The Mothering Sunday Service at St. Mary’s, on 10th March, will be taken by Revd Canon Jane Wilson. Now retired, Jane was Rector of the United Benefice of Offwell (then five churches) between 2007 and 2012. This March the church also celebrates the 30th anniversary of the ordination of women priests into the Church of England. In March 1994 the first women were ordained in Bristol and on 16th April 36 deacons, including Jane, were ordained at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Alongside her was the Rt. Rev Jackie Searle, Bishop of Crediton, who at the time was eight months pregnant with her first child.
The Movement for the Ordination of Women was founded in 1979. After 19 years of debate it was on 11th November 1992 that the Church of England’s General Synod finally voted in favour of women’s ordination.
The day was described as ‘a day of tension’ and the public gallery as well as the press gallery of the assembly hall in Church House had been packed from the moment the doors opened; the expectant crowd overflowing into other halls with television screens. The debate would continue for an exhausting six hours.
The arguments for and against were powerful, anguished and emotional. Dr. David Hope, then Bishop of London, spoke with ‘considerable reluctance and anguish’ against the motion, saying that “in all honesty I am very open to the fact that I may well be wrong”. Dr. Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, acknowledged the pain some would inevitably feel but hoped: “with all my heart that Synod will affirm the place of women in the priesthood”.
John Gummer, MP, ‘came out all guns blazing’ deploring, according to one witness, ‘that the Church should waste time on this issue instead of winning souls for Christ.’ And the Bishop of Fulham felt he could not compromise with tradition “otherwise I risk my soul”.
By late afternoon everyone was exhausted and the tension was unbearable. During the vote many were in tears. When the result was announced women hugged and kissed, singing ‘Jubilate Deo’ well into the evening: ‘The relief was like a tidal wave engulfing us.’
Those who felt defeated came out distraught, even some of the men were in tears. By the time the General Synod next met many priests and lay members had taken the decision to leave the Church of England.
Jane’s ordination in April 1994 was hardly less dramatic.
A determined opponent of the ordination of women, the Rev Paul Williamson, had fought an unsuccessful campaign to prevent the Church of England ordaining women priests. During every ordination ceremony the congregation are asked: “Is it your will that these people are ordained?” To prevent Rev Williamson from disrupting this part of the ceremony the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt. Rev Graham Dow, allowed Rev Williamson five minutes to state his objections before the question was asked of the congregation.
The 36 women deacons about to be ordained had spent the previous week in Retreat, in quiet prayer and reflection. Now they were gathered in St. Paul’s Cathedral with supportive family and friends for this joyous and momentous occasion. Rev. Williamson stood up for his allotted five minutes and continued to lambast the congregation with accusations of ‘heresy and apostasy’. As the onslaught continued beyond his allotted time the male priests in the congregation began to wave their service sheets and shout ‘TIME – ENOUGH!!’
When the 36 women deacons finally stood, faced the congregation and Bishop Graham asked the question: “Is it your will that these people are ordained?’ two thousand people leapt to their feet, cheered and shouted YES – IT IS OUR WILL!” Many of the women were in tears and emotional at this great moment of joy and celebration, as was Jane in the re-telling of these events.
After so many years of struggle the Church had finally come to this momentous decision to ordain women as priests.
T.S. Eliot is probably the most well-known churchwarden. A deeply religious man he was churchwarden at St. Stephen’s in London for 25 years. Today churchwardens are often described as the unsung heroes of the Church of England. This ‘vaguely specified job’ broadly covers management, maintenance and mission; the foremost duty being to: ‘represent the laity and co-operate with the parish priest in the encouragement of true religion, unity and peace.’
The office of Churchwarden dates from the 13th Century, and is thus one of the earliest forms of recognised lay ministry. The primary function of the office at that time seems to have been that of taking care of the Church building and its contents, including the responsibility of providing for the repair of the nave, and of furnishing the utensils for divine service.
