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Friday, 9 June 2023

Church Times - Art review: Richard Kenton Webb, Benjamin Rhodes Arts, Shoreditch

My latest exhibition review for Church Times is on Richard Kenton Webb Vol.5 at Benjamin Rhodes Arts:

'The exhibition has also provided an opportunity for Kenton Webb and The Revd Richard Davey to continue their ongoing discussions of “colour, landscapes, language, narratives, faith and the human figure” in the context of Kenton Webb’s work. Davey says in the catalogue that what the drawings included here show him is what Kenton Webb’s work has always shown him, “a love song to the other.” This prompts the response that “one of the profoundest things an artist can do is to paint their Holy of Holies, and for me that is Love”; “an invisible presence and yet a force that has substance, just like light and colour.”'

For more on this exhibition see my Artlyst diary for April here.

Other of my pieces for Church Times can be found here. My writing for ArtWay can be found here. My pieces for Artlyst are here and those for Art+Christianity are here.


Mary Gauthier - Prayer Without Words.

Thursday, 8 June 2023

Creative Basildon: Field Artists and Young Pioneers

The BasildON Creative People & Places programme is built on multiple projects that aim to engage across all of our communities. These were inspired by a range of unique cultural activities that were developed and assessed before putting in the application for funding to Arts Council England.

Alongside this, extensive community discussions were undertaken to ensure the activity is what local people want to see!

‘Young Pioneers’ is a series of youth-led creative activities, developed through our creative skills development programme for 16-25 year olds, funded and supported by ReGeneration:2013, a Creative Estuary project.

Supported by industry experts, our young pioneershave developed their own project that uses creativity to drive change in their local areas – happening in February 2023.

Halls Corner Film: Made in collaboration with local filmmaker Maz Murray, Halls Corner Film explores Wickford’s past and present through intergenerational storytelling between Young Pioneer Em and her family. Watch the film here!

Field Artists is a creative exploration project set in the Basildon Borough. Artists embed themselves within a community within 5 areas of the borough, and co-create work in response to the connection they create. The Field Artists residencies support artists investigating what is happening within 5 areas of Basildon Borough - Wickford, Laindon, Billericay, Pitsea and Vange, and Basildon itself. This artist led process will enable better understanding of communities and residents, and aims to produce a series of public art pieces across the Borough alongside a digitally held archive of the residencies.

Syd Moore is an acclaimed novelist and short-story writer whose work focusses on the historic witch hunts in Essex. Her first book, The Drowning Pool (HarperCollins, 2011) looked at the legend of Sarah Moore, a notorious sea witch, in Moore’s home town of Leigh-on-Sea. The bestselling Witch Hunt (HarperCollins, 2012) investigated the hysteria of 1645–47 inflamed by the notorious Witchfinder General. Moore continues to explore the witch hunts of Essex in her current series The Essex Witch Museum Mysteries (Strange Magic, Strange Sight, Strange Fascination, Strange Tombs) published by OneWorld. The Strange Days of Christmas (OneWorld, 2019) is her first short-story collection. Prior to writing, Moore was a lecturer, worked extensively in the publishing industry and presented Channel 4’s book programme, Pulp. She was the founding editor of Level 4, an arts and culture magazine, and co-creator of Superstrumps, the game that reclaims female stereotypes. Moore was also the Assistant Curator of ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition that launched at the O2 in December 2019 and co-curated This is What an Essex Girl Looks Like at the Beecroft Gallery, as part of her work with the Essex Girls Liberation Front. Having founded the ‘Front’ she spearheaded the campaign to have the definition of ‘Essex Girl’ removed from the Oxford Learners’ Dictionary. And was successful.

For the Field Artists project, she has contributed an essay about Wickford which includes mention of St Mary's Runwell and the Running Well. In the piece, she concludes: "Wickford has its issues and, like other places, could do with some investment in the community to become whole again. But its soul is expansive, unique, eclectic, ancient and generous too. And of course, a town’s soul is its people. Wickfordians should feel very proud." Also on the site is a short film capturing Madame Curiosité’s Pub Quiz Caper live at The Railway Club in Wickford, an interactive performance piece scripted and performed by Moore.

