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St Helen and St Katharine, Faringdon Road, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 1BE

How to find us

Joint Service of Baptism and Confirmation with Eucharist

10 May 2022

It was a delight and privilege to host our joint Service of Baptism and Confirmation on the evening of Tuesday 10 May in the Chapel of the Holy Cross. A congregation of seventy, including parents, grandparents, godparents, and friends were witnesses as one student from St Helen and St Katharine was confirmed alongside nine from Abingdon, two of whom were baptised as well. The Rt Revd Gavin Collins, Bishop of Dorchester, presided at the service, which involved both school Heads, Mrs Rebecca Dougall and Mr Michael Windsor, and both school Chaplains, The Revd Drs Karen Hyde and Simon Steer. Hymns were chosen by the confirmation candidates and the prayers were led by two of the confirmands. The St Helen and St Katharine choir beautifully led the singing and sang the anthem ‘Come Holy Ghost’ by Thomas Attwood during the preparation of the altar.

It was a joyous and uplifting occasion to celebrate this step in their journey of faith and each candidate was sent out with a lighted candle and the words ‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’. This was piped on the Confirmation cake alongside the names of the confirmands and was enjoyed by all as we gathered in the Refectory for drinks and cake to celebrate.

Numerous messages and letters of thanks have been received, so thank you to all who were involved in making it such a special occasion.


Journey To The Cross – An Interactive Prayer Walk

Lent Week 2022

A series of ‘Stations of the Cross’ were set up in Chapel for Lent week this year to give students and staff space to reflect on the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and in a unique and meaningful way. Stations of the Cross are a type of spiritual pilgrimage used during Lent to draw each of us deeper into relationship with Jesus as we meditate on His Passion and death.

The Journey to the Cross was self-guided and each prayer station was interactive – with a reading, a reflection and an action. Students were encouraged to hold a rock throughout the walk as a symbol of their sin and to let go at the end. This helped with the feeling of a continuous thread throughout the prayer walk.

Actions from some of the stations are below, alongside images of students taking part.

#1 – In The Beginning             

Take a moment to think of the good things God has created in this world.  Write down a few of them on a post it note and stick it to the map of the world.

#3 – The Garden             

Take a moment to think of someone who has inspired you by the way they have been gracious and generous in the midst of their own suffering? Write their name or what about them inspired you on a paper figure and join them to the prayer chain with a peg. 

#4 – Betrayed by Judas

Begin by picking up the bag of coins and dumping its contents out on the table in front of you. Next, pick up the coins one by one, counting them as you put them back in the bag.

How much is your integrity worth? Would you betray a friend for twenty thousand pounds?

#6 – Denied By Peter

Write down the phrase “I Do Not Know Him” on the chalkboard as a symbol of the times you,  like Peter, have denied Christ.

#7 – Whipped & Mocked

Take the red felt marker and strike the loose part of the clothing hanging from the cross to make a red mark.

#12 – Communion

Here is where it all started with bread and cup and a promise. Take some bread and eat (it is gluten and dairy free) then write your name on a sticky note and place it on the cross beside the altar. “My name is _____ and my sins are forgiven.”



Interactive Prayer Stations for Ukraine 

March 2022

We have been lighting a candle each day, as we pray for, and with, our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, Russia, Poland, other neighbouring countries and all affected by the consequences of the war. Interactive prayer stations were set up in the corridor outside Chapel and students were encouraged to get involved. For example, weaving bracelets in yellow and blue ribbon as a sign of unity; or planting sunflower seeds as a sign of hope


Licensing as School Chaplain - A personal reflection

February 2022

I first felt called to explore a vocation to priestly ministry in 2011 whilst attending a service for the Ordination of Priests. The declarations from The Liturgy were unfamiliar, yet these powerful words burrowed deep within me and I heard a voice say “that will be you”, but when I turned around to see who’d spoken there was no one behind me. My immediate thought was ‘that’s ridiculous, they can’t possibly mean me!’ and put it well out of mind until, as you might know, I went on pilgrimage to Israel in 2012 and walking in the footsteps of Jesus changed everything.

‘Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent’.*

The reading in our Chapel service on that Wednesday was ‘the call of the first disciples’ (Luke 5:1-11), and I wonder if they could have ever imagined the impact Jesus’ call would have on so many lives. In the reading, Jesus calls Simon and his partners as they are. Simon is acutely aware of his unworthiness, but Jesus is not put off by this in the slightest. Jesus doesn’t ask Simon to get his act together, his CV prepared, and then come back for an interview. Rather, Jesus encounters him as he is, tells him not to be afraid, and calls him to a new mission of catching people. 

