Her Majesty at 90

Every pound coin in the UK bears an image of the Queen’s head, surrounded by the words: ELIZABETH II D.G.REG.F.D.’ It stands for: “Elizabeth II Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensor.” These words are in Latin and they mean: “Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith.” Henry VIII was the first monarch to bear the title of “Defender of the Faith” and most monarchs since then have also carried it and it passed to Queen Elizabeth II upon her coronation on 2 June 1953.

In part, this title simply expresses the Queen’s role as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. But it also has a personal meaning. Throughout her reign, Queen Elizabeth II has openly acknowledged her dependence on Jesus Christ. This has been central to both her public pronouncements and her private devotions. In fact, it has been with her through-out her life.
On the occasion of her 21st birthday in 1947 she made a radio broadcast in which she said this:

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do. I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”

This has also been a recurring theme in her broadcasts, especially her Christmas speeches. In the year 2000 she said:

“To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.”

And in 2002:

“I know just how much I rely on my own faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning, I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God. Like others of you who draw inspiration from your own faith, I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.”

There is a lot to be thankful for as we look back on the long life of Queen Elizabeth II, her selfless service, her gracious dedication to her calling and her faith in Christ being three of the more important. So, on 12th June, as we celebrate her official birthday, I hope you will join with me in saying the prayer written for the Queen’s 90th birthday:

“Heavenly Father, as we celebrate the ninetieth birthday of Her Majesty the Queen, receive our heartfelt thanks for all that you have given her in these ninety years and for all that she has given to her people. Continue, we pray, your loving purposes in her, and as you gather us together in celebration, unite us also in love and service to one another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”


Why does Easter matter?

So what if the Easter bunny wins the hearts of children everywhere?   Why not fix the date of our Easter holiday and call it “Spring break”? What difference does Easter make anyway?

maryWell, it makes a lot of difference to those who take life and death seriously.  Take, Mary, it made a lot of difference to her.  We don’t know her whole story.  Some think she was born rich only to fall into a difficult life from which she was rescued by Jesus.  What we do know is that Mary had the heart-wrenching honour of washing the dried blood from Jesus’ lifeless body as two other followers prepared his tomb.

That day she had seen her Lord die an excruciating death, his body weight hanging limp from the nails driven through his hands and feet, suspended from a cross like a common criminal.   Was all her hope for nothing? What of all the people he had healed? The broken lives he had restored? The promises of the Kingdom of God?   Did they mean nothing now?

But then, early on Sunday morning, she was back at the tomb to finish anointing his body. When she arrived the tomb stood open, the stone rolled to the side.  Inside was empty – nothing but the burial clothes they had laid Jesus in.

Then, Mary saw him, mistaking him first for the gardener. But there was no mistaking his familiar voice “Mary.”  In an instant history changed forever, because where once the mortality rate had held steady at one hundred percent now it skipped a beat as Jesus burst from death into life.

So, now, death is no longer the last word for Jesus’ followers, life is.   For while religious leaders have come and gone, the fact remains: only One stepped forth from the tomb. Only One has risen from the dead. Only One has conquered death. Only One offers the promise of eternal life to those who follow him.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

That’s the difference that Easter makes

Happy Easter


Reasons to believe…

Sherlock Holmes is oft quoted to have said, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”  It sounds logical, but actually some things are just hard to believe.

ThomasTake Jesus risen from the dead.  How many of us would not agree with Thomas who said “unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”   You see Thomas had seen dead people before.  And Jesus was dead.  How could he be alive again?

But what if it did happen?

Thomas was convinced when Jesus appeared to him, reached out his hands to him, and said, “Put your finger here.”  And so he dropped to his knees. “My Lord and my God!”  But what about us who have not seen or touched the risen Jesus?

Well, as Holmes would also say, let the evidence speak for itself.

First, the tomb was empty.  If the Jews could have found the body of Jesus, then the church would never have begun.  They could have silenced the preaching of Jesus’ resurrection by simply producing the body.  But they couldn’t.

