How can we sing the Lord’s song …

Keith Farrin reflected on that verse from Ps 137 in the light of our experiences now of Covid-19 and our exile into isolation.

“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

A Reflection in the time of Covid-19.

When I look at the news now, this nation does appear as a foreign land. Nothing we have experienced before; nothing we could have expected. 

While for most people this disease results in mild symptoms from which they will recover, for a few it will require specialist care, for a few of those it will result in death.

We cannot go to church, receive ‘by faith with thanksgiving’ the sacrament of bread and wine, we cannot ‘kneel in prayer together’.

We cannot meet for coffee, shake hands, or hold to comfort each other in our confusion, grief or joy.

What are we to do?

            The people of the southern kingdom of Israel faced the loss of their temple when Nebuchadnezzar, in 597 BC. carried off the royal family and leading citizens to exile in Babylon. (1 Kings 24.10 -17) For them it was catastrophic, their faith was based in their land, centred around the Temple.

By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.  (Psalm 137 vs. 1.)

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?  (vs. 4.)

Jeremiah chose to stay with the people left behind.

Ezekiel went to Babylon, bringing God’s word to the exiles.

            Yet that period of exile was formative for Judaism.  They added to and edited their sacred scriptures, they learnt to pray where they were, to their surprise they found that God was there with them. “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me;” (Jeremiah 29. 12 – 13)

The question was posed, “Can these dry bones live?” (Ez. 37. 3)

 The answer was a resounding Yes! (Ez.37.1 – 14)

Much later, long after they had returned, when in AD70 the Temple was destroyed, they had a system of prayer to fall back on, to sustain them.

 They had Synagogues in their main villages as we have our churches, but they also had their prayers, not dependent upon the Temple.

We do have our prayers, but we have in many cases lost the habit of them, relying on the “ministers” to always lead them in Church. We can reclaim that heritage. We can pray for health workers, for all who continue at risk to provide for our needs, and to pray for the families of all who die.

As “Resurrection people” we can have confidence, whatever happens.

Jesus prayed, ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ (John 17. 25 – 26)

By the grace of God, we can emerge more resilient from this.

Keep in touch via telephone, Facebook or website, we remain one body, though scattered as grain.

AKF. April 2020

Sunday Worship ‘together’?

What are we doing when we share our Sunday worship? Is it really a Eucharist or Communion when we can’t be together?

What are we doing when we share our Sunday worship? Is it really a Eucharist or Communion when we can’t be together?

These notes go with the livestream video

Spiritual Communion

Bishop Stephen has written about receiving Spiritual Communion, receiving the blessing of Jesus presence without the physical Bread and Wine.

“you will notice a short prayer at the heart of the service which draws on the story of the woman who comes to Jesus but only touches the hem of his garment. She still receives healing and blessing (See Mark 5. 25-34). In a way, spiritual communion is like this. We are not able to receive the sacramental bread and wine. But in a spiritual communion we still come to Jesus and he still receives us.”

This is a particularly poignant way of praying; it emphasises our separation and isolation. It may help us to pray for our own need and the needs of those who are even more isolated than we are.


Thanksgiving is at the heart of the Communion service. The central prayer is called the Eucharistic Prayer and this comes from the Greek – eucharisto means ‘I give thanks’.

Mark’s gospel, followed by Matthew and Luke, puts the last supper in a wider context. In a sense the Last Supper is the climax of in a series of three, the feeding of 5,000, then 4,000 and then the 12. On each occasion Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and then gave it to the disciples – in Mark it is emphasised that the numbers reduce on each occasion. Luke adds a fourth, the disciples again recognised Jesus, this time risen, as he took bread, gave thanks and broke it in Emmaus.

So we can give thanks for all our food, whenever we eat or drink this can become a Eucharist – a time for giving thanks.

Prayer as Action

Sister Vassa is an Orthodox Nun posted a video blog talking about ‘Being Church when churches are Closed’ This includes doing the actions that we would do in church but at home – actions can be as eloquent prayers as words.

What actions can we take that can become prayers? Perhaps holding up empty hands in supplication, raising our hands in praise. The glorious thing about doing this at home is precisely that we are alone – no one else is watching if we think we might be making a bit of a fool of ourselves!

And if it gives God a laugh, that can’t be bad can it?

Coming together

So what can we do together? Well we can make palm crosses and then share them using facebook (if you have difficulty posting them online could you email me a photo to

When we come to watch our morning service on Facebook, could we have a piece of bread and a drink ready to ‘receive’ as we come to the Communion? Brenda tells me that from a Catholic perspective three things are necessary for concretion; form, matter and intention.

The form is the order of service – well that is in place as we are using Common Worship.

Matter is the bread and wine – these are offered by lay folk in our usual Sunday worship in the offertory procession so you would be your own offertory procession (that might take us back to Sr Vassa. She talks about having a procession with the cross around her flat).Inte

Know your enemy … and know yourself as Christians

Someone told me today that we are all in trauma. There is probably truth in that. We have all had our lives turned upside down and inside out. We can’t meet the people come across day by day as a matter of routine – we’ve even had to lock up our churches.