‘With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love.’*

God calls imperfect people to do God’s work, people who are often doubting and resistant to God’s call. People like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah or Jonah. People like you and me. God doesn’t wait for people to ‘shape up’. God calls people as they are and then works on shaping them into faithful servants, but how often might we resist Jesus’ claim on our lives because what he is calling us to do just seems too crazy, or too impractical? I certainly tried to ignore God’s call until one day he found another way to get past all my excuses and my ‘yes, but…’ became a ‘yes’.

‘Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people’*

Jesus’ followers are called daily to use the gifts God has given us in service to others, to share the good news of Christ in word and deed, and to participate in God’s mission to the world. Eventually that’s what brought me here, to St Helen and St Katharine. So, I was delighted to welcome the Right Reverend Gavin Collins, Bishop of Dorchester, to our school as he formally licensed me as Chaplain. In front Year 8, and holding the Holy Bible, I duly swore my oath of allegiance to the Sovereign, the oath of canonical obedience to the Bishop and made the Declaration of Assent.

“I, Karen Hyde, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”^

It felt especially poignant to be swearing this oath in the same week that our Queen celebrated the 70th Anniversary of her accession to the throne, on 6 February 1952. In a letter issued from Sandringham, this truly remarkable woman wrote:

“As we mark this anniversary, it gives me pleasure to renew to you the pledge I gave in 1947 that my life will always be devoted to your service.”

And so, as I continue stepping out in faith to fulfil my own calling, I am thrilled to be both servant and shepherd among the incredible staff, students and wider community that are St Helen’s; and to finding ways to encourage creativity, curiosity and imagination as paths to discover what’s meaningful and spiritually rewarding in our lives.

Revd Karen

* Extracted from The Declarations of the Liturgy of Ordination of Priests

^ The oath of allegiance to the Sovereign

Holy Family Godly Play

December 2021

Advent is the time of waiting and hoping and longing for the promises of God to be fulfilled, and Christmas is the time when we remember that God came down, to a broken and hurting world, and stepped into the mess we’ve made with love, hope, peace and light. 

Last week the Juniors enjoyed hearing the Christmas story told using the ‘Godly Play’ advent tiles. 

It was recorded and we hope that you enjoy it too – the link is here.

For those of you unfamiliar with Godly Play, it is derived from the Montessori tradition and invites listeners into the stories, in both a spoken and visual way; encourages them to connect intuition of God with the language of the church; and correlate the stories with personal experience. Godly Play provides time out from our noisy fast-paced surroundings to discover a way of being still so that we can be open to the possibility of the divine, to the mystery of the presence of God, in a holistic way (engaging mind, body and spirit). 

I really enjoy this method of storytelling and it is a joy to be involved as students animatedly discuss the stories with a real depth of knowledge and compassion for their world. Rediscovering a sense of the sacred in all that surrounds us is a theme that has been weaving throughout my life and ministry. I’m fascinated by the interplay between the deep silence of the unconscious brain with spiritual matters, for slow ways of knowing, that enable holistic learning as we search for both meaning and identity. Godly Play is one way of encounter with this deep silence. 

I wonder - what might it mean for us to live expectantly, to wait with a sense of hope and promise? Perhaps you too would like to revisit the nativity and ponder the incarnation. 

May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary and the peace of the Christ-child be yours this Christmastide; and may each of us be challenged afresh to be as Christ to others and open the fullness of his wonder, love and peace to the world which is still so much in need this Christmas. 

Revd Karen 

The Tree of Life

October 2021

For Open Day 2021 we created a ‘Tree of Life’ in Chapel. Prospective students were invited to build up the leaves on the tree by writing on coloured hands something that they were looking forward to, their hopes or dreams.

This week in Chapel the theme is ‘saying sorry’ and we are looking at the story of Zacchaeus, whose life was turned upside down by an encounter with Jesus. Zacchaeus’s subsequent actions reveal that his repentance and faith are genuine. His story shows us a journey into God’s grace and emphasises the love of Jesus, as Zacchaeus’s heart is transformed by the gospel.

The idea for the 'Tree of Life' was based on a Biblical verse from the Book of Revelation (22:2) ‘the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations’. We all get things wrong, but what helps us move forward positively is our ability to acknowledge that, to say sorry, and to ask God and those around us for forgiveness. So current students were also invited to join their hands with those from Open Day, by writing something they might wish to say sorry for alongside their hopes or dreams.Revd Karen 

The Juniors especially enjoyed their Chapel lesson on Monday afternoon!

