Archives for posts with tag: Prayer Book Society

Sermon for Evensong for the Meeting of the Guildford Branch of the Prayer Book Society in the Founder’s Chapel, Charterhouse, on 9th March 2019

Psalms 47,48 and 49; Genesis 41:1-24; Galatians 3:15-22

At the moment I’ve got a young Turkish couple staying with me, who are really delightful people, whose only fault, so far as I’m concerned, is that the wife is for ever trying to feed me with Turkish delicacies.

On Wednesday I bumped into them when I got home at the end of the day, and after a certain amount of whispering, the husband asked, excusing himself if it was rude, but, did I know that I had a big dirty mark on my forehead? I had to explain to him – because he is a Moslem – that it was the ash from Ash Wednesday.

So it’s that time again – it seems to come round quicker and quicker as the years go by – when we are supposed to reflect, take stock, follow Jesus on his 40 days in the wilderness, and amend our lives: change our minds, repent, in the face of the momentous events of Holy Week and Easter.

Here in the Prayer Book Society we all come from different parishes, and in each parish I’m sure there are study groups and Lent activities for everyone to take part in. At St Mary’s in Stoke D’Abernon we are following Bishop Steven Croft’s Pilgrim course, in which we study the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ and so on.

We could, I’m sure, take a straw poll of the courses that each of us is following, or the Lent activities or Lent sacrifices which we are all making, in order to make this ‘40 days’ special and to bring home to us the seriousness of it.

I wonder if there is a distinctive Prayer Book approach to Lent: do we get any ideas from the Bible readings prescribed for today? I must confess that when I first read our first lesson, about Pharaoh’s dream, the seven good kine, cows, and the seven ‘ill favoured and leanfleshed’ ones, and the seven good ears of corn and seven shrivelled-up ones, I wondered whether the compilers of the Lectionary were being cruel to us and inflicting yet more worries about Brexit on us.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night, frankly very worried about what seems to be happening to our country, and not knowing where it is all going to end. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone who could forecast the future, or at least interpret one’s dreams, as Joseph did for Pharaoh?

But Joseph pointed out that he wasn’t being a fortune-teller in his own right, but that he was doing something prophetic, that the words were being given to him by God. He was God’s mouthpiece. Seven bad years, seven good years; famine is coming along, is what God said to Pharaoh through Joseph. And Pharaoh, with Joseph’s help, was able to organise his country to deal with the famine which was coming. God was speaking to his people through Joseph.

And then again, there is the passage from Galatians, which may be quite difficult to follow. I’m not quite sure how many of us here are lawyers, but I think it probably helps if you are or were one, as indeed I was.

So here goes. ‘Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.’ Once a contract has been signed – a ‘covenant’ is a contract – once it has been agreed, it can’t be unilaterally cancelled or added to. I definitely won’t go anywhere near the discussions in Brussels about the so-called ‘back stop’ here: but you can see the point. Having made an agreement, it is what it is. Unless both sides agree, one side can’t just unilaterally cancel it or change it, add bits to it.

‘Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made.’ What St Paul is saying is that God made contractual promises to Abraham. They made an agreement. If you worship me and keep my commandments, then I will keep you safe and you will be the founder of my chosen people. This was a promise to Abraham ‘and his seed’, as our Bible puts it: to Abraham and his descendants. Actually, not to his descendants, plural. St Paul’s point is that the word ‘seed’ is singular, so it means, ‘to Abraham and his descendant, singular’. So the beneficiary of the contract is Abraham’s descendant, singular. And that descendant is ‘thy seed, which is Christ’. This is all about a special kind of covenant, a will. God has bequeathed the benefit of his promise to Abraham’s descendant. He is ‘heir to the promise’.

St Paul goes on. ’And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul’ You have to read this upside-down. The law, which came 430 years later, can’t override the covenant. St Paul is drawing a distinction between God’s original promise to Abraham, and the law which he gave to Moses in the tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments.

St Paul is pointing out that the Jewish Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, based on the Ten Commandments, is a comprehensive system to keep people on the straight and narrow. ‘It was added because of transgressions’, because people were doing wrong, and it was put there to take care of the situation ‘till the seed should come to whom the promise was made…’ and that is the seed, ‘which is Christ.’

