From us to you:

Together @ St. Mary's

My dear Friends,

Laurence Olivier, one of our most celebrated actors of the last century, was once asked, "What does the sweet smell of success smell like?" To which he replied, "It smells a little bit like Brighton!"

I don’t know how many of you know Brighton, but in many ways it has been a still point in a turning world for me. Graham Greene highlighted the more sinister side of the seaside town, now city, but for thousands it heralds social freedom, candyfloss, fish and chips, Regency architecture and seagulls....It spreads itself luxuriously along the south coast, languishing in intermittent sunshine. It has designer shops in the posh Lanes and more interesting junk shops and esoteric establishments in the North Lanes. It has seen the Prince Regent holding court; it has seen the IRA bombing the Grand Hotel when the Conservative Party were meeting in Conference; it has properties commanding millions of pounds; it has had hundreds of people sleeping rough on the streets, park benches and shop doorways. It is a city, it is a series of village communities. Some people live in plenty, others live in poverty. There is alcohol abuse, drug dealing, pornography; there are visionaries, artists and poets. And amongst the lanes, the avenues, the esplanades, the streets, there are also churches, particularly Victorian churches, for the Victorians were keen on building places for divine worship.

The Oxford Movement, the revival of catholicity within Anglicanism, found flamboyant as well as profound expression in Brighton. Part of their contribution to the spiritual reawakening to which the Oxford Movement was committed, was to give people, particularly those who lived in places of deprivation, a vision of the grandeur and the glory of God. They gilded everything, they accompanied worship with stirring music, they dressed in beautiful vestments, they used ornate altars. To those who lived in small and shabby rooms they offered the invitation to inhabit places of wonder for the experience of worship. To those who could not read, they offered the story of salvation in pictures. To servants who never saw the light of day, trapped as they were in shadowy basements, they offered the intensity of light. Theirs was a mission to celebrate the way in which our God-given senses can alert us to the life of the Spirit and the essence of our Creator God.

Tastes have changed, theology has been modified to suit a succession of different trends and emphasis, but part of this Victorian movement still has a home and finds expression in the potent presence of St Bartholomew’s Brighton. You may have spied it from the train as it slows to its final destination at the Brighton terminus. It looks one of the most imposing of ecclesiastical edifices, apparently built in the dimensions of the Ark, but actually what surprises many is that it was one of the very first churches in Brighton not to charge those who wanted to attend. The practice prevalent at the time was to exact a fee for a bench or pew. St Bart’s would have none of it! Free seating was available to all, indeed, for up to 1,500 worshippers. Some Brighton Clergymen at the time of the founding of St Bart’s (c.1894) were most put out by this innovation, gaining as they did reliable and substantial incomes from "pew rents" and they feared the competition of such a presence.

It is a strange church, an imposing church, the ritual now for many would seem antique, but it may perhaps still have something very special to contribute to our view of the nature of God, the manner of His reaching out to us, the way in which with respect and reverence we might approach His presence. It seeks to celebrate the dignity and unique wonder of each and every human being and our place in the great scheme of things. One enters through a modest doorway in the west of the building, so that the full force of the architecture comes as a surprise when one eventually emerges through the gloomy porch into the back of the church. Quirkily, I recall one of the many altars set in the south side of the nave, (from memory, in beaten metal, silver? bronze?) featuring the 12 signs of the Zodiac, which some might raise an eyebrow at nowadays. The High Altar at the east end of the church, is preposterous in its grandeur, a vast baldacchino giving significance to what is enacted below. The priests seem rightly diminutive as they move around it during the different moments of the Mass, the larger than life size Crucifix being the main focus of adoration and attention.

There used to be a rather eccentric priest there when I made my first visit. Most of us priests look for texts to start off a sermon from the scriptures, he preferred sourcing his texts from Operas! He used to base his talk on some moment in the drama or lyric in the music that conveyed the complex business of what it is to be human: to be in love, to be in torment, to have been betrayed, to have been broken; of what it is to seek sanctuary, absolution, guidance, peace. He would weave his words with wonder, evoking an extraordinarily powerful sense of God’s passionate, tender, courteous, sensitive, unconditional love for a humanity for whom He gave, and continues to offer, Himself completely.

He took me "back stage" once, beyond the pillared baldacchino, beyond the gilded glory of the altar, down a slope and into probably the shabbiest vestry area you could possibly imagine: drab, dank, damp, dark, and I remember thinking how fitting it was that the people of God only saw the glory of God as they worshipped, the priests inhabited the humblest of places in which to prepare. Quite right too!