‘I really enjoyed doing this activity because it made me think about my hopes and dreams for the future’ 
Alexa G, Year 6

‘Today at Chapel we wrote our hopes and dreams on paper hands, then we stuck them on a curvy tree. After all the hands were added on it looked like a magical tree!! It was very fun and made me think’ 
Rose H, Year 6

‘It was a great experience as I love writing down my hopes. Seeing everybody  else’s hand is great and it makes me wish everyone's dreams come true!
Luella X, Year 6

 ‘Today we wrote our dreams,   hopes and some doodles on the Tree of Life in Chapel’
 Arabella P, Year 6

 ‘It was special seeing everybody’s own hand on the tree, seeing what everybody loved and hoped   for and wished for. My friends and I even put our own hands on the tree. I hope all the hopes and   dreams come true!
 Beatrice M, Year 6

Harvest 2018

24 September 2018

This week we are celebrating Harvest at St Helen’s and thinking about our relationship with the Creation in a micro and macro sense. Lots of you have already given generously to our Abingdon Foodbank appeal – thank you so much – our gifts will make a real difference to individuals and families in crisis who find themselves without enough food.

Some of you may also want to pick up my little Harvest 2018 ‘Mimimise Waste’ challenge. Here are 50 ideas to get you started. I am sure you’ve got plenty of ideas of your own – email me at and I’ll add what you come up with to the list below.

50 ideas (and counting...) for Harvest 2018 Minimise Waste challenge

In pictures: Year 9 students use their creative skills to recycle with style

1. Scrap paper that is blank on one side can easily be reused for notes or lists. Include but also go beyond obvious surplus A4 sheets from your printer. Cut up envelopes, or paper food packaging into convenient shapes and sizes for reuse. Staple, or sew them into a book format, if you want.

2. Bigger sheets of packing paper can be smoothed out, even ironed briefly, and decorated with potato prints, or paint, to make homemade wrapping paper.

3. Medium weight cardboard packaging makes good covers for homemade notebooks or templates for craft projects such as homemade envelopes.

4. Use heavyweight cardboard boxes as containers for organising books, shoes, electronic equipment or cables. Not very attractive as they are, you can transform their appearance and longevity by covering them with fabric, glued down with PVA glue. Like this they give plastic crates a run for their money any day. Cut down a second box for a lid, if need be.

5. Thin packaging card can be reused as the base for making your own greeting or Christmas cards.Any printing can be obliterated by overpainting with white gesso primer.

6. Glass jars can be redeployed as containers for all manner of items - buttons, beads, nails, screws, hooks, earrings etc etc .

7. Decorate larger glass jars / bottles for use as nightlight or candle holders.

8. Soak the labels off attractively shaped glass jars and bottles, wash thoroughly and re-use as containers in the kitchen or bathroom.

9. Old cotton shirts, where the collar or cuffs have frayed, can be cut and sewn into convenient shopping or produce bags. Open the shirt out and lay flat. Cut a square or rectangle from the back to make the front of the bag and then cut two panels (same height as the first square or rectangle you cut, but narrower) from the shirt fronts, for the back of the bag. Stitch these together and trim with scissors to make a back panel the same size as the front one. Sew the bag up and add handles cut from the remaining fabric.

10. Woollen jumpers can be cut down and stitched up (use a sewing machine and a short stitch length to stop the knitting unravelling) to make cushion covers.

11. Any discarded pretty, or colourful, print clothing can be cut up to make pieces for use in patchwork – make a quilt; make a bag or cosmetic purse; make a patchwork skirt or top; embellish your favourite jeans when they’re getting past it; make Japanese ‘furoshiki’ or Korean ‘bojagi’ wraps either by hand, or with a sewing machine, to wrap gifts. You can find instructions for how to make ‘furoshiki’ wraps here and ‘bojagi’ wraps here.                  

12. Cut up old T-shirts to make reusable rags for cleaning or polishing. Cut into long strips, you can make T-shirt yarn to knit or crochet a mat or rug with. Have a look here for inspiration.

13. Denim is tough, versatile and a great canvas for decoration. We’ve all cut the legs off old jeans to make shorts but you can also make a jeans quilt, or cushion, or turn the legs of old jeans into a pair of oven-gloves.

14. Old towels can be used as wadding - for quilts, oven gloves, mats or ironing board covers.

15. Old socks make great shoe-polish applicators.

16. Old gym kit and even old gym bags can be sent to a charity that supplies children in poorer parts of the world with sports kit they could not otherwise afford: Mary’s Meals Backpack project.

17. Food waste – local councils now routinely provide a food waste recycling service. In Oxfordshire this is used to fuel the production of electricity fed back into the National Grid so be meticulous about putting any waste scraps in the food bin provided, or you may have your own garden compost heap you can add stuff to. Minimise what you discard in the first place.

