Tuesday, 1 January 2019

The Year of Our Lord 2019

Happy New Year, in the Year of Our Lord’s Grace Two Thousand and Nineteen.

The first Sunday of the New Year is the Feast of the Epiphany, meaning a showing, a manifestation, an uncovering of truth. The Epiphany featured in the Church’s Kalendar as the principle celebration of the Incarnation even before 25th December appeared in the west.

The days of Epiphany focus in particular on three revelations of Christ – the coming of the Magi with their gifts, the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Baptist, and at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. The coming of the Magi draws our attention on 6th January and the Baptism of Jesus on the next Sunday; but it is the third “epiphany” which intrigues me most – the wedding at Cana – not just at the prospect of 120 gallons of water turning into vintage claret, but because of the seemingly simple statement: “the mother of Jesus was there.” (John 2.1).

It’s intriguing partly because St John’s Gospel doesn’t name the mother of Jesus. Indeed, she only appears on one other occasion in that Gospel– at the foot of the cross, again unnamed. In telling the story of the wedding feast, St John the Evangelist, the gospel writer, is making a clear connection between Cana and Calvary. “The mother of Jesus was there.” The glory revealed at the start of Jesus’s ministry, in the first of his signs, was fulfilled on the cross in the triumph of total self-giving love over the terrorism of evil and hatred. 

There are other connections to be made – for example between the water and wine of the wedding feast and the blood and water flowing from the side of the crucified Jesus; understood by the Church as the source of the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Eucharist. Then there is the presence of unspecified disciples at Cana and the unnamed beloved disciple at the foot of the cross – the disciple who took the mother of Jesus, representative of the old covenant people which brought Christ to birth into a new home, creating a new covenant community. 

So as we move through Epiphany towards the end of the celebrations of our Lord’s incarnation, we are directed onwards to our forthcoming corporate pilgrimage through Lent to Holy Week and Easter – the greatest epiphany of them all.

May we continue to live out all our days in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

O God,                                                                                                                                     who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:                    mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith,                                                                may at last behold your glory face to face;                                                                      through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,                               in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The History of All Saints Church

A Review of Alan Blackburn’s Towards the Century and Beyond: The History of All Saints Church, Elland 1949-2017, reproduced with permission from the Anglo-Catholic Historical Society’s Newsletter. The Book remains available from All Saints, or contact us via this Blog.

Towards the Century and Beyond: The History of All Saints Church, Elland 1949-2017 by Alan D. Blackburn 99 pages £12.50 inc. P&P from Mr Alan Blackburn 4 Bryan Road, Elland, West Yorks, HX5 0QZ Cheques to be made out to ‘All Saints, Elland, PCC’

The unusual feature of this detailed parish history is that it begins in 1949. The earlier years are described in ‘earlier works’, and reading this volume makes me want to find them. The Blackburn family has been associated with the church for most of its existence, and the author has lived through the period described in this book. There are many personal reminiscences and first-hand accounts that might have been lost; that is the most valuable aspect of the book. The foundation stone was laid in 1900 by Lord Savile, donor of the land, and opened with a service of Dedication in 1903. It was still incomplete, and the consecration was delayed until 1912 when it was debt-free. A large benefaction from first Rector, Canon E. Winter, made possible great improvements. The result was a truly magnificent building, but it did not become a parish church until 1983 when the Team Parish of Elland was formed, with St Mary’s Parish. The Team Parish was dissolved in 2012, when the ‘team’ consisted of just one stipendiary priest, and a united benefice created.

The book chronicles from a local perspective all the changes and developments to have taken place in the Church of England since 1949. A lot of very local material might appear irrelevant to some but this is real, grass-roots, history and it is extremely interesting to compare what was happening here with the ways in which the same issues were being dealt with elsewhere. Not just pastoral reorganisation but liturgical change, mission initiatives, clergy deployment and more. One thing that comes through is the enthusiasm and commitment of the people in a changing society, and their willingness to rise to a challenge—not least financial.

