The Queen’s long reign is like a tune, like a melody line running throughout our lives. She has been a constant. Her visage instantly recognisable, her voice and mannerisms easily identifiable.
Queen Elizabeth II
Of the melodies we know, apparently globally the tune we are all most familiar with, and share in signing together most, is – Happy Birthday. In the UK, probably the next most familiar song we know the words of and sing together, is God save our gracious Queen. Or it has been until we now all try and remember to sing King. But it is not just this tune I mean when I speak of the Queen’s reign running like a melody. It’s more about the Queen herself. Her life, as a musical metaphor.
…let the sounds of music creep in our ears…
In music, a tune or theme returning and overlapping is called a canon. Perhaps our most familiar examples are the likes of Frère Jacques and Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Even a melody as simple as these can be transformed using this repetition, creating some complex chords. Where the theme returns on a different note of the scale the form may be called a fugue. Other, different, musical lines may also play along with the original melody. They may be alternative melodies, or harmonies. The main melody will still remain the dominant theme.
There are many other musical ‘variations’ and metaphors. However, it is the main melody, the Queen Elizabeth melody, that is the important one for us here. Her theme: a solo, a chorale, building to a symphony, and reducing back down to a sole piper. Her theme has elements of so many musical styles – drawing on classical and spiritual musical themes, pre-dating Elvis or the Beatles, loving the sparkle of the stage musical and the military band, the musical performances at Her Majesty’s pleasure that have touched the heart and raised the spirit over so many decades.
The Queen’s tune has led our country these 70 years. Some have followed her theme, joined in her theme, harmonised and improvised – and perhaps some contrasted dissonantly. Her theme remains memorable, with a musical hook that many will be humming for generations after this second Elizabethan era. Sounding now a rich harmony, with variations added – the original theme remains central.
Just as I was appointed archdeacon, but before I had left my Sussex parish, the Deputy Lieutenant kindly asked if he might arrange an invitation for me to a Royal Garden party. I was really touched by the thought, but knew that bishops – and probably deans and archdeacons – got invitations regularly, I suggested that perhaps my long-serving curate/assistant priest colleague in the parish was a more appropriate recipient of an invitation.
The American theologian William P. Merrill said “There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is”, and music and prayer have been twin active faith elements throughout the Queen’s life.
There was an invitation to write prayers of support for those joining the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) Pilgrimage Relay to COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow from the 1st-12th November 2021.
Creator God, we treasure the awesome wonder and intricate beauty of the world you have given us stewardship over.
We marvel at the diversity of the creatures and plants you have made, regretting that we have not taken better care of your world, of our world.
Jesus observed the farmer sowing, and walked with his disciples through harvest-ready wheatfields; he valued the fruit of the fig tree and the vine. He knew where the foxes had holes and the birds of the air their nests; he had an eye and heart for your world, for its plants and creatures and people.
As we walk in the footsteps of Jesus’ disciples on our own pilgrimage of faith, Lord teach us to value your gifts of creation and salvation, that we may be transformed and transforming.
May the sovereignty of your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven, and give us the courage and strength to help bring it about; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
All of my earliest childhood memories are Indian. My parents had been doing their missionary training at one of the Selly Oak colleges in Birmingham when I was born, and the three of us arrive together in India when I was aged about 18 months old.
We lived most of the next 12 years in a small rural town called Jammalamadugu, in the Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh, in the Rayalaseema Diocese of the CSI.
A few years later, my sister was born in India, in the CMC hospital in Vellore, even sharing the initial of her name CMC with the hospital she was born in.
If you wanted to understand some of our Indian heritage as a family, you might share the confusion that the Registrar of Births had when my father went to register my sister Catriona’s birth.
“So, your daughter was born in India, so her nationality is Indian!” “Well, no, said my father, she has the same nationality as me, and I am British.”
“Ok, said the birth Registrar, so where were you born?” My father explained that as his parents had previously also been medical missionaries in India, in Chik Ballapur, near Bangalore, so he William Cutting had in fact been born in India.
“Then she is Indian! replied the Registrar!” Well, no, explained my father patiently, he was British because his father was British.
“So where was your father born?” Well, said my father, his father Cecil Cutting’s parents had actually also been missionaries in India, as teachers, since 1893, so his father had also been born in Ranikhet, then later lived in Benares/Varanasi in India.
“So she IS Indian!” exclaimed the Registrar, triumphantly!