18. Use leftover vegetables, either cooked or raw, to make homemade soup.

19. Make your own vegetable stock from vegetable trimmings and peelings (well washed, obvs), water, herbs and some salt. Freeze in conveniently sized tubs – old yoghurt or ice cream tubs are ideal.

20. Whizz up stale bread in a food processor. Bag up and freeze for use in stuffings, toppings or treacle tart.

21. Small quantities of leftover cooked meat or fish can be added to a risotto, omelette or a pasta sauce.

22. At this time of year, if you have an apple tree, you may well have a lot of fallen fruit. Either compost it, or use it. A good use for fallers is to cook and purée them. Wash the fruit, discard any damaged flesh, and cut up the rest into chunks, (skin, core, pips and all) Cook with a piece of vanilla pod and water until soft and pulpy. Put the mixture through a mouli, or sieve, and cool. Chill and eat for breakfast or as dessert. Surplus purée freezes well. Pears, plums, blackberries can all be added / substituted depending on what you have available.

23. Use fruit from the fruit bowl that is past its best by cutting out anything rotten and poaching the rest in a pan with some water (and sugar, if necessary). Add some ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg or allspice to improve the flavour, if you want.

24. A casserole or sauce that has a bit left over but isn’t enough for a whole serving can be stretched by adding a tin of tomatoes, pulses, olives or extra vegetables.

25. Make a fun meal out of lots of different small tastes of leftover food – dinner tapas-style.

26. Grate spare cheese before it goes mouldy and freeze. Use direct from the freezer in recipes.

27. Use up surplus eggs in omelettes, scrambled egg, or a sponge cake.

28. Use a washable face-cloth in place of disposable wipes. Knit or crochet one yourself with cotton yarn like one of these.

29. Real keenies might want to think about using washable and reusable sanitary protection. There are sewing patterns out there for these, if you want to make your own.

30. Use fabric handkerchiefs instead of disposable tissues. Contrary to popular belief, this is not unhygienic so long as they are washed and ironed properly.

31. Use reusable shopping bags when you go shopping, not just at the supermarket but anywhere.

32. Use a reusable cup or water-bottle for drinks.

33. Drink water from the tap instead of anything from a bottle or can.

34. Use loose tea rather than tea bags.

35. Cover food in the fridge with an upturned bowl or plate rather than using cling-film or tin foil.

36. Carry a packed meal in reusable containers or wrapping. Sandwiches don’t have to be wrapped in plastic or foil. Check out beeswax coated fabric food wraps like these.

37. Larger items that you think you no longer want, someone else might. Bag them up and take them to a charity shop or advertise them on Freecycle.

38. Donate books and outgrown toys to a local fête or fundraising sale.

39. Avoid buying heavily packaged items if you can buy the same thing, unpackaged or with less packaging.

40. Use a fountain pen with a refillable ink reservoir and bottled ink rather than disposable pens or disposable plastic cartridges.

41. Save rubber bands, paper clips, pieces of string, wire closures etc in a bag or box for reuse.

42. Refuse to use straws or use washable and reusable ones. I like these ones which come with positive motivational messages!

43. Recycle old shoes and boots at a dedicated recycling bank or keep for use in the garden or beach.

44. Canvas shoes can be given a new lease of life by dyeing or decorating them with fabric paint or embroidery.

45. Recycle an old mobile phone and donate to charity at the same time via a website like Fonebank.

46. Save pieces of broken china to put in the base of flower pots in the garden for good drainage. Fragments of broken china can be very sharp so handle with care!

47. Cut up old tights for use as toy stuffing.

48. Old tights can also be used to store onions – tie a knot after adding each onion to a leg section and hang up in a cool, airy place.

49. Instead of binning polythene bags, wash them in soapy water, rinse and hang up to dry before reusing. Bags from frozen vegetables are especially good as they are sturdy and easy to clean.

50. Instead of using paper kitchen towels, or disposable cloths to wipe kitchen surfaces, use rags that are washed and reused.           

Big Life Questions

6 September 2018

This term we are launching some new chaplaincy discussion groups entitled Big Life Questions as part of Beyond activities.

There will be three sessions covering different year-groups from Year 7 through to Upper Sixth that will meet in the Living Room at lunchtimes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We will be looking at a whole variety of topical issues and ethical questions relevant to life in the 21st century. Christianity has spent much of its history wrestling with these kinds of questions so we will be considering the Christian response amongst others, where that has something helpful to contribute but we will also be ranging beyond that and you do not have to agree with the Christian viewpoint either to participate, or get something of value from these forums.

