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Gardner C. Taylor, 1918 - 2015

When I heard yesterday of the passing of a former colleague's father at 97 on the evening of Easter Day I told my wife, that's the way I want to go.  If one has to die, what could be better, especially for a preacher in his old age, than to be at church for Easter, share a meal with the family and lie down and go to heaven.  

Earlier this morning I heard that the great preacher Gardner Calvin Taylor also died on Easter.  He was 96.  Time Magazine once called him the 'dean of black preachers,' but that is to underestimate the power of the man's witness.  He was the dean of all preachers.  He could stand in any pulpit and touch the heart of the people.  Yes he was a black preacher and as such a prophet calling the nation to address the inequities and injustices of the day, but he was more.  He was also an instrument of healing and grace who transcended differences enabling all people to look to a better day and embrace a better way.  We know from his own testimony that he was indeed the grandson of slaves, but we know also from our own experience that he was like a father to one and all.  He was so humble and full of grace that the listener wasn't caught up in the great oratorial skill of the preacher or the tradition he represented, but swept away by the wonder of God's love for the whole of the world.  

Dr. Taylor stood in our pulpit one Sunday morning and spoke of hearing the elders in the days of his youth in Louisiana speak of the promised land.  The elders of whom he spoke, were the last of those who had been slaves in America, and he went on to tell us that when they spoke of the Promised Land, Canada and Canaan's land were intermingled in their language.  We all felt the chills in our spine when he spoke, to think we could be part of the unfolding promises of God, part of the Kingdom and part of God's great work to redeem the world.  

On the occasions when Dr. Taylor preached at Yorkminster Park we would always have a crowd.  Once people had heard him they only wanted to hear him again and again.  Someone who wasn't known especially for taking notes during sermons told me that he remembered every word of a sermon Dr. Taylor had preached in his hearing fifty years earlier as if it were yesterday.  There was such warmth and grace and wisdom in Gardner C. Taylor we can't help but remember the things he said.     

I was golfing with a retired well established business man one day and he asked, "Is there any way you can get that African American preacher from New York back to the church?"  Now what would a business man whose life had been about making profits want with a prophet in the pulpit of his church?  It was because Dr. Taylor had a way of making every preaching event feel like Easter.  His message and his voice and his person all conveyed the new life of Christ's resurrection.  He personified hope and it is something we all hunger for in this world.  I find myself wishing we could have Dr. Taylor back to preach just one more time.   

One Sunday after he had preached and we had stood at the door greeting the people we returned to the front of the church on route to my study.  Dr. Taylor stopped and looked back at the church.  My son, who was about twelve years old at the time asked, "Do you like our stained glass windows?" as Dr. Taylor seemed to be looking at them.  With that Dr. Taylor sat down on the chancel steps and said to my son, "May I tell you something about those windows?"  My son sat down next to him and was all ears.   "Those windows are beautiful, but you have to be on the inside to see their beauty."  He went on in a few sentences to talk about God and our life in Christ being so much more wondrous and beautiful when we come inside in faith. It was so simple and yet a lesson we will never forget.  

He preached a sermon once on Jesus' words in John 14, "I am the way, the truth and the life," and he conveyed the love of Christ in his humanity so completely that while he was the grandchild of slaves, above all it was evident, Gardner Taylor was a son of the King of Kings and a prince of the church, who loved Christ deeply and loved Christ's church.   

He once said to me that one of his prayers through the civil rights movement in the US when he was used so mightily of God, was that nothing in his life would ever get in the way of the gospel and that he would never hurt the church of Christ.  

Hurt the church?  Dr. Taylor?  There are two stained glass windows in the tower of Yorkminster Park looking out onto Yonge Street that someone years ago had the wisdom to backlight so that by day they are visible in the church and by night in the world.  Dr. Taylor was just such a saint.  He was one of the rare ones through whom the light of God shone both into the church and into the world.  And so it was that our friend, Milton Fletcher, of Detroit, sent me the notice of Dr. Taylor's death and with it an appropriate verse from Second Samuel, "Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man, fallen this day in Israel?" II Samuel 3:38.  How can the church and even the world around not feel the same about the death of Dr. Taylor.  

