Revd Jeremy Fletcher took his final service as Vicar of Beverley Minster on 19.2.2017
This is an archive of his blogs.
Jeremy Fletcher writes (for the final time)…
The picture here was taken seven and a half years ago. I think Julia and I had a bit of an idea of some of the things we might encounter, but if you’d asked us what would follow our time in these amazing parishes we could not have answered. As we look back God has always shown us the next step at the right time and not before. We’ve never had a career path. After all, telling God your plans is how you provoke divine amusement.
We have learnt some great lessons and had some fabulous experiences since 2009. Lots of people have asked me what our memories of Beverley will be, and as I write this they are still being made. The sunlight on a glorious winter afternoon illuminating the Minster’s glass and stone. St Paul’s Tickton finally gaining a toilet and kitchen. Routh on a crisp February morning. The warmth of fellowship at St Leonard’s Molescroft. The faithfulness of worship at St Peter’s Woodmansey.
My mind also goes to the people who now live in our memories as they rest in God’s peace. We said farewell to Nancy Sutherby and Pearl Jolley in January: two saints whose lives touched many and whose faithful service remains an inspiration. They remind me of the many whom I have known and commended to God, and taking their funerals has been one of the great privileges of ministry here. The ‘cloud of witnesses’ includes many here who have inspired and humbled me.
There have been many joys shared with the living. Our bell ringers rang in 2017 wonderfully, and I was pleased even in the cold of January to baptise a four month old baby. Life continues, and is rich. The parish diary is full of events and our Monday staff meetings have contained complex juggling to enable demands to be met. The choir is recording a new CD. There are dates for Family Days, a Festival of Life, a Confirmation service, more TV filming, and many many things which will happen after Julia and I head down the M1.
That is how it should be. Have a look at the list of Provosts and Incumbents on the board in the north quire aisle. My name is the latest on a long list. Seven years is a very short time in the life of a parish like this, and the work will continue on February 20th after we have said our farewells on the 19th. We will take memories with us which will remain for life. We will take friendships with us too. But what will bring us most pleasure is to know that the vibrant life we have so enjoyed here is carrying on, and that even more special things are happening.
We will keep in touch, and will be praying especially for the next few months as a new appointment is made. Whoever comes will encounter one of the most significant parishes there is, in one of the most special towns, with some of the greatest opportunities for mission and ministry I know. It’s been a privilege to share them with you. May God continue to bless you all.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
I announced on Sunday 20 November that Julia and I are on the move. It has been a life changing privilege to have been the Vicar of Beverley Minster, St Peter’s Woodmansey, St Leonard’s Molescroft, a minister in the Church in Tickton, and Priest in Charge of Routh.
Being Vicar here is one of the great roles the Church of England has to offer, and it makes great demands too. After seven years it was time to look carefully at what the next few years would bring for these parishes, and whether my gifts and skills matched those challenges.
I have around a decade more to serve as a stipendiary minister, and I needed to test whether those years should be spent here or somewhere else. The joint project with St Mary’s was also a factor. Much has now been put in place to shape and make the bid in November 2017. A new Vicar at the Minster will have the full duration of the Two Churches One Town Story Project to work with.
Julia and I thought that a new role should be very different from the three great Minsters we have served in Southwell, York and Beverley. We have always lived and worked in the Province of York. Since 1994 my ministry has included: multiple churches, a whole diocese or a great cathedral. We have ministered in town rather than city settings. We were looking for something very different, and not a gentle prelude towards retirement.
We were led towards Hampstead Parish Church: St John at Hampstead. It’s a single parish, with one church. There is a thriving church school, professional music, engagement with the arts, an open and enquiring sense of mission, a recognition of much more work to do, and an established congregation of all ages. The Diocese of London is growing and is challenging. London is a world city, and we are looking forward to testing ourselves in an environment quite unlike the East Riding.
Hampstead has a real community feel, and there are more social challenges than might first be thought. The episcopal area (Edmonton) contains communities with multiple challenges: Hampstead Parish Church plays its part in that ministry too.
What has been difficult in following this path is that some wonderful things are happening here in Beverley. But we were convinced that this was a feasible time for the Minster to look for someone new, and it was the right time for us to move. Some things will remain as challenges for my successor. But there is much to build on, and I would rather regret leaving than be relieved to do so.
We have been convinced that God is in this. And if that is the case we have faith that God will be in this for the Minster, Molescroft, Tickton, Woodmansey and Routh. You will always be our friends. And a little bit of Hampstead will be forever Beverley.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
“I am a citizen of…” well, where? Your Minster Choir has just been on its first tour on foreign soil. Acklam’s Coaches and P and O Ferries looked after us, and Beverley’s twinning with Lemgo in Germany became a reality for over 50 of us. You will be pleased to hear that we were complemented on our singing in German, and one day we may just give you a verse of ‘Praise to the Lord the Almighty’ in its native tongue.
There was much talk of Brexit amongst our youngsters. They wondered what their new passports would look like without the words ‘European Union’. They calculated the rate of exchange now that the pound was worth less. We all marvelled at the ease of crossing the border into Germany from the Netherlands, and we were patient as we tried to get back into Britain. We noted how different Germany felt – not least because in Lemgo they sat to sing the hymns but stood to say their prayers.
Being a citizen of one country and visiting another makes you look carefully at your identity. Being a citizen of a country which has decided to ‘take back control’ and break its current links with 26 others makes that search for identity all the more clear. When my parents were the age our choristers are now Britain and Germany were at war. We visited Hameln (Hamelin, of Pied Piper fame). It is very proud of being rebuilt and restored from the 1960s to the 1990s. It was not difficult to work out why it needed rebuilding.