In earlier times the Offwell churchwarden was also responsible for distributing awards for destroying vermin, kites, moles, badgers, foxes and crows. He was assisted by a Parish Clerk, an elderly gentleman in receipt of Parish Relief, who was often given an additional fee for ‘Dog whipping’ which meant turning out dogs who had entered the church during services.
Most importantly churchwardens had custody or guardianship of the fabric and furniture of the church, and even today they are the legal guardians of the church’s moveable goods, such as furniture, plates and ornaments. They also have a duty to look after the church building, the overall aim being to pass on to your successor ‘a building that is in a better condition than the one you found it in’. Many old churches are dusty, cold and damp and the worst of these is the damp. One churchwarden was recently instructed by his diocese architect to: “Look after the water that falls on the roof and goes into the gutters, the hoppers and downpipes, then into the drains and away from the building; if you do that you have done four-fifths of the job, and the church won’t fall down on your watch.”
Which is all very fine but repairs and renovations to Grade I and Grade II listed buildings have become prohibitively expensive, particularly for rural churches with declining congregations and ‘unsung heroes’ for churchwardens, not men and women of great wealth.
In Offwell we were fortunate to have the prosperous Copleston family as rectors from 1772 until 1954, as well as dominant families like the Collins’ who were of ‘superior status and wealth’. One long serving churchwarden was Emmanuel Dommett, who served as churchwarden over a period of 60 years in the late 18th, early 19th centuries. Dommett was a wealthy landowner and benefactor and at the end of his life he gave £120 to the village land trustees to be used for charitable purposes. In 1824 most of this sum (£99) went towards the purchase of local land with timber, the income from which was to be used for the education of the poor. The remainder of Emanuel Dommett’s gift was for the building of a house for the village schoolmaster; Dommett having already provided the land on which Bishop Copleston would build Offwell School in 1841.
Throughout the centuries churchwarden accounts note a never ending list of yearly payments for musicians, repairs to bells, new bells, ropes, windows, lintels, curtains, pews and stonework. In 1811 two masons were employed to replace 114 cubic feet of stone and set in new windows. The stone and sand were dragged by horse and plough from Honiton, a task that took two men and three horses four days. The expenditure for that year amounted to £113 10s 2d; in 1815 it was new timber and slates for the roof with a total expenditure of £213 1s 8d, well over £21,000 in today’s money.
Two hundred years after Emmanuel Dommett bequeathed land for Offwell School the present churchwardens are about to embark on grant funding in order to renovate and re-order the interior of St. Mary’s. The hope is that by widening the nave aisle, this will enhance the space for weddings, funerals and those with mobility issues. Renovation to the box pews will ensure they can continue to be used for years to come and the repositioning of the 15th century font, to its original location in the south aisle, will create more space for groups to meet and for hospitality to be provided.
Church re-ordering projects take many years to reach completion. At St. Mary’s discussions began back in 2009. It has taken dogged determination and an ‘unsung hero’ mentality to get us to the starting line. Let us hope that 2024 will be as important a year for St. Mary’s as 1824 was for Offwell school.
NB. For more information on the re-ordering project please go to St. Mary’s page on the Benefice website www.parish-church.com or www.offwell.church
By Carol Hayes
By Carol Hayes
As Remembrance Sunday draws near our thoughts turn more and more towards those we have lost and those who are nearing the end of their lives. While there’s a growing focus on youth and young families Anna Chaplaincy offers support for older people, both emotionally and spiritually. They are named after the widow, Anna, who appears with Simeon in Luke’s gospel. Both are good role models of faithful older people and Anna Chaplains are there for people of strong, little or no faith.
Anna Chaplains visit the elderly wherever they may be living, whether in residential or nursing homes, sheltered housing, retirement complexes or other private homes. The emphasis is on spiritual support but people’s practical struggles will also play a part in their overall wellbeing.
Increasingly many older people are feeling that they are beyond the interest and concern of their wider community and even, sometimes, their church. Life for the elderly can be isolating as well as challenging. Spiritual support provided in a gentle and loving way brings comfort and succour to people who may be at a low point in their lives, enabling them to live with greater meaning and purpose.
