Before I set off on my travels again (this time, to Switzerland), let me fill in a few of my “retirement” doings in the last few months.
Early in May, I went to London and stayed with the ever-hospitable Fr Paul Bagott in the Clergy House of St Cuthbert’s, Philbeach Gardens, in Earls Court. St Cuthbert’s is one of the largest and most elaborate 19th century Anglo-Catholic churches in London and, though badly damaged in the Second World War, has now been restored to its former glory. It is full of wonderful art work and has a magnificent collection of vestments.
The day after I arrived was Ascension Day, so I went to the High Mass that evening at St Mary’s, Bourne St, my favorite London church. When I was appointed Vicar-General of the Diocese in Europe, and was looking for a house in London, I stayed in St Mary’s Presbytery. Fr Bill Scott, whom I had known since he was a seminarian, was then the Vicar, and he gave me the apartment which had recently been vacated by Dr Eric Mascall, one of the most brilliant theologians of the 20th century Church of England. My rent was simply to say one or two of the weekly Masses at St Mary’s, and I enjoyed the Presbytery so much that I rather slowed down looking for the house and stayed more than a year! Consequently I came to know many of the regular congregation. Afterwards I found a very fine house in Barnsbury, Islington, and Fr Scott moved to the Savoy Chapel. The patron of this chapel, the only bit left of the great Savoy Palace, is the Queen, patron not because she is Queen but because she is Duke of Lancaster (yes, Duke, not Duchess!), therefore the National Anthem is sung there every Sunday after Mass in a unique version, which goes: “God save our gracious Queen, Long live our noble Duke, God save the Queen”. ( But – not for the first time – I digress.) The Ascension Day Mass was as glorious as usual at St Mary’s and, by a strange coincidence the celebrant was Fr Scott, now a Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral and recently retired as the Queen’s Domestic Chaplain. Needless to say, after the usual champagne in the Presbytery library (I say usual, since this happens every Sunday at St Mary’s, not just on the greater feasts), the pair of us went off to dinner at La Poule au Pot, a splendid French restaurant in nearby Pimlico Square.
Later that first week I took the train to Norwich through ever more rural England, through old woodlands and farms like picture postcards of Old England, but with sudden shockingly brilliant yellow fields, a comparatively recent crop called oil-seed rape, from which I believe oil is extracted. And every few miles, one would see the slender spires or the solid square towers of the hundreds of mediaeval churches of Suffolk and Norfolk. In Norwich I was met by Canon Jeremy Haselock, another very old friend, who is Vice-Dean of Norwich Cathedral. Choral Evensong is sung daily in the Cathedral, as it is in the 43 British Cathedrals of the Church of England (the 44th is Gibraltar, where Evensong is only said daily). After Evensong Canon Haselock prepared a delicious dinner. The next day we drove to the Norfolk coast and walked along the windy dunes. I don’t think there is any county like Norfolk with such a variety of beaches , some of sand, others of pebbles, all under the widest skies in England. (Now Scotland – that is quite another matter!)
After another day back in London, I flew to Gothenburg in Sweden, where I had agreed to be the locum Chaplain of St Andrew’s, the English Church there, until their new Chaplain arrived. I knew the church from my time when I was Chaplain in Stockholm, but had never seen the Chaplain’s apartment. So I was delighted when it turned out to be in a huge circle of flats, surrounding central lawns and gardens, and set on the top of one of those great rocky outcrops which are such a feature of the Swedish landscape. The views over Gothenburg’s harbour were magnificent. The only drawback was the climb back up after being down in the city! I was prepared to be there for four weeks but in fact only had to do two, since the new Chaplain’s problems with getting a work visa for Sweden were suddenly solved and he was able to arrive earlier than he expected. I therefore did only Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday at St Andrew’s, both of which were delightful. The congregation was the usual mixture of English residents, students, or people who had come to work in Sweden. But there were also a large number of Indians and Africans, which spiced up the singing considerably.
During one of my weeks in Gothenburg, I took the train for the three-hour journey to Stockholm, my old parish. Though I have been away for over twenty years, I still have a lot of friends there, and in three days I managed to see quite a lot of them. Much as I was enjoying Gothenburg, I realized that my heart belonged to Stockholm. As a native of Edinburgh, I compared Gothenburg to Glasgow and Stockholm to Edinburgh. The latter two are capital cities with royal palaces and all the embassies and diplomatic life that goes with them. Glasgow and Gothenburg are both great ports and have quite a different feel to them. The weather, which in May can be unpredictable so far north, was sunny and bright, so I had a great time meeting up with friends in many different parts of the city, from the Old Town with its fine Cathedral to suburbs full of a mixture of Gustavian apartment blocks (you can’t call them Victorian in Sweden!) and modern glass towers. And everywhere there is water, since the city is built on a dozen or two islands.
