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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, December 24, 2004
    Christmas circulars and Cardinal Newman
    A morning reading all the Christmas circulars which have come my way this year. All welcome, some sketchy, a few funny (none more than the Turners', brimfull of dry wit and with another great card from Jessie - winner of my 2003 Card of the Year), some info-packed, and one in particular, lengthy, wide-ranging, deep and profound.

    Robert, vicar of St Margaret of Antioch, Princes Avenue, Toxteth, writes letters which move me in their honesty, integrity, and breadth of quotations from Billy Connolly to Cardinal John Henry Newman. Robert cares for one of Liverpool's jewels in one of the city's poorest and most multicultural areas - St Margaret's, known as the 'Black Church', in the parish from where the 1981 riots erupted. Over the past decade Robert and local people of all faiths have battled to keep it open and won a Heritage Lottery grant to stop it from literally crumbling. They had a wonderful celebration last July when the repair work was completed - and this is why:

    "... St Margaret's Building is a 'Given', and a glorious sacred space, in stained glass, art and architecture; a Parish Church, of the catholic tradition, of the Church of England, to serve the children and the survivors of that Pain" (his emphases).

    I have witnessed this. Few places seem holier to me than St Margaret's when Robert and a dozen ragged children of the predominantly Muslim C-of-E school share an intimate midweek eucharist together.

    In sincere good faith Robert battles with authority and bureaucracy in the church, between the Pain of his place and the liberating power of the gospel, and his Christmas circulars are full of that struggle. And full of great quotes from other fellow-strugglers across the years. They thrill me and sustain me. I have told him this in a letter I've written today. And it is this one, from Newman, which moves me most today:

    God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission - I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his - if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work: I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

    Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me - still He knows what He is about.