St Stephen & St Agnes Church

Making God's Love Known In Windsor

Who are the saints of God?

—Fr Ainsley Swift

[Delivered at All Saints Church, Frances Road]


Rector Ainsley SwiftI was fortunate to have a holiday in Italy recently (it was our 30th wedding anniversary) Italy makes you very aware of the saints; at every turn, churches, street names, relics, saints or bits of them, are everywhere. The Medici Chapel has a huge collection of relics; I have never seen so many bits of saints all in one place!

In the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus sets out, who are blessed or, if you like, the attributes of sainthood. It’s a rather counter intuitive list, those who are blessed are; the poor, the hungry, those who weep. Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, turn the other cheek, give to those who take from you, do to others as you would have them do to you. And somewhere along that list of attributes we probably give up and think; well that’s beyond me, I’ll never be a saint.

St Paul address the early Christians, all of them, good or bad, as the saints at Rome/Corinth/Ephesus. If he were writing to us today he might address his letter to the Saints at Windsor! There is a tension here; a tension between grace (Sainthood as a free gift that comes from faith in Christ) and the change we see only too plainly, we would need to make in our lives, individually and corporately, to fulfil the teaching of Christ in this passage from Luke. A tension between what is and what might be, a tension between what is seen and what is unseen, unrealised. 

We are all called to be Saints, to together carry the message of God’s love to all around us. The tension between gift of grace and reality, that we are engaged in a process of transformation, means sometimes we fail; look at the church down through history, look at the church today, look at our churches here in Windsor... look at your own lives... we can be painfully aware of our failings.

But failing to be Saint’s doesn’t negate God’s call to us to keep trying or his promise of what we are becoming.

In my time as a Curate, far from here, in the parish there were some very difficult people and I was bewildered about how to square this with being the church, with being Christian. I remember asking my spiritual director about this – he said “for some people, for most of us to one degree or another, our Baptism hasn’t come to its fullness.” In other words the promise has been made but the realisation of the promise is yet to reach maturity. He went on to say that my job as a priest was to seek to make that promise at baptism come to maturity in the lives of those we serve. A high calling in itself. All of us who have been baptised have that promise of what might, be within us; we need to give attention to how to make it come to maturity.

Basilica Francis exteriorHaving a sense of calling isn’t just for clergy but for all Christians, for all the baptised. When I say calling I don’t mean a dramatic audible voice from heaven but possibly a verse of Scripture, a line from a hymn, something that comes to us in a moment of prayer, something a friend says to us... these can be powerful callings that remind us of our purpose as Christians.

On that trip to Italy I mentioned earlier, we had a day in Assisi, the home of St Francis. You may know there are two large basilicas one dedicated to Francis and one to his companion, Claire. They are very holy places and they are large and imposing but if you take the time to walk a quiet way down a steep hill, away from the large basilicas is a small and ancient church, which predates the basilicas, San Damiano, the little chapel where Francis heard God’s call “build my church”. Francis thought this meant rebuild the ruin of the physical Chapel he found himself in. Gradually he realised God was calling him to renewal the life, the discipleship, of the church and the Christian who formed it.

Forgive me, I’m not trying to compare myself to St Francis, but it reminded me of my visit to Windsor for the interview for the Team Vicar job a good few years ago now. I thought Windsor was a wonderful place but why would God be calling me here... (I was used to the Docklands of Liverpool) I wasn’t expecting an answer but the thought that came to mind was “to build and to heal”. Now I’m sure I have failed to do that on many occasions, but it has kept me looking forward, has acted as a calling and is still part of how I view things today, here, to build and to heal...

Basilica Francis interiorWhat is your calling? There are many roles we in the churches... some have grown to maturity in their roles in the church, PCC members, Churchwardens... and some are needed to step down now. There is sadness about this but also an opportunity for other people to hear the call of God. I know it’s not even Christmas yet! But we need to begin to be thinking about our APCM’s, the meetings that elect our next Churchwardens and PCC members etc.  Please consider if God may be calling you to serve. We may simply need to be clear about loving God and loving your neighbour as ourselves, if we are to fulfil our calling.

A prayer exercise to end... take up a prayful attitude... close your eyes if that is comfortable for you or lower your gaze... imagine you can see yourself sitting here in church and say to yourself:


MAY I BE SAFE AND PROTECTED
MAY I BE AT PEACE IN MIND AND BODY
MAY I LIVE WITH EASE AND WITH KINDNESS

(Silence)

Now think of someone you love and say to them:

MAY YOU BE SAFE AND PROTECTED
MAY YOU BE AT PEACE IN MIND AND BODY
MAY YOU LIVE WITH EASE AND WITH KINDNESS

(Silence)

And now think of someone you find challenging or difficult, perhaps not the most difficult person in your life but someone who troubles you and say to them:

MAY YOU BE SAFE AND PROTECTED

MAY YOU BE AT PEACE IN MIND AND BODY

MAY YOU LIVE WITH EASE AND WITH KINDNESS

(Silence)

Now widen your imagination and think of our whole town of Windsor and imagine saying to every soul:

MAY YOU BE SAFE AND PROTECTED
MAY YOU BE AT PEACE IN MIND AND BODY
MAY YOU LIVE WITH EASE AND WITH KINDNESS

[This exercise is taken from Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality by Tim Stead, p.119]