Saturday, February 22, 2020

Lent at Seal Church - an introduction

“Friends on the journey”

This year’s Lent groups at Seal Church will be exploring the stories of our Patron Saints, Peter and Paul, and thinking about the ways in which saints can be “friends on the journey” for us, encouraging and inspiring us.
Everyone’s welcome to join our Lent Groups on:

Monday evenings 8 – 9.30pm from March 2
Or Wednesday morning 10.30 – 12 noon from March 4
(but not Wed March 18)

There will be four sessions, and both groups will cover the same material.
Venue: Seal Vicarage   Leader: Anne Le Bas

Places are limited to 14 per group, so reserve your place as soon as possible, by signing the list in church or emailing Anne Le Bas (

“In their own words”, exploring Peter and Paul through the words the Bible records as their own.
From Ash Wednesday (Feb 26)  on this blog and on Facebook and Twitter. There is also a printed version in church, and it can be downloaded here. 

Lent Outing – Exploring the saints at the V & A museum

Thursday March 19th,
Saturday March 28th

Join us for a trip to the V & A museum to look at their wealth of exhibits which tell the stories of how Christians have expressed and experience their sense of the saints as “friends on the journey”. I’ll be telling some of the stories of the saints as we go around, and talking about some of the exhibits.

The two trips will be identical, so don’t book in for both! Anyone is welcome, whether or not they come to one of the Lent Groups, and while I won’t specifically be aiming it at children, they are very welcome to come along too if you think they will enjoy it.

On both days we will meet at Sevenoaks Station at 9.15 am (9.29 train to Charing Cross, then tube from Embankment to South Kensington) We will set off on the return journey from the V & A at about 2pm. Bring a packed lunch, or buy something there.
If you would like to meet us there, you are welcome to travel independently. We aim to start the tour at 11 am. You will need to buy your own train tickets. Admission to the V & A is free.
 Please sign the list in church or let me know by email if you would like to come. Places are limited to 12 for each trip, so please sign up early!

Friends on the Journey

You may remember that I spent some of last year on sabbatical, researching the way communities celebrate their saints, and inevitably that made me think of our own Patron saints, Peter and Paul. That’s why, this year, our Lent courses are going to look at the lives of these two founding fathers of the Christian faith.

I’ve discovered that dedications to Peter and Paul are common in this part of the world. There are 17 churches with this dedication, by my count, in the Diocese of Rochester, second only in number to those dedicated to Mary. There’s a reason for that. The church in the south east of England was re-founded in 597 by St Augustine, who’d been sent from Rome by Pope Gregory. He brought with him a particular devotion to Saints Peter and Paul because they were the patron saints of Rome itself. According to ancient tradition, both had been martyred there around 64 AD, killed by the emperor Nero. Some stories say St Peter was crucified, upside down, while others say that he was burned to death, along with many other Christians who had been rounded up after Nero blamed them for a fire which had destroyed much of the city. St Paul was traditionally said to have been beheaded – he was a Roman citizen and therefore entitled to this swifter death – which is why his symbol is a sword. His head was said to have bounced three times, and three springs allegedly welled up on the spots where it struck the ground, now commemorated at the church of San Paolo alle Tre Fontane – St Paul of the Three Fountains. Believe it if you will! When the Roman Empire eventually embraced Christianity many centuries later, its leaders looked around for suitable saints to replace their two pagan founders, Romulus and Remus, and Peter and Paul seemed an obvious choice – not twins, but brothers in faith. Maybe they were even an improvement. After all, Romulus had killed Remus. Peter and Paul didn’t always agree, but had never, as far as we know, come to blows!

They had both started their lives far from Rome, though, and had very different journeys of faith. Peter, originally called Simon, a Galilean fisherman, had been one of Jesus’ closest friends. Jesus had told him that he would be given the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”, the authority to open the gates to others who wanted to share in this new community. That’s why he is very often pictured with keys, his saintly symbol. Paul had never known Jesus personally at all, and had been violently opposed to the new movement that had arisen after his crucifixion, which proclaimed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. It seemed like dangerous nonsense to him. But, on a mission to root out another Christian “cell” he’d heard of in Damascus, he’d been thrown to the ground by a bright light and had heard the voice of Jesus speaking to him.  Much to his surprise, having come to the conclusion that he’d got it completely wrong about Jesus, he was forgiven and accepted by the Christians he had been persecuting, and spent his life travelling around the Mediterranean drawing together groups of believers into small house churches, writing letters, some of which survive and are included in the Bible.

Peter and Paul were very different in background, in outlook, and often in their opinions. In the few stories we have of them meeting, they argue fiercely about the form this new community of faith should take, and yet both ended up being honoured and respected. They are often pictured embracing, as above, or holding a church between them – sometimes rather uneasily! Despite, or perhaps because of their differences, they were both important. In a world where we often struggle to live with diversity, where compromise can be a dirty word, these are excellent patron saints for us to learn from, people who argued their positions robustly, but clung equally strongly to the message they had received from Jesus that every person is beloved of God, God’s child, with differing gifts that the whole body needs if it is to thrive. Come and join us at our Lent groups, or follow the daily posts which will focus on what they tell us about themselves “In their own words,” and let Peter and Paul become “Friends on the Journey” for you this Lent.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday - Feb 26 this year. We will be marking it with our Ash Wednesday Communion service at 8pm, when we will have the opportunity to receive the sign of the cross in ash on our foreheads, as a sign of our mortality and fallibility.

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