After two weeks in Sweden I returned to London, where I met up with two young priest friends who had just been married by their Bishop, the Bishop of Long Island in his Cathedral. What made this rather special was that both of them were male – as was the Bishop! I pondered on how far the American Episcopal Church has grown in its recognition of same-sex marriages, and gave thanks for its refusal to discriminate between the clergy and the laity in this. The Scottish Episcopal Church is, God grant, not far behind and, as I write, the Canadian Anglican Church has voted by almost two thirds to do the same, though they will need to have over two-thirds to make it canonical. The Church of England is deeply divided over the matter, mainly because of the large number of Evangelicals in its membership. Their selective reading of the Bible gives them the excuse to continue to condemn same-sex unions, while cheerfully consuming shrimp cocktails and pork chops, and weakly refusing to put any girls to death for disobeying their parents. No doubt, as with slavery and lady Bishops, the Lord will one day enlighten them.
With the liberty of the retiree, I then decided to have a week in Scotland, so I took the train to Edinburgh and went to stay with Grant in West Linton, a little village half an hour’s drive from the city. Miraculously I had sunshine for a whole week and even managed to get sunburnt, no mean feat in Scotland at the beginning of June. Ever since I left I have checked the weather and sure enough it has all returned to the normal outlook of “light rain” or “showers with bright spells”. We pay dearly for that soft green look.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I came back to Philadelphia very gladly. But, as I said, after six weeks at home, I am about to set off to be locum Chaplain in Montreux in Switzerland. I’ll add to my blog from there.
Since I’ve retired from St Clement’s, I’ve been asked to help in several churches which needed a priest because of some sudden illness on behalf of their Rector or to fill in for other reasons. I’ve also been asked as guest preacher on special occasions in places as far from Philly as Long Island, Washington, D.C. and New York. I’ve also taken weddings for friends, one memorable one on the beach at the New Jersey Shore, where the two early twenty-year-old sons of one of the grooms (yes, it was a gay wedding, as some would call it, or a perfectly normal wedding between two children of God who love one another, as I would call it) were the witnesses.
But two weeks ago I set forth on a trip to Santa Fe in New Mexico to do something I’ve never done before, to bless a newly built chapel, its bell-tower, and the lovely old Möller pipe organ which had been renovated and restored for this chapel. It is set in the idyllic grounds of the estate of a member of St Clement’s congregation who has a house in Santa Fe and who is an organist. He therefore asked me to bless the new/old organ in his private chapel.
Fortuitously, Bishop Michael Vono, the Bishop of the Rio Grande, is an old friend from the years when he was Rector of St Paul’s-within-the-Walls, the American Episcopal church in Rome, and I was Vicar-General of the Church of England Diocese in Europe. So the morning after I arrived, I drove from Santa Fe to Albuquerque to visit him. I told him about the blessings, and he graciously gave me permission for this. I’m not sure I needed such faculties, since the chapel is private, but it seemed only courteous to ask, and it was a great chance for us to catch up on news about our many mutual friends.
The other fortuitous thing was that I was able to meet our new Bishop-elect of Pennsylvania, Fr Daniel Gutierrez, since he is the Bishop of the Rio Grande’s Canon to the Ordinary. I had missed seeing him when he came to Philadelphia with the other candidates for the episcopal election, so it was a great pleasure to have a time to talk with him. I came away from the meeting with the conviction that God through us had chosen just the bishop we need at this moment in the history of our Diocese. This opinion was confirmed by the sadness Bishop Michael expressed at Fr Daniel’s imminent departure. He said that Pennsylvania was lucky to have Fr Daniel and that he would be much missed in New Mexico.
The next day, back in Santa Fe, I went to see the new chapel and plan the blessing. The whole thing had been meticulously organized: the thurifer flew in from Philadelphia; the florist filled the chapel with sweet-smelling flowers; extra seats were added to the pews for the friends who were coming from aroundSanta Fe. And finally, to crown it all, the “choir” arrived in a vast purple bus, the kind used to transport pop groups from concert to concert. These were eight organists or organ builders who had been on an organ-tasting tour from Minneapolis to Santa Fe for the last eight days. They had all brought cassocks and surplices, and the bus was our departure point as we formed up and went from it to the chapel in procession.
