Everyday through the week: we will continue to offer Morning Prayer at 9am and Evening Prayer at 6pm streamed on facebook.com/parishesbythewall
Our Churches will be open for private prayer on:
- Wednesday 15 July 2pm-4pm St Cuthbert’s, Haydon Bridge
- Thursday 16 July 10am-12noon All Hallows’ Henshaw
Next Sunday we will worship at:
- 9am: Morning Prayer with Hymns and Reflection streamed on facebook.com/parishesbythewall
- From 10am till 12noon: Private Prayer St Cuthbert’s Haydon Bridge
For more information on our plans for the coming times please see this letter on our website.
Matthew 13: 1-9
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
At Whitsun in 1549 the Act of Uniformity came into force. In many ways this Act of Parliament was just one of the many legal and political steppingstones of the English Reformation. However, in one crucial way it provided a dramatic and revolutionary change to the religious life of this country. At the heart of this act was the imposition of “one uniform order” of prayer as represented by Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer, the BCP.
For those who know the BCP it is one of the great pillars of English culture and life. The historian Geoffrey Moorhouse has noted that the BCP contains “the most beautiful and luminous language that the English-speaking world would ever employ for liturgical purposes.” Such is the reverence with which some hold the BCP that it is easy to forget how radical it was at the time. As the great Reformation historian Eamon Duffy has said: “it [is] difficult for us now to capture…the radical discontinuity with traditional religion represented in the book of 1549.”
This radicalism came in several forms. The first was its language. For all its elegance and style it was also in English not Latin. For the first time the common man could hear the words of divine worship in the common tongue. It was also radical in what it abolished. Gone, for instance, were the processions and rituals that enlivened the worship of the late medieval Church. But perhaps its most radical legacy was that it was “Common”. In the pre-Reformation Church, although held behind a veil of Latin, there was a huge variety in the styles or “uses” of worship used. In England and Wales alone, there were “uses” of Salisbury, Bangor, York and Hereford amongst many others. But with the Act of Uniformity came the legal restriction to be uniform or “common” in the prayers and praises of the English people. For the first time in the life of a single nation everyone was expected to pray the same thing, using the same words, at roughly the same time. Now that was radical.
Something of the common character or uniformity of the worship has got baked into the life of the Church of England. For generations the stable fare of our worship was the BCP, and not just that, but Matins and Evensong, with Holy Communion for the hardy few who made it to church at 8am. In recent generations this well-worn pattern has given way to the prevalence of the Parish Eucharist as the main form of worship. Although there is variety in some of the words and prayers we use, there has become in most of the Church of England a new uniformity around the Parish Eucharist.
For a variety of reasons, which this recent crisis has only accelerated, many are coming to recognise that uniformity in worship comes at a cost. The inability for us, until the last week or so, to worship in our buildings has led to a period of unprecedented innovation within the worshipping life of the Church of England. Much of this has not been to everyone’s taste, but for some this has been a great attraction. The strong responses we have found to the new variety of worship has led some to wonder whether the uniformity of our worship has been a hinderance. One of the unexpected blessings of his time is that some who have not been able to worship with us for a multitude of reasons are now able to. And as Bishop Christine said in her letter to the Diocese last week, we need to make sure that in our desire to get back to normal we don’t lose the gift of this variety. “It would” she said “be tragic if those who are now included become excluded.”
So how as a church should we make sense of this call for more variety in our worship? For some this movement makes us too like the world around us, where consumers – who choose where to shop or wear to eat – can also pick and choose where to worship. But there is another vision to this call to variety and difference.
Our Gospel reading today is the Parable of the Sower. It is one of the most powerful and challenging images of exuberant and overflowing form of God’s love. At the heart of the parable is the image of a – frankly – not very good farmer. Throwing with gay-abandon precious seed not where they think it ought to grow but anywhere and everywhere, because this farmer knows that we never truly know where things will grow and flourish.
Usually this parable is read as a challenge to us to prepare ourselves to be the fertile soil where we can receive the gifts and seeds of God’s grace and allow them to flourish. But on this occasion, perhaps I can offer a different reading. In this reading we can imagine our worship as the seeds we are scattering, and the differing landscapes as the different preferences, habits, and characteristics of the individuals who seek God through worship. As each landscape is different, so each one of us is different. The things that speak to one person in worship will leave another cold, and vice versa. But when people meet God in worship in a way which speaks deeply and truly to who God has made them as an individual, then deep and transformative growth and flourishing can come. In this reading our task as a Church is to sow with this confidence and abandon, and not simply to sow the seeds of our worship in the places where we would want them to grow or where prefer them to grow. Our call is to have confidence to respond to the forms and shapes and landscapes of the world around us because we do not always know where things will grow.
Before this period of Covid-interruption we were beginning this task with the development of Messy Church and God’s Tent, Morning Prayer and Celebration Services, alongside our inherited patterns of Parish Eucharists. As we move through this period of transition, we need to have the confidence to continue to sow seeds, to have the courage to explore other patterns of worship whether online, in our churches, or elsewhere. As we move through this time we will find that some seeds of worship we sow will fall on stony ground, and some will grow quickly and then fall away again. But some seeds of worship will fall on fertile ground, and those seeds will take root and flourish and grow, and bring forth flourishing and growth more than we would possibly imagine.
Questions for reflection through the week
- What are the familiar things you cherish about worship?
- What have you be surprised by in worship?
- What things in our worship that might fall on stony ground for you do you think would fall on fertile ground for others?
Collect for Fifth Sunday of Trinity
send down upon your Church
the riches of your Spirit,
and kindle in all who minister the gospel
your countless gifts of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Please keep in your prayers: Lesley, Archie, Dorothy, Sheila, Margaret, Carolyn, Allan, Mandy & Laura & Matthew.
Those who have died:…Barry Chambers