A couple of days ago I came across an article on one of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Co) Ethics and Religion pages: “Fear not, sneer not: A healthy Christian response to COVID-19”. One of the passages that caught my eye was …

an ancient Chinese saying explains the key to victory against any enemy: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” To know our enemy, and to know ourselves as Christians: with the two together, we can respond intelligently and appropriately as Christians.

The article goes into some depth about the virus we are facing – our enemy – informative stuff.

It then goes on to talk about ‘knowing ourselves as Christians’ and turns to Luther as an example. He lived through times of plague but in 1527 refused to leave Wittenberg as others were …

Luther regarded the epidemic as a temptation that tests and proves our faith and love: “our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognise how we should act toward our neighbour.”

How can we show love in this context? Perhaps keeping to the rules to slow the spread of the virus is an act of love. If we are fit is there someone who needs our help? If we are in one of the ‘at risk’ groups, is there someone who might be lonely would might value a call?

How do we know ourselves as Christians now?

Covid-19 / CoronaVirus

Corona Virus or COVID-19 is of huge concern and making the headlines daily. At present we are in a good position, flu is still a far more serious health threat, but things could change very quickly and so our churches are making sure we are ready.

We are produced a couple of documents to help us prepare and I will put links to them below and we will keep them up to date as events move on.



Choosing Life

I was asked if I had notes from Sunday’s sermon, I didn’t but this is roughly what I said …


Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Matthew 5:21-37

Choosing death

Moses gives us a stark choice in the reading from Deuteronomy

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity”

And then he says, “Choose life”

It’s a bit of a no-brainer – who wouldn’t choose life? Who in their right mind would choose “Death and adversity”?

And yet so many of our decisions are effectively choosing death. We seem to think that we can fool God or do a bargain with him. We hear it all the time. ‘I never do anybody any harm’; how do we even know that that is true? But even if it is, is that really anything to offer to God; ‘I didn’t do anything’? That is basically what the person with one talent says in the parable of the talents; he does not come out of it well! (Matthew 25:14–30)

Sometimes we act as though we can fool God. I think it was on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 (honest it can be really interesting!) someone wrote in asking why their toddler told lies. Apparently he had appeared with red all over his face. When asked why he had been playing with Mum’s lipstick he had totally denied the obvious, even when Mum said that she could see the lipstick on his face.

Sometimes it must seem like that to God when we think we can fool him by being good and respectable on the outside. He would probably laugh at us too, except that it is rather more serious when we are choosing between “life” and “death and adversity”.

Faced with the choice

Jesus in the gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount presents us with the reality of our choices.

Here they fall into three sections:

  • Resentment and hatred
  • Lust
  • Honesty

“But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

I find this scary. There is someone who really winds me up, I had a message from him the other evening, just before going to bed, and it took ages to get it out of my head and I couldn’t get to sleep. “You fool” was mild compared to what I was thinking! And yes, I was in turmoil; it was me who couldn’t sleep, it was me who kept rehearsing what I needed to say to him (though he never would hear it, nice rectors don’t say that sort of thing!). The person I was annoyed with wasn’t, and never would be, touched by what was going through my head – but I was, it was a sort of death for me.

Jesus goes on to talk about lust and adultery. Yes, this is clearly about sexual desire but lust itself goes beyond than that. It happens whenever I reduce someone else to be just a thing that can give me pleasure or something to be got rid of because it irritates me.

Again the truth is that when we do that to others we do it to ourselves too – we reduce ourselves to being a mere bunch of animal instincts and we destroy in ourselves that image of God who is love and generosity.

Finally, we are challenged simply to let our “yes be yes and our no be no”. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Queen Gertrude says of an insincere actor performing in the ‘play within the play’, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.

Overstating our case can be a cover up for guilt, it sometimes shows that we are trying to convince ourselves of the lie as well as others.

As a priest I hear this a lot, people who launch into why they are as good Christians as anyone who goes to church (and at some point, yes, they will usually say ‘I never do anyone any harm’!) as soon as we start to talk. Perversely they actually give the impression that they feel guilty about not going to church and are trying to get their defence in first.

All this seems pretty grim, especially when we see how seriously Jesus takes it.

The Good News – forgiveness

There are two traps that we can fall into when trying to change the way we think. First, we just give in, ‘we can’t help the way we think so what choice do we have?’ Clearly that can’t be right.

But the second may seem more helpful but, in reality, is no more effective; we try to push the thoughts away, to force ourselves to stop thinking about whatever it is. This can work for a while but as we repress our thoughts we are not really dealing with them, so they start to build up. Eventually we can just explode – maybe even venting our frustration on some poor innocent who hasn’t got a clue what is going on. It ends up that this is not much better than the first trap.

But then there is a way that Jesus opens up to us; forgiveness.

As the thoughts come we can just note them. We don’t act them out, but we don’t push them away either. We gently observe what we are doing. So we move from “I think XXX is a complete and utter idiot!” to “I’m thinking that XXX is a complete and utter idiot”. We may find it easier to use our name, so I might think “Richard’s thinking that XXX is a complete and utter idiot”.