There was the a scurry to provide birth certificates and marriage certificates for my father William Cutting, my grand father Cecil Cutting, and my great-grandfather also William Cutting, before my sister could have her nationality confirmed as British. Which was complicated, as there were no Birth certificates in the 1850s when my great grandfather William was born! A Baptism Certificate fortunately sufficed.
(From a sermon preached on the Centenary of the World War 1 Armistice)
Around the church are a number of pictures of a young First World War soldier.
Lieutenant Cecil George cutting a dashing figure
Letâ€™s hear a bit of his story.
He was the son of a missionary teacher family who were living and working in India, as he approached secondary school age, Cecil George was sent to boarding school.
The young scholar was at a school just over a mile from here, at Eltham College.
He was a lively student, who particularly loved his sport. Athletics; and cricket mainly.
The school regularly played other teams, and had several matches against the world famous local cricketer, WG Grace.
Thereâ€™s a record of a match where the great WG was bowling against the young Cecil George.
Cecil George was one of the best all rounders in the team.
But not on this occasion.
Cecil George, bowled out by WG, for a duck!
He left school in July 1915 age 18. He was not called up at once, and the Academic year 1915-16 he spent at Imperial College reading Chemistry.
Then he was called up at the end of the Summer term of 1916. Cecil George was Gazetted as of the 27 Nov 1916 and recorded in the Royal Garrison Artillery.
He did his basic training in the Infantry. At the end of this they asked:
â€œWho has Matric Maths?â€ â€œI do!â€ Says Cecil George. â€œRight, if you can count more than two legs, you are going to be in the Cavalry!â€
Off he goes and does the basic training for the Cavalry in Exeter.
At the end of that basic cavalry training they said
â€œWho has Higher Maths?â€ â€œI do !â€ says Cecil George. â€œRight, if you can plot graphs and trajectories, you are going to be in the Artillery!â€
So off he goes and does the basic training for the gunners.
He ended up a with the Royal Garrison Artillery on the Selonica Front, not far from the Greek border across into Turkey.
The RGA was often supported by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) who had devised a system where pilots could use wireless telegraphy to help the artillery hit specific targets. Years later it became clear that Cecil George was involved going up in these â€˜string bagâ€™ aeroplanes of that era, as a â€œspotterâ€ for targets! This was very early in the history of flight, and must have been some adventure for the young soldier!
I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
I’ve blogged before that I was a local curate at the time, and involved in some of the immediate aftermath. One of my strong memories, as I walked back down ‘the tunnel’ a couple of times afterwards, was the contrast of the bright green playing field in the sun seen from the shadows of the tunnel.
The field is so inviting. You can see it. You can almost touch it. There’s ramp, a slope down to it. It’s just … there.
There is an American sports movie called the Field of Dreams, encapsulating the draw – particularly but not exclusively – for some men to sports, to team games, and to the playing field, or pitch, or ground, since many sports are popular, like soccer or golf, which you can play indoors or outdoors if you have the right equipment for this.
Hymns ‘don’t often make good theology’ – though they may be better at theology than movies are. But even here we may get glimpsesof heaven, as Ray Kinsella found in the film.
John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven. [starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true. [Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven. The Field of Dreams – 1989 Phil Alden Robinson Universal/TriStar
Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven to treasure in a field, and to a pearl of unfathomable value, of great price; in Matt 13:44-46. Both are images that R.S. Thomas specifically references in the poem. Not a great surprise, perhaps, for the Welsh priest/poet that he was.
That field. Seen it. Forgotten it. But now having seen it again, illuminated, incandescent, Thomas goes on: I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it.
These sports grounds, these football fields are often a focus for hurrying on to a receding future, [or] hankering afteran imagined past. Many memories of matches remembered; of dreams and hopes for the future. The rise and fall of emotion; the tears wept, the joy unconfined. They hold a sense of the numinous about them – the singing, swaying, the shared liturgy and language – even prayers (!) – they are almost religious in their fervour. No wonder some talk of sport as their faith, of the great venues as their cathedrals, temples. Bill Shankly, powerfully linked to Liverpool, is famously quoted as saying“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.
I was recently reading back some of the witness stories of a number of Hillsborough survivors, and the camaraderie, the shared experience was a powerful memory; some saying the ‘we all came last year and we wanted to all come back again this year’ before the full portent of this particular pilgrimage unfurled before them.
