Category Archives: LitBits – People to Commemorate

April 22 – Toyohiko Kagawa

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Toyohiko Kagawa, renewer of society

Kagawa – evangelist, social reformer, author and mystic

Toyohiko Kagawa (1888-1960) lived in a turbulent period of Japanese history – the time of rising militarism and deepening xenophobia.

Born to a mistress of an unsuccessful politician businessman and orphaned at four, he learnt resilience through a difficult childhood. He was brought up by the austere and resentful widow of his father in his ancestral village in Shikoku.

At sixteen he became a pacifist, influenced by Tolstoy’s writings; this coincided with Japan’s war against Russia. Toyohiko was beaten as a traitor by his fellow students and teachers alike. Christianity too was regarded with suspicion; he was disowned by his remaining family when baptized in the same year.

Kagawa became an evangelist, preaching on street corners. He focused on those forgotten by society and neglected by the churches – the urban poor. At twenty-one, at death’s door with tuberculosis, he had a mystical experience of healing, of “being enveloped by bright light”. This was a formative experience and his life took on a great sense of urgency.

He left his seminary for the Shinkawa slums in Kobe, living there for the next 14 years surrounded by disease, vermin, and overwhelming stench, harassed day and night by drunks and criminals demanding money. He was threatened with the sword and beaten, yet persisted with his pacifist stance, kneeling before his abusers in the posture of prayer – not a ministry for the faint hearted.

Kagawa was impatient with those who saw the faith as a mere collection of correct doctrines: the Kingdom of God is to be lived in every dimension of life. He became an entrepreneur for the poor, starting clinics, low-cost food outlets and cooperative factories in the slums. He organised trade unions, and led strikes in the Mitsubishi and Kawasaki Shipyards in 1921. He preached “Brotherhood Economics”, peaceful cooperation between capital and labour, based on the Cross of Christ. He later organised unions for share farmers and farm workers, as well as consumer cooperatives throughout Japan.

He was the author of 150 books, often drafted on toilet paper; in a five-year period from 1929 he held 1,859 evangelistic meetings. He made twelve overseas speaking tours, to Australia, the USA, Canada, Europe, China, India and the Philippines. He studied for two years at Princeton University, obtaining Master’s degrees in theology and Experimental Psychology.

Kagawa was jailed several times for his role in the union movement, yet during the Depression the Mayor of Tokyo invited him to head the city’s Social Welfare Bureau. He was jailed in 1940 for his apology to China for Japan’s attack, and in mid- 1941 led an unsuccessful peace mission to the USA.

During his Australian tour (1935), Fletcher Jones (an iconic Australian clothing brand) invited Kagawa to address workers at his Warrnambool factory.  Jones, a Methodist, believed that “spiritual growth was achieved through productive and satisfying work, and the object of business should be social advancement rather than individual profit”. He visited Kagawa’s cooperatives the following year and proceeded to turn his business into a cooperative. By the 1970s, over 70% of shares were owned by the staff.

Kagawa remains a transnational inspiration for all who seek to live the Kingdom on earth.

by Rev Atsushi Shibouka

April 22 – Trevor Huddleston

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Trevor Huddleston, renewer of society

Born in 1913 into a privileged background and later an Oxford education, Trevor Huddleston sought Anglican ordination in 1937, then joined the Community of the Resurrection in 1939. This religious order had been founded by Charles Gore, Bishop of Oxford, with the apostolic community depicted in the Acts in mind. Gore had also helped found the Christian Social Union, which focussed the energies of High Church Anglicans on questions of social justice.

The Community sent Huddleston to South Africa in 1943 for what were to be 13 fruitful and tumultuous years. Apartheid became official policy in 1948, although racial segregation practices were much older. Working as parish priest in the slum area of Sophiatown, Huddleston became one of the fiercest opponents of Apartheid. His opposition to the regime and his association with leaders of the African National Congress earned negative attention from the South African police and government.

For blacks, however, he was a marvel. Desmond Tutu remembers meeting him when aged nine, and the way Huddleston treated his mother, who was cook, at a women’s hostel:

“I was standing with her on the hostel veranda when this tall white man, in a flowing black cassock, swept past. He doffed his hat to my mother in greeting. I was quite taken aback; a white man raising his hat to a black woman! Such things did not happen in real life. I learned much later that the man was Father Trevor Huddleston”.

The Community recalled him to England in 1956, and although he had become a South African citizen, he was refused re-entry to his adopted homeland as long as Apartheid reigned.

The publication of his book Naught for Your Comfort, also in 1956, was instrumental in the world’s discovery of the scandal of Apartheid. Desmond Tutu (whose son, Trevor, was named after Huddleston) stated: “If you could say that anybody single-handedly made Apartheid a world issue then that person was Trevor Huddleston”.

