Bishop Geoffrey Rowell
Posted on the 14th June 2017 in the category Announcements
It is with profound sorrow, but with a deep sense of gratitude, that I write to ask all the parishes in the Ebbsfleet family to pray for the repose of the soul of Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, who died peacefully (if suddenly) after a long illness, last Sunday morning, Trinity Sunday, 11 June.
We here in the Ebbsfleet office have many reasons to thank God for Geoffrey, as a friend as well as a bishop. It was my joy as his chaplain to welcome and induct Geoffrey to his new role as Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe in 2001, and we worked together closely until, in 2005, I left to join Archbishop Rowan at Lambeth; and for much of that period, Catherine, now my PA, was Geoffrey’s PA. In the midst of a lot of hard work and travel, there was a great deal of laughter at the more absurd aspects of ministry across ‘a sixth of the world’s land surface’. Thereafter Geoffrey and I worked together of course in many ways, taking every opportunity we could, to promote between the churches a patient and ever-deepening sense of communion.
All of Geoffrey’s best qualities were committed in the Lord’s service: holiness, learning as much as teaching, a talent for culture as well as for friendship, long-sightedness and long-suffering, generosity in all things. Although he was an unmistakeably catholic Christian, living in and from – and fascinated by! – the heritage of the whole Church, his best energy was given, of course, to nurturing and guiding Anglo-Catholic witness, through which God had given him so very much. He longed and prayed deeply for The Society to renew that witness in and beyond the Church of England. He will be very sorely missed; but may his memory be eternal!
The funeral will take place in Chichester Cathedral, on 5 July at 2.30pm. Further details will be available on the cathedral website.
Funeral of Bishop David Thomas
Posted on the 31st May 2017 in the category Events
It will be my privilege to celebrate the Funeral Mass of Bishop David Thomas in thanksgiving for a ministry of great distinction and pastoral generosity both in the Church in Wales and in the Church of England.
It will take place on Monday, 5th June, at 11am in St Mary's Priory Church, Abergavenny.
All other bishops and clergy who wish to be present are warmly invited to robe, should they wish. Vesture for visiting bishops is convocation dress; for priests and deacons, choir dress.
To assist with organisation, all clergy who wish to robe are asked to indicate their intention by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
May his memory be eternal.
Ebbsfleet Chrism Mass 2017 Sermon
Posted on the 13th April 2017 in the category Resources
Ebbsfleet Regional Chrism Masses, Holy Week 2017
Bristol, Exeter and Lichfield Cathedrals
Normally at this celebration we read from St Luke’s account of Jesus appearing in the synagogue in Nazareth and reading the prophecy we have just heard from Isaiah: ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me’. But this morning we’re scrolling back a little: back to the Jordan just after the baptism, and turning to listen to St John.
St John always seems to have a different story to tell. In the other Gospels the Holy Spirit comes down upon Jesus at his baptism to enable his mighty acts. But St John talks about the Holy Spirit rather differently. He doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’s baptism like the other gospel writers; instead John the Baptist gives us a ‘witness statement’ about it. And in that statement, it is said (uniquely in St John’s gospel) that the Spirit not only descended on Jesus but remained on him (Gk, emeinen: Jn 1.32).
Read the passage carefully and it becomes obvious that this is the central fact of John the Baptist’s evidence. The Spirit did not just visit Jesus but remained with him, and that is precisely how John the Baptist knew that Jesus truly was the one he’d been looking for.
This is how John sets out his evidence:
In John’s Gospel the Spirit does not come upon Jesus for a specific task or a special moment, as with the prophets and other spirit-anointed people of the Old Testament. Jesus becomes the unique dwelling place of the Spirit. The Spirit stayed with him permanently and filled him with all the potential (all the dynamis) of God’s wisdom and action and presence.
And there’s more. A little later in John’s Gospel, in Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus, this sense of the Spirit’s permanence is expanded by a sense of the Spirit’s abundance. The Spirit is given to Jesus ‘without measure’ (Gk ek metrou: Jn 3.34). Jesus bears the Holy Spirit in a permanent and inexhaustible way.
All of that is wrapped up in St John’s distinctively different allusion. St Basil the Great says that the Spirit was Jesus’s ‘inseparable companion in everything … every activity of Christ was unfolded in the presence of the Holy Spirit’. Jesus’s ministry simply cannot be explained without the presence and power of the manifold gifts of the Spirit.