Second, the body wasn’t stolen. There was no reason for the Romans or the Jewish leaders to take the body – and if they had, why didn’t they produce it when people were saying they had seen Jesus alive?  And the disciples?  Well, here we have the matter of the Roman guards, and the fact that the disciples couldn’t believe it when the women brought them the news early that Easter morning.  And then there is our third piece of evidence.

Third, why would the disciples be willing to die for something they knew to be a lie?  I know people do courageous and sacrificial things, but they don’t die for what they know is not true.  And the disciples well and truly put their lives on the line.  History says that nearly all were eventually martyred for their faith.

Fourth, the church in Jerusalem grew really quickly.   How else would you explain that in the very place where Jesus was crucified – where they had seen him discredited and killed – the followers of Jesus grew from a few dozen to thousands upon thousands in just a few weeks?  They believed it was true.

If you examine the facts then Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is actually more plausible than any other explanation. That’s why we Christians make such a big deal about Easter. That’s why we celebrate.

Jesus’ resurrection means that death is not the end.  We believe that just as Jesus rose to new life so, through faith in Jesus, we too will be resurrected.  And since Jesus is not dead, we can meet him today.  We can have a relationship with Jesus.  I’m sure we all know people who can tell us what Jesus has done in their lives, and maybe you can too.  Jesus changes people for good.

I hope you had a blessed Easter, and that the real blessing of Easter will continue with you for the rest of your life, even into eternal life.

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

Happy Christmas

A Happy Christmas…

Famously, when asked what a Prime Minister most feared, Harold Macmillan is thought to have said, “Events, dear boy, events.”  When I sat down to write this article in early December I was going to write about the parable of the Good Samaritan…but “events” have meant that the Good Samaritan will have to wait.

XTC125-APTOPIX+France+NewspA year ago I wrote about the Ukraine, Syria and the Ebola virus…well Syria is still very much in our news and our prayers but now we also have the events in Paris to come to terms with.  Paris is known as the City of Light yet for many it is now a dark and scary place.  It is the nature of terrorism to attack where people feel safest, so gun men and suicide bombers brought violence and death to restaurants, theatres, football stadia and apartments.  The attacks have provoked much fear and anger, but also there have been some wonderful responses of love and determination.  Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), a response that runs truly contrary to human nature and one that our Christian brothers in Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, China and so many other places have been trying to live out for many years.

We often sing the carol “It came upon a midnight clear” on Christmas Eve.  In the third verse we sing:

“Yet, with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long; beneath the angels strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring: O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.”

This is a dark world – but there is still light!  The birth of Jesus did not mean an end to violence or fear, but it does mean the coming of hope, a bright hope, that can even shine in the darkest of places.  So, let’s pray this Christmas that the message of the Angels might be heard all over the earth and that the light of Christ might shine in Paris and upon all those who live in the shadow of darkness.


Confirmation 2015

Confirmation 2015

Stokenchurch Parish Church was delighted to host a Deanery Confirmation Service on Sunday 18th October.  In total there were twelve candidates for confirmation with four from Stokenchurch (Caroline Chappell, Beth France, Catriona McTavish, and Ethan Tomkinson) and two from Lane End (Chevonne Rennison and Graham Cartwright).

For our part, let us not forget our commitment to pray for those who have been confirmed: Defend, O Lord, these your servants with your heavenly grace, that they may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until they come to your everlasting kingdom. Amen


The Confirmation was led by Rt. Rev. Dr. Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham and was a marvellous celebration of the emerging faith of these new members of the Church of England.

The service had everything – a baptism, confirmations, anointing with oil and communion – and it was followed by a veritable festival of tea and cake.  Can I extend my personal thanks to all those who baked, poured, served and tidied up after our celebrations and to all those who worked so hard before and during the confirmation service.

Battle of Britain Sunday

bobThis year saw the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and many of us were delighted to see flights of Hurricanes and Spitfires in our skies again.  On 18th June 1940, following the surrender of France, Winston Churchill gave a speech pronouncing: “The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin.”   Officially, the Battle of Britain is remembered from July 10th to October 31st with 15th September being recognised as Battle of Britain day.

