Dear Friends

After the austerity of the Lenten weeks, we find a burst of joy as we celebrate the blessings of the Easter season. Suddenly, the churches are full of flowers and the colours of vestments and altar frontals celebrate in white and gold, and all the beauty of Easter is upon us.

The month of May is always celebrated during the long Easter festival. And a particular aspect of this lovely month, when the weather is getting warmer and the rich colours of flowers seem to give us a sense of joy and gladness, encourages us to think afresh again about the place of Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. We can think of May as Mary's month.

The Book of Common Prayer gives us ample opportunity to celebrate the life of our Lord’s Mother. The 2nd February, in the old Prayer Book, marks the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That is regarded as one of the important feasts. Then on 25th March, we mark the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, another great feast, nine months before Christmas. The 2nd July is the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when her cousin Elisabeth recognised that Mary was to have a baby, who would of course be our Lord Jesus. Then, the 8th September, in the Book of Common Prayer, is the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And the 8th December is the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And 25th December is, of course, the feast of our Lord’s nativity, his birth as the Son of the Blessed Virgin. These five feasts, and Christmas, according to the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, allow us to celebrate the life of Mary, the Mother of the Lord. This is a generous allocation of feasts and there is nothing to compare with these great feasts in the Book of Common Prayer.

So, Mary, the Blessed Virgin, becomes for us a model and example, an encouragement to us in our own Christian life and our Christian journey. No other saint can mean as much to us as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary’s life with Joseph and the Lord himself was quite modest in comparison with our Lord’s three years of active service cuhninating in his Passion and Death. We can think of thirty years of preparation. We remember Jesus aged twelve sitting amongst the learned men in the temple Iin Jerusalem. But we leam little more than moments like these.

Mary, we are told, pondered these things in her heart. She had come to understand the importance of the birth of her Son. And she would quietly and devotedly follow him through his tumultuous final years. She was there at the end of his life, standing with St John at the foot of the cross.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is a powerful and beautiful example to us and an encouragement to us as we seek to live out our life as Christians. There are of course many prayers that help us on our joumey. One of these prayers, the most important of them, is the Hail Mary. It is a lovely prayer we can all use, in that it unites us with the heavenly kingdom:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy Womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Father John
Dear Friends

On Holy Saturday night, as we begin our Easter celebrations, together with a baptism, we will hear in Luke‘s Gospel, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ The disciples need to look ahead, not back. Is Easter for us something weird that happened long ago, far away? Is it something about which we cannot be very clear, and which evades convincing certainty or proof? If that is all we can say of Easter, then we‘ve missed out! That view of Easter will not make any real or vital difference to our life, as we address challenges and opportunities, and sometimes grave threats like serious illness, or even natural disaster or war? Where do we sense our ultimate security? Is it in our finances, our medical care, our anned forces, or... in the living God? Do we actually treat him as God and throw in our lot with him, or is religion an insurance policy to fetch out again if things go wrong? Do we face life and its challenges assured - like St Paul - that nothing, even war and death, are actually powerful enough to cut us off from God or stop him having a good last word over us?

If Easter is anything to us, it must be about life with God now and going forward, but - of course - it always has to be about the past too. Getting the right balance is the thing. Our Faith is rooted in what happened in Old Testament times, and very much focussed on the coming, and the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. These parts of real history speak to us of God being in all of history and eternity. History and tradition, then, are important for the Church, but tradition is a tricky one. We must take seriously the ways which God has led his people to follow through the centuries and should keep to them unless we have very good reason. That will mean especially matters of Bible, sacraments,’ Creeds and doctrines.

In the earliest days of God's people there seems to have been a tradition of sacrificing a first-bom son. Abraham was moved by God to spare Isaac and change the practice. The Jews, however, still continued to sacrifice the first-born of their animals. The first Jewish Christians were moved by God to abandon traditional Jewish food laws and circumcision, and to welcome Gentiles into the Church in baptism. God wanted all drawn in. In the last century, it seems, God has moved the Church to welcome women into the ordained ministry. He surely wants all of humanity drawn in to play a pan in that, although the tensions surrounding it are set to endure another hundred years.