The Jewish Law and the basic promise to Abraham are not in conflict with each other. ‘Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid …’ But you have to understand what is of fundamental importance and what is, in effect, a temporary expedient, to make for a good society till the kingdom of God comes. Remember that Jesus himself said, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law … but to fulfil’ (Matt. 5:17) – but St Paul wouldn’t have been able to read St Matthew’s Gospel, so he might not have known exactly what Jesus had said.

This is all squarely in the ambit of Paul’s main mission, his main task, to bring the Gospel, the good news of Christ, to the Gentiles, to the non-Jews, and like all the letters, it’s like one half of a telephone conversation: you have to imagine what the other party in the conversation was saying.

Paul ticks off the Galatians – ‘O foolish Galatians’, at the beginning of chapter 3; and it becomes apparent, when you read the letter, that what he was berating the Galatians for was the fact that, whereas originally they had simply accepted the Gospel and started to follow and worship Christ, over time they had begun to believe that they couldn’t just become Christians, but they had to become Jews first.

Only the Jews could obtain salvation, and therefore, in order to be a good Christian, you also had to be a good Jew. You had to carry out all the Jewish Law and also, if you were a man, you had to be circumcised. But St Paul pointed out that this was not necessary, not right: that we are saved by faith, not by works, not by simply carrying out the dictates of the Jewish Law. Paul wrote, ‘if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.’

And then you will see, if you read on – your afternoon homework, after the match tea, might be to read the rest of the Letter to the Galatians – you’ll see how it works. And you’ll see that although you may be tempted to do bad things, what will straighten you out is not following the dictates of the Jewish Law but having the power of the Holy Spirit in you, which will bring the ‘fruits of the Spirit’. So instead of ‘fornication, impurity, and indecency; idolatry and sorcery; quarrels, a contentious temper, envy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, party intrigues, and jealousies; drinking bouts, orgies, and the like , instead of those, the fruit, the harvest, of the Spirit, as he puts it, is ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control: but he says there is no law dealing with things like this. ‘[T]hose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the lower nature with its passions and desires. If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course’. It’s tempting to think that it may be that the idea of being ruled solely by gifts of the Spirit could extend to ways of worship. You know, you don’t need any rules.

It seems to me at least arguable that, if you don’t have to be circumcised, in the context that St Paul found himself in, today we must recognise that people can come to Christian faith and gain salvation through the grace of God in all sorts of different ways.

Worshipping with the help of the Prayer Book is certainly fine, and is a good example of true worship, ‘worth-ship’, bringing our best to God. But equally, we mustn’t turn it into an object of worship in itself. That would surely be idolatry.

Maybe after all, what speaks to us as Prayer Book Society members today particularly is in our psalms. Take Psalm 47:

Clap your hands together, all ye people:

O sing unto God with the voice of melody

This psalm contains the deathless line, which Miles Coverdale wrote and which has even survived almost intact into Common Worship:

God is gone up with a merry noise:

I have to say that I’ve always had, in the back of my mind, a picture of somebody letting off a balloon. I think that is how I picture going up with a merry noise. But why not? If you read all the psalms today, you will be in part uplifted, in part enlightened, and in part, chastened. Remember Psalm 49:

There be some that put their trust in their goods 

and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches.

…[T]hey think that their houses shall continue for ever 

 and that their dwelling-places shall endure from one generation to another; and call the lands after their own names.…..This is their foolishness ……They lie in the hell like sheep, death gnaweth upon them, and the righteous shall have domination over them in the morning.

These psalms, 47,48 and 49, are psalms which it would be very good to meditate on as part of your Lent observance.

But it doesn’t seem to me that there’s any reason for Lent to be relentlessly gloomy. Just thoughtful.

O sing praises, sing praises unto our God:

O sing praises, sing praises unto our King.

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Sermon for Evensong at Charterhouse for the PBS Meeting, 14th March 2015

Exodus 1:22 – 2:10; Hebrews 8

The Catechism in your Prayer Books comes after the various baptism services and before the confirmation service. In my Prayer Book, it begins on page 289. It is described as ‘An Instruction to be learned of every person before he be brought to be confirmed by the Bishop’. ‘Learned’ means ‘learned by heart.’

It was, apparently, one of the traditional curate’s tasks to coach the children in learning the catechism so that they could recite it. In the confirmation service, at the beginning the bishop reads a preface, which says, ‘.. the Church hath thought good to order, that none hereafter shall be confirmed, but such as can say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments; and can also answer to such other Questions, as in the short Catechism are contained: which order is very convenient to be observed..’