For Huddleston, this scandal was a Gospel matter. He was utterly convinced that the God who had taken on human flesh in Jesus Christ, and offered his own life for the life of the world, demanded nothing less of him as a Christian and a priest than immersion in the struggle to assert the dignity of all persons.

Huddleston was drawn back to the African continent. He became Bishop of Masasi in Tanganyika (later Tanzania) in 1960, and served there for eight years before returning to England as Bishop of Stepney in London. Ten years there were followed by his election as Bishop of Mauritius, and concurrently Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean.

He retired in 1983 and returned to England, where his energies were thrown into the Anti-Apartheid Movement, of which he became President. He was eventually to return to South Africa and had the joy of seeing his friend Nelson Mandela elected President of a democratic nation in 1994. Mandela has said that no white person had done more for South Africa. Trevor Huddleston died in 1998.

In Naught for Your Comfort Huddleston wrote:

“I trust in the mercy of God for my forgiveness. For He too is a Person. And it is His Person that I have found in Africa, in the poverty of her homes, in the beauty and splendour of her children, in the patience and courtesy of her people. But above all, I have found Him where every Christian should expect to find Him: in the darkness, in the fear, in the blinding weariness of Calvary. And Calvary is but one step from the empty Tomb”.

Rev Dr Andrew McGowan

April 4 – Leonard Kentish

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.


Leonard Noel Kentish, Christian martyr (1907-1943)

Leonard Noel Kentish BA BD AFIA, was born in Richmond, Victoria, to Cecil and Alice (nee Jackson) Kentish in August 1907. When he was three years old his father led a group of 200 Victorians as pioneer farmers to “The Gums” in southern Queensland to take up pastoral selections. Len’s father, a Methodist local preacher, conducted weekly services in their log house, assisted occasionally by clergy from Dalby or Tara. When the family left “The Gums” for Ipswich, Len had successfully completed his primary schooling and two years at Dalby High School. In the Ipswich Methodist churches, he became a local preacher, leader and Sunday School teacher. While working as a State public servant in Brisbane he began accountancy studies and volunteered for Home Mission service.

After serving as Home Missionary at Mitchell, Len moved to Woodford as a candidate for ordination. There, in 1928, he met Violet Simpson, LTCL, AMusA, a qualified teacher of piano. The couple were engaged within 4 months. During the next four years Len resided in King’s College while studying Arts and Divinity at The University of Queensland. His fourth college year was marked by significant social, sporting and academic achievement and elected President of the college club. He served in Indooroopilly Circuit, assisting Rev Richard Pope in 1932 and 1933. After ordination in 1934, he and Vi married in Maryborough and transferred to the Townsville Circuit. In 1935 he was invited to fill an Overseas Missions ministerial vacancy in Darwin, the most cosmopolitan town in Australia, its population including many indigenous people. In Darwin he oversaw the building of a new parsonage and worked with Presbyterian minister, Chris Goy, to create the Inter-Church Club which, at the outbreak of war became an important recreational canteen for servicemen.

In 1939 his interest in Aboriginal work accelerated with his transfer to the Goulburn Island mission as District Chairman. There he gained rapport with the indigenous people and began translating the New Testament into Maung. He volunteered as a Coastwatcher, in regular radio contact with the long-range transmitter HMAS Coonawarra. Under imminent threat of invasion following the bombing of Darwin, Len planned the evacuation of the wives and children of his staff on five isolated stations in March 1942. In April he led to safety about 100 part-descent children, now numbered among the Stolen Generation.

As Chairman, Len Kentish planned to visit his remaining staff on their stations in 1943. When fuel rationing grounded the mission ketch, the navy maintained the transport of stores and personnel. Len embarked at Goulburn on HMAS Patricia Cam. He visited Milingimbi and Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island) and was on the way to Yirrkala when the ship was bombed by a Japanese floatplane, sinking it almost immediately. After a second bomb was dropped among survivors in the water, they were machine gunned for 30 minutes. The floatplane landed and captured Len at gunpoint. Those who made it to shore and survived were rescued and taken to Darwin.

After the war, it was learned that Len was imprisoned at Dobo in the Aru Islands, where he suffered beatings and starvation in futile enemy attempts to elicit information. When Allied aircraft targeted Dobo heavily for several consecutive days, in an act of frustration and possibly revenge, on 5 February, three Japanese officers took him to the edge of a bomb crater and beheaded him.