Some of those who become Anna Chaplains, or Anna Friends, are themselves post-retirement and discover new meaning and impetus through helping others.
Ellen Holah is a Community Police Officer in Exeter. She has been an Anna Chaplain for two and a half years and she spoke to me about how it all came about:
“Through my police work I came into contact with an elderly lady of 99, who thought she had been scammed on the ‘phone. She was still living on her own, was profoundly deaf, losing her sight and she’d had enough of life. She tried various times to end it all and the only relative was an 86 year old niece, living in Cardiff. I was upset and appalled by this elderly lady’s situation so I contacted my Bishop and she told me about Anna Chaplains. That was during Covid and I began my training on-line. Sadly, help was too late for this 99 year old as she eventually succeeded in taking her own life.”
Ellen visits anyone living in her parish. Some will have a strong faith, some will not.
At the moment Ellen is visiting a 99 year old once a week. Her daughter rang the pastoral team asking if someone could visit and Ellen now sends regular texts to the daughter who is unable to visit her mother herself. Then there is 90 year old Dora, who Ellen also visits once a week; John at 80 years old, every fortnight, and Annie at 99, who Ellen visits every four to six weeks. Annie has family visitors so is not so isolated. Although Anna Chaplains will visit people in care and residential homes Ellen prefers to visit the elderly who are still living in their own homes:
“Everyone is different and everyone wants to talk about different things. When I first visited Dora she had no contact with her family or anyone else, apart from someone who did her weekly shop. It is so rewarding to see how she has blossomed over the years I’ve been visiting; she is a much happier person. With Annie the family are often present. I’m not sure where she stands with the Lord but the family seem very comforted when I pray with her. Then there’s Bea, a vet’s wife and farmer’s daughter. She loves blood and gore, and can’t wait to ask me if I’ve attended any grisly ‘call outs’ doing my day job.”
There are both Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends. The Anna Chaplains take the lead in church and the Anna Friends volunteer as helpers. The Friends don’t take on the full responsibility of the Chaplains and there is less on-going training. Ellen would encourage everyone who cares about the welfare of the elderly to get involved:
“If you have a heart for the older person then becoming an Anna Chaplain is incredibly rewarding. I feel I have gained as much, if not more, from my relationships with the people I visit. If, initially, you are a little wary of becoming an Anna Chaplain then try volunteering as an Anna Friend first – you can always go on to become an Anna Chaplain later.”
To find out more information go to: www.annachaplaincy.org.uk
There you will find details about Anna Chaplains in your area, how to apply to become an Anna Chaplain and how to request a visit for an elderly relative or friend.
The Acting Bishop of Exeter, the Rt. Revd. Jackie Searle
I invite you to join our Archbishops in prayer for all who are suffering in Israel and
Gaza, for an end to the violence and for a just and lasting peace.
Almighty God, we pray for the many people whose lives have been torn apart by
conflict in Israel and Gaza. We remember especially those who have died, those
who are grieving, the injured or captured, those now without food, shelter, or
medical supplies. We pray also for those who have the power to bring peace, for
your spirit of truth, reconciliation, compassion and justice.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
All three churches celebrated Harvest on Sunday 1st October. Parish Communion took place at 9.30am at St. Mary’s followed by an 11.15am Harvest Celebration at St. Michael & All Angels and a 3.00pm Harvest Celebration at St. Cuthbert’s. In each of the three churches Revd. Jeremy was surrounded by magnificent displays of flowers, fruit and vegetables, as everyone gave thanks for ‘crops gathered in’.
Harvest Supper at St. Mary’s took place in Offwell Village Hall on Friday 6th October. A hot supper was served, followed by entertainment with Revd. Jeremy acting as MC. Everyone joined in with Mustingo, a bingo styled game where song titles are substituted on a bingo styled card in place of numbers. Much fun was had by all and thanks must go to everyone involved with organising such a successful evening. Some of the harvest displays in St. Mary’s can be seen on www.offwell.org (Photo Gallery) with the names of those who produced the displays.
