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Hear the Cry

Sunday Worship marks the 90th anniversary of the BBC Radio 4 Christmas Appeal with St Martin-in-the-Fields with the Rt Rev Graham James, bishop of Norwich.


Back in the 1920s, the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Dick Sheppard, was preaching at a service broadcast on the BBC. Sheppard asked those listening to send in donations to support those in need in the run-up to Christmas. This was the beginning of a partnership that has continued for 90 years. For the past nine decades, Radio 4 listeners have supported the work of St Martin-in-the-Fields with charitable donations that go towards helping some of the most vulnerable in our society through the various charities and agencies the church supports.

The current vicar, the Rev Dr Sam Wells leads a service to mark the appeal and the work it has done. Familiar Radio 4 voices join those reflecting on the history and impact of the appeal. The preacher is the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, with music from the Radio 4 Choir, the composer, Will Todd, and St Martin's Voices, directed by Andrew Earis.

Producer: Katharine Longworth.

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 4 Dec 2016 08:10

Sunday Worship

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.

BBC Radio 4. Time now for Sunday Worship which was recorded last Thursday at St Martin in the Fields . The service is led by the Vicar, the Revd Dr Sam Wells and begins with the traditional advent carol, This is the truth sent from above.

MUSIC: Introit – This is the truth sent from above

I am a person.
I am a person, I need a home
I am a homeless person not a criminal
I am a person with something to give and share
I am here because I have nowhere else to go
The reason I am carrying these bags is I have nowhere to put them down
I am a person, not rubbish
I am person in borrowed clothes

No one is celebrating the tragedy, struggle and sometimes horror of homelessness and poverty. But we are proud of the way people come together alongside the vulnerable and the isolated to overcome the powerlessness of both the receiver and the giver and achieve something important, constructive and beautiful.
Let us pray.

God of wisdom, light, and life, your Son Jesus is the truth sent from above. Give us grace to walk in that truth, that in doing so we may find companions in your Spirit, and in those companions meet the goodness you intend for us, and in that goodness find the beauty hidden in each of your children, and in those children meet your Son, who is the beauty, goodness and truth for which you made us; in whose name we pray. Amen.

One day in 1744 Charles Wesley was reading the words of Haggai 2 verse 7, ‘I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour.’ Wesley looked at the wretched condition of orphans in his neighbourhood and wrote an Advent prayer calling upon God to bestow eternal treasure upon those who struggle on earth. Come, thou long-expected Jesus.

HYMN – Come, thou long expected Jesus (Cross of Jesus)

Now we hear the story of the Appeal as told by Felicity Finch, who plays Ruth in the Archers, Radio 4 Newsreader, Zeb Soanes and Aasmah Mir who presents Saturday Live. 

History of Xmas Appeal – Felicity Finch, Zeb Soanes, Aasmah Mir
FF:  The BBC Radio 4 Christmas Appeal with St Martin-in-the-Fields names the convergence of three strands. The first is the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square.  This famous landmark, takes its name from St. Martin of Tours who is remembered for an act of generosity, sharing his cloak with a beggar.

AM: The second strand was the BBC, begun in 1922 under the Scots Calvinist John Reith.

FF:  The third strand was the First World War. Young men were sent to the trenches in their thousands, many leaving from London’s Charing Cross station nearby. Every evening dozens would gather around St Martin-in-the-Fields on their last night on home soil. This is when the association of St Martin’s with the homeless was born.

AM: What brought these three strands together was the genius of Dick Sheppard. It was he who let the troops shelter in the church. In an article in 1916 he describes the early fruits of that decision.
ZS: ‘The experiment of keeping the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields open all night would seem to be amply justified. The church has already welcomed all sorts and conditions of men and women who have responded to the silent invitation of the open doors. A few nights ago at midnight the door opened to admit a girl who bore a bunch of lilies. She approached the altar and laid her flowers as an offering on the altar steps. She explained that her lover had been killed in France and as she could not lay them on his grave she had brought them to St Martin’s.’

FF: It was also Dick Sheppard who, during the broadcast service in 1925, made the first live Christmas Appeal. These are his words.

ZS:  ‘I stood on the west steps and saw what this church would be to the life of the people. They passed me, into its warmth inside, hundreds and hundreds of all sorts of people, going up to the temple of their Lord, with all their difficulties, trials and sorrows. It was never dark, it was lighted all night and all day, and often tired bits of humanity swept in. And I said to them as they passed, “Where are you going?” And they said only one thing, “This is our home…This is St Martin’s.” ’

AM:  In the January 1926 edition of the St Martin’s Review, he thanked BBC listeners for their generosity.

