It was to happen in the Ffennells’ rose garden, but it was not to be! The first rain in almost a month sent us scurrying into the church for our annual ecumenical service for the Catholics and the Anglicans in Itchen Valley. About 54 people attended altogether and I think we all made each other welcome! It was a double welcome really – the Anglicans welcoming the Catholics to St Swithun’s and the Catholics welcoming the Anglicans to a Catholic Mass on the eve of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the few Catholic days that the Anglican church does not celebrate.
Canon Paul Townsend led the service and I read the gospel and was given the immense honour of preaching (see below).
Thank you so much to all those who organised the evening – particularly Juliet Burnand and Lucinda Ffennell and helped with parking etc – particularly navigating the complications of a competing whist drive at the village hall! Thank you also to all those who cooked the totally delicious canapes – and to the delightful Captain Hook (aka Geoffrey Burnand) who was the third person dispensing wine during the course of the evening. As one person said: seeing Juliet (representing the Catholics) and Simon Ffennell (representing the Anglicans) walk up the aisle together to act as Eucharistic Assistants was very moving.
Thank you also to Canon Paul for his particular prayer for Canon David Williams in respect of his appointment today as Bishop of Basingstoke.
A great example of what we can do together in the Valley!
Revd Alex Pease
1 John 4:7-12
Tomorrow is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which is celebrated throughout the Catholic world. It’s not a feast which Anglicans celebrate, but we would certainly support the underlying idea. Because it is on this occasion that Catholics have an opportunity to reflect on the love that is central to Jesus’ being.
In verse 8 of 1 John 4 are the wonderful words ‘God is love’
But what does ‘love’ mean?
CS Lewis the great Christian writer identifies four uses of the word ‘love’ in Ancient Greek literature and in the New Testament. In his book ‘the Four Loves’ he speaks of Affection (in Ancient Greek ‘storge’; Friendship or in Greek ‘Philia’; Sexual love or ‘Eros’ – the state of being ‘in love’, and finally, but most importantly, ‘Agape’, trivialised I think by the modern English connotation of the word ‘charity’. Agape is the love that is God.
But what is ‘agape’? Agape is the love that Jesus has shown us – the love of his sacred heart. It is self-sacrificial love: Loving us, the un-loveable; loving us, out of grace; loving us, when we don’t deserve it; loving us, when it’s not fair; loving us, when we have rejected him; loving us, when we have sinned against him.
And as John writes in verse 11 ‘since God so loved us, we ought to love one another’. We should love one another in the same way that he loves us – self-sacrificially. Loving others, the way that Jesus loves us.
This is the uniquely Christian contribution to the idea of love. The way that we should be with baptised Christians of other denominations; the way we should be with our husbands and wives and our neighbours. We are called to love others self sacrificially, in the way that Jesus loves us.
Loving in this way is uncomfortable and disconcerting. It exposes us to things we don’t want to do; maybe things which make us uncomfortable, when we may think we have better things to do with our time – when we want to spend our time working or in recreation. It involves co-operating with people with whom we don’t agree. It always involves getting our hands dirty in the less attractive aspects of life.
Agape love involves focusing on the other, not on ourselves. This focus on others near and far is what theologians call ‘mission’.
And it is something we Christians – we Catholics and we Anglicans can do together.
It is a huge privilege to be invited to this Catholic mass and to preach at it.
Of course, because of our history, there are always going to be differences between us in our approach to theology and to liturgy; but disagreeing on these things is OK, isn’t it? It should not stop us from working together with the love that Jesus showed us and which he calls on all of us, Catholics and Anglicans, to show to our neighbours in the Valley and beyond.
And indeed we are doing wonderful things together already in the Valley. Many of the Catholics in the community are involved in CAMEO and Pastoral Visiting for example. That’s mission.
In Winchester, the friendship between Father Paul and Revd David Williams of Christ Church has resulted in incredible mission projects there – I went to the commissioning service of the Street Pastors only a few weeks ago – amazing – the cooperation of every church in Winchester from Pentecostals all the way through Anglicans to Catholics. I am sure that God delights (and will bless) this unity of purpose.
But there is more that we can do together in the Valley.
There is no church which cares more about the family than the Catholic Church – it would be wonderful to co-operate here on helping the families in our valley cope with parenting and to strengthen their marriages through the Parenting and Marriage Courses. When Lucy and I ran the Marriage Course in Cheriton, we found we had more couples attending from St Gregory’s than any of the Anglican churches in the Benefice! We will be starting those courses again next year – and we need your help! Please send families to us also as guests – or come yourselves!
But there are also projects focusing further afield that we could work together on – I have an idea (which I want to roll out on Remembrance Sunday) about how we might offer career mentoring to service men and women as they leave the services. We could perhaps do something similar for prisoners leaving Winchester prison. There are the Street Pastors – I am sure they need more people, as does the Homeless Shelter, the Food Bank and I am sure the church credit union (when it finally comes to Winchester to break the power of the pay day lenders) will need our expert help also.
If you feel your heart stirred by any of these ideas – please speak to me or Father Paul after the service. It could mean that God is speaking to you.
As some of us revere the Sacred Heart tomorrow, let us all respond as we enjoy the Agape love of Jesus, and pass on that love to others.