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God's Speed, Edward!

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

At the end of July, our parish intern Edward's term with us will draw to a close. For this month's parish newsletter, he has written his reflection on the experience of spending a year at St Giles:

O Worship the Lord, in the beauty of holiness : let the whole earth stand in awe of him.

Psalm XCVI, verse 9

The Rector has asked me to consider my time with you at Saint Giles, not least to reflect on what I have learnt. There is so much about which I could write. I would like, however, to share something of my understanding of the life of prayer in the parish, in the hope it might encourage others to join us in that pattern of worship, prayer and reading.

As in so much of my time in the Parish, I find myself coming back to the words of the Book of Common Prayer. At the service of thanksgiving to welcome, Phillip Dawson, our new Assistant Curate, we prayed together:

Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [1]

It is a prayer which expresses well the Prayer Book understanding of an holy life, and yet, that first word in particular might sound strange to modern ears. When we talk of ‘preventing’ something we normally mean ‘to stop’ that thing. The two usages are, however, more similar than we think. To prevent something, we must first look ahead and trust that thing will indeed happen. The word’s root is Latin: prae-venire - to come before, to anticipate. It is in that sense that we are to imagine the Holy Ghost in our lives. God’s Spirit takes us by the hand and draws us through the changes and chances of this fleeting life.

It is fitting that the collect comes originally from the Forms of Prayer to be used at Sea. For many today, the Prayer Book is merely “that book that contains Evensong and Common Worship ‘Holy Communion Order 2 in Traditional Language’ but with extra page turns”.[2] At St Giles, that is very much not the case. There is an understanding that the Prayer Book has so much to offer in terms of reading, prayer and worship in addition to the Lord’s Day services. As the example of the collect above shows, the Prayer Book draws us to offer our whole lives in prayer to God, a living sacrifice of all our works begun, continued and ended in Him.

To give just a few examples from the past year, we have prayed together the Commination, the service for the First Day in Lent. We heard in the week before Easter, day by day, all four Gospel narratives of the Passion of Christ. Following Morning Prayer, we have prayed and sung the Litany, remembering before God all those for whom we might not otherwise pray: for prisoners and captives, for all sick children, for our persecutors and slanderers. The Prayer Book is at the heart of the life of the parish.

Indeed, if I am ever asked for one thing distinctive about St Giles, I often say it is to be found in the quiet piety of the Prayer Book. Of all the opportunities I have had in this past year, I have found most special the chance to lead Mattins. It is a service absolutely grounded in Scripture. As I sit down to write today, I have ringing in my ears the words of the Psalms appointed for the nineteenth morning. Of those, the first we say every day, regardless of season… O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation. Those words start to become written on your heart. They turn and direct you to worship God with all your mind, body and strength.

The second psalm this morning, I have taken for the title of this article, O worship the LORD, in the beauty of holiness : let the whole earth stand in awe of him. We are blessed at St Giles to have a beautiful place of worship. Still, this year if I have learnt anything, it is to remember that it is Our Lord’s house. The Church of England is not a series of congregations linked in mutual government. It is the Church catholic and apostolic, established in every place and rooted in the parish. We have a duty, I believe, to remember the place in which we serve. Moreover, just as we have an obligation to remember in thanksgiving those who have passed through our doors, so must we pray for those for those who will come after us. We do so in order to honour God.

It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Him… with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven.

It is a serious point. Worship is a serious thing.

Last week at Mattins, we heard read the story of Absalom. It is agonising to hear the grief of David when he learns of the death of his son, caught, hanging from a tree, pierced through his side by a spear; the King wishes he could have died in his son’s place. At the end of that lesson, we stood up to sing the Te Deum, a hymn in praise of God’s majesty. The contrast of emotions hit me as a reminder of the lively truth of Scripture, revealed to us in Jesus Christ. In that same service, we prayed together Psalm 139…

O Lord, thou hast searched me out and known me : thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising, thou understandest my thoughts long before.

It is that pattern of daily prayer, worship and thanksgiving that has sustained me through the past few months.

O Lord, open thou our lips. And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

I have been so grateful to all of you for your kindness and encouragement this year. It has truly been a joy to worship with you and share in the life of the parish. I leave you with next week’s collect. Though one of the shortest in the Prayer Book, it gathers together quite beautifully the piety and rationale we should all wish to see in the life of our church.

GRANT, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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