For more on St Mary's Church and the Running Well, see my poem 'Runwell' by clicking here.


Hall's Corner by Em Byron and Maz Murray.

Wednesday, 7 June 2023

A changing understanding of God’s revelation

Here's the reflection that I shared this morning at St Andrew's Wickford:

This is a story (Mark 12.18-27) about interpretation of scripture, which is possibly as important for our understanding for what it reveals about ways of interpreting scripture, as for what it says about resurrection.

The Biblical scholar Tom Wright has noted that: ‘Resurrection was a late arrival on the scene in classic biblical writing … Much of the Hebrew Bible assumes that the dead are in Sheol …“The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence” (Psalm 115:17). Clear statements of resurrection are extremely rare. Daniel 12 is the most blatant, and remembered as such for centuries afterwards: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Daniel is, however, the latest book of the Hebrew Bible.’

In Jesus’ day: ‘There was within Judaism a considerable spectrum of belief and speculation about what happened to dead people in general, and to dead Jews in particular. At one end were the Sadducees, who seem to have denied any doctrine of post-mortem existence (Mark 12:18; Josephus, War 2:165). At the other were the Pharisees, who affirmed a future embodied existence, and who seem to have at least begun to develop theories about how people continued to exist in the timelag between physical death and physical resurrection. And there are further options. Some writings speak of souls in disembodied bliss, some speculate about souls as angelic or astral beings, and so forth.‘

‘The Sadducees rejected the Oral Law as proposed by the Pharisees’ and ‘saw the written Torah as the sole source of divine authority.’ They insisted that the traditions did not contain this newfangled doctrine and that resurrection was not taught in the Torah itself. Their question to Jesus was based on the literal application of a commandment from the Torah and was ‘designed to make belief in a resurrection look foolish by proposing a dilemma it might entail.’ (Timothy J. Geddert, Mark, Herald Press)

In his reply to the Sadducees’ question Jesus goes back to the Torah itself (the five books of Moses) which were the only ones the very conservative Sadducees regarded as really authoritative, and stated that ‘God defines himself there in terms of his relationship to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ The underlying point was that ‘God would not define himself in relationship to people who were now non-existent.’ Therefore, Jesus implies or leaves unstated the remaining move in the argument that ‘if they are alive this must be because God will in fact raise them from the dead.’

Jesus therefore disagrees with a literal argument about scripture based on the earliest texts and affirms an emerging doctrine which only appears clearly in the last book of the Hebrew Bible. What he is affirming is an evolving revelation from God in scripture which develops or adds to or changes earlier interpretations and understandings.

The extent to which God’s revelation is fixed or emerging is one which continues to be debated within the Church and is a key ground on which debates about women’s ordination and human sexuality take place. What rarely seems to feature in these debates are the approaches to interpretation of scripture used by Jesus, the disciples and the Early Church, which are often very different from standard ways of interpreting scripture used today, particularly those which attempt to fix understandings of scripture for all time through literal interpretations. Here Jesus clearly teaches a later, newer doctrine which does not appear in the Torah and was not part of early Judaism. This emerging understanding, however, becomes central to Jesus’ mission and to Christian belief as Jesus’ resurrection and the teachings of the Early Church based on it are entirely new in the history of Judaism.

Tom Wright says: ‘The early Christian hope for bodily resurrection is clearly Jewish in origin, there being no possible pagan antecedent. Here, however, there is no spectrum of opinion: Earliest Christianity simply believed in resurrection, that is, the overcoming of death by the justice bringing power of the creator God … This is a radical mutation from within Jewish belief.’

Our core hope as Christians derives from a changing understanding of God’s revelation which Jesus taught and experienced. The literal interpretations of the Sadducees meant that they could not see or receive the new thing that God was doing in their midst. May God keep us open to receive the new things he is doing in our world through his Holy Spirit and prevent us from rejecting the unexpected moves of his Spirit because our rigidity in our own understandings of scripture. Amen.


