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All Fools' Day

Posted on 2 April, 2019 at 4:20 Comments comments (0)

This morning the RAF Music Service announced that in 2020 there was to be the first Space Parade and that several well-known marches were being adapted for the occasion. The announcement was made in a short film in which the RAF Regiment Band performed the RAF March Past arranged to include elements of major themes from the Star Wars films. This morning is, of course, the 1st April. It was a cleverly planned item of fake news in the best tradition of All Fools’ Day. The origins of this day are obscure: it is probably referenced in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392). Some suggest that it is a subversive parallel to All Saints’ Day and a version of the medieval Feast of Fools (mentioned in Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame) which was celebrated by the clergy, often on the 1st January. If this is correct then it forms part of a long tradition of carnival and jesters and which perhaps reached its zenith in the crowning of a boy bishop for the day. Although the Feast of Fools was condemned by both Protestants and Catholics, and severe penalties were imposed on those who celebrated it as early as 1431, there is evidence that it continued to be observed in Paris well into the 17th century.

But was this simply irreverent tom-foolery or is there something more serious that lies beneath the surface? Mikhail Bakhtin has done a lot of research on the role of the comedic jester and carnival in literature. He argues that the carnival and the jester both subvert the power structures of their day whilst simultaneously speaking truth to those in power. The court jester had unparalleled access to a king and through comedy could (and did) say things to challenge the king that no-one else would dare to say. I wonder if contemporary politics might be different if there was a court jester in Parliament.

In much of Jesus’ ministry he challenged the power structures of his day, and through numerous stories encouraged those who listened to him to look at the world from a different perspective. St Paul talks of the cross being a stumbling block to the worldly-wise because this instrument of shame is subverted to become a symbol of victory.

All Fools’ Day may not be part of the liturgical calendar of the church but let us not lose its challenge to look at the world and its power structures from a different perspective and dare, in the name of Jesus, to speak truth to those in power.

Fr Philip

Environment Matters

Posted on 28 February, 2019 at 6:30 Comments comments (0)

I sit, writing this, in a T-shirt! The outside thermometer reads 16 degrees Celsius. It feels more like a warm April, or even an early June, than February. On the day of writing the news reported a gorse fire on Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh, and moorland fires on the Yorkshire moors and in Wales – scenes rather too reminiscent of last summer. But this time last year many events were cancelled or postponed due to heavy snowfall.

Even if you are sceptical about some of the claims made by climate change pressure groups and what we need to do to avert an environmental Armageddon it is hard to deny that our weather is even more unpredictable than it usually is. But changes in the weather – global warming – is but one aspect of a wide range of environmental issues that are currently in the spotlight. The popularity of Veganuary – the Vegan Society’s push to encourage people to try veganism for a month – is well noted and much of their publicity emphasises the benefits of this diet both for human health and the environment. Although there is much that I disagree with in their publicity they are right when they make the point that what we eat and where it come from has an impact on the planet. The same might be said of what we wear: recent research has shown that a lot a clothes bought today are only worn five times before being thrown out. But if that item of thrown-out clothing has a high nylon content if will take a minimum of 40 years to decompose in a landfill site.

Over the past 40 years the way we live has been radically transformed: from what we eat and wear to our sources of energy and information. All of these changes have had some impact on the world we live in. We live in a finely balanced ecosystem so changes in one area will affect other areas of the ecosystem – not always in a manner that could have been predicted.

The Bible has a lot to say about the world that we live in and humanities relationship to the environment. Some of the obscure dietary laws and other less read areas of the legal texts in the Old Testament can help us to think more clearly about how we live ethically in the world today. This year’s Lent Course is going to look at some of the key environmental issues of our time and explore how the ancient Biblical texts might help us think and act on these issues more clearly.

Fr Philip

St Valentine's Day

Posted on 30 January, 2019 at 6:30 Comments comments (0)


by The Rev’d Philip Johnson

I wonder how many people, when going out to buy a bunch of red roses on February 14th, realise they are celebrating a saint’s festival day. It probably isn’t helped by the fact that most retailers and hospitality establishments (pubs & restaurants) advertising this day in order to maximise profit tend to drop the ‘St’ from before valentine’s name. So what does an earlier Christian martyr have to do with the secular festival of courtship and love that it has become today.

First, we probably ought to ask who Valentine was. Actually there are two – both martyred and both celebrated on the same day (Feb 14). One was aRoman priest and doctor, martyred under Claudius II in about 269 on theFlaminian Way, where a basilica was built in his honour in 350. The other was a bishop of Turni who was brought to Rome where he was first tortured and then executed under the direction of Placidus, the ruling Prefect, in about 273.