I then remember God’s love. God loves me as I am, he does not love me less because I am sinful or because I have thought the thought.

He also forgives me. The word the gospels use for ‘forgive’ is probably better translated ‘let go of’. God lets go of my thought – he does not hold it against me – so I can let go too.

Through all this the though recedes into the distance and I loose sight of it, I find the peace of forgiveness that God offers. I have not squashed it down (just to pop up later) and I have certainly not acted on it. I have simply allowed God’s forgiveness to take effect and found his peace.

Don’t get me wrong – if you’re like me the thought will soon be back, old habits die hard. But remember what Jesus said to Peter about the number of times Peter had to forgive? It was not seven but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22) and if God expects Peter to forgive at least 490 times I guess God will be even more patient. God’s forgiveness does not run out but it is effective, it does change us and Grace works through the Holy Spirt over time.

So we come before God with all our deathly thoughts but we are offered life-giving forgiveness.

We don’t have to be subject to our thought habits; we can choose life.

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor

I’ve been sent that saying, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” (its sometimes attributed to FD Roosevelt), by different people twice in as many days. I’m getting the feeling someone’s trying to tell me something!

One of the emails was a mail shot from a sailing school that I once did some training with. Since then we have also taken our own boat on a couple of their flotillas across the channel. Colin, the skipper, the last trip:

Last year we took eight vessels to Le Havre and we enjoyed weather, a breakdown, great sailing and camaraderie.

Two points to note, first that on this occasion it was not us who broke down (though with an old boat that’s not unknown), and second, he said we enjoyed ‘weather’, he did not say ‘good weather’! That said, it was not as bad as the force 7 that we ‘enjoyed’ on the way back from Holland the previous year. But it can’t have been that bad, we’re thinking about going with them again this year. All good experience and, mostly, great fun.

Learning to cope is part of learning to sail, especially at sea, which is exactly why I started training with Colin in the first place. Developing a skill, whether sailing or anything else requires both training and experience. And yes, sometimes the most valuable (if not the most enjoyable) experience is when the sea gets rough.

Growing up can be a bit like that. Even if you basically enjoy school the tests and exams can be rough. We don’t know much about Jesus’ early life but as an infant, according to Matthew’s account of his life, his family was force to be refugees in Egypt and then had to move around Judea and Galilee (areas of what is now Israel or Palestine) before it was safe for them to settle back down back in Nazareth. Jesus also would have been taught about his faith in the local Synagogue and according to another account of Jesus’ life (written by Luke) he astounded his teachers when he went to Jerusalem at the age of 12. So, may be for him, the exams would not have been such a worry after all.

Have you ever wondered about your faith and wanted to understand more? Sunday mornings are often not a good time for families (especially for those who are members of sailing clubs – most of the races are organised for Sundays!) so we are experimenting with organising events on Saturday evenings at St Nicholas School (at the end of Priory Chase behind ASDA on Rawreth Lane). We are meeting once a month on Saturdays at 5pm with refreshments (a light teatime meal) from 4:30pm.

These services are for all the family, thinking about different aspects of developing faith and with activity and worship to engage people of all ages, adults and children.

In January we think about that story of Jesus aged 12 with the professors in Jerusalem. Over the following three months we will be thinking about how we can learn about our own faith. In February that will be about growing as a community, in March about how we grow together as a family (this will be just before Mothering Sunday so we’ll be thinking especially about our Mums) and, in April, thinking about the Easter story and what Jesus’ execution and then resurrection might mean for us now.

Just as with developing sailing skills, we never stop learning and developing our faith. There is always more to explore, and this is a chance to do it together.

The dates are:

18th January Jesus Growing Up (and a panic for his Mum and Dad)

8th February Growing Together

21st March     Family – Growing in Love (Mothering Sunday)

25th April       Easter – Growing in Faith

We meet for refreshments (a light tea) at 4:30 and activities will start at 5pm, we will be finished by 6pm. We hope to see you there!

Happy Sailing … or whatever you do for fun.

Assisi – Ravenna – Perugia – Bologna – Pisa

Northern Italy Pilgrimage -14-21 May 2019

The beautiful countryside of Northern Italy is full of amazing art and architecture – Churches, Abbeys, and hillside towns enhance the landscape at every turn. This pilgrimage will highlight the Christian history of the area, learning about and visiting sites associated with St. Francis of Assisi, the wonderful Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna, and the Campo Santo and famous leaning tower of Pisa. The trip will also include days at the historic centres at Bologna and Perugia.There will also of course be some free time for relaxation to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of our carefully selected hotels.

To find out more, contact Revd. Brenda Wallace, tour leader, on 07853 088907 or for a full colour brochure and booking form, or just for an informal enquiry.

I have 20 years experience of planning and leading holiday pilgrimages, which are backed by the Christian Travel Company, Maranatha Tours UK, who handle all the financial and travel arrangements to give you complete peace of mind.