In its obituary the New York Times tells of the first professional longing of Dr. Taylor's youth to be a lawyer.  He was called to the pulpit rather than the bar, but when he finished a sermon he would sit down with a persuasive dignity as one who had rested his case in the very hands of God.  By dying after having been to church to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday and then having eaten the feast among loved ones, Dr. Taylor at last truly rested his case in the hands of the One who has already won the victory.  

What a joy and privilege to have known this great servant of the Lord.  May the memory of his words continue to stir hearts towards the Kingdom of God and may he truly rest in peace.  

Grace and peace, 

Peter Holmes 

The New York Times obituary notice can be found at:

* Dr. Taylor is the second great preacher to die in recent weeks.  To read my reflection on the passion of Fred Craddock go to

Garissa is no longer a little known city in the north-east of Kenya.  Yesterday as Christians on a small college campus gathered in the chapel for Maundy Thursday prayers, Al Shabab terrorists opened fire and killed many.  In the ensuing hours of terror they took hundreds of hostages and after separating the Muslims from the Christians, opened fire on the Christians.  By the end of the day it now appears more than one hundred and forty Christians were killed and many others wounded.  

Our son worked in Garissa, Kenya for a summer and all day yesterday I couldn't help but remember the day we stood in the airport to say goodbye not knowing how it would all go for him so far away from home.  As I thought of it I prayed for parents of those young people who went off to college in Garissa making their families proud.  Yesterday those parents learned their children will not be coming home, because yesterday they were martyred on account of their Christian faith.  

Imagine the horror for the families.  Words fail me.  I sent my son to Garissa too, but my son returned safely home for which I am so thankful.  Our comfort on this Friday we dare to call Good is that God sent his Son into the darkness of this world's hatred in order to save it.  He chose not to condemn, but to be condemned that we who were lost in sin might find forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ.  At the heart of the Christian teaching is the belief that God is present with us in our sufferings through the incarnate Word made flesh.  He took upon himself not only our sin, but our death that we might take upon ourselves through faith, his eternal life.   

Yesterday afternoon I called Ron Ward, a retired Canadian Baptist missionary who still has a home in Garissa.  Ron has done much through the years to help Muslim refugees from neighbouring Somalia find relief and support.  His camel dairy enables Somali women to have a livelihood and he was the founder of a small camp for refugees know as Dadaab, now the largest refugee camp in the world.  Ron had arrived home from Africa about a week ago.  It was Ron with whom Jamie had stayed and worked.  Ron too was at a loss for words yesterday.  

But it is not just yesterday and not just Garissa.  Today one hundred million Christians face persecution of some sort or another in more than sixty countries.   We are living in an age of martyrdom.  Every day there are stories of horrendous violence being perpetrated against Christians, because of their beliefs.   In Syria and Iraq, ISIS forces have driven Christians from villages that have been Christian since the first Century.  In Pakistan, North Korea, Egypt, Ethiopia and the list goes on and on, it seems to be open season on Christians.  In the west there is silence for the most part, but in the church there must be prayer - fervent prayer for our sisters and brothers who suffer in Christ's name.   This is my prayer today.  Feel free to make it yours.  

Gracious and merciful God on this day on which we mark the death of your Son, Jesus Christ, we are mindful of so many other lesser crosses pierced into the side of our planet like the crown of thorns pressed into the skull of our Saviour.  As more and more followers of Christ fall under the forces of persecution and hatred, we thank you that you share their pain in ways we cannot.  We thank you that you have gone to the cross and we can dare to call this day, Good Friday, because we are not alone as you were alone in your sufferings - always and till the end of the age, you are with us in Christ Jesus.  Thank you.   

O Good Shepherd we thank you that you know the names of all who suffer and that you calm their fears in ways we cannot.  Lord, come along side all who are heavy laden with the burden of persecution and place upon them that yoke which is easy and light.  O Christ, may the world learn of you and your love through the blood of the martyrs and may their blood indeed be the seed of a new generation of believers.

