Nicholas Ferrar led a spiritual household at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire, England for two decades. They were turbulent times: the godly stability of the community in the midst of religious strife commended it to many. It centred around Nicholas’ extended family of some forty, from babes to his elderly mother Mary. His siblings, John and Susanna, continued the community with their families for two more decades after Nicholas’ death, surviving the Civil War.
Nicholas was an academic prodigy: by 18 he was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. In 1613 he left England as part of the retinue of Princess Elizabeth, James I’s daughter, who married the Elector Frederick V. Over the next five years he visited the Dutch Republic, Austria, Bohemia, Italy and Spain, learning Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish, undertaking medical studies at Padua. Meeting Anabaptists, Roman Catholics and Jews broadened his perspective on Christian life.
The formation of the community came about in large part due to disillusionment with business and political life. His father supported the Virginia Company, which founded the American colony in 1607; Nicholas became involved in its administration on his return to London. In 1624 he was a Member of Parliament for Lymington, but a court case saw the Company lose its charter, and Nicholas’ brother John faced the threat of bankruptcy. The family decided to leave London and devote themselves to godly living.
In 1626 Nicholas and Mary purchased the manor in the deserted village of Little Gidding, as part of a deal to rescue John from debt, and were joined by others of the extended family. The abandoned church was cleaned and restored before the house! The renovated manor included an almshouse and dispensary. The Bishop of St David’s, William Laud (later Archbishop of Canterbury) ordained Nicholas deacon later that year.
There was no formal ‘rule’ (despite Puritan suspicions), but the household followed closely the provisions of the (1604) Book of Common Prayer. It processed daily to the church for Morning and Evening Prayer, led by Nicholas; hourly devotions were led by members in the house, based on the psalms and gospels. On Sundays local children were included, and taught psalms; preaching was by the local rector, and Holy Communion was celebrated monthly. In the afternoon, the family walked to Steeple Gidding for Evening Prayer.
The Little Gidding household lived a ‘full homely divinity’. It was active in educating and caring for local children, learning and practicing bookbinding. Harmonies of the Gospels were made by cutting up and pasting lines together, one being made for King Charles I. George Herbert, in his last days, sent Nicholas his poems collection, The Temple, telling him to publish it if he thought it might encourage “any dejected poor soul”: they are still in print, a spiritual literary treasure.
Nicholas died in 1637 on the day after Advent Sunday at 1am, the hour when he began his prayers. He was buried outside the church, leaving space for John to be buried inside, near the church door. (He is commemorated on 4 December, though he died on 2 December.)
T. S. Eliot honoured Nicholas Ferrar in the Four Quartets, naming one ‘Little Gidding’: its recurring motif, “if you came this way, it would always be the same”, evokes the sense of the eternal which its ‘homely divinity’ embodied amid the strains and stressed of the hectic world around.
The ‘Friends of Little Gidding’ was founded in 1946 with T. S. Eliot as patron, “to maintain and adorn the church at Little Gidding, and to honour the life of Nicholas Ferrar and his family and their life in the village.” The Friends organise an annual pilgrimage to his tomb each July, and celebrate Nicholas Ferrar Day on 4 December.
John’s descendants continued at Little Gidding manor for a century. When the line died out the manor was sold, and was demolished in the early 1800s. St John’s church continues to be in use for occasional services, and is open on weekends.
Resources for liturgical use
Nicholas Ferrar led a spiritual household at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire, England for two decades during the turbulent reign of Charles I. Well-educated and well-travelled, he became disillusioned with business and political life, and in 1626 moved with his extended family to a deserted village, restoring the manor and church. The household of around 40 led a “full homely divinity”, following the Book of Common Prayer closely. Hourly devotions went alongside educating local children, book-binding and writing, and ministering to those in need. Nicholas, ordained deacon by Bishop William Laud, led the household until his death in 1637.