We produced our passports. We ate different food (processed meat at breakfast?). We struggled with the language (a review of our concert said the choir sang with ‘Klangfülle’ which I think is a good thing). We received hospitality, and sang music from our hosts’ history as well as our own. We assured our new friends in Lemgo of our continued friendship. And we came back to our own country and saw it differently.
November puts citizenship into full focus. Later this month we will remember those whose responsibility to their country led them to make the ultimate sacrifice, and we will pray that countries once at war will walk the way of peace. November 1st is All Saints’ Day, where we give thanks for the company of heaven, and all those who rejoice in ‘a country far beyond the stars’ (an anthem we sang on tour).
The Christian is a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and of their earthly country. It is our task to live so faithfully as a citizen of heaven that the kingdoms of this world indeed become the kingdom of our God. I for one am sad that the consequences of the referendum vote have made expressing our friendship with other countries and races more complicated. As we remember the saints, and the fallen, this November, may we live in such a way that we rejoice in our heritage, open our arms in friendship and service, and bring the Kingdom of God near.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
A report to be published in October will tell the world that Beverley Minster is the largest parish church in England. This was a surprise to me, as thought that prize belonged to Holy Trinity Hull, or Great Yarmouth Minster. But no, according to Historic England (English Heritage as was), who have done clever things with mapping and have calculated our ‘footprint’, we are the biggest. 3,489 square metres, if you’re interested.
The report, paid for by Historic England, is all about ‘major’ parish churches. There are 300 of these, defined by their size and significance. Around fifty, because of their ‘cathedral-like’ ministry and their civic and tourist role are in the Greater Churches Network; the Minster was a founder member. All 300 have conservation and development needs which go way beyond the ‘typical’ parish church – average planned repair costs are at least double.
It’s been a privilege to be on the steering group of the project, and to learn about churches like ours (though of course no church is like the Minster because we’re the biggest. Did I mention that?). It’s reminded me that history has given us some amazing buildings with immense challenges but great opportunities. Tens of thousands of people visit us each year. Many will have heard of our worship and mission, but the vast majority come because the Minster looks amazing.
Churches like ours have the opportunity to do spectacular and unusual things. Yesterday (as I write) I showed another film company round, following our being Westminster Abbey for Victoria on ITV. Tomorrow (as I write) we welcome the Vintage and Retro fair. Our new What’s On, out in October, includes concerts, literary events, a food and drink fair, a graduation, carol concerts and services for hundreds of people, and our own Christmas events: last year over 2,500 worshipped over 24 hours.
All of that brings complications and joys. It’s a ministry not every church is called to, or required to offer. But we, with our friends at St Mary’s (in the top 30 large churches at 1552 square metres) have a duty to celebrate our history and architecture, welcome visitors, open our buildings to their community, and make them places of vibrant worship.
I’m writing this on the seventh anniversary of becoming your Vicar. It’s been a challenging and exhilarating time. What a privilege to inhabit a church like the Minster. Did I tell you it was the biggest?
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
I’d known for a while that there was a village in Brittany called Saint Jean Brévelay. It is a small ambition of mine to visit every church dedicated to Saint John of Beverley, and this place – a whole village – was next on my list, after the trip I made in 2012 to visit the ones in England.
I also knew that the village was not exactly a tourist hotspot, and not something to impose on a long suffering family. But we found, on our holiday in Brittany in August, that Saint Jean Brévelay was on our drive back to the ferry, and it made a good place to stop for a coffee. And it’s true: Saint Jean Brévelay is nothing to write home about, except for its name.
Why is there a village named after our saint in the southern part of Brittany? Explanatory material in the Roman Catholic church there says that in the tenth century Bretons had to flee from the invading Normans. They took refuge with their Breton cousins in Cornwall and Wales, and, when it was safe to return to Brittany they took with them devotion to some English saints. How they got to know of John of Beverley is not recorded, but they are said to have obtained a relic of Saint John, and this is housed in the church to this day.
The village was originally called Saint Jean, but there are lots of Johns, and they chose to make it more specific. I wish I’d had some time to make contact with the priest and mayor of Saint Jean Brévelay, but at least I got there on a mini pilgrimage. And we’ll be back to Brittany, which is fabulous. So perhaps we’ll be able to form a link with the village, which for some reason is twinned with Botley in Oxfordshire.
And now there is only one more St John of Beverley Church to visit. It’s north east of Boston in the United States. One day…
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
What are you looking for? And will you find it here?
We’re doing a visitor survey at the moment. It is always interesting to find out why people come to the Minster, and often this comes out in conversation. But sometimes you need to do it in an organised fashion. In 2015, for example, our visitors book recorded people from forty-four countries, and gave some of their reactions.
As we prepare to make a bid for millions of pounds in grants we need to know more of this information. One of the questions asks what people came to the Minster to do. There is a great range of options: from ‘reflection’ and ‘to attend a service’ to ‘peace and quiet’ and ‘to learn something’. ‘Other’ is an option too, and yesterday (as I write) someone put ‘Pokemon’. Pokemon Go is a game played on smartphones in real life locations, and there are Pokemon to be found here too. Whether that will help our bid for funding or not is not clear.
People have come to buildings like the Minster and St Mary’s (our bid will be a joint one, and St Mary’s have an identical survey) for all sorts of reasons. The music is good; the architecture stunning; the space awe inspiring; the people are interesting; there’s a useful job to do as a volunteer; there’s a place to pray and light a candle; it’s where a wedding or baptism happened; there’s a family name on a war memorial; it’s raining; it’s cool in the heat; there’s an exhibition on.