But it is the music that attracts people to St Bart’s more than anything else perhaps, and I am delighted that Hamish Dustagheer, a great friend of St Mary’s who has enthralled us with piano recitals, helped us choose our new grand piano and who has written anthems which the Marble Hill Singers have sung at St Mary’s over the years, is just about to take up the post of Organist and Director of Music at St Bart’s at Easter. I have no doubt that they are in for a fabulous time with him.

The acoustic there is extraordinary. I recall going there for a concert. John Tavener was also there for a Premiere of a piece he had composed and which was played as part of the Brighton Festival. I believe it was entitled Ecstasies, though I can’t find any recording of it to check. It was an amazing experience of sound evoked by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father was sung from the centre of the High Altar, the Son was sung from the Pulpit which was a third of the way up the north side of the aisle, the Holy Spirit was sung from the Balcony at the back of the church, which meant that the audience were right in the middle of these solo voices as they reached out to the other persons of the Trinity. We were at the very heart of these waves of sound which washed all around us and through us and amongst us. We were right in the epicentre of an inverted vortex of self giving emotion, creative energy, the very making of light and life and love.

But perhaps the most striking experience I had there was on my very first visit, on an ordinary Saturday morning. It was the Missa in Angustiis, or the Nelson Mass, by Joseph Haydn, one of the six masses written toward the end of his life, it is thought, at the culmination of his composing for the liturgy of the Church. I had never before experienced the Eucharist being accompanied by a proper Mass setting. I had only ever heard such things on CD, the radio or at a concert. To experience it as it was originally intended to be heard was a revelation. It made far more sense of the music and indeed of the journey through the sequence and emotional structure of the service. The music forced one to recognise the truth of one’s darker instincts, repent of the selfishness of one’s actions, inspired one to aspire to generosity of spirit and to give oneself more completely to the adventure of faith. It encouraged one to allow oneself to be encountered by the creative force of God and filled one with the energy of endeavour. It was something new to my senses and beyond my experience of worship. Although I couldn’t worship like that every Sunday, it proved profound and memorable

But when the time came for those who had sung the Mass so magnificently and with such exquisite artistry to process down from the heights from whence they had sung, to receive Communion, for some reason, based solely on the wonder and power, beauty and serenity of their singing, I had expected to see the most glamorous of folks imaginable. Instead, and somewhat disappointingly at first, I saw completely ordinary men and women: one shuffling awkwardly, another in an old coat even Charity Shops might not have deigned to sell, one other with very badly dyed hair and colourful make up. They were not glamorous presences at all, despite the beauty and poignancy of their singing. They were all, seemingly, mundane, motley and ordinary.

Then I got it! Of course, how could I have been so stupid? Isn’t that the whole thrust and essence of the Oxford Movement, indeed, of the whole of Christian history and the potency of the Gospel? It is precisely in the ordinariness of our humanity that spiritual wonder is most at home. It is in the very mundanity of our lives that the Spirit finds fullest expression. It is through apparently unremarkable men and women that extraordinary things come into being. And perhaps more than any other time of year, Christmas reveals and celebrates that.

In the chaos of the census, in the despair of sleeping on the streets, in the danger of being far from home, in the shame of being pregnant before marriage, the light from another realm shone into the darkness of our lives. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, were all completely ordinary and unremarkable human beings. It was the God who visited them, embraced them, loved them, believed in them who reinterpreted them, offered hope through them and sang His song of salvation through them. And if He did so through them, then why not through us as well? Perhaps this, more than anything else, will offer us the confidence we need to take us into this coming new year: that God is part of who we are. He can and does use people as ordinary and compromised as you and me to effect change, influence for good, correct wrongs, impart hope, offer compassion and companionship to those who need it and bestow blessing through our noticing, listening, serving love.