In Farway Harvest Supper was celebrated on Saturday 23rd September with a Barn Dance in the Village Hall. It was a sell-out success with local band ‘Slack-Ma-Girdle’ boasting an ‘impressive selection of instruments’. There was a prize for the best dancer and a prize was awarded to the longest rider on the Mechanical Bronco. Burgers, sausages and veggie options were on offer, along with ‘cheese or hot stuff’ toppings, all included in the ticket price. Never say farming families don’t know how to properly celebrate harvest time, no matter what the weather may choose to throw at them. One has to admire their constitutions – barn dance, rodeo riding, bar and burgers with hot stuff! Again thanks must go to the Village Hall committee for putting on such a successful evening; the first Barn Dance held at Farway for many years.
In Widworthy the Offwell ringers rang the five bells at St. Cuthbert’s before their service in the afternoon, after ringing the six bells at St. Mary’s in the morning.
The church was beautifully decorated with flowers, fruits and vegetables. It was Billy Anne Leach’s first Harvest service as the new owner of Widworthy Barton. Billy assisted Bishop Oliver in leading the service of thanksgiving with a talk about the joys and variety of the Devon produce, remembering those who have less than us, of which there are so many. Good voice was given to the traditional harvest hymns and following the service everyone went across to Widworthy Barton for a cream tea, put together by some of the ladies of the regular congregation. Special thanks must go to Carol, Kate, Mary and Mim. There was also a raffle with lots of yummy prizes to raise funds for the church. Thanks must especially go to Andrew and Billy Anne Leach for so generously welcoming everyone into their home for the Harvest tea.
When Revd. Putnam at the Offwell Mission Community asked me if I would write a piece for Honiton News about the Book of Common Prayer services at St. Mary’s I started to browse books and websites for inspiration. It very soon became clear that despite the decline in church attendance churches offering on-line services from the BCP were seeing unprecedented engagement with hundreds choosing to ‘tune in’ to a more traditional offering.
It has been said that the Church of England’s doctrine is to be found especially in its worship. If this is true then it’s above all tribute to the creative genius of Thomas Cranmer. His first Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1549, followed by the second in 1552, which looks and feels much like the 1662 Book of Common Prayer still in use in the
Church of England today.
The BCP language is variously described as having: ‘extraordinary simplicity and gravity… beauty and dignity’. It was in the 1960’s that the gradual decline in churchgoing turned into a sharp contraction and by the 1990’s many members of the church felt that the 1662 Prayer Book was: ‘a poor vehicle for contemporary worship’. They were demanding much greater informality and flexibility to worship.
The Alternative Service Book (ASB) was finally produced in 1980 but it adopted a radical approach to the rewriting of familiar texts. The ASB satisfied neither those who wanted something closer to the rhythms and language of 1662 nor those who wanted the language to reflect contemporary concerns, such as gender inclusivity. The ASB was
superseded in 2000 by Common Worship, a library of services in several volumes, giving far more variety than its predecessor.
As Church of England congregations continue to decline The Book of Common Prayer is enjoying a revival, despite the best efforts of some modernists to mothball it. This enthusiasm has increased since the pandemic with churches advertising ‘Matins n’ Brunch’ or ‘Evensong n’ Curry’. One West Country vicar has confessed that: ‘… ten years ago during a spring clean I tossed around 60 pocket-sized Prayer Books into a black bin bag and drove them to the tip. What was I thinking!’ While this renewed popularity may well have been helped by the late Queen’s insistence on funeral rites from the Book of Common Prayer, it is overwhelmingly led by millennials. What the 1960’s revolutionaries
wrote off, a younger generation is embracing.
