Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Archbishop of Canterbury Baptising at the Abbey

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, is to baptise 17 people, at a service of celebration in the grounds of Malmesbury Abbey. (See below)

On Saturday September 13th at 4pm, as part of a three-day visit to the Diocese of Bristol, the Archbishop will be speaking at an outdoor service in the Abbey grounds and then baptising 17 adults and young people by immersion in a baptismal pool. For many this marks the beginning of a journey of faith, for some this is a return to the Christian faith and a reaffirmation of an earlier baptism or christening.

This will be a really significant day on a number of levels. This is a celebration of historic links between Canterbury and Malmesbury, it's also a genuine once in a lifetime community occasion, and it's a fresh declaration of the Christian faith, a faith that has been alive and well in our community for over 1,300 years.

We know that Malmesbury Abbey’s founder, St Aldhelm, studied with Hadrian in Canterbury in the 7th century, and we know that pilgrims from Canterbury and elsewhere used to travel to Malmesbury to study with the monks here and use the famous Abbey library; in fact the Old Bell Hotel was originally built by Abbot Walter Loring in the 13th century to house the many visitors. So it feels like the Archbishop is treading a pretty ancient path, albeit via the M4 and the A429.

I’ve also asked many of our local historians whether the Archbishop of Canterbury has visited Malmesbury in modern times and nobody can point to any visit at all in the last few hundred years, so this is a very notable event for the people of North Wiltshire.

And for the friends, family and communities of those being baptised this will be a moving personal moment and a great celebration. God is at work in all our lives, and our services of baptism and confirmation allow us to gather as a church and say 'look at the good thing God is doing.'

All are welcome to what is an un-ticketed event, to be held inside the Abbey if wet. After the service concludes, at about 5.30pm, the evening will continue with bouncy castles, live music, a hog roast, an Indian buffet and a bar.

Then church the following day!

Friday, 11 July 2014


I remember a conversation on a plane as we descended into Kampala. Members of our party were discussing summer holidays when one of our group from the Diocese of Bristol said ‘perhaps it’s best not to mention holidays while you’re here, as for most Ugandans holidays simply just don’t happen; in fact the concept barely exists for many.’ It was later in my trip that I saw an offering with produce brought forward to front for the first time. This wasn’t a Harvest Festival, this was subsistence farmers, whose hands never encountered cash, bringing their offering to God. And this time they were spending in church was in fact their holiday, their holy-day, a blessed bit of Sabbath in an exhausting life. Seeing in a different context helped me to see my own context a little clearer; and with gratitude.

Ugandan Commuting (Photo: Chris Dobson)

The writer Mark Buchanan (in his book The Holy Wild) describes a night in Uganda when he couldn’t be bothered to worship God, thought the food was awful and was too sour to join in the praise, when a woman stood up to declare her love for Jesus:  ‘I praise Him all the time for how good He is. For three months, I prayed to Him for shoes. And look! He gave me shoes!’ The Ugandans went wild. They clapped, they cheered, they whistled, they yelled. Buchanan sat there devastated,  realising that not once in his life had he prayed to God for shoes, and he had certainly never thanked God for them. He was snapped out of his self-pity, he was repentant, and he made this astute observation: Thanklessness becomes its own prison.  Insightful words.

I sometimes wonder why I spot indifference within myself in a time of worship. That to an onlooker I might look no different standing in church singing to God than when I am standing in a queue in the Coop (although I don’t normally sing at the checkout.)  And I think Buchanan is right: Thanklessness becomes its own prison.  And I think Psalm 100 calls us, a people with shoes and holidays and the Cross of Christ before us, to a better place:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord,
all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
  It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures for ever,
    and his faithfulness
to all generations.

The Meeting Place

You’ve seen them. What a bunch of nutters, standing out there in Birdcage Walk in the rain, the snow, and less frequently the blistering Wiltshire heat, to proclaim the Kingdom of God on a Saturday morning. For six years the Healing in the Streets team from the Abbey has been faithful and has seen God’s immense faithfulness, with a steady stream of people coming for prayer between 10am and 12pm, and an encouraging number coming back or writing to thank God for His healing or His blessing. 

What has developed over the years has actually been very biblical. Healing prayer not disconnected from every other dimension of church, but connected in some way. Some have come to faith in Jesus Christ, some have made their way into the waters of baptism, some have chosen to come back week in and week out—Healing in the Streets is their church it seems—and others know the team members as a source of ongoing pastoral care and friendship. And recently the offer of a cup of coffee has been welcomed by market stall holders. Healing in the Streets +.