The great west doors were closed and we stopped there. I blessed the bell tower, throwing holy water as high as I could in a vain attempt to hit the bell. Then I blessed the doors, and while the bell rang for the “Regina Caeli” we processed to the altar. Evensong was sung solemnly; the altar was censed for the first time at the Magnificat; the canticles were sung to the setting by George Dyson in C Minor. At the end, I went down the aisle and to the side where the organ console is and blessed it. I had promised not to drench this lovely machine with holy water, so I aimed to the left side and then to the right side, which was fine. But when I came to the middle and tried to throw the blessed water over to the back of the instrument some of it fell on the sheet music. A videographer was filming the whole service, so I am recorded forever as blessing the organ with the words “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and – oops – of the Holy Ghost”! We next processed round the outside of the chapel and I blessed the four corners with the Holy Oils and then marked the crosses on the inside pillars. The sun was setting, and the golden adobe walls of the chapel shone with the rays of the sun that came through the olive trees. It was a magical moment crowning a beautiful service.
While we were all in the chapel, caterers had been setting up a bountiful dinner in the house, with a hot buffet, a cold buffet, and an ever-flowing cocktail bar. So it was late before everyone was gone. It was also very dark and for the first time in a while I saw the black sky full of stars. The desert air was dry and clear, and we were at 7000 feet, so the whole Milky Way sparkled above us – and as I passed the chapel I noticed that the votive lights which people had lit were still sparkling too.
I write just after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, because I have been struck by the wonderful outpouring of sympathy and support from many sources, including, I am happy to say, a great many of my friends on Facebook. But I have also been saddened by the sometimes bitter response of some who say that it is all very well to be outraged and standing in solidarity with the people of Paris, but what about the people of Beirut or Baghdad? They say: “When did we see an Iraqi flag or a Lebanese flag cover our Facebook profile, when dozens of their people died in the virtual war that is raging there”? They ask: “Is it only white victims’ deaths that matter?”
This is, I believe, to misunderstand the very nature of sympathy. If it had been one’s mother or brother who was killed yesterday in Paris, would we not now be bowed down with a grief that is sharp and personal? And if it had been a close friend or even an acquaintance, would we not be grieving more than for the strangers who were killed? So it is natural that we should be feeling sadness and sympathy with those who lost loved ones in Paris, more than we have ever felt for the tens of millions murdered by Stalin in Russia.
It is not prejudice or racist politics which makes us feel more strongly for the people who died in Paris yesterday and their grieving friends and families, but proximity. We feel love and affection more naturally for those who are close to us or whom we have known than we do to perfect strangers. And this is true even if it is only for people in places we have visited or know well, rather than in places we have hardly heard of.
Yet we are commanded by Jesus the Christ to love our neighbors, and when a cynic asked him who was his neighbor, Jesus told a story that pointed to the most hated of foreigners as his real neighbor, because he loved much. So my conclusion is that we have an absolute command to love everyone, but the intensity of our love varying according to our relationships, and therefore the way we love people must vary too. It is surely infinitely more merciful and loving to shoot a man who is about to machine-gun a playground full of children than to refuse to kill directly. It is surely right to pursue and imprison or kill the fanatical Muslim terrorists who are menacing the whole world now in a way reminiscent of Hitler. How this is done must be the concern of our politicians, but that it must be done is now surely clear.
And no one should feel guilty about feeling more sympathy and sorrow for those killed in the lovely city of Paris yesterday than for the many more killed yesterday all over the world. We still have to love the world God made and teach human beings to be more like the Blessed Trinity, persons living in perfect love and co-operation together, but we love various people we know - and places we know – with a special love, and therefore a special sorrow when they are killed or violated.
Yesterday I was elected as Chaplain of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests. I regard this as a great honor, and am looking forward to working with my fellow priests in this area, to be a little leaven in the bread which is the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
The Society is quite new, and is for orthodox Anglo-Catholic priests of the Episcopal Church, who accept the doctrine and discipline of that Church including, happily, a new openness to women priests and to the celebration of gay people in the life of the Church, including gay priests and bishops.
Last year I was asked to give a spiritual lecture (what we used to call a fervorino!) at the opening of the SCP’s annual conference in Toronto. This I did by taking the three words in our Society’s name and meditating on each of them for a few minutes. I hope the coming annual conference in Denver will continue to hold these three themes in its heart. Sadly I will not be able to be there this year, as I will be preparing to leave for a month in the UK.
I am glad, first of all, that we are a Society, because that is what God is. We believe in one God, but not in a God who is only one Person. No, he is “three Persons in one substance “. The essence of his being is that of three Person so much in love that we can say that they are one God. The Blessed Trinity is what Jesus revealed to the world: God is his Father, the Father and he are one, and they send the Holy Spirit to dynamize the Church, so that it will be God’s instrument of love and care throughout the centuries. So the SCP is a Society, separate persons, but united in love to preach the Gospel and celebrate the Sacraments of salvation.