So life is complicated. One thing to be clear about, however, is that something is not ‘good’ or 'religious' simply because it is old! Modem fabrics can be splendid for traditional-style vestments. Modern typefaces can be fine, and desirable, for church documents in the current world. The Church of the Living God should surely present itself as alive, current, and forward-looking, not vaguely antique! When it comes to the Bible, a misplaced allegiance to ‘tradition’ is not a good excuse for neglecting to seek true meanings in the best modern translations. The 1611 Bible was a great achievement, it has permeated our culture and our affections. But it was a bit old-fashioned and heavy when it was published. It is not the whole answer now! Someone once said to me that it was the ‘original Bible’. And that is just wrong at several levels! When it comes to sen/ices, we must take the trouble to judge them on structure, quality of language, and theology — appropriately balanced Christian ideas. For a hundred years we have tried to gradually get the structure and content and theology better, in the light of the best traditions and scholarship, and have largely succeeded. Language is another matter. Archaic English from centuries ago will really not do for general Church use now! But much in our modern texts might surely bear further literary and poetic refinement and be more inspirational?

Happy Easter!

Dear Friends

Ash Wednesday this year is on 2nd March, and Easter Day is 17th April, so we can think of more or less the whole of March and half of April taking up the holy season of Lent.

I was always impressed, and a little surprised, during my thirteen years as Dean of Westminster Abbey, to see how seriously people marked Ash Wednesday. We had a service at 8 am in the Abbey’s Lady Chapel, with about a hundred people. Then at 12.30 pm another large service also allowed the ashing of people, and took quite a long time. Finally at 5 pm, another Eucharist, with somewhere between 800 and a thousand people included the Allegri Miserere, and a sen/ice of some solemnity and indeed piety. Some six or eight clergy went out to ash the people, in the transepts, quire and nave. Thus, Lent began with a high degree of solemnity.

The great services at the end of Holy Week on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday generally included a thousand people at each service. On Good Friday each year, l preached a sermon at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace at Noon and then presided at 3 pm in the Abbey. On Easter Day, the Abbey was packed with sometimes well over 2,500 people at the Solemn Eucharist in the morning and at Evensong at 3 pm. The evening service at 6.30 also encompassed a great crowd. Even at 8 am on Easter Day, surprising numbers of people arrived. lt was the beauty of the services that attracted the numbers.

My last service at the Abbey was All Saints’ Day in 2019. Soon afierwards I moved from Westminster to live in Little London here in Chichester. The Bishop of Chichester asked me to keep an eye on St George’s Whyke, which finally was given a new Rector in December last year. And now, the Bishop has asked me to help out at Sidlesham, alongside Fr Roger. I shall gradually get to know people and shall be glad to play my part here.

The beginning and end of Lent are the great moments, but the whole season can be thought of as a little special. We are encouraged to take our Christian faith during Lent a little more seriously. Part of what that means is to spend a little more time in prayer and meditation than would be the case normally. To pray every day should be our aim, and not just to rattle off a few prayers but to spend some time in thought before we pray, so as to put ourselves in the right mind for quiet contemplation.

This is a moment for connection with almighty God, a very precious time, if we can settle gently and be quiet. Our prayers then will allow us more concentration and greater meaning. Always pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly and allow its words to mean something as we pray. That should be the heart of all our prayer. But each element has its power and purpose: adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication, in other words ACTS, that gives us everything we need. Have a beautiful Lent.

Father John
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall KCVO
Dear Friends

We sometimes meet the theme which reminds us that we are here to care for creation, and indeed perhaps, to be usefully creative with God and under God, - possibly even in the formation of our very selves!

There was, somewhen in the Renaissance era, the idea that God, in his creation, might roughly shape a person, as a statue might be roughly shaped, and then say to them, "Finish yourself!" Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager who hid in Amsterdam from the Nazis had something of the same idea. She wrote, “How true Daddy's words were when he said: all children must look after their own upbringing. Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands. As a teenager, when of a similar age to Anne, 1 sometimes attended Evensong, and came across the psalms, which are essentially Jewish hymns. These are oflen unpopular with teenagers. We still use them now at Matins in the Coverdale translation, which is even older than much else in our 1662 Prayer Book. One teenager once told me that their favourite psalm was No. 151 - which doesn't exist!

A passage which particularly made me think was from Psalm 15 v5, which speaks of: 

"He that sweareth unto his neighbour, and disappointeth him not: though it were to his own hindrance."

It is, surely, about being a person with principle and moral fibre, with some sort of backbone, and not always opting for the easiest way. You promise someone something - it might become more difficult and inconvenient to fulfil the promise - but you, nonetheless, make the effort, meet the cost, - and don‘t make excuses and let them down.

