Ordination Explored – Episcopal edition

Have you ever taken a small child to an ordination? It’s really important for children who have a significant adult being ordained to be able to take part and support that person at such a joyful and significant moment. It’s also really important to affirm that children are full members of the body of Christ- especially as we celebrate the way that God calls each of his people to ministries of different kinds.

But ordination services can be long, and while there’s lots going on, it may not feel very accessible to children.  The original ‘ordination explored’ resources were compiled to help children engage with the event. You can download them all here:


We are now very excited to launch a revised ‘ordination explored – episcopal edition’ booklet designed for children who are attending the consecration of a bishop! You can download it here – make sure you print your copy before you set off if you’re heading to an episcopal consecration with children in tow.

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:


Which tune?

I wrote a hymn a couple of months ago, to the tune ‘King’s Lynn’ (aka O God of earth and altar), and it turned out that quite a lot of people didn’t know the tune, and asked if it would go to anything else. The simple answer was, it can go to most 7676D* tunes.

(*If you’ve never known what those numbers and letter mean, they’re a shorthand description for the metre, in this case, it means that the first line is 7 syllables long, the next one is 6 syllables, etc, and the D stands for ‘double’, meaning that it’s an 8 line hymn in which the metre is the same in the second half as in the first half. Clear as mud. What it doesn’t tell you is that my particular words have an upbeat (technically known as an anacrusis) which means that the accent falls on the second syllable rather than the first – in the trade, this is known as ‘iambic’. So the full description would be 7676D iambic. )

Another complication is that you can sometimes ‘fudge’ it so that a metre that technically has the wrong number of syllables can be used, by the judicious use of slurs and by splitting longer notes into two.  Consider the last line of Londonderry air (O Danny Boy), which has 12 notes, of which three are usually slurred together – there is nothing to stop a hymnwriter removing that slur, and having a 12 syllable line instead of the usual 10. Consider also the very popular tune ‘slane’ (Lord of all hopefulness), of which the second line has a two-note upbeat, which is generally slurred – there is nothing to stop two very short syllables being used instead, as long as a congregation will be able to intuit that this is what’s going on at a first read-through.

But even if you find a tune for which the metre fits perfectly, will it have the right mood / vibe?  Take ‘O Jesus I have promised’ as an example. It’s also 7676D iambic, and there are at least three tunes that are commonly used, each with their own personality. Two of those tunes would be fine for the hymn I wrote, and one would definitely not be, because it’s way to ‘bouncy’ and would jar horribly with the mood of the words.

My hymn was used in a broadcast act of worship a couple of weeks after it was written, and the producer used my nominated tune, King’s Lynn.  But it’s about to be used in another broadcast, and this time the producer has gone with a different tune: Corvedale. As it happens it’s actually originally written for 8686D words, with a two-syllable up-beat – the addition of a slur at the start of each line means it fits my words really well in terms of metre. Corvedale is a triple time tune, so is instantly less foursquare, and as a major key tune (though with some lovely harmonies) it immediately feels more positive. What does this do to the words, and how we hear them?  Under what circumstances might one prefer King’s Lynn? And when might Corvedale fit the bill?

A final factor to consider is whether the tune itself has cultural resonances that add something to the way we experience the words.  Consider Richard Bewes’ metrical setting of God is our strength and refuge, which he set to the tune ‘Dambusters’ from the popular war film.  This, I think, leads those who know the hymn to see that psalm in a particular light, casting the ‘refuge’ and ‘strength’ as a strongly defended castle, possibly surrounded by an army, rather than as something more peaceful and even homely.  The tune can hugely affect how we hear the words. Consider also what it means to write a set of words to, say, ‘Thaxted’ (usually sung to the words, I vow to thee my country’) – that may well also affect how we experience the lyrics, and may also limit what sort of words are deemed appropriate for that particular tune. What feelings are evoked by tunes usually used in Christmas carols? Or for hymns often used at funerals?  Are those resonances helpful, or do they conflict with what the new lyrics are trying to do?  I found G K Chesterton’s words, O God of earth and altar, very powerful, and the tune King’s Lynn will always have GKC’s words somewhere in it for me – I was glad to borrow that frame of reference for my own words.

As it happens, there’s a third tune now being used for my own hymn, and it’s in a completely different idiom – mostly I write to well known traditional hymn tunes, and this new tune is a specially written one, by @mrwiblog in the style of a more modern worship song. And I really love it – it has energy, and the right balance of hope and emotion. You can listen to it here.

The lovely @artsyhonker also wrote another tune for some of my words – as a lyrics-writer there’s no greater honour than to have a composer write a tune specially, so a huge thank you to Kathryn, and to Chris.

Things to do during a baptism service

Some easy ideas for churches to try if they’re not sure what to do with all the kids in a baptism service.

