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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 15

14 July, 2013

I am still savouring the memories of this year's Patronal Festival. What a wonderful day it was. If you've not yet seen the photos we've posted on Facebook, you might like to take a look. Several people have said to me since: "wouldn't it be great if the church was as full as that every week." Therein lies a challenge for us all: your Vicar, your Vestry and indeed the whole parish community. And this will be the main focus of our strategic planning for the next two years: Catholic Evangelism. I am currently reading Bishop Stephen Cottrell's book From the Abundance of the Heart: Catholic Evangelism for All Christians (2006). In the introduction Bishop Stephen asks an important preliminary question: "what is our motivation for evangelism?" He writes (p. xiv): "if our motivation for evangelism is filling the pews or paying the bills we will not get very far. This kind of desperation will be spotted easily by those we might target. If it is spiritual truth they are after they will know to look elsewhere." There is a basic premise here that needs to undergird all our thinking and planning. The bishop sums it up well in the opening of his first chapter (p. 3):

For nearly ten years much of my ministry was involved in helping churches engage with the ministry of evangelism. On many occasions I would go to a church to talk about evangelism and sit down with their [Vestry] or another group within the parish, and after about ten minutes I would shut up about evangelism and start talking about prayer instead. To put it bluntly: you can't give what you haven't got. How stupid of us to think that we could ever be effective in evangelism unless it arose from an authentic and lived spirituality.

This starting point is profoundly catholic. From the earliest days of the Tractarian movement, prayer was seen as a cornerstone of renewal. John Keble's collection of prayers The Christian Year (1857) was hugely popular in Victorian England, selling over 375,000 copies and being published in no less than 158 different editions. In his essay "Tractarian Aesthetics and the Romantic Tradition," Gregory Goodwin claims that The Christian Year is "Keble's greatest contribution to the Oxford Movement and to English literature." The opening poem makes clear the place of prayer in Keble's vision:

... Prayer is the secret, to myself I said,
Strong supplication must call down the charm,
And thus with untuned heart I feebly prayed,
Knocking at Heaven's gate with earth-palsied arm.

... Oh, happiest who before thine altar wait,
With pure hands ever holding up on high
The guiding Star of all who seek Thy gate,
The undying lamp of heavenly Poesy.

... I dare not hope with David's harp to chase
The evil spirit from the troubled breast;
Enough for me if I can find such grace
To listen to the strain, and be at rest.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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