17 May 2020

This week’s service includes a celebration of Holy Communion, and you will be invited to prepare bread and wine, or whatever alternative you prefer. Only the accompaniments for hymns have been recorded, and you are invited to read or sing the words in time to the music. The organ accompaniments for St Denio, Picardy and To God be the glory are provided by Richard M. S. Irwin (https://play.hymnswithoutwords.com) and are used with his permission.

Order of Service

Piano prelude: Prelude and Fugue in C – Prelude – Samuel Wesley (1766 – 1837)

Call to worship
Psalm 90.1-2: ‘Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’

Tune: St Denio – Anon.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
thy justice like mountains high soaring above
thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

Great Father of glory: O help us to see
’tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.
And so let thy glory, Almighty, impart,
through Christ in the story, thy Christ to the heart.

W. Chalmers-Smith (1824 – 1908)

Opening Prayer
Our homes have become our churches, Father. They are now our place of worship. They are where we can join with others in acts of worship as we watch a service on the television, listen to one on the radio or via the internet. We praise You that we can worship in these different ways and we especially thank You for the new Headingley St. Columba – we remember our building, Father, but give thanks that we are still together as a congregation combined separately in praise and adoration. Bless us, Father, as we set aside space and time for our prayers – our precious quiet time. We praise You that our home stands firm in this time of trouble and that You shelter us from the worst storms of life. Blessed are You, our Living, Loving God. Amen.

I invite you to join with me in the words of the Lord’s Prayer . . .

Introduction to the first reading
This psalm echoes our prayer of praise this morning, then connects to our second reading of Paul in Athens, among the idols. It’s not known who wrote the Psalm, or when. It is thought it could have been from the beginning of the exile, or from the time of the restoration of Jerusalem. It gives praise to God, and blessings to the house of Israel and Aaron. Yet in-between it is thought to be a response to the scorn of nations on some calamity that Israel is facing; and in return, the psalmist pours scorn on the empty idols. It is read to us by Jane Rastall.

Reading: Psalm 115

Piano interlude: Andantino – César Franck (1822 – 90)

Introduction to the second reading
Paul had been in Macedonia, preaching the gospel in various places. However, with Jewish opposition to his message, he fled from Berea to Athens, waiting for Timothy and Silas to join him there. Paul, being Paul, couldn’t just wait quietly! He was distressed at seeing all the idols there, so started talking about it in the synagogue and in the public square, with those who were around. Athens was an ancient university town, and they enjoyed nothing better than discussing all the latest ideas and philosophies. They were intrigued by the ‘foreign gods’ Paul seemed to speak about – the name ‘Jesus’ and the word ‘resurrection’ would have been thought to be names of a god and goddess. So they took Paul to the Areopagus, the famous court on the hill, where we join the story. It is read to us by Francis Byrn.

Reading: Acts 17: 22 – 34

This story may seem a strange one to choose from the lectionary for today. I last preached on this passage in London in the Vision4Life year of Evangelism. It has some good pointers, especially for personal evangelism, picking up where a person is and helping them from there to begin an understanding of faith.

I remember years ago in the late 1990s where we were in London, we had a series of talks on different faiths run by an Asian Christian group. One of the stories of connection used this passage to show how we can connect with people of other faiths, picking up from a belief that’s similar to ours, and from there, explain what we believe. That is basically what Paul did in Athens.

But I’ve chosen this passage today because at this time more than ever, people are making connections with the Church – or rather, the Church are making different connections to those who don’t normally attend worship. Those Churches who are producing online resources for worship, especially where people can join in with a service incognito, are finding their Sunday worshipping community is far greater than the usual turnout used to be in the physical Church building.

So to me, this passage may help us to think about some new ways we can make connections with those who are hungry to know more about faith.

Coming to Church is strange. Again I remember from my time in London, that one day I had to get a car parking voucher. The only place open to get one was a betting shop. Having never been in one before, I was completely out of my depth, even on who to ask for a voucher, let alone opening the door. Have you felt like that?

For people coming to Church for the first time, that is the same feeling. Maybe someone listening to this feels that way at the moment. At Headingley St Columba, with our building facing the road that was never built, we can understand how much harder it is. People who are not sure of themselves will go elsewhere or just go home.

Even those who do go to Church regularly can find going into a new Church hard. One Sunday, on going to one of the Leeds Churches when I wasn’t leading worship, I have to say, I couldn’t find the way in – so I went for a walk in the park instead!

Social media provides a different way in. Like how Paul connected with the people of Athens, so we can connect with people in a different way. It’s a way people can access at any time they choose if it’s a pre-recorded service. Or for live services online, there is the option of dipping in, and out again if they feel uncomfortable.

So Paul made connections as he waited in Athens. His upbringing was as a Roman citizen, in the Hellenistic and philosophical culture of Tarsus. That meant he could converse with ease with the people in Athens. Those brought up using social media today, are in a unique position to speak to, and connect with, many people in our culture.

Then the idols which Paul saw around Athens, to him spoke about what sort of culture he was in, and brought to mind what he knew about those religions. In his speech, he picks up on that interesting altar – the one ‘to an unknown god’. Like Paul, today, we can seek to understand the culture we’re in. Currently, a good proportion of the culture around us relies heavily on social media. At this current time, we’re in a culture of lockdown, this week of easing lockdown, and all the extra anxiety as well as freedom that is bringing. As Paul noticed the idols, so we notice what is happening around us at the moment and how it is affecting people.

And as Paul looked around, he also noticed where people hung out – where they to be found – in the marketplace there and of course the Jewish people were in the synagogue. It was a culture where they liked nothing better than spending their time telling or hearing something new.

In this digital age, people are found on social media, so it’s a great tool to offer something where people can connect in where they are. People spend hours on it. They like looking up stories and news items as well as the latest gossip on celebrities.