ZS:   ‘May we say how really grateful we were to those who responded so generously to our Appeal for our Special Christmas Fund. We were enabled to ensure that many homes and individuals had some slight measure of Christmas cheer which, but for this Fund, would have been altogether wanting. We are especially grateful to our Broadcasting Public.’

AM:  As we mark the ninetieth St Martin’s Christmas Appeal we long for the day when society’s most vulnerable members will not have to rely on the kindness of strangers. But until that day comes, the St Martin’s Christmas Appeal will be here for those in need.

ANTHEM – There is a flower – Rutter

John Rutter’s anthem There is a flower sets the words of a 15th century monk who wrote of how the Virgin Mary was the flower who bore the sweetest fruit, Jesus, who graced the ‘rich and poor of every land.’
The Connection at St. Martins is a registered homelessness charity which is supported by the appeal.  It helps thousands of homeless people every year to move away from, and stay off the streets of London including Ian (Kalnan) who is with us today to give us an idea of his experience.

TESTIMONY – Ian Kalnan - Christmas on the Streets
Christmas is coming, what have you got to look forward to? Yes, celebrating it with the family, that is what the majority of people will be doing in this country, but for people who are living on the street like I was this was not an option. I don’t have a family and I was homeless so watching tv on my nice warm doorstep was not an option. Yes I lived on a doorstep, it was not warm but at least I was out of the rain.

I know the general consensus think that people on the streets are alcoholics, drug takers, beggars, I was none of these. Oh I had bad habits. I love coffee but there was always a hand out or a day centre where I could satisfy that, the real problem was my other weakness, I am a smoker. What do you do when your money runs out and you cannot buy tobacco?  Well you learn to look for dog ends!  I know it sounds disgusting but you would be surprised like I was that you could find unsmoked cigarettes. I would take the tobacco out and put it in my pouch.

I did say before I was not a beggar but there was a time when I begged when I needed cigarette papers. I had twenty pence in my pocket, cigarette papers cost twenty three pence so I went up to a man and asked for three pence. I had found it the hardest thing to do and the man just looked at me and said he did not have it and walked on. I will not judge the man but later I shared I needed some cigarette papers and a fellow rough sleeper gave me some. I learnt two things that day, one that I cannot beg I am glad I don’t and two that there is a community atmosphere as on the whole most rough sleepers will always help a fellow rough sleeper.

I found that, on the streets, there is always a hand out, it’s sometimes not the best but at least it kept you going. The only time you might go hungry is the bank holidays and Xmas is the one time of the year the street runs stop. I always thank God for the day centres, such as the Connection at St. Martin’s that stay open and the special things that happen at that time of year, without them I know I would of ended up starving and maybe worse. So I would like to say on a personal note thank you to the friends I made on the street, the day centre workers and the volunteers it changed my life.

HYMN – In the bleak midwinter  – R4 Appeal Choir with Will Todd

The Appeal Choir, singing Christina Rossetti’s carol “In the bleak midwinter” accompanied by the  Will Todd who has arranged the song for this year’s appeal.

We’re delighted to have with us Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC, who will deliver our Old Testament reading from Isaiah Chapter 9.

READING – Isaiah 9 – Tony Hall
A reading from the Prophet Isaiah Chapter 9
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

HYMN: Thou who was rich beyond all splendour (FRAGRANCE)

In a few moments we will hear from our preacher, the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James but first St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity Trustee Helen Simpson reads from the Gospel of Matthew.

READING – Matthew 25:31-40
 A reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25
Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand,

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him,

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”’

Sermon – +Graham James
When the St Martin’s Christmas Appeal began in the 1920s there were two Church of England priests better known and better loved than any others in the land. 

One was Dick Sheppard, vicar of this church of St Martin-in-the-Fields.  He was a natural broadcaster in the early days of radio.  Through Dick Sheppard and radio, St Martin’s became the nation’s parish church and Dick himself everyone’s parson.  The church building was open all night to welcome the homeless and anyone who needed rest. 

My other well-loved priest from the 1920s was Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy, an Army chaplain in the First World War, a poet and a preacher who campaigned after the war tirelessly for peace, as did his good friend, Dick Sheppard.  The two became colleagues working with the Industrial Christian Fellowship which was based here at St. Martins.