How good and how lovely it is, when brothers live together in unity. It is fragrant as oil upon the head that runs down over the beard; fragrant as oil upon the beard of Aaron, that ran down over the collar of his robe. Psalm 133.1-2
Prayer(s) of the Day
after whom every household in heaven and earth is named,
we thank you for your servant Nicholas Ferrar,
and the members of the Little Gidding community.
We bless your holy Name for their discipline of prayer,
their delight in the psalter,
their concern for the well-being of others,
and the spiritual treasures of their writing.
Give us grace to follow their simple lifestyle,
that the communities in which we dwell
may know your generosity and practical compassion,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who though he was rich, yet became poor for our sake.
Readings: Proverbs 2.1-15
Acts 2.44-47 or Titus 2
by Charles Sherlock
6 Nicholas of Myra bishop, faithful servant, pioneer Few have spoken to power as memorably and effectively as St Nicholas of Myra: ‘I will stir up an uncontrollable revolt against you’, he is said to have threatened the Emperor Constantine, ‘and hand over your carcass and your entrails to the wild beasts for food, bearing witness against you before the celestial king, Christ’. In another account, he apparently biffed the heretic Arius on the nose at the Council of Nicea, receiving a copy of the gospels from Jesus for his trouble. This ‘brightest dawn of piety’, ‘light of justice’ and ‘lover of the poor’ is revered by Christians around the world. He was a fourth-century bishop of Myra, a city in Asia Minor. His relics were translated to Bari (in southern Italy) in 1087.
Nicholas demonstrated his holiness from birth. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the baby Nicholas suckled only once at the appointed hour, demonstrating the ascetic and priestly virtue that would characterise his life. He was cast as an image of John the Baptist, who was born to a women previously barren, whereas Nicholas’ mother was physically barren after his birth, becoming instead fertile in spirit, filled with all Christ-like virtues. Celebrating Nicholas’ saint day on the sixth of December in the lead up to Christmas, we celebrate a holy man whose life, like the Baptist’s, pointed to Christ.
Many of the stories associated with the saint highlight his justice and merciful equity. Born to wealthy parents, he gave up his possessions for the good of the poor, avoiding political and economic corruption (alongside women and the delights of the theatre). The earliest account of his life has him acting to correct a potentially disastrous and murderous miscarriage of justice, when he saves three people about to be executed by a corrupt official. (The fame of this deed makes another prisoner similarly falsely accused call for St Nicholas’ aid, resulting in the warning to the emperor quoted above). Tyrants, we are told, could not endure his just and equitable rebuke.
Throughout, he is depicted as a ‘just tree of life’ who nourishes his flock by his deeds, orthodoxy and holiness. He gave alms to the poor, and famously (and secretly) gave bags of gold to a father so impoverished he was contemplating selling his daughters into prostitution. On one occasion, he multiplied from an imperial consignment sufficient grain to feed his people for two years during a famine, leaving the original consignment undiminished. He cared for the outcast as ‘champion of widows’, ‘father of orphans’ and ‘comforter of the poor’. Dramatically, he cast out Greco-Roman demons, and destroyed their temples. We hear that he went to the Temple of Artemis, that ‘most foul building’, and ‘overthrew not only its upper parts to the ground but also dug up its very foundations and rendered the demons who dwelt there exiles’, thereby securing the inhabitants from the evils of paganism.
Nicholas’ body, always a sweet-smelling sign of divinity, became the source after his death of a perfume or holy manna that wards off all dangers, to the glory of God.
Antiphon: Nicholas, friend of God, when invested with the episcopal insignia, showed himself a friend to all.
Versicle: Pray for us, blessed Nicholas.