O Living and Eternal Word we pray for our enemies.  Meet those who believe loud guns and bombs can have the last word.  May the cry of the martyrs remind them of their own weaknesses, sin and mortality and their need for mercy and grace.  Break their twisted spirits, O God, and bring an end to their days of terror that at last swords might be beat into ploughshares and all might be free to practice their faith or not, in peace according to their conscience.      

Comfort too this day the hearts of all who are shattered by grief and sorrow on account of such sufferings.  Meet them as you met those grief stricken followers of Christ on the first Easter morning and assure them of your presence and love.  Breath into them O Spirit of God, new life, as surely as the Risen Christ has given eternal life to all the faithful.  These things we pray, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.  

Grace and Peace,


There is another video from the streets of our city which has gone viral, but this one exposes a wound.  In the video homeless people are given an iPad and invited to read tweets about the homeless.  The tweets are mean and it is painful to watch the expression on the faces of the homeless as they read things like, 

I hate when it is cold out because then all the homeless people get on the bus. 

I wonder if homeless people go to heaven. 

Maybe if homeless people took care of themselves and looked pretty we would take care of them.  I I don't care for yellow teeth.  

I was enjoying a latte when I saw a hobo girl across the street.  I almost vomited.  Get back to your side of the bridge.  No one likes you.  

If home is where the heart is are homeless people heartless?

It is hard enough for the homeless to simply survive the cold weather, but must hearts also be so cold.  They have no advantages and they make few claims or demands on the system, yet they are shouldered with blame simply for being poor.  It is easier to do nothing for them if we can persuade ourselves their poverty is their own fault.  And it is easier not to make eye contact and to pretend we don't see them, but it may be then that our hearts grow cold.  At the end of the video we are invited to change the conversation.  

Jesus came into this world to change the conversation.  He came to put an end to the blame game by not only teaching us to love, but by reaching out to the untouchables and touching them with restorative grace and mercy.  

It was to such as these that Jesus was speaking when he said, "Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.  For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." 

Jesus shouldered all the abuse and blame, all the sin and mean spirited hatred and put it all to death on the cross.  It cost Jesus his life, but he died to change the conversation from hate to love and from death to life.  John referred to Jesus as the Word of God made flesh.  He is the conversation changer.  Jesus called us to abide in his word and let it abide in us.  Surely this means we too are here to change the conversation.  

Thank you Lord for entering this world and taking the side of those left behind.  We thank you too for those who were up late last night to attend to the needs of the homeless at our Out of the Cold program, and for those who were up this morning while it was still dark to prepare their breakfast and send them on their way.  Dear Jesus as the weather changes and the program ends for another year watch over these friends and warm our hearts to change not only the conversation but also the plight of the poor and the homeless in our city.  O God change the conversation by changing us and the heart of the world around us.  Amen. 

Grace and Peace,


p.s. You can watch the video and


Holy Wednesday - Behold Christ knocks

I walked passed a beautiful old gothic church today which has been closed for a few years.  Closed churches are a sign of the times and a sad commentary on an age that seems to have turned its back on traditional Sunday observances and the need for Christian fellowship.   Long gone are the days when the church had a monopoly on Sundays and lineups appeared outside the large city churches each Sunday evening.  

The beautiful stained glass windows in the church which I passed must have mesmerized those who waited to get in on Sunday evenings a few generations back.   While the windows seemed still to be intact, there was no going inside to get the true picture of the glass as the handles had been removed from the outside of all the doors.  There is just no getting into that old church anymore.  

Regardless of what has happened in the culture around, some churches have all but put themselves out of business by being so hard to get into.  There are churches so unfriendly they might as well remove the handles from the doors and others that are so judgmental folk are better off not going inside.  

Holman Hunt's painting, 'Christ the Light of the World,' portrays Jesus standing at an old door covered in part by the overgrowth of unpruned vines.  With a lantern in one hand he knocks peaceably with the other hand on yet another door without handles.  The painting brings to life the words of Jesus in Revelation 3:20, "Behold I stand at the door and knock...," but there are no handles allowing Jesus to enter.  