Paul Simon - Seven Psalms.

Monday, 5 June 2023

Aquael Anthology and Prog 50

Artist, illustrator, author and musician, Maurizio Galia was born in Moncalieri (Turin) Italy, on the 28th May 1963 and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Turin, from 1978 until 1986, under the direction of Francesco Tabusso, Enzo Sciavolino and Sergio Saroni. From 1982 he worked for various agencies and specialized as visual designer and illustrator for comics and books.

Galia is also the leader of Aquael, a prog rock band founded in Turin in October 1979 that was amongst the last wave of Italian Progressive Rock of the Seventies. As a solo artist Galia recorded Ziqqurat nel Canavese (1997) and Eccitazioni Neoclassiche (2005), although both albums were recorded with Aquael bandmates, and using Aquael tracks. Aquael's Anthology has the best from those albums and a selection of previously unreleased tracks as a prelude for future Aquael albums. "if you enjoy melodic symphonic and neo-prog bands with a bit of the Italian flavor ... you may be richly rewarded for tracking this down."

Galia's Prog 50: Progressive Rock Around the World in Fifty Years is an illustrated reference hand-book where the complete list of world-wide Prog artists of the musical genre are finally given their rightful place in History. With a Foreword by Peter Gabriel, this is a first true encyclopedia collecting over a thousand musicians, most of which have been forgotten over time, and more than two thousand images of sometimes very hard to find records, for the first time ever presented all together in the same book. The tangible proof that Progressive Rock is still alive and kicking even after fifty years.

This book has revived memories of seeing After the Fire and Neal Morse in concert, of listening to King Crimson and Rush and of discovering the music of Geoff Mann and Twelfth Night. Here are more recommendations:


"Even ardent fans will find artists in here he or she will never have heard about, and those not all that familiar with the genre will have a field day or decade) looking up all the artists referenced here. The book itself, and all the artists referenced, makes this production a good starting point for progressive rock fans though, and a hard copy alternative to websites such as Progarchives." - Olav "Pros messor" Bjornsen: April 29th, 2018

"Last year when we reviewed an Italian-language breakdown of the 100 best prog albums, we had one wish: put it all into English. Curated by Italian prog collector Maurizio Galia, Prog 50 does precisely that, and with five other reviewers, along with a foreword by Peter Gabriel, it gamely tackles a huge task. Broken up with artwork and photos, although all in black-and-white, the text is clear, with notable references in bold, and a discography to go with each entry. The wizard hat goes off to translator Christine Colomo for making the content highly readable." - Prog 14 June 2018

"This book is stunning! Really recommended to everyone who wants to know everything about Prog Rock. Peter Gabriel's foreword is the best endorsement for this work. The English language is very good, modern and open to a light reading full of humour. It's almost impossible to count all the artists reviewed into this book. Groups, Songwriters and Bands from all the different corners of our planet. A fantastic 'Interstellar Overdrive' to the Prog Universe!" Baltazar Gloves, Reviews 2017

"In his foreword for this book, Peter Gabriel doffs his cap to a genre which doesn't follow the normal conventions on composition. He describes progressive rock as a rich and quirky vein of music that, at least in his own experiences was born out of letting our musical minds wander far and wide and straight out of any boxes we were thrown in. These words echo throughout PROG 50's deep-drive into the old genre brave enough to incorporate elements of them all, dissecting key artists by country in order of importance (ranging from Kings, then Knights to finally the more obscure Troopers) with notes on their triumphs and releases. It's no surprise the English, Italian and German sections are substantial brimming with names of defiant rule-breakers, many of whom have been forgotten over time though what makes PROG 50 such an invigorating study is its dedication to the visionaries hailing from further afield. Aditus from Venezuela, anyone? While some of the descriptions are perhaps a bit basic, it certainly leaves no stoned unturned in its quest through prog history." AMIT SHARMA, Planet Rock Magazine


Aquael - Murat Begins.

