Sunday 10 October 2010

A View from the Pew – Finding traces of Jan Hus in Prague

Published in Newslink, the Diocesan magazine for Limerick & Killaloe in October 2010
Jan Hus monument, Old Town Square, Prague

Jan Hus, early church reformer
This summer I visited Prague on holiday with my wife by rail – Eurostar from London, a few nights in Cologne, the overnight sleeper to Prague, on to Vienna, then Bratislava, and back home. Very civilised, a wonderful adventure - and we saved carbon emissions by not flying!

I had vaguely heard of a church reformer called Jan Hus, but in Prague I found traces of him around every corner – there is a gigantic statue of him in Old Town Square, erected during the Czech national revival in 1915 – so I decided to learn a bit more about him.

Jan Hus was a Bohemian priest and theologian at Charles University in Prague. He was influenced by John Wycliffe, the 14th Century English reformer who first translated the Bible into English. Like Wycliffe, he taught that the true church consists of all redeemed Christians; that Christ, not the Pope, is its head; and that the Bible alone provides the laws which should govern church life. He railed against the abuses of the medieval church, with its payments for indulgences, masses etc. Caught up in the maelstrom of church and international politics, Hus was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in 1415 at the Council of Constance, where Wycliffe also was posthumously condemned.

After the death of Hus, his followers rose up in revolt. After a long and bloody crusade to suppress them, a peace treaty was signed in 1436 which permitted them to have their own independent Hussite Catholic Church, in which priests and bishops held no worldly possessions and laity were permitted to receive communion in both kinds. This lasted until 1620, when the Roman Catholic Hapsburgs finally suppressed it, forcing Hussites to go underground or leave Hapsburg territory. One group found refuge in Saxony, and as the Moravian Brethren inspired John Wesley.

The spirit of Jan Hus lives on
While in Prague, I also went to a chamber concert in beautiful baroque St Nicholas’ Church. To my surprise, I discovered that this now belongs to the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, which I had never heard of before. When I enquired further, I learned their story.

A modernizing movement of Czech Catholic priests asked the Vatican, after the foundation of the Czechoslovak state in 1918, to accept reforms, including the use of Czech in the liturgy and voluntary clerical celibacy. This was refused. But at Christmas 1919 masses were said in Czech in many churches anyway, and the next year the breakaway church was formed. It grew rapidly in the nationalist fervour of the times, and with around 180,000 members in 300 parishes and 6 dioceses it remains one of the largest Czech denominations today.

They describe themselves as ‘Christians who strive to combine contemporary moral striving and scientific knowledge with the Spirit of Christ as preserved in Scripture and the tradition of the Early Church, and in the reform movements of the Bohemian Reformation and subsequent reformation efforts.’ Like us in the Church of Ireland, they claim both Catholic and Protestant traditions, they combine Synodical with Episcopal governance, they ordain women, and are members of the World Council of Churches.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Creation Flourishing on St Francis' Day

This report appeared in the Nenagh Guardian for 16 October 2010
Sharing refreshments after Creation Flourishing (photo Patrick Rowley-Brooke)

Creation Flourishing – a time for celebration and care
Monday 4th October was the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, who had a very special love for all God’s creation. So what better day could there be for a large congregation of nearly100 people from different churches and Christian groups in and around Nenagh to come together at 7.30 pm in St Mary’s Church of Ireland to celebrate the flourishing of God’s creation and to reflect on our duty to care for it.

The liturgy was developed by a team from Nenagh Churches Together, Eilish Cummins served as Master of Ceremonies, and the organ was played by Sylvia Crawford.

Gathering & Welcome
The liturgy began with everyone singing that great hymn How Great Thou Art, led by a joint choir from the CofI and Catholic parishes, as local church leaders Rev Marie Rowley Brooke (Church of Ireland), Fr Anthony McMahon (Catholic), Rev Brian Griffin (Methodist) and Philip O’Regan (Living Water, non-denominational prayer group) processed to their places in the front. Rev Marie Rowley-Brooke gave an address of welcome, commending the Nenagh Churches Together initiative.

God’s creation is so amazing in the diversity of life it supports, in its complex and intricate inter-relationships, in its beauty. Our first response to it could only be wonder.

