The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

From the Clergy

Saturday 28th March 2020

One day. . .

Ayla Lepine

Two very exciting things have happened today in the online life of Hampstead Parish Church. This morning we had our first Lent Group meeting since lockdown. It was on Zoom, and being able to see and hear each other was a real joy. The topic for this Lent is the Eucharist, and so, painful as it is that we can't gather for Communion, we stuck with it. The yearning for the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar is profoundly deep. The sense of being the Body of Christ together, yet dispersed, is deeply evident too. There will be another session next Saturday at 11am and everyone is welcome. This image, from the earliest days of the church, struck a chord with us:
'As this broken bread once scattered over the mountains has been gathered together to make a single loaf, so Lord gather your church together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.'

The second exciting thing is a YouTube video of our choir singing an achingly beautiful Lenten anthem by William Byrd, Afflicti pro peccatis nostris. Byrd's composition, using text from Isaiah, is rooted in the traditions of the medieval Sarum rite, bridging the centuries and bringing his own time of precarity and vulnerability near to our own this Passiontide. This is another way of being connected through hearing one another's voices, and this recording is to be treasured in a unique way because we are currently prevented from worship in which choral music infuses our Eucharistic liturgy.

Yesterday, Tilly and her siblings produced a video of them playing a bit of Bach at home, their musical lives enriching our own. This is on YouTube too. Every chance we get to hear and to make music together is an opportunity we must grasp.

In these days there is also new longing in the idea of simply popping round to someone's home for a cup of tea, shaking hands, embracing someone, or being together in ways that are not just familiar but truly necessary for comfort and for empathy. We can resist, knowing it's essential to refrain, but we hope it's not for long. This is certainly what's expressed in this drawing by Charlie Mackesy, 'One Day'.

Hampstead Parish Church's Be Drawn project, led by John-Paul Flintoff, has brought life into inboxes too in recent days. You can sign up for daily Be Drawn emails, revealing one of his portraits alongside Sheena Ginnings' photographs of the process underway. These portraits were meant to be exhibited in church from Passion Sunday onwards; we'll have an online exhibition instead in the coming days. Here's is the one he made of Aidan and the Junior Choir rehearsing. None of us had any idea, only two weeks ago, that this would be their last rehearsal and their last service in church for a long time.

As the Covid-19 crisis continues to keep us physically distant, as we stay home to save lives and support the NHS, we can light candles in windows, watch and pray, and connect with each other as best we can. There is new poignancy to the prayer often used in Compline,
'Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, give rest to the weary, sustain the dying, calm the suffering, and pity the distressed; all for your love's sake, O Christ our Redeemer.' Let us be sure that no matter what tomorrow or the day after tomorrow will bring, the God of love sustains us all.

Thursday 26th March 2020

On trauma and standing on the rock

Jeremy Fletcher

I wrote this late on the feast of the Annunciation. March 25 commemorates the faithful “yes” of Mary, who looked into an unknown future trusting in the presence of God, the one who works miracles. 

We look into our unknown future today with a mixture of fear, wonder, desperation, and perhaps even grief. I have felt crushed by successive blows as the ways in which we have operated as a church community have been stopped one by one. To be told on Tuesday that no one could now come to church to pray, and that I should not do so either, was the occasion of great sorrow. It feels like the lights have gone out. 

My sermon last Sunday (available on the Sermon page of the website, and the video is on our new YouTube channel) spoke of how we would deepen our bonds of fellowship and service even as we demonstrate love by preserving a physical distance. My sermon of the previous Sunday (also on the sermon page) spoke of how the Scriptures neither minimise fear nor downplay danger, yet also affirm the strong rock of faith, the safe hiding place of the love of God. 

The church is now called to live out her calling: to be with those in the depths of despair; to bear with those in the confines of isolation; to bring food to the hungry and solace to the weary; to strengthen the hands of the healers and to shine the light of hope in to those in the valley of the shadow of death. We will do this. Already people are communicating more while preserving our physical distance. 

I have been immensely encouraged by the desire of so many to offer help, and to leap the boundary walls of isolation and quarantine with the assurance of care and practical concern. Those experienced in the ways communities respond to trauma call this the “heroic” phase. However, the fires of self-sacrifice do burn out, and (especially in what we are facing) the trauma remains. The next phase is “disillusion”, and we should be prepared for it by building long lasting foundations of love and bonds of deep service and fellowship. This will be a long haul. 

We will find new ways of being Hampstead Parish Church. Can I ask all of us to reach out beyond our immediate circle and think about people we know of in church who need a phone call and expression of practical concern? Don’t hesitate to let me know of people for whom you are concerned, once you have spoken to them.