Secondly, we are Catholics. It is important that we boldly state this and do not try to modify it by words such as “Anglo” or “Anglican”. When we were ordained priests the Bishop ordained us, not into the Anglican Church, but into Christ’s “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. Roman Catholics often refer to themselves simply as “Catholics” and so should we. When strangers asked me if St Clement’s, for example, was a Catholic Church, I always replied “Yes”. I would then explain that we were not Roman Catholic or Greek Catholic but Anglo-Catholic. Catholic is a lovely word and one we should glory in.
The third word in the SCP’s title is obvious. We are a Society of priests, not lay people. We are men and women who have been called by God to follow in the steps of the Apostles and give our lives to the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Other people can run the finances of the parish; others can organize a dozen different groups to do the work of Christ. The original Apostles said boldly “It is not right for us to leave the Word of God to serve tables” so they ordained St Stephen and others as the first Deacons. Sadly, some of the successors of the Apostles have forgotten this. We are priests, not social workers, not events organizers, not probation officers, not lawyers. If the priest is truly doing his or her job, the day will not have enough hours in it. We will have the Mass to celebrate over and over again, the Daily Office to say either privately or in church. We will be visiting the sick and shut-ins at home and in hospitals to anoint them for healing and to prepare them for death; we will be meeting constantly with parents who want their children baptized, with young couples who want to be married, with people who want to be confirmed or received into the Church. We will have sermons to prepare, pondering the Scriptures and applying them to our daily life. We will have individuals to see, either for the Sacrament of Penance or for spiritual advice.
Who is capable of all this? No one except the one who admits with St Paul “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
S. C. P. – powerful letters. God give us strength to live up to each one of them, and may many more priests join our Society.
Today is the first anniversary of my retirement as Rector of St Clement’s. It has been a year of ups and downs, but mainly ups. As some of you have found, being suddenly released from all manner of responsibilities can be an unsettling experience. Of course it is, quite literally, liberating: one is suddenly freed from many duties. But if one has been used to a daily and weekly routine, it can be odd to have the necessity of finding a new routine – or none at all. We have all experienced this in a minor version when taking vacations.
Everyone solves this in their own way. This is what I have done so far.
First I took a real vacation and went almost literally from the altar to the airport. I flew to London and saw several close friends there before traveling north to Edinburgh for a couple of weeks. I grew up south of Edinburgh, studied in Edinburgh for four years and was a Curate and then a Rector of two churches in that city for fifteen years; so many of my roots are there. But I lived and worked in London for six years, as well as knowing it well from my four years at Oxford and three when I taught at Salisbury Theological College. So I think of both cities, really, as “home”. I also had side trips to Norwich to stay with Canon Haselock, the ever-hospitable Sub-Dean of the Cathedral, and a visit with him to Our Lady of Walsingham, that powerful shrine which I first visited in the 1960′s. I would like to have visited other friends, but somehow felt I had to get back to Philadelphia and get on with organizing a retirement house or apartment. But having done that, I now feel up to making a resolution that in this second year of my retirement I would like to go back and visit the places where my vocation has taken me.
All this is very well and good, but do I have the energy? Well, the answer is – Sometimes. I have had four hip replacements (if I were a horse, they would have shot me!) and this slows one down a bit. And all airports are a pain in the neck, though I have friends here in Philly who seem to think nothing of hopping off to Europe or California or China at the drop of a hat. I think my job as Vicar-General of the Anglican Diocese of Europe has cured me of the wish to travel too much. However, the desire to see old friends in my former parishes is stronger than my distaste for travel, so I intend to see as many of them as is possible. Hence, I hope during my second year of retirement to visit several places in the UK as well as Ankara, Stockholm, Gibraltar and Milan .
Meanwhile, back to my first year of retirement. After my time in the UK I found a very bright, sunny loft apartment in the centre of Philadelphia and moved my possessions there from the storage unit where I deposited them right after I left St Clement’s Rectory. The loft is just one huge space, with the bedroom up some stairs on a balcony. All my life as a priest has been spent in spacious, many-roomed Rectories or Deaneries, and I wondered how I would adjust to this one space. But I have to say I have enjoyed it enormously. Different corners behave like different rooms, so that I can still say I have a study, a sitting room, a dining room and a kitchen, as well as a bathroom and laundry room and large walk-in closets. But one difference is, of course, that for the first time in my life I have had to pay rent and things like electric bills! This would not have been the case if I had ever been a Vicar in the Church of England, since they do have to pay utility bills (and this partly explains why the C of E has been selling off the vast old Rectories that every parish used to have and replacing them with modern houses). But in the Scottish Episcopal Church and the American Episcopal Church, these bills are paid by the congregations. This is true also of the Diocese in Europe. But I must say this opened my eyes a little as to how the clergy (or some of us, at any rate) are shielded from some of the everyday realities of normal life.
