Angels in the depths of Herts

More excavated remains from the Stone Age… Back in 1980, en route to ordination, I was learning how to make a retreat, and went over to the convent of St Mary and the Angels  that the Sisters of the Love of God had then in Hemel Hempstead. The chapel is pictured above. It closed in 2003 and fifty houses stand there now, I think. A Betjeman moment is allowed.

Anyway, I was captivated (of course) by the sisters, and find I wrote a rather Betjeman-like poem about them; and here it is.

St Mary and the angels live
In Hemel Hempstead’s posher parts.
St Mary? Well, we’ve heard her name;
But angels, in the depths of Herts?

Yes, angels, six, with squeaky voices,
Patched up slippers and spectacles.
Sisters there for the Love of God
And so – just so – His oracles.

Angels, like that Yiddish carthorse,
Forgive me sisters, for being bold,
Whose listening spoke to Rabbi Blue
Of truth to self in Mile End Road.*

They’re still there now at Terce or Sext
While I’m off on the 125.
A rumour as I run away
To keep the love of God alive.

* I was reading Lionel Blue on the retreat – ‘Backdoor to Heaven’ I think – and he recounts a meeting with a carthorse in Mile End Road who becomes an angel to him [for his listening rather than his speaking].


A liturgy to mark the ending of a parish ministry

I’m sorting things out as we get ready to move, and came across this little liturgy from another farewell – when I left Cockermouth in 2003 to become an archdeacon. It struck me then that we make a great fuss when a new minister is put in, with the bishop there and a special service – but much less when the minister leaves. And that’s a shame because there are often some very mixed feelings around a real need for both thanksgiving and handing on. So here’s what we did back in the Stone Age:

A liturgy for the ending of a ministry

After the Post-Communion Prayer:

The minister who is leaving moves to chancel step where he/she is joined by ministerial colleagues, churchwardens [and congregational representatives]

On a small table nearby: a chalice & paten*; a Bible; church keys [and gifts for the congregation**]

Minister              Handing chalice and paten to ordained colleague

                           X, on behalf of the clergy of this parish/these parishes, receive this chalice and paten as a sign of the ministry of the sacrament which we have shared and which I now leave with you.

                           Handing Bible to lay colleague

                           X, on behalf of the ministry team of this parish/these parishes, receive this Bible as a sign of the ministry of the word which we have shared and which I now leave with you.

                           Handing keys to churchwardens

                           X and X, on behalf of the churchwardens and people of this parish/these parishes, receive these keys as a sign of the responsibility which we have shared and which I now leave with you.

                           [Handing gifts for congregation to their representatives

                           X and X, on behalf of the congregations of this parish/these parishes, receive these gifts to distribute to God’s people, as a sign of the new life in Christ that we have shared together and which we will now live out in our new situations, still one in Him.

The minister kneels at the chancel  step and a colleague leads prayer for her/him – e.g.

Colleague            Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the fellowship and ministry which we have shared with X during her/his time as Y in our parish/es. We now release her/him for her/his new ministry as Z, and ask that you will bless her/him and bless her/him richly, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The minister then stands and turns and says the prayer of blessing on the people and the service then continues with the final hymn and dismissal.

* Bread and wine could also be used.

** The gifts given at the first use of this liturgy were seed peas (variety ‘Forward’!) which the members of the congregation were asked to sow and harvest as a sign of their continuing growth under God after the minister had left.

Loving one another

I’m glad to see my Ely ‘Farewell Sermon’ over at is getting good traffic. It’s on the eternal theme of Loving One Another.

As I look back (and look forward) taking this really seriously seems crucial. How couldn’t it?

If we do not love as Christ has loved us, we are not in him, and do not share his life. If we do not follow his command to love, his Spirit is not sent to us. If we are not loving one another then we are not the body of Christ and not his Holy Church.

I’ve sometimes read that “one another” means the commandment only applies between <genuine> Christians. Some of the many one-another sayings are indeed focussed on the body of believers, but when it comes to love, Jesus breaks down every barrier, and there can be no mandate to do other than love brothers and sisters, neighbours and enemies alike.

That is what the love of Jesus is like, given to us when we were yet sinners. That is what our love must be like too.

Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust Engage Award Winners 2018 #9 St Luke’s LEP, Cambridge

What our judge said:
A tragedy was the catalyst in creating the Living Room, a safe, community space in St Luke’s church. The result is described as a ‘non-churchy’ space which is both comfortable and non-threatening. What a splendid use of a previously unused gallery.


My version of Psalm 139, as sung at the Farewell Service: do use it!

Tune: Picardy (French Carol)

1 You have searched me Lord and you know me,

You know when I sit and I stand.

You perceive my thoughts as I form them,

You know all my words as they’re planned.

You discern my daily goings out and in,

You hold all my ways in your hand.

2 Where then can I hide from your Spirit?

Where is there to flee from your face?

Though I seek out heaven or the hell-pit

You are there throughout time and space.

Though I rise up on the wings of the dawn,

Still your hand gives me tight embrace.

3 If I say the darkness will hide me

And the light be night dark as may,

Even darkness will not be dark then,

And the night will shine as the day.

For all darkness is as light to you,

Lord who breathed life into my clay.

4 You have made my innermost being,

In my mother’s womb you wove me;

Watched my unformed body framing,

Wonderfully, fearfully me.

All my days ordained were written in your book

Before one of them came to be.

5 Search me then O God and know me,

Test my anxious thoughts with your gaze.

Forge me free from all that is evil,

Faithfully to serve all my days.

Lead me Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one,

In your everlasting ways.

© David Thomson

Permission is given for non-commercial use

Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust Engage Award Winners 2018 #8 Lighthouse Café, Great Gransden Baptist Church

What our judge said:
Providing an antidote to social isolation is part of this amazing project. By hosting a weekly café which attracts over 60 customers Gt Gransden Baptist church is tackling a real social need as well as demonstrating God’s love to the wider community.


Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust Engage Award Winners 2018 #7 St Mary the Virgin, Great Abington

What our judge said:
The C of E’s report on the rural church ‘Released for Mission’ stated “When toilets and a kitchen are in a church the building is used much more frequently”. This is especially true here at St Mary’s where the PCC has witnessed significant growth in activities in the church and churchyard following the creation of these splendid facilities.