Things pertaining to Advent

Here’s a whole load of stuff for Advent, gathered in one place for your convenience!
Enjoy, and help yourself to anything you think might be useful.

Advent Wreath Song
to the tune ‘Father we place into your hands’

Mothers and fathers of the faith, who lived in times of old,
Leaders and judges, kings and queens were faithful, true and bold,
Travelers, heroes, shepherds, all with stories to be told:
Still they show us how to follow you.

Prophets and seers who spoke the truth in answer to your call,
finding new ways to bring your word to people great and small,
living their lives to show your love was meant for one and all,
still they show us how to follow you.

John, in the desert calling out, ‘The Kingdom has come near.’
‘Come and repent, and be baptised, there’s nothing then to fear.’
‘Jesus is coming now, the One you’re waiting for is here.’
Still he shows us how to follow you.

Mother of Jesus, angels called her favoured, full of grace,
Holding the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, in her embrace,
She is the one whose ‘yes’ helped God to save the human race,
still she shows us how to follow you.

And this last verse, for Christmas day, is by my friend and colleague Gill Robertson:

Jesus our Saviour, born a king, we welcome you today,
Lord of all time, Immanuel, with joyful hearts we say:
You are the Christ who came to earth for us; and now we pray,
Help us all to daily follow you.


This next song was intended to make a link between the ‘Jesse Tree’ / Salvation History pathway through advent, and the Advent Sunday theme of keeping alert and being ready.
Tune: Sing hosanna

There’s a story to tell of creation,
And the patriarchs’ faith of old,
There are stories of prophets and sages,
We’ll repeat them ‘til the world’s been told:

Sing together! sing together!
Sing to welcome in the King of Kings.
Sing together! Sing together!
Sing to welcome in the King.

There are stories of sin and forgiveness,
Of a Kingdom of truth and love.
Of a girl who gave birth to a baby,
To fulfil God’s promise from above:

As God’s people prepare for his coming,
And remember those days long gone,
Our own stories are yet to be written,
As we live to make God’s kingdom come:

We will patiently wait for the morning,
Through the night we will watch and pray,
As we look for the light that is dawning,
We’ll be ready at the break of day:


Advent Hymn
Tune: Picardy

Longing for a hope-filled morning,
Kingdom of the Son, draw near!
Waiting for the day soon dawning,
Light of love that casts out fear.
Dayspring, come from heav’n, in lowly birth,
Come to warm this cold, dark earth.

Sorrow through the world is sweeping,
Bitter conflict rages still,
Heaven hears its children weeping:
cost of humankind’s freewill.
Come, O Price* of Peace, in lowly birth,
Come to mend this broken earth.

Pattern of the world’s salvation,
God and human side by side.
Colour, language, creed or nation,
No more should the world divide:
Come, Emmanuel, in lowly birth,
Show how heav’n embraces earth.

*This word started off as a typo, but I quite like it, as it echoes the ‘cost’ of the previous line…  If you use the hymn, you can choose whether to use Price or Prince🙂  And thank you to the lovely Uptonpc for suggesting that Price could stay as an option!


Some pictures to go with the ‘O’ antiphons:


Liturgical objections

Some people may not agree with everything in this post. Normally I just post useful resources, but this actually has some questions and possibly contentious things in it. I took the post down yesterday, as it might have been contravening my rule of life.* But I’ve re-written it now, so it’s hopefully nicer, and has benefitted from the many insights that others have shared with me. 

It was a great blessing to be at the consecration of the new bishops of Dorking and Repton. It was the first time I’d been to the consecration of a woman (in this case two). That meant it was also the first time that I’d heard ‘live’ the objector, who has sought to make his views known on each occasion that a woman has been consecrated (he hasn’t always been allowed to do so, mind). You can read the press release issued by WATCH about this issue here. And I recommend that you do before reading further. You can also read Archdruid Eileen’s response here.

I echo everything that the WATCH article says. As an ordained woman, it pains me to have the vocation of my fellow female clergy publicly called into question, and the liturgical and sacramental offering of that vocation disrupted with a ‘No’ that feels like a gut punch.  It could possibly be argued that the objection is a reminder of the reality of the church’s brokenness – something often said about the fact that Anglicans and Catholics are unable to share in communion. It could be interpreted as a reminder that the church is not the kingdom of heaven – things have changed, but they are not yet fully transformed. But this isn’t enough of a reason to keep perpetuating it.

I would be very happy indeed never to hear another objection.  The consecration service for male bishops proceeds perfectly happily without it, as do the ordination services for deacons and priests.  The objector has been heard, the church has made up its mind, and it is time simply to move on and celebrate the vocation of women and men to all expressions of ordained ministry.

But, in becoming part of the liturgy, as the WATCH article says, the objection has caused a curious thing to happen.  This is a summary of the ‘script’ at that point in the service:

The Archbisop asks for the people’s assent
The People assent
The Objector objects
[and, at the most recent service, the Resistor resists the objection]
The Archbishop responds
The Archbishop asks for the people’s assent again
The People respond, more loudly.

Without the objection there would be no response from the Archbishop, and no second affirmation.  And I think I might actually miss those.

First, the response. For a start, ++Justin’s response at Canterbury Cathedral was rooted in and framed by prayer (and I am grateful to my friend and colleague Julie for reminding me of that).  And, from memory the main thrust of it, in addition to prayerfulness, was (a) the story of how the church came to recognise the vocation of women to the episcopate, and (b) the legal provision for the consecration’s validity. These two aspects of the response are both about mandate and authority, but they function differently.  The latter is a statement of what is, factually, the case, while the former is rather more than that: it’s a narrative, a story, if you like, as to how we came to be where we are. It reminded me of those places in the Hebrew Bible in which the People of God are helped to remember how they got to be where they are.  They remember their stories. Because the stories tell them who they are – it’s not just the events themselves that were formative, but the telling and retelling of the story is also formative. Liturgy is a key custodian of the story that gives us our ecclesial identity.