All of this is, if you like, ‘poured into’ the Chrism oil from which this Eucharist takes its name, the complex perfumed oil which, in a sacramental way, will be used as a sign of the permanent and inexhaustible presence of the Holy Spirit – who is not only the inseparable companion of Jesus, but who becomes the inseparable companion of all those who are baptised and confirmed into Christ’s risen body – that is, of course, you and me. Another great Christian author, this time a modern Anglican, Austin Farrer, talking about confirmation, says, ‘the unity we have with Christ, both in receiving baptism and afterwards by standing by it, brings down on us the very blessing and the very Spirit he received. In so far as we are in Christ we are filled with Holy Spirit and the Father’s good pleasure rests on us; infinite Love delights in us.’
Christ’s relationship with his Father (Jn 17.10) has been enlarged to include us. The eternal relationships between Father Son and Spirit have become our home, our identity. At all times Christ accompanies us to his Father with our prayer and our praise, our penitence and our pain, whenever we wish, and whenever we need. This is our home, because it’s where Christ and the Spirit dwell, permanently and abundantly. And at this time of the Christian year, as we approach the Paschal three days, it’s especially important to be reminded these things do not change whatever difficulties and turmoil, whatever ‘sorrow, need, sickness or any other adversity’ we may be experiencing. Regardless of turmoil or failure or suffering, or even death, the permanent and inexhaustible presence of the Holy Spirit kept Christ faithful to his Father and to us; and he keeps us faithful to too.
We find ourselves, of course, reflecting on these things in the midst of confusions and tensions in our church after Bishop Philip North’s withdrawal as bishop of Sheffield, made more acute by those who seek to sharpen the divisions in our life together. In such a situation—whatever is now being done to minimize damage, to heal hurts, or to strengthen mission—we need to trust the unshakable faithfulness of Christ and the strengthening power of the Spirit.
In one of his sermons St Bernard has something to say about such situations of turmoil, and the doubt and vulnerability that they create. He says, ‘I have sinned a great sin, and my conscience is like mud all stirred up; yet I’m not unsteady (not shaky) because I am mindful of the Lord’s wounds.’ And he goes on to say that the Lord’s wounds are like places he can hide in, like the cleft in the rock for Elijah, a safe place to hide until the storm passes.
Why, I wonder, might St Bernard refer to the Lord’s wounds in this way? I think that the answer lies in another surprisingly different feature of St John’s gospel, concerning the Holy Spirit.
All the way through John’s Gospel there is a mounting sense of expectation. The Spirit, who we’ve been emphatically told remains permanently and abundantly with Jesus, nevertheless can’t be given to the disciples because Jesus had ‘not yet been glorified’. Even at the Last Supper, Jesus had to explain, ‘I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Comforter who will never leave you – the Spirit of truth.’ Then, three days later, when the great climactic moment of the Resurrection arrives, and Jesus that same evening bursts through the locked doors where his friends are, he does three things:
There’s no hanging around fifty days for Pentecost with St John.
It’s clear that it’s only when Jesus’s body has been broken and lifted up on the cross—only after, in St John’s words, he’s been ‘glorified’—that the Spirit is free to stream out of his wounds and flood the lives of those around him. Without that failure and darkness, without those open wounds, the Spirit could not be shared. But after that darkness, from those wounds, the Holy Spirit ‘pours out for us to drink’ says St Paul (1 Cor 12.13): from those wounds flows the baptismal flood that brings into our lives the permanent and abundant life of the Spirit.
It’s as if the surface of our achievement, our specialness and attractiveness, has to be wounded before the Spirit can truly create holiness and communion between the followers of Christ. So not for the first time, our faith is revealed in a paradox: we experience the Holy Spirit most deeply not in strength and achievement and being successful Christians; but in moments of loss, times when we suddenly feel vulnerable and out of our depth. Even when those bitter moments of hostility or betrayal arise within the body of the Church, through those wounds, into that need, the Holy Spirit flows. And in that situation, as St Bernard suggests, though our consciences are ‘like mud all stirred up’; yet we are not unsteady because we are mindful of the Lord’s wounds, and the Spirit that flows from them.
‘Deep in thy wounds Lord, hide and shelter me
So shall I never, never part from thee.’
