Archive for the 'Faith' Category

Armistice Centenary – and an Eltham soldier

(From a sermon preached on the Centenary of the World War 1 Armistice) 

Around the church are a number of pictures of a young First World War soldier.

Lieutenant Cecil George Cutting
Lieutenant Cecil George cutting a dashing figure

Let’s hear a bit of his story.

He was the son of a missionary teacher family who were living and working in India, as he approached secondary school age, Cecil George was sent to boarding school.

The young scholar was at a school just over a mile from here, at Eltham College.

He was a lively student, who particularly loved his sport.
Athletics; and cricket mainly.

Cricket.

The school regularly played other teams, and had several matches against the world famous local cricketer, WG Grace.

There’s a record of a match where the great WG was bowling against the young Cecil George.

Cecil George was one of the best all rounders in the team.

But not on this occasion.

Cecil George, bowled out by WG, for a duck!

He left school in July 1915 age 18. He was not called up at once, and the Academic year 1915-16 he spent at Imperial College reading Chemistry.

Then he was called up at the end of the Summer term of 1916. Cecil George was Gazetted as of the 27 Nov 1916 and recorded in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

He did his basic training in the Infantry.
At the end of this they asked:

“Who has Matric Maths?”
“I do!”  Says Cecil George.
“Right, if you can count more than two legs, you are going to be in the Cavalry!”

Off he goes and does the basic training for the Cavalry in Exeter.

At the end of that basic cavalry training they said

“Who has Higher Maths?”
“I do !” says Cecil George.
“Right, if you can plot graphs and trajectories, you are going to be in the Artillery!”

So off he goes and does the basic training for the gunners.

He ended up a with the Royal Garrison Artillery on the Selonica Front, not far from the Greek border across into Turkey.

The RGA was often supported by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) who had devised a system where pilots could use wireless telegraphy to help the artillery hit specific targets. Years later it became clear that Cecil George was involved going up in these ‘string bag’ aeroplanes of that era, as a “spotter” for targets! This was very early in the history of flight, and must have been some adventure for the young soldier!

What were these soldiers given? Their uniform, sometimes a weapon, and – a Bible.
Well, that may sound a bit curious now.

Cecil’s missionary parents had gone to India in the late 1800s to help try and make a difference to ordinary peoples lives through education. Like them, Cecil George was a man of faith. Like many of the sodiers who went off to war, they were men of faith.

Not all children of missionaries, or vicars, come to faith.
But Cecil did.

Sometimes with much time on their hands, soldiers would sit and flick through the only reading matter they had to hand – their small Army issue Bibles or New Testaments.

Not everyone who had them treated them with the respect one might expect of holy scriptures.  I suspect more than a few pages were used by some squaddies to roll cigarettes,
or draw pictures on
– or any number of other unmentionable practices, when paper was in short supply.

For some soldiers & sailors, though, they were lifesavers – real lifesavers.

Sometimes quite literally.
There is evidence that some of these pocket bibles, often carried in a breast pocket, literally stopped bullets and saved people from being killed, on more than one occasion.

No wonder some soldiers would read these Bibles,
read the words that gave the hope and love and life:

Words such as:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

How poignant the words:

We are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.

Paul’s letter to his friends in Rome becomes so much more than just a dusty old document, when he says:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers,
nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8: 35-39)

Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.

Cecil George didn’t like war much; he saw some terrible things, things that scarred him for life.

But did his duty until the very end of the war.

He survived.

He lived.

Many, soldiers just did the ordinary thing.

During his military career, Cecil George had risen to the exalted rank of…?

…Lieutenant.

Recognised for local leadership; but nothing too special.

You couldn’t have fought in the war and been more ordinary, really.

Just doing what he had been called up to do.

At the end of the war, those who fought received medals.

There are famous ones for great bravery in particular campaigns.

Cecil George got the two standard British campaign medals that about 6 million soldiers got.

The British War Medal and the Victory Medal,
nicknamed Mutt and Jeff– or perhaps we might say the Tom & Jerry, or the Ant and Dec – of medals; the family heirlooms that many families still own.