God uses such as you and me to speak words of comfort, affirmation, guidance, encouragement, to others, if only we would align our lives with His and let Him. He will similarly help us to challenge injustice, prejudice and bigotry, should we allow His truth to influence and inspire who we are. The God who became flesh can inhabit our flesh too and can fill us, as He did Mary, that we too may be "God-bearers" in our own day. Perhaps our prayer at the cusp of the year should then be: Lord, as once you noticed a humble and apparently unremarkable person and loved her into wholeness and significance, Please Lord, notice and love me. Lord, as once you filled Mary with the gift of yourself, Please Lord, fill me. Lord, as once you allowed Mary to bring forth your presence into an aching, needing world, Please Lord, use me. Lord, as once you embraced the ordinariness of Mary and transformed her by grace, Please Lord, transform me. Lord, as once you entered our experience of time and blessed it with your presence and your power, Please Lord, come to us now. For we long to be part of your healing and reconciling love, Please use us creatively in the opportunities and relationships of 2022. We long to be part of your ministry of hope, Please inspire us to be encouragers of others in the months ahead. Our community and country needs to recover and rebuild, Please help us to be part of that recovery and rebuilding, That we may be part of the bringing forth of the presence of Christ in our own day. All these things we ask and pray In the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord. AMEN.

PLEASE JOIN US FOR EITHER OUR EUCHARIST IN CHURCH AT 9.30am or our Zoom service online at 5pm, when we will be exploring the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 1 verses 10-18. The Hymns at the 9.30am service will be: 310, 172 and 537.



No booking is necessary for the EUCHARISTS. Please do not come to the church if you are displaying any Covid symptoms or you are required to self-isolate and please seriously consider whether it is wise to attend if you have cold or ‘flu symptoms, in fairness to others. We would ask that unless you are officially exempted from doing so, everyone wears a face mask, in keeping with Government instructions. Please also consider and follow the other guidance on our website about Covid precautions as as we all seek to keep ourselves and others healthy.

Communion will be offered in the form of the consecrated host, which you may receive in your hands and which we would ask you to consume immediately.


We very much hope that those of you who are not able to join us in church for our service, join us online instead. This will take the same form which we have used from last April. Please have a candle, matches, bread and wine to hand. Click Here to download the Order of Service

My Dear Friends,

Thank you for reading these witterings from the Dog House where I live over the past months, and thank you to those of you who have sent me cards and greetings over recent weeks. It is always lovely to hear from you and I truly appreciate your good wishes for Christmas and the New Year. My prayers and blessings to each and every one of you for the coming days and weeks and months. For those of you who are unable to join us for the Crib Service later this week, here is a video clip especially for you. It is the story I have written for the children of the parish for Christmas, with some help from young Master Timothy! There is only one more of these Pastoral Letters to go, unless the Government bring in greater restrictions which curtail church services, so may I say a heartfelt thank you to those of you who have read them and responded to them. I have greatly enjoyed your feedback and your keeping in touch. It has been a strange time in our life together, but an interesting one when I feel that I have made and got to know new friends. I thought it presumptuous to write you a Pastoral Letter from myself at this special time of year, so here is a letter from a shepherd who was there........ With my best wishes for a safe and special Christmas and a New Year of recovery and renewal. Blessings Galore Jeff

Dear Readers,

"And lo, there were shepherds out in the fields that night, tending their sheep." Well, we would be wouldn’t we? That's what shepherds do. Where else would we be? But did you hear that? "Shepherds, SHEPHERDS!" Ain’t it marvellous?! One of the most important moments in everything that has happened in the history of the human race, thank you very much, and they couldn’t even have included our names!

Others got their names in the Good Book didn’t they? Oh dear me yes, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, they made sure of that they did, they even made sure that some were not confused with others, "Blah the son of Blah, begat, begat, begat etc..." But me and my mates, relegated to the chorus yet again. The "also rans" the "not really important enough to merit being named". "Shepherds!" Pah!

Actually, I enjoyed being a shepherd, it suited me. As you may have gathered, I can be a bit quick tempered, voicing my opinion at the least provocation, not exactly the quietest member of the community. It was probably best that I did spend most of my time out on the hills with the sheep. I was better with sheep than with people. I always had a way with sheep. I could rant with the best of them, and frequently did after having a bit too much to drink, at festivals and the like. But then tap me on the shoulder and tell me that there’s a lamb being born and I am as sober as a Sadducee, as speedily as lightening. Being there, looking after a ewe as she’s lambing, making reassuring noises, making sure everything is going smoothly, is when something deep down inside of me comes to the fore and I’m your man, there ain’t no better. Mostly things go well, sometimes things do not, a lamb chokes on the cord as it comes out or, try as she might, she can’t find the strength to push. Sometimes things go wrong, I hate it, the suffering, the pain, the silence which descends, the emptiness that fills you when one of them tiny mites dies. It’s like a part of you dies with them. You get over it, of course you do, you have to, that's part of the job, part of life, but I try not to think about it.

