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Fr. Cecil Champneys Burnham

1914 - 2002

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An Address by Fr. Cecil on the occasion of his 60th year in ordination.

First of all, I would like to thank you all for the astonishing kindness you have shown me. I am going to thank you in the words used by a former Bishop of Hull, when he was being presented with a degree by Hull University. He said, and I am repeating it now to you, "It's very much like the grace of God. I haven't earned it. I don't deserve it, but I'm jolly glad to have it". So thank you all very much for your cards and kindness.

What I want to talk about is the presence of God. If you forget everything else that I say, do remember this much, 'Have Faith in God'. To which I would add, 'Keep faith in God'. He expects you to do your part and all that it involves. He knows precisely how much you are capable of, and if you can't do it, and it's impossible, he will help you. But if you can do it, then he'll not be so ready to come to your rescue.

Some of you may have come across….it's not a poem, I don't know what you'd call it… a little bit of writing about a man who'd been through a lot of trouble and was bitterly complaining to God that, when he was in his worst trouble, God didn't help him. He said, "I looked along the path we had come and there were two lots of footsteps, yours and mine when things were going smoothly. Then, when I was at my worst, and couldn't manage, I found you had deserted me because there was only one set of footsteps". "My son", said God, "there was only one set of footsteps. That's perfectly true because when you were at your worst I carried you all the way".

This is the point - God is power. A Post Office slogan says, "Power to Deliver" and God is precisely that. He intervenes if you'll let him into the affairs of your life. I grant you that I couldn't prove this by any scientific method, but this is where faith is essential. Have Faith in God. Faith that he is. Faith that he is reality and try to remember that God is all around you.

The presence of God varies of course, in the ordinary way. You must remember that although you may not feel him all the time he is there and you can get into instant communication with him. If I wanted to chat up the Queen, I should find it extremely difficult. If I want to get hold of God, it's so simple. I say, "Dear God, Please help me".

As you all know, I attempt to write some verse. Some time ago I wrote a piece called, "Arrow Prayers", which I sent up to a magazine who published it. In their editorial they made a special mention of it. I'm not going to say they wrote and said how beautiful and brilliant it was, because they didn't, but I think they liked it. I think what they liked so much was the idea of an Arrow Prayer.

So what is an Arrow Prayer? Well it's one you use in a situation when you have no time to do anything at all; no time to say any form of normal prayer. When you need 'instant action'. It may be a case of being tempted on the spot to do something completely foolish. Or it maybe that you are driving a car and another driver has made it difficult for you. Then your instant Arrow Prayer goes up, 'Lord, help me.' That's all you need. You don't want a lot of talk. I've used in my time instant Arrow Prayers on many occasions. Remember I've said that God is power to deliver. Remember too I've said that God intervenes in this world. If you ask him, he does, but only if you ask him.

I think you all know the picture which depicts a thorn crowned Christ, standing outside a door, waiting for it to be opened. 'I stand at the door and knock' is the text. Christ can't open the door because there's no handle on his side. The handle is on the other side, it has to be opened for him to go through. So with us, we have to open ourselves to God. He's not going to force himself on us.

Now the presence of God is all around us. I keep repeating 'have faith in God and have faith in yourself. Keep faith with your better self'.

I want to tell you now about the presence of God in a different way. When we come to a service like this Holy Communion, the moment when God becomes intensely close to us, the priest takes the bread and breaks it and blesses it. He says, "This is my body", He then takes the wine and blesses it. God's presence is then at its most intense.

Perhaps you can understand this a little better if I talk about ...a home, where, the child, a little boy or girl, it doesn't matter which, is happily downstairs, playing with its toys. Let's call it a boy. Mother is upstairs, doing the beds or doing something or other. The boy is perfectly content because he's in the presence of his mother, but not the direct presence. She is upstairs, the boy is downstairs. The child knows that if anything happens, he has only to make an instant call and mother is there. So with us, God is always there, with power to deliver, always there. We don't feel his presence particularly, but when we suddenly need him, we call and he comes and works things out in his own particular way.

Now lets go back to the boy. Mother having finished upstairs, comes down into the room, and immediately her presence is closer to the child. It is the same when we come to church. God's presence is closer to us, but it is still not as close as it might be. I said earlier, we come to this moment at the altar when the priest celebrates, takes bread and blesses it, and there is God in a most intense and personal fashion.

Go back to the little boy. Mother comes into the room, and in a way that children do, the boy stretches out his arms, runs to his mother and hugs her as she holds him. What do we do? We go up to the altar and we kneel and we stretch out our arms in exactly the same way. God comes to us intensely. This is a very precious moment. If you want to pray particularly for loved ones or indeed anybody else, this is when prayer has the greatest of power attached to it. We receive the chalice and exactly the same thing happens; God is there in his most intense way. These are the most precious moments.

When the service is over we walk out of the immediate presence of God into the general presence of God, and we come back to where we began, that God is everywhere. God is power to deliver. I finish where I started. Have faith in God. Forget everything else if you like, but have faith in God. Keep faith with God. Also, keep faith with your better self. God Bless you.

Thank you for all your love.

Fr. Cecil

Copyright 2000 [Rev. C. Champneys Burnham]. All rights reserved.
Revised: May 24, 2018 .