Artlyst: The Art Diary June 2023

My June diary for Artlyst has been published with mentions of exhibitions at Pallant House (Gwen John), Wycliffe College (Marc Chagall), Teatro Peon Contreras (Louis Carreon), City Art Centre (Peter Howson), Ben Uri (Peter Howson and Laura Knight), Laing Gallery (Pre-Raphaelites and British Impressionists), Museo Spazio Pubblica (Anna Masters), Museum of Contemporary Art (Cecilia Vicuña), Hastings Contemporary (Yun Hyong-keon), Gathering (Soojin Kang), Peterborough Cathedral (Marc Bratcher), Maureen Paley (Reverend Joyce McDonald), Ammerdown Centre (Group show):

'Gwen John's conversion to Catholicism in 1913 and its effect on her art has not yet been fully recognised, but ‘Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris’ at Pallant House represents another step along the way. John’s conversion meant that she searched for new methods with which to bring faith to life in her art. Art and faith were already being explored to a significant extent in Paris and, in her catalogue foreword for her solo exhibition in London in 1926, she quoted the leading modern French religious artist, Maurice Denis, who had championed the joining of art and Catholicism in experimental ways. She also admired the work of Georges Rouault, the pre-eminent Roman Catholic artist of his time, and Paul Cezanne, who sought to explore the eternal element of the Universe, the “Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus”. Additionally, in Meuden, where she lived, she was a neighbour to the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (who regularly held study circles at his home attended by significant artists), being a close friend of his sister-in-law Véra Oumançoff.'

See also the following: Gwen John; Marc Chagall; Louis Carreon; Peter Howson; and The Pre-Raphaelites.

My other pieces for Artlyst are:

Interviews -
Monthly diary articles -
Articles/Reviews -

Glen Hansard - Brother's Keeper.

Sunday, 4 June 2023

Wickford and Runwell Team Ministry Annual Report

Here's the 2022 for the Wickford and Runwell Team Ministry that I shared at our recent APCM:

The PCC is committed to enabling worship in all three churches which resources those who share in it to live lives of faithfulness and service, is welcoming and attractive to newcomers, and helps to make God known to those on the fringes of faith. We are committed, also, to living out our faith, both corporately and individually, in ways which serve the local community practically and pastorally.

We are seeking to be churches, and a team of churches, that are at the heart of the communities of Wickford and Runwell, while also being with those on the edge. We have joined HeartEdge and are utilising their mission model, the 4Cs of compassion, culture, commerce and congregation, together with the idea of Being With, as an incarnational model of mission and ministry:
  • Compassion: We are involved with our ecumenical partners in the Gateway Project, the local Foodbank hosted by the Salvation Army. We also collect for the local Women’s Refuge and fundraise for our Kenya Link. We partnered with Kintsugi Hope in 2022, with the aim of setting up a Wellbeing Group in 2023, and began work on plans to set up a Parent and Toddler Group at St Catherine’s in 2023. Our coffee mornings and Meet and Make group provide warm spaces to local residents.
  • Culture: We are developing St Andrew’s as a cultural centre for the town through our ‘Unveiled’ arts and performance evenings, an exhibition programme, and an arts festival (12-26 May 2023).
  • Commerce: We hire out our Halls at all three of our churches and receive donations for use of our car park at St Andrew’s (update - now managed by NCP).
  • Congregation: Our core activities include – Services; Messy Church; Mothers Union; Quiet Days (St Mary’s); Pastoral Visitors; Educational opportunities (Bible Study groups, Lent Course, Being With courses); Prayer Circle; and Social/fundraising events.
For us, Being With others includes: Contemplative Commuters; Meet & Make (Craft group); Saturday Solace; Schools ministry; Rail/Street Pastors (Mike Tricker); and Unveiled events.