After the war, Vi learned of his fate by her persistent appeals through the press. Australian war graves and war crimes teams investigated, located his grave and arraigned three former Japanese officers for war crimes. Len’s body was reinterred at the Ambon Australian War Cemetery. The three Japanese officers were convicted by a war crimes court in Hong Kong. One was sentenced to death and two to life imprisonment. The Australian Government recognised Vi as a War Widow. Len was but one of many civilian victims of the inhumane brutality of war, unique as the only Australian captured by enemy forces in Australia during World War 2.

Kentish Court in Sinnamon Village and King’s College at St Lucia commemorate the name and service of Leonard Kentish, as does the Rabaul Coastwatchers’ Memorial. His name is listed as a missionary martyr in the UCA Centre for Ministry at North Paramatta and in the calendar of commemorations in Uniting in Worship 2. His story is graphically told in Eagle and Lamb (2017), written and published by his son, the Reverend Dr Noel Kentish, a Minister in Association at Indooroopilly Uniting Church, Brisbane.

 written by Noel Kentish

March 24 – Oscar Romero

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Oscar Romero, martyr

When Oscar Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador in February 1977, the priests who were socially involved were unenthusiastic. Born in 1917 in Ciudad Barrios he had five brothers and two sisters. He was ordained in Rome in 1942 and began doctoral studies in ascetical theology but was called home from Fascist Italy. On route he made stops with another priest in Spain and Cuba. In Cuba they were placed in an internment camp for a time. He worked as a parish priest for 20 years in San Miguel. Romero rose gradually from parish priest, to secretary to a bishop, to auxiliary bishop, to finally an archbishop.

He was said to be a man of prayer but conventional in his outlook. His very installation was used by the authorities to step up their reign of terror in El Salvador. However, when a massacre took place, Romero indicated that he agreed with the sentiment of a message, which had been distributed among the crowd, which said: “The church is where it always should have been; with the people, surrounded by wolves.”

The martyrdom of Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who had been totally identified with the peasant poor of the countryside, along with two friends, moved Romero deeply when he went to the scene. He urged the government to investigate the deaths but they ignored his request. He began to come in conflict with the repressive government. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. On a visit to Europe he met Pope John Paul II and expressed his concerns at what was happening in his country. He criticised the US government for giving military aid to the El Salvadoran government. He encouraged the development of new liturgies and more meaningful modes of worship. Ministering in a revolutionary situation, he was criticised for his innovations and his call for the church to become the voice of those who had no voice. His broadcast sermon on a Sunday began to attract a large audience. Romero became known as a champion of the poor. He knew he was courting death. He hoped that through his death he would contribute to the transformation of El Salvador. In a sermon the day before his death he called on Salvadoran soldiers as Christians to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights.

On 24 March, 1980 this small gentle man was saying the Mass. As he reached the words of the consecration: “This is my body given for you …. this is my blood shed for you” a shot rang out and the archbishop fell to the ground, killed instantly by a bullet through the heart. A friend of the people, one who desired peace and justice, he had become an enemy of those in power. Oscar Romero is remembered as a champion of the poor, a person who lived and died for Christ, a martyr for God and the people. His voice and witness is heard today especially in contexts of oppression. He is an inspiration to all who would follow Christ and accept the cost of discipleship.

Contributed by Chris Walker

March 21 – Thomas Cranmer

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Thomas Cranmer, reformer of the Church

Thomas Cranmer, Martyred 21st March 1556

Thomas Cranmer is variously described in Anglican and Uniting Church calendars as “martyr” and “liturgist”; to many he is also known as “reformer”. Behind those words is a figure of some complexity. In 2006, on the 450th anniversary of Cranmer’s death, the Revd Ian Pearson kindly allowed me to mark the occasion with a Prayer Book Communion in Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney.

Henry Speagle gave the address which has just been published, “Thomas Cranmer and the Contest for Anglican Identity”. In it he spoke of Cranmer as one who found his identity only “after a tortuous and often tormented pilgrimage”.

From his birth and baptism in 1489, that pilgrimage included his studies at Jesus College, Cambridge, and ordination in 1523. Soon coming to the attention of Henry VIII and made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533, Cranmer supported the King’s seeking of an annulment of Henry’s first marriage, the break with Rome, Henry’s claim to be “Supreme Head” of the Church of England, and the destruction of the monasteries — henceforth the foundation of stately homes and of riches for some, or else, in Shakespeare’s words, “bare ruin’d choirs”.

A convinced Protestant, seeking reformation, Cranmer welcomed the placing of an English Bible in churches in 1538 and in 1544 produced an English Litany for use in worship. However, it was only after the accession of Edward VI that he was able to replace the old Church of England Latin services with the 1549 Book of Common Prayer of which he was the chief author. Influenced by continental reformers, he soon replaced this by the more protestant Prayer Book of 1552. He was especially responsible also for “the stripping of the altars” — the abolition of many traditional ceremonies and the destruction of popular shrines.

