Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Burned cakes, kings, and ministers.

Most Tuesday mornings I hove down to my parish Church, St. Boniface on Siesta Key, Sarasota.

St. Boniface’s Rector, Ted Copeland is a generous man, who welcomes the ministry of a number of we retired Priests, and shares the pulpit and altar with great grace.

At 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays there is a simple Communion service. Most weeks there are six to eight of us there, lay and ordained Christians.

Those of us who are ordained take turns in presiding at the Eucharist, or delivering a simple homily. I was the homilist today.

One of the “Lesser Saints” in the Episcopal Church is Alfred (the Great), King of the Anglo-Saxons between 871 and 899. His "feast day" is Oct 26th, so I observed it today.

English people of my generation were taught two things about Alfred.

First, that he, after many battles, defeated the Danish (Viking) intruders and established a quasi-English Kingdom.

Second, that when in hiding (before his great victories) he was sheltered by a peasant woman in the marsh-lands of Somerset. She instructed him to watch some cakes which were being cooked on a fire, but he, obsessing about the matters of the Kingdom, allowed the cakes to burn.

This latter tale is doubtless one of those beautiful myths, like the one of George Washington and the Cherry tree.


Fortunately we know quite a bit more about Alfred via the (probably quite reliable) annals of Asser, Bishop of Sherborn (Dorset) – a contemporary of Alfred.

As I read these annals, three aspects of King Alfred leaped out at me.

1. He ordered the translation of Latin documents into (old) English, in order to make them accessible to English folks who did not know Latin.

2. He invited teachers from Gaul to bring their wisdom to England. We know the names of two of these teachers – Grimbald and John.

3. When peace was secured, Alfred set about rebuilding London.

It seems to me that Alfred is a model for what we call “ministry”.

1. Those of us who are ministers (lay or ordained) are always about the business of “translating” the Bible, and the Tradition of the Church, into the language of our age.

We know that we have a message about God which is worth sharing. We also know that the message is often obscured by religious words and concepts, which “the person in the pew” finds incomprehensible.

So we translate , in order to join with “the person in the pew” in the task of interpretation.

(Translation and Interpretation are not the same thing!)

2. Just as Alfred imported Grimbald and John, so we also welcome teachers from outside of our own tradition. Episcopalians can learn from Baptists. Lutherans can learn from Roman Catholics. Christians can learn from Jews and Muslims. And so on and so on.

3. Like Alfred, we are called to a ministry of rebuilding. Ministers very frequently encounter those whose lives have been demolished by death, disease, and divorce. Or by poverty and unemployment. Or by abuse: sexual, verbal, and physical. The list goes on. Some of these folks are gracious enough to invite us to share in the task of re-building their devastated lives. It is an honour and a privilege.

Lest we who minister begin to believe our own propaganda, it is also important to acknowledge that we are sometimes so obsessed with our own concerns, that we allow some cakes to burn.

Fortunately there are men and women in our congregations who, like Alfred’s hostess in the Somerset Marshes, are more than ready to both scold and forgive us!

1 comment:

  1. This latter tale is doubtless one of those beautiful myths

    Heretic! Blasphemer! Revisionist!

    You'll be saying that Jesus didn't visit England with his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea next.