We hope that in our three churches visitors and regulars will find:
  • a warm welcome, whoever they are, wherever they come from, and whatever they bring, because all are made in God's image; and
  • people in all their variety who try to live out God's transforming love for this parish and community.
Achievements and performance

Worship and prayer

Patterns of worship have been shaped by the Ministry Team, led, initially by Team Vicar (House for Duty), Revd Sue Wise, and, from May, by the Team Rector, Revd Jonathan Evens, in conjunction with the PCC. For much of the year we had two Sunday services, one at 10.00 am in either St Mary’s or St Andrew’s (alternating bimonthly) and an 11.00 am at St Catherine’s. However, from October, we reintroduced Sunday morning services at all three churches together with these being All-age services on the first Sunday in the month at St Andrew’s, second at St Catherine’s, and third at St Mary’s.

Our average Sunday attendance for October across the parish was 37 (with an additional average of 8 online), during which time our churches held their Harvest Festivals and we had a Messy Church for Harvest, we held our usual midweek and evening services, and hosted a School Harvest Service. We recommenced our monthly services at four Care Homes and, in the autumn, were able to begin holding Messy Church on a bi-monthly basis. At Christmas we were able to hold our Christingle and Crib Services for the first time in two years and saw encouraging numbers returning to those services, as well as for Midnight Mass, and Advent and Christmas as a whole.

There was a total of 41 baptisms in the year, of which one was an adult. There were 6 weddings in the parish and our funeral ministry continued with 43 funerals conducted by our clergy, in either church or crematorium, and 15 interments of ashes.

Occasions for sharing and exploring faith have been created through our education programme. We held our annual Parish Study Day in January, a Lent Course, a Parish Quiet Day at the Othona Community in Bradwell, and a Living in Love & Faith course. We also held a first Quiet Day at St Mary’s and aim to organize more in 2023. Several Bible Study groups have also met regularly during the year.

Mothers Union has had a full and interesting year’s programme under the leadership of Caroline Wheeler. This included an excellent Garden Party celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Following the death of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, books of condolence were opened at all three churches and Commemoration Services held.

Deanery Synod

Three members of the PCC sit on the Deanery Synod, as well as our clergy. This provides the PCC with an important link between the parish and the wider structures of the Church. There were four meetings in 2022, including a meeting with Parish Treasurers and Churchwardens to discuss the new Parish Share formula. Speakers throughout the year have included the Area Dean and Archdeacon of Southend on Parish Share, plus Fr Michael Hall on Spiritual Direction and Nikki Schuster (CEO of Renew) on counselling. Kat D'Arcy Cumber, our General Synod Link member, gave a report on the February 2022 Synod meeting.

Our Churches and Halls

Our buildings are maintained diligently by our churchwardens and the DCCs, ensuring work is carried out promptly and appropriately, with all the necessary checks in place. All three churches received their latest quinquennial inspection in 2021, with varying amounts of work to be undertaken, particularly with the older buildings. The church halls and St Andrew’s Centre are well maintained and have returned to much fuller usage now that pandemic restrictions have been fully lifted. At St Andrew’s sensor lights were fitted to light the car park at night. At St Mary’s there are a number of items that have to be taken care of in the next few years, as would be expected of a Grade 1 listed building. Urgent work has been required to the tower of St Catherine’s as a result of ground movement caused by the long dry summer. This resulted in subsidence of the foundations in the North West corner which caused a number of large cracks to appear in the walls and some stonework to fall. As a result, urgent safety and weather protection work has been undertaken - : removing or temporarily fixing loose stonework; undertaking temporary roof repairs and loose filling of walls for weather protection; removal of loose internal plasterwork; temporary covering of affected windows; and the reinstatement of the lightning conductor - which will be followed by the investigations needed to design a long-term solution to the problem. We launched a fundraising campaign at Christmas to begin raising the funds for this initial work and the much longer project to effectively underpin the church in order to prevent the regular recurrence of the issue.

Our churchyards are well maintained. A bug hotel and wildlife area have been introduced at St Mary’s. All three churches are considering their environmental impact and St Mary’s began work on an application for a Bronze Eco Church Award.