Let me tell you what makes me laugh. Them lambs, when they are still finding their legs, when they have just filled themselves with their mother's milk, they behave as I do when I have had a few too many cups of wine. They go mad! They go skipping. They just bounce in the air as high as they can, just for the sheer joy of it. I had two last season who seemed to like competing with each other to see which of them could jump the higher. I just sit there, on the grass, looking, mesmerised, a great silly grin on my big ugly face. They are so alive and they make me feel alive too. That's one of the best things about the job, well I say job, it’s more than a job really, it’s a life. And it’s not for everyone, let me tell you. Not everyone wants to be out in all weathers, alert at night in case of danger. Not everyone wants to be out of doors, far away from others. But it suits me well enough and, actually, I wouldn't fancy doing anything else.

"There were shepherds out in the fields at night, tending their flocks." Drives me mad that sentence does and all those pretty pictures I have seen on Christmas cards, it all looks so idyllic, we look like celebrities in period costumes. You can’t sense the danger and the wildness or the isolation or the fear. And there’s another thing you can't pick up on either. You see, shepherds at the time were thought of as fairly low class. I know! I probably come across to you as a classy kinda guy, but no, us shepherds... sorry, we shepherds - though necessary, though they couldn’t do without us, though somebody had to do the job - were thought of as pretty low skilled, menial, manual workers. I will let you think of equivalents in your own day, I wouldn’t want to be accused of prejudice. Nobody thought much of us, indeed, many probably didn’t think of us at all. But someone did. To someone we, me and me mates, mates and I, were thought special, though, true to form, none of us got our names in The Book. I know, I mentioned it before, but it grates, it really annoys me.

Names are important. Knowing someone’s name means that you know them, relate to them, connect with them in a different way. When someone calls you by name rather than "Oi, you!" you feel more valued, respected, even loved. And, hand on heart, I know now that someone did know my name, did know who I was, who I am underneath this gruff exterior, beyond the words I utter. Knew me through and through, accepted me, was amused by me, delighted in me, believed in me. And that’s the wonder of it. It was because they knew my name that it all began.

I was out in the fields, tending my sheep by night..... Oh no. They’ve got me doing it now! I was just sitting there, on my favourite rock. My mates and I had had an argument. I was just sharpening the wood at the end of a long stick, in case I had to prod something sinister in the darkness, that usually sees them off, the sharper the better. Then this soft, deep voice sounded beside me. "Reuben", it said. Well usually I would have sprung up, spear in hand to ward them off. I am not used to being startled in the darkness, not by someone I am not expecting to be there. But it sounded like the voice of someone who was a close friend, calling me by name and I turned toward them. I didn't recognise him and yet there was something familiar about him. He was smiling.

"My master has need of you tonight," he said. "Why? Has something gone wrong?" I asked that because other shepherds, when their sheep are in trouble, they all call for me. I have had years of experience and people know I have a gift when it comes to sheep.

"Nothing has gone wrong, but they need you anyway. You are good when births are happening. I know you love to see young life, it speaks to you in a way it doesn’t speak to others. Come with me."

"What about my sheep?" I asked in incredulity. Surely he wasn’t suggesting that I left them there, my mates weren't really to be trusted. "You and your friends must come. My friends will look after your sheep until you return, they will love that. They will be quite safe, I promise." And when he looked at me, I saw in his eyes the truth of what he said and I believed him, trusted him, utterly.

"Where must I go?" I ventured. "I will take you there myself," he said and began to walk away toward Bethlehem. The firelight from outside the many houses of the city was warming the air before us and with that, the strange man began to sing. Softly at first, a catchy, haunting, nostalgic song that reminded me of my childhood. I soon joined in, the others following and down the hills and into the city we went.

It was busy that night, crowds were everywhere, laughing, singing, arguing, pushing past one another. Eventually we came to an Inn. I thought we might have been going in for something to eat and drink but my singing friend, whom I had followed down the hill, went rather to the side of the building where it was mostly in shadow, a rough slanting roof over an area strewn with straw. There were two donkeys tethered to a post, snorting, braying, like they do, steam rising from their flared nostrils. I stroked their large heads, whispered words even I don’t exactly know the meaning of into their floppy ears and they seemed then to relax and found something to munch which had been on the floor.