  • Treasure hunt
    Give children a photo sheet of key places in the church that feature in the baptism service (ewer, font, candle, oil stock, shell, hands applauding, hymn book (or organ/piano/band) etc in roughly the order that they occur, and ask the children to keep watching to spot each one as it happens
  • Doodles
    Give all the children pencils, and ask them to doodle on their service sheet all the way through the service – encourage them to draw what they see, hear and feel.  You can ask them to focus on what they think are the best bits or the most important bits – and try and pick out some words that sound really important, and illustrate those.
  • Involve children in the liturgy as much as you can (lighting the paschal candle, carrying the water jug to the font, pouring the water into the font, holding the shell and the towel (if you use them), holding your service sheet while you say the prayer over the water etc).
  • Use movement if you can – start the service at the front of the
    church and move to the font for the baptism, and make sure the children get a really great view. Use big gestures, lots of oil, lots of water… make the service feel as multisensory and generous as you can.
  • If there are older siblings who are already baptised, encourage them to bring their own baptism candle and have it re-lit at the service.
  • Why not get the whole congregation to contribute towards something during the service? Perhaps hand out pens and small pieces of coloured paper to everyone and ask them to write a simple blessing on it. These could be collected (by the children) and stuck into a small scrapbook (the children might like to do the sticking) and presented to the family (rather like some families do at funerals to keep a record of who came and their messages of condolence!) or could be used to make a tag cloud after the service that you can send to the family for them to keep and share on social media.
  • Use all-age welcomers at baptism services – could a family from the regular congregation be there at the door to greet families and their guests? This would be a reassuring sign that the church is child-friendly, and that they are welcome as they are, and can enable baptism families who don’t usually come to church to get to know families who come regularly. Children who act as welcomers
    can also help with other aspects of the service, such as leading prayers, doing readings, etc.
  • Make sure people have something to take away – a prayer card, or some object to remind them of the experience and any pledges they may have made, etc. I know one priest who buys up baby socks from
    charity shops, uses them during the talk as a visual aid, and then gives everyone one to take home at the end as a reminder.
  • If you had a big banner-shaped piece of paper/card, you could write the baptism candidate’s name on it in big outline letters for the children to decorate (you could also write it, ‘St X’s Church welcomes N’)
  • Ask the children’s groups, if you have them, to make a dove-shaped card with words of blessing (suggested by the children) on one side, and ‘God says, N, you are my child, I love you, and I am pleased with you’ on the other side, adding the name of the baptism candidate. The children can decorate the dove using coloured pens, and present it to the family at the welcome.
  • If you are using the reading about the baptism of Jesus, why not print out enough stickers for each member of the congregation with a dove outline bearing the words, ‘God says, you are my child, I love you and I am pleased with you’ then get the children to take the stickers round and stick one to each person – you could link this to a talk about how the love of God comes first, and then we live it out (and that this can be true for each of us, every day, not just for people at the start of their life).
  • Parents may also appreciate something their children can do ‘in the pew’ with them.  To that end, here are two downloadable booklets that you may wish to use – they can be photocopied and given out to children along with a pack of crayons.Baptism Colouring Book
    Download it as a .pdf document here: Baptism colouring book
    This is something that younger children can do on their own, and uses colouring pictures to illustrate the baptism service – in our church we use the same images (smaller) to illustrate our order of service so that even if parents aren’t that great at engaging their children with the service, at least they can match up what they’re doing with what they’re children are doing…
    Print this out 2 pages per sheet, in the order 12,1,2,11,10,3,4,9,8,5,6,7 then copy it back to back to make a booklet.  Or you may have a clever printer that will do booklets for you!

    Baptism activity workbook for children
    Download it as a pdf here:  Baptism workbook
    This is based on the same illustrations as the colouring book, but has more questions, and is either for older children to do on their own or for younger children whose parents are willing to engage with them.  My 6-year-old is a good reader and can do it on his own, but I’d be interested to hear about how you end up using it in your own church, and what age group finds it most helpful.
    It is for use during or just before a baptism service:
    Print this out 2 pages per sheet, in the order 12,1,2,11,10,3,4,9,8,5,6,7 then copy it back to back to make a booklet.  Or your printer may have a clever printer that will do booklets for you!

  • Some of these ideas – and a few others, too – are archived here. Or you can search for ‘baptism’ on this website to find all related posts.

Trinity Sunday 2015

For a service of Choral Matins at St Mark’s Episcopal Church, Upper Arlington, Columbus, Ohio, USA.

Sometimes we can’t see something clearly because it is too small, but there are times when we can’t see something clearly because it is too big – like standing at the foot of a mountain and being unable to see to the top, but nevertheless being overwhelmed by the vastness of it. We may know in our minds, having read up on it, exactly how high the mountain is, how many people have climbed it, where it lies in the list of the world’s highest or most difficult peaks, or any other random facts. But standing there at the foot, and looking up, somehow the facts and figures will fail to explain away what we see – and the awareness that we are only seeing one view of something impossibly vast, impossibly ancient. The facts and figures can’t capture the awe, and the wonder.