Having had their peace overtures rejected by Britain, the German strategy was to try and secure air superiority over Britain as a precursor to invasion: Operation Sea Lion.  On 10th July the Luftwaffe began bombing shipping centres on the south coast before switching its targets to RAF airfields and supporting industries and infrastructure.

German confidence was high as so far they had swept all other enemies before them and the Luftwaffe heavily outnumbered the Royal Air Force.  However, the RAF had three key advantages: it was highly organised and brilliantly led by Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding; it had superior radar detection systems; and it had much more effective systems for building planes and training pilots.

The 15th September was a pivotal day in the Battle of Britain.  On this day the Germans sustained their heaviest losses as the RAF successfully repulsed two massive waves of bombers by deploying every aircraft available to them. Two days later, Hitler postponed the invasion of the UK in the face of mounting losses of men and infrastructure.

Fighter Command lost over 1000 fighter aircraft during the Battle and the Luftwaffe nearly 1900. In all 544 aircrew from Fighter Command were killed during the Battle, and a further 791 died before the end of the War.

Some modern historians question the significance of the Battle of Britain pointing out that Germany in 1940 lacked the naval forces to threaten English ports and Hitler’s preoccupation with their eastern neighbours meant he was unlikely to give Britain much military attention.

Where historians agree is that the importance of the Battle of Britain was first and foremost psychological. As the first defeat of Hitler’s military forces in the war, it was an important factor in boosting the morale of the British public and the military themselves.  In 2010, one veteran RAF pilot, Tony Iveson, said “As far as we were concerned we saved the world.”  Certainly Winston Churchill considered the RAF’s role in the war effort as vital, famously declaring: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Britain’s victory in the Battle of Britain meant that the UK was never seriously threatened by Germany.  Operation Sea Lion was delayed twice and eventually postponed indefinitely.  Without securing the British Isles it is hard to imagine how and where Allied forces might have gathered later in the War to begin the liberation of Western Europe, but they did, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Here is the text of the prayer that I used on Battle of Britain Sunday:

Gracious God, we have gathered on this Battle of Britain Sunday to give thanks once more for the liberty which that Battle preserved for us and the world. We remember with gratitude the dedication and heroism of members of the Allied Air Forces. We remember their successors now engaged in many parts of the world and pray that you would watch over them. We pray for the Royal Air Force, that its power and skill may always be used to safeguard justice and peace.

Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and sent into our hearts the Spirit of your Son. Give us the grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that all people may know the glorious liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.



Sunday School

I belong to that generation that likes to make lists.  I have a top five of my favourite films, books, meals and holiday destinations.  So, it was with real pleasure that I received an email from a friend of mine giving me her top five reasons to take children to Sunday School.  Here’s her list:

  1. It gives them eternal hope. At Sunday School we learn about Jesus as our friend and Saviour.
  2. It helps them make sense out of life. Seeing this world as God’s gift and us as his family helps children to know their place in the world and with each other.
  3. It helps them learn right from wrong. Living in a relationship with Jesus teaches us that our choices have moral and spiritual consequences.
  4. It helps them understand temptation.  It’s only through the cross of Jesus that we can understand why some things are bad for us.
  5. It helps them to love others. Knowing that we are loved by God, through Jesus, gives us the freedom to love other people without fear or rejection.

All I would add to her list is that Sunday School is also a lot of fun, and its one of those rare opportunities for adults and children to learn together.

We offer Sunday School classes (or an equivalent) on almost every Sunday of the year.  We all start the service together in church before the children go to their own groups.  They then return at the end of the service.   You can find more details about our Sunday School and Kids for Christ (our older group) on our Sunday School page.

The problem with Immigration

immigration_2201250bImmigration is a topic that divides opinion.  Do we need to keep ‘them’ out?  Or do we need immigration to balance our working economy?

Whatever you think it is certainly a topic that isn’t going to go away.  Every week there are stories of migrants risking their lives to cross to Europe and stories of those trying to buy, hide or force their way into the UK – and these are often tragic stories with people dying at sea, in the air and at our ports.

There are economic and social perspectives on the question of immigration that are regularly rehearsed in our news items – but there is a theological perspective as well.