In 1553, Mary Tudor became Queen, the links with Rome were restored, and the title of “Supreme Head” disappeared. (Elizabeth I was instead “Supreme Governor”.) Cranmer, “this mild man of God” as John Knox called him, was arrested, tried for heresy and sentenced to death by burning. He signed several recantations but on the day of his death, the 21st March, 1556, he finally renounced them all, and affirmed the beliefs he had long come to hold, especially with regard to the Holy Communion. It was ironic that the erastian who had seen the monarch as head of the Church was now one who came to repudiate what the monarch believed to be true of salvation and sacrament, and in the end returned to what he believed to be Scriptural and truly Catholic.

Some of the shrines and symbols and ceremonies Cranmer zealously abolished have long since been restored to his Church, but evangelical and liberal Christians would both still find wisdom in his understanding of the Eucharist and so many generally have benefited from an English Bible, a mainly married clergy, and from vernacular worship — in the 20th century restored even in Rome itself.

Cranmer’s greatest monument is the incomparable language of a Prayer Book, in its 1662 form still the official liturgy of the Church of England and of the Anglican Church of Australia. That Book of Common Prayer has been a major influence in many later liturgies, including Wesley’s Sunday Service, and some 20th century Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational and United forms of worship. John Wesley found in its liturgy “more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety” than in any other—although not perfect.

Through its services, many have come to faith, among them philosopher C.E.M. Joad and evangelist Bryan Green. And for some, like myself, who have known it from childhood, and for others as yet unfamiliar with it, it can still be, together with the Scriptures always underlying it, in George Herbert’s words, “a cupboard of food” and “cabinet of pleasure”.

We should remember the tragic aspects of the “Reformation” — mutual excommunications and persecution — but we can also thank God for blessings it has brought to the whole Church and pray in words largely those of Cranmer:

O Almighty God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone: grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Contributed by John Bunyan

March 20 – Alan Mungulu

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Alan Mungulu, faithful witness

Worrorra Elder and churchman
Alan Mungulu was born in 1925 in Worrorra country on the North West Coast of the Kimberley. His parents Nyimandum (Ernie) from Prince Regent River and Ruby Marrud from the Glenelg River regions encountered the tensions of two worlds: that of traditional life and life on a Presbyterian Mission. Alan’s father worked closely with the Rev J R B Love to build the first Aboriginal occupied house, collaborate in translation and help settle the inevitable disputes and conflict that arose from the interaction of two cultures. Alan and his sister Elkin, baptized with their parents on Easter Sunday 1929, inherited qualities of high intelligence and emotional stability. Alan attended the mission school and in addition to literacy, attained skills in woodwork and leatherwork.

Alan then worked as an engineer on the mission’s lugger, Watt Leggatt in the 1940s. On one of these journeys, Alan’s life was threatened by serious illness some three days sailing from a hospital. They were becalmed. Alan and the skipper, Ron Ross prayed, with the result that an unexpected breeze whipped up and filled the sails. Four days later, after a painful and life threatening journey, Alan arrived in Derby. Alan survived this onset of polio with the help of many people. His wife Gudu together with Ruby and Elkin were employed as hospital staff. The family stayed at the United Aboriginal Ministry (UAM) house during 1946/7. When Alan was released from hospital, he and his family joined their people at the mission station which had been moved to Wotjulum, near Cockatoo Island where he had to be carried everywhere by family and friends. Alan was eventually sent to Perth where the diagnosis of poliomyelitis was confirmed. He received crutches to aid his independence.

Despite this physical, mental and emotional challenge, Alan was able to lead his family and community through a difficult transition. He and Gudu parented six daughters and one son and helped raise other children also. All were nurtured in faith and educated in both cultural and Western ways. Alan taught in the mission school at Wotjulum, acknowledged by his peers as a wise teacher and elder. Alan helped his people understand the significance of yet another move in 1956 to Old Mowanjum, near Derby.

This move would have been spiritually and emotionally challenging as he and his people left the beauty of their blue water coast, to engage a male dominated rough white culture in a small frontier town with its alcohol and isolation. It would have been profoundly challenging for Alan and those who had a deep yearning for traditional lands and culture, so far from their own country.

Alan and Gudu were married by the Rev Hartshorne in Old Mowanjum soon after arrival. Alan preached frequently in the mission church, conducted classes at the Derby school and looked after the mission store, together with his wife Gudu. He was ordained as an Elder of the Presbyterian Church in 1958. Yet, as many of his contemporaries, he shared his culture, through stories and a creative practice of carving pearl shells and boab nuts.