Children from the four Nenagh primary schools – the Gaelscoil, CBS, St Mary’s Convent and St Mary’s Church of Ireland – began by reading The Story of Creation, adapted from Genesis. Cantor Patrick Rowley-Brooke sang an extract from Psalm 104 with choral response, Bless the Lord O my soul. Sr Christine Quigley read a Prayer of Wonder. Suma and Priya from India then danced a graceful Dance of Wonder in Keralan costume to a traditional Malayalam song of praise – one of the high points of the evening.

As we contemplated the wonder of God’s creation, we realised how perfectly made it is to sustain us, and not just us but the whole web of life of which we are part. Our response could only be to give thanks for all that God has given us.

Philip O’Regan led intercessory prayers, written by Catherine Brennan SSL for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. Guitarists Ken Mulcahy and Stephen Normayle then led the congregation in singing a thanksgiving hymn, Thank you Lord for food to eat.

As we wondered at and gave thanks for creation, we recalled the damage we human beings do it by thoughtless and greedy actions. We were moved to repent and seek forgiveness.

Joc Sanders called the congregation to repentance and led them in a prayer of confession. After a period of reflection without words on human responsibility, all joined in a prayer for God’s grace to grant us the courage to change our ways.

Covenant of Care
Scripture assures us that God has graciously made a covenant to preserve and protect his creation, to which we responded with our own covenant to care for God’s creation.

John Armitage read a passage from Genesis, The rainbow is the symbol of God’s covenant with creation. Denis Holmes read St Francis’ lovely prayer, Make me an instrument of your peace. Rae Croft, Joseph Kelly and Nadzeya Piatrouskaya lit candles to symbolise our Covenant of Care and all joined in declaring it. Then the joint choir sang Timothy Dudley-Smith’s hymn, The God who set the stars in space.

Going out as God’s people
As the congregation prepared to go out together, united as God’s people, filled with wonder and thankfulness for God’s grace shown in creation, penitent for the human damage done to it, and determined to join in God’s covenant to care for it, all joined in saying The Lord’s Prayer together. The church leaders then led the people in saying a Community Blessing, and the service finished with all singing that stirring hymn, All creatures of our God and King.

Most then shared in delicious refreshments kindly provided by a team from the Church of Ireland parish, amidst a happy chatter of conversation between old friends and new. A common theme was how lovely and meaningful the evening liturgy had been.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Lough Derg water extraction - an appeal to North Tipp public representatives

In response to the front page story in the Nenagh Guardian for 25th September 2010, ‘Dublin must pay cash for our water’, I wrote the following letter to the Editor, which was published in the 2nd October edition.


I am dismayed at the reported comments of some County Councillors about taking water from Lough Derg for Dublin (front page, last week). Talk of making Dublin pay for our water will only encourage the powerful and unaccountable promoters of this bad scheme to press ahead*. Lough Derg is part of our heritage, and a valuable resource for recreation and tourism. It is not for sale!

If ever built, this €450 million scheme will likely be an expensive white elephant. The promoters try to justify it by saying Dublin will need half again as much water by 2040 as it uses in 2010. But this is based on Celtic Tiger era projections for population and economic growth in the Dublin Regional Planning Guidelines, which surely no one believes anymore. With realistic growth projections, fixing leaks, and sensible demand management measures, like rainwater harvesting and water metering and charging, Dublin will not need the water.

There is a risk that Lough Derg could be irreparably damaged by the scheme. No one yet knows enough about the hydrology and ecology of the lake to know what its impact will be. It would be extremely foolish to take decisions without a proper scientific understanding.

Rather than talk about money, I call on our public representatives to demand two things before any decisions are taken:
  1. an independent review of the demand assumptions on which the scheme is based;
  2. adequately funded independent scientific studies of Lough Derg, which should be paid for at arms length by the scheme’s promoters.
Joc Sanders,

*The editor, as is his right, saw fit to omit these words: ‘You’ve shown you’re a whore - now let’s haggle over the price’ - that is, I fear, how talk of payment for water will be seen by the scheme's promoters.

Sunday 3 October 2010

Make me an instrument of your peace

Tomorow, Monday 3rd Oct, is the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, so what better prayer to use in our parish this month than this one of his! We shall say it together each Sunday, and you might want to learn it by heart to use in your own private prayers.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

St Francis of Assisi, by Andrea Vanni 1332-c.1414, Lindenau-Museum, Altenburg