The ‘short Catechism’! These children – maybe some of them as young as ten years old – had to be word-perfect on pages 289 to 296 of their Prayer Books. Well, before we grind to a halt in awe at the brilliance of our ancestors in their childhood years, I would just say that I think the Catechism is still very useful, not for use in school detention, as a point of reference about our faith. As with everything else in the Prayer Book, it sums up in beautiful language, and very clearly, all the elements of the Christian faith: the Creed, belief in Father, Son and Holy Ghost and in the death and resurrection of Christ; the Ten Commandments, ‘the same which God spake in the twentieth chapter of Exodus’, the Law given to Moses, the Lord’s Prayer; questions and answers about the sacraments, that is, what we are doing when we are worshipping in church.

‘What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?’

‘I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.’

You can just hear a ten-year-old saying that! But it is the essence of worship.

Today’s lessons take us from the birth of Moses, to whom God spoke, and to whom God gave the Law, the Ten Commandments, who was from the tribe of Levi, the tribe of priests. He was a priest of the order of Melchizedek, the mythical high priest, king of righteousness, king of peace; ‘without father, without mother, without descent: having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God’. That’s Hebrews chapter 7. We go from there, from the birth of Moses, to the new high priest, the new high priest of the order of Melchizedek, Jesus Christ. ‘We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.’

So in this part of our time of reflection in Lent, as we come to the fourth Sunday in Lent, we are being encouraged by our Bible reading to think about what it is to worship, and what it is to be a priest, to recognise Jesus as our high priest.

Nowadays we think of a priest as somebody who leads worship, who preaches sermons and acts as a sort of managing director of the management of a church. But in the time of Moses, a priest of the order of Melchizedek was an intermediary, was a mediator between man and God. He was the only one allowed to enter the holy of holies, the inner sanctum, the inner sanctuary in the Temple. The high priest was the only one qualified to encounter God face to face.

Now, the God which we worship with the help of Jesus is not so fierce. He does not demand blood sacrifices. We are able to come to God through grace, through His free gift of love, not through His weighing our merits or pardoning our offences.

But who are we, in this context? This afternoon, this little band of the faithful has a label. We are members of the Prayer Book Society. We are Christians. We are Christians who like to worship, and whose Christianity is informed by, this great and ancient book, the Book of Common Prayer.

But it is our Christianity that is informed by our love of this book, and informed by this book itself. It’s not the case that we are here because we share the love of stamps or Jaguar cars, or some other passion: the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, in my case. We are here as Christians. We are here because we want to worship God, in Christ, and we want to spread the Good News of Christ because we are Christians, and because He commanded us to do so.

The Prayer Book comes into it because we believe that the Prayer Book gives expression to our faith and shape to our worship in a better way than any other liturgy that we know. But it’s not a question of entertainment. The difference between going to see a play of Shakespeare and saying the service, or singing the service, at Evensong or at Mattins, or at the Lord’s table in Holy Communion, is that one is entertainment – maybe edifying, but it is entertainment nevertheless – and the other is worship, is bringing ourselves to God in praise and prayer.

Just as belief in God and in Jesus Christ as His Son has lasted for over 2,000 years, and still seems to be a very lively belief in many parts of the world, for the last 500 years the Book of Common Prayer has been the blueprint for worship in England and Wales. The PBS exists to keep that tradition going.

But where is our faith going to take us in the future? Is there a specifically Prayer Book dimension to this which will keep us together and do the Lord’s work at the same time? We’re not a very big band of people here in the Guildford Branch of the Prayer Book Society. Although it’s fair to say that there are quite a number of loyal members who don’t turn out for our services and meetings, even so we are rather a select band.

Apparently, according to Church of England research which I learned about at the Diocesan Synod last Saturday, if you define a country parish as a parish which has fewer than 10,000 residents in it, over 60% of the churches in England are in ‘country’ parishes. No doubt most of us here in Guildford Diocese live in country parishes, if they are defined in that way, strangely enough.

So if the Prayer Book Society, Guildford branch, was a country parish, with a small congregation, what should we be doing in order to do the Lord’s work in such a parish? At the Diocesan Synod last weekend, I learned that Archbishop Justin has set up working groups among the bishops ‘to grow and enhance the quality of the Christian witness’ in this country, and we were treated to a couple of case histories where churches, which had had rather small congregations and appeared not to be going anywhere, had been turned around and revitalised, and were now giving a much more dynamic witness to their faith in Christ.

