All posts by 3 churches

The touching place of God

The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity runs from January 18 to 25 each year. An order of service is produced by a different country every year, and this is the introductory prayer for 2023. It makes a thoughtful and inspiring reflection on who we are, and what is our calling.

How great is this place,
for it is the touching place of God.
In Christ, we are gathered from the edges
And woven into the dream.
Here we feel the hint of heaven,
Where justice, love and mercy meet.
Here we celebrate
The blessedness of unity in God.
We, who were once far off,
Are brought near.
And so we pray,
God, creator of all,
In your love, you have made each one of us
In your grace, you gather us together in your image
In your mercy, you make us restless until we find our rest in you. Disturb us in our contentment,
Distract us from our comforts
Deter us from our conflicts
Until your kingdom comes and your will is done.


Fr Matthew

First impressions

The words of John the Baptist about Jesus in today’s Gospel “Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”, are the first ones spoken about him in St John’s Gospel. They are, if you like, our first impression of Our Lord, at least according to St John. That made me think about first impressions, and find out what others have said on the subject…

J.K.Rowling said “A good first impression can work wonders”, while Will Rogers pointed out that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Elliott Abrams reminds us that “first impressions matter. Experts say we size up new people in somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes.” So first impressions are important. However, some people warn us of the dangers involved in trusting first impressions: “I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.” (Daniel Handler). Famous author Franz Kafka went further: “First impressions are always unreliable.” One point made by Sherrilyn Kenyon is that “It is sometimes difficult to get rid of first impressions,” while Daniel Tosh issues a salutary warning: “You know who makes a great first impression? Liars.” We have been warned…

So there seem to be widely differing positions on the subject. Take two famous Russians. Back on positive grounds, Tolstoy advises “In difficult circumstances always act on first impressions.” But fellow Russian author Anton Chekhov warns: “Each of us is full of too many wheels, screws and valves to permit us to judge one another on a first impression or by two or three external signs.” Well, now I really don’t know what to make of it all.

Does this have anything to say to us church-type people? Oh yes! I leave the last word to someone called Nelson Searcy. We might all pay attention to what he has to say about arriving at a church… “Seven minutes is all you get to make a positive first impression. In the first seven minutes of contact with your church, your first-time guests will know whether or not they are coming back. That’s before a single worship song is sung and before a single word of the message is uttered.” Food for thought…

Fr Matthew

Bethany beyond the Jordan

The hottest place I have ever been must be, I think, a spot in the Jordan Valley in the Palestinian Territory near Jericho that we visited on pilgrimage in 2014. This is where St John’s Gospel says St John the Baptist started his ministry, “Bethany beyond the Jordan” and here Jesus came and was baptized. Now most pilgrims to the Holy Land visit another “Baptism site”, very beautiful, and near to the Sea of Galilee, but hardly anyone nowadays believes that to be the actual spot. Tradition says that the Jericho site was a goal for pilgrims from the earliest days, that many of John the Baptist’s followers stayed in the area, churches were built, and monks lived in nearby caves, but centuries later, when the time of the Byzantine Empire and Crusades ended, the site became neglected and pilgrimages eventually stopped.

In 1897, a scholar from Jerusalem discovered the Madaba Map, a 6th century mosaic depicting the Middle East, and study of it led to interest in the exact location of the Baptism. Pilgrims started to return hoping to find clues, and a church was built, but the World Wars and the conflicts in 1948, 1967 and 1973 made the site a no-go area for most of the 20th century. It became a militarized zone, full of mines, until Jordan and Israel / Palestine. A member of the Jordanian royal family got interested in the eastern, Jordanian half of the site. This led to excavations which discovered mosaics and ruins of a church, and later many more archaeological remains. Altogether the remains of five different churches, built at separate times, have been found.

Ancient pilgrims’ accounts show how closely their descriptions matched with what has been discovered. In AD 530 Theodosius wrote of ’the place where the Lord was baptized there is… the church of St John the Baptist, which the Emperor Anastasius built: this church is very lofty, being built above large chambers, on account of the Jordan when it overflows.” The remains of the piers over which this church was built were now discovered. Also in the 6th century Antoninus added that there were marble steps descending into the water, and these were found too.

I remember staggering back to the coach in the heat on that afternoon, where signs to left and right of the fenced track warned of still buried mines. But I wouldn’t have missed for the world the very spot where today’s Feast of the Baptism actually took place.

Fr Matthew