Everyone is welcome so do come along and join one of these groups, if you enjoy thinking about things and have some ideas you’d like to share and develop. By definition, each topic will invite a wide range of possible responses and there will often be no single ‘right answer’ – thorny ethical questions are notoriously grey, not black and white. That doesn't in any way devalue discussing or thinking about them, in fact the contrary and because so many issues of the modern world are so multifaceted, being at home with thinking in a nuanced way and being at ease with encountering a range of diverse, and even opposing, viewpoints can be a very useful life skill indeed.

You don’t need to have any advance knowledge of any of the topics – just be willing to come along and share in the discussion. The hope is that they will be friendly arenas to share and develop ideas together, embracing both agreement and disagreement, as well as may be providing some tools for honing your debating and essay-writing skills, along the way. Those of you anticipating university interviews might also find them a useful addition to your preparation for handling interview questions.

Please do pick up one of the flyers with the topics and dates listed on them from the chapel, or chaplain, and come along. The thought-bubble in the image here gives a flavour of the type of questions we’ll be looking at.

I look forward to seeing you!

Revd Elizabeth

Being or doing, or both?

2 July 2018

Summer holidays beckon with plenty of long lazy days ahead in which to choose how our time gets spent. The theme of our end of year Eucharist is the balance between being and doing – that perennial juggling act that lots of us encounter – wanting to be busy and active but also wanting time to quieten the faster rhythms of life and have the space to unwind and just be.

In the Bible that is exemplified in the story about Martha and Mary entertaining Jesus to supper in their home in Bethany. If you recall, Martha bustles round in the kitchen, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, leaving Martha to do all the work. Martha is understandably annoyed at being left to do everything and her resentment bubbles over, taking Jesus to task for not galvanising her sister into helping her. Jesus’ response is unexpected. He doesn’t criticise Mary for being lazy; he reproves Martha for trying to do too many things at once. “Only one thing is necessary”, he says and, “Mary has chosen the better part.”

Mostly the story is interpreted as meaning that Jesus regards Martha’s preoccupations as of less value than Mary’s. But I think that is too simplistic. Let’s not forget that Jesus chooses to come to Martha and Mary’s house repeatedly in the Gospels – it is a place of refuge and comfort for him. It would be a gross mistake, I think, to assume that he only does that for a dose of theological chat and that he doesn’t value the practical comforts of home-cooking, clean linen, and someone willing to take a needle and thread to a torn garment, after many weeks on the road.

So this story doesn’t mean that the practicalities of getting a meal together are somehow automatically inferior to participating in a theological discussion, or that doing is automatically inferior to being but it does mean that trying to do several conflicting things at once is a sure-fire recipe for human unhappiness. The heart of this story is not that Martha is into doing (bad) and Mary is into being (good) but that Martha is conflicted – she wants to do two things at once – fix dinner and participate in the discussion. She can’t do both and resentment wells up in her, meaning that she can’t satisfactorily do either. Jesus advice is not so much a put-down for worrying about practical stuff as simply telling Martha to focus on one thing at a time – that way she will be at peace both with herself and with others.

I think this is rather good advice for the summer holidays – eight weeks is plenty of time both to be busy and active (good) and to slow down and just be (also good). The temptation is to feel under pressure to do all of it, all the time. Like Martha, we will find that is a mighty quick way to feel discontented.

The story of Martha and Mary has inspired a number of artists down the years. My favourites are two paintings by the Chinese artist He Qi. In the first painting, tension bristles tangibly  – Martha in a practical blue apron, stands moodily in the kitchen doorway carrying a bamboo tray, near a merrily crackling woodstove, glowering at her sister in who kneels at Jesus feet, her eyes closed, drinking in his every word. Martha wears a practical head-scarf to keep the greasy cooking smuts and smoke out of her hair, while Mary wears a flower in her hair, atop a flowing red top and green skirt. The painting shouts of conflict and resentment. It’s quite uncomfortable to dwell on, in fact.

The second painting shows a remarkable turnaround. The same figures are there – Martha, Mary and Jesus but this time all the tension and resentment have gone. Martha still carries her bamboo tray – we can see in this painting that it contains apples – and she has a businesslike kettle or teapot to boot. Mary is still listening to Jesus and not doing much to help. But the three are now grouped around a table on which is a cup and plate, and it has become a place of communion and peace where each person is at ease with what they are focused on. What we see in this second painting is almost the aftermath of the scene in the Gospel story. The conflict has been resolved; Martha is at peace and so is everyone else in the room.

I think this is a good story to bear in mind with a view to happy summer holidays.

Something to read: St Luke 10:38-42

Something to wonder about: Do I place too much emphasis either on doing, or on being? How might I use these summer weeks to redress the balance?

Something to take it further: Deliberately balance your time to allow you to do both types of activity each day, or at least each week over the summer. What do you discover about yourself? Keep a private journal to jot down your reactions or thoughts.