For many of us, myself included, using social media is a steep learning curve, but we’re getting there. Many of us aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, or Instagram, for example. Some of us might not realise Headingley St Columba are on Facebook and Twitter, as we never use it. And yet, those are ways people today are connecting with each other and with faith, and those who are good at IT create apps which encourage people to engage with faith.

Since the start of lockdown, people have wanted to know more about faith. Prayer is one example. Before this current crisis, a Christian organization produced booklets called ‘trypraying’. This is now an app, which people can install on a mobile phone, tablet or PC, anything with internet connection. So far, it has been downloaded thousands of times. It’s a really easy way in our day of helping people to take a step towards faith, starting where they are, and something we can promote.

Paul also used the language and style his hearers were used to, presenting the gospel in a way that the Athenians could understand. For example, he used the Greek ideas that God is man’s creator, and that people are made in God’s image. He’s then able to show how similar the Jewish view of God is to their own, and then he only has to take them a short step to understand the Christian message.

That’s the same in our time using social media, the language so many use today. It can be used with good effect to create stepping stones to faith. There are lots of young people passionate about climate change, for example. The Church can use social media to show how God is passionate about His creation too, so passionate that He came among us to begin the restoration of the whole of creation.

We live in a completely different world to Paul’s day in Athens, or to 50 years ago, even just 10 years ago. But we still live in a needy world. Our present crisis has meant we have had to re-think how we do Church, and even what Church means for us, and as we go into the future, we’re reminded to use the means we have today to help others access the faith we cherish, and are meant to share with others, which gives us such hope in our lives.

Tune: Picardy – 17th-cent. French carol melody

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

from the Liturgy of St James
Translator: Gerard Moultrie (1829 – 1885)


The peace of Christ be with you, and in your homes
And also with you

Confession & Absolution:
Let us confess our sins to God and ask for forgiveness.

Lord God most merciful,
we confess that we have sinned,
through our own fault,
and in common with others,
in thought, word and deed,
and through what we have left undone.
We ask to be forgiven.
By the power of your Spirit
turn us from evil to good,
help us to forgive others,
and keep us in your ways
of righteousness and love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


The Lord says: See, I am making all things new.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.
Through Him our sins are forgiven.

Amen. Thanks be to God.

Come then to this table, not because you must, but because you may;
Come, not because of who you are, but because of who God is.
Come, not because you are righteous, but because of God’s grace through Christ Jesus.

Words of Institution:
1 Corinthians 11.23-26 (NIVUK)
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Prayer of thanksgiving:
Holy Lord Jesus,
We praise and thank you so much that you came to earth for us and gave yourself on the cross for our forgiveness. You, who are the same yesterday, today and forever, help us never to forget what it cost you, bearing the world’s sin in yourself, separated from the Father.

We praise and thank you for your promises which give us hope in our lives and for the future. We thank you for that assurance of new life in you, a new life we can share in many different ways at this time with others.

We give thanks now for this bread, symbolising for us your body, and ourselves as your body here, to be broken for others as we seek to serve others in whatever way.

We give thanks for this wine, symbolising for us your blood, poured out in love for the world, as we are poured out to bring new life to those around us.

We ask that as we share this bread and wine, we may be filled anew with your Holy Spirit, and refreshed in your resurrection life, to live for you, for your glory we pray. Amen.

Sharing the Bread and Wine:
As we break the bread and share the wine, we will eat and drink together.
We break the bread to remember Christ’s broken body for us on the cross . . .

pause to break

Christ’s body broken for us

pause to eat

Christ’s blood was poured out that the world might have new life . . .

pause to lift the cup

And we have new life in His blood

pause to drink

Prayers of Intercession
adapted from prayers written by Tim Baker, The Vine at Home, which is compiled and produced by twelvebaskets

Gracious Lord God, as we come before you with our prayers for others,
Let us pray for: Those we know for whom lock-down is particularly challenging.

Gracious Father, hear our prayer.

Let us pray for: Wisdom for world leaders, especially to know when to ease restrictions and deal with other international crises.

Gracious Father, hear our prayer.

Let us pray for: Countries where the effects of Covid-19 could be even more devastating.

Gracious Father, hear our prayer.

Let us pray for: Key workers, in the NHS, the food industry, Food Banks, transport, education and many more.

Gracious Father, hear our prayer.

Let us pray for: All those who cannot go out at all, and those suffering from mental health issues.

Gracious Father, hear our prayer.

Let us pray for: Our Church as we continue to function in a different way during lockdown, for Churches Together in Headingley and for the wider Church.

Gracious Father, hear our prayer.

Let us pray for: Our own families.

Gracious Father, hear our prayer, and all the prayers of our hearts, in Jesus’ name,

Tune: To God be the glory – W. H. Doane (1832 – 1915)

To God be the glory! great things he hath done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life-gate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son;
and give him the glory – great things he hath done!

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
to every believer the promise of God!
And every offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son;
and give him the glory – great things he hath done!

Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the son:
but purer and higher and greater will be
the wonder, the beauty, when Jesus we see!

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son;
and give him the glory – great things he hath done!

Fanny Crosby (1820 – 1915) altd.

Closing prayer
from ‘Worship: from the United Reformed Church’

Most gracious God,
we praise you for what you have given
and for what you have promised us here.
You have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth.
You have fed us with the bread of life,
and renewed us for your service.
Now we give ourselves to you; and we ask that our daily living
may be part of the life of your kingdom, and that our love may be your love reaching out into the life of the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing Taizé

May the Lord bless us and keep us; May Christ smile upon and give us His grace;
May He unveil His face to us and bring us His peace.

Piano postlude: Prelude and Fugue in C – Fugue – Samuel Wesley (1766 – 1837)