The Bible reminds us that regardless of the colour of our skin, we all have the same roots: fundamentally, we’re all part of the same human race.  The narrative of Creation, so widely rejected by our society, portrays a picture of man and woman in the image of God with equal dignity before God.  This means no human being is more or less human than another.  Every person is made in God’s image.

If this really is true then it’s not a case of ‘them’ and us…just us.  If we really are one human race then we must be careful not to stereotype and isolate ourselves from others but to organize and engage them in meaningful ways.

If we can do this then we are setting the stage for understanding how the gospel is uniquely able to create unity from apparently irreconcilable diversity.  Think about what we read in the New Testament.  The cultural division between Jews and Gentiles was very deep during the first century – it was very much them and us.

Yet as the story of the church unfolds, we read that Gentiles began believing in Jesus. At first Jewish Christians didn’t know how to respond.  Should they accept even Gentile Christians?  If so, did they need to impose Jewish customs on them?  Though Gentiles were finally accepted into the church, they felt at best like second-class Christians.

Then we read Paul’s words in Ephesians 2v12-22.  Here we see the unique power of the gospel to reunite people from (and, for that matter, within) different ethnic groups. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  In the beginning sin separated man and woman from God and also from each other.  This sin is at the root of ethnic pride and prejudice.  When Jesus died on the cross, he conquered sin, making the way for men and women to be free from it and restored to God.  In so doing, he paved the way for men and women to be reconciled to one another.  Followers of Christ thus have one “Father” as one family in one “household,” with no “dividing wall of hostility” based on ethnic diversity.

This doesn’t mean we should throw open our borders and be a home for every nation, there are still economic and social perspectives that must be considered, but I hope it does, at least, change the language we use when discussing immigration.

The gospel reminds us that when we’re talking about immigrants (legal or illegal), we’re talking about men and women made in the image of God and pursued by the grace of God.  Consequently, followers of Christ with faith in God must see immigrants not as problems to be solved but as people to be loved.

Forgettable Fathers….

ricky-gervais-on-the-simpsons_432x331Father’s Day is a difficult day of the year for many people who go to church.  Not everyone wants to hear the command and admonition to honour and obey their father. It’s not because they are less spiritual, but because their relationships with their father is a painful memory, rather than a happy one.

In our increasingly fractured society we will have some people who don’t even know their dad and we may have dads who abandoned their children. We will also have those whose Father’s were abusive or who continue to make life painful for their offspring. That’s why some people find it hard to attend church on Father’s Day.

It’s a very emotional day for many. They’ll never tell you why they avoided church. They’ll never tell anyone.

Some families have secrets that have been carefully tucked away for no one to ever discover. Remember the story of David and Bathsheba, which was eventually followed by the one son’s rape of his half-sister in 2 Samuel 11-13? Brother Absalom kept it all a secret while harbouring a murderous rage at his father’s inability to protect Tamar or bring to justice her rapist. Eventually he lashed out. Tamar remained a devastated woman for the rest of her days.

There’s every chance that there are Absaloms and Tamars who will turn up to worship on Father’s day – some who try to hide sin and some who try to hide sadness.

Father’s Day is a great and important opportunity to honour fathers. However, it is also an obstacle that some face as they endeavour to live the Christian life today. Many can be grateful for their dads. Others remember only humiliation or intimidation.  In order to Worship properly as a real family we need to remember those whose memories of their fathers are joyful and those with memories they’d rather forget.

Honouring a father who has done dishonourable things can feel impossible. Some people find their emotions getting all stirred up on Father’s Day, and they don’t even know why.

And yet, Father’s Day is the best time to remind us that we can have a relationship with a new Father, even though we might have had a rocky road with our earthly father. It’s a time of hope and healing and fresh starts. On Father’s Day we get to offer some people a relationship with a perfect heavenly Father who does no wrong, whatsoever.  That’s the message we have for people who hurt on Father’s Day.


A new bishop…?

John-praying.jpg.721x561_q100What is a Bishop?

In the Oxford Diocese we are waiting for the appointment of our new Bishop.  Over the last few months several people have asked me who I think should be our next Bishop and so I thought this was the ideal opportunity to reflect on what a Bishop is, in the Church of England.