I’ve spent the rest of my first year of retirement in Philadelphia apart from a four-day trip to Toronto for the annual conference of the Society of Catholic Priests, of which I am a member. This was my first visit to Canada, and I was greatly impressed by the city of Toronto. The conference was very interesting; I gave one of the talks – on the spiritual significance of the three words in our Society’s title – and our thirty or forty participants worshipped in several of the Anglo-Catholic churches of the city. I also had a short visit to Palm Springs and several to Washington D.C. But I am always happy to return to Philadelphia. It is a great city which is growing all the time. Some of the best restaurants in America are here, skyscrapers are shooting up, every sidewalk seems to be covered in cafe tables, the museums and art galleries are world-class (including the lovely newly-located Barnes Collection).
Church-wise, I have been very happy to be made Rector-Emeritus of St Clement’s and to be able to help Fr Alton, my successor, by saying one Mass per week, which gives him a day off. On many Sundays I also go to St Clement’s but more and more I am being asked to celebrate and preach in other churches of this diocese and even further afield. The pressure of the full life of a Rector is off, and one of the greatest joys I have rediscovered is to be able to say the whole Divine Office privately. I love Solemn Evensong and Benediction sung to Anglican Chant and Elgar, but what feeds my own spiritual life most is faithfulness to the quiet recitation of the Office. However, if I keep to my intention to visit all my old spheres of ministry from Inverness to Gibraltar, much of the Office will have to be said in airports!
In spite of the slightly discombobulating (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a Blog entry!) experience of retirement, I have enjoyed and gained much from my first year. Now let’s see what the Holy Spirit has in mind for the second.
St Clement’s has some wonderful stained-glass windows that used to be seen only by a select few – the servers!
We have two sacristies, each one chock-full of vestments (why is that a surprise to no one?) The back sacristy, which is beside the St John’s Chapel, had six windows, depicting the Corporal Works of Mercy. They are among the finest stained glass in the church, and I was always sorry that the whole congregation had almost no chance of ever seeing them. So one of the last things I proposed to the Vestry before I retired was to move these windows and have them cleaned and installed in the Anchor Room, a small hall used for coffee hours, child care and classes. This would mean that everyone would get to see them.
Well, I am happy to say that this has now been completed, and the six windows are visible every week. This is not only an important aesthetic matter, but also an inspiration for the development of St Clement’s Anglo-Catholic heritage. If there is one thing which the Tractarians and Ritualists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries stood for it was that the beauty of Catholic worship was idolatry if it was not the inspiration and guiding force in the Church’s carrying out of the commands of our Lord. I call these “The Inasmuches” because Jesus painted a picture of the judgement of God at the last day, listing what came to be called the Corporal Works of Mercy – the giving of food and drink and clothing to the needy, the visiting of the sick and those in prison, the taking in and shelter of the homeless – and portrayed his heavenly Father saying: “Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me”. In other words, the places we meet our God are hospitals and prisons, soup kitchens and refugee camps, hospices for the sick, hostels for the homeless.
It is only when the Church is present and active in all such places that she has any right (and any hope of success) to celebrate the Mass and administer the Sacraments. Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar summed it up memorably when he told the Anglo-Catholic Congress in London in 1923 “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum”.
If I were more computer-competent I could show you some of these glorious windows here, but alas the photos are on my IPhone and I have no idea how to get them here. However, that may not be such a bad thing: far better you should come to St Clement’s and see them for yourselves. (Also, I will see if they can be put up on the St Clement’s web site by our splendidly competent webmaster).
I am grateful to someone who came to church at St Clement’s for the first time last Sunday and said to me; “I love your blog, but I hoped you would write much more now you are retired and have all the time in the world”. Well, I was pleased that this person had enjoyed my blog entries for years, as he said, but had to put him right about “all the time in the world”! It’s true that retirement has brought more free time than when I was working full-time, but in a way, there is just as much to do, only it is at different times and more freely arranged.
One difference for a priest is in the recitation of the Daily Office. At St Clement’s, Morning Prayer was before the 7 a.m. Mass and Evening Prayer at 5.30 every day. For many years I have used in private recitation the five offices of the modern Roman breviary. (In Milan I used the Ambrosian office book which differs considerable from the Roman one). Of course, when I said the office in public I used the Episcopal Prayer Book. Now I am able to choose my times much more freely than before, and also what language I use. For many years as a young priest I used to say the office in Latin; then I said it in modern Latin (1.e. Italian!) which helped me learn the language for my job as Archdeacon of Italy and Malta. I never tried Maltese, which is, I imagine, one of the most difficult languages to learn. And lately I have taken to saying the office in Spanish, in that that is the second language of the USA and would be useful if I were asked to say Mass for one of our Spanish-speaking congregations.