What I hope is that people will find their hopes met, and that their visit will go way beyond their expectations. Where people need a place to think and be quiet, I hope they will also find awe and inspiration in the art and architecture. Where people come to check out the building, I hope they will find a place of light and life and evidence a community committed to proclaiming Christ. And where they come to collect a virtual Pokemon, I hope they will be found by the living God.
There is always more to discover than what we set out to find. There are lots of opportunities this August to do that in the Minster, and St Mary’s. Who knows what will find you too.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
I write this just before the Referendum, and you’ll be reading it afterwards. Whatever the decision, how we work together after such a bruising and divisive campaign will be crucial.
Privately before the Referendum debate in the Minster more than one contributor expressed the hope that never again would there be such a process. As Chairman my final question was to ask how each of our panel wanted us to be feeling after the result is announced. We will, after all, still have to live together, take part in the processes of government and society together, look for the improvement of our nation and our world together, get along together.
One MP was clear that, for all our sakes, we must be generous to each other. There are greater things to concern us, as we have been so cruelly reminded in these last days. And this nation remains an amazingly privileged place to be, with every opportunity to make a difference to a needy and complex world.
When Jesus told the story of the division of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 he was clear that division came at the end of everything, and that, until then we all have the same opportunity to serve, to get along. In the Bible you never know when you might be bumping into God, or welcoming an angel. The people Jesus applauds are the ones who have actually looked after him, he says.
The people are baffled, but Jesus says that whenever they have fed or clothed or visited or welcomed anybody, he was to be found in them. Jesus offers a vision of a united humanity, where all have needs, and all have the opportunity to meet them. And this is not a reactive sort of kindness. You have to make an effort to visit someone in prison, make an effort to find clothes or food for the hungry and naked. This is a decision, not a guilty response.
Until the final division we are called not to divide but to decide. Whom shall we serve? How will we obtain the good of our neighbour? How will we take our place in the world? Our individual lives may not make a massive impact on the world stage. But just as every vote counts in a Referendum, so every action, however small, makes a difference. And in this I would rather be a sheep than a goat.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
We are not a Christian country. That was the conclusion many commentators drew from research this week which said that people of ‘no religion’ outnumbered people who professed a faith. In fact this was not ‘new’ news: the survey was undertaken in 2014, and much was made then of the statistic that Christians were now in the minority. This week’s research analysed the 2014 figures in a little more detail.
The decline in church attendance is not new, and it’s interesting to take the long view. History shows us that there have been ebbs and flows of religious observance. The evangelical and anglo-catholic revivals of the nineteenth century (think of Methodism and the Oxford Movement) followed a century where the church was ineffective and in disarray. There has been a steady decline since 1900, but there was a ‘bounce’ after World War Two, and many people still in the church have a memory of the busy feel of the 1950s. It was the increase in attendance which was unusual.
So, if this is not ‘news’, is it a problem? Of course. We have good news to share. This month we rejoiced that candidates publicly affirmed this faith in baptism and confirmation, and we were reminded not only of the challenge and hope of following Christ, but also that this is a faith which “the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation”. Those are words to which every licensed minister in the Church of England assents, and they are a challenge to us all.
In a world where the majority are happy to describe themselves as ‘no religion’, what do we do?
One. Don’t give up. This is a Gospel with two thousand years of history. Take the long view, and do not regard numerical decline as failure. There are movements which are beyond our control, but within which we can still have confidence in God, and be faithful.
Two. Read the signs of the times. The number of people who say they have ‘no religion’ has doubled in five years. Has religion itself become ‘toxic’? What effect does armed conflict in the name of God, or a perception that the church is against ‘progress’ on matters of sexuality, have on people’s attitudes to the institutions of faith? Does that account for the rise in the number of people who are ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ (SBNR)?
Three. Be the best form of ‘religious’ you can be. That is not to draw up the barricades and long for the 1950s – because even then active churchgoing was a minority activity. But it is to explore our heritage, to ask what makes us what we are, and to look for ways to enable people who are happy to be called ‘spiritual’ to explore the rich treasures of Christian faith and practice.
Four. Take individual responsibility for this. Nobody wants to prevent people from coming to church. But, when you think about it, most of us are broadly unaffected by gentle decline, especially if the services we like sort of carry on. There is no real incentive to go out and work for numerical growth – until it’s too late. Someone else is bound to do it, aren’t they?
Ten people made a public profession of their Christian faith in May. The church is not dead yet. But how will we ‘proclaim afresh’?
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
Becoming a Christian, following Jesus, being a disciple, turning to God, being born again, coming to faith, walking with God, friendship with Christ. There are so many ways of describing what we are doing when we discover and express our Christian faith. If I could say one thing to a new Christian it is that you have arrived in the best place there is, but that you never stop discovering new depths and new understandings.
This May is all about our calling to follow Christ. On Sunday May 8 this will be our major theme. We will celebrate St John of Beverley’s call to found the place which became Beverley Minster, and his ministry in turbulent times which established the church in this region. I am delighted that Alison, Bishop of Hull, will be with us at the 10.30 service to confirm eleven candidates and to enable another to reaffirm their faith. Time and again I hear people say that their call to follow Christ is unexpected, and Bishop Alison certainly says this about her call to be a Bishop.
Later that day Canon Dr Dagmar Winter, Rector of Hexham Abbey, will be the preacher at the East Riding’s celebration of St John. The picture of St John I use on the order of service is from a panel in Hexham Abbey. Seven bishops of Hexham became saints, and John is prominent among them. The miracle of the healing of the boy who could not speak, which we read at that service, took place at St John Lee, just across the river from Hexham, and it is very good that Hexham’s current incumbent preaches at this service.