Although united in beliefs, the personalities of the two men were quite different.   While Dick made a friend of everyone he met, Studdert-Kennedy was much more reserved and socially awkward.  Not quite knowing how to approach the men in the trenches during the war he distributed cigarettes to them, gaining the nickname Woodbine Willie.  Those men discovered their unusual chaplain would be with them on the front line under fire, unarmed, comforting the wounded, moving among the dead giving them a quick burial and offering them such dignity as he could.  He returned home with a Military Cross but shattered by the experience. 

Whereas Dick Sheppard might talk all night, Studdert-Kennedy would sit for hours in an uncomfortable silence.  But people knew that both these priests understood ordinary troubles.  They reached out to everyone.  The whole nation grieved when they died, both too young, both worn out.

These two priests were among many who felt weariness and disappointment that, after a long and tragic war in which so many lives were sacrificed, life seemed scarcely any better for ordinary people.  They wanted better conditions for the workers.  Sheppard, provided here, social care for the least and the lost.  Ninety years on, St Martin’s continues to be a place to which the homeless, the destitute and the desperate turn for hope.  It is tragic that in what we’re told is the fifth largest economy in the world so many are without homes and, sometimes, hope.  It is, though, a natural vocation for the Church in which service of others and loving one’s neighbour are so central to the Christian message. 

Neither Sheppard nor Studdert-Kennedy were sentimental do-gooders but inspired by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They wanted to transform the structures of society, to turn things upside down.  That’s what the gospel does.  We heard this expressed in uncompromising terms in our reading from Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus tells a parable.  It’s about Judgement Day; a concept which sits uneasily in our modern world as God presides over the fate of both the righteous and the wicked. The wicked are  sent to everlasting punishment and are suitably horrified.  For the wicked do not think they are wicked judged as they are for their abject lack of charity; their inability to recognise presence of God in the most vulnerable of people. 

As we heard in the reading, the righteous, destined for eternal life, are almost equally surprised, if gratified.  The Lord tells them that when he was hungry they gave him food and when he was thirsty they gave him something to drink.  They’ve no recollection of this.  ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?’  It turns out that Jesus is not to be identified with the generous people who give.  No, he is with the least of his brothers and sisters who are on the receiving end of a cup of water or food, who are given shelter when they are homeless, visited when they are in prison, and welcomed when they are strangers.  The Lord is to be identified with the messed up and the marginalised, the discarded and the unwanted. 

The poor and the homeless, the hungry and the thirsty, don’t have any choice but to be on the receiving end.  Poverty takes away your capacity to be generous.  Learning to receive: that’s a challenge in a world so geared to success and prosperity.  Both Dick Sheppard and Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy knew 90 years ago that their popularity meant nothing if they didn’t  receive too from those they cared for.  We need to relearn that now.  For we are all on the receiving end of God’s love if we recognise we’re poor enough to need him, hungry enough to be fed by him, and thirsty enough to drink from the waters of life.  Amen.

Anthem – A Miracle Sasha Johnston Manning from Manchester Carols

A Miracle from Sasha Johnson Manning’s Manchester Carols. 
Our prayers are led by staff, volunteers and trustees associated with the Appeal as well as some of those the appeal has helped.

Prayers – led by Appeal Volunteers, Staff and those helped by the Appeal.
God of hope and struggle, in Jesus you were hungry in the desert and thirsty on the cross. Bless any who today have nothing to eat. Walk with all who have hunger for purpose, sanity, companionship, work.  Come, thou long-expected Jesus, let us find our rest in thee.

God of life and love, in Christ you came to your own but were treated as a stranger. Bless all who are alone, who feel betrayed, rejected, isolated or ignored. Speak to the hearts of any who sleep outside and to the souls of all who have no place to call home. From our fears and sins release us, joy of every longing heart.  By thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone.

God of liberation and deliverance, Christ you were a prisoner awaiting execution. Transform the lives of all who dwell in prisons of their own or another’s making. Give strength and endurance to those whose lives are subject to violence and intimidation. And set all your people free. By thine all-sufficient merit raise us to thy glorious throne.

MUSIC: The Lord’s Prayer –Nils Greenhow

The prolific hymn-writer Timothy Dudley-Smith is 90 this month – the same age as the Appeal. In his most famous hymn written 50 years ago he tells how God, the mighty, came down and became humble, so that the mighty might be humbled, and the humble of earth might become mighty with God. Tell out my soul.

HYMN – Tell out my Soul

Blessing – SW
May the God who humbles the exalted and exalts the humble, raise up among us prophets of the kingdom and heralds of glory and the blessing…



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