There are churches you can't get a handle on and there are people like that too.  It is just hard to open them up and get inside.   I suppose we can all be like that sometimes.  Holman Hunt said the missing handles on his door represented the "obstinately closed mind."   

In Holy Week it was as if the authorities were going around Jerusalem taking the handles off the city of Jerusalem.  They were going to do everything they could to block Jesus and his teachings from having access to their community.  Their minds were so obstinately closed and their hearts so cold they would kill him. 

Our minds and hearts can be just as closed to Jesus when we refuse to forgive others or are unwilling to let Jesus in to those areas in our lives that most desperately need his gospel.  None the less,  Jesus knocks on those overgrown and neglected aspects of our lives longing to open our hearts to his truth and love.  

Others have pointed out that while Christ knocks on the door, the missing handles on the exterior  of Holman Hunt's door signify our need to open up and let Jesus in. This rings true with the words of Jesus who went on to say, "If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.  However, I have heard others go one step further and say, "Jesus can't get in unless we open up and let him in," but I have seen too many superheroes in the movies kick down doors to get at some damsel in distress.    

If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, smashed the gates of hell as is asserted in the Orthodox Paschal Icon, in order to pull from death's grasp Adam and Eve and fallen humanity, then surely he can break down whatever barriers of resistance we might put up, but the point is, he doesn't. Jesus doesn't force himself on anyone.  He comes gently and in love not to smash down, judge and destroy, but to forgive sin and visit us with salvation and love, and in love he waits at the door.

Maybe we are a bit like that old church I passed in the street that the world around had clearly given up on.  But Jesus doesn't give up.  One would think he'd have given up on the whole human race before Good Friday, but he keeps coming back in love wanting into those places we have given up on ourselves.  An old empty shell of a church may be a sign that we have given up on God, but it is no more a sign that God has given up than the empty tomb.  Maybe it is time to roll our stones away and awaken to the Christ who stands at the door of our lives and knocks in love.  

Grace and Peace,


Holy Tuesday - Blind Trust

Someone sent me a link to a video that has apparently gone viral called the Blind Trust Project.  It features a young man standing at what appears to be the corner of Yonge and Dundas in downtown Toronto.  The man is blindfolded with his arms outstretched and at his feet are two signs.  One reads, 'I am a Muslim.  I am labeled as a terrorist.'  The second sign at the feet of the blindfolded man with arms outstretched reads, 'I trust you.  Do you trust me?  Give me a hug.' 

As one watches the video it is wonderful to see the number of people of all ages and races who see the sign and embrace the blindfolded man.  It is a sign that at the heart of this great city there is a love and concern.  Everyone didn't hug.  I wouldn't expect them to.  Some people don't like to hug anyone and all of us know the need to be cautious with strangers.  But I believe Jesus would have been the first to hug him.   After all Jesus knows what it is to be blindfolded and vulnerable.  He has been there. 

It is Holy Week and so as I watched the man I couldn't help but think how differently it went for Jesus early on Good Friday when the guards placed a blindfold on him and began to hit him and spit at him, taunting him to tell them who had hit him if he was a prophet, (Luke 22: 63-65). 

There were hugs all around at Yonge and Dundas and I am glad there were.  One could almost sense that with each embrace the fear of the blindfolded man subsided and was replaced with peace and love.  The amazing thing with Jesus is that after all the abuse he went through on Good Friday whether with the blindfold on, or his eyes wide open, his arms were still as open as ever in love. 

Had there been one bad move on the corner of Yonge and Dundas hostilities might well have erupted.  There was one bad move after another on Good Friday and yet the only response was the love of the cross where our Saviour's arms were open to the world as he prayed, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." 

Jesus stands before us still with arms outstretched.  The wounds in his hands tell it all.  He loves all of us - those who hug and those who don't.  Do we trust him?  We can.  Will we embrace him?  As Simon Peter said, "Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life," (John 6:68). 