Revd Elizabeth

Intuitive Celts - St Hilda

25 June 2018

The third saint on our trilogy of Celtic saints this term is Hilda. She was born later than the other two in the early part of the seventh century in Northumbria. Her family was affluent and had royal connections which complicated her early life when violent political intrigue made her parents flee south into exile in Yorkshire where Hilda grew up.

A lovely story is told of her mother dreaming, before Hilda's birth, that she had lost her husband – he was in fact later assassinated - and in her dream, as she searched high and low for him, she found in her clothing a sparkling, jewelled necklace that signified that the daughter she was about to have, would sparkle so brightly that she would light up the whole country.

Hilda was bright, quick, intuitive and creative and wanted to do more with her life than stay at home. She decided to take up a monastic vocation in her early thirties and went on to found her radical community at Whitby. Radical, because, uniquely at the time, it was a community for both men and women and also led by a woman.

The monastery at Whitby rapidly gained a fearsome reputation both as a centre of learning and the arts especially poetry, music and illumination and also as a repository of both secular and spiritual wisdom personified in Hilda herself who became a much sought after 'anam cara' or soul-friend for many, including political players of the time such as bishops and kings.

The Celtic concept of a soul-friend is a rather lovely one. A soul-friend accompanies a person by listening, encouraging and offering wise counsel along life's journey. Soul-friendship has a spiritual element to it – you can expect your soul-friend to pray with, or for, you and to be interested in your spiritual life as well as the rest of your life - but it is not exclusively a religious phenomenon and your soul-friend might well offer invaluable support in mundane matters as well as sublime. 

Hilda went out of her way to encourage others to develop their own gifts and to talent-spot among the most ordinary members of the community. The story goes that at the end of Lent one year, a feast was held in the monastery at Whitby at which each monk or nun had to sing and play the harp. The harp was passed round and, seeing it coming his way, Caedmon, a lay brother who minded the cows, panicked and fled to the byre. He fell asleep in the straw and dreamed he was being told to sing. Protesting that he couldn't and didn't know what to sing about, anyway, the reply was that he must sing about creation. In his dream he sang wonderfully and, on waking, wrote down the song. Hilda heard about it and relieving him of his farm-hand duties, encouraged and supported him to become one of the most sublimely gifted musicians of his day.

Sparkling with gifts herself,  Hilda made a point of encouraging and drawing out gifts in others so that they could develop their full potential, likewise. There is perhaps no more beautiful human vocation than to do that.

Something to wonder about:

Hilda is said to have had a mind that sparkled with the truth of God, a heart that sparkled with the love of God and a soul that sparkled with the presence of God, even on days when she didn't feel it. How might some of that sparkle dust rub off from Hilda's experiences onto my own life?

Something to read: Proverbs 31:10-end

Something to take it further:

Think of a skill you'd like to acquire or develop but perhaps have felt diffident about pursuing. Take a step towards achieving it – research what's involved; identify a course or opportunity to try it out; get on top of some of the basics; or just give it a whirl.

Find a way of giving some encouragement to someone else who might need it - say a few words of appreciation, or write a note; turn up to support someone performing in something or taking part in a sports event; help someone acquire a skill you already have.


Intuitive Celts - St Brigid

18 June 2018

Celtic Christians were not just drawn to physically liminal environments where the land met the sea or nudged the skyline but to figurative frontier zones where the hard and fast, traditional roles of men and women were less rigid, where differing beliefs and traditions, varied levels of social standing and wealth were barriers over which to step, rather than behind which to sit.

Brigid is the saint who perhaps exemplifies that most. Her whole life was lived on borderlines – she was born on the threshold of a druid's home to a slave girl made pregnant by her master, at a time when Ireland was on the cusp of converting from paganism to Christianity. She grew up in a mixed pagan and Christian community and was able to make room for the traditions of the former with the beliefs of the latter, seemingly with ease.

Although Brigid's life came from humble and under-privileged beginnings, she also crossed the barriers of wealth and social status without a qualm – she is said to have converted an Irish king on his deathbed by making a simple cross from the rushes on the floor and explaining its significance while she sat with him. And she was just as at home ministering to the lowly and outcast members of fifth century society such as lepers, the blind and the mentally ill. Her activities were often role reversals from the norms of the time. She was even accidentally made a bishop, much to the chagrin of local male priests.

Celtic patterns and designs are typically intertwined and flowing – they include rather than exclude, they weave together rather than rigidly segment space or colour, reflecting that easy criss-crossing from one threshold to another that is such a distinctive mark of early Celtic Christianity.