This is Cecil George’s British War Medal and his Victory Medal.

His name is stamped around the edge of them
you can still read it:

Lieutenant Cecil George CUTTING

WH & CG Cutting medals
WH & CG Cutting medals *

Because he is my grandfather.

When I was doing my GCSEs, which used to be called O levels when I was doing them,

I did WW1 history.

I asked Cecil – my grandfather – about his involvement.

He wrote to me about it.

At the time, it was some 60 years since the conflict but it was something he’d hardly spoken of since then.

And It was still a shock, so many years later.

Cecil went on after the war to train as a doctor in Edinburgh University.
Whilst there, he met a young Scottish lass called Eleanor, whom he married and they in their turn went as missionaries to India too – medical missionaries this time.

Partly because his love of life was something he wanted to share with others in the most effective way he knew how. His passion for people; for what the bible calls: life in all its fullness.

Later, their eldest son William also went to Eltham college.

William is my dad.

Once, back visiting Eltham college, Cecil & William, father & son, walked down one of the corridors that had photos of the old boys, and especially the sports teams. Cecil was in in a number of the photos.

As he stopped and gazed, he pointed to his team mates and with many of them said “he’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead”.

No wonder Cecil Cutting had been so reluctant to dredge up the painful memories of his WW1 experience.

It transformed his life trajectory – as a missionary doctor he was then keen to bring the healing power of a physician, to the people of rural South India.

And as the medical missionary, he also introduced people to The Great Physician, to the God who can bring healing to the body, peace to the mind, and salvation to the soul.

Cecil recorded some of the stories of his healing ministry in rural South India in a book – he’s a doctor, in India, so it is called Hot Surgery.

Hot Surgery by Cecil Cutting
Hot Surgery by Cecil Cutting

One ordinary school boy from Eltham College.
One ordinary soldier in the first World War.
One ordinary medical student.
One ordinary doctor on a mission field.

One of so many ordinary stories,
of people who were actually extraordinary,
so much more extra than ordinary.

Extraordinary

Those who came back from war,
from playing their part,
and making a difference.

We will remember them.

And those who never came back.

We will remember them.

 
Click on the link here to listen to the sermon.

* In addition to Cecil George Cutting’s two WW1 medals on the right, the medal on the left is the Kaisar-I-Hind, the medal for Public Service in India awarded by the Empress/Emperor of India, in this case the silver one, awarded to Cecil’s father The Rev’d William Cutting. 

(From a sermon preached on the Centenary of the World War 1 Armistice, in St John’s Church, Eltham, South East London, on 11 November 2018, by the Archdeacon of Lewisham & Greenwich, The Venerable Alastair Cutting, as part of the Royal Borough of Greenwich‘s civil commemoration of Remembrance Sunday. )

Alastair Cutting preaching in St John's Eltham
Alastair Cutting preaching in St John’s Eltham with the poster of Cecil Cutting on the pillar

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Bright field of dreams

I was introduced to The Bright Field by a friend, Robin, whilst we were on a course a few years back.

The Bright field

The Bright Field [Buttermere, Cumbria ©AlastairCutting]

Curiously, it is Hillsborough that has brought the poem very much back to mind. Let’s have a reminder of the poem first, and there is an audio/file of RS Thomas reading it himself linked below:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

The Bright Field
by R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Audio file via PoeticTouch.

 

But why Hillsborough bring this poem to mind?

I’ve blogged before that I was a local curate at the time, and involved in some of the immediate aftermath. One of my strong memories, as I walked back down ‘the tunnel’ a couple of times afterwards, was the contrast of the bright green playing field in the sun seen from the shadows of the tunnel.

Tunnel 1989

Tunnel 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The field is so inviting. You can see it. You can almost touch it. There’s ramp, a slope down to it. It’s just … there.

There is an American sports movie called the Field of Dreams, encapsulating the draw – particularly but not exclusively  – for some men to sports, to team games, and to the playing field, or pitch, or ground.