Response: That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Oratio: O God, you adorned the pious blessed Bishop Nicholas with countless miracles; grant, we beseech you, that through his merits and prayers, we may be delivered from the flames of hell. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hours of Henry VIII, fol. 182v: http://www.themorgan.org/collection/hours-of-henry-viii/45
For these and other stories about St Nicholas, see the sources athttp://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/home/
Dr Michael Champion
8 Richard Baxter faithful servant Richard Baxter, born in Shropshire in England on 12 November 1615, was one of the most learned and well-read divines of the seventeenth century. His family’s impoverished circumstances saw him brought up by his maternal grandparents until the age of about ten. It is in his Reliquiae Baxteriannae, or Mr Richard Baxter’s narrative of the most memorable passages of his life and times published posthumously in 1696, that Baxter reflected upon his upbringing.
Baxter’s mother Beatrice had died when he was just 15, and he was greatly affected by his father, Richard Baxter’s ‘serious speeches of God and life to come’.His father encouraged him to read, especially the Bible, and so ‘without any means but Books’ Baxter’s spirituality developed, and God was ‘pleased to resolve me for himself’. Baxter’s education was indifferent, and yet his keen intellect and application saw him acquire a great knowledge and understanding of theological debates and controversies. A constant regret throughout his life, however, was his ‘wanting’ of ‘Academical Honours’ as he was persuaded at 16 against attending university. Yet his wide and voracious reading of books and pamphlets over his lifetime nourished his intellect and debating skills. He amassed a personal library at the time of his death of no fewer that 1400 books.
Although ordained a deacon on 23 December 1638 at Worcester, there is no record of any subsequent ordination, however it is assumed he did enter the ministry. His impressive oratory style of preaching demonstrated his ability to gather and built congregations of like-minded Christians around him.
It was in the early 1660s that Baxter met Margaret Charlton (1636-1681), and corresponded with her on spiritual matters. They were married on 10 September 1662. Margaret Baxter would prove to be a driving force in Baxter’s life and ministry. During the civil wars in the British Isles 1642-9, Baxter had sided with the Parliamentarians, and although refusing an offer made by Oliver Cromwell to be a Chaplain of his troop in the New Model Army, Baxter later would act as a Chaplain for Edward Walley’s regiment. Even after the Restoration (1660), when he was prosecuted for sedition and briefly imprisoned, he maintained his beliefs and continued preaching, and was supported and encouraged in all of this by Margaret.
These life experiences further developed Baxter’s emphasis on morals and grace within his ministry, as well as his desire to seek unity amongst Christians of differing persuasions.Baxter also took great spiritual enjoyment and comfort from psalm singing. He was an advocate for the composition of hymns to enable congregational singing, at a time when only psalms were set to music. In Saints Everlasting Rest (1650) Baxter considered that ‘a singular help to furthering of the work of Faith’ was ‘to call in our Senses to its assistance’. His poem ‘Ye holy angels bright’, from his text ‘A Psalm of Praise’ from Poetical Fragments (c1681) was set to the music of the 136th and 148th psalms respectively from the early eighteenth century onwards.
Baxter’s life-long ill-health, which on a number of occasions saw him ‘expecting to be so quickly in another World’, influenced both his evangelical approach to his preaching and his pastoral ministry. He not only joined in common prayer, but also preached at home to those in his household including his neighbours.
Baxter published some 130 volumes on varying themes ranging from the art of writing and preaching sermons, and religious instruction, to the study of religion. He received no income from his prolific publications, preferring instead to receive free copies that he then gave away. Some of his works continue to be reprinted today. When Margret died aged 45 in 1681 Baxter wrote A Breviate of the Life of Margaret Baxter (1681), which was a moving tribute about her life. Baxter died ten years later on 8 December 1691, aged 76, and was buried, like his wife, in Christ Church Greyfriars, London.
9 Karl Barth Christian thinker Born on 10 May 1886 in Basel, Switzerland, Karl Barth grew up in the Swiss Reformed Church (in which his father was a pastor and a professor of New Testament). He was ordained in 1908 — but on entering the pulpit of his church in Safenwil, he was overwhelmed by a sense that his seminary training had failed to prepare him for what he realised was the most important work of a pastor – proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people in his community.
