Show of Hands: ‘Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy / The Falmouth Packet / Haul Away Joe’

For your listening pleasure tonight – some fine traditional folk music from ‘Show of Hands’.


War and Peace (1973)

We’re about a third of the way through the 1973 BBC miniseries of War and Peace. I’ve never seen it before (can’t think how I’ve missed it), and it’s a while since I’ve read the book, but the miniseries is reminding me of how much I love this story. Tolstoy’s characters are so real and so believable, and he paints them in all their human frailty and perversity as well as their goodness and nobility. I’m particularly enjoying Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Pierre, one of Tolstoy’s best and most complicated characters.

Up until now I’ve said that Anna Karenina is my favourite (not just of Tolstoy, but of all the great Russian novelists), but I think I may be coming around to the orthodox view that War and Peace is the best. Except for the fifty page philosophical reflection at the end; don’t even try to read that part!

Where the Anglican Church of Canada stands on the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill.

Council of General Synod passed the following motion at its meeting in Mississauga, Ontario on Saturday November 14th:
This Council of General Synod expresses its dismay and concern over the draft proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently before the Parliament of Uganda.
The proposed Bill would severely impede the human rights of Ugandan citizens both at home and abroad by infringing freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, freedom of organization, and legitimate advocacy of civil rights. It would impose excessive and cruel penalties on persons who experience same-sex attraction as well as those who counsel, support, and advise them, including family members and clergy.
We affirm that our baptismal covenant requires us to “respect the dignity of every human being” and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves.” We further note that 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1:10 called upon the Church to reject the irrational fear of homosexual persons and to create opportunities to listen to the voice and experience of homosexual Christians. We recall that the Primates Meeting in Dromantine, Ireland 2005 condemned all persecution and violence towards homosexual persons. Clearly, the proposed Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill fails to meet these standards.
We therefore call upon the Church of the Province of Uganda to oppose this Private Member’s Bill: and we call upon our own Government of Canada, through the Minister of External Affairs, to convey to the Government of Uganda a deep sense of alarm about this fundamental violation of human rights and, through diplomatic channels, to press for its withdrawal; and we ask the Primate to send this message to the appropriate bodies.

St. Margaret of Scotland

This is my sermon from November 16th last year – the feast of St. Margaret of Scotland, after whom our church is named.In the church year, today is the feast day of St. Margaret of Scotland, the patron saint of this church; she died on November 16th 1093, nine hundred and fifteen years ago today. As I think about the story of her life I’m reminded of these words of Jesus:

You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).

These words could be a description of the life of our patron saint; she was a member of the aristocracy and came into a position of great influence as Queen of Scotland, but she did not think she had been given that position in order to lord it over others. Instead, she is remembered as a person who spent her life serving others. Let me tell you her story.

Margaret was the granddaughter of the English king Edmund Ironside, but because of dynastic disputes she was born in Hungary, in the year 1047. She had one brother, Edgar, and a sister, Christian; her brother was regarded by some people as the rightful heir to the throne of England. In 1054 the Witan, the parliament of Anglo-Saxon England, decided to bring the family back from Hungary so that they could inherit the throne when King Edward the Confessor died, as Edward had no children. So Edgar, Christian and Margaret were brought up at the Anglo-Saxon court, under the supervision of Benedictine monks and nuns who trained the young people according to the Benedictine ideal of a balanced life of work and prayer. In the case of the girls, the training paid off: Christian became a nun, and Margaret became probably the most devout queen Scotland had ever seen. We know that Margaret learned to read the scriptures in Latin, and she also knew the teachings of church fathers like Cassian and Augustine.

Margaret might have met her future husband, Malcolm of Scotland, at this time; his father was the king Duncan who was murdered by Macbeth, and for some years he was sent to live at the court of the English king for his own safety.

Edward the Confessor died, and soon afterwards William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066. Edgar and his sisters were advised to go back to Hungary for their own safety, but on the way their ship was blown far off course by a fierce gale. They spent some time in northern England and then sailed up the coast to the Firth of Forth in Scotland, where King Malcolm and his royal train gave them a warm welcome to his kingdom. His court at Dunfermline was undoubtedly rather primitive compared to the English court that the family had known, but I’m sure they were glad of his welcome and the hospitality and safety he offered them.