Even after the catastrophe, faith remains a part of the story. I recalled in the previous blog post how 4 fans came in to our Hillsborough-local church on the Sunday morning, just hours later. To another one of those ‘thin places‘ where heaven comes closer to touching earth. To come to seek, to pray, to place a loved one lost in to the hands of God. Nearly every anniversary since the first, there has been significant input of hymns & prayers, along with speeches & memories, at each of the ceremonies.
In the poem, Thomas looks: to the miracle … to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Looking back to the 15 April 1989, though much remains sharp in the mind of each of those most closely affected by Hillsborough, inevitable some of the memories become a little faded, a bit more transitory each year; the images of the ever-youthful 96 remain unchanged, even as ‘those who are left grow old‘. Perhaps that is why there is still such a strong sense of hope around Hillsborough – a very Liverpool – characteristic, the city with two cathedrals linked by a street called Hope.
For RS Thomas, the brightness that has shone on this field leads at last to the eternity that awaits you. May it lead to eternity for you too.
From the Archdeacon of Lewisham & Greenwich, the Archdeacon of Lambeth, and Canon Stephen Hance
Sir, There is a tale of two dioceses. As Evangelical clergy serving on the Bishop of Southwark’s senior staff team, we sometimes find ourselves wondering which of these two Southwark dioceses we are actually ministering in.
On the one hand, there is the Southwark diocese of popular perception, at least as some bloggers and commentators are concerned. This version is apparently experiencing catastrophic decline, owing, it is said, to the extreme liberal hegemony of the senior clergy of the diocese, especially the Bishop’s staff team, where it is allegedly nigh impossible for an Evangelical to be appointed to a senior position or make any significant impact, and the only agenda is revisionism.
This imagined version of the diocese has almost no Fresh Expressions of Church, and remains a near-closed door to church-plants. This is compared with a far rosier picture in neighbouring dioceses.
A few years ago, with members of two local parishes, I joined a pilgrimage to Holy Island, Lindisfarne. It is a significant place of pilgrimage still, as it has been for nearly a millennium and a half, when St Aidan came from that other famous holy island Iona, to found the new monastery in AD634.
Holy Island Pilgrimage 2008 – click to download the book
A chance to re-visit recently reminded me of my previous experience, and I looked out some old photos, and a book of the journey, which some may be interested in glancing at.
St Aidan and St Cuthbert have been important characters on my northern horizon, particularly since my ordaining bishop David Lunn was a great fan of ‘our long established British christian saints, here spreading the gospel’ long before Augustine or any of those other ‘johnny-come-lately Romans’.
The Celtic Cristian saints used to speak of ‘thin places’ where heaven comes very close to touching earth.
It’s 275 days to Christmas – or thanks to Irenaus who’s quick ‘nine months counting back from Christmas’ calculation called the 25 MarchÂ The Feast of the Annunciation.
Annunciation by ZVestovanie
The fact that it regularly chimes with Passiontide does not go unnoticed, creating interesting theological resonances at this time of year. However, it does mean that at times, clashing with Holy Week, the feast gets ‘bounced’, as it has this year, on to the 8 April. It does not stop me at least remembering the feast today, especially as –
I was inducted as vicar to my first incumbency on the Feast of The Annunciation, and it remains a profoundly formational season for me. The great call delivered by Gabriel to Mary, and her response of “Lord,Â I am your servant – let it be to me according to your will“ seems entirely appropriate for anyone launching in to a new ministry, which I was 17 year ago today – and again, as I will be starting another new ministry shortly after the ‘transferred date’ for the Annunciation this year too.
In Holy Week, many clergy re-affirm their call to ministry at the Chrism Service, and to have “I am your servant – let it be to me according to your will“Â in the forefront of our minds can’t but help sustain ministry, whether ordained or not.
Please come and join us at Southwark Cathedral on 14 April 2013.
Alastair’s installation, along with Archdeacon colleagues Jane Steen and Chris Skilton, takes place at 3pm. The original announcement was made back in December at Henfield, and at Southwark and Chichester.
Friends who wish to come, please do! It would help to have a rough idea on numbers, by emailingÂ or texting/ringing 07736 676106 that you’d like to come.
Those who would like to robe, choir dress with black shoes please.
We would love to see you!
Alastair, Kay, Hannah & Laura
(We are probably moving at the end of May, to Sydenham/Forest Hill. Address on the linked pdf – please update address books! Personal email addresses and mobile numbers as they were.)