If you visit another Church, particularly one in another denomination, you could easily be confused about who does what.  Variously, in different churches, the person in leadership is called the minister, priest (not to mention rector and vicar), pastor, elder (and deacon), presbyter or even bishop.  So, what do we mean when we call someone a Bishop?

Bishops in the New Testament

The New Testament has a very simple model of ministry.  If you look at how those in leadership are described in the New Testament there are two main words that are used: presbuteroi and episkopos.

The word presbuteroi (cf. Matthew 15:2, 27:1; 28:12; Luke 9:22; Acts 4:5,8, 14:23,15:2,4,6,22, 16:4; 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5, and Hebrews 11:2) is usually translated as “elder” or “elders” (now, Presbuteroi has sometimes been translated using the Old Testament title of “priest,” however, in the New Testament these are often explicitly distinguished cf. Mark 14:43; Acts 23:14).

The word episkapos (cf. Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7) is variously translated as “episcopal,” “elder,” “overseer,” or “pastor.”

The relationship between these two words is not always certain, but what is clear, is that presbuteroi and episkopos refer to the same office and are therefore synonyms.

The point of this is simply to note that whilst the New Testament does have a hierarchy of ministry between elders and deacons (cf. Acts 6:1-7, 1 Timothy 3:1-13) there is no distinction made between those who hold the office of elder – they are all in oversight of the church, whatever we call them.

Bishops in Church History

The earliest writings of the church fathers also seem to confirm this role of “elders” (bishops) as the teaching leaders who served alongside deacons to oversee the church. Both Clement of Rome (c. 95) and the Didache referred to elders and deacons from the late early first century to the early second century as the church’s leaders.

Over time, additional layers of leadership were added to the church and eventually, the term bishop came to be applied to a regional church leader who administered many churches. At the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, the church leader of each city or area represented his region’s churches and these leaders were referred to as “bishops.”

Bishops Today

The ordinal is clear in its description of the role of the “bishop”.  It says, “it is their duty to share with their fellow presbyters the oversight of the Church.”

Here, both the New Testament foundation and Christian heritage are preserved.  They are, first and foremost, “fellow presbyters” who share “the oversight of the Church”.

What should a bishop be like?

There are some general principles we can draw on to help us to answer this, and, of course, there are two parts of the New Testament that seek to define those called to be elders in the church, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-7.  From these we can deduce that a bishop should be:

  • Mature in the Faith. This is implicit in their work of oversight, and explicit in the sense that it is the goal of every Christian to be “mature” in Christ, and elders are called to set an example in this.
  • A Person of Integrity. This is the central thrust of Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 where the character of the elder is emphasised (they are to be above reproach, clear thinking, self-controlled, well respected, friendly, sober, peace-loving, not greedy, and have a good reputation outside the church).
  • Able to Teach. This is the key difference in the New Testament between those who serve as deacons and those called to be elders.  Elders (whether you call them priests, pastors or bishops) are to be the teachers of the faith.
  • Guardians of the Faith. Paul could not be any clearer about this.  He writes, an elder “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9).  The church is called to be the pillar of God’s truth in the world and the role of the overseer is to keep that pillar standing true and upright.

The Ordinal preserves these characteristics by reminding bishops that they share oversight of the church by “speaking in the name of God and expounding the gospel of salvation.”

And that, “Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles, proclaiming the gospel of God’s kingdom and leading his people in mission.”

An Opportunity to Pray

We are expecting the announcement of our new Diocesan Bishop over the summer.  Between now and then there is an opportunity to pray for the person appointed: that they would share in the oversight of the church; that they would be mature in the faith, a person of integrity, able to teach and a guardian of the faith.

For my part I have also been using the prayer that Cranmer wrote as his Collect for St Peter’s Day.  Perhaps you might want to join me in praying this prayer for our new bishop and for all those called to share in the oversight of the church?

“O ALMIGHTY God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle Saint Peter many excellent gifts, and commandedst him earnestly to feed thy flock: Make, we beseech thee, all Bishops and Pastors diligently to preach thy holy Word, and the people obediently to follow the same, that they may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”