We enable our three churches and halls to function as hubs for the community. Between them activities and groups supported include: Coffee Mornings; Councillor Surgery; Art and Heritage Exhibitions; Floral Art; Gamblers Anonymous; Huff and Puff; Lace Makers; Ladies Support Group; Ladygate Scribblers; Martial Arts; Meditation; Meet & Make (Crafts Group); Mothers Union; Parent’s 1st Group; Phlebotomy Clinic; Rangers; Steps; U3A; Unveiled arts and performance evening; Warfarin Clinic; WI Craft Group; Wickford Chapter; Wickford Lodge; Wickford Women’s Institute; and several Yoga Groups. These groups and activities provide a wide range of social, leisure, educational and wellbeing opportunities for the local community, as well as providing warm spaces that enable those attending to save on heating in their homes while attending. On a monthly basis, we estimate the groups meeting in our Halls benefit in excess of 750 local residents.

In addition, local schools regularly visit our buildings for educational opportunities, which this year have also begun to include visits to our art exhibitions. Our new Unveiled arts and performance evening (Fridays fortnightly) plus our new art and heritage exhibition programme deliver new cultural offers in Wickford. These seek to bring high quality art and performance to Wickford while also encouraging local talent by providing new platforms for local performers and artists.

We held a very successful and well attended Christmas Bazaar at St Andrew’s for the parish which raised £2,000. Each church and the Mothers Union organized stalls. A grand draw was held, there was a grotto for children to visit Santa and choirs from Wickford Church of England School and Wickford Primary School sang to those who attended. Our thanks to everyone involved in the organization and running of the Bazaar, particularly those on the planning group.

Pastoral care

Much pastoral care within our congregations is informal and mutual. Our team of pastoral visitors and clergy continues to support individuals in need, and have once more been able to offer Home Communion. Visits to local care homes for services are once again happening monthly, including to the new Eve Belle Care Home, and the team visiting has been expanded with several new volunteers. A Prayer Circle operates when specific requests are made for those in need of prayer.

Mission and evangelism

Much of our mission and outreach, including Messy Church (bi-monthly on Saturdays), the Gateway foodbank (Ecumenical initiative), Open the Book (Schools work), ministry in care homes (monthly services in four homes), and other initiatives, is enabled by teams drawn from across our three churches. We are increasingly developing mission initiatives related to our context including: Contemplative Commuters - a Facebook group for any commuter wanting quiet reflective time and content on their journeys to and from work; Saturday Solace - 10-minute reflection and Christian mindfulness sessions between 10.00 am & 12 noon on Saturdays at St Andrew’s; and Unveiled – an arts and performance evening which attracted an average of 25 people per event, with events including artist talks, concerts, dance performances, exhibition viewings, heritage talks, lectures, and an Open Mic Night.

We continue to support the ecumenical Gateway Project, the local foodbank, with congregation members continuing to give generously in kind.

Clergy and laity support the work of local schools as governors and in taking assemblies. Assemblies are taken at seven local schools, with assemblies beginning at St Luke’s Park for the first time this year. We also hold school services in our churches for several schools, with a Carol Service for Beauchamps School being introduced this year for the first time. Lessons on Easter and Christmas take place at Beauchamps School and there is also input to Interfaith Week lessons and an Interfaith panel for the Sixth Form. Several schools visit our churches in the course of the year, with schools coming to see the art exhibitions at St Andrew’s for the first time this year. The Open the Book Team, who tell Bible stories in dramatic form, are using technology to video the stories and send them to the schools, thus enabling a new school to be added.

The churches have a strong tradition of hospitality to the local community, especially through coffee mornings and social events. Coffee mornings are held at all three churches and Meet and Make sessions in St Andrew’s continue to reach out to those on the fringe of and beyond our congregations.

Our three churches have a commitment to supporting the charity Positive Life Kenya. PLK works to break the cycle of poverty by educating and empowering marginalised families to build healthy environments for their children to thrive and create lasting change. We are currently committed to raising and sending at least US$ 250 each quarter. Each of our three churches respond to particular appeals, such as The Children’s Society and the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Shoebox Appeal.