Most of the year in church, it’s as if we are invited to follow particular paths up the mountainside, to stop along the way and turn over a few small stones, in terms of our understanding of God. Today, we are invited to stand at the foot of the mountain and try and drink in the whole thing. We’re invited to try this, annually, at least partly to reassure ourselves that we can’t.

Trinity Sunday is the day in the year when we remind ourselves that we cannot grasp God fully. That God is God, and we are us, and there’s an issue with scale and perception and language and sheer weakness of the human mind and soul that means we can look and feel awe and know that we’re not really getting it. I find this immensely reassuring. Because the moment we think we can get it, we can guarantee that what we are getting is not, in fact, it.  The doctrine of the Trinity is supposed to be just a little bit mysterious, because it reminds us that God cannot be packaged into a neat box and be fully understood. That is to reduce God to something manageable – and ‘manageable’ doesn’t quite seem adequate as a description!

In our reading from John, this is captured wonderfully by the idea of light coming into darkness. In our translation, the darkness did not overcome it – in others, the darkness did not comprehend it. When I was learning Greek at seminary, it was suggested that the English word that best gathered together the Greek’s dual meaning of ‘understand’ and ‘overpower’ was ‘grasp’.  The light came into the darkness, and the darkness couldn’t grasp it. Or, more colloquially, the darkness didn’t really get it.

And that’s why I’m not going to be talking about ice, water and steam, shamrock leaves, or any of the other wonderful and equally heretical images that the Christian tradition has come up with over the centuries to get through the mental block of the one in three and three in one thing.  Useful though they are, they can be a bit of a red herring.

Happily, this is where matins comes in.  Matins is full of the Trinity, in fact, what we call the ‘Doxology’ appears four times in this service today, by my reckoning: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.  ‘Doxology’ – another Greek word – simply means ‘words of glory’ – is a technical term for praise, and we use it for this particular formula of praise to the Trinity, capturing both the three in one and one in three, and the concept of eternity, in just a couple of verses.

It appears in the opening set of versicles and responses, and at the end of the psalm, and most of the canticle options. It keeps coming back, like a refrain, and the implication is that whatever you’ve just said, it’s going to be right and appropriate to finish by singing praise to the eternal Trinity. This can sometimes be jarring – Matins in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer doesn’t change much depending on the time of year, and the monthly cycle of psalms in it simply runs through them in order. So on certain days of the month you can easily have one of the more violent psalms, or one of the most profound laments and cries for mercy, and still be asked to sing ‘Glory be… ‘ straight afterwards.

This is also  something I find reassuring. Yes, it may jar. But it’s a way of saying, God is still God, even when I’m having a bad day, or a bad year. God is still God, even when I hate the people who are giving me a hard time, even when everything is collapsing around me. God is still God even when all I can do is fall on my knees and cry for help, begging for mercy.

Because who God is doesn’t depend on how we are each feeling at any given moment. God is God, and God is glorious and worthy of our praise and worship, every moment of every day. Actually, it is precisely because God does not depend on our feel-good factor to be praiseworthy that we can, in fact, fall on our knees before him asking for mercy.

As the doxology reminds us that God is God, and that we mustn’t remake him in our own image, it also reminds us that instead, we must be continually remade in his image – an image in which  variety, difference, mutual love, creativity, sacrifice, blessing and unity are the hallmarks not just of individuals but of churches, maybe even, in God’s ultimate purposes, of the whole of the human race. This is what the doxology looks like in real life.

Doxology, praise, worship – this is a kind of theology. It’s a kind of theology that lets God be God, and that lets us be us, that invites us to be drawn into the life of the Trinity that is all about love, and difference, and self-giving, and creative enjoyment of one another.  It’s a sort of theology that allows us to say something to God and about God without getting stuck on one metaphor, image, or analogy or another.

That’s why it’s so apt that the very Trinitarian formula that we use to praise God in his vastness and greatness is also an expression of all the ways that that mystery has been made known to us – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are our experience of God through history and in our own lives. The very doxology that reminds us to let God be God also reminds us of all the ways that God always has been, is now, and always will be intimately concerned with his creation.  We know what it is to be a child of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, sharing our humanity, and we know what it is to have God within us, and breathing life into us, into the church, and into the whole universe.

It’s easy to see a whole mountain from a long distance away – part of the reason that we can’t grasp God easily is not that he is too distant, but that he is so very close, so very ‘everywhere’ and so very present, so constantly revealing himself to us in wonderful and awesome ways. The very expression of the doxology is a reminder that we experience the mystery of God not as something difficult and far away but as something nearer to us than we are to ourselves.

That’s why we’ll never really grasp it. How can we grasp the one who is already grasping us? How can we seek the one who has already found us?  How can our faith be anything other than a response to God’s faithfulness? How can our understanding ever be other than a response to the fact that we have already been understood?  How can we worship God if he has not first opened our lips and given us a voice to sing his praise?