Holy Trinity Claygate did a ‘Church-planting’ exercise in East Molesey. 40 people from Claygate have transferred to St Mary’s, East Molesey, along with a dynamic young curate, Revd Richard Lloyd – who, incidentally, was once Chaplain here at Charterhouse. Where there was once a band of about 40 rather elderly people and a large church building to keep up – a gentle air of genteel decline – now, there are still those faithful old people. But there are also about 150 people who have joined the church subsequently. Not just elderly people, but people of all ages, parents and children. And there is another church, All Saints, Weston Green, where again there is new growth, new people are joining the church, and the church is getting involved in more and more things.

In one instance, the relaunch of the church had a lot to do with introducing modern forms of worship, directly appealing to younger people. But in the other, when I looked at the church’s website, at first I wasn’t sure whether I was looking at the right church. They looked pretty normal, pretty standard.

They too had made an effort – a successful effort – to attract younger people. But their view was that it wasn’t the type of services that was keeping the young ones away – it was the time of the Sunday morning service. This was because a lot of the children were attending sports training sessions – mini Rugby in Cobham, for example – at exactly the same time as the Sunday service and Sunday School in church. What was the solution? They switched their family service to 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and made it a weekly service. But the actual liturgy was pretty standard. There has been no rush to wildly evangelical services, led by music groups with guitars. But the people are coming.

So what’s the X Factor? For both these churches, it was the fact that they formed several little groups of people who looked outside at their local communities, and did something practical to get involved. For example, the local food bank. Did you know that there are now 40 food banks in Surrey? Most of them have been started by local churches. Or Citizens’ Advice, or job clubs for people looking for work. Or groups who drive people to hospital and doctors’ appointments. There are lots of ways for members of the congregation to engage with their local community. If you think of Jesus’ great commandments, (which were, of course, just repeating what Moses had said), to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves, our worship is loving God, and our getting out into our local communities and doing some practical good is the Good Samaritan bit.

I pray that this congregation, this branch of the PBS, will thrive and grow. It will grow through your efforts as members of the PBS, helping churches all through our Diocese to worship regularly in Cranmer’s way – remember that Evensong is the fastest-growing service in the C of E – and helping to witness to our faith, by our practical love for our neighbours.

Sermon for Evening Prayer on Saturday 15th June 2014, after the Prayer Book Society, Guildford Branch, AGM
Exodus 34:1-10, Mark 1:1-13

After the AGM. A new beginning. A new deal. Moses had broken the tablets written by God – ‘tables of stone, written by the finger of God’ [Ex. 31:18]. He broke them when Aaron made the Golden Calf and got the Israelites to worship the Golden Calf rather than the One True God. They broke their covenant with God, so Moses broke the tablets containing the words of the covenant [Ex. 32:19].

And then Moses met the Lord, who came down in the pillar of cloud, and begged The Lord to forgive the Israelites and renew His covenant. The God of Israel was not a vengeful god; the Lord forgave His chosen people and renewed the covenant, giving Moses two new replacement tablets of stone on which the Lord had written: various commandments, (more than just the 10 Commandments), all designed to make for decent humane living.

The Israelites experienced God in the most direct way. God, JHWH, revealed Himself to His prophet Moses and He told Moses what He wanted His people to do.

In those days, scripture, holy writing, was supposed to be, literally, the word of the Lord. Even today, Moslem people believe that their scripture, the Quran, is the result of direct divine inspiration.

By the time Jesus came along, the Commandments had been copied, written down many times, and the Jews all knew what the commandments of God were. God had made an agreement with the Israelites, through their representative, through Moses. It was written down: it was a written contract.

With John the Baptist, people were renewed in their Jewish religion by ritual washing, being baptised in the River Jordan. There was no contract-making, nothing written except the original Jewish Bible, containing the words of the covenant between God and Abraham – renewed between God and Moses.

The covenant, the understanding, the link between God and his chosen people, was expressed to be by water and the Spirit. When Jesus presented Himself for baptism, God appeared. God spoke, not just to a prophet, but to anyone who was listening. ‘Thou art my beloved Son’ …[Mark 1:11]. And this began Jesus’ adult mission on earth, those three momentous years which changed the world.