Hymns don’t often make good theology – though they may be better at theology than movies are. But even here we may get glimpsesof heaven, as Ray Kinsella found in the film.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
      [starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
      [Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.
            The Field of Dreams – 1989 Phil Alden Robinson Universal/TriStar

Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven to treasure in a field, and to a pearl of unfathomable value, of great price; in Matt 13:44-46. Both are images that R.S.Thomas specifically references in the poem. Not a great surprise, perhaps, for the Welsh priest/poet that he was.

That field. Seen it. Forgotten it. But now having seen it again, illuminated, incandescent, Thomas goes on: I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it.

These sports grounds, these football fields are often a focus for hurrying on to a receding future, [or] hankering after an imagined past. Many memories of matches remembered; of dreams and hopes for the future. The rise and fall of emotion; the tears wept, the joy unconfined. They hold a sense of the numinous about them – the singing, swaying, the shared liturgy and language – even prayers (!) – they are almost religious in their fervour. No wonder some talk of sport as their faith, of the great venues as their cathedrals, temples. Bill Shankly, powerfully linked to Liverpool, is famously quoted as saying “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.

I was recently reading back some of the witness stories of a number of Hillsborough survivors, and the camaraderie, the shared experience was a powerful memory; some saying the ‘we all came last year and we wanted to all come back again this year’ before the full portent of this particular pilgrimage unfurled before them.

Even after the catastrophe, faith remains a part of the story. I recalled in the previous blog post how 4 fans came in to our local church on the Sunday morning, just hours later. To another one of those ‘thin places‘ where heaven comes closer to touching earth. To come to seek, to pray, to place a loved one lost in to the hands of God. Nearly every anniversary since the first, there has been significant input of hymns & prayers, along with speeches & memories, at each of the ceremonies.

In the poem, Thomas looks: to the miracle … to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Looking back to the 15 April 1989, though much remains sharp in the mind of each of those most closely affected by Hillsborough, inevitable some of the memories become a little faded, a bit more transitory each year; the images of the ever-youthful 96 remain unchanged, even as ‘those who are left grow old‘. Perhaps that is why there is still such a strong sense of hope around Hillsborough – a very Liverpool – characteristic, the city with two cathedrals linked by a street called Hope.

For RS Thomas, the brightness that has shone on this field leads at last to the eternity that awaits you. May it lead to eternity for you too.

 

The BBC has a Profile of each of the Hillsborough 96, and the Liverpool Echo has created an image grid that links to each of the 96 too.

 

 

 

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On the Lord’s Prayer

Lord's Prayer

Prayers inspired by the Lord’s Prayer

I recently had to collect some prayers based around the Lord’s Prayer; some I sourced elsewhere, some I wrote myself. They are gathered together under the stanzas of the Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven

A Prayer to God our Father
Lord God, Jesus taught us to call you Father. Help us to grow in our understanding of you, that we may better each day learn to trust you, and to love you.

Remind us of the thrill a toddler feels when being swept up securely in a father’s arms; help us share in the glee of a child playing pranks with a parent.

As we feel the lifting angst of the teenager taking insoluble homework problems to a parent who can unlock answers; and the adrenaline rush of the learner driver discovering new skills with dad, so may we feel our relationship with you broadening, enriching and deepening.

Father God, may your love for us be reflected back in our love for you. Amen.

A Father’s Prayer
Lord, I need your special care. Like your earthly father, Joseph, I want to do God’s will, even if I may not always understand. Make me gentle and self less in the care of my family and children; help me guide them in the toils and troubles, the happiness and wonders of this life.

Like my father in heaven, Continue reading ‘On the Lord’s Prayer’

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Spirit of Christmas – past?

Lectionary and church diary purists hate it: that ‘Christmas nowadays appears to start in about October, and be over by Christmas Eve’, or certainly by Boxing Day. That’s not Christmas – clergy are heard muttering – that’s Advent… However, maintaining the cry that ‘the Christmas season starts on Christmas Day and carries on until the feast of Epiphany’ is about as useful as King Canute commanding the halt of the incoming tide; despite the popularity of the carol ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’.