Margaret was now about twenty years old; King Malcolm was forty, and unmarried, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that ‘he soon began to yearn for Edgar’s sister as his wife’. However, Margaret took a lot of persuading; she was more inclined to become a nun, and Malcolm had a stormy temperament, despite his other virtues. It was only after long consideration that Margaret agreed to marry him, and their wedding took place in the year 1070, when Margaret was twenty-three. In the end, although she was so much younger than him, she was the one who changed him; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that ‘her customs pleased (Malcolm) and he thanked God who had by his power given him such a consort; and wisely bethought him since he was very prudent and turned himself to God’.

Although Margaret was now in a great position, and very wealthy according to the standard of the day, she saw herself merely as the steward of riches. She lived in the spirit of inward poverty, looking on nothing as her own but recognising that everything she possessed was to be used for the purposes of God. As Queen, she continued to live the ordered life of prayer and work that she had learned from the Benedictine monks. Her friend Lanfranc, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury, was busy at this time reforming the Church in England, and under his guidance Margaret carried out similar reforms in the Church in Scotland. She was only the wife of the king, but she came to have the leading voice in the changes which affected both the social and the spiritual life of Scotland. She had this influence because of the depth of her husband’s love for her. Malcolm didn’t share his wife’s contemplative temperament, but he was strongly influenced by her godly character, and so he tended to follow her advice in ordering his life and that of the church and people in Scotland.

It’s actually quite remarkable that the Scots accepted the reforms that this foreign queen proposed, but she herself lived such a simple and attractive life that they seemed to feel instinctively that her way must be a good way. Let’s think about the sort of life she lived as Queen of Scotland.

Margaret would begin each day with a prolonged time of prayer and the saying of the psalms. We’re told that after this, nine little orphans would be brought to her, and she would prepare their food herself and serve it to them with her own spoon, doing this for the sake of Christ, as one of his servants. It also became the custom at Dunfermline that any destitute poor people would come every morning to the royal hall; when they were seated around it, then the King and Queen entered, and we’re told that they then ‘served Christ in the person of his poor’. Before they did this, they sent out of the room all other spectators except for the chaplains and a few attendants; they didn’t want to turn it into what modern politicians would refer to as ‘a photo opportunity’.

The church in Scotland at that time looked more to the old Celtic way of Christianity than to the way of Rome. Margaret had been raised in the way of Rome, and was keen to bring Scotland into unity with the rest of the world, but she didn’t do it in an overbearing and proselytizing way. We’re told that she would visit the Celtic hermits in their lonely cells, offered them gifts, and cared for their churches. But she also held many conferences with the leaders of the Church, putting forward the Roman point of view about things like the date of Lent and the proper customs for celebrating the liturgy and so on. She convinced them, not because of the strength of her argument so much as by the power of her holy life.

In those days many people in Scotland used to go on pilgrimages to see the relics of St. Andrew at the place which is now called ‘St. Andrew’s’. Margaret’s chaplain, Turgot, who wrote her biography, says,

Since the Church at St. Andrews was much frequented by the devout who flocked to it from all quarters, she erected dwellings on either shore of the sea which divides Lothian from Scotland, so that the poor people and pilgrims might shelter there and rest after the fatigues of their journey . . . Moreover she provided ships for the transport of these pilgrims both coming and going, nor was it lawful to demand any fee for the passage from those who were crossing.

The cluster of houses on either side of the Forth Bridge still bear her name, North and South Queensferry.

Most people who were made saints by the Catholic church were monks and nuns who lived lives of celibacy, far away from the demands of the world and the pressures of family life. Margaret, however, is remembered as having a happy family life. She had eight children, six sons and two daughters; interestingly, she seems to have given them all good Anglo-Saxon names! Her oldest son Edward was killed in battle, Ethelred died young, and we’re told that Edmund didn’t turn out too well. But the three youngest, Edgar, Alexander, and David, are remembered among the best kings Scotland ever had. David I, the youngest son, had a peaceful reign of twenty-nine years in which he developed and extended the work his mother had begun. The two daughters, Matilda and Mary, were both brought up under the guidance of Margaret’s sister Christian in the Abbey of Romsey, and both went on to marry into the English royal family. All of them we’re told, were also taught to follow Christ first – although I find it a little reassuring that even a saintly parent like Margaret didn’t have a 100% success rate with her kids!

