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Living God's Love...

.is an invitation to journey

It's an opportunity to discover new things about God, ourselves and the world, to look with fresh eyes and explore new ways.

In particular, it is a call to the parishes, schools and people of the Diocese of St Albans to Go Deeper into God,Transform Communities and Make New Disciples.

Click here for current Mission Action Plan (MAP)

O little town of Bethlehem How still we see thee lie...

I always look forward to singing  this carol at Christmas. It's an unusual carol because it takes the form of a meditation in which the singer is addressing Bethlehem itself. We can imagine the impact of seeing Bethlehem on Phillips Brooks, rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia and author of the carol, when he visited for the first time in 1865. I was lucky enough to visit the town myself with a group of pilgrims in May.

(We were particularly lucky because President Trump was in Israel at the time and also visited Bethlehem - had he done so on our scheduled day, we would not have been able to go). Like Phillips Brooks, our destination was the place where Christ was born and the fields where the angels appeared to the shepherds.


The Church of the Nativity is built over the cave where, according to tradition, Jesus was born. The existing building dates from the sixth century and is claimed to be the oldest complete Church in the world. According to legend, when the Persians destroyed all the Christian buildings in the Holy Land at the beginning of the seventh century, they recognised on the west facade a representation of the Magi (the three Wise Men) in the costumes of their own country. In respect and reverence for their ancestors they spared the Church from destruction. Today the building is owned by the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Churches. Steps at the east end of the Church lead down to the main cave. At the bottom of the steps is a representation of the manger.

A little further along, there is a small apse, which has an altar built into it. Underneath, set in the floor, is a silver star marking the traditional place of birth. We were fortunate to enter the cave just after a service had taken place.

The anticipation had built up as we pilgrims of many nationalities sat squashed on the steps peeking through the half open door for a glimpse of the place we had waited a lifetime to visit.


In some ways our experience of Bethlehem was quite different to that of Phillips Brooks. His visit took place shortly after Abraham Lincoln's death and the peace he found there moved him deeply after the horrors and bloodshed of the Civil War at home. We had to take our passports with us when we left Jerusalem that morning, for by entering Bethlehem we would be crossing into Palestinian territory. Bethlehem is cut off from its sister city by a wall.


The panels on the Palestinian side of the wall were covered in graffiti - the words and pictures tell a long and sad story of exclusion, suffering and loss. Banksy has been spraying his witty and acerbic art on it and inspired others, whether or not they are artists. Someone called Majd has written, in my future Bethlehem is a place of freedom, a place known for its hospitality for everyone, especially tourists. A place where people bond, talk and be free.


The wall of separation has become a means of protest and expression, carrying dreams of freedom, prosperity, security and hope. In his carol, Phillips Brooks reminds us of the song of the angels on the night of Jesus' birth: a song of peace on earth. Let us too hold on to the vision that Phillips Brooks expressed in the opening line of his carol: `0 little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie'.


And let us pray for Bethlehem this Christmas and for peace on earth.


O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light

The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight

With warmest good wishes for a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful new year. Details of our Christmas services, at which you are very welcome, are in the calendar (see This Week)

Signature Frances Arnold

Details of the dates are in the calendar of events ("This Week") here on the website and in Church & Town. If you would like to know more about what is available for children or adults at Great Mary's, then do please contact us. Our contact details are HERE.