St. George’s Day falls on 23 April and so I want to share some thoughts with you about our patron saint this month. There are many myths about his life but what we do know is that he was probably a soldier living in Palestine at the beginning of the fourth century, martyred at a place called Lydda, now known as Lod near modern day Tel Aviv. He is known in the Eastern Church as the Great Martyr, and is also the patron saint of Christians in Syria, India and elsewhere. Garth Hewitt, Director of the Amos Trust and honorary canon of St.George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem suggests there are three key themes emerging from his life.
Firstly, his association with the slaying of a dragon is legendary. Perhaps he was mistaken in iconography for St.Michael, who was himself usually depicted wearing armour, as George himself was likely to have been. Or perhaps he has been confused with Perseus’ slaying of the sea monster, a myth also associated with the area of Lydda. Whatever it was, the myth has acquired a common meaning for the Christians of the Holy Land, particularly those within the Orthodox tradition. Within that tradition, it is said that George (as a Roman army officer) oversaw 40 Christians being killed, followed by 40 crowns coming to rest upon their heads from heaven. It made such an impression upon him that he immediately confessed Christ for himself and ultimately went away to the same fate. In the same account, there is then the story of a young lady being seen behind him, representing the Church, which he is protecting from the dragon. The dragon stands for the pagan power of the Roman Empire. So what a transformation we have here in George’s life as he moved from martyring Christians to becoming a Christian martyr himself, and being known as a protector of the church.
Secondly, it is important to understand that George is revered in the Holy Land by Jews and Muslims too. This is perhaps due to a merging of three figures in the common mind: St.George, Al-Khader and Elias (or Elijah). Apparently, if you go to the Muslim village of Al-Khader (called after the Arabic name of St.George) located near Bethlehem, you will find the church and monastery of St.George. This is now visited mainly by Muslims but also by some Christians too since Al-Khader was formerly a Christian village. Likewise in Lod, the church and the mosque next door are both dedicated to St.George. Consequently he has become a figure of unity for the various faiths in the Holy Land.
Thirdly, the Arabic name of St.George, Al-Khader, means ‘green one’. St.George has particular ecological overtones since he was known as the ‘protector of the trees’ as well as the ‘healer’. His role is seen as safeguarding the environment. Thus our patron saint has a particular relevance for us in our own age, as we face the challenge of global warming and our response to that.
To conclude therefore, I believe we can be rightly proud to be associated with our patron saint. For rather than being seen as merely some war-mongering, crusading type figure associated with the deaths of Muslims, St. George can properly be understood as someone who challenged the powers of evil, unifies the different monotheistic faiths, and acts as an ecological advocate instead.
Marion at Westminster Abbey
I’ve just returned from another wonderful week’s Chaplaincy in Westminster Abbey. Over 6,000 people came through the door every day, from all over the world. Some came to worship and pray, some to make confessions, some to be anointed, some just look at all the amazing history and treasures within the Abbey.
The photo is of course in black and white [in the printed newsletter – ed.] so imagine my bright red ‘cincture’ complete with tassels round my waist and my extremely starched preaching bands at the neck of my cassock.
Thanks to everyone who came up to see me – I was very touched!
The Very Good Easter Gospel
As Jesus came up out of the river in which he was baptised, the Bible tells us that God spoke a blessing over him: ‘You are my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased!’
Easter, when death is unmasked as the penultimate scene, and not the final Act, is the time when this blessing is declared over the whole world: ‘You are my children, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased!’
Growing up, it was my local Parish Church that enabled me to begin to hear this blessing, and to grasp what it meant for my own identity and lifestyle. And it has made all the difference. It tells humanity who they are, what they are worth and, in declaring it to others, what they are for.
As a priest, this really is all I have to offer. There is no modern gadget or magic spell that can make ministry anything other than what it is: as Christ gives himself to us, so we give ourselves to God and to all of his people, many of whom have not yet heard:
‘You are my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased!’
When we share in the Mass together, when we talk over food and drink, when we serve our neighbours, when we explore the writings of the church, we are seeking to encounter more deeply, and make known, this extraordinarily good news.
Finding a New Rector
The Recruitment Process – Progress
Firstly, thank you to everyone who completed the Rector Questionnaire. The results have now been published on the Parish website here and have also been used in the recruitment documentation we have developed.
These documents (the Parish Profile and the Role Description and Person Specification document) were reviewed by the PCC, Bishop Andrew and representatives of the two Parish patrons on Monday 8 April at a ‘Section 12 meeting’. The Bishop said the Parish Profile was the best he had seen since coming to Reading, so we must be doing something right! It was approved with some minor amendments. The Role Description and Person Specification also received approval, although we still have a little more work to do on this.
As part of the meeting we reviewed the ‘Bishop’s Statement of Need’ which forms part of the Profile. This gives an insight into the Bishop’s wishes for our Parish which, I think, reflect very well how we as a Parish feel. One passage reads, ‘This job will require an experienced, mature person. We are looking for a mission-minded priest who loves the Church’s traditions, but is ready and willing to take new initiatives.’ You will be able to read the full text for yourself when the Profile is published online.
Both documents will be available on the Parish website by the time the job advert is first published in the Church Times on 26 April. The ad will also appear a week later on 3 May.
Next Steps – Timetable
After the advert has been published, the key dates are as follows:
- Deadline for applications – Friday 10 May
- Shortlisting – Tuesday 14 May
- Parish Visit Day for candidates – Saturday 25 May
- Interviews and decision – Friday 31 May
Please continue to use the special prayer to ask God to guide all the people involved to ensure we appoint the right person.
Nigel Smith, Parish Representative