Please know that I will be praying for the whole of the church Electoral Roll and database by name. The Blessed Virgin Mary showed us how to put trust in God despite not knowing what her future would be. She sang of the God who has mercy, gives strength, lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry. I am sure that you, like me, are fearful and uncertain. Please encourage and support one another as we encourage and support our wider community. Please help each other, even and especially in these days, to “magnify the Lord” (Luke 1. 46 – 55)

With my prayers for God’s blessing


Saturday 21st March 2020

Re-imagining Prayer and Getting Connected

Ayla Lepine

In church we’re developing ways of keeping in touch online so that we can stay connected and worship together. As we respond to this strange and anxious situation as best we can, and offer help and prayer to those around us, it's useful to have resources that keep us inspired and stimulated, as well as faithful and hopeful. 

Every day I receive three emails in my inbox from very different organisations. The first is NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. It could be a nebula, a galaxy, or the Jupiter Abyss. The photographs and their dense yet accessible scientific descriptions are a poignant reminder of the vastness of our universe, and the stars and planets that surround our home. In London it’s almost impossible to see the stars most of the time. This brings the stars into view at their most spectacular.

The second is Maria Popova’s ‘Brainpickings’, which is a vast treasure-trove of cultural jewels, from contemporary music and poetry to Greek philosophy and art from all over the world. A recent post included Amanda Palmer reading Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Trees’.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

I also get a daily reflection from the Society of St John the Evangelist monastery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. SSJE were founded in the 1860s in Oxford and were the first Anglican monastic order. For Lent 2020 they’ve produced a series of films called ‘Signs of Life’. This week’s theme is food, and they’ve made profound connections in the film between feasting, community, and the Eucharist. In it, Br James Koester, who leads the monastery as its Superior, observes that ‘Food is love made edible.’ The films can be found here.

In addition to these small ways to expand hearts and minds online, there are great smartphone apps for prayer, too. The Church of England’s Daily Prayer app has all the readings and liturgy for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline, and includes both Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer. We’ll be saying Compline online through Facebook each Sunday night at 9pm. You can use the Daily Prayer app to join in and follow along.

The Sacred Space app offers a daily reflection on a Bible passage which opens and closes with short prayers. Their prayer for today includes this focus on freedom:
‘Thank you for the gift of freedom, Lord. Grant that I may always choose to follow you. Keep me ever mindful of your ways, of your love, and of your concern for all people.’ 

I’d also recommend an app called Reimagining the Examen, which can be used at night to reflect on how the day went, where you noticed God’s Spirit at work, where aspects of your responses to things were positive or negative, and to rest in God’s love. It is inspired by a form of daily prayer developed by St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

In all these ways we can grow closer to God and participate in a community founded on Christ's love. As we look towards Mothering Sunday tomorrow, and walk the path of preparation and peace this Lent, we ask God to 'strengthen us in our daily living' in the Collect for Sunday 22 March:

God of compassion,
whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary,
shared the life of a home in Nazareth,
and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself:
strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Wednesday 18th March 2020

The Church Without Walls

Jeremy Fletcher

Events have moved so rapidly this week that it will soon be hard to remember what a normal Sunday looks like. Denied the opportunity to gather together, what will we miss? I have often said that my favourite place to be is at the altar, looking at a church with established members and some new faces, coming to celebrate Communion together. This Sunday the clergy will celebrate Communion on everybody's behalf, but on our own. The pews will be virtually occupied, but I will miss seeing and hearing and greeting you all. The physical makes it real.

We will learn all sorts of ways of making our community real in other ways in these next days and weeks. Our Mission Action Plan from 2018 talks about being creative with video and audio technology, in order to communicate more widely. We have the most powerful stimulus to do that now, and apps have been downloaded, and live streaming experimented with. We will speak to each other by phone, on Facetime, WhatsApp, and Zoom. We will share words and images by email, and by actual letter. We will check up on each other more, and value or conversations all the more deeply because we are looking out for each other.

And we will demonstrate community by finding out each other's needs and meeting them, by approaching those we don't know who live around us and checking they are OK, by being proactive in calling and texting and writing, but offering a cheery word and a profound prayer. What we will miss by not gathering together we will make real in new ways. I pray that we will discover what it is to be the church without walls, so that we will grow closer together and grow stronger in acts of service despite, even because of, our being apart.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians:
"Always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5. 15 - 18)

Know that you are prayed for. May God bless you, as you bring that blessing to others in word and action in these difficult days.