How can Christian identity be a force for good not ill?

Pixabay: free use

A homily given at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

If you’re of the same vintage as me, you’ll be able to complete this famous cue-line from children’s TV. It has to be done loudly!

“It’s Friday, it’s five to five . . . It’s Crackerjack!”

Yes Crackerjack is coming back next year, no doubt with its famous Double or Drop game, in which the contestants are given a prize for every right answer, and a cabbage for every wrong one – but have to hold the lot, without dropping any, or lose the lot instead.

It’s just like life really: prizes, cabbages, and the fear that it will all collapse in the end. In fact, it’s not a fear, it’s an inevitability: every person passes away, every political arrangement comes to an end; and in every generation it’s a massive balancing act to try and keep the show on the road. I’ll say nothing about Brexit.

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King of Bling? Southend’s famous Anglo-Saxon burial revealed

The story of an Anglo-Saxon grave hit the press on 30 April, likening the occupant to an Essex Tutankhamun. (At the time of discovery, the Sun newspaper dubbed him the Bling King!)

Why is this significant? Why were so many people needed to study what was in effect a single trench whose longest side was 15 metres? And why did it take them so long?

An excellent article in SALON, the newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries, explains …

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Pembridge, St Mary

We called in at Pembridge Church by accident over the Bank Holiday weekend, caught out by the coldness of the weather and thinking a coffee shop was there that was really in Weobley… We sensed a warm and living faith there though, that drew on the depth of its history (this was a Mortimer place) rather than fighting or denying it. Tapestries of the history were on display, but even more striking were the reconstructed costumes of the figures from the chest tomb in the chancel.

The church is known for its massive detached bell-tower – another place of safety – which benefitted from a full DoE restoration in 1983. Well done Government: more please.

Kempley, St Mary

The kindness of friends took us on an outing across the county boundary to Kempley, a church which still breathes and speaks the twelfth-century when it was built for the de Lacy’s, with a massive west tower a century later when the Welsh were launching reprisal raids and places of safety were needed. Some window enlargement and a typical Herefordshire porch (albeit in Shropshire) followed in the later Middle Ages and a Jacobean ceiling was added beneath the original nave roof, but the feeling remains, as the small single-cell nave leads into a smaller chancel still covered in its original wall-paintings, recreating heaven on earth.

The effect is Mediterranean, with Byzantine and even Coptic features – and that is now, with the colours so muted by time.

The nave wall-painting survives too, though this time it is fourteenth or perhaps fifteenth century. We saw St Anthony Abbott at Croft. Here he is again, being tempted by the Devil. And the prize question is, can see his pig by his feet? I can make out two possible candidates amongst the lines and scars, but was declared to have a strong imagination by one of our hosts…

The church is thankfully in the care of English Heritage, with the support of Friends. It is perhaps time that more of our small ancient churches were taken into state care, though that is a vexed subject (and it will be interesting to see how things work out at Notre Dame where the state does of course have “ownership” and the church mighty well feel pushed out: one politician declared “this is not a cathedral”). And what a contrast to Croft where despite being on National Trust property the church struggles even to repair the roof.

Croft, St Michael and all Angels

A gorgeous setting, in the grounds of Croft Castle, for a charming church (where it was also a delight to bump unexpectedly into old Ely friends as well).

The highlight for me were the fine lower figures of saints on the chest tomb of Sir Richard and Lady Croft c.1510 – reminding us that on the eve of the Commotion what we think of as fifteenth-century style and Catholic sentiment was enjoying a flourishing time. St Anthony is on the left with his usual pig (his Hospitallers were given runts that they let loose with bells round there heads to beg off the locals: Tantony pigs). On the right is St Roche baring his leg to show the page bubo that he survived (oddly with a small person by it rather than the dog who ministered to him). Both – for ergotism (St Anthony’s Fire) and the Plague – would have been saints whose intercessions were valuable for the afflicted.

The stand-out feature of the church is, of course, the bell-turret of around 1700 with its leaded ogee-shaped cupola. Sadly the leadwork has had to be removed (with a tarpaulin in place for the moment) pending renewal, and more than sadly grant applications to help with it seem to have got stalled. It is shouting out silently for someone to put their hand into their pocket more deeply than we or the locals (who also have another listed church to look after) could do. Read the story at

Following Jesus with St John: Holy Week Addresses

I had the privilege as regular reeders of this blog will know of preaching Holy Week St Margaret’s, Ilkley this year. A real “sermonathon” as the Vicar put it of nine homilies in eight days. But what a wonderful opportunity to follow in the steps of Jesus once again with St John as our guide. (We mostly used the set lections which draw largely on his Gospel.)

The individual homilies were put on this book as they were delivered, but I have gathered now into a single (.pdf) script both for own reference in the future and for anyone else to whom they might be a help.

To the Cross and Beyond!

Following Jesus with St John