Some speak of ‘doing their hair’. (An expression more relevant to some than to others!) The French have an old saying that — on reaching some stage of maturity — you ‘do your soul’. That is, that you make an effort to sort yourself out under God. Before February really gets going we have Candlemas, the Presentation of Christ as a baby in the Temple. From that point, in our services, we stop looking back to Christmas, and start looking forward to Lent and Easter. Next month Lent will arrive. It will be the prime time for ‘doing our soul’.


Dear Friends

It has been good to see the families and children and the Sunday School active at Church, and to have growing links with the School.  I’m sometimes amused that some of the congregation regard me as a mere youngster, at 78 years’ old! The reality is that a local Church is best as an extended family where we can have friends of all ages, whatever personal family we have, or don’t have. Proper and constant concerns for Safeguarding must not stop the right things happening!

Those of us born in the Second World War, who were at Junior School around 1950, will be particularly conscious of a quite unique occasion on Sunday 6th February 2022. It will be exactly 70 years since our Queen came to the throne in 1952. Many will remember that day well. It seems that no one else has reigned for a full seventy years! The Queen made a pledge to serve for her whole lifetime and has faithfully dedicated herself to that. 

There have been those who dislike such a monarchy and want our Head of State to be appointed by some democratic process, but many of us might have serious doubts whether that would always work well. We surely have cause to be very grateful for the Queen’s service, and that she has some independence from normal politics. 

For those of us at Junior School around 1950, there are particular memories, which we should like to share with the children now, and with recent generations. King George VI died suddenly on 6th February 1952, and Princess Elizabeth – abroad at the time – was suddenly Queen. In the next year, 1953, her coronation took place on 2nd June. It seems only right to mark this part of history - we will not see its like again! We greatly hope that the Queen will be in good health in February.

Unless we are overtaken by a lockdown, it is intended to let our 10am Parish Eucharist on 6th February focus on Her Majesty, and to have a small display of memorabilia of the time, with which all – including the children – can engage at some point. Normally 6th February would have had a Family Eucharist, but it can still have an ‘all-age’ feel to it, as a celebratory occasion for any who come. The normal Family Eucharist is moved forward to 30th January. This is largely because both Candlemas and Christingle must happen by 2nd February. If we want to observe them together, and on a Sunday, it has to be 30th January. 

There is a similar consideration at the start of January. The Epiphany cannot be observed after 6th, so – if we want a Sunday – it will be have to be at a Family Service on Sunday 2nd January. We hope then for Wise Men and are planning a rather special star!

Returning to our Queen – she was anointed as a Christian sovereign in a tradition of Jewish and Christian sovereigns, going back 3000 years. Having a personal faith, she has been happy to be Head of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith. But we wonder what will happen when she is no longer with us? We are now a multi-faith and multi-cultural country, which is largely, also, secular. Leadership must address all of that constructively, or else destructive tensions and divisions in our society will inevitably ensue. It has been hinted that a future monarch might want to be ‘Defender of Faith’, rather than Defender of the Christian Faith. But even that would not keep the secular brigade and the republican brigade happy. Will we ever again see the anointing of another Christian monarch? 

But for the moment this year let us be thankful for Elizabeth our Queen! 


Dear Friends,

We are likely to be very aware when the calendar year, the school year, and the financial year begin, but the Church New Year may have less impact on us! It starts on the First Sunday of Advent, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. That might happen in November or December. It all depends on which day of the week Christmas Day falls. If Christmas is on a Sunday, we have 28 days of Advent, starting 27th November. If Christmas is on a Monday, we have only 22 days of Advent, starting 3rd December. Often Advent lasts for something in between.

All this is of little interest to the makers of Advent Calendars, who usually find it convenient to have Advent as 1st to 24th December. They often also find it convenient to leave Christianity out! There are now calendars majoring on everything from chocolate to beer, beauty products to pet treats!

From a practical point of view, for the Church, things have evolved regarding our calendar, and I will try to sketch that out, as best I understand it. We have – in recent history – thought of Advent as a four-week preparation for Christmas. But in practice now, we have our turning point, - not so much on Advent Sunday - but four Sundays earlier. All Saints’ Sunday, is when we effectively start our three-month ‘winter season’, which includes Christmas, but goes much further. All Saints’ Sunday is near 1st November, and is the last Sunday of October, or the first Sunday of November.

The wider picture has things to say. The Eastern Church, the Orthodox, has always had an Advent longer than our few weeks. Also, - although our winter season includes Christmas, - it is not all about preparing for Christmas! Long ago, the Feast of the Epiphany in January was an important time for baptisms. These were largely, no doubt, baptisms of adults. So, Advent was a time of preparing for that, rather than preparing for Christmas. Themes taught included everything from Creation to the end of the world. When they did focus on the coming of Christ, it was very often on his second coming, at the end of the world as our judge, rather than his first coming as a baby at Bethlehem!