When Mowanjum, as similar Aboriginal communities, underwent significant change in the 1970s, Alan was there for his people! He became chairperson of the new Mowanjum council in 1972, a position that he held to his death several years later. He assisted his community to move to self-determination as the church handed over responsibility of the mission and pastoral station to the Mowanjum incorporated body. He helped incorporate a strict no-alcohol policy in the community and involved the elders in night patrols and policing.

Alan was an exemplary elder both in the local and wider church community. He led in Morning Prayer and bible studies as well as preaching in Sunday worship. His sermons embraced compassion for his people suffering at the edge of Western society. In a sermon in 1977 he referred to broken objects and lives and wrote that ‘there is one thing that can’t be broken and that is the Word of God. God does not break His promises’. Alan travelled to Arnhem Land as the Aboriginal Congress of the Uniting Church was being formed. He travelled to the Philippines for a World Council of Churches meeting in Manilla and to Melbourne to take part in the Billy Graham crusade in 1969.

Alan’s funeral service on 27 February 1978 brought many government, civic, church and community representatives together to pay tribute to his contribution to church and community. Alan, like his father Nyimandum, was an Aboriginal leader of note, who enabled his people to integrate into a new way of life and spiritual understanding.

Rev Dr Robert Hoskin and the Mungulu family

March 20 – Cuthbert, Aidan & Bede

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Cuthbert, Aidan & Bede, Christian pioneers

These three men of God exercised their ministries in the north-east of England, an area known today as Northumberland but their impact has moved far beyond that area.

ST AIDEN, who died in 651AD, was the first of the three. Coming originally from Ireland, he was a monk in the community of Iona in Scotland. Oswald, King of Northumbria, had sent a request to Iona for someone to come and do missionary work in his Kingdom. When the first one sent failed because the people were so barbaric, Aiden was made a Bishop and sent to undertake the task.

Along with a group of a dozen Gaelic-speaking monks, Aidan installed himself on the windswept island of Lindisfarne, building a simple wooden church and outbuildings as a base for his mission in 635AD. This island is just off the coast of Northumberland but can be reached by foot when the tide is out. It was reasonably close to Bamburgh where the King had his castle.

Where another Bishop had sought to bully his targets back into church, Aidan became renowned for his tact and diplomacy, walking from one village to another to converse with villagers and slowly engage their interest in Christianity.

The feat was not achieved without difficulty. To assist his work Aidan insisted on learning the native tongue and set about recruiting a dozen Northumbrian youths to form the basis for new English Christian Church, and ensure tales of his holy acts lived on after him. As well as giving away the horse presented to him by King Oswald, his saintly deeds were said to include rendering a deer pursued by hunters invisible and putting out a fire through prayer. The Venerable Bede, the scholar and historian as well as another seventh-century Northumbrian monk, wrote of Aidan:

“He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given him by kings or rich men.

He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity.

“Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works.”

Aiden’s missionary work was very effective. Many people turned from traditional religion to faith in Jesus Christ. Many missionaries came from Ireland to help in the work. Churches were built and Aiden travelled throughout his diocese usually on foot. He was known for his holy life, his passion to share the faith and his compassion for the poor.

While out visiting his diocese in August 651 he was taken ill and died. His body was taken back to Lindisfarne for burial. He had been the Bishop there for sixteen years.

ST CUTHBERT was born about 634AD somewhere near the River Tweed in the Border country between Scotland and England. As a child he loved games, was athletic and exuberant. As a man he loved hard physical work. One night in his teenage years he was out looking after a flock of sheep when he had a vision of Aiden of Lindisfarne, being transported to heaven. He found out later that on that night Aiden had died.  Cuthbert decided to become a monk and went to the monastery at Melrose, a sister monastery to Lindisfarne. Cuthbert was trained in the Christian disciplines of prayer, fasting and study of the Scriptures. He learnt how to read and write in both English and Latin, for Latin was the language of the Church and the Bible. Cuthbert was not only diligent in spiritual disciplines and labouring tasks of the monastery, he also gave himself most wholeheartedly to evangelistic work and acts of compassion in the wider community. He would go to far away places in the mountains and live with the people there, teaching them about Jesus, urging them to come to faith and living the faith in their midst.

Cuthbert was one of the monks selected to move from Melrose to establish a new monastery at Ripon where he became Guestmaster. Because of his holiness and his concern for the people, he returned to Melrose as Prior. This was a time of tension for the Church in England. Missionaries had come from Rome and begun work in Kent in the south of England. Their form of Christianity was Roman in origin. The north of England had been evangelised by Irish monks who lived out what is called Celtic Christianity. As the two groups spread throughout England tension became inevitable. The two groups had a different way of setting the date of Easter and disagreed about how much centralisation there should be in the Church and how much spontaneity. The wife of King Oswy of Northumbria came from Kent and so he was confronted by the two forms of Christianity in his own house. So he called a Synod at Whitby in 664 to decide whether Roman or Irish customs should be followed. The Roman forces prevailed and the Irish monks withdrew to Iona in Scotland.