In the post-war years All Saints’ produced four ordinands: Clifford Green was later to join the Community of the Resurrection, at Mirfield; Morris Maddocks, son of a former Rector (1917 -43) became Bishop of Selby; Francis Chadwick had a long and varied parish ministry; Alan Chesters became Bishop of Blackburn. The influence of All Saints’, Elland, spreads far. A weakness of the book is the lack of photographs, but I am well-aware that these would increase the cost of production. Photos of some significant characters and events would have been good. Some special features of the building that might have been illustrated include the chancel arch with its eight statues of saints, the cloister and Cloister Garth now used for the interment of cremated remains. Also, high above, the Fleche, the maintenance of which has certainly caused some headaches, but it is a very important and distinctive local landmark, making the church unmissable. All Saints’, Elland was strongly influenced by the Oxford Movement from the start. A former Rector wrote in 1949: “...All Saints’ will continue to fulfil the prayer of its founder, Ernest Winter, to be a church wherein the Catholic Faith of the Church of England is fully taught and practised to the Glory of God.” It was—and is! Do add this book to your collection. Stephen Savage

Tuesday, 28 August 2018


It’s the beginning of a new School Year. Please will you remember regularly in your prayers the life and work of Elland Church of England School, our young people, their parents and carers, our Staff and Governing Body, and those partners with whom we work, especially the Local Authority Education Department, and the Leeds Diocesan Board of Education and their staffs. Our best wishes, and thanks for all she gave to the School go to our former Headteacher, Mrs Wendy Holdsworth, as she begins her new role elsewhere. For the time being the School is being looked after by our Interim Head, Mr Chris Wightman, who, with the Staff and Governors is responding to the challenges set by our latest, difficult, OFSTED Inspection Report. The process to appoint a new Headteacher has now begun. Many Schools are finding it difficult to attract candidates, as it has become such a difficult, demanding role. Please pray that the right candidate will come forward.

This Prayer is used to begin meetings of the Governing Body, and you may like to make use of it:

Loving Father, source of all knowledge and truth,

give to all our Staff and Governors wisdom,

strength and compassion in all they undertake.

Remember all in need in our School Community

and grant that all who learn may be open to your transforming power,

for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

This month also marks St Mary’s Patronal Festival Eucharist, at 10am on Sunday 9th September. We honour Mary, Our Lady, for her faithfulness to God’s call, the one who witnessed to, cared for and loved her Son from the warmth of her womb to the stillness of the grave; the one who knew that the Crucified One was Risen, who joined with his Disciples in prayer, and who has gone before us in glory as a pledge of our hope in her Son. Yet what we mustn’t miss in addition is the ordinariness of those hidden years, of sharing her life with the Holy Family in Nazareth. Of these years, Bishop Lindsay Urwin writes,

From the moment of the overshadowing, the second person of the Trinity is present in Mary.

And what does she do? The Virgin Tabernacle continues to cook for Joseph while the bread

of life is forming in her; to sweep the house tidy as the One who would cleanse us from sin

is in foetal form; to go to the well for water, bearing He who would offer living water, to

converse with the other women of the Village while growing the humanity of the One who

is the Word, and, as Luther suggests, ‘milking the cows, washing pots and kettles.’ To meditate on this is to marvel at Mary, yet more to marvel at God’s own willingness to be carried around during these menial tasks! And all in the nowhere town of Nazareth.

May the Blessed Virgin teach us that God finds us in the everyday and the commonplace, if only our eyes are open.

Pax et Bonum – Peace and all Good to you! 

Father David

Friday, 25 May 2018

The View From Here

There is something lovely about climbing up to the top of a hill, and being able to look back down on the route you have just taken. Things can look very different from up there, compared with the view down in the valley. If the day is clear, it can be a good time to pause, to take a good look around, and to be aware of your surroundings.

Those of us who live in Elland live in a Valley; even though we think we are very familiar with the view, the next time you are in Exley, or up at Blackley, Ainley Top, or Elland Edge, then take a moment to look down, and allow the patterns of the view to emerge. There is always something fresh to see.

We have reached the period in the Church’s Year known as Ordinary Time, the season after Trinity. (Ordinary Time means simply the counting time.) If we take a look back at the view, then we can see how we have journeyed over the last few months from Advent, through Christmass and Epiphany, from Ash Wednesday through to Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, the two cycles that focus on the Incarnation of the Lord, and on his Death and Resurrection. These are the saving truths by which we, as Christians, live; these are the saving truths given by God to his creation, even though much of that creation ignores what is really going on.