Something to wonder about:

What frontiers do I encounter in my own life?

How can I cross them gracefully?

Something to read: Revelation 3:20

Something to take it further:

Make a St Brigid's cross from long thin stalks, such as rushes, reeds, or whippy, pliable twigs from willow or hazel trees, or you can use straws.

In Ireland these crosses are still made and hung in people's houses. Traditionally a new one is made each 1 February to mark St Brigid's day and the previous year's cross is then hung in a barn or out-building, replacing the one made the year before that. The cross discarded from the barn or out-building is then ploughed into the ground and the cycle of making and replacing symbolises an infinite circle of praying for blessing on the home, the farm and the earth.

You can find instructions for making your own crosses here. They can be left plain or embellished with flowers or herbs.

Revd Elizabeth

Intuitive Celts - St Columbanus

11 June 2018

Celtic spirituality has seen a resurgence in recent years in the UK. In part that may be down to the emphasis of Celtic spirituality on alignment with natural, seasonal rhythms, on living in ecological balance with the earth and a reluctance to be defined by authoritarian direction and in part down to periodic frustration with the institutional church in this country.

In the next few weeks we'll be looking at three Celtic saints in particular: Columbanus, Brigid and Hilda. Disparate saints with different spheres of activity and operation, they share many of the same core Celtic Christian characteristics.

Deeply connected to the land, they had an affinity with the natural world. It was Columbanus who wrote: ‘If you want to understand the Creator, then first understand his creation.’ That was a common thread for all Celtic Christians - a clear grasp of the interconnectedness of the created order and the need to live in balance and harmony with it, centuries before green politics became mainstream.

Columbanus was once asked by Pope Gregory I where he came from. His answer was ‘we are inhabitants of the world’s edge but we are all disciples of St Peter and St Paul.’  As an Irish missionary, visiting Rome in the mid-sixth century, there was a sense that Ireland represented the furthest extent of the known world at the time, but Columbanus was referring to more than geography. He was referring also to the Celtic Christian conviction that to meet God, one must inhabit the margins and be wary of the mainstream centre. It reflects a Scriptural understanding that God often chooses to meet humanity on the edges, not in the centre of things.

This is quite an interesting and not entirely alien idea for us in the 21st century. Fringe is good! Fringe is where we encounter the creative, the innovative, the avant garde … and God.

So we find that Celtic Christians, for preference, build their monastic communities in liminal places - shorelines and islands, like Iona and Lindisfarne. They combined that instinct for marginal establishments with being restless and constantly on the move, taking pilgrim peripateticism to new levels. ‘I am always moving, from the day of my birth to the day of my death. Christians must travel in perpetual pilgrimage as guests of this world,’ Columbanus wrote. Not always easy to be constantly on the move, physically or mentally, but necessary to avoid stagnation and becoming spiritually moribund.

Again, that resonates for us in the 21st century global village with our greatly enhanced mobility and unparalleled access to new ideas and information. Openness to the new horizon, the new landscape, keeps us spiritually alive as well as culturally rich, Columbanus would have said. Something to dwell on, perhaps, before we head off on annual summer holiday travels.

Something to wonder about:

Where are the fruitful fringes in my life?

How might I be more open to the Celtic vision of living on the edge?

Something to read:

As I look out from my cave I see the wide ocean,

stretching west, north and south to the ends of the earth.

I watch the sea birds swoop and hear them shriek,

and in my mind I can see the ocean teeming with fish.

The earth is both majestic and playful, both solemn and joyful,

and in all this, it reflects the one who made it.

(Traditional Celtic poem)

Something to take it further:

Make a mini pilgrimage for an hour or two, to a place away from the hustle and bustle of normal life and give yourself permission to think and dream without interruption.

Revd Elizabeth

Hunger for satisfaction

4 June 2018

Human beings are hungry critters. Hungry, in a basic sense, for physical nourishment but also in other ways. At the basic level, it’s a startling truth that millions of people in the world today do not have enough food to eat and that food aid programmes are still, in 2018, vital weapons in an on-going war against starvation and malnutrition in many places.

It’s also a startling truth to realise how many other hungers exist in our world. Hunger to belong; hunger to be liked; hunger to be the same as everyone else; hunger to be different from everybody else; hunger to love and be loved; hunger to succeed; hunger to be accepted and valued; hunger to be wanted and needed; hunger to express ourselves; hunger to change our environment, the world or ourselves; hunger to search for knowledge or new experiences.

You could say that hunger is hard-wired in us. That it’s part of what it means to be made in the image of God. God may not be hungry in a physical sense, although it’s noticeable that a meal is often his chosen place of revelation, but hunger in a non-physical sense is certainly one of his characteristics. God hungers for us to know him; he hungers for the creation to be restored to the beautiful, generous, unspoiled place it once was; he hungers for human beings to treat one another with respect and compassion; he hungers for response from us. That is a huge privilege.

