The Rev'd Mary Stallard explores tradition and faithful change, in a service live from St. Margaret's Church, Wrexham, led by Canon John Lomas. Music by the Cantorian Sirenian Singers, conducted by Jean Stanley Jones. Organist: John Hoskins.
Producer: Karen Walker.
PLEASE NOTE: This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.
It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events
R4: OPENING ANNO
BBC Radio 4. “Living Tradition” is the theme explored in Sunday Worship this morning which comes live from St. Margaret’s Church, Wrexham. The service is led by Canon John Lomas.
ITEM 1 INTRO CANON JOHN LOMAS
Good morning. Grace and peace to you all! And a warm welcome to the largest town in north Wales, where we’re situated between the lower Dee valley and the country’s easternmost mountains.
I have a slightly unusual role in this parish having been given the challenge and responsibility of undertaking what’s known as a “transition ministry”. Basically that means I’m working with a group of 8 churches, as they attempt to find fresh patterns of ministry for diverse groups of people, some of whom might at present have little contact with church.
But the label “transition ministry” really only reflects the vocation of the whole church, that of engaging in a constant journey towards faithful renewal. Seeking to be followers of Jesus is about being continually engaged with learning about, and communicating, the good news of Christian faith so that others can hear it.
At the heart of the Christian message is the comforting assurance that God, who loves us, always leads us on this adventure, whatever the change and challenge. Believing that God always wants humanity and all creation to flourish, Christians have to establish what it means to be God’s people here and now – working out how to honour the treasures and traditions we’ve inherited, how to nurture new gifts in the present and for the future - in other words, how to enjoy a “living tradition”.
Our first hymn affirms this calling, reminding us that the God who has always guided us in the past will show us the path to life: “All my hope on God is founded”.
ITEM 2: Hymn CHOIR/CONG/ORGAN
All my hope on God is founded;
ITEM 3 OPENING PRAYER CANON JOHN
Lord, you are always more ready to listen than we are to pray, help us to be faithful in worship and ready to ask your blessing upon our lives and our whole community. Breathe your love and creativity into our worship and all our relationships that we may grow in friendship with you and one another.
Help us to know that you’re at the centre of all things. Gift us with vision and insight to rediscover your presence in familiar truths and to find you also at the boundaries of our communities and the limits of our imagination. Amen.
[As we think about change and growth this morning we remember that] today, in many churches, is Rogation Sunday – which honours a long-standing tradition of prayer, especially in rural areas, calling for God’s blessing upon our land and the coming harvest.
John Rutter’s anthem “For the Beauty of the Earth” calls us to be attentive to the gifts of creation and to praise God with joyful hearts. It’s sung now The Cantorian Sirenian Singers.
ITEM 4 ANTHEM CHOIR / PIANO
For the beauty of the earth
ITEM 5 PENITENTIAL PRAYER CANON JOHN.
Let us ask God to have mercy on us and upon the world:
For forgiveness for the times when we have failed to act out of love towards God and our neighbour, and for grace and imagination to use our gifts well.
Creator God, you gave us so many good gifts but we have often hoarded or squandered them.
Lord, have mercy R/ Lord, have mercy.
Saving God, you show us the way of love, but many times we have put ourselves first and ignored the needs of the poor. Christ, have mercy R/ Christ, have mercy.
Spirit of hope, you gift us with fresh opportunities each day. Give us strength and courage when we struggle to put our trust in you and when we fear to learn new things. Lord, have mercy R/ Lord, have mercy.
Generous God, you never cease the work you have begun, and you bless us with potential to learn and grow every day of our lives. Make us faithful stewards of the gifts we have been given, that we might work for the good of all and for the building of your Kingdom. Amen.
[Receiving God’s forgiveness and daring to be people who are willing to learn new things can be a daunting task]. Our next piece of music is a prayer that we may trust that God accompanies us through all the changes of our lives. “In heavenly love abiding.”
ITEM 6 CHOIR / ORGAN
In heav’nly love abiding,
ITEM 7 LINK CANON JOHN
In a moment our preacher the Reverend Mary Stallard will speak on our Gospel reading.
At the Last Supper, aware of the danger he was facing on the eve of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus spoke openly to his friends about the massive changes that confronted them.