Grace and peace,


p.s. You can watch the Blind Trust Project video at  

Holy Monday - Coming into the City

This morning I dropped my wife off at work and headed back towards home only to be stopped at a green light by a police officer directing traffic.  When I came to a halt he was sending rush hour traffic heading south towards downtown through a red light.  There didn't seem to be an accident in the intersection and he looked too old to be a trainee, but maybe, I thought, this is one more way the city is trying to cut down on rush hour traffic tie ups.  

As the light kept changing and the officer kept the flow to the south uninterrupted while backing up all eastbound, westbound and northbound traffic, my initial explanation made no sense.  Nothing seemed to.  After seven or eight minutes of missing green lights, drivers were getting exercised and a few started to honk at the police officer.  Even in those moments when the traffic going south had all but disappeared he kept our flow blocked.  

I started to wonder if he was really even a legitimate police officer.  Had the weather been better and the windows been down I am sure we'd have heard some pretty choice language.  Behind the wheel of a car many of us can be pretty irrational and I half expected someone might just ignore him and go, but if they did, the officer was in a very precarious position.  

Jesus entry into Jerusalem and then into the Temple stopped all the traffic at the beginning of Holy Week and a lot of folk were angry at Jesus.  Yet day after day he came back to the Temple to teach, but as he did it was clear he too was in a very precarious position.  

There were a number of people questioning Jesus' authority too. Who was he to be forgiving sins and to be healing on the Sabbath not to mention cleansing the Temple as he did?  In Nazareth they had said, "Isn't this Joseph and Mary's son? Who does he think he is?"  By the time he got to Jerusalem there were those who said he had a devil in him.  They just wanted life to proceed as normal, and he was in the way.  Before the week would end, Jesus would be as good as run over.  

At first the sound was faint, but in no time the ambulance with its police escort came racing into view and it all started to make sense.  The officer who had stopped the traffic was there to help save a life.  

It wasn't clear to everyone in those days leading up to the cross, but Jesus had also come to save.  He came to save the world from sin and death.  As we gather through these evenings in Holy Week it is for some an opportunity to try to make sense of the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, and for others a time to wonder afresh at God's love.  But for all of us it is a signal to ignore the lights and the voices that say Go and Go faster and instead to stop and pray and listen anew to this One who comes to save the world.  

Grace and Peace,


I was introduced to Marcus Gee on a Wednesday night in the Yorkminster Park gym.  He is a writer for the Globe and Mail and was scouting out a story on the Out of the Cold - a timely story as two people had frozen to death in the streets in the previous nights.  It was only natural to come to Yorkminster Park because the Director of our program, Joyce Rankin, understands the plight of the homeless as well as anyone.  She is on the street by day responding to their needs as a street health nurse and at the church on Wednesdays volunteering as the director.  It was Joyce who introduced me to Marcus.  

At that time the homeless were just coming in and setting up their mats.  He had made his way and sensitively engaged in conversation with several.  It all led to an excellent story that appeared a few weeks later in the Saturday edition of the Globe and Mail and can still be read at

In the weeks that followed Marcus moved on to a host of other local stories including the renovations of Massey Hall, the protection of heritage sites, the plight of the Gardiner Expressway, concerning developments at the TDSB, the tragic death of Elijah Marsh, and the differences between Mayor Tory's early days and those of the previous administration to name but a few.  To say the least Marcus has been a busy journalist chasing down all these stories and more and yet, come Wednesday night, I kept seeing Marcus at the Out of the Cold.  The temperatures were colder than ever, but the story had long since been put to bed.  

The long and the short of it was revealed in yet another article published in today's Globe and Mail.  Marcus saw another story when he visited our Out of the Cold back in early January and he was right.  There is another story, in fact probably many more stories.  The one he focussed on was the ministry of the YP Out of the Cold Foot Spa which offers foot washing, massage and new sox for the feet of the homeless.  It is no secret our guests at Out of the Cold walk many many miles each day as they move from shelter to soup kitchen to a warm place and on to the next shelter.  And it is no surprise their shoes and sox are well past their best before date. And it is inspiring to see the tender compassion of the volunteers who care for their feet.   

