The Feast of St Wulfran - 'The Feast of Who'?
Matthew 18.12-14 - Feast Day St Wulfran’s 2022
Greg Moore - one of our resident artists often gives me very helpful advice…. And one piece of advice was to pop in and meet Anthony at the Icon shop in Rottingdean.
Anthony looks in every way an orthodox Christian…. With a big beard and a deep spirituality. Somehow we ended up discussing the commissioning of an Icon of St Wulfran. I think this might have been Greg’s original suggestion after we had discussed the strange situation of having a chancel covered in images of saints - especially Wilfred and Richard - but nothing of St Wulfran (I hadn’t tracked down the St Wulfrans altar panels at this point).
Anyway we agreed to commission an icon on St Wulfran…which is no light undertaking and a piece of deep spiritual practice.
In the Orthodox Church an icon is a sacred image, a window into heaven. An image of another reality, of a person, time and place that is in some way, more real than here and now. Icons are more than art and Michael Quenot says they are “theology in imagery, the icon expresses through colour what the Gospel proclaims in words”.
For this reason the rules regarding the creation of an icon are rigorous. The iconographer must prepare themselves for the task of painting an icon by following a strict discipline of fasting and prayer. They must quiet their spirit and submit themselves to God. The icon is not signed and is created to inspire and lead others into worship. Painting the icon is also not a use of imagination, rather the icon is painted using the prescribed regimen and style that has been passed down through the centuries. Everything from the facial expressions to the colours used is predetermined.
Anthony found an iconographer called Tamara Penwell and I gathered as much information about St Wulfrans as possible to help guide her painting. This included reaching out to St Wulfram’s in Grantham who I hope will also hang a copy of this icon.
The end result is a very beautiful and deep image of the saint that to me conveys great warmth and wisdom. In her prayerful meditations, whilst preparing and then painting the icon the message she received was, as I understand it, not to neglect St Wulfran - that he wanted to actively pray with us and join in our worship - in our giving thanks, in our petitions for help and requests for guidance.
I was deeply affected by this in many ways as in part it reflected the message I had received through prayer during my post Christmas break. This guidance was that this rare and unusual dedication of St Wulfrans was meaningful. That we are to look to his example - that we are being called - and that the primary purpose of this church is to be evangelical ….that we are called through this dedication to prioritise sharing the Good News.
I invite you to reflect on this and I think we are asked why do we come to church?
Whilst I respect and celebrate the traditions of the church - we are not just here to receive comfort in familiarity and be a place of historical reenactment. We are the Body of Christ and the apostolic inheritance of our faith is not about looking back and feeling comfy with the things we know and like - it’s about proclaiming the Gospel afresh into the current age and bringing people to faith. That’s not to say we are to throw the traditions of the church out of the window but it does mean we have to help make them meaningful and relevant in this age if we are to reach people for whom the church is so very far away from them.
All of this requires us to get out of our comfort zones occasionally…. It means taking a few risks…. Experimenting and trying things out. We all have favourite meals don’t we but if we ate those all the time we might get bored and we would miss out on other flavours… new experiences and perhaps new favourite dishes.
Let me give you some examples of what being more evangelical looks like. It's about inviting friends who don't know about Jesus Christ to services, events ….. the Alpha Course. It is about attending worship and services that aren’t how you prefer to worship … but you know they may invite new people to church - and you commit to being there to make them feel welcome - and both show and share the joy of faith and worship. There is some sacrifice and compromise in all of this - yes - but really why wouldn't we want to do it when the outcomes are potentially so great…..new people coming to faith, the church growing and thriving and more acts of kindness being shared with the world.
We need the church to grow and we need more and more younger people and families attending worship - if we don't do this St Wulfrans will end up like so many other downland churches I have visited, slippery stone paths as no one walks on them, empty pews, dusty floors….under used and in the process of becoming a mere memory.
We are actually doing really well but I would like us to be rocking! We have to ask ourselves - how can we really help to make this church thrive. What are we afraid of and what do we need to start doing?
I love this passage from Matthew Gospel don’t you. That God loves us all…even the lost ones and he will do all we can to bring them home to safety and love.
As disciples of Christ and saints of the church we are called to do the same, to bring people safely home to faith and the church…so they can know the love of God and his Son Jesus Christ. This was the work of St Wulfran and why he was sainted. He spent his life travelling the sea…. reaching out and looking for the lost sheep…inviting people to baptism and faith, saving children and adults from painful lives and cruel deaths. 1300 years later St Wulfran’s example I believe still speaks to us - and his prayers join with ours…the question is I suppose how will be transformed into the likeness of Christ, like St Wulfran, and work with God to bring the lost sheep back home?
I will end with a short prayer:
Holy God, thank you for coming to find me, one of your lost children. Give me your heart for those who are lost, too. This week, lead me to one you want back in your family, and please give me the eyes to see that person when you place him or her in my path. Please give me the courage and conviction to act in ways that gently bring that lost person home. In Jesus' name.