BCP Evensong is held at St. Mary’s Church, Offwell, on every 2 nd Sunday of the month at 5.00pm; BCP Holy Communion is held on the 4 th Sunday at 10.30am. All Offwell Mission Community services can be found on www.parish-church.com
By Carol Hayes
A man who had been stranded on a deserted island for two years was at last found. The media accompanied the rescue team, and when they arrived they saw that the man had built three huts. When asked what the huts represented, the man explained.
"Well, this hut is my home. And that hut over there is where I go to church."
The reporters seemed moved by the revelation that he had a place of worship. But then one asked, "What is that hut over there?"
"That's the church I don’t go to!”
Life is full of preferences. Like the simple pleasure of choosing your favourite ice cream. Rum and Raisin for me thanks!
Desserts aside, our own partialities can be deeply-rooted. Our environment has its way of honing a ‘comfortable place’ for us, so we feel a sense of ‘being home’ and experiencing peace. And as a result, we tend to look for reminders of ‘home’ as we journey through life; subconsciously searching for familiarity and safety.
This month Ruth and I celebrate one year since our move to East Devon. Settling-in takes time, and getting to know people and places, can take years. But with each day, the churches, the parishes and our communities feel more like home to us. I am often reminded of this when I find myself being part of the welcome, rather than being welcomed. A thought:
Where is your ‘home’? For me, home is the place I return to. Sometimes, that is when I return to prayer or worship. At other times it is a physical place where I find rest and peace. It is summed up beautiful in St Augustine’s prayer. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in you.” I suppose I’m saying home is where I experience the presence of God.
Anyway, back to the three huts: home, the Church I attend, and that third place, the Church I don’t attend. I think Jesus spent much of his time in the third hut, the place where others chose not to go. Where is that third place for you? Where have you not ventured? It might not be a place, it might instead be a thought or an idea. It could be faith, religion or church. It could also be time spent with an old friend, a neighbour, or even someone that you don’t get on with. I encourage you to go to that place. See what you find, you never know you might find home is there too.
‘A Church Near You – An introduction to Anglican churches
from Cumbria to Cornwall’ by Denis Dunstone
(with a Foreword by Simon Jenkins)
During the Spring and Summer of 2020 Denis Dunstone, a former BP executive, set out to draw in colour fifty churches within half an hour’s drive from his home in Essex. It began as a relief from lockdown boredom but as the restrictions persisted so did Denis and further counties were added in his quest to visit and illustrate Anglican churches in 19 counties across England and Wales, all built before 1700.
As the cover explains: “…it does not claim to be a history of Anglican churches nor an expert analysis. It is rather a valuable and helpful introduction to the subject, beautifully illustrated and seeking to point out major characteristics, to explain some peculiarities and to stimulate curiosity.”
Essex claims to have the oldest surviving wooden church in the world while Northamptonshire has the oldest large church surviving in Northern Europe. The book includes examples of Norman blind arcading, late medieval towers, external turrets built to provide steps to the belfry, the tallest church, the highest spire, drive through towers and many interesting facts ‘to stimulate curiosity’.
In the Celtic style of church it was the custom in England to enter a church on the south or north side. Originally this was because the colder north side of a church was regarded as the Devil’s side, and, at the moment of Baptism, he needed a door through which to escape. In Lincolnshire the tower at Dry Donnington leans 5.1 degrees from the vertical compared with a mere 3.9 degrees at Pisa, while earth movement at Cwmyoy in Monmouthshire has caused the church to be seriously contorted. While the nave remains upright, the chancel and tower lean sharply in opposite directions; the tower being held up by massive buttresses.
Sadly there is only one Devon entry, St. Mary’s at Ottery St. Mary, and the author acknowledges one of the book’s drawbacks, that while concentrating on the exterior many wonderful treasures inside are overlooked. Nevertheless, for anyone contemplating a ‘visiting churches’ holiday this summer this book would make a great starting off point.
NB. You can find a copy of the book in St. Mary’s, Offwell.
The review was written by Carol Hayes.