Marcus might have come one night and taken a few pictures and interviewed one or two and put together a collection of words that would have been interesting, but he kept coming back week after week with pen and notepad in hand and it wasn't just Wednesday nights.  He phoned me early in the story's quest asking about the religious origins of foot washing.  He recalled something of the story in John 13 from the one year in his childhood when he attended a nearby Sunday School, but he was taking nothing for granted. 

Marcus has been working on today's story for almost two months.  A journalist doesn't always have that luxury and neither does a preacher, but Marcus' discipline is a lesson for preachers, writers, teachers, journalists and all who till the earth for truth.  It takes me back to one of the very first pieces of advice I received in the workplace.  I was fourteen years old and had been hired by the owner of a large property in Victoria to maintain the gardens and cut the grass.  A neighbour saw me labouring at what seemed like an endless task and he simply said, "I like that you don't take shortcuts, because it takes time to do a good job.  Keep it up."   It was what I needed to hear and I have never forgotten it.  

Marcus tilled the ground on this story and got it right and it has been inspiring to watch and to read.  He transcended the offering of an interesting story and gave us inspiration. Thank you Marcus.   You can read Marcus' story about the foot spa at

This past Wednesday when I dropped in again on the foot spa and didn't see Marcus I knew the story was ready.  Nonetheless he was there so often I half expected one day I might just find him sitting in the chair offering a cleansing massage to the feet of a homeless guest.  Who knows?  But I am certain that thanks to his story there will be more people wanting to offer compassion and care for the homeless.  

Grace and Peace,


Some years ago one of the great classical preachers of the last century confessed to me that he had tried on a previous Sunday to 'preach like Fred Craddock.'  He had done so as a visiting preacher in a rural church, but had met with what he called, 'disastrous results.'  Never would he try to do so again.  He then looked at me and said, "I just wish I could at least tell a story like Fred Craddock."   "But you don't need to," I replied, "You just need to do what you have always done; study, prepare, pray and be your best self in the pulpit."   

Fred Craddock died last week at the age of 86.  His volume on preaching entitled, As One Without Authority, turned preaching on its ear in the late 20th century.  Many consider the book to be the most important works on preaching of the last one hundred years.  

Fred Craddock visited Yorkminster Park on several occasions both as the featured scholar and preacher of our annual Lester Randall Preaching Fellowship and as a summer preacher.  

Craddock's approach to preaching was to involve the listeners in what often turned out to be an open ended sermon using intuition as his guide for interpretation and application.  Craddock's method was the anti-thesis of the traditional three point sermon in which the minister had always used the authority of the pulpit, scholarship and reason to persuade and inspire the people. 

Often Craddock's preaching took the form of telling a story in which the listener would be caught up, only to drop the ending of the story into the listener's lap before sitting down.  In one famous sermon he talked about a person he had met who had complaints against the unfriendliness of the church he had been attending.  Craddock relived the pastoral conversation in a way that involved the listener relating to times they too might have been made to feel unwelcome.  As the story went on the listener can't help but wonder what the solution might be when Craddock suddenly stops and says, "Say, do you think I could introduce my friend to you?  Would you give my friend a welcome to your church?"   With the preacher back in his seat and out of the picture, it was up to the listeners to go and finish the sermon.  

Some critics would say there is not enough gospel in such a sermon and that the preacher should be preaching as one under the authority of Scripture and clearly explaining the texts verse by verse, but for many clergy and laity alike sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning there was something stirring in Craddock's inductive style of preaching.   He was a warm human being with a deep love of God and God's people and one couldn't help be inspired to follow Christ more closely through Craddock's preaching.   

The title of Craddock's book was never intended to convey that scripture lacked authority, but rather that the station or even person of the preacher did.  Craddock sensed he lacked authority because of his diminutive size and relatively quiet voice which he described as nothing more than "the wind whistling through the gate post."  He was very conscious of these disadvantages when he compared himself to the many great preachers of his youth.  

Some suggest that the style of Craddock was for a brief place and time in history when the average person in the pew not only had an understanding of the gospel but was familiar too with the scriptures.  They argue that Craddock made assumptions about people's Biblical knowledge which can no longer be made.  My sense is that, like the parables of Jesus, there will always be a place for Craddock's inductive approach, but that it is but one approach.  I don't think Craddock ever suggested otherwise.  He taught us that the three point sermon was not the only way.  I think Craddock's greatest gift to the church was to enable clergy to be themselves in the pulpit.  