This is a holy month! Thursday May 5 is Ascension Day, and at the services at 10.00 and 7.30 we will reflect on Christ at God’s ‘right hand’, leading the way through death to our heavenly home. May 15 is Pentecost Sunday, where 10 days after the Ascension God poured out the promised Holy Spirit. As Christians we can only be faithful followers as we are strengthened and inspired by God’s power. That will be the prayer prayed for the confirmation candidates, and is the prayer of every Christian: ‘Come, Holy Spirit’.
On Trinity Sunday, May 22, two people well known to us at the Minster will be ordained priest at York Minster. It is a significant day anyway, but also marks the end of the Archbishop’s Pilgrimage of Prayer, Witness and Blessing. That will make it doubly special for the Revd Ali Doolan, now curate at St Mary’s, and the Revd Lyn Kenny, curate at South Cave, who both found their calling to ordained ministry here at the Minster.
However you express it, to be a Christian is to be called, inspired, challenged and empowered. This is an exciting month: I pray you will discover more, go deeper, broaden your horizons and discover more about your calling this May.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
‘There is’, says the writer of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, ‘nothing new under the sun.’ One of my favourite features in our excellent magazine is Sally George’s trawl through the archives. And, after my article last month asking people to respond to the challenges we face around staffing and volunteering, Sally found just such a plea from the Vicar here in 1949, the Revd Collwyn Hargreaves.
At that stage he had just one colleague: a Lay Reader. I was interested to see that Tickton was looked after by the Vicar of Hornsea. Then, as now, it was clearly difficult to find people willing to take on onerous and demanding volunteer roles. When I’m tempted to have a rosy view of the past, I will remember this piece, and be grateful to those who responded to the call, rebuilding the church and community and nation after the rigours and challenges of war.
I’m very pleased to say that people have responded superbly to my call to pray. At the Annual Parochial Church Meeting on April 11 there will be (at least) five candidates for Churchwarden. There is a proposed way forward for our financial life, with John Bull continuing to manage the accounting processes, supporting another Treasurer within a strengthened Finance Committee. We made an appointment of a new Head Virger, who will hopefully start on 1 May.
All our ‘Try Praying’ booklets (we had 500) have now been taken, and we are praying for amazing things to happen as people ‘use them and lose them’. And the ‘Pilgrim’ Course which resumes in early April includes people who wish to mark their new faith by being confirmed. There are some young people who wish to make their faith public too.
For all this we must thank God. Nothing can be accomplished without prayer, and I would call you again to pray passionately and often about the many opportunities we have for mission and ministry. It remains the case that we have fewer clergy and readers than we did five years ago, and that will not change quickly. But my call to prayer was not a complaint, just as the call in 1949 was no complaint either. It was a recognition of changed circumstances, and a prayer that we might recognise what might need to change as a result.
God is faithful, and I rejoice in the tangible signs of that faithfulness. So let’s be bold, and flexible, and look forward. Who knows what God may do?
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
We face quite a challenge over the next few months, and I am inviting everyone involved in the life of the Minster Parish to respond if you can. I spoke about this in four services on Sunday 28 February, and this is my call to us all to pray.
I invite you to respond in prayer. And, perhaps, direct action.
Eight years ago there was a Vicar, an Associate Vicar, two curates, a Methodist Minister at Tickton, six Readers, and at least three active retired clergy. This month our available ministers include the Vicar, a curate, and three Readers. Retired clergy can offer much less than a few years ago.
We continue to cover the normal worship pattern at five churches. I do not know how this can carry on. You therefore have to be aware that things – including some services and arrangements with which you have become comfortable – may have to change. Gareth and I simply cannot be in two places at the same time. At the moment I cannot see how either of us can have a Sunday off.
At the Minster we should have five churchwardens. This year there have been four. Two of those are not intending to carry on after the Annual Parochial Church meeting in April. So we are looking for at least three new Churchwardens. It is a rewarding and challenging task. Rewarding because you see so much and have such an opportunity to serve. Challenging because people don’t always behave well, and can be ridiculous especially just before church on Sundays. I would like you to ask yourself whether you can offer to serve as a Churchwarden. Otherwise I cannot see how our normal life can continue.
Our parish financial life has been wonderfully served by John Bull as Treasurer. We are a major enterprise. Apart from York Minster I don’t know of another church in the diocese which demonstrates our complexity. John is standing down as Treasurer after the Annual Parochial Church meeting. For the ‘reward and challenge’ of a Churchwarden, read all the same things for the Treasurer. People can get very touchy about money. I cannot see an easy way forward, nor an easy replacement for the kind of ministry John has offered. But I hope, under God, that there is a solution, and that those of you with financial and accountancy expertise may be able to help.
There are other challenges too. We will interview for a new Head Virger on 18 March, and there will certainly be quite a long gap between John Dell’s retirement and a new person starting. We will only truly discover how invaluable the Virgers are when one of them is missing. It will be difficult.
I would love people to get excited about ‘Try Praying’ in March. I would love it if people came to the Pilgrim Course on Tuesdays in March and April, and joined the people who want to explore their faith and be confirmed. You may have been a Christian for ages. You can encourage others who are starting this journey by joining them, or inviting others to come. Above all, please pray.
That’s my challenge and call to prayer
Please pray that we can offer worship and ministry with a smaller number of clergy and Readers. Please pray for Churchwardens and a Treasurer. Please pray for ‘Try Praying’ in March. Please pray about the Virgers. Please pray for new people to come on the Pilgrim Course and to follow Christ.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
January is reported to be a month full of pressure. The third Monday is the worst, evidently, as people face another week at work when the credit card bill from Christmas has come in, and the salary hasn’t. The weather matches the mood, the resolutions seem too challenging, and the holiday adverts just rub it in. Perhaps it was part of God’s good grace that clergy from the Beverley Deanery had a session on ‘resilience’ on that ‘worst’ day, popularly called ‘Blue Monday’.