He knew that he was about to leave them and that, if they were to carry on his ministry of telling people about God’s message of love and forgiveness, they would need to find new resources of trust and hope.
St John’s Gospel chapter 14 records his words of encouragement, which speak to all who are facing change:
ITEM 8 READING
[Jesus said,] ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
ITEM 9 REFLECTION PART 1 REV MARY STALLARD
The pathway to one of our churches here in Wrexham provides me with a vivid parable of how we can get stuck when we’re challenged by the need to do things differently: The path is made of handsome and expensive stone slabs which complement the building and contribute to the visual impact of a celebrated local landmark.
Unfortunately the paving isn’t suitable to bear the weight of modern vehicles. But because many people need to drive to church and park in the churchyard, the stones are repeatedly broken.
On the face of it the choice is simple; either we should stop people from driving on them or replace these stones with a less elegant but more robust surface. But, in practice, it’s not a straightforward decision. Whatever’s done, will cause upset. Some have strong feelings about the way the building looks; others about the need for easy access. So it’s tempting to take no action and try to ignore the issue, living with the brokenness, and making piecemeal and costly repairs from time to time.
For me, this is a fascinating metaphor for aspects of the contemporary church.
The tradition in lots of churches today - Rogation Sunday - is to focus on the land and its bounty, by “beating the bounds” - symbolically walking around the parish perimeter asking for God’s blessing upon all that’s growing. I remember doing this as a child in Birmingham, being dragged out for a healthy Sunday afternoon walk. I was told of its meaning but didn’t quite manage to make the connection between the past and the present, especially in a city context.
It’s a tradition that, arguably, is in danger of losing significance, as we become ever more estranged in our relationship with the land. [So perhaps, then, it’s even more important to pray for those involved in agriculture and food production but it also raises interesting questions about the place of tradition in our world and worship today].
Handed down from generations before us some rituals continue to have resonance and meaning, but the significance of others becomes more opaque over time.
Sometimes our actions may have little connection with the reality of our lives. My family laugh at me because I like to set the table for breakfast every morning in the way my mother always did. They find it amusing because we almost never sit down together for breakfast! And ironically I waste time laying the table before heading out to work, whilst often grumbling that I’m not actually going to have time to eat!
It’s hard to know how to adapt our routines: A well-known prayer (attributed to American Theologian Reinhold Niebhur) recognises our need for help with this saying: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
The Christian church isn’t immune to these dilemmas. It famously wrestles with them: struggling and grappling in many areas to resolve points of conflict about the place of tradition. We see this sometimes in fierce debates about a whole range of issues from the words we choose for prayer, to the people who are allowed to be ordained and beliefs about marriage and sexuality.
Uncertainty over such issues causes tension and upheaval.
It’s a big challenge for the church to find positive ways to honour the gifts of the past whilst also respecting and acknowledging the needs of present and continuing communities.
Now, faith ought to be a great resource for coping with change. Being confident – literally means living with faith. The world view that Jesus shared with his friends should fill us with hope: As we heard, he assures us that the God who’s always accompanied us will never leave us alone or friendless.
Often the choices we face are complex: and recognising our brokenness and difficulty is an honest place to start in times of change, but like a path that always needs mending, our weaknesses are signs of places calling out for active attention and healing. Situations where we’re stuck have to become sites for repentance – where we seek God’s help and direction. A chance to let go or to start afresh. Jesus came to lead people on in life and one of the names he used for himself was “the Way”.
[ Margaret Rizza’s setting of the Hymn of St Patrick, expresses the steadfast love in which we can trust when we know we’re accompanied on our life’s journey ].
ITEM 10 CHOIR / ORGAN or UNACCOMPANIED TBC
Hymn of St Patrick
ITEM 11 REFLECTION PART 2 MARY
There’s an ancient and moving wisdom in that wonderful Hymn of St Patrick, [with music by Margaret Rizza] with its gentle and insistent repetition of the name of Jesus. “Christ” comes first in every line, driving home the message that not everything depends upon us and that it’s God, not ourselves or our problems that’s at the centre of everything.
And it offers us comfort but also a challenge. It means that we’ve greater resources than we sometimes remember. Putting Christ first reminds us that we’re part of a bigger narrative in which we play only a small part. And aligning ourselves to Jesus means accepting that it’s his vision which is far greater than our own, that’s most important in finding creative ways to move forwards.
