At St James’ Cathedral

I decided to go to the Cathedral, which was only about 10 minutes’ walk from my hostel, for the 11:00 Eucharist and the study hour beforehand, at which Lister Tonge was speaking about Spiritual direction. I had met Lister twice, the second time when Archdeacon Jonathan invited him to lead a clergy retreat preceding my first synod as area dean of the Nordic and Baltic. He had many wise things to say about spiritual direction. I did not take notes because I thought I would remember them. Little did I know what was going to happen.

He distributed hymn books, telling us that we were not to share. I guessed that he was probably going to ask us to find a favorite hymn, and that was what he did – or rather, to find a hymn that spoke to us at the present moment and reflect on what it meant to us.  Then he asks for a volunteer to bring his or her thoughts as material for spiritual direction in dialogue with him.

I might have chosen Sydney Carter’s “One more step around the world I go” or, more conventionally, “Lord, for the years thy love has kept and guided”. But neither was in the hymn book.  So I chose one that has spoken to me in the past and was ready for revisiting: Charles Wesley’s “Christ, whose glory fills the skies”.

To say why this spoke to me at the present moment involved saying quite a lot about my journey. It was not only a good conversation for me to have with a wise priest at this stage, but several of those present spoke to me afterwards, and the Dean thanked me.  I have resolved to keep the hymn in mind as a sign that however open I am to encounter other faiths, I am committed to Christ, who will “scatter all my unbelief” like the sun breaking through mist.

Then came the Eucharist. After my days in the monastery, it was a joy to be able to sing hymns in worship and to receive communion.  The gospel turned out to be one I looked forward to in my younger days: the parable of the unjust steward. I wanted to see how the preacher of the day would deal with this complex story, from which Luke appears to draw three different morals.  The preacher, Lisa Hackney-James, saw the story as a reflection of unjust financial trading in biblical times, with extortionate interest charged on debts to the benefit of the rich and the detriment of the poor, so that the steward was just doing his bit to redress the balance.  She then applied this to modern banking, third world debt, etc. I cannot remember what I did with this text when I had to preach on it.

The other notable thing about the service was the Eucharistic prayer, especially relevant to that gospel reading, which probably came from a book edited by Sam Wells which the Cathedral is using as an experiment.  I hope I can track it down if I ever have to preach on this Sunday again.

A chilling reminder in contrast to the beauty and vitality of the city: in the intercessions we prayed by name for 18 victims of gun crime who had died in the past week in Chicago, all men, ages ranging from 18 to 80.