Our ‘winter season’ extends until around early February. Then, - at Candlemas Sunday, (near 2nd February, the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple), - we stop looking back to Christmas, and start looking forward to Easter and beyond. Easter is the other major traditional time for baptisms, and Lent is the time of preparation for that. The year then continues past Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday, - until we meet All Saints’ Sunday again.

So … our Baptism, - us being Christian, - is a particular topic for Advent, and for Lent. Our baptism puts us in a special situation, which we must choose to embrace and live out.

For the other great religions which worship one God, if you have a helpful upbringing, make an effort, and attend to your Holy Book, you might hope to live a good life. For Christians, the emphasis is different. We sense, as St Paul did, that we always remain flawed people, unable to fully accomplish our best intentions. And we have been born into a flawed society, with imperfect genes and an imperfect environment.

But, in this real world, God meets us in Christ, accepts and loves us, and sympathizes with us, where we are. Christ shows us that the focus for us must be on humble service and self-sacrificing love, rather than on achieving some state of success as a human being which we are personally happy with, will be proud of, and which we hope God will favour. Our attitude to God must be, ‘nothing in my hand I bring’. The focus in Advent and Lent on embracing the life of the baptised must remind us of that. It will also make for a happy New Year.

Dear Friends

Remembering is a prominent theme in November. We have All Saints‘ Day on lst November, when we think of the saints  - the Christian version of celebrities! Then, All Souls’ on 2nd, thinking. of the whole company of Christ’s followers over the centuries, a community to which we can belong. Many in the population will be oblivious of those occasions and go straight from Halloween on 31st October to Bonfire Night on 5th November!

I have a Victorian edition of the 1662 Prayer Book, it is one of those where the book and the print are almost unbelievably small. Unlike editions we use now, it contains a service for 5th November each year, giving thanks for the deliverance of James I and Parliament from the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Had that plot succeeded in destroying King and Parliament, it would weigh more heavily on our minds now, like 9/11.

Very soon in November we get to Remembrance Day on 11th. Currently, both All Saints’ and Remembrance, are largely observed on Sundays. Remembrance is a solemn time of remembering those who died, and those who suffered, through war. Special respect may go to those who, whatever their creed, actively chose to risk, or give, their lives for others.

Each month has many special days for saints, and many of them are martyrs. These are people whose lives were taken by those brutally opposing Christianity. In November alone, apart from All Saints‘ Day, we remember, on 8th, the Saints and Martyrs of England. (There have been Christians here since before 300 AD.) On 20th we remember Edmund, King of the East Angles, martyred by the Danes in 870 AD for standing firm as a Christian. On 22th is St Cecilia’s Day. She was martyred in Rome about 230 AD, and is the patron saint_ of musicians. She had bravely allowed the church to meet in her house when that was not allowed. Clement, an early Bishop of Rome, was killed about 100 AD and has his day on the 23th. On 25th November we remember Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian who did not feel a vocation to marry the Emperor when he had ambitions. Her fate involved “the original Catherine Wheel. Apostle Andrew, possibly the first disciple Jesus called,.is thought to have been killed on an X-shaped cross, with his day 30th November.

'Martyr' may well strike us as an uncomfortable word. It means, of course, ‘witness’. We may well not like the idea of costly witness either for ourselves or for others. We are not the only religion to have the idea of martyrdom, and it can take various forms. For us, martyrdom must never be something to seek. It must not be regarded as a quick way to huge status and heavenly benefits. That would witness to self-centred ambition, rather than faithfulness to God. Jesus, in Gethsemane, was certainly not seeking his -own execution, but rather attempting faithfulness to his vocation in desperate circumstances. Those who truly follow him are inspirational.

In teaching, I understand that the only real justification for assessing students is to teach them more accurately in future, for their good. So it must surely be with our remembering of brave disciples gone before. It won’t do to just have a casual interest in them, as a feature of history. They are real spectacular individuals who must be allowed to speak to our own discipleship, for our good.

Christmas at church promises to have services largely back to normal, but, unusually, Boxing Day is a Sunday. Fr Stephen always marked 26th, the feast of Stephen, feeling a connection. But this year, all those who are around on that Sunday at 10am will mark it. It would be perverse not to, as St Stephen was deliberately given the day next to Christmas, because he was the first Christian martyr.