To cope with the changes and the departure of the Irish monks Cuthbert was made Prior of Lindisfarne. He re-organised the monastery. He also became famous because of his gift of healing. Streams of people came to Lindisfarne to seek his help. Cuthbert also had a strong relationship with wild animals and birds. One time he rose in the middle of the night to pray. This he did by standing for hours in the sea. When he returned to the beach two otters came with him and played around him. After he blessed them they returned to the sea.

St Cuthbert now felt a further call from God to be a hermit. He made his home on one of the desolate Inner Farne Islands. A cell to live in and a place in which to worship were built. They were surrounded by high walls so Cuthbert could only see the sky. Occasionally the monks would come from Lindisfarne to visit him and still, though fewer, people came seeking counsel and healing.

In 684 he was elected Bishop of Lindisfarne a position which he did not want. The King and other Bishops prevailed upon him. After two years of faithful leadership he resigned his position and returned to his hermit cell on the Inner Farne. Cuthbert died a hermit on 20 March 687. His body was taken to Lindisfarne where he was buried on the right hand side of the altar.

After many raids by the Vikings the monks fled from Lindisfarne taking Cuthbert’s body with them. After many years of wandering, the body of Cuthbert was brought to Durham in 995 and the monks began building that immense Cathedral. St Cuthbert’s tomb is in Durham Cathedral behind the High Altar having been placed there in 1104.

The following prayer is used in the Cathedral each year on 20 March, St Cuthbert’s Day:

 Almighty God, who didst call thy servant Cuthbert from keeping sheep to follow thy Son and to be a shepherd of thy people, mercifully grant that we, following his example and caring for those who are lost, may bring them home to thy fold, through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 BEDE, or THE VENERABLE BEDE, was a child of only seven years when in 680 he was taken to the monastery at Monkwearmouth for education. He was dedicated to the service of God. Two years later, a monk named Ceofrith established an outreach monastery at Jarrow. It was called St Pauls. Both Monkwearmouth and Jarrow are in Northumberland in the north-east of England. Ceofrith took Bede with him and he lived there from when he was nine until his death in 735.

Bede has been called the Father of English History. He wrote at least forty works, his most famous being Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. There is no doubt that Bede had a strong sense of the divine calling on his work. When he was still a child all the monks at Jarrow died of the plague except Ceofrith and Bede. Because of his great knowledge of Latin and Greek and some Hebrew, he set about translating the Scriptures so they were more accessible to other monks and to the people. Bede did not forsake his spiritual duties for his writing. He was always present at the worship the monks were required to attend. He was ordained a Deacon and at the age of thirty he was priested.

It is unknown how he became known as ‘The Venerable Bede’. One story is that a disciple wrote in Latin, ‘In this tomb are the bones of Bede’. When he woke in the morning the word ‘venerable’ had been added.

Bede died in 735. He was translating right up to the time of his death. He was buried at Jarrow but later his body was removed to Durham Cathedral. There he lies in the Galilee Chapel. Above his grave in Latin and in English is this prayer of The Bede:

Christ is the Morning Star
Who when the night
of this world is past
brings to his saints
the promise of
the light of life
and opens everlasting day.

by Rev John Mavor

March 18 – Joseph of Arimathea

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Joseph of Arimathea, witness to Jesus

Joseph of Arimathea makes a brief but significant appearance in all four Gospels as the person who saw to the burial of Jesus. Arimathea is probably to be identified with a Judean town northwest of Jerusalem known in Hebrew as Ramah and associated in biblical tradition with the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 1: 1:1, 19: 2:1; 7: 17; 8: 4). The designation ‘of Arimathea’ probably simply indicates Joseph’s place of origin; as a member of the Jewish council he is likely to have been a longterm resident of Jerusalem.

While agreeing in the essential point that Joseph was responsible for the burial of Jesus’ body, the four gospels vary considerably in their presentation of the scene and of Joseph himself (Matt 25 :57-60; Mark 15: 42-46; Luke 23: 50-54; John 19: 38-42), especially in regard to the motivation that led him to take the action that he did.