Margaret was not yet fifty when she died; some people say that she had worn her body out with excessive fasting and long hours of prayer in cold churches. As she lay dying, her son Edgar brought her the sad news that her husband and her oldest son had been killed in battle. Despite this grief, we’re told that her last words were of praise and thanksgiving to God, and her death was calm and tranquil.

As I reflect on the life of Margaret, I think that in many ways she embodies the ideals that we’re striving to follow in this church. Margaret found herself in a position of great power and wealth, but she didn’t consider it as having been given to her for her own selfish pleasures. She was a true Benedictine, living in the spirit of inward poverty. She saw her wealth and power as having been entrusted to her to do good, and she gave her life to serving others in the spirit of Christ. What might we learn from her today?

I think the first thing we need to learn from is her balance of work and prayer. The Benedictine ideal was an ordered life, with certain times of day set apart for prayer, and others spent in active work for the good of others. Many of us at St. Margaret’s are quite busy with this active work for the good of others. We work hard at our jobs, and we also work together to do good in the world. But how good are we at keeping the balance between prayer and work? We’re told in the gospels that Jesus kept that balance well. In Mark chapter one we read that he was healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, and teaching the people all day long, but then Mark goes on to tell us that ‘In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed’ (Mark 1:35). Luke tells us that this was Jesus’ habit: ‘But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray’ (Luke 5:16).

Is that your habit? Do you find a deserted place to pray regularly? For some people, the deserted place might be a room in their house; for other people it might a quiet office early in the morning; for others, it might be a quiet walk at some point during the day. And let’s also not forget that some of Margaret’s prayer would have been corporate prayer, together with other Christians; she would have taken part in daily prayer services led by her chaplain, Turgot, much like our daily Morning Prayer at this church. Do you meet regularly with other Christians to pray? Often when we’re going through tough times and find it difficult to pray by ourselves, our times of praying together can carry us through. I’m sure that Margaret found that to be true sometimes.

So we can learn from her balance of work and prayer. We can also learn from the way she was successful in her reforms because of the influence of her godly life. Even people who disagreed with her were impressed with the way she lived out her faith, despite the fact that she didn’t make a big song and dance about it. We’ve just lived through the nastiness of an American election, coming as it did not long after a federal election of our own. In modern elections, it seems as if people gleefully seek out all sorts of dirt about the politicians they disagree with, and they then spread it around as a way of discrediting the policies their opponents are advocating. But every now and again you find someone who we refer to as a ‘Teflon person’ – the dirt won’t stick to them! Margaret was that sort of person; people respected her because they saw Christ in her way of life.

What if Anglicans who disagree with each other on the issue of homosexuality were known in the world for the gracious and Christlike way they spoke to each other about their disagreements? What if conservative Christians who campaign against abortion were also known for their willingness to take unwanted children into their own homes? What if liberal Christians who campaign for government programs to help the poor were also known for their own extravagant generosity to the poor? What if even people who disagreed with us could see the face of Christ in our way of life?

The third thing we can learn from Margaret is the way she lived out what is sometimes called ‘the ministry of the basin and the towel’. This phrase refers to the story of the last supper, where Jesus ‘got up from the table, took of his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel that was tied around him’ (John 13:4-5). After he finished this job, he pointed out to his disciples that he, their teacher and master, saw no contradiction between being their lord and being their servant. ‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet’ (John 13:14).

This is the sort of life Margaret lived. Although she was the Queen of Scotland, she saw no contradiction between being the Queen and serving at tables for the poorest of the poor. She understood herself first of all as a servant of Christ; everything else followed from that.

So we remember with thanksgiving today our patron saint, Margaret, a woman of prayer, a woman who lived a holy life, a woman who served the poor, a woman who used her influence in a Christlike way to do good for all people. As a congregation, let us pray that God will give us the strength by his Holy Spirit to live up to the name we bear. Amen.


Welcoming Newcomers and Sharing the Gospel

We’ve had a couple of encouraging events back to back at our church this weekend.

Welcoming Newcomers
Friday night we had a ‘New Member Orientation’ evening. This is something we used to do a few years ago but have recently revived. Everyone who has been added to our parish list over the past year is invited. Of course, not everyone comes,, but we still had ten newcomers out last night which was very gratifying. Also about eight ‘resource people’ were there from the parish family to build community with the newcomers and help them feel welcome.

