it launched: September 1st 2014 and stayed for two years before embarking on theological training.

Deacon Samuel will deacon the Community’s St Benedict Day Mass on July 11th at 6pm at St Mary’s Priory Church.

During the Ordination Service Deacon Sam was the Deacon of the Mass.

The Founder Members: Fr Mark, Ami & Deacon Sam

Bernard Mizeki remembered today

Today (June 18th) the Holywell Community will remember Bernard Mizeki martyred in Africa in 1896. The Fellowship of St John the Evangelist have named a grant in his honour. That grant has been awarded to the Community this year.

He was born Mamiyeli Mitseki Gwambe in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) and around the age of 12 he moved to Cape Town. He was educated by the monks of the Society of St John the Evangelist at their night school. He excelled as a student, particularly as a linguist. He mastered English, French, high Dutch and eight African languages – later in his life his work as a translator of sacred texts was pioneering and invaluable. He was baptised in 1886 and took the name Bernard. He then went to work at St Columba’s Hostel in Cape Town – a shelter run by SSJE to house African men particularly to protect them against alcoholism. From here Bernard was sponsored to attend Zonnebloem College to train to become a catechist. In 1891 he accompanied Bishop George Knight-Bruce to the new missionary diocese of Mashonaland in Southern Rhodesia – here Bernard Mizeki became the catechist to the Shona people. He set up his mission station at Nhowe

A persecution of Christians arose in 1896 – African missionaries were targeted for being agents of the colonial government. Bernard was warned to leave but he stated he was the servant of Christ alone. The persecution became more organised but still Bernard remained at his station. On the night of 18 June 1896 he was taken from his hut and killed, probably at the instruction of a local witch doctor. This date is now kept in the kalendars of several Anglican provinces as the feast day of the Bernard Mizeki, the proto-martyr of southern Africa and the place of his ministry and death is a great centre of pilgrimage. Soon after Bernard’s martyrdom the first Shona people, inspired by his example, were baptised.

Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of your love in the heart of your holy martyr Bernard Mizeki: Grant to us, your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Archbishop to admit new members- August 11th at 15.30hrs

The Archbishop of Wales, The Most Revd John Davies will Celebrate the Sung Eucharist service at 3.30pm on August 11th that will see the new Lay Members admitted to the Community.

The Archbishop ‘high fiveing’ a former Lay Member

The Service which will mark the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Patron Saint of St Mary’s Priory Church, will hear a sermon from the former Abbot of Mucknell Abbey, Rt Revd Br Stuart OSB.

Brothers Josh and Sebastian will be re-admitted and Nicolas Boisson will join the Community. A new Concentor, Nathaniel Hood will join the Community at a later stage.

Nicolas, a French citizen, who worships at the American Anglican Cathedral in Paris, has previously lived with a monastic Community in the United States. He comes to us with much experience of children’s work.

Nathaniel, a New Zealand citizen, is currently an Organist in Liverpool, having worked as an Organ Builders Assistant.

The Prior, Fr Mark said: ” As the Community enters its sixth year we continue to grow in strength. With Nathaniel and Nicolas the next year promises to be as exciting as this year has proved to be. It is a sign of the word-wide recognition of what we do that we are recruiting internationally.”

Looking Back on Thy Kingdom Come

For the last 10 days, we’ve been participating in Thy Kingdom Come. It’s been a very rewarding time for us. Here’s what we’ve been getting up to:

We distributed family prayer boxes around the parish, and further afield, which have been well received:

Br Josh set up a prayer trail at St Mary’s Priory, inspired by the recent run of ‘The Bible Course’ during Lent. The seven stations set up around the church correspond to the different parts of the Bible. He tweeted his way through the stations over the week. To see stations 1-5 click below:

For stations 6 and 7, click below:

Our daily prayer also changed for the time between Ascension and Pentecost. We’ve been praying the following prayer from Benedictine Daily Prayer two times daily (at Lauds and Vespers):

Heavenly Father, when your Son was about to ascend to heaven, he promised the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. Hear our prayer and grant that as they received multiple gifts of heavenly truth, we too may receive the gifts of your Spirit. This we ask of you through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We hope that you have also found this period of prayer rewarding and that you come away from it filled with the Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.