The origins of the modern Valentine’s Day are probably rooted in theauthor of the Canterbury Tales. In a lesser known work, Parlement of Foules, Chaucer wrote ‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.’ [For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.] This poem was written by Chaucer to mark the first anniversary of the betrothal of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia – they were both 15 years old! – on the 3rd May 1381.

However, in the mediaeval church calendar there was a third St Valentine’s Day. May 2nd was the feast day of bishop Valentine of Genoa and it is almost certainly this Valentine’s Day that Chaucer referred to.

The dearth of historical evidence about these various Valentines and thecommercialism that has been increasing since the time of Chaucer has led to the relegation of this feast-day in the modern calendar to something barely noted. It is thought that no British Church has ever been dedicated to St.Valentine and probably never will be. But why should rampant commercialism cause us to neglect these saints. Why were they executed? Because theyrefused to bow down to the idols of their day. So, let’s reclaim St. Valentine’s Day as a Christian feast and remind ourselves that there are things more important than that which the world idolises.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day

Fr. Philip


Posted on 3 December, 2018 at 4:50 Comments comments (0)


by The Rev’d Philip Johnson

Advent. The coming. The countdown to Christmas… well that is how it is often seen. A calendar window to open every day with the promise (if the parents have bought the right one) of a small square of chocolate behind each window. In church we light the advent candles marking off the Sundays of Advent. There are themes that go with these candles: the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist (the pink candle) and the Virgin Mary. There is however an even more ancient sequence for Advent based on the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven (the pink candle), and hell. You are probably not too surprised that the church focuses on the sequence of the Patriarchs through to Mary in the principal services – most people coming to church on the Sunday before Christmas would not be expecting a sermon on hell! But we forget this ancient sequence at our peril. 

The narrative of promise and hope from the Patriarchs to Mary prepares us to celebrate once-again the gift of God’s son to the world: that is why we can sing Emmanuel – God with us. But that is only part of the story. 

Advent helps us to prepare for the fulfilment of God’s promise in the advent of the Messiah but it also points us towards a promise, as yet unfulfilled, when Christ will come again. Every Sunday in the Eucharist we say ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’. Advent helps us to prepare for that reality by reflecting on the themes of death and judgement, heaven and hell. Will we be ready to meet our God face-to-face when he comes again? One of the anthems sometimes sung in Advent has the line ‘thou knowest lord the secrets of our hearts’… are we ready for the final judgement by God who knows us better than we know ourselves? These aren’t, perhaps, the most Christmassy thoughts but just as we know that God is with us because of Christmas so advent reminds us that Christ will come again as King and judge of all.

Have a blessed Advent,

Fr Philip


Posted on 4 November, 2018 at 5:10 Comments comments (0)


by The Rev’d Rhona Knight


Praise him with trumpet sound;

    praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

    praise him with strings and pipe!

 Praise him with sounding cymbals;

    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!

Praise the Lord

As we move through autumn it is very difficult not to praise God. As we look at the cascades of leaves falling from the trees in wonderful ariegated colour we are encouraged to praise our creator God, who designed not just the trees we see but the whole cycle of life and the journey through the seasons. Last month at Oakdene we praised, shared and created with paint and paper and fabric using the fallen leaves while looking out at the carpet and canopy of October hues of brown and orange and gold in the garden.

As we look at the trees shedding their leaves we can be reminded about the joy that can be found in letting things go. Many of us can find areas of unforgiveness and resentment in our hearts. These things can continue to wound and harm us and bind us and hold us back. Yet as we let go, as we ask God for a forgiving heart, and as we begin the journey of forgiveness which may not be complete this side of heaven, we experience a release and peace becomes possible.

As we walk through the leaves and hear them crunch beneath our feet we are reminded of other feet who have walked with us through leaves but who are no longer with us. We give thanks for them and entrust them to God. The Time to Remember service for those who have lost children through miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth and the Family Remembrance service reminded us all of the pain of grief but also of the hope and joy of resurrection.And as we absorb and enjoy the autumn colours we begin to notice the emergence of red poppies filling the landscape and churches and cathedrals through the land which have been created and gathered

together to help us remember – lest we or our children ever forget – the sacrifice of those who gave their lives that we might be free. And then we remember again the Advent story and the gift of God in Jesus, who in his love for us became man and gave his life for us that we might be free. And our response, along with everything that has breath, is praise.


That Summer!

Posted on 5 July, 2018 at 5:10 Comments comments (0)

That Summer!

I wonder what year comes to your mind when you think of that summer. Is it 1966 when England last won the World Cup. Perhaps it is 1976 and the drought after a prolonged period of heat without rain.