Even though we were looking at things that get us down, it was an uplifting time. Clergy are not any more stressed than anyone else of course, and many surveys say that our ‘happiness’ and ‘job satisfaction’ is up there with the best of professions. But there are things which are specific to us, and we shared them honestly and openly. That was one of the first lessons: hearing other people say that they have encountered what you thought was only happening to you means that there is a support network around you: you are not alone.
It was also good hearing that other people are prone to the delusions which you thought were peculiar to you. One phrase which remains with me is the clergy’s tendency to ‘functional atheism’: that everything really depends on us, as if God did not exist, and it’s our planning and hard work which is essential. How would God cope otherwise? I’m willing to bet that it’s not just clergy who think and act like this: many people with active roles in churches can believe that it all depends on them and not on God.
That’s not an excuse to do nothing of course. But a friend told me recently of how he sensed God saying that he should pause the strategy he had carefully worked out, and that, a year later, he can now see how God was at work preparing the ground in a different way. Perhaps the start of the year is a good time to pause, and look carefully, and see God at work perhaps in ways we were not prepared for.
In times of stress and challenge we will find our strength and resilience in the support of others, in being open and honest with those we trust, and in looking carefully at the delusions we operate under. A profound resource here is discovering our place in God’s story: understanding that there is nothing which can remove us from God’s love (Romans 8), and nothing which Jesus did not know when he ‘became flesh and pitched his tent among us’ (John 1). May you know that love and care as 2016 unfolds.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
Human beings are good at giving significance to the times of the year, and to individual days. Facebook has discovered this: one of the features I like is the reminder of whose birthday it is, giving the opportunity to send them a quick greeting. It’s not the same as a card, planned in advance, but we live in a much more instant age. Facebook has also taken to reminding you what you were doing on a certain day five years ago: to that feature I owe the knowledge that Advent 2010 was very snowy indeed.
Christians have been at this much longer than Facebook. The anniversaries of the events of Jesus’s life were marked with commemorations in Jerusalem in the early years of the church, and those commemorations enlarged into the seasons of the church year we know today. I’ve said it’s like tying a knot in your spiritual handkerchief: the death and resurrection of Jesus are truths for every hour of every day, but Good Friday and Easter Sunday place them fully into our view. We cannot help but look.
Cultures which owe their roots to Christianity have developed elaborate celebrations of these events, sometimes so elaborate that the party has become much more noisy than the reason for it. Christmas, the celebration of ‘God with us’, has become such a feast of present giving and receiving, of works’ parties and family gatherings, that it’s very hard for people to squeeze a church service in. Advent, the time of preparation, has fared even more badly: overwhelmed by ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ (I told you we were good at giving significance to dates), and then by carol services before December has even started.
Actually, I’m not that uncomfortable with an elongated Christmas extravaganza, though I wish the timetable allowed more people to celebrate in church on the day itself. But Christ was born into a busy and complex world, easily as complex politically as our own, and just as dangerous. If we glimpse the glory of God in the hectic whirl of our existence we will be like the crowds of Jesus’s day, and if we can glimpse that significance and allow it to remain with us long after the decorations are down, then the seed of faith and discipleship will be firmly rooted.
You will be very welcome at any of our commemorations of Advent and Christmas, not least the Christmas Tree Festival on the 11th – 13th December. Our celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are open to all. On these significant and meaningful anniversaries I pray you will have time to reflect, to pause, to rejoice, and to party. For God with us is a truth for every day too.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
The day the clocks change is a good day to reflect on time, the calendar, and how we use it. The ‘Bard of Barnsley’, Ian MacMillan, tweeted that’ the clocks go back on Saturday. I should have kept up with the repayments’. Suddenly it’s dark by late afternoon, ‘Gardeners’ World’ has finished for the winter, and I’ve heard my first ‘have a good Christmas’. Summer seems long gone.
Of course, we have much to look forward to. Remembrance Sunday, 8 November, is a remarkable occasion where the Minster serves the whole region, and I am delighted that the Bishop of Hull is preaching for us. In the evening we follow our tradition of having the Fauré Requiem. Elsewhere in this magazine Professor Margaret Holloway writes about a project researching how we remember and commemorate events which were long before our time but still have their effect. That’s quite a good metaphor of the calendar and the church’s year too.
At the end of the church’s year is ‘Christ the King’ Sunday, 22 November, reflecting on the Christian faith and hope that Christ is enthroned to rule in the Kingdom of Heaven, until the time all is revealed. At the Minster we celebrate this by having an orchestra to accompany us at Communion at the 10.30 service. During the service the Friends of Cathedral Music will present a cheque for £15,000, establishing a music endowment to provide a guaranteed income to support the Minster’s musical life.
Advent Sunday is on Sunday 29 September, and the Advent Procession at 6.30 is not to be missed. The Minster is filled with light as we both prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ as a child, and look for his coming in glory. And then, on each Sunday leading up to Christmas, we light candles, remembering those who prepared the way for Christ, and reminding us to point to Christ in our own lives. And then it’s Christmas, but there will be the December Magazine to write about that.
We organise time and the calendar to help us remember, and to shape our lives the way we wish. Birthdays and anniversaries remind us of those we love, and of events which have been important, to us and to our communities. Some things we don’t actually remember, but their commemoration means that they are important for us. Remembrance of those who died in the First World War is a good example. So it is with the church year. We were not there when Christ was born, but know that we should reflect on it, as, for Christians, it was the event which changed the world, and gives us hope and direction now.