In what is generally agreed to be the earliest account, Mark presents Joseph “as a respected member of the Council (Sanhedrin), who was himself looking for the kingdom of God” (15: 43). This information does not necessarily imply that Joseph was already a disciple of Jesus (as in Matthew and John). Many Jews at the time of Jesus were “looking for the kingdom of God”; it was in the context of such widespread expectation that Jesus entered upon his proclamation of the onset of the kingdom (1: 14-15). Joseph, then, may have been led to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus and see to its burial simply because, as an observant Jew with a strong sense of social responsibility, he felt an obligation to see to the fulfilment of the prescription in Deut 21: 22-23 that the bodies of executed criminals should not be left unburied by nightfall. Nonetheless, as Mark indicates (15: 43), going to Pilate and requesting the body of Jesus involved courage; in so doing Joseph ran the risk of association with the person and cause of one whom the authorities had executed as a threat to the state.

If, then, Joseph was not a disciple at the time of his burial of Jesus (as also seems to emerge from the account of Luke), he was probably on the way to that allegiance. In presenting him unambiguously as a disciple, Matthew (27: 57) and John (‘a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews’ [19: 38]) would then be foreshadowing a commitment on his part that occurred later on but had its origins in an act of social responsibility towards an outcast that soon became enshrined in Christian memory and devotion. In the troubled history of relations between Christians and Jews, the courageous and generous action of this Jewish leader at the beginnings of that history deserves an honourable place.

Later Christian tradition, besides conferring sainthood on Joseph, had him journeying, as far as Britain, founding a church at Glastonbury and bringing the Holy Grail. At this point, however, we are in the realm of legend rather than reliable historical interpretation.

Fr Brendan Byrne SJ

March 17 – Patrick & Ninian

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Patrick & Ninian, Christian pioneers

Patrick c390-c461

Patrick was born in Roman Britain. We know little about his life other than what is revealed in his Confession, his Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, and the Breastplate of St. Patrick, which may have been written by him. All other knowledge is just legends. Accounts of Patrick’s life are so drawn-out (his own Confession) or overblown (later hagiography) that most of what we know about him can neither be proven nor discredited conclusively.

In the field of Celtic history, almost everything we read reflects a political point the author wishes to make. Bede, for example, makes no mention of Patrick. This omission tells us a lot about Bede. He was interested, following the Council of Whitby, in showing how those who had taken the Roman view regarding the date of Easter and the tonsure, were in his eyes correct; those who didn’t were clearly wrong. Bede had no place for Patrick.

Patrick himself was most likely British in origin, and, after being enslaved by an Irish warlord, and then escaping to the Continent, he returned to Britain before evangelizing Ireland. His mission was not to the British; he said his missionary impulse was fuelled by “a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland—a vision like the apostle Paul’s at Troas.”

Patrick had been sent as a replacement for Palladius who had died shortly after his arrival in Ireland. Whereas Palladius, whose mission lasted about one year, was interested in those who were already Christians, Patrick, it seems, had a missionary zeal to convert the Scots (Irish). It is believed that Patrick embarked upon the first significant missionary endeavour in 432.

While Patrick does not appear to have represented Rome officially, his time on the Continent may have included monastic training; he appears to have studied at a monastery in Gaul. Patrick was ordained a priest and bishop, and this suggests he would have at least been exposed to current thinking and policies from the papacy.

He then travelled to Ireland, where over the course of several years, he converted thousands of people to Christianity, including several Irish kings. Anglo-Saxon warlords made the process very difficult for Patrick and his converts, however. Coroticus, a king from western Britain, swept in and did extensive damage in Northern Ireland, killing many Christians or taking them prisoner.

Irish monasticism as implemented by Patrick continued to grow nonetheless. This monasticism was very similar to that throughout Europe. This form of Monasticism was based on a diocesan approach but within a few years it had become a monastery-based model with a bishop being head of the monastery. Sometime after the death of Patrick the church in Ireland was reorganised on a thoroughgoing monastic basis. The chief person becomes the Abbot not the Bishop. Monasteries were often the only available means of obtaining a useful education.

It is worthwhile noting that Patrick denounced slavery during his life, and the practice was discontinued shortly after his death.

To mark St Patrick’s Day you could always sing the hymn attributed to him found in TiS 478 ‘I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity’ or use the prayer below:

Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.
Christ be within me,
Christ be below me,
Christ be above me,
never to part.

Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me,
shield in the strife.
Christ in my sleeping,
Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising,
light of my life.

Christ be in all hearts thinking about me;
Christ be on all tongues telling of me;
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me;
in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.