So, a question: once the objector finally stops disrupting consecration services, will there still be a need to tell this story or will we have reached a stage when it is no longer needed, or when it does more harm than good? I’m looking here to my friends and colleagues who are more well versed in liberation theology to help me out here, and I’m grateful to Rosemary, another priest-friend, for reminding me that in liberation theology the story of oppression only works to liberate if it is told by those who are themselves oppressed.   A genuine objection is quite different from a scripted question placed into the liturgy as a deliberate part of the controlling narrative.  Although we may enjoy the response, the objection itself is still an act of oppression, and as such, has no place in the church.  The question remains, though: without the objection, is there still value in retelling the story of how we changed?

Then there is the second affirmation. I have to confess I was looking forward to that bit, and it was every bit as rousing, joyful and sincere as I had hoped. By the time we got to that second affirmation, it felt like something that we are bursting to shout aloud.  Without the objection, could we find a way to make the first and only ‘yes!’ (for all consecration and indeed ordination services) just as affirmative as that second ‘yes’?  Without the objection, would we need to? Many clergy do in fact repeat the congregational question at weddings if the gathered people are not enthusiastic enough with their ‘We will’ – is this something we would want to see at a consecration or ordination service? One would certainly need to find ways of doing it that increased the joy and sense of agency in the response, rather than descending into pantomime – this has been proved possible at weddings, but could it work at a consecration?

My conclusion, if I have one, is that the objection unwitttingly provoked something it never intended. It triggers the retelling of a story of transformation (while reminding us that that process of transformation, while representing the vast majority of the church, is not yet fully embraced by the whole church). And it galvanizes the gathered people into raised voices and heightened passions.  My final question is whether these responses to the objection are in themselves sufficiently powerful and valuable that they might, in some form, have a place in the liturgy even after the objector has stopped turning up (as I hope he will, and soon).

I would be happy never to hear the objection again.  An undisrupted liturgy of consecration (whether that’s because the York Minster police have escorted the objector out before he can say a word, or because he has eventually stopped turning up) is probably the most powerful testimony to a church that has truly transformed, that has grown into its decision and is at ease with its new equality and its mandate to defend that equality.

At the same time I long for a church (and a world, for that matter) in which all our remaining inequalities and injustices are a distant memory, and in which we have both learned to disagree well and have come closer to the diversity-in-unity of the kingdom of heaven. But we are not there yet. We have many remaining inequalities in the church.  If we need to retell the story of women and the episcopacy, it may be as a reminder of the fact that we can change.  Our current experience also provides us with a range of models for the way that we might deal with those who feel threatened by that change, and how our responses to objection may evolve over time.

If – no, let’s say when – the Church of England embraces equal marriage, we may be faced with a similar situation, in which objectors disrupt what should be a joyful and celebratory liturgy.  How will our experience of the consecration of women as bishops inform the way that we handle this pastorally, practically and liturgically?   We may conclude that, there being no legal or theological grounds for such objections, the only response that would have any integrity would be for the churchwardens to escort the objector from the building as soon as he or she spoke up (or as soon as it had been ascertained that they weren’t objecting on genuine legal grounds – the marriage service and the calling of banns allows for this, of course).  Could the service then simply carry on, as if nothing had happened, or would there be an emotional and pastoral need to respond to such objection with a narrative of transformation, with prayer, and/or with the opportunity for congregational affirmation? And would we consider slightly rearranging the order of the elements of the marriage service so that if objections arise the liturgy itself is ‘ready’ for them, and has its own answer?

As ever, I’m left with more questions than answers. I think I can now repost this without transgressing the relevant bit of my rule of life (which, in case you’re interested, is that “nothing I say can cause more hurt than healing”) but if there are things that you feel contravene this principle, please do tell me, and I will totally do something about that.  Even if you disagree, please keep comments constructive and helpful. My blog is generally a happy place! 

And another one…

I found this versified ‘Prayer of Humble Access’ on my computer, half finished, with no recollection of having started to write it.  Now I’ve finished it, I can’t actually imagine a situation in which it would be preferable to sing this than to say the standard version of the prayer, but there you go. 

We come to this, your table, Lord,
Not certain of our rights,
But trusting that your mercy finds
us worthy in your sight.

We would not dare to eat the crumbs
That from your table fall,
But for your invitation which
Extends to one and all.

For you, Lord, are a God of love,
Your mercy never ends.
Your grace has brought us here today,
And now you call us friends.

In bread may we receive Christ’s flesh,
To clean our bodies through,
And in his life-blood wash ourselves
to be remade anew.

Lord, grant us grace to seek your face,
and come and dwell with you,
And dwell in us, that we may find our-
selves more Christ-like too.

Making the most of your church wedding


Very excitingly, the preview copies of my new book have arrived, just in time for Christmas!  The book is for wedding couples (or rather, for churches to give to wedding couples) and unpacks the words and actions of the marriage service as a way of preparing for the wedding itself, and for life beyond, exploring questions about life, family, God, relationships, commitment, church and much more!  You can buy it from SPCK, Amazon, Eden and pretty much everywhere from January. A great big thank you to everyone at SPCK for making it look so cool and for wanting to publish it in the first place!