Our Facebook Group has continued to increase in membership and we have created the Contemplative Commuters Facebook group which has gained 30+ members. Our Facebook Group, Pages and website are kept up to date with news and schedules as well as livestreamed Morning prayer three days a week. St Mary’s include their news and views in the regular Runwell newsletter that goes to every house in Runwell.

Ecumenical relationships

The churches in Wickford and Runwell are responsible for jointly supporting the Gateway Project Foodbank that is run out of the local Salvation Army premises and staffed by volunteers from across the churches under their supervision. A minsters’ group meets every two months to discuss this and other projects and for mutual support. Together we arrange the annual Walk of Witness on Good Friday and the Church’s choir for the Town Christmas event. Funding was gained from the Locality Fund to run an Arts Festival in May 2023 using the churches as venues.


Emma-Marie Kabanova - Awake! My Soul.

Amazing grace, extravagent love and intimate communion

Here's the sermon that I shared this morning for Trinity Sunday at St Catherine's Wickford:

“The grace of the lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” It is common practise in church meetings for those present to close the meeting by saying the grace out loud, and to each other. “We say those words so often, at the end of meetings – sometimes with head bowed low and sometimes looking round at each other so we can speak them directly to each other. They are so familiar to us that we could easily forget they come from the Bible.” (

John Wesley wrote of this prayer, “Let us study it more and more, that we may value it proportionably; that we may either deliver or receive it with a becoming reverence, with eyes and hearts lifted up to God.” ( I would like us to do what John Wesley commends and study the Grace more and more this morning, doing so on the basis of a combination of some translations of the passage. So, I’d like us to reflect together on the amazing grace of Jesus, the extravagant love of God, and the intimate communion of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s begin by thinking about where this prayer comes from. “It comes right at the end of a letter, or letters probably, that Paul wrote to a church he founded, but a church that had turned on him.” “It’s great that we have Paul’s collection of letters to the church at Corinth in the Bible if only because it reminds us that there never was a golden age when it was easy to be part of the church. This church argued, split, coped with scandal, economic division, with the charismatics versus the conservatives – all of which shows that there’s nothing much new under the sun. It’s clear when you read between the lines that Paul had been getting the first century equivalent of on-line abuse, that this church that he had set up had been getting at him for being too poor, too scruffy, for working with his hands, for not having the right qualifications.” He’s under attack and has to defend himself but, “at the end of this long, passionate, sometimes weary and difficult correspondence”, he “writes these simple and ageless words, ‘The grace of the lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.’”

“Maybe Paul composed [this prayer] and maybe he didn’t – maybe his churches used this blessing already and it was a phrase already known to them – but it’s an astonishing thought – that Christians through centuries and in many places have blessed each other with these same words. Reading them at the end of Paul’s letters gives them an added edge. These are not just pious, empty, words. He is saying them to people who have criticised him, hated him, attacked him, and abused him. He is wishing the grace of Jesus, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, upon those who cast him as an enemy. He says, in a way, it doesn’t matter what you say about me or what you think of me. Your abuse and attack isn’t going to make me anything different from the person I am determined to be; a person shaped by God’s grace, living God’s love, seeking fellowship, friendship, community with anyone.”

The effect of the Grace here is “to offer us the full resources of the faith”: “When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he and they were both aware that they were doing and enduring some pretty terrible things. But Paul told them that God wanted to give them the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. That is what God wants to do with all of us – to bless us with the gifts of the beautiful Trinity and to show us what human life – touched by such blessing – could really be like.” (

So, let’s look briefly at the individual parts of this prayer, beginning with amazing grace. U2’s song called ‘Grace’ defines the amazing grace of Jesus as follows: Grace “takes the blame”, “covers the shame” and “removes the stain”. “What once was hurt / What once was friction / What left a mark / No longer stings / Because Grace makes beauty / Out of ugly things / Grace finds beauty / In everything / Grace finds goodness in everything.” (

Jesus himself told a story about a son who squandered his father's inheritance (the parable of the prodigal son). When the son returns, rather than rejecting or disciplining him, the father runs to greet him and celebrates his return. That story gives us an insight into the kind of love that God gives. Grace is the unmerited favour of God which finds goodness in everything. We do not deserve the love and goodness that is freely and unconditionally given from heaven and all we can or need do is receive it. That is truly amazing grace.