The view from this point in the year, will take us forward week by week, Sunday by Sunday, to a systematic reading of and reflection upon St Mark’s Gospel. There are few great Festivals to come for a while, with the exception of the occasional Saints day, until we reach All Saints-tide at the beginning of November.

The Gospel of Mark was written to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. In a dramatic and action-packed sequence of events, Mark paints a striking image of Jesus Christ, illustrating who Jesus is as a person. The ministry of Jesus is revealed with vivid detail and the messages of his teaching are presented more through what he did than what he said. The Gospel of Mark reveals Jesus the Servant. Sunday by Sunday, the Church invites us to discover more of this Jesus, and to be fed and strengthened by him for our daily living. That is why it is so important that we are present at the Eucharist each and every Sunday. Only here can we be fed by Jesus who comes to find us, and to show his love for us.

June is often described as a month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Feast of the Sacred Heart, falling this year on Friday 8th June, is an extension of Good Friday, reminding us of just how much God so loved the world. Our God is a God who walks with us, and who finds us in our need.

A Prayer for this Month, in commemoration of the Divine Compassion of Our Lord

Almighty God,
whose Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
was moved with compassion for all who had gone astray
and with indignation for all who had suffered wrong:
inflame our hearts with the burning fire of your love,
that we may seek out the lost,
have mercy on the fallen
and stand fast for truth and righteousness;
through Jesus Christ our LordAmen.

Monday, 30 April 2018

May is Mary's Month

May is Mary’s month, and I

Muse at that and wonder why

Lines from the Poem, The May Magnificat, by the 19th Century Jesuit Priest and Poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. May is traditionally regarded as a Month of Dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church. May 31st is the Feast of the Visitation of Mary, heavy with the Divine Child, to her kinswoman Elizabeth, bearing her Son, and the Lord’s cousin, John the Baptist. It is a scene pregnant with hope and holy joy. Yet perhaps it is the Feast of Pentecost, the divine outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that really helps us to understand that this is a month of divine growth and grace, when we too, with Mary, are invited to say Yes to God.

The Acts of the Apostles gives us a picture of the Disciples gathered together with Mary the Mother of Jesus in the days after the Ascension, ‘constantly devoting themselves to prayer’ (Acts 1.14). It is a picture beautifully illustrated in one of the central Panels of the Great East Window at St Mary’s, with its mixture of medieval and Victorian glass for the disciples. The great events of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost follow on from this devotion to prayer and the common life, a reminder that we should not only expect God to do great things, but also await Him prayerfully.

Those of you who attended the recent Annual Parochial meetings would have been reminded, in the Review of the Year, of so many good things that have happened here. Yet we also needed to be realistic, and to recognise some of the things we are struggling with, not least that they are fewer of us regularly attending worship than we would like there to be. That’s one of the reasons why I have been encouraging us all, over recent months, to continue to pray that the Church in Elland will grow, in faith, in love and service to God and to one another, and in numbers, praying also that our giving will increase, and our financial needs be met. Everything has to begin with prayer; that is a divine lesson that we can truly take to heart, in this, Mary’s Month of May. 

Hopkins concludes his poem

This ecstasy all through mothering earth

Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth

            To remember and exultation

            In God who was her salvation

My thanks to all who hold Office as our Church Wardens and Church Council members, and to those with particular tasks and ministries, following our Parish Annual Meetings.

May the Risen Christ grant us the Gifts of the Spirit, and may Blessed Mary and the Apostles pray for us, to the Lord our God.

Fr David

Friday, 23 March 2018

Easter Fire

The Gospels do not describe the actual moment of Our Lord’s Resurrection. Having buried him in the tomb at the end of Good Friday, they describe instead the discovery of the empty tomb, and the realisation that he is alive, and present among the bewildered group of women and of his disciples. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John leave us with the effect and significance of the Resurrection, rather than the actual event itself.