So whether you relish autumn and winter, or simply cannot wait for spring, I pray that the events in our calendar will give you pause for reflection, and hope for the future.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
When rehearsing with rock bands I always enjoyed sitting at the drum kit. My percussionist friends, would shoo me off, telling me that I was better at playing bass. Somehow “banging a drum” has become a negative expression, and in last month’s Magazine Barbara Gilman wrote, with some weariness, that “September is our normal drum-banging month for Money”.
Not this year. It’s October. And it’s less about drum-banging than being challenged about our attitude to everything we own. Most years we have one Sunday where the sermon themes are about stewardship and possessions. This year we are looking at all this in more depth. There will be sermons and teaching on different Sundays, and everyone who is a part of the Minster’s worshipping life will have the opportunity to consider what they give.
Giving to charities has been much in the news recently, with stories of people hounded on the phone and by letter. I hate walking up Toll Gavel when you can see a line of four “chuggers” accosting people for a worthy cause. What we give, and what we give to, should be a matter of free will and personal conviction, not being nagged at or shamed. The basic teaching in the New Testament is that giving should be joyful.
At the Minster we have 170 people who give in a planned way, and you would expect us to communicate with you about that, firstly and obviously to say thank you. We also have a good number of people who worship here and who don’t yet give in a planned way, and who might value the opportunity to think about it. I hope you will not be unhappy to receive a letter from me too. That will be the extent of our direct communication with you all. No nagging or chugging.
Barbara’s article caused us to think about the way the Church of England uses its money. The Church Commissioners do have billions of poundsworth of assets, which are put to work to ensure that clergy receive their pensions, that central structures are fit for purpose and that dioceses receive grants to pay for parish clergy. We are a large and expensive organisation, and that enables us to provide ministry across the nation. As with the national church, so with the Minster: our committees ensure that our finances are scrutinised, and our money put to good and lasting use.
It will be for you to decide whether the Minster, and the wider Church of England, is a ‘worthy cause’. Underneath it all, it will be for you to decide what you think about your money and what you want to do with it. I pray that, for all of us, this “drum-banging” will be joyful.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
Grammar Alert: double negative coming up. There has never been a time when I’ve not gone to church. More simply put: ever since I can remember I’ve been to church regularly. Sunday worship has just always been there. For that I’m grateful. Many of my chorister friends drifted away when their voices broke. I happened to be friends with some people who took me along to another church and I carried on going. At university I was swept up into the life of a vibrant church (along with Alison, now Bishop of Hull!) and my teenage faith became an adult faith.
In one sense there’s a down side to this. I don’t know what it is, as an adult, to make a decision to discover more about belief, faith, spirituality, or prayer. I’ve just always done it – not very well, I admit, but it’s always been there. So I don’t know what it’s like for the vast majority of the population who don’t go to church, who’ve been only perhaps once or twice in their lives. Most people pray, at some point and in some way, but I also know that most people don’t take this any further, even if, in their heart of hearts, they think it might be a good thing. I have always placed trust in God and a life of following God’s will at the centre of what I’ve done (again, not very well, but the commitment has always been there). I don’t know what it’s like to think to myself: ‘I need to explore faith. There’s something missing here’.
So it’s with a sense of humility that I want to invite people who aren’t like me to make the choice that I made a long time ago: to come regularly to church, to discover faith, to ask questions and to decide that believing in Jesus is a challenge worth taking up. It’s a dangerous thing to do. If your life is pretty reasonably sorted, and if you’ve done pretty well so far, then having it turned upside down is a major thing to contemplate. Very practically, most people’s Sundays are busy enough already without adding church into the picture.
But…when it comes to it most people also have a nagging sense that there has to be something more. Many people have had an overwhelming experience of being in the presence of something way bigger than themselves. Lots of people can point to a significant moment which points to the existence of a God beyond their imaginings. And most people, when asked, would like to find out more about faith, if only they could sort out the space to explore in.
Here’s a humble invitation then. Give about ten hours of your time over six Tuesday evenings to try some of this out. The Start! Course is about exploring big questions, starting with our own experience. No strings, but a big challenge. I won’t underestimate it. But it could be the start of something huge, if you give it a go. We begin on Tuesday 8 September at 7.30 in the Peter Harrison Room. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
One of the special things during the Festival of Life was hearing different people tell their story of faith. Two or three of them were spectacular, with lives completely transformed after battles with addiction and criminality. When I heard these I was, of course, thrilled that God could work so powerfully in people’s lives and turn round even the most desperate cases.
But I also have to admit to a small sense of envy when I hear such things. Not for the awful situations that people got themselves into, nor for the ongoing consequences of broken relationships and bad decisions. The envy is that I don’t have such a spectacular story to tell. ‘I sang in a church choir, went to a church youth group, joined a Christian group at University and then got ordained’ is not exactly something to stop people talking in the pub. I’d quite like to have something amazing to have turned away from. But no. I went to church a lot, and I still do.
Ask me, and I’ll tell you that story though. Most people have not done extreme things. Most people are trying to get by, and know in their heart of hearts that there is stuff, however minor in the great scheme of things, which they regret and which they could put right. With all my churchgoing background there was still a point where I knew, very clearly, that the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was for me personally as well as everyone else, and if it was for me then I had to respond to it. One May, 39 years ago, I did, and consciously agreed with the promises made in the baptism I don’t remember. I turned to Christ.