(Through thick and thin, for over fifty years I have usually used the form of Compline in the 1929 Scottish Prayer Book. It never changed, so I soon knew it off by heart, and I have said it late at night, walking home from visiting a parishioner or a pub or a police station! I admit I just put in police station because it begins with a “p”, but I was for four years what Americans would call Commissioner of Police and we Scots called “Convenor of the Lothian and Borders Joint Police Board” (what a mouthful!) This meant that I had many evening engagements on police business, and when they were in Edinburgh and not all over the South of Scotland, I would often refuse the police car and walk home, specifically to enjoy Compline on the way.)
Anyway, after that little excursus, my point is that the Divine Office still takes up about a couple of hours of my day out of “all the time in the world”. Then there is the change from having a large Rectory to living in one’s own apartment. It would seem at first sight that that would reduce domestic matters. But no; in my colleges and rectories and deaneries I have always had domestic staff, cleaners, sextons, whole congregations with many skills who were always on hand to come to Father’s rescue, especially when Father was as clueless as this one in regard to anything mechanical or, indeed, practical! It is true that I still have many friends nearby who are willing to come to my aid when I get really stuck. But I do have to do far more for myself in practical matters than before. For example, I shop and cook, either for myself or for guests. This is a pleasure, but it takes time. Keeping the house clean, laundry and other household chores also consume quite a bit of time. This has made me even more aware of how heroically many young mothers (and increasingly in these enlightened times fathers) cope with having full-time jobs, keeping a house and garden and bringing up children.
Then there is the fact of simply being a priest, with almost as many demands on my time as I had in a “full-time” position. I have stopped hearing confessions at St Clement’s , but am still spiritual director for quite a few clergy and others in the Philadelphia area. And now that my fellow clergy know I am available, I have been asked to preach and take retreats and conferences here and there, all of which need preparation work. So there goes “all the time in the world” again!
However, having said all that, retirement has meant that I have been able to change pace considerably. Anyone who has lived in a Rectory knows the continual ringing of the telephone and the front doorbell, the almost daily visits to hospitals and homes, the stream of interviews and classes for baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals. Now that others are looking after all that, I am left with a good deal most time, and am enjoying that very much.
What to do with that time? Well, writing in this blog is one result. Another is the completion and expansion of an autobiography, which may never, of course, see the light of day. If it is ever published, I would like to call it “Have Biretta, Will Travel”! I am encouraged in this by the example of Colin Stephenson who never really expected his churchy autobiography “Merrily on High” to be published. A third use of this extra time is to be a more faithful friend and to visit friends I have not seen for many years. I began my retirement doing some of that, when I had a few months in Scotland and England, and I am beginning to make plans to visit many of my former parishes in Europe, such as Gibraltar, Stockholm, Milan and Ankara. But not all at once!
Fr Geoffrey has died. He must have been one of the longest serving priest of the Diocese in Europe. When I joined that Diocese in 1988, the Bishop asked me to go to Turkey and help Fr Geoffrey. I said: “Why does he need help” and Bishop Satterthwaite said “Because he is the only Anglican priest left in Turkey and he’s the Archdeacon of the Aegean and the Danube”. Well, how could I resist that?
At that time, the Church of England had only three chaplaincies in Turkey, Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, and Fr Geoffrey was the Chaplain in the last of these. But the Chaplain of the British Embassy in Ankara had moved, and the Chaplain in Istanbul had died suddenly, so only Geoffrey was left. I flew with the Bishop to Istanbul and we went to the British Consulate-General where we were staying. It is a majestic collection of buildings dating from the time of the Ottoman Empire (much grander, in fact, than the Embassy in Ankara).
It was there I first met Fr Geoffrey. Those who knew him will appreciate that I was underwhelmed by the rather scruffy, spare figure with wild hair, clutching an enormous bag, full of strangely shaped objects. But it did not take me long to know that under that outward appearance, Geoffrey was a very special person. The first indication of this I had was when we went to the apartment of the priest who had just died. It was sparsely furnished, but all over the place, in drawers and cupboards and stuck between files, were large sums of money in British pounds, German and Swiss Marks, American dollars, and other more obscure currencies. Geoffrey saw nothing unusual in this, but simply scooped it all up into his shapeless bag. ” I can do lots of good things with this”, he said. Later on, I saw some of it disbursed to many needy people.
This followed from the fact that first of all Geoffrey was a priest. H head done no other job: straight from University and Theological College, he was ordained. And his whole life had been devoted to the Church, whether in his native Wales, or in the wilds of Guyana, or in his beloved Turkey. I’ll never forget his tale of when the Bishop visited his parish in the jungle, the little boat collapsed and Geoffrey and His Lordship were left struggling in the murky waters of the great South American river. Geoffrey said, with that wicked grin of his: “I was worried about crocodiles and snakes, and all the Bishop could do as we swam for the shore was shriek that his precious mitre had sunk to the bottom!” “Silly ass”, he added.