Having drunk of the everlasting, inexhaustible and renewing Spirit of Jesus—in this as in every Eucharist—we shall be able go out and overflow, in our words and our actions, in acts of compassion and service, because our own lives have been broken open and filled by God.
Chrism Masses 2017
Posted on the 1st March 2017 in the category Events
As we enter the season of Lent, I want to send you all - all priests and deacons affiliated to The Society and others in our parishes - my prayers that Lent will once more be a blessing, a real springtime in our priestly discipleship. During it let us all pray for one another, and for our witness in the Church of England, with a new intensity and focus.
We shall next meet in large numbers during Holy Week, and I hope that you look forward to the Chrism Masses as much as I do. It is my hope that both clergy and laity will gather in greater numbers this year.
1 Venues for 2017
As has become our settled pattern - like that of the other areas - we will celebrate regionally in three cathedrals, with the encouragement of the archbishops to do so, and thanks to the hospitality and welcome of the various cathedral chapters.
I trust that you will make attending the Chrism Mass this year the personal ministerial priority it should be, and encourage all other priests and deacons associated with your parish or community to do so too.
It is, of course, customary for priests to concelebrate the Chrism Mass with the Bishop, and therefore - to help all concerned with preparations - a pre-addressed reply form is downloadable from this website. Please fill it outand return to my office (either by post or by e-mail) - as soon as possible, but by Monday 27 March at the latest.
This will help us here in the office, and the local priests liaising with cathedral staff, to ensure that enough vestments, service papers, sets of oils etc are provided.
If you cannot, for some reason, be present, I would be grateful if you would write to me and say so. If any of you knows of a sick or elderly priest who cannot be present, please would you let me know.
3 On the day
Clergy should only need to bring an alb and (as belt and braces) a white stole.
In all three venues all oils will be provided in plastic bottles at the end of the Mass, but you are free to bring your own containers should you wish.
At Bristol Cathedral (Monday 10 April) you will need to be in the Chapter House off the cloister, robed and ready by 11.30 am.
At Exeter Cathedral (Tuesday 11 April), you will need to be in the Lady Chapel (at the far east of the church), robed and ready by 1.00 pm.
At Lichfield Cathedral (Wednesday 12 April) you will need to be in the Chapter House, robed and ready by 11.00 am.
With prayers and every blessing:
+ Jonathan Ebbsfleet
Christmas Message 2016
Posted on the 25th December 2016 in the category Announcements
The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2016
Yet again, the year that is ending has witnessed only a rise in the horrors of violence and its chaotic consequences. One of our Anglican hymns for Advent cries out to God:
Where is Thy reign of peace
and purity, and love?
When shall all hatred cease,
as in the realms above?
It is a prayer that will be repeated with great fervour this Christmas by refugees and displaced people, by wounded and bereaved people, by oppressed and abused and trafficked people, in cities and camps the world over, among them, unforgettably, Bethlehem itself. The same agony seems to lie behind Pope Benedict’s Christmas prayer of 2011: ‘O mighty God, we love your childlike presence: your powerlessness, your humility. Through you love triumphs. But we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we ask you: show your power, O God. Cause peace also to triumph in our time, in this world of ours.’
The agony that we feel as violence and chaos continue is simply the reverse side of the greatest good news of the season – that God has taken on our human form and raised it to glory. The Immortal Son of God has taken on our mortal flesh, so now the face of Christ has been revealed in all human beings. For the eyes of faith, the consequence of this fact is that no human form or face can hereafter be ignored or abused; and whenever those same eyes do see God’s image attacked and disfigured, they will weep all the more bitterly. Thus the strange fact is that what makes us most passionately glad and grateful at Christmas—the Christ child’s powerlessness and humility—is also what gives us the possibility of grieving as we should for the defacing of God’s image in the world. Let us trust that it also gives the Church the vision, the courage and the strength to go on working and praying for a world where God’s image in mankind—and indeed his presence in the whole created environment—is universally honoured and protected. Our transcendent and glorious Lord has bowed in loving respect to our fallen and failed human nature; as Christians we can do no other than imitate such loving respect.
I offer my warmest good wishes for Christmas, and my prayer that Christ, who renews our
trust and hope in this celebration, will remain close to you throughout the coming year.
+ Jonathan Ebbsfleet