It’s not spectacular, but it is as profound for me as for the people whose lives were in a major mess before they met Christ. To accept Jesus as Lord, to turn to Christ, to be a faithful disciple is life changing whoever you are. For me it has also meant accepting a call to ordination – and our prayers are with Ali Doolan as she follows that call this month. Even if I hadn’t been ordained I knew that everything I had belonged to God, and that I would try to follow God’s leading wherever I was sent. The story may not be spectacular, but the calling is.
And that’s why I also enjoyed hearing the stories of those who came to a living faith gradually, because of an invitation by friends, because of a love of church music, because of a book which convinced them that the resurrection was true, because of strength found in a deep bereavement, because of a healing, or one which never came. I value the stories of people who struggle with belief, yet who in clinging on by their fingernails to God actually demonstrate the deepest faith of all.
And that’s why I want to encourage you to tell your story of faith to whoever you can. The God who can change the lives of the most devastated people can change even mine and yours. And people need to hear that God works in everyone in a way which is for them. So I’ll stop being envious of the spectacular stories, and will tell you mine when I can.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
I’m writing this on Pentecost Sunday. I’ve just preached a sermon about the Holy Spirit being like petrol. It can be safely contained in a can, but does best when at work in an engine. Christians are called not to contain the Holy Spirit, but to be empowered, inspired, enabled and energised.
For the early disciples the energising of the Holy Spirit turned them into people who could not stop telling others about Jesus, could not stop serving and caring for any in need. They had no choice! For the church over the last 2000 years the energising of the Holy Spirit has meant that we have heard the same message the disciples spoke, as one has told another down the centuries.
It is not difficult to see how the Spirit has inspired the church: Beverley Minster, and our other buildings too in their context, are rather obvious. There is music and prayer and worship and meetings and study and service. It is all too easy though to try and contain God’s work into manageable packages, like keeping the petrol in the can.
The churches of Beverley are aiming to put the petrol to good use in June, as we celebrate a ‘Festival of Life’. It’s a good way to reflect on the work of the Spirit already to be seen in the churches, and to ask what other things we might do. At Pentecost people heard God’s good news in words they could understand, whatever language they spoke. We have to ask the Spirit to help us do the same: too often our words and actions become intelligible only to us.
It’s a dangerous thing to ask God the Holy Spirit to inspire us. It may lead us beyond what we are familiar with. But where God calls God also equips. Generations of Christians have discovered that taking a risk has meant a new discovery of the power of the Spirit in us. I pray that during the Festival of Life we will find the same.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
I was ill in March and April. I know I was ill because I was physically unable to do any of the services in Holy Week and at Easter – a vicar’s ‘busy time’. If I’ve been under the weather before I’ve generally hauled myself in and coped, but the virus that got me did an excellent job. It was all I could do to decide what to drink (the first week) and then eat (the second and third weeks).
This is the point where you might be expecting my testimony on the reassurance of the presence of God especially at 3 in the morning when all else is hopeless. I’ve always been inspired when hearing of people who have found God in the most desperate circumstances. Indeed, I think I’m much more convinced by people whose faith in God is created or deepened through suffering rather than joy. Not that I was really suffering. I was just ill, and couldn’t do anything else but lie there.
And nothing happened. I was just ill. My faith in God remained the same, and I slept and woke and looked for signs of improvement. In the middle of it all I read a helpful blog by someone who is going through radical treatment for an aggressive illness. They said that, sometimes, you are just ill, and that’s it. Perhaps, in God’s providence, there will be times where all makes sense spiritually, and that is a great gift. But for much of the time it is what it is, and you carry on. Finding the will of God in all this is not so easy.
As it happened, I was off ill for the most convenient two weeks of the year. I should have been away for the first week anyway, so everything was geared up for my absence. Holy Week was basically sorted, and as long as there were people who could lead the services (thanks to our team of clergy, lay ministers and retired clergy), then it could all happen. But I don’t think God made me ill because it was convenient. I don’t know why I was ill. I just was. I’ve learnt from it, and I hope I’ve grown through it. But I don’t know why it happened.
Yesterday, in the Minster, as news of the Nepalese earthquake broke, someone asked if we might have a sermon or two on why bad things happen. Val had spoken about it a little, referring also to the drownings in the Mediterranean. We are right to ask why the world is as it is, and right to look for God’s presence in it all. What came to me was that God’s presence in the suffering of the world is so intimate, so total, through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, that it goes beyond the manipulation of events, beyond doing things so that other things can happen.
Some things simply are. God is not set apart from them. God’s presence can be found in and through them. Why individual events happen is perhaps beyond us. But faith and trust in God’s presence, though Christ who in his resurrection continues to bear the wounds of his suffering, is what distinguishes the Christian faith. Crucially, sometimes we might feel this and be convinced of it. And sometimes, as in my enforced illness and absence, we might not. The test of faith is to continue to reflect, question, think, and grow. And one day I might understand why I was unable to lead the services which mark the heart of the Christian faith.
For now I’ll give thanks that I’m better, and I will look for the presence of God in the most unlikely places.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
The seasons of the year are such a vital part of our lives, and the seasons of the Church’s year play their part in helping us learn more about our faith and the God who loves us in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit.
As I write I’m gearing up for the spiritual challenge of Holy Week, and am focussing on God supreme love for us in Jesus Christ’s suffering and death. I’m getting ready for the Passion Gospel on Palm Sunday, and the long recitation of the last hours of Jesus’s life, and preparing too for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with their themes of betrayal, guilt, failure and sacrifice. But you’ll be reading this as the church is filled with daffodils and lilies, and the good news of God raising Jesus from the dead will be on your lips, with Easter Eggs to the fore.