“On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each one of them. Everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.” . . . . . Acts 2:1-4 (New Living Translation)
Can you remember your Pentecost moment? It’s something you can never forget. Some of us remember where we were when President Kennedy was assassinated. More of us remember the exact moment we heard of the death of Princess Diana but can you remember where you were when you felt that rushing wind, tongues of fire or waves of peace, calm and stillness, when you were changed for ever on that day when the Holy Spirit entered your heart and mind and soul?
Jesus had gone, fifty days after His resurrection, now ascended and returned to His Father but he’d sent another to be with His followers. The Holy Spirit is the third part of the triangle (the Trinity) that is God. The Spirit is His life-giving power – the bit of God that dwells inside us, spurring us on, bringing us comfort, guiding us in what to do – making us more like Christ.
The Holy Spirit appeared like “tongues of fire” on their heads and set the disciples ablaze. It was the Tower of Babel reversed (Genesis ch.11). At Babel humans clambered up to be near God but here, God has already come down to be one of them. Now all the nations could understand each other. Now language was not a barrier.
The Holy Spirit sent the disciples out to talk about all they had seen and heard to spread the Good News and the Spirit empowered them to live God’s way. God made his presence known to this group of believers in a spectacular way – violent wind, fire and His Holy Spirit. Would we like God to reveal Himself to us in such recognisable ways? He may do – or maybe not. Elijah needed a message from God (1Kings 19:10-13), experiencing a great wind, earthquake and fire but God’s message came in a gentle whisper. God may use dramatic methods to work in our lives – or He may speak in a gentle whisper. We just need to wait patiently for God and always listen.
Our Christian faith is not limited to any race or group of people. Christ offers salvation to all people regardless of who or what they are. Those visitors in Jerusalem were surprised to hear the apostles and others speaking in languages other than their own but they need not have been. God works all kinds of miracles to spread the Gospel, using many ways and languages as He calls all kinds of people, not just a select few, to become His followers. No matter what your race or language, your education or status in society, God speaks to us through a raging furnace or a gentle whisper – and when the Holy Spirit enters your life, you’re never the same again.
Are we listening for our Pentecost moment? Have you had your Pentecost experience? Ask God to pour out the Holy Spirit in your life – it’s too good to miss!
“Father God, we pray that as we celebrate Pentecost, we recognize our utter dependence on You and stand overwhelmed by Your power. We praise You that on this Day of Pentecost, Your promise of the Holy Spirit is for us today. May we know and experience what it means to be filled with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the life-enhancing power and presence of the Holy Spirit. May He empower us to live in You. Amen.”
“O God of burning cleansing flame;
Send the fire!
Your blood-bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire today!
Look down and see the waiting host,
And send the promised Holy Ghost;
We need another Pentecost!
Send the fire today!
Send the fire today!
William Booth (1829-1912), founder of The Salvation Army
He earned a BA at Cambridge after studying archaeology, anthropology and history. He’s a skilled painter, plays three instruments, wrote and published a children’s book, can speak Welsh, can fly fighter jets, has a rare species of frog named after him, and drives a Aston Martin fuelled by surplus British wine! I mean, is there anything more British than that?
At 11am on Saturday 6th May 2023 in Westminster Abbey the ceremony, which marks the formal ascension of King Charles III as Monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and other realms and territories of the Commonwealth, took place. The coronation bestowed upon King Charles III the title of ‘Defender of the Faith’ and ‘Supreme Governor of the Church of England’, and is intended to bind king, people and Christ together by means of covenantal promises.
The pomp and pageantry was spectacular. Great theatre, moving musical accompaniment, and poignant liturgy, wrapped in history and tradition,all pointed to one thing, and one thing alone.
That Christ is Lord.
The first words of the coronation service are the words of a greeting, said by a child. The child said, “Your Majesty, as children of the Kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of Kings.”
During the time of Jesus, the most important religious ceremony was the Passover Meal. It was a ritual centered around food and family, fellowship and friendship. The words used to shape the meal time retold the story of the Exodus, and the freeing of God’s people from slavery. The first words spoken were those of a child and are still practiced and known today as the Ma Nishtana, which means "What is different?" or "What has changed?" in Hebrew.