We should perhaps pause at that point, since this is the Prayer Book Society at worship, and observe in a respectful way the fact that, whereas the Lord’s covenant with Israel through Abraham and through Moses was a matter of words. Jesus came in water and spirit [John 3:5] – and then above all, in the flesh, as a man. It wasn’t a question what was written or the detail of what was said, but of who He was that made a difference; so although we set great store by having the right words, the best words, to express the most important things in life, our relationship with God – and we find those words in the Book of Common Prayer – we must draw a respectful distinction between that situation and Moses and Abraham’s tablets of stone.

That covenant, that contract, those words written under the finger of God, were not replicated when Jesus came to be baptised by John the Baptist. Indeed I would suggest that there has been quite a lot of harm done by the idea that Scripture is literally written down by God. I think we can take some comfort from the fact that the Book of Common Prayer was clearly the work of human hands, indeed human hands informed by a lot of prayer, and by the response of the Holy Spirit to that prayer.

But albeit with the benefit of prayer, the book was written by a man, by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, in the middle of the 1500s. Cranmer based it on existing liturgy, usually in Latin, so he wasn’t making it up. Instead he was using the best bits that had evolved over the hundreds of years beforehand.

I started out by mentioning new beginnings, new years. This, the week of Pentecost, Whit week, is the beginning of the Christian year, the beginning of the Church year. Last Sunday was Whitsunday, when we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit: mysterious flames, the disciples speaking in tongues. Although they were recognised as being just ordinary bods from Galilee, what they said was understood by everyone, irrespective what country each person listening came from.

Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit.

God appearing in the pillar of fire or out of the burning bush to Moses: the father, the creator.

God the Son – ‘Thou art my beloved Son’

and last weekend, God the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. ‘The wind wills where it listeth’ [John 3:8].

None of this will translate literally, either as a matter of language or as a matter of metaphysics.

It’s difficult for us to believe in the sort of God who dealt with the Israelites, taking a very personal interest in what they did and responding to very basic prayers – ‘Save us from the Egyptians!’ ‘Save us from the Ammonites and the Amalekites. Give us victory in battle.’

It’s very difficult for us to believe in that kind of God. Easier for us to believe in God incarnate, in Jesus Christ. He was clearly a historical figure.

It may be easier, today, to recognise the work of the Holy Spirit. All of us, however unspiritual, surely have had those moments when something has happened, or a thought has popped into your brain, which you can’t really account for, but which nevertheless suddenly helps you to make sense of a difficult situation.

Obviously those sort of feelings don’t just pop up at will every time we pray. But it does seem to me that it would be worthwhile to carry on looking out for them. I suppose our take on that, as PBS members, is that on listening out for the ‘still, small voice of calm’, we feel that we may find it more easily using Cranmer’s words than in some twenty-first century banality.

Wherever you are going to find it – that still, small voice of calm, the voice of the Spirit – it is worth looking out for.

Sermon for the Prayer Book Society Guildford Branch Advent Service at Charterhouse, 30th November 2013, St Andrew’s Day
Matt.4:18-22 – Fishers of Men

I expect that you are quite pleased not to have heard, in today’s gospel lesson about the calling of Andrew, that Jesus wanted to make the disciples ‘fish for people’. That strained locution in the NRSV Bible has grated with me ever since I first heard it. Why not go for the neat pun, ‘fishers of men’? The first disciples were, after all, fishermen.

Just to deal first with the mechanics of translation: the Greek original is ‘αλιείς ανθρώπων, literally, catchers of human beings. King James’ translators were making a pun where there wasn’t one in the original – but it’s a good one, and it’s memorable.

I rather doubt whether children today, when they hear or read this passage, would find anything sticking in their minds in the way we did; we all remember ‘fishers of men’. That’s one good reason why the language of the Authorised Version and of the Prayer Book is so effective: it is memorable. The words are spiky. They don’t just pass in review and fade, as so much modern verbiage does.

That chimes with the way in which quite a lot of people – us, for example – may well feel that words which we use in worship ought to be special, ought to be out of the ordinary. We are bringing ourselves before God, and somehow, if we have to address the almighty in everyday words, it feels like turning up to an investiture in gardening clothes.

The other day I went to a lunch meeting addressed by our new Dean of Guildford, Dr Dianna Gwilliams. She was talking not as Dean, but as the chairman of a Christian organisation called Inclusive Church. Inclusive Church was founded after the Ven. Dr Jeffrey John, despite being a most learned theologian and revered teacher of the faith, was denied appointment as a bishop solely because of his being homosexual.