This doesn’t make the journey an easy or predictable one, of course. The way of Christ takes us beyond our comfort zone and into territory where there’s potential to discover many new things: maybe friendship with those we consider to be enemies, healing where we encounter brokenness and life where we’re unable to see hope. We’re often fearful of the unknown. Afraid to alter the status quo. But growth is a part of life. Change is a fact of life. And embracing faithful change, like the first disciples of Jesus did after the resurrection, means being willing to trust that his love will guide us and help us to discover new strength and fresh purpose.
Just before he was made a priest in the Church of South India, a friend sent me a prayer about how God can gift us with change. At the start of a new stage of his life the following words summed up for him God’s surprising economy of grace, in which he accepts our offering of prayer and blesses us with something better:
“I asked God for Strength
And He Gave Me Difficult Situations to Face
I Asked for Brain & Brawn
And He Gave Me Puzzles in Life to Solve
I Asked God for Wealth
And He Showed Me How to Work Hard
When I Asked God for Peace
He Showed Me How to Help Others
God Gave Me Nothing I Wanted
He Gave Me Everything I Needed.”
We’re currently in the last in between days on the annual journey from Easter to Pentecost. It’s a time when we’re still celebrating the joy of God’s gift of new life through the resurrection and preparing to recall the enlivening presence of the Holy Spirit which filled the earliest church with hope and confidence. So it’s a great time to ask God to re-animate our faith where we’re tired, to invigorate our worship where we lack inspiration and to guide and bless our living; so that we might not remain anxious about our brokenness and our fears, but instead be bold and joyful people of faith.
Thomas Chisholm’s famous hymn celebrates the steadfastness of God who always meets our fragile offerings of prayer with his generous love and mercy. “Great is Thy faithfulness”.
ITEM 12 CHOIR / ORGAN
Great is Thy Faithfulness
ITEM 13 PRAYERS CHOIR/ READER/CANON JOHN
Sung Response: Take, O Take Me As I Am
Risen Lord Jesus, source of life, thank you that you are always with us, help us to recognise your peace and presence in our lives today.
We pray for all who today face hard decisions or difficult situations.
Where we encounter difference or diversity, grace us with gifts to listen with care and courage to share openly, seeking to move forward with hope.
As we pray we’re especially conscious today of the needs of ………
For all who live in great need, and the families and friends of all whose lives have been rocked by the pain and violence of our world.
Bless all who are hurting, be close to those who feel raw with sorrow or grief at this time. Touch our hearts and help us to bring good news to others.
We pray for God’s blessing upon our lives and decisions: Lord speak to us in ways that we can understand and help us to respond with grace.
ITEM 14 LORD’S PRAYER JOHN/CHOIR
Holy God, we pray for the coming of your Kingdom, as Jesus taught us.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever, Amen.
LINK 15 CANON JOHN
Our final hymn this morning sends us out to live our faith, confident that the God who loves us hears and answers our prayer: “Forth in the peace of Christ we go.”
ITEM 16 HYMN CONG/CHOIR/ORGAN
Forth in the peace of Christ we go;
ITEM 17 FINAL BLESSING CANON JOHN
Our closing blessing:
May God continue to hear our prayer and bless us that we might live as signs of God’s grace, peace and hope. (AMEN)
ITEM 18 ORGAN PLAYOUT DAVID HARDIE
Sunday Worship came live from St. Margaret’s Church, in Wrexham, North Wales. The service was led by Canon John Lomas and the preacher was the Reverend Mary Stallard. The Cantorian Sirenian Singers were directed by Jean Stanley Jones. The Organist was David Hardie and the producer was Karen Walker.
In next week’s Sunday Worship Adrian and Bridget Plass lead a service from Scargill House in the Yorkshire Dales.
This Thursday, Radio 4 will be celebrating Ascension Day with a service live from the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square. The preacher will be Dominican Friar and author, Father Timothy Radcliffe.
If you’d like to join the congregation in St Martin-in-the-Fields, please be seated by half past seven. Or you can enjoy the service [this Thursday] here on Radio 4, just after the eight o’clock evening news.