What has changed?
In 1953 when Queen Elizabeth was crowned the country was very different. The Christian identity of our nation was self-evident. 80% of the country identified as Christian as opposed to 46% today. Some 10 million people regularly attended church, as opposed to 3 million today. In the early 50s there were emerging signs of prosperity as the country developed and rebuilt from the affects of the war. Today we find ourselves in a cost of living crisis and after extended period of austerity, and the country feels greatly divided on matters of faith, politics, and what constitutes personal freedom and truth.
We are encouraged and indeed sometimes funnelled into taking a stance, and to be opposed to the other that thinks and acts differently, and to defend at all costs the idea that our way is the right way. The casualty of this is not the pride of the one we oppose but our own humility. The problem is not that we may think differently to others, but that we are surprised and affronted by it. On a day like today the irony is noted. That the Church of England was birthed from protest and defiance, and yet the universal Church of Christ was intended at the dawn of Creation through the first utterances of the Word of God to be an instrument of love and mercy.
When Jesus said the greatest among you should become like the one who is the youngest, what do you think he meant?
When he said the one who is at the table may well be the greatest but I have come as the one who serves. What do you think he meant?
When the child greeted the king at the start of the Coronation service the king responded with these words:
In his name, and after his example, I come not to be served but to serve.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked what the purpose and theme of the coronation service is, he answered that the Coronation is about service. To reflect the nature of Christ who came as the one who serves.
The biblical word for service used in the gospel reading today is the Greek word diakonos. New Testament scholars will tell you that this is to be rendered in English as the act of humble service. Prior to the writing of the New Testament, the word was used slightly differently though. Plato, for instance– used the word in such a way to emphasis ‘agency’, and ‘message’. It may leads us to consider a more comprehensive reading of the gospel today, that service is not something assigned only to our intentions and to our personal values, but something that is embedded in our 'agency', and that every act of service has the power to convey a 'message' to those we serve.
I remember when working in retail the secular mantra of ‘the customer is always right’. Customer service was defined not by the act itself, but by the experience of the customer. In PC World if the customer entered the store and a member of staff greeted them, that was good. If the customer found what they were looking for, it was at the right price, and they received assistance along the way, and then made the transaction with someone who was polite and courteous, tick tick tick. All was good. Service as experience is the prevailing view of society, and that’s before you get into the idea of after sales service – guarantees and warranties. It flows into church life too.
When I want to visit the church, is the door unlocked, is it quiet and peaceful. On a Sunday morning is the church warm and comfortable. Do I feel I receive a good service from the church, is it welcoming and hospitable. Is it there when I need it to be. Service as experience can easily be our mode of thinking. But If our understanding of service is defined by only what we receive we miss the point entirely.
Service by proxy is another way we consider service. Yesterday’s coronation service could easily lead us to think that the nation has dressed one man for humble service.
Indeed as Christians we can easily slip into thinking that the Holy Spirit enables one man in Jesus to personify service on our behalf. That we are passive yet grateful recipients of the perfect example of our Lord Jesus. But if we live with the idea that someone else can serve in the way we intend to but do not then we miss the point entirely.
The crowning and clothing of the King was a powerful symbol of not only one man being clothed for service, but the calling of a nation to the service of Christ.
In the same way Jesus modelled humble service to God and sacrifice for the sake of all in his journey to the cross, of which the cross stands as a powerful symbol. The cross now represents not only the act and obedience of Christ, but the calling of a whole church to live likewise.
In what was a tremendously moving and powerful service, the Coronation speaks of a nation that yearns to live under one authority, to be united once again, to be a people defined by the goodness of our history, the solidity of our traditions. To be measured by our service to those in need, and to be judged by the grace we receive and offer. May this era return us to Christ, and lead us to glory.
God save the King.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
Revd Jeremy is the Priest in Charge of the three parishes of Offwell, Farway and Widworthy.