More tea, Vicar?

One of the things that a curate used to have to do – back in the day, as they seem to now say – was to develop the capacity to drink a huge number of cups of tea in an afternoon without having to ask to go to someone’s loo! This was in the day when we did that very old-fashioned thing called ‘visiting’.  Our day was divided into three.  The morning was for doing stuff like going to Morning Prayer and Mass, taking assembly, writing a sermon, doing some admin and taking the Sacrament to the sick and housebound.  Then after lunch you embarked on visiting – some planned, some ‘cold calling’ – and you did this until it was time to go back to church for Evensong.  Then you had your tea and then you went to meetings in the evening.  It was all very straightforward.

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A perfect cuppa

And when you arrived in someone’s home the first question you were asked was ‘Would you like some tea, Father?’. The answer could be never anything else but ‘Yes – that would be lovely!’ because accepting hospitality was all part of the deal.

The thing that I notice about Jesus is his willingness to visit people in their home and his eagerness to accept their hospitality.  Some of his greatest encounters with people were during a meal, like in the house of Simon the Pharisee, who had a lot to learn about true hospitality.

But the people of east Leeds, where I was walking the streets each afternoon, knew all about it.  A nice tea-tray, with a few Hobnobs, maybe a piece of home-made cake and nourished we would sit and chat for half an hour.

So, last year when I was asked if we would be willing to bless the first of the new tea harvest, the First Flush Darjeeling, for one of the stalls in the Borough Market, I, of course, said ‘yes’.  The owner of Tea2You, Rattan, had seen what we did for another trader in the Market, BreadAhead, our local bakery.  They produce a Lammas loaf with the flour milled from the new grain.  They bring it to the cathedral and we use it for the celebration of the Eucharist that day.  It’s a very ancient – Anglo-Saxon – tradition.  There isn’t the same tradition with tea, well, not in this country.

But given the relationship between vicars and tea I felt I couldn’t refuse.  In his memoir one Revd Sydney Smith, wrote this

“Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”

I think he meant, before we started drinking tea over here, because of course the tradition of drinking this beverage is ancient.  But I too am glad that the tradition was brought here.

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Blessing the tea

So last week we repeated the blessing.  Rattan and his staff with friends from the Borough Market brought some of the newly picked and dried Darjeeling, the very first and tender leaves, to the Cathedral and we blessed them and gave thanks for the harvest.  It is all in the tradition spelt out in the law of Moses that the first fruits be brought to God.

The Lord said to Aaron, ‘All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the choice produce that they give to the Lord, I have given to you. The first fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours; everyone who is clean in your house may eat of it. Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours.’ (Numbers 18.12-14)

We read a poem “Song of Seven Cups” by Lú Tóng.

The first cup caresses my dry lips and throat,
The second shatters the walls of my loneliness,
The third explores the dry rivulets of my soul
Searching for legends of five thousand scrolls.
With the fourth the pain of past injustice vanishes through my pores.
The fifth purifies my flesh and bone.
With the sixth I commune with the immortals.
The seventh conveys such pleasure I am overcome.
The fresh wind blows through my wings
As I make my way to Penglai.

And then I blessed the tea using these words

Generous God,
you visit the earth and water it,
you make it very plenteous
and from the soil
you bless us with food to sustain us
and drink to cheer us.
We thank you for the tea harvest
and for this First Flush of Darjeeling.
We thank you for tea planters
for tea pickers
for tea merchants and importers.
We thank you for all who make tea
at home, in the market, in our teashops
and pray that all who drink it
may be calmed, strengthened
and comforted.
May your blessing rest on this tea
and those who will enjoy it
for you are God,
Father, Son and Spirit,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
now and for ever.
Amen.

And then? Well, it was time for another cup of tea, brewed in the market, the cup that cheers, for which I am always happy to give thanks to God.

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Enjoying a cup of ‘blessed’ tea with Rattan and Darren

Creator God,
for the food we eat,
for the drink we drink,
for this bountiful
and beautiful earth
we give you thanks and praise.
Amen.

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Blessing

We have a couple of really exciting days ahead of us at Southwark Cathedral.  Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, is the day on which we gather on London Bridge with the Parish of St Magnus the Martyr, our neighbour across the river on the other side of the bridge.  For as long as the bridge and the Christian church has existed in London our two churches have had the care of the bridge and its residents (during the mediaeval period). We live out that responsibility by meeting where our parish boundaries meet and have a short service during which a cross is thrown into the river as a sign of blessing.  The river has been such a feature of the lives of both churches as has the bridge and that concern for both continues in this very public act.

The icon of the Baptism of Jesus at Southwark Cathedral

The icon of the Baptism of Jesus at Southwark Cathedral

On the following day we will be blessing the twelve bells that were removed from the Cathedral tower in July and have now returned.  Two have been recast and so will be baptised but all will be blessed by the Bishop of Southwark.  Bells have rung out from the tower since before the fifteenth century when we know that the original ring of seven was augmented for the royal wedding that took place in 1424 in the Priory of St Mary Overie.

At that time, the Bishop of Winchester, of which Southwark was his liberty, was Cardinal Beaufort.  His niece, Joan, was to marry King James I of Scots and, as at that time he was in prison in the Tower of London, he was let out in order to come across the bridge and to the Priory to be married.  And the bells rang out as their marriage was blessed.

Priests get called on to bless all kinds of things.  In the next few weeks I’m going into the Borough Market to bless the ‘First Flush Darjeeling’, very special tea that is sold at one of the stalls.  What reading we will have for that goodness only knows.  But I’m delighted to be able to do it, just as I’m delighted to bless the First Loaf at Lammas and bless anything else that is shoved in front of me.  After the Mass on Epiphany a young women asked me to bless two prayer books she had bought in the Cathedral Shop for a friend, lovely.

So we wait with anticipation to see what the House of Bishops will recommend to General Synod and the church at our meeting in February.  After the Shared Conversations – which had gone so well as far as I was concerned – they went off to deliberate what we might do and be able to offer to those in our congregations, as well as those in every part of our society, who wish to marry their same-sex partner and do so with a blessing.

It just seems odd to me that I can bless a river, bells, books, tea, bread, cats and dogs and not two people who love each other. Perhaps if I can’t bless two people, who happen to be of the same gender and who have decided that they want to spend the whole of their life together in a loving committed faithful relationship I shouldn’t bless anything.

Jesus blessing the world and all creation

Jesus blessing the world and all creation

God seems to treat us all equally, for as Jesus says of God in St Matthew’s Gospel

‘He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’ (Matthew 5.45)

and as I cast out indiscriminate blessing from the altar at the end of every Eucharist it falls in the same way.  But perhaps we are going to have to think differently about blessing in the future and, against the will and action of God, bless only those who REALLY deserve it.

God,
you bless without distinction,
love without discrimination,
may your church
bravely reflect your nature.
Amen.

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