The great classical preacher I once knew who tried to emulate Craddock's style ended the conversation saying he wasn't even sure if he could really believe Craddock when he is spinning a story.  "Do you think his stories really happened?" he asked.  "All the time," I answered.  All the time was right, but sadly, not anymore.  

The storied sermons of Fred Craddock have sadly come to an end, but  I thank God for raising up this giant of the pulpit and the way he touched our lives and the life of the church.  What a privilege it was to welcome him to Yorkminster Park.  

Grace & Peace


The Song and the Soul

Last Sunday I preached on music as a gift of God to inspire us and encourage us during those dark nights of the soul.  During the sermon I made reference to a video clip posted online which is part of a larger 2014 documentary entitled Alive Inside.  I offered to post a link to the video on my blog.  Here it is.  

The documentary film, which won an award at the Sundance Film Festival, illustrates the impact of music played through headphones to patients suffering dementia and or memory loss.   The following clip shows the response of one patient by the name of Henry who has been in a nursing home for ten years.  After listening to the music he comes alive and speaks of the Lord having visited him and of wholeness and love.  Music is a wonderful gift of God to encourage and lift the soul in the darkest of times.

Grace and Peace, 


A Women's Day Hymn?

Saturday was World Day of Prayer or what used to be called, Women's Day of Prayer and Sunday was International Women's Day.  There was a time when the women's movement had a hymn, at least in England it did.  Ninety-nine years ago this month, the great English composer, Hubert Parry was invited to set William Blake's poem, Jerusalem, to music as part of a patriotic effort to inspire the troops in World War One.  He did so as something of a favour to a former student, but no sooner was it done than he had serious reservations about the patriotic intent.  

There are wonderful references to England as the 'green and pleasant land,' but in the poem Blake also makes reference to 'dark Satanic mills.'  Clearly these were the oppressive forces within the nation that God in Christ would enable the faithful to overcome, but Parry was aware that in aid of a war effort Blake's message could be twisted to imply the enemy is beyond our borders while God is on our side.  

There is some debate about whether Blake was referring to a specific mill when he made reference to the 'dark Satanic mills,' or to the whole impact of the Industrial Revolution on the soul of England, or perhaps, as N.T. Wright argues he was referring as a non-conformist to the bullying effect of church hierarchy.  

Parry withdrew the song from the war effort and gave the music enthusiastically to the National Union of Woman's Suffrage Societies upon the request of their leader, Millicent Fawcett.  It was for the Suffragettes fighting for the women't right to vote that he orchestrated the music.  Jerusalem was the Suffragettes hymn. 

In making the hymn the property of the Suffragettes, Parry was aligning himself with Blake who did not write the poem to suggest that England was God's land, but rather to say that Christ in his mercy and grace would aid in the fight against the demons of the day and was calling the faithful to take hold of the sword and bow and climb into the chariot of fire in order to fight God's fight and establish the fullness of God's Kingdom, the New Jerusalem, here and now, whatever our place and time.  Ultimately, the poems reference to England is simply because England was Blake's here and now.  Similarly, Blake's reference to military hardware was metaphorical.  

All of that was a long time ago and so I do not imagine the hymn was sung or the poem recited at any rallies marking Women's Day in 2015, but clearly there was a time in history when the movement for women's rights was rooted in the Christian Gospel and the belief that Christ calls us to build a world in which we are all one in Christ and there is therefore no longer, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, (Galatians 3:28).  

When movements which may have sprung from our faith move on as many inevitably do, as Christians we must not lose sight of the call of Christ to trust God and press on to the fullness of the Kingdom of God. 

There are many excellent renditions of the hymn on Youtube, but the following link will take you to one posted by an American woman, who may not be aware of its historic link to women, but clearly senses the words are about something far greater.

Grace and Peace,


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Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

Peter Holmes, BA, MDiv, DMin is the Minister of the Congregation at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church

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