However, one multinational still upholds tradition – the Apple iTunes Appstore!

iTunes 12 Dyas of Christmas App

iTunes 12 Dyas of Christmas App

The App Store provides a 12 free gifts over the traditional Christmas period, with a variety of music, videos and apps for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. The variety is deliberately diverse – meaning that some items you might find excruciating – but you will probably find several you like. If you have appropriate Apple devices, try out the 12 days app. You probably wont find ‘5 Gold Rings’ – but you might have some fun, sing along with the carol, and celebrate the Christmas Season in it’s traditional position. And keep some grumpy liturgists happy.

12 Days App

12 Days App

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Chocolate Nativity

Last year [2010], David Keen circulated a version of the Chocolate Nativity to folks looking for an idea for an all-age  Christmas.

Who’s the real Hero of the Nativity story?

As my local shops had a few different chocolates to the ones in the story I received, I adapted it a little.

If it’s any use to anyone, please do borrow it. You may need to adapt it to local varieties of chocolate!

Chocolate Nativity script

Chocolate Nativity script

:: UPDATE ::
Ooops.
It transpires that I may have done an Emo Philips, as it may be that Stewart Henderson & J.John published a version of this a few years ago:

SweetChristmas

Stewart Henderson & J.John’s Sweet Christmas

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Woodmancote Martyrs

On 6th of June 1556, Thomas Harland and John Oswald, were amongst the ‘Protestant Martyrs’ burnt at the stake in Lewes. Harland, a carpenter, and Oswald, a ‘husbandman’ or farm worker, were both residents of Woodmancote, near Henfield in Sussex. After the English Reformation, and the opportunity of having services and hearing the Bible read in English, they were reluctant to come under Queen Mary’s edict that the church and services should return to Roman Catholicism, and in Latin. For this they were tried for heresy.

Bishop Kieran Conroy, Dean Nicholas Frayling, Rev'd Christina Bennett

Bishop Kieran Conroy, Dean Nicholas Frayling, Rev'd Christina Bennett at the Woodancote Martyrs Memorial

There is a record in Fox’s Book of Martyrs of the trial – recorded here:

To Thomas Harland I finde in the Byshop of Londons Registers, to be obiected for not commyng to Church. Whereunto he aunswered: that after the Masse was restored, hee neuer had will to heare the same, because (sayde he) it was in Latin, whiche hee dyd not vnderstand: and therfore as good (quoth he) neuer a whitte, as neuer the better.
Ex Regist.
Answere of Tho. Harland.

Iohn Oswald, denyed to aunswere any thyng, vntill Continue reading ‘Woodmancote Martyrs’

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Lesslie Newbigin – Bishop of Hope

2009 is the Centenary of Lesslie Newbigin‘s birth. Churches Together in Britain & Ireland decided to celebrate this with a Conference held at Queen’s College, Birmingham.

CTBI Newbigin Centenary Conference logo

CTBI Newbigin Centenary Conference logo

This post is….

  • part brief background on Newbigin;
  • part a quick glance at some of his theology;
  • part a ‘back of an envelope’ report on the conference;
  • and part a personal reflection on ‘Uncle Lesslie’
  • with a comment on the source of the CTBI banner photo above.
  • and… it should possibly be a ‘page’ rather than a ‘post’ – we’ll see.

    Background

    Lesslie Newbigin was a Presbyterian minister and missionary who – considering that background, and not really approving of church hierarchies – rather surprisingly became a Bishop of the united Church of South India at it’s formation in 1947. In fact not once, but twice – first in the Madurai-Ramnad diocese, then later as bishop of Madras, as Chennai was then known. In between, he was in Geneva with the World Council of Churches. On ‘retiring’ from Madras in 1974, Lesslie & Helen Newbigin made their way back to Britain overland using local buses, carrying just a couple of suitcases and a rucksack – I love that; sort of reverse hippy, on so many levels!

    Lesslie & Helen Newbigin, Cecil & Eleanor Cutting, Wilfred & Mary Hulbert 1937

    Lesslie & Helen Newbigin, Cecil & Eleanor Cutting, Wilfred & Mary Hulbert in India, 1937

    This photograph shows The Troika, or the Three Graces, as the three ‘girls’ were sometimes Continue reading ‘Lesslie Newbigin – Bishop of Hope’

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    Leaps of Christ

    Jumping in the sunset

    The Leaps of Christ - credit thriol

    The ‘Leaps of Christ’ was part of the theme taken by Bishop John Hind at the Chichester Diocesan Synod recently. I had heard of this Old English poem, but on being re-introduced to it, it led me to explore some of the wonderful Advent and Christmas within it.

