News

Consider the lilies....

2 Oct 2020 • From Frances, our Associate Minister

St Francis.

I’d like to tell you the story of St Francis. Some of you will already be familiar with it.

He was born at the end of the 12th century, in Assisi in Italy. His father was a wealthy silk merchant, and his mother, whose name was Pica, was French. His father was away in France on business when his son was born, and by the time he came home, Pica had had the child baptised, and given the name Giovanni. But when Papa returned home, possibly because he had had a really profitable time in France, he insisted on calling the baby Francesco—or ‘the Frenchman.’

Francesco, or Francis as we know him, enjoyed a very luxurious and privileged childhood and adolescence. He was clever and handsome, as we know from a portrait painted just a couple of years after his death, and it seemed that his life was cut out to be one of ease and wealth.

But Francis was bothered by the presence of so many people in extreme poverty all around him in the town of Assisi. He got into trouble several times with his father by taking bolts of cloth from the family warehouse, selling them and giving the money away to the poor. Eventually his father grew so exasperated with Francis that he disowned him and chucked him out.

Francis became a beggar—but quite an energetic one—he set himself to rebuild an old chapel that had fallen into disuse just outside the town, and he helped to nurse lepers in the local lazar house.

By the time he was in his mid-twenties, Francis was preaching to the people of Assisi-- a doctrine of making a new start, of seeking brotherly love and peace, and specifically ‘to follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.’ He rapidly attracted followers, who, like him, determined to imitate Jesus and to carry out his work. They lived in poverty, with no possessions, and begged for alms. The group grew and was eventually approved as a new religious order by the Pope.

Francis saw God reflected in the natural world around him, and our first hymn today, which is based on Francis’ ‘Canticle of the Sun’, reflects this. He saw the very existence of the sun, the moon, and all the natural world as a rendering of praise to the Creator.

One of Francis’ most remarkable exploits was when he travelled to Egypt at the time of the 5th Crusade, when Christians armies from Western Europe were besieging the city of Damietta, which was defended by Muslim forces. He met with Sultan al-Kamil, the ruler of Egypt, and attempted to broker a peace deal between the warring factions. He failed, and the bloodshed went on, but one of the long term results was that Franciscans were allowed to maintain a presence in the Holy Land, when all other Christians sects were thrown out.

Towards the end of his life, which was at the very early age of 44, Francis set up the first nativity crib to celebrate Christmas, using the real animals which he held in such respect—something that has become a tradition for us today.

Well, today’s service is about St Francis, but it is also about money. Nowadays we tend to look down our noses at beggars in our streets. ‘Why can’t they get a job? Why don’t they pull themselves together? Why should other hard-working people support them?’ But begging is just what St Francis did—and Jesus before him. He asked other people to support the work that he felt was of such importance--tending to the sick, looking after the poor, negotiating for peace and drawing peoples’ attention to the gifts God gives us in the natural world---making people realise the extent of God’s generosity to mankind.

And that is just what our modern church has to do—if it wants to continue to do something useful, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and Francis, then it needs to beg alms of its supporters. In other words, us!

And this is what the Diocesan Gift Day is all about. To continue its work, both our own parish churches and the wider national Church needs money to work with.

There are several excellent articles on the benefice website, www.stw.org.uk, explaining what is needed, and inviting you to contribute. Do please have a look and see what you can do to help.