Why had we come here, I wondered? Could it have been a ploy to get us away from our sheep? They were worth good money after all, those poor lambs, they fetch good money at the festival. Then I heard more singing, this time not from the one who had led us there, this time it was a woman’s voice, though it sounded as though she was no more than a young girl. A man came round from the back of the Inn carrying a lantern and a blanket. Exhausted he looked. He set the lantern carefully on the ground and wrapped the blanket around the young girl who was singing. By the lamp’s light, I then saw she was cradling an infant. You could still smell the birth on him, it was pungent in the air. I recognised it easily from my time with the lambs. She was cradling this tiny life she held in her arms, singing softly in the lamp lit darkness. We just listened. The companion who had led us there turned and looked at me, radiant with wonder. "I didn’t want you to miss this, Reuben" he said. No, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this either.

We didn’t stay long, they needed to rest, a few moments were enough. I didn’t walk back with the others, I wanted to walk by myself, taking it all in, remembering all that we had seen and what we had heard. Why me? Why ask me to witness such an everyday occurrence? Why invite me to sense something so significant, so extraordinary? I am just a shepherd, someone who just ensures the care of sheep, the producing of lambs, for slaughter, for sacrifice, for Passover, for others. I wasn’t called to be there for the birth itself which would have made more sense, especially if things had gone wrong, that’s when I am at my best, then I could have been of use. But what use had I been? No use at all. I had just stood there, looking, recognising that something which spoke to something profound within me had happened, something which spoke to some deep need, deeper within me that I could know.

I am not someone people recognise, rate, respect, even notice. I am just a person you would pass on the street without giving me a glance or a thought. Hardly anyone even knows my name. But that night I was noticed, I was known, I was wanted, I was needed and I felt special, special for the first time in my life. Me, Reuben, a no-one, an outcast, was wanted, was welcomed . And a warmth, a belief, a sense of belonging filled me and fills me still as I remember that sacred, special night, long, long ago.....

Christmas Blessings, from your unknown friend,


CHRISTMAS EVE: CRIB SERVICES: 3.30pm and 4.30pm (for those who have already booked.) MIDNIGHT MASS: 11pm CHRISTMAS MORNING: FESTIVAL EUCHARIST 10am BOXING DAY: CHRISTMAS EUCHARIST, 10 am for those unable to attend the other two Festival Eucharists. As numbers of those attending have to be limited, it would be appreciated if you could choose to come to just one of the Christmas Eucharists. BOXING DAY: Zoom Service, 5pm (please see below for details of how you can join this service) COLLECT FOR CHRISTMAS: ALMIGHTY GOD YOU HAVE GIVEN US YOUR ONLY BEGOTTEN SON TO TAKE OUR NATURE UPON HIM AND AT THIS TIME TO BE BORN OF A PURE VIRGIN: GRANT THAT WE, WHO HAVE BEEN BORN AGAIN AND MADE YOUR CHILDREN BY ADOPTION AND GRACE, MAY DAILY BE RENEWED BY YOUR HOLY SPIRIT THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD, WHO LIVES AND REIGNS WITH YOU AND THE HOLY SPIRIT ONE GOD, NOW AND FOR EVER. AMEN

You can find the names of those we shall be remembering in our prayers by following this link to our website "Services" page and clicking on the button for 'Our Current Intercessions List'.

No booking is necessary for the EUCHARISTS. Please do not come to the church if you are displaying any Covid symptoms or you are required to self-isolate and please seriously consider whether it is wise to attend if you have cold or ‘flu symptoms, in fairness to others. We would ask that unless you are officially exempted from doing so, everyone wears a face mask, in keeping with Government instructions. Please also consider and follow the other guidance on our website about Covid precautions as we all seek to keep ourselves and others healthy.

Communion will be offered in the form of the consecrated host, which you may receive in your hands and which we would ask you to consume immediately.


We very much hope that those of you who are not able to join us in church for our service, join us online instead on Boxing Day. This will take the same form which we have used from last April. Please have a candle, matches, bread and wine to hand.

Click Here to download the Order of Service

There are three main ways to join the service: on this link: 2. Go to (or use the Zoom app) and enter the following Webinar ID: 856 8533 9742 3. If you want to join by telephone dial any of these numbers: 0203 481 5237 or 0203 481 5240 or 0131 460 1196 or 0203 051 2874 and then type in this Webinar ID when prompted: 856 8533 9742

These details are the same every week!