So in July we’re allowing things to emerge a little more, and Healing in the Streets will become the Meeting Place for a month. Churches across the UK have seen fruit when they've placed a new informal expression of church in ordinary market places. So the Meeting Place for us will be a trial of an Abbey Fresh Expression.

It will be small and beautiful and broadly be healing prayer, pastoral care and prayer, hospitality to Market Stall holders and passers by, and probably around 11am some sort of worship, music or creative arts (weather permitting.) In fact something undramatically similar to what has gone before. But we are asking the Spirit to lead us, to give us open and willing hearts, and to reveal to us how we might join with Him more fully in his mission in Malmesbury.

So a request to pray for the team, to come along and be a part if you wish, as church gets out on the street, and particularly an invitation to come for prayer or to be part of the worship or creative arts at 11am.

Saturday, 28 June 2014


There are three main Greek words for worship in the New Testament.  The most common (PROSKUNEO) means to prostrate, or bow down as to kiss in homage; you’ll find it in John 4:23 as Jesus describes true worshippers. Another (LATREUO) means an act of religious service or worship; Paul uses it in Romans 12:1 and it’s related to our word ‘liturgy’. A third (SEBO) appears mainly in the book of Acts and means to reverence or hold in awe. You might ask which of these you are up to every Sunday. But there is a fourth, little used word, (THERAPEUO), which has two interesting dimensions that particularly intrigue a musician like me. In Acts 17:25 you’ll see it used in the sense of serving and worship; in Matthew 4:23&24 you’ll see it used to describe the healing ministry of Jesus. Look again at THERAPEUO and you can see the word ‘therapy’ struggling to get out. Enough of the Greek lesson, but you’ll probably get why Malmesbury Abbey’s partnership with Music for Autism over the last few years has been profoundly significant in the lives of young and old, and a deeply moving act of hospitality in the midst of which God has been at work.

This Wednesday, July 2nd, Music for Autism are back at the Abbey. Drop in during the day if you can. From 11am-12pm children and young people on the autistic spectrum from schools across Wiltshire & South Gloucestershire get the chance to dance, sing and conduct with professional musicians and an international conductor guiding the music making.

Then at 2pm there is a concert for seniors. All are invited, but there is a special invitation extended to those living with dementia and their carers as music and songs from a few decades ago unlocks memories and emotions, and for many brings deep joy. Stay for a cuppa and a slice of cake after this.

Then at 7.30pm the church needs to turn up for a fantastic concert of beautiful musicWe really, really need your £10 for your ticket, and your donation for your glass of bubbly at the interval. All the proceeds fund the work of Music for Autism earlier in the day. So this is me being a bit pushy for once (!). Drop in during the day if you can, but turn up this Wednesday evening and facilitate something wonderfully life-giving in our community. God is at work.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Generous Giving

I walked past Malmesbury Abbey recently. I normally walk in, so walking past was a simple pleasure. My first thought, as a passerby, was how beautiful the fresh cut lawns looked on a warm sunny evening and how the Abbey and its grounds shape the feel and life of our town. My second thought was what an incredible gift to the town (and by implication, of course, to ourselves) is the generous giving of our Abbey congregations—we paid for the lawns to be cut together. We paid for the weeding too.

The impact of the generous giving of Abbey members is profound. It’s not just grass and buildings and heating, although I would say the stewardship of our buildings and their care and development really matter and point towards something beyond the stones themselves. As we give together we resource the genuine breadth of ministry and worship across our Abbey community, we support a number of our own congregation in mission further afield, and we back our diocese as they train and provide ministers and resource Christian distinctiveness in church schools. And, as I mentioned on Vision Sunday, we’re looking to resource our Junior Church and Youth ministries on a different level in 2014/2015 and the recruitment conversation has already begun. So I’m asking you to review your monthly giving in the next couple of weeks with these biblical principles in mind:

It’s all God’s. As a rather overwhelmed King David cried out to God ‘who am I, and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have only given what comes from your hand.’ (1 Chronicles 29:14)

Jesus’ needed money too. We can mistakenly think that genuine Kingdom life and ministry doesn’t need money. But actually Luke records that women travelling with the disciples helped to support them out of their own pockets. (Luke 8:1-3)

Give proportionately. Many use the tithe, the tenth, as a guide to their monthly commitment to the church. (see Malachi 3:10) We should work towards proportional giving as disciples together, because ultimately that is fairer—and those with less in our community aren’t being asked to give more.