As I write the England Football Team have just got through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup after a penalty shoot-out – the first time England have ever won on penalties in the World Cup and we have just experienced yet another warm sunny day with perfect clear skies. I can’t remember a summer like this in England for a good few years! The grass in the garden has turned an interesting shade – one more normally associated with warmer climes. The big skies on Lincolnshire are transfused with a light more normally seen in places like France or northern Italy. The town feels like a different place in this warm summer sun than when it is cold and damp and overcast.

For some their memorable summer has a darker aspect. We have seen this year the moorland fires in the Peak District and Yorkshire and in our own community the joy of summer has coincided with several in our congregation who are seriously ill. I am reminded constantly of both the beauty and fragility of the world in which we live and what makes a particular year memorable can relate to either the beauty or the fragility. In one of the more philosophical passages in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that the Father in Heaven makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. This is one of those passages that, I believe, we should reflect on frequently. It is a passage that can act as a corrective lens through which we view the world. It is so easy to blame God or look on something as a punishment from God. This passage serves as a corrective to that sort of view. It encourages us to take a step back and look at the goodness of God on a broader canvas – the sun (rising and setting), the rain (watering the earth, producing crops), the turning of the seasons.

Yet as we look at the beauty of the world we see pain and suffering too. But this powerful creator God is also embodied in the vulnerable person of Jesus who suffered and was crucified for us. Beauty and fragility so often go together because together they point us to the God of love.

Fr Philip

A Turn of the Page

Posted on 15 June, 2018 at 4:05 Comments comments (0)

A Turn of the Page

by Al Jenkins


How often do you read a book and cannot wait to turn the page to see what happens next?

The Christian Church has just celebrated Pentecost, its birthday! The

disciples on the cusp of a new chapter; in their lives and the life of the world. In my mind’s eye I can imagine Peter standing on the balcony of the Upper Room, the morning sun rising behind him as he addresses the busy market, exhorting the crowd to repent and be baptised in the name of Christ. He is filled with the Holy Spirit and wants the world to know it. Do we?

Not every turn of a novel’s page will deliver hero or heroine, excitement or drama. But I truly believe that Scripture does. Stories of ordinary people, like you and me, inspired by God to love and serve his people. My

favourite Apostle is Peter. He is an ordinary fisherman called by Christ to be a “fisher of people!” This time I envisage Peter as a confused man standing by his boat, honoured, intrigued and probably mystified. As

Peter’s story progresses his human failings play their part, perhaps most memorably in his denial of Christ.


Peter’s narrative presents us with the image of the frailty of the human

being. However, unlike novels, our story always has a hero, the perfect

exemplar, in Jesus Christ. His love for us is immeasurable, his forgiveness eternal, his service without rancour. These qualities are so beautifully

expressed through his interactions with Peter. Most tellingly just before

Ascension when he speaks with Peter, a man almost at his wits’ end with guilt, and chooses him to lead the Church. Christ chooses each one of us in spite of our weaknesses to do our part in service and worship. He lives and works in us in the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Rowan Williams speaks of service and thanksgiving as, ‘a ‘soaking-in’ of what God is. When all these things come together (says Cassian) we are on fire with the Holy Spirit. And when we look at Jesus we see someone whose entire life is on fire in that way, with the Spirit.” Are we?


As I prepare for ordination and turn the final pages of this chapter, I say goodbye to St Denys’. I thank God for his call to serve and live in this

community, which has provided me with love, prayer and support over so many years and especially throughout my training for ministry. Jayne and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We are looking forward to the next chapter together, confident that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us. What might your next chapter look like? Please let me know. Blessings.


Al Jenkins.







Posted on 2 May, 2018 at 4:15 Comments comments (0)


I wonder what your first thoughts are on hearing this word. For sailors and aviators, the international distress call will probably be their first response. Others might well think first of maypoles and other May Day festivities. The Maypole, topped with brightly coloured ribbons, around which children dance in a choreographed pattern is less than 200 years old – its popularity was disseminated through villages schools who used the maypole to teach dancing. Earlier maypoles were much taller, often 70 -100ft, set up on a village green where they were a focal point for dancing but without the ribbons (or children!). Going a-maying meant going out of the town or village into the countryside and woodlands to fetch greenery and flowers with which to decorate houses or to make garlands. This merry-making drew mixed responses. One of the earliest references is from the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste, who in 1240 complained of priests taking part in ‘games which they call bringing-in of May’. Others however saw it as a way of praising God or a means of giving money to the poor. However, the bishop’s complaint is probably well-founded if we take into account Philip Stubbs diatribe against these festivities. He stated that only a third of maids who went a-maying came back undefiled. Perhaps it is no surprise that maypoles were banned by the puritan Commonwealth Parliament in 1644.