While we are used to keeping Holy Week, as a series of stations on a journey, from Palm Sunday, to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the early Church, tolerated at best as outsiders, and often persecuted, kept all these together, in what was clearly recognised as the most significant Worship Service of the year, as the night of Holy Saturday gave way to the dawn of Easter Day. Once those other days began to develop their own Liturgies, this great Easter Vigil, the Service of Fire and Water, and of Christ the heart of all creation, remained for much of the Church’s history as the one act of worship from which all others in the year take their meaning. It is now usually celebrated against the background of darkness, either at dawn or at dusk.

(Here in Elland, we will hold our Easter Vigil as darkness falls, beginning in the Cloisters at All Saints at 7pm on Holy Saturday. The Service lasts about 90 minutes, and will be followed by Festive Refreshments. We begin with the new Fire of Easter, before carrying the light into Church, and blessing the Easter Candle. After the Easter Scriptures, the Font is blessed, Baptismal Vows are re-affirmed, and the first Holy Mass of Easter is offered – it will be good to see you there!)

Having journeyed in penitence and prayer through the time of preparation that is the Season of Lent, the whole of the month of April falls in Eastertide. Our Sunday Gospels focus first of all on the Resurrection appearances of Jesus, as we, together with the Disciples, hear the voice of the one who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Following Good Shepherd Sunday, the Gospel readings then begin to prepare us for our Lord’s Ascension, and the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

It is dangerous to play with fire, but the fire of divine love that is the risen and ascended Lord remains present in his Church, and invites us to walk afresh with him this Eastertide. One of my favourite Easter Poems is Alice Meynell’s ‘Easter Night,’ which captures something of that world-changing first Holy Saturday:

All night had shout of men
And cry of woeful women filled his way;
Until that noon of sombre sky
On Friday, clamour and display smote him;
No solitude had He,
No silence, since Gethsemane.

Public was death;
But power, but Might,
But life again, but Victory,
Were hushed within the dead of night,
The shuttered dark, the secrecy.
And all alone, alone, alone,
He rose again behind the stone

May the Risen Christ grant us the joy of the resurrection life.

Fr David

Saturday, 24 February 2018


If you take a long look at the Crucifixion Panel in the midst of the great East Window at St Mary’s, you will notice something that, at first, may seem rather curious. A similar arrangement is also visible on the 12th Station of the Cross in All Saints, marking the Death of Jesus. At the foot of the Cross in St Mary’s is a skull, which in All Saints becomes a little pile of bones, and a hill. There are also versions elsewhere that include a pair of broken doors, and sometimes two tiny figures.

When we proclaim the Church’s faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, which we use on most Sundays in the year, we say of Christ, ‘he suffered death, and was buried.’ The Apostles Creed, used at Baptisms, at Evensong and in Eastertide, is a little more explicit, ‘He descended to the dead’, or, He descended into hell’, depending on which version is in use. The early Church knew well the story of the ‘Harrowing (or emptying), of Hell’, which is also referred to in 1 Peter 3.19-20, of Christ preaching to the spirits in prison. By his Death and Resurrection, Christ triumphs over the very depths of evil, and, carrying his glorious Cross, leads us all, in the persons of Adam and Eve, our first parents, to new life. In the imagery of this scene, it is the doors of hell that are broken open, and the dry bones that live again. Christ was crucified in the very place where was the Garden of Eden; that which was lost, is now found and restored.

The Harrowing of Hell shows that there is no part of human experience or existence, that Christ has not shared, and that his saving death and resurrection does not reach. While our contemporary culture may like to think a belief in hell to is, at best, a little old-fashioned, we only have to meditate briefly on the horrors of the last hundred years or so, from the Holocaust to the slaughter of Christian Children in the Middle East, to the damage done to our fragile Planet, to see that hell and evil are very real, and among us. Yet in the words of a Sermon of St John Chrysostom, which is read at our Easter Vigil,

Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and came face to face with heaven. O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?

Images of the Harrowing of Hell remind us that the Cross is empty, that death doesn’t have the last word, and that we need not fear dying. Adam and Eve are forgiven, and so are we, if we are ready.  

May our spiritual journey through Lent to this coming Holy Week lead us from death to life.

Per Crucem (through the Cross)

Fr David

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The Sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

-RS Thomas