    The section on the Leaps of Christ comes within the part known as Christ II, or sometimes Christ B, within the Exeter Book. The first book deals primarily with Advent, book two with the Ascension, and the third Continue reading ‘Leaps of Christ’

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    Amazing Persistence, Liberating Grace

    Watching the William Wilberforce/John Newton film Amazing Grace at a home group around the day the church remembers William Wilberforce (30 July) encouraged New Zealand vicar Michael Berry to use some of the themes in the Sunday sermon at church at St Heliers, Auckland, on Sunday 2 August 2009.

    Hearing him prompted me to look back at some ‘John Newton’ photos I took a while back.

    Robin Meredith Jones, actor & friend, has for many years been doing a show base on John Newton, also (inevitably) called ‘Amazing Grace’. On the 200 anniversary of John Newton’s ‘promotion to glory’ on 21 December 1807, Robin and his wife Christine Way did a version of the show in the London City church of St Mary’s Woolnoth, where John Newton was vicar for 28 years.

    Robin Meredith Jones as John Newton, in his original pulpit

    Robin Meredith Jones as John Newton, in his original pulpit

    Most people know that Newton was involved in the slave trade – though not all are aware that Newton was himself a white slave briefly early on, after an altercation with a the captain of a slave ship he was crewing on.

    What is well documented is John Newton’s conversion to the Christian faith, and his penning of the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.
    Continue reading ‘Amazing Persistence, Liberating Grace’

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    Following Celtic footsteps

    In May 2008 I joined a handful of others on 5-day pilgrimage. I had been to Iona several times, but only ever seen LindisfarneHoly Island – from the train window. A year later, reminiscing our little pilgrimage to the North East, I thought I would put some photos etc. up.

    Lindisfarne Island from Cuthbert's 'Cuddy' Island

    Lindisfarne Island from Cuthbert's 'Cuddys' Island

    Today (26 May) may be the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury, but I am reminded of comments by a previous Geordie Bishop of Sheffield, who over 20 years ago spoke to a group of us young curates of the diocese: his faith was built on the foundations laid by the British Christian Saints such as Cuthbert, Aidan, and Hilda, and he had little time for “those Johnny-come-lately Romans such as Augustine”. If memory serves correctly, it was these saints that adorned the stained-glass windows of the Woodlands parish, where I was then curate.

    Cuthbert’s base in Lindisfarne became a key launchpad for Celtic Christianity in North-East England in the 7th Century. The island, still cut off from the mainland by the tide twice a day, is traditionally approached by pilgrims wading barefoot across the causeway. (We cheated, went by bus, and then walked the causeway at leisure a day or two later.)

    Pilgrims Feet

    Pilgrim's Feet

    Being on Lindisfarne – in blustery May – was surprisingly idyllic. I can still hear the skylark’s singing in the sky above the meadows near Lindisfarne castle. Far from the physical extremes of weather, distance and austerity that drew Cuthbert and the early settlers there. We were a bit ‘fair-weather’ pilgrims; but the feeling of being in a ‘thin place‘, as the Celtic Christians called such holy places, where heaven and earth are somehow much closer, was still very evident to us. A short, but very inspiring and refreshing and spiritual few days.

    Some of the photos from our time are in this online Lindisfarne photo gallery; and we made a short photo journal book, which can be downloded in pdf format from the link below.

    Lindisfarne Pilgrimage photobook - click for 16Mb pdf download

    Lindisfarne Pilgrimage photobook

    Oh, and here’s another panoramic photo, also in my Flickr panoramic set. I probably have way to many photos – it could have beeen more! – per page on this blog, which probably makes it load very slowly; but they are fun…

    Lindisfarne Panorama - links to original on Flickr

    Lindisfarne Panorama

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