When I read the ancient accounts of these festivities I am struck by communal nature of these events. They are celebrations of spring and early summer, new life and light after the long winter, but they are also events that bind communities together. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that going a-maying and going a-wooing were fairly synonymous.

Last week I was looking at some old photos from Sleaford and I came across some picture of the Slea Raft Races. The pictures were less than 20 years old but I was struck by how much the world has changed in these past 20 years. We have become much more individualistic. Community events (if they still survive) are a dim shadow of times past. But community is important. Jesus may have called individuals to follow him but he formed a community around him. Church is first and foremost a community – a group of people who seek to follow Jesus together, to learn together, to work together, and together speak of the transforming love of God to a troubled world. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for the church today is to model what ‘community’ can be to a world that more concerned with the individual and has lost the sense of community.

Fr. Philip 

Easter Joy

Posted on 29 March, 2018 at 5:05 Comments comments (0)

Easter Joy

Jesus lives! thy terrors now

can, O death, no more appal us;

Jesus lives! by this we know

thou, O grave, canst not enthral us.


This is the opening stanza of, probably, my favourite Easter Hymn. It was written (in German) by Christian Furchtegott Gellert (1715-69) and translated into English by Miss Frances Cox (1812-97). I do wonder why the parents of young master Gellert chose to call their son Christian Godfearer (a rough translation of Furchtegott)!

Had I not known better I might have thought that this hymn had been written post-1910 and that its inspiration had been a sermon by Canon Henry Scott Holland. In fact, the inspiration may have worked the other way round. On the 15th May 1910 Scott Holland preached a sermon in St Paul’s Cathedral entitled The King of Terrors. An excerpt (Death is nothing at all – an excerpt taken entirely out of context completely contradicting what Scott Holland was saying) is sometimes read at funerals. At the time of this sermon King Edward VII was lying in state in Westminster Hall and Scott Holland used the opportunity to reflect on the terror of death and the joy of the resurrection.

Scott Holland wrote: ‘I suppose all of us hover between two ways of regarding death, which appear to be in hopeless contradiction with each other. First, there is the familiar and instinctive recoil from it as embodying the supreme and irrevocable disaster. It is the impossible, the incredible thing. Nothing leads up to it, nothing prepares for it. It simply traverses every line on which life runs, cutting across every hope on which life feeds, and every intention which gives life significance. It makes all we do here meaningless and empty. “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.”… But, then, there is another aspect altogether which death can wear for us. It is that which first comes down to us, perhaps, as we look down upon the quiet face, so cold and white, of one who has been very near and dear to us. There it lies in possession of its own secret. It knows it all. So we seem to feel. And what the face says to us in its sweet silence to us as a last message from the one whom we loved is: “Death is nothing at all…”. ‘

It was Whitsun, when Scott Holland preached his sermon – the end of the Easter season – and he reminded his congregation and us that by the power of the Holy Spirit we have already been moved from death to life. Through the cross and resurrection, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can know the fullness of the life that Christ came to bring. And that is none other than eternal life with Christ. Death is not ‘nothing at all’, but as disciples of Christ we need not fear death, for by his cross and resurrection death has been conquered once and for all.

Jesus lives! to him the throne

over all the world is given:

may we go where he is gone,

rest and reign with him in heaven.



Let It Snow!

Posted on 2 March, 2018 at 4:40 Comments comments (0)

Let it snow!

The 'beast from the east', as the media insist on calling it, has arrived. As I write many schools in the town are closed; teenagers are in the streets, snowball fighting - just like the clergy in St Peter's Square, Rome. The news reports are full of weather and traffic updates. Everyday life goes on but it is modified to cope with the conditions. Snow can produce a variety of emotions: for some there is the joy of the snowscape; for others, delight in the fun of snowmen, sledging, and snowball fights; for others frustration at the inconvenience it causes to travel or other plans, even work; for others, particularly the elderly, fear of falling and breaking a bone, or worse.

If we lived in, say, the Alps, snow would be an every day reality for several months each year, life would proceed with little inconvenience. Bus services would continue to run and schools and businesses would not close. But we don't live in the Alps: snow only comes occasionally and severe snow rarely. It is because of the infrequency of severe snow that we have the range of reactions to it, described above. If everyday is a beautiful snowscape we begin to stop seeing it and just take it for granted. If snow is around us for months at a time we will invest in snow chains and winter tyres for our cars, and not just us but everyone in the community.

This snow has come at the beginning of Lent - a season in the church's year where we concentrate on the spiritual disciplines of prayer and bible study. Just as snow can cause us to look at the world with fresh eyes, to re-assess what we are doing and make choices about what is important and what is not really necessary so may this Lent enable us to spend some time in prayer and study, in order to look at the world with fresh eyes and listen to what God is calling us to do.

Fr Philip