We know very little about Ninian and even then the ‘facts’ are disputed. He was reputedly the son of a chieftain who had converted to Christianity and he came from either Cumbria, or the South-West of Scotland. Christianity had spread during the time of Roman occupation and three Bishops from Britain had travelled to the Council of Arles in 314AD. Ninian, who would have been a Roman citizen, is said to have travelled to Rome to study. In Rome he was ordained and consecrated as a bishop, being sent back to his native Britain around 397AD, in order to evangelize his fellow Britons and take the Gospel to the Southern Picts, in what became, much later, Scotland.

Some historians believe that this work of conversion was done by Columba some 150 years later and not by Ninian. It is believed that Ninian was active from 397 to 431AD.

On arrival he is said to have had a monastery built on the north shore of the Solway Firth by masons from St. Martin’s Monastery in Tours, Gaul. This became known as the Great Monastery and it was from here that he, and those he gathered around him, set out on their missionary tours. It is possible that this building was known as Ad Candidam Casam, from the Latin meaning “At the White House”. It would appear to have been painted with a whitewash. It is possible that it was built with white stone, although this would have been unusual to that time. His monastery probably gave the name to the town now known as Whithorn.

The earliest reference to Ninian and to the White House is from Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, writing around 731AD, almost four hundred years later. In this he says that he is just passing on the knowledge that was traditional at the time of his writing. He does not claim that what he writes is factual. He tells us that Ninian called his monastery after St. Martin of Tours and it is possible that he had met Martin on his way back from Rome. Martin died in the same year that Ninian travelled back to Britain.

Part of Bede’s agenda was to say that Ninian had not been part of the Celtic Church, but loyal to the Roman way of being church.

The first history of Ninian was not written till the 12th Century when Aelred, who was Abbot of the monastery at Rievaulx in Yorkshire, wrote his “Life of Saint Ninian”. By this time many monasteries and places associated with saints from the past had histories written in order to promote their Centre, in order to encourage the pilgrimage trade. It is thought that Aelred was asked by the Bishop of Galloway to write the history to promote his Bishopric.

In his history, Aelred says that Ninian performed a number of miracles both before and after his death. So it is possible that the history was to help secure his sainthood.

After the history was written, Whithorn and Ninian’s tomb, became a very important Centre of pilgrimage.

Written by Rev Peter Welsh

February 14 – Cyril & Methodius

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Cyril & Methodius, Christian pioneer

The ninth century was perhaps the most active period of missionary activity in the Eastern (Orthodox) churches since apostolic times. Patriarch Photius chose two Greek brothers from Thessalonica, Constantine whose monastic name was Cyril, (826-869), and Methodius (?815-885) to initiate the conversion of the pagan Slavs – Moravians, Bulgarians, Serbs and Russians. They had grown up on the borders of these lands, and they knew the Slavonic language, amongst others. Cyril was a librarian and known as a philosopher; both were ordained priests. In 863 they set off for what is now the Czech lands with an invitation from the local prince and the blessing of the Byzantine emperor. In preparation for this venture, the brothers had translated the Gospels, the larger part of the New Testament and some of the Old, and the liturgical books into Slavonic, an enormous task, especially since they had to begin by inventing an alphabet, now known, in a developed form, as Glagolithic or Cyrillic. That is, they set out with the basic tools to build a church of peoples who did not know Christ. What is known as Church Slavonic is still the basic liturgical language of the Russian and related churches, and a great literature grew from it in the related languages.

Their methodology however was in contrast to that of Rome, whose missionaries had to teach their converts Latin before they could teach them anything else – and indeed there were clashes between missionaries of the two Christian centres. At this stage, however, the eastern and western wings believed themselves to belong to the one universal church, and the brothers travelled to Rome to place their mission under the Pope. Their exceptional approach and their church books received his blessing, but sadly, under that pope’s successor, and under German Catholic influence back in Moravia, the old Latin approach was enforced, and the saints’ work eradicated soon after Methodius died. However, the seeds had been sown, and bore fruit especially in Russia, Bulgaria and Serbia, whose rulers consciously chose Cyril and Methodius’s way. Rightly are they know as the ‘apostles of the Slavs’. Success took a long time, and was largely achieved by decision of tsars and princes. Some half-convinced Greek missionaries used Greek, which was no more understandable to the Bulgars than Latin; in Romania, a Latin-based culture, the Slavonic influence is still mixed with the Latin in the Orthodox Church.

The younger brother Cyril died in Rome (he became a monk in 868 just before his death on February 14th, 869) and is buried there. Methodius had been made a bishop by the pope (ca 870) for his return to Moravian lands after their embassy to Rome. He was imprisoned for two years by rival church authorities, and endured many years of theological and ecclesiastical disputes. He died in Moravia. Their pupils, however, carried on the work into further lands, paving the way for their declaration as co-Patrons of Europe, with St Benedict, by Pope John Paul II in 1980.

By Rev Dr Robert Gribben

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