When we understand grace in this way, we can see why God’s love is described as extravagant. There is no holding back in the economy of God’s love, instead there is an overwhelming generosity which involves self-emptying. St Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians that Jesus “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” There was no holding back when it came to Jesus sharing God’s love with us, not even the withholding of his own life.

The currency of the kingdom of God is of abundant generosity of things that never run out. “The secret of happiness is learning to love the things God gives us in plenty. There’s no global shortage of friendship, kindness, generosity, sympathy, creativity, faithfulness, laughter, love. These are the currency of abundance.

The Church of today needs to rediscover this teaching because God gives us the abundance of the kingdom to renew the poverty of the church. In our generation God has given his Church a financial crisis, and this can only be for one reason: to teach us that abundance does not lie in financial security, and to show us that only in relationships of mutual interdependence, relationships that money obscures as often as it enables, does abundant life lie.”

As John McKnight and Peter Block have noted in their book ‘The Abundant Community’, that we live in a consumer society which is an economy of scarcity because it “constantly tells us that we are insufficient and that we must purchase what we need from specialists and systems outside of our immediate community.” Instead, they argue that “we can do unbelievable things by starting with our assets, not our deficits. We all have gifts to offer, even the most seemingly marginal among us. Using our particular assets (our skills, experience, insights and ideas) we have the God-given power to create a hope-filled life and can be the architects of the future where we want to live.” Finding ways to thrive in our churches and communities by releasing the gifts of all and building on one another’s assets is a sign of the extravagant love of God.

Finally, we come to the intimate communion of the Holy Spirit. Sam Wells and Abigail Kocher have noted “the subtlety of the word ‘communion’: com means with and union means in – we are at the same time with God and in God, which combines our two heavenly aspirations.” (

In communion God takes our lives into the Godhead, the Trinity, and blesses us. In a Communion Service that happens particularly when the bread and wine and money and prayers are brought to the altar: “In that moment we each bring our different qualities, resources, hopes and dreams to God. And then the pastor recalls the sacred story of how God took what we are and made it what he is. And in that transformation we each receive back the same. What this is depicting is a new society in which we each bring our differentness to God but we each receive back from God the same bread of life. We each have different hungers, but God satisfies them all.

And in this dynamic of transformation we see how salvation works. God takes a simple people and their simple offerings and gives them a sacred story and sacred actions and in the regular telling of that story and performance of those actions they are transformed into God’s holy people. And that’s exactly what the regular celebration of the Eucharist is about: God taking an ordinary people and through this story and these actions turning them into the body of Christ, God’s companions forever.” (

As we have been exploring grace, love and communion, notice that the Son, the Father and Holy Spirit are all involved all the time. It’s not that Jesus is the only expression of grace or the Father, the only expression off love. All three are one, so they are all involved in showing and sharing grace, love and communion. We are drawn in to the relationship of love at the heart of the Godhead where grace, love and communion are constantly being shared and exchanged between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is out of this relationship of love that Jesus comes into our world to be with us and thereby open up a way for us to participate in the relationship of love that is constantly being shared between Father, Son and Spirit.

So, this wonderful prayer - “The grace of the lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” – is not simply for the ending of meetings but for the whole of life and the whole of eternity. It is what Christianity is all about. It is a description of the Trinity and the love that exists at the heart of all things because it exists at the heart of God. And it is an invitation for us to become part of that love and participate in it. So, let us, as John Wesley commends, “receive it with a becoming reverence, with eyes and hearts lifted up to God.”


Michael Kiwanuka - I'm Getting Ready.