The changing of the seasons and the different themes they carry are a key part of the way the church calendar teaches us and helps us to pray. I wouldn’t ordinarily want to focus on betrayal and injustice, but the events of Holy Week require me to do so, and that then enables me to recognise those themes in contemporary life. As Christians we are required to seek out injustice and unfairness, and the story of Holy Week is a profound reminder. So too is the Easter story, and our requirement to rejoice with those who rejoice, to declare that God’s new life is greater than all the powers which would try to destroy. Both themes are essential to our Christian journey, and I hope you valued the Holy Week journey and are now luxuriating in eth Easter good news.
Change and the seasons are a theme of my pictures this time. Our new chairs have arrived, and have instantly brightened the Minster. A new road has been built, and though we were not consulted about the name it is a privilege to know that a road with such good views of the Minster is called ‘Minster Way’. The eclipse was a stunning event, and I was amazed to see I had photographed a bird as it was happening, flying towards the Minster.
The rather futuristic machine is a drone which was used to film the Minster from the air: I hope some of the shots will be available to us soon. The film is for the promotion of the Tour de Yorkshire, which will come right past the Minster on May 2. And the young person in the castle is enjoying our latest Gruffalo event: around 200 other joined them in a fantastic and creative morning.
Every blessing for the Easter season.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
‘Lent’ is the Anglo Saxon word for the season when the days lengthen, and I’ve always enjoyed one author’s description of these days as ‘God’s Springtime’. With more hours of daylight it feels like a time to get on with things, and with more light around some things show up more – like our dirty windows or dusty corners.
This time of year combines beautifully with what the church has done in this season from its earliest days. When most new Christians were baptised at Easter, the weeks leading up to it were full of a spiritual ‘spring cleaning’, making sure that wrong doing was confessed, bad habits were got rid of, and good habits started.
Most people in this country don’t go to church regularly (though more people than you think go to a church at least once a year, but that’s another article). It interests me greatly that even though most people aren’t regular worshippers, Lent still makes sense to them. Ash Wednesday has gained greater profile, and not simply because of ‘Pancake Tuesday’.
The idea of being disciplined, giving something up and doing something positive has gained greater currency, from people growing moustaches in ‘Movember’ through to an alcohol free January. There is something in us which sees the value in a disciplined life, and a life lived in service of others. It’s something which Christians don’t have a monopoly of, but to which we can give much greater meaning.
The spiritual Lent is about creating habits which will deep our walk with God, patterns of life whose discipline will make us disciples. That will mean giving up the bad stuff, and even giving up things we enjoy, so we can remind ourselves that we depend only on God. And as well as ‘giving up’ it will mean ‘taking up’: doing something positive, for ourselves and especially for others.
The ‘Challenge for Lent’ this year is based on a number of ‘calls’, or encouragements. A call to renew our vision, and remind ourselves of our aims as a church (to grow in Christlikeness, Commitment, Influence, Partnership, Mission). A call to pray, together and on our own. A call to invitation and mission, preparing for the festival of Life in June. A call to read the Scriptures, particularly focussing on the Gospel readings for each Sunday of Lent.
There will be other calls you will want to follow: things you know you wish to give up or take up. But I’d particularly like to call you to prayer, as the foundation of all we do. And then, just as spring plants put down their roots as the days lengthen, so we will be deeper rooted in God, and bear fruit for God’s glory.
Jeremy Fletcher writes…
My picture this month is of the Mayor of Beverley, Councillor Paul McGrath, in the ringing chamber on New Year’s Eve. The tradition is that the Mayor watches the ringers ‘ring out’ the old year and ‘ring in’ the new. Just before midnight the Mayor reads Tennyson’s ‘Ring out, wild bells’. The ringing chamber is a wonderful place to see the new year begin, as fireworks are let off all round the Minster.
A more ancient celebration of the new year was in the Spring, as the new growth sprang up from the earth. The tax year derives from that, and I often think of Lent as a kind of new year: a chance to take stock, resolve to do things better, and to look for new life and hope. This year Lent starts on 18 February: Ash Wednesday, and there are many opportunities that day to come to the Minster and worship.
Morning Prayer will be at 7.30 am. There are Communion services at 10.00 am and 7.30 pm, and the evening one is choral. There is a service of midday prayer at 12.30 pm, and Evening Prayer at 5.00 pm. At every service there will be the opportunity to have the Imposition of Ashes: the sign of the cross in ash on the forehead. In Lent we recognise that, by ourselves, we fall short, make mistakes, and allow things to get in the way of our relationship with God. Being penitent – recognising our weakness – allows God to offer healing and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God’s power breathes life into the ‘dust and ashes’ of our lives.
As 2015 has begun I have been drawn to a determination that the Minster and its churches and congregations should focus on prayer. There are many opportunities: twice a day on weekdays, as well as our regular services. People meet in small groups, and of course individuals use the themes for prayer in the notice sheet and on various prayer diaries. But this determination is more than that. Unless we take every opportunity to ‘intercede’ – actively to ask God for guidance, and for God to act – we will not see growth and the development of our ministries.
We have added some public opportunities to pray, on a monthly basis, for the church’s work in Woodmansey, and for the work with children and young people. In Lent the churches of Beverley will gather to pray for the ‘Festival of Life’, June’s joint mission to Beverley. Those gatherings are on February 25, March 11 and March 25. At 9.15 every Monday the service of Morning Prayer in St Katherine’s Chapel includes prayer specifically for the Minster’s mission and ministry.
I hope you will also pick up this determination to pray. In Lent there will be material to help your prayers. Perhaps you can commit to pray by yourself, each day. Perhaps you can commit to joining with another person to do this, weekly. Perhaps your small group can commit to this in Lent. It will be a good New Year’s resolution.