Geoffrey had a love/hate relationship with Turkey. On the one hand he loved the country and its various peoples, but he either couldn’t or wouldn’t learn the language properly. He would shout or mutter the primary form of any Turkish word, and then express incredulity and impatience that no one understood him. But whether they understood him or not, they loved him. His own parish was Izmir, and during the times I stayed with him there, I saw countless people shake (or kiss) his hand, tell him their troubles and ask a blessing. They may have been Muslims or unbelievers, but they recognized a holy man. Most of his ministry was quiet and unremarkable, but there were high moments, such as the time when he saved St John’s Anglican Church from being demolished to make way for a wider road: he confronted the workmen sent by the town council and physically lay down in front of the bulldozers.
To see Geoffrey celebrate Mass was an experience. He was perfect in all proper Anglo-Catholic ritual, but he could never be still. If a lesson was being read, Geoffrey would rush out into the sacristy and come back with a purificator or a book or nothing. Yet again this did not detract from the fact that here was a man of God doing what he was ordained to do, and which he thought was the most important thing in the world. I was often left to say the next bit of the liturgy while Geoffrey rushed up the aisle to welcome someone who had just come into the church.
On the wider Church scene, Fr Geoffrey was known not just as the Anglican Archdeacon of the Aegean and the Danube, a title which he mischievously cherished, but also in the wider Church in Turkey. He led many pilgrims, including several Archbishops and Bishops, to Eastern Turkey to visit the Syrian Orthodox communities which were often in grave danger and openly persecuted. Many of them fled and relocated in Sweden, and when I was Chaplain of the English Church in Stockholm, I was very moved at an ecumenical gathering to be told by the Syrian Archbishop how much Fr Geoffrey had done for his community. “Without Fr Geoffrey”, he said “many more of our people would have perished.” I knew he was always collecting money for the Syriani, but had no idea it had been so vital.
And now he has gone on into the eternities, which will be a merrier place for his arrival. I doubt if he will be able to rest in peace, but have no doubt that his limitless energies will be put to even greater use.
I must have preached on the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ a hundred times, but I don’t think I have ever tried to write a short piece on what it is.
I have always emphasized that Jesus appeared (with one great exception, which I believe ultimately was no exception) only to those who already loved him and believed that was the Messiah of Israel and/or the Son of God, to those who had put their trust in him.
He appeared quietly and intimately to Mary Magdalene who loved him dearly. He appeared to his terrified apostles in the upper room where they had four days before eaten the Last Supper. He appeared to Thomas, who loved him but could not believe he was alive. He appeared to two disciples (and I vividly remember G.B. Caird in a lecture in Oxford in a throw-away line saying “And I don’t suppose it has occurred to many of you that they were probably a married couple”!) walking sadly away from Jerusalem to Emmaus, grieving his death.
And the results of these appearances were all the same: they found that their grief was dispelled, their doubts were gone. Mary Magdalene’s tears were dried and she was wild with joy. The frightened apostles, huddled behind locked doors were liberated from their fears and turned into the bold, confident men we see teaching the Good News of the Resurrection “in spite of dungeon, fire or sword”. Thomas turned from sad doubt to joyful certainty, which led him to shout the first Creed of the Church “My Lord and my God”. All those who saw the Lord would certainly have maintained the reality of his rising from the dead, but what really convinced them that this was not just an inexplicable miracle was that these experiences brought them not intellectual certainty, but a deep sense of joy and peace that only the assured perpetual presence of the Lord could bring.
Equally important is to remember those to whom Jesus did not appear after his Resurrection, Pontius Pilate or Herod, the chief priests, the scribes and the pharisees. He appeared to some frightened men and women, some disillusioned fishermen, some heart-broken friends. His Resurrection appearances were never intended to force belief – the devil tempted him to do that in the desert (if angels caught him when he threw himself from the top of the Temple, the people would have to believe he was at least someone special); the pharisees taunted him to use the same ploy as he hung on the Cross (“Come down and we will believe your claims”). But to them all he said “Get behind me, Satan”.