Inclusive Church, the Dean told us, was founded initially to protest against that discrimination, and then has developed into a Christian pressure group opposed to all forms of discrimination in the church. This is entirely consistent with what St Paul has written in our epistle today:

For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:11-13)

We can all think of instances where Jesus did not discriminate. One of his disciples, Levi, alias Matthew, was a publican, a tax-gatherer. Jesus was tackled by the Pharisees for eating with tax-gatherers and sinners. But He replied, ‘I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ Everyone is welcome in the kingdom of heaven, provided they repent, provided they change their minds.

Possibly Jesus’ most powerful parable, the story of the Good Samaritan, shows that even someone who according to conventional wisdom of the time would be degenerate, morally dubious, a Samaritan, was capable of nobility of thought and generosity of spirit far in excess of that exhibited by the representatives of God’s chosen people. The gospel message is for everyone.

‘All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice …’

So Inclusive Church has a very scriptural, a very Biblical, mission. It is against discrimination of any kind. I took a report of the meeting with Dean Dianna back to our church, to St Andrew’s in Cobham. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to sign up with Inclusive Church, to demonstrate to the world that our congregation would welcome anyone, ‘the Jew and the Greek’, as St Paul says?

The discussion has only just started at St Andrew’s in Cobham. However, one of the curates said to me, ‘I like this idea – but shouldn’t we extend it to embrace all forms of worship as well as all people?’ Among other things, he thought it could mean that we should do more Prayer Book services as well as ultra-modern Celtic liturgies and Taizé. Great idea, I replied.

And then a cloud passed across his face. ‘But could we get round the ‘sexist language’ in the Prayer Book? What about ‘who for us men …’ and so on?

Now you and I are of the generation that would immediately say, ‘No, no. The word ‘men’ means what the Greeks called άνθρωποι, mankind, not άνδρες, men as opposed to women.’ Or those of us who are lawyers will call to mind those ‘gender clauses’ in contracts, which in the small print say, ‘words imputing the male shall include the female’.

But many people today don’t see it that way. There are people who really do feel that this use of language is demeaning to women. We may say that in so saying, those people are showing their ignorance: but what I suggest is more important, especially in a Christian context, is that we should not deliberately do anything which causes offence to people.

If someone says they are offended, we should not try to argue that they are mistaken – to say that would be to make what is sometimes called a category mistake, to confuse one kind of thing with another kind. Because if someone objects to the use of ‘men’ or ‘brothers’, they may indeed be mistaken, as a matter of etymology – but they may still be really, genuinely offended.

Now we in the Prayer Book Society all want to do everything we can to encourage people to use the Prayer Book, but this does represent a stumbling block. I think we need to reflect carefully on it. Could a minister leave out, or slightly change, words which give offence, but otherwise keep the glories of the Prayer Book language?

No doubt we will ponder on this as we enjoy our Charterhouse Match Tea in a few minutes. My own view is that we could make little changes, if we knew that there were people in the congregation for whom these words would be an obstacle to their coming to God in worship. We have already changed some of the Prayer Book words. Think of the Lord’s Prayer. Do we forgive ‘them that’ trespass against us, or ‘those who’? That seems to be to be a classic instance where words have been changed in circumstances where some people feel they are inappropriate – although that feeling of their being inappropriate is arguably based on an inadequate understanding of how the language works, or worked, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

I believe that the Prayer Book does have a useful and valuable part to play in today’s worship. To use it brings a wonderful feeling of being part of a long tradition of English worship going back to the mid-sixteenth century. All those Christians have used Cranmer’s beautiful words. They are a ‘great cloud of witnesses’, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it.

I do want younger people to get to know and love this book as I do. But I have to acknowledge that different generations have different points of view. For many people today, ‘Men’ is a term of art for one half of a public lavatory. It does not automatically connote ‘mankind’.

Jesus would surely not want his followers today to fall into the same trap as the scribes and the Pharisees, being preoccupied with form at the expense of true meaning. ‘Whited sepulchres’, he called them (Matt.23:27). Even if it seems babyish to accommodate people who worry – albeit mistakenly – about allegedly sexist language, let us remember what Jesus said about babies: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God’ (Mark 10:14).

We should do the same.