Responding to this failure of 19th century liberal theology, Barth plunged anew into the study of the Scriptures, producing in 1919 his commentary on The Epistle to the Romans (with a revised edition in 1922). In this study he identified that the divine revelation and salvation that come through Jesus Christ, Son of God, are entirely acts of God and that this dependence on God alone is the primary element of Christian faith. He developed this insight further in his most extensive work, Church Dogmatics. For Barth, Jesus Christ is the “fountain of light by which the other two [persons of the Trinity] are lit.” (Barth, Dogmatics in Outline)
Barth was one of the Christian theologians who became deeply concerned about the policies promulgated in the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. He was a significant contributor to the wording of the Barmen Declaration, which opposed the development of a “German Christian” church. This Declaration asserts (among other things) that the church belongs solely to Christ, and neither the Scripture nor the church’s work may be controlled by any human organisation.
The Faith of the Church (one of the early documents of the Joint Commission on Church Union, before the Basis of Union) referred to the Barmen Declaration and contained a major quotation from Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Though the Basis of Union itself does not refer directly to Karl Barth, there is no doubt that his way of describing Christian discipleship undergirds the foundation of the Uniting Church’s life.
It appears that Karl Barth always opened and closed his sermons with prayer. As this prayer shows, he was convinced that it was only by God’s generous gift that people are able to enter into the life of faith.
in this place and everywhere that your people call upon you.
May your light enlighten us,
your peace be upon us. Amen (Karl Barth, Prayer)
Contributed by Graham Vawser 10 Thomas Merton (1915-1968) person of prayer The life and writings of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton mark him as one of the great prophetic spiritual writers and teachers of the twentieth century. Merton integrated his life and writing by embracing wholeheartedly contradiction and paradox while expressing his passionate beliefs as a Christian through the voice of the mystic and poet. The greatness of Merton’s legacy lies largely in his capacity to record with searing transparency both his personal spiritual journey and his observations on the spiritual, political, economic, social and environmental issues of his day.
He was above all open to experience and not afraid of it: “Suspended entirely from God’s mercy, I am content for anything to happen” (Journal, November 29, 1952).
Merton was born on 31 January 1915 in Prades, France. Perhaps, classically, his was an unhappy childhood. Merton’s mother died when he was six. His father was an artist who, having moved around constantly, often leaving his son alone, died when Merton was fifteen. For several years Merton lived freely following his desires but also accompanied by personal angst and intense searching. In his mid-twenties, as a student at Columbia University, he experienced a religious conversion and joined the Catholic Church. In 1941 he entered the Trappist Monastery at Gethsemane in Kentucky and spent the rest of his life as a member of that community.
His tragic and premature death from an accidental electrocution on 10 December 1968, while at an international conference of monks in Bangkok, was noted with a front-page obituary in The New York Times. He was 58 years old.
A man who loved silence yet felt compelled to write about silence. A man who craved solitude yet chose to disclose himself to the world and become fully engaged with it in order to discover more about God for himself and for others. A man who shunned public acclaim yet was read and admired by millions. What is the key to this great spiritual teacher? The key is in the remarkable gift of his writing and what it communicates to us. Writing was literally Merton’s life. “To write is to think and to live—even to pray” (Journal, September, 1958).
Merton’s first memoir, The Seven Story Mountain, the story of his journey from self-absorbed youth to novice monk, became a best-seller and has remained in print since 1948. Merton’s personal journals run to seven volumes. He writes in many different genres: devotional and philosophical meditations (e.g. New Seeds of Contemplation and Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander); social criticism and commentary (e.g. The Seeds of Destruction); explorations in Eastern spirituality (e.g. Zen and The Birds of Appetite); biblical studies (e.g. Bread in the Wilderness); and wrote several collections of poetry and essays.