And that brings us to the seemingly glaring exception to what I have been saying: the appearance of the risen Lord to Paul on his way to Damascus. Paul hated the followers of Jesus and wanted them all in jail or executed, and yet the Lord Jesus appeared to him and, as we put it, converted him. But (to take an example from a widely different time and age) those who want homosexuals persecuted or imprisoned or even put to death are often the ones most likely to be gay themselves, some deeply repressed, others hypocritically practicing until led in handcuffs from a public restroom! So I think it was with Paul – he was a deep scholar and knew all about the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah. I believe he must have seen him in Jerusalem, perhaps even on the Cross: it was a small society. He had heard Stephen’s testimony to Jesus the Christ, and watched him die bravely proclaiming the Resurrection. I believe the “sudden” conversion on the road to Damascus had been brewing and tormenting Paul for years, and that it took only a few days of earnest and exhausting conversation with loving disciples in Damascus before the scales fell from his eyes and he saw why Jesus had said he was persecuting him. He saw that if he persecuted the followers of Jesus he was persecuting him because baptism made them one Body. This great doctrine is all over his epistles, as is the doctrine that God chooses the weak and seemingly foolish things of this word to confound the strong and seemingly wise.
Paul saw Jesus risen, ascended, glorified, and began a life of joyful toil to proclaim the Resurrection. He was tortured and died for that as were thousands of others, because they all believed love was stronger than death. And really that’s all we need to know about the Resurrection.
To help me recover from my latest hip operation (which has been very successful, thank God), I decided to visit some old friends for a couple of weeks.( I have to confess that I am enjoying being able to say this so casually, without any thought of finding priests to fill in for me while I am away, and the hundred and one other routine matters needing to be foreseen in running the parish.)
I first went by train to Washington, D.C. The two hours on Amtrak are very pleasant, and it was especially interesting at this time to see the green appearing on the leaves of trees in the woods, with here and there a tree in full white blossom. There are also three crossings of bits of the Chesapeake Bay where the water can be calm and full of little boats or grey and choppy with just a few gulls braving the wind. The saddest sight on this particular journey is the back view of some awful slums in Baltimore. Thankfully, since I started riding this route, many of them have been torn down and replaced with new dwellings, but there are still too many half falling down houses which remind me of bits of the so-called Third World.
In Washington, I stayed with a friend whom I have known for almost fifty years. We met in Europe and have kept in touch ever since. He is a generous and welcoming host, and the kind who just includes me in whatever he is doing – but only if I want to be included. A long-term member of St Peter & St Paul’s, the National Cathedral’s congregation, I went with him to some of the glorious services there for Holy Week and Easter. The High Mass on Easter Day was packed to the doors, and they can seat 3000. The choir and organists were, as always, superb, and there was a splendid sermon from the Bishop of Washington on how we must be “poised for resurrection”. It was not St Clement’s (where is?) but it was beautiful Catholic liturgy, with the Dean and two other priests celebrating, incense being used in all the proper places, and a joyful (and swift) distribution of Communion to all who came to the several Stations. Of course I disliked the streaming ribbon at the end of a bendy pole, but there were also many beautiful traditional banners carried in the procession.
After six days in D.C. where the cherry blossom was out in its glory, I flew to Palm Springs, California, changing planes in Denver, Colorado, and was soon flying over arid desert land criss-crossed with canyons. The only running water I saw was the river in the Grand Canyon, which I believe never dries up. Palm Springs and the other desert places such as Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert are an astonishing green when the plane crosses the San Jacinto Mountains and swoops down into the little airport. Everywhere there are green lawns, waving palms, bright beds of flowers and many beds more sensibly planted with desert cactuses, some in flower. The temperature was in the nineties but the air was dry and my friends met me at the airport with their car minus its roof, so that we drove to their house with a lovely warm breeze keeping us cool (if you see what I mean).
I stayed a week with these friends, one of whom I went to school with at the age of eleven, so even more long-standing friends than my host in Washington. Both are retired and have also a very charming house in London, off Clapham Common, so they have six months in each. I caught them in Palm Springs just in time before they went back to London for the summer and, not having seen them for quite a while, we had a lot of news to catch up with. I confess I did little but swim in their pool and lie in the sun, and I’m sure both of these did my hip a world of good. Of course we went out to dinner with other friends’ homes and to great restaurants, but on the whole I simply read the Divine Office (in Spanish, to brush up my Spanish) and a few mystery novels, and that was all. A great rest with good old friends. I did my bit for the Californian drought by drinking wine instead of water wherever possible.
And now I am home, having flown (rather oddly) via San Francisco, and I must say it is great to be back in Philadelphia and my new loft apartment. The city is full of vigor, with every cafe and restaurant getting their tables and umbrellas out to cover the sidewalks. The more I live here, the more I love Philly. In my eleven years here, I have seen so much growth, with fine modern skyscrapers rising to form a changed skyline, and so many wonderful restaurants opening up all over the place. And then there is St Clement’s, where I will be sitting in Choir on Sunday, happy to see the congregation developing and grasping new opportunities for mission and outreach. Like Philly itself, it is growing and opening up the old rites and music of the Church to both the local community and to people who travel quite a distance to be there. I am happy to worship with them in the beauty of holiness.