Last year, to mark World Hunger Day, I spent a week living off £1 a day for all my food, and donating money to The Hunger Project, which supports food aid programmes in Bangladesh, India, Mexico and many parts of Africa. It was a revelatory experience. Not an easy one, I have to say. Overnight, my attitudes to food (and quite a few other things) changed. Wasting, even the smallest item of food, immediately became unacceptable. Even the humblest ingredient acquired new status as a precious resource and engendered new respect for those who grew it, processed it, packaged it, transported it, stored it, and prepared it for the table.

The experience taxed my ingenuity considerably and yes, I did find myself physically quite hungry at times. Challenges like this are good periodically because they puncture the complacency and unthinking assumptions that we often can’t help being part of our thinking around what we eat or don’t eat.

This year, I’ve been making and eating global porridge recipes from around the world for a week and donating money to Mary’s Meals, a charity which provides daily meals in places of education in the many places in the Middle East, Africa, India, Myanmar, Haiti and Ecuador where pupils often come to school hungry and may not otherwise have anything to eat all day.

The meals Mary’s Meals provide are simple ones – usually a form of maize porridge enriched with extra vitamins and nutritional supplements as well as some sugar or honey for sweetening. The meals are served up in big, blue, plastic mugs and are enthusiastically received by their recipients. They enable students to concentrate on their studies (instead of their empty stomachs), which in turn enables them to get decent jobs to support themselves and their families in the future.

Something to wonder about:

What am I most hungry for in my life?

How can I channel that hunger in a healthy way?

Something to read:

St John 6:26-35

Something to take it further:

Make the African porridge recipe below as a taste of what might constitute your daily diet in Malawi

Identify ways to reduce the food you waste

Make a donation to a food aid charity such as one of those above, or another one.

Likuni Phala – African Maize Porridge

(a version of the porridge served by Mary's Meals in Malawi)

Serves 1 in the context of a normal day's eating here in the UK. Multiply the quantities given, to serve more people.


¼ cup (50g) maize meal*

½  cup (120ml) milk - full-fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed cow's milk or use a non-dairy milk, such as soya, almond or coconut milk

½ cup (120 ml) water

Pinch of salt

Soft brown sugar or honey to taste

Optional extras: sliced banana, a spoonful of peanut or sunflower seed butter, chopped mango or pineapple, toasted coconut shreds, raisins

1. Put the milk, water and salt in a non-stick saucepan and bring to the boil.

2. Add the maize meal in a steady stream, turn the heat down and simmer gently, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, for about five minutes.

3. Add any optional extras you like and serve in your favourite bowl or mug.

*Ideally you want African-style maize meal for this eg Natco White Maize Meal £1.80 per kg available from Sainsburys, or Iwisa Maize meal £1.90per kg available from Ocado, not Italian-style polenta.

Revd Elizabeth

Confirmation Service 2018

14 May 2018

The Bishop of Dorchester, The Rt Revd Colin Fletcher came to St Helen and St Katharine last Monday to confirm eight students from St Helen’s and two from Abingdon School.

Confirmation is what the Ancient Greeks called a krisiV or ‘moment of decision’ (the origin of the meaning of the English word ‘crisis’). It mirrors the Christian commitments made at baptism and offers an opportunity to choose whether those commitments resonate authentically, once a person can decide for themselves.

Like a Jewish bar- or bat- mitzvah, confirmation is among the first big life decisions a young person makes independently and as such is something to celebrate as well as take seriously.

It’s a moving service full of dramatic symbolism – affirmation of belief and hope reflected in actions such as tracing the sign of the cross on the forehead with the water of baptism, the lighting of a candle, the Bishop’s prayer for each candidate by name asking for the Holy Spirit, the sharing of Holy Communion, sung and spoken words.

Christian confirmation marks the beginning, not the end, of a journey. It asks some big questions and gets some big answers about the kind of map for living that a person wants for the road ahead. It's a mark of maturing and blossoming identity.

We live in a world where it’s often easy to hide behind group-think. Standing up to be counted is no small thing. It takes courage, confidence and independence.

Please pray for those confirmed in the Chapel this week; that God would empower them and that he would give them joy of heart and peace of mind as they begin this next chapter in their journey.

After the service in Chapel, photographs with the Bishop and distribution of gifts and cards, there was an enjoyable celebration over nibbles and a wonderful confirmation cake made by Olivier and his team.

Thank you to everyone who made this occasion such a happy celebration.

Revd Elizabeth