We were seated around three tables in the basement (where our little ‘parish hall’ is located). We began by introducing ourselves to the other people at our tables, answering questions like ‘What’s my name? Where do I live? With who? For how long? What brought me to St. Margaret’s and how long have I been coming?’ Following this, I gave a short history of our parish (we are a young congregation, dating back only to September 1980, and our building was built in 1996), with a powerpoint presentation showing photographs from our history.

We then had a break for coffee and delicious desserts prepared by a couple of our ‘resource people’ – who had themselves been newcomers at our previous New Member Orientation back in May.

In the second half of the evening we explained the structure and ministries of our church. We introduced people to our vestry and churchwardens and the committees that help make our life possible. We talked about the many opportunities for people to use their gifts in the life of our congregation and in our outreach to the wider community. Some of our resource people talked about Bible study groups and other ministries they were involved in, and invited our new members to consider participating in them.

It was a very relaxed evening with an emphasis on building relationships. A couple of people brought small children with them so there was a certain amount of background noise as the children played. This just served to underline the relaxed and informal character of the evening, and our congregation’s desire to be a child-friendly church.

The evaluation forms were quite positive and a lot of our newcomers expressed interest in attending our next ‘Christian Basics’ course.

Sharing the Gospel
Today (Saturday) we held a workshop from 9.30 – 4.30 called ‘Sharing Your Faith Without Losing Your Friends’. This title, and much of the content, was shamelessly stolen from the Rev. Harold Percy, rector of Trinity Church, Streetsville, in the Diocese of Toronto. Harold’s book ‘Good News People‘ was a great resource for this workshop. The idea of the workshop was to raise people’s level of confidence in their ability to talk be effective witnesses for the Christian faith with their friends, famly, and work colleagues. Ten people attended, and I was the presenter.

The first two sessions were mainly in lecture format. The first, ‘Pros and Cons’, looked at two signs of the coin: why would we want to share the gospel with others, and what are some of the things that nake it difficult to do so in our culture? The second, ‘Good News to Share’, looked at the content of the Gospel under three headings – ‘Resurrection’, ‘Reign’, and ‘Reconciliation’, and also at our ‘Response’ of Faith, Baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The third session, ‘Where Do I begin?’ was more interactive; we thought about our ‘circles of influence’ under the three headings of family, friends, and work (or school) colleagues. We listed as many people as we could think of in those three categories. We then underlined the names of any who, as far as we know, are not followers of Jesus, and we put an asterisk beside the names of any with whom we had regular significant conversation. These are the people we are most likely to be able to influence for the Gospel. We then split into twos, shared the names on our lists and prayed for those people.

After lunch we thought about ‘Sharing Our Stories’. We were each invited to think about our faith story in three chapters. Depending on our background, it might take the form of (1) Early Christian influences on my life, (2) How I owned the Faith for myself, and (3) The difference Jesus is making to my life today. Alternatively, it might take the form of (1) My life before I became a Christian, (2) How I became a Christian, and (3) The difference Jesus is making to my life today. Participants spent some time thinking about their faith story and then separated into twos, shared their stories with each other, and responded by identifying what good news they heard in their partners’ stories. This was one of the best received and most enjoyable sessions of the workshop.

The next session, ‘Five Elements of the Conversation’, talked about the ongoing evangelising conversation and its different elements of (1) bridging, (2) diagnosis, (3) asking permission, (4) making your case, and (5) closure. Then we looked at ‘ten helpful hints’ on various aspects of witness, including a few minutes discussing what to do when people raised difficult questions. The final session, ‘How to lead a friend to Christ’, helped us know what to do if a friend responds to our invitation positively and wants to commit their life to Christ.

Again, the evaluation forms were very positive and it was a really enjoyable day overall. We were blessed to have participants of all ages including a teenager, a young couple with a little baby, and several seniors. The diverse membership of the group made the sharing times very rich, as did people’s willingness to take risks and share their stories, not only in their ‘twosomes’ but also with the group as a whole.

At St. Margaret’s we are trying to be more effective in mission and outreach in our personal lives and in our life as a congregation. These two events were encouraging signs that our efforts are not in vain. God is at work leading us out in mission!

(Cross-posted at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church).