Merton is always evocative and his insights illuminating on the nature of being human and on our ability to perceive God at work in our selves, each other and the world. And so he wrote:
I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me now that I realise what we all are. If only everybody could realise this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Merton was profoundly interested in the East and especially in how the ways Eastern thought, particularly Buddhism, might illuminate aspects of the Western tradition:
If I can unite in myself, in my own spiritual life, the thought of the East and the West, of the Greek and Latin fathers, I will create in myself a reunion of the divided Church, and from that unity in myself can come the exterior and visible unity of the Church. For, if we want to bring together East and West, we cannot do it by imposing one upon the other. We must contain both in ourselves and transcend them both in Christ (28 April 1957).
Merton was a radical inclusivist and thoroughly post-modern. Yet ultimately, his is the voice of the mystic and poet: “By the reading of Scripture I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed round me and with me. The sky seems to be more pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green, light is sharper on the outlines of the forests and the hills, and the whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music in the earth under my feet.” (8 August 1949)
(Quotations from Merton are from The Intimate Merton, His Life from His Journals. Edited by Patrick Hart and Jonathan Montaldo. Lion Publishing: Oxford, 1999.)
Contributed by Carolyn Craig-Emilsen 14 John Geddie & John Paton Christian pioneers John Geddie
John and Charlotte Geddie laid the foundations of Presbyterian mission work in the New Hebrides. From 1848 to 1872 they pioneered Christian missions on the small island of Aneityum where they set the patterns for evangelism, church planting and growth, education, and health. John was born in Banff, Scotland 9 April 1815. In 1816 the family moved to Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada. The Presbyterian Church licensed him as a minister in May 1837 and ordained him in 1838.
He married Charlotte Leonora McDonald in September 1839. During his seven years of ministry on Prince Edward Island, Geddie promoted overseas missions and pressed the Church Assembly to establish an overseas missions committee. The Church chose the New Hebrides as its mission field, and in 1846 it appointed John Geddie as its first missionary.
After six months orientation in Samoa, the Geddies arrived at Anelgauhat, Aneityum on 29 July 1848 aboard the LMS mission ship John Williams. They joined several Samoan and Raratongan teachers who had worked there since 1841. They befriended the local people and learnt the language. The women warmly received Charlotte and her growing number of children. Two of their eight children later married New Hebrides missionaries. Women encouraged their men to attend worship, and to participate in literacy, numeracy, Bible, health, hygiene, agriculture and other courses. Gradually attendance at worship increased. Village schools were established and staffed by Polynesian and Aneityumese teachers. Geddie and colleague John Inglis established a teacher-catechist training institution. The teachers taught literacy and numeracy and conducted daily village prayer, worship and Bible study. Charlotte used her medical knowledge to help the sick. She and John visited the schools and prepared readers and other literature printed on their Mission Press. John encouraged the processing of copra and arrowroot to enable the local Church to become self-supporting. He worked with local Christians to translate the New Testament into Aneityumese. After John’s departure in 1872, Inglis completed the translation of the Old Testament.
For over two decades, Geddie had helped new missionaries from the Pacific Islands, Scotland, Nova Scotia and Victoria to settle in the islands and to develop their own mission programmes. After twenty-four years, on 4 June 1872, Geddie and his missionary colleagues met on Aneityum to constitute the New Hebrides Presbyterian Mission Synod. The next day Geddie suffered a stroke. He returned to Geelong where he died on 14 December 1872 aged 57. He was buried in the Eastern Cemetery. Charlotte established mission support groups in churches in Geelong and Melbourne, and later was a foundation member of the Victorian Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union. She died in Malvern, Victoria, on New Year’s Day 1916, aged 94.
During Geddie’s pioneering ministry, many communities accepted the Christian faith. Solid foundations were laid for locally led Church planting and growth, support, and leadership. John Geddie’s epitaph on the pulpit at Aneityum stated, “When he landed in 1848 there were no Christians here and when he left in 1872 there were no heathens”.