Archive for October, 2010

Africa United: 27 October

October 27, 2010

Africa United is a new film about a small group of children, mostly from Rwanda, travelling overland to be in South Africa for the opening of the World Cup. It helps you to see Africa as it is, to enjoy Africa, to care about Africa. Highly recommended. It should, though, carry a heart warning: ‘This film will make you care about Africa more than is entirely comfortable.’

Roger Harper


The Wine, the Spirit, and the Book: 21 October

October 21, 2010

My third Sunday as vicar of Burton Joyce and my first main morning Communion. A sizeable congregation inspires the communion assistant to fill up two chalices with deeply red wine. I give thanks, remembering Jesus, joyous at being settled in such a good place. I invite the people to come and receive. I sip the wine, which fizzes on my tongue. Horror! Has the wine gone off? Is this simply a brand I haven’t come across before? As a teetotaller can I trust my judgement?

Both communion assistants taste and declare that the wine is fine. Relieved, we carry on. But over coffee after the service others agree politely that the wine was definitely past its best. What would have been the official procedure? What are we vicars to do with two chalices full of fizzy, vinegary, consecrated wine? Do we have to consume them? Or..? Archdeacons, or anyone interested, please comment!

The following Wednesday, preparing for the 10am Communion, I tipped away all the opened wine and broke the seal on a new bottle. Warily I tasted it. This wine too was fizzy with a bitter aftertaste. A bad case. I dashed to the Co-op for a bottle of QC. What do the shop assistants make of their new vicar hurriedly, some might say furtively, buying fortified wine and only wine before 10 in the morning?

‘Praying in the Spirit’ is a six week course I am running on Wednesday evenings. We began with ‘Praying the Spirit in,’ receiving the Spirit, as we take in the bread and wine. Jesus commanded ‘Take, eat…’ and also ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’ In the Greek the word is the same. We are not passively to let the Holy Spirit pass over us or even touch us. We are actively to take Him in.

It felt like a bit of a risk to be launching into this teaching. Receiving the Holy Spirit, being baptised in the Holy Spirit, has caused huge rifts in churches. But, when I prayed, it seemed that this was what Jesus was pointing me to.

At the coffee break on the first evening one man told me that in Communion at the end of his first Quiet Day a few months ago, he had been suddenly struck with the words ‘by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.’ ‘Spirit’ made him think of breath, in the air. ‘Inspiration’ is about the spirit coming in. Prompted by this musing, he deliberately breathed in. He had come on the Quiet Day hoping to receive some help with distracting thoughts when he prays. As he breathed in, he suddenly found his mind was clearer, focused on prayer, on worship. The Spirit had come in and the distractions had gone. Alleluia! Since then he has found that as he asks the Holy Spirit to come in, and gulps down another breath, his mind becomes clearer again. He is not completely free of distractions, but now it’s not just him battling them. The Holy Spirit is battling with him, in him.

What a perfect illustration of the teaching on receiving the Holy Spirit! It’s hard to think of a better one, showing the difference it makes to receive the Spirit, that we do need to be active in receiving, that this is about practical help in our daily struggle as Christians. What a gift! What a confirmation that it is indeed right to present this teaching now. More reports to follow.

A British Crash, my whodunit, is about to return to its cover price of £8.99. For the summer we have been selling it at the reduced price of £4.99, but this has not made a noticeable difference to sales. Buy now before the price increase –

Should the book have been called The British Crash? Tony Blair’s book A Journey was originally The Journey. John Dugdale in The Guardian points out that five consecutive winners of the Booker Prize (2004-8) have had ‘The’ titles – and an ‘A’ title has never won the Booker. Agatha Christie’s first eleven whodunits all had titles beginning with ‘The.’ The indefinite article, I read, only adorns a handful of flukes, such as A Tale of Two Cities and  A Brief History of Time, which both have lifetime sales of more than 10 million copies. The British Crash would give quite a different impression. May A British Crash yet join the select list of flukes?

Roger Harper

Two Funerals, Fictional and Real: 5 October

October 5, 2010

A British Crash, if you haven’t read it yet, contains two sermons. (They are in a different type so you can easily skip them to carry on with the story.) The second sermon is an address at the funeral of a young woman who died in car crash. The text is ‘Rachel weeping for her children…’ This week I talked with a woman who has read A British Crash and didn’t like it. For her it has too many adjectives, too much needless description. But, she said, God had spoken to her through the book. How? Her name is Rachel. Her 13 year old daughter, a few years ago, was killed in a car accident. She had known the verse about Rachel weeping for her children. The fictional sermon pointed her to read on through the chapter to where it talks about God’s comfort too. Rachel told me she found the whole sermon very helpful.

Wow! How good to have been able to be of help to one person.

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On Friday I gave a real life funeral address for the mother of the best friend of my brother. Jo and her son Jon lived round the corner from where my brother and I grew up. With three years between my brother and me, we didn’t share any friends and I only knew Jo from a distance. Jon told me about her life, from a Yorkshire mining village, to suburban London where she was widowed shortly after Jon was born. Jon described Jo as lively, feisty, leading others in happy mischief, a lover of grand houses, ballet and opera. She was delighted to take part in a Carnival float as one of the nude models for the painter Toulouse Lautrec. Despite having secured flesh coloured body stockings, the float was deemed too risqué and never sailed the High Street. Jo was also a regular churchgoer for festivals, and the reading at her funeral was Psalm 23 from her own Bible.

On the way to the Crematorium, as, at mini roundabouts, every driver wanted to cut in between the hearse and the family car and no-one recognised this very special convoy, it occurred to me that being made to lie down in a field, even a nice green one, by still, placid, waters, was probably not Jo’s preferred paradise. Heaven as the new Jerusalem, walls gleaming like jasper and carnelian, the place of the great wedding feast, was more her glass of wine. The thought, the picture, felt like a gift from above and seemed to be well received.

Jo was a teacher. 10 years ago she received a letter.  ‘Have I found you? Are you the woman who became my favourite teacher over forty years ago? Oh! I do hope so… I have thought of you so many times over the years, always with admiration for your enlightened ways with children… You treated us with firmness and respect and just the right amount of fun… Not only did we have the very best teacher in the school we also had a teacher with style. You always dressed so beautifully – I could hardly wait to see the next new creation!… You also wore matching costume jewellery and that brings me to another delightful memory. You thrilled the girls by bringing into class jewellery you had tired of and shared these treasures amongst us. I still have a pair of your earrings!

‘Sometimes during my first year at the secondary school, I plucked up the courage to visit you at school, accompanied by a friend. I wanted to tell you how much I missed you, but felt shy and out of place… I assumed you had retired from teaching and I had lost the chance of ever writing to you… [A few weeks ago, talking to a family friend] I told her how I wished I knew where you lived so that I could write to you. I couldn’t believe it when she said she thought you lived in … Street. How could I have been so stupid not to look through the local telephone directory?

‘I now dare to hope that I have found you at last, so that I can say ‘thank you.’ I trust you are well and that you have found the happiness you so deserve over the years. You were, and always will be, a very special lady to me and I shall never forget you.’ 

Wow! What an honour!

Roger Harper