Thank you for working with God to sustain the ministry of your church. You can get further information on how to give regularly and  how to giftaid from
chrisjager@malmesburyabbey.com. All communications and giving is treated confidentially.

10,000 Voices

There are two stories floating around basically. The story of God, and the story of you (well, all humanity actually.) And the interesting thing is that they are connected.

Many of us struggle to share our faith because we think it has to be a pretty sophisticated and convincing explanation of the doctrines of the Christian faith—the exhaustive story of God, where I understand absolutely everything about God and dazzle people to the point that they become disciples of Christ. Yes, that’s so going to happen! Consider changing the word ‘faith’ to the word ‘trust’ and suddenly it becomes a bit easier; we’re not explaining our faith, but sharing where we have trusted in God recently. Telling our stories, but not leaving out the bit where our story intersects with God’s story.

If you look at the end of the account of Pentecost in Acts 2, there in verse 41 is one pretty impressive statistic: ‘about three thousand were added to their number that day.’ Well that’s depressing; we must be doing something wrong. However if Pentecost is a unique unrepeatable event, which it is, the life of the Spirit isn’t; so is there anything you and I can learn from that first Pentecost, which we celebrate today? ‘Peter stood up...and raised his voice.’ (Acts 2:14) Peter said something. Basically, Churches grow, when people tell other people about God. Or put it this way: what would be our strategy for the church not to grow at all? Saying nothing; exactly.

So the Diocese of Bristol is after us. It is challenging everybody to share the story of them and God, for 10,000 voices to be raised, in the hope that 500 will be baptised in the next year. You can find out more about this at www.bristol.anglican.org/voicesAnd the challenge is coming in your direction locally, right now, in that I am asking every member of Malmesbury Abbey to share their faith with a non-Christian between now and when the Archbishop of Canterbury visits on September 13th. At all our services we’ll be grabbing people out the front to hear how it’s going and praying for those who have heard something of the Christian message. And then we can invite a lot of people onto the Alpha Course this September. Church is about to get messy.

In the power of the Spirit, Peter raised his voice. Let’s raise ours.


In 2010 I had the great privilege to spend 2 weeks with the Anglican Church in Uganda and one week in Kabale, with the Diocese of Kigezi. My host was Canon Stanley Byomugabe (see above), and it was a wonderful chance to eat matoke, to pray and worship with the diocesan leadership each day, to visit schools and watch Canon Stanley dance—Archdeacons don’t tend to do that in the Diocese of Bristol—and to spend a day learning about the inspiring and transformational  work of the Diocese of Kigezi Water & Sanitation Project (see cover). Through Tearfund our special harvest collection is given to this project each year.

So, although I am sadly away on leave, it is a joy as a congregation to welcome the Bishop of Kigezi, the Rt Revd George Bagamuhunda, and the Revd Reuben Byomuhangi, Director of the Water & Sanitation project, to Malmesbury Abbey for our 10.30am service of Morning Prayer this Sunday, May 25th. We are honoured by their visit. Bishop George will be preaching and Revd Reuben will be interviewed about the project by Revd John Monagahan. During the service our offering will be for the Water & Sanitation Project and after the service we will be sharing together the food we have brought and spending more time with our visitors. 

As we looked at Revelation 1, two weeks ago, there was very good and encouraging news, that Christ holds the seven stars, the churches, in his hand. When Christ said ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20) I think our minds naturally travel to the ascended Christ, enthroned, who has sent His Spirit, the Comforter to breathe life into the dry bones of the church. God with us, by his Spirit. But the mysterious writing of Revelation 1 suggests that He is with us always because we are held in his hand. As you stand in Malmesbury Abbey look down and you’ll see a 12th century floor, keep looking and you will see the hand of Christ. And, unless Christ has many, many hands, by implication Kabale Cathedral and Malmesbury Abbey exist in that same hand.

So the joining of the Diocese of Kigezi and the Deanery of North Wiltshire is not just the result of a link that has borne fruit over many years, it is the expression of a spiritual reality, the church is one.

I pray that God will richly bless Bishop George and Revd Reuben on their visit, and that our link may be blessed by God for many years.