About Our Church
Why St James?
His Importance and Legacy.
The Epistle of James is probably the most misunderstood in the New Testament, and St James is likewise probably one of the most misrepresented of the key New Testament figures.
Church politics has played its part in the rewriting of the New Testament over the early years and the legacy of St James, the first bishop of Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus, has been consistently undervalued and undeservedly ignored. St Paul's writings suited the increasingly Roman politics of the time, but not so the writings of St James. St Paul was a Roman citizen, St James a Jew.
Nevertheless, these events have help protect the integrity of the oldest and most intact and reliable of the Epistles.
What we see in the Epistle of St James is the expression of faith leading to works.
Real faith naturally expresses itself in 'works', the selfless outward expression of the love of God, led by the Holy Spirit and demonstrated in action.
Works are a by-product of an active faith and are led by the Holy Spirit. Works are not in themselves the end product or the goal. Their purpose is to lead people to God, not to glorify the person doing them. And as St James stated, faith without works is an empty faith.
The church has made much over the theological differences between faith and works. Despite popular opinion, there is no overall conflict between the teachings of St Paul and St James either, rather a subtle harmony, but St Paul is certainly not backwards in taking every opportunity to up his prominence and importance against the Jerusalem Church which was held in such regard, a stumbling block in his search for recognition, authority and power. In that regard, St James along with the Jerusalem church leaders, had to be found wanting if St Paul was to have his way.
In those early years in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Spirit endued disciples began to put into action the teachings of Jesus and they found of their own voice and expression of faith as they transitioned from a purely Jewish outlook to one which accepted and welcomed the many Gentiles who responded to the Gospel of Christ.
As a community it was very well respected and continued to grow under the leadership of St James, assisted by Mary (mother of Jesus) and Mary Magdalene, but as other Christian communities grew beyond Jerusalem, it was not without its critics or enemies who were envious of its supposed position and power.
Over the years, St James along with Mary, (the mother of Jesus) and Mary Magdalene, have had such bad press as to destroy the prominence of the Jerusalem church and to bulk up St Paul's reputation.
Rome strengthened its position over Jerusalem as the political climate changed, especially following the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Emerging Christianity became the victim of personal and group politics in the form of the emerging denominations, and there were many schisms as each vied for overall power.
Some of the early founding fathers were declared heretics, their followers persecuted and killed, and many early letters and documents were destroyed in an attempt to hide the dissent that existed.
Even the Gospels and the Epistles were rewritten and/or edited in part.
However, what was left in the almost ignored and untouched Epistle of St James is of relevance to us as individuals.
It remains the oldest and most original writing of the New Testament, even pre-dating the Gospels according to some sources. It takes us right back to the early beginnings of the real Church and focuses on what was really important. Not just 'faith', but 'faith resulting in action'.
What was radical in the Epistle of St James was that everyone was involved, everyone had responsibility and everyone had the chance to make a difference. They had responsibility and much was expected of them. They had, 'ownership', direction and purpose, and were far from passive in expressing their love of God.
It builds directly on the teachings of Jesus, as an example consider 'the parable of the talents' found in Matthew 25, v14-25, and Luke 19 v12-19.
'Talents' were not meant to be buried or stifled under mountains of rules, regulation, canon or tradition. They were meant to be used.
We have lost that. Now it seems we find we have given over our Christian heritage to organizations that rule over us and paid professionals who absolve us of our Christian responsibilities.
As long as we do what we are told without question and put our money in the collection box, we will go to Heaven.
That is not true and certainly not good enough.
The Holy Spirit is challenging people not to accept this situation any more, and they in turn are challenging the church organizations that have let them down so badly. Where they get no satisfaction, the outcome is that they will leave and the churches will empty.
That does not mean that 'the Church' is dying. It is changing.
The Church is 'people', not organizations. People will still have their faith even if they don't go to a church, and they will still live according to their faith. It is the churches led by self absorption and self interest that are dying. They have had their chances.
So how do we as an Order respond to and engage those who have become disillusioned and disengaged, or those who have never even have heard or understood the Good News of Jesus Christ? How do we support and encourage them?
We need to go back to the first principles outlined in the Gospels and particularly those found in the Epistle of St James.
There are only two things any of us need to do to the best of our abilities and understanding: to love God, and to love our neighbours (those in need) as ourselves. God has already prepared us for this task as we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us. It starts wherever we are with whatever we are doing. It usually starts with a smile, and how simple is that.
Every one called of God has a ministry, a spiritual gifting, a skill and has a place, a value, and without which the whole Church (and subsequently the whole community) suffers. We recognise and encourage the use of those gifts.
For all of us, the first principle is, if you see something is wrong, or that there is a need, then it is your responsibility to deal with it. It is not someone else's responsibility. It is yours. God brought it to your attention for you to deal with.
We are here to support you where we can if you cannot find support in your own community.
This is what the Order of St James is about - firstly in giving responsibility back to the people, and secondly in empowering them in both their Christ centred calling and ministry.
The world could be a so much better place and it is up to all of us to make it so.
Our spiritual centre
St Leonard's Chapel, Hazlewood, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, sits in the grounds of Hazlewood Castle. The Chapel is around 900 years old and is remarkable for its brightness, acoustics and peacefully spiritual atmosphere. It served as the Roman Catholic chapel for many years and was also used as their centre of worship by the Carmelites during their stay at Hazlewood Castle.
Regular public service are still held here, OSJ (UK) currently providing Episcopal oversight and celebrants.
The chapel was dedicated as a shrine to the 40 Martyrs during the period when the Carmelites used Hazlewood as a monastery and retreat centre (mid 1970's to mid 1990's).
OSJ has provided 180 Carmelite mass books so the traditions established by the Carmelites can be maintained.
The painting over the chapel's altar is a celebration of the steadfast faith of those who died during the persecution of Roman Catholics.
A Holy Place
''The Dancing Sun - Journeys to the Miracle Shrines' By Desmond Seward, Published 1993 by Macmillan, ISBN 0 333 57440 0. See page 111.
Hazlewood Castle might probably have developed to be a Christian pilgrimage site of equal stature to Walsingham had it not been for the actions of the then Roman Catholic Bishop.
The fact it was not owned by the Roman Catholic church at that point in time may have been of great influence in this decision. A story still shrouded in mystery.
According to the building report provided by English Heritage, the weather worn figure above the porch is that of St Leonard to whom the chapel is dedicated although this is disputed by other sources as being Mary, mother of Jesus, and also St Margaret. Not many people know who St Leonard was, so here is a potted history.
St Leonard was born towards the end of the fifth century near the town of Orleans, France. He was the son of a Frankish nobleman, a high-ranking officer in the army of the king, Clovis I.
At fourteen years of age, St Leonard went to the monastery of Micy in Orleans and, on completion of his studies, entered Holy Orders, eventually succeeding Saint Remy at Rheims.
St Leonard's holiness attracted sick people to him. It is recorded that they obtained their recovery and spiritual enlightenment.
The king heard of this and asked Leonard to become chaplain to his court. However, Leonard's zeal for saving souls made him refuse this tempting offer. Preferring solitude, he chose to retire in isolation to the region of Aquitaine. Finally, reaching the forest of Pauvin just north of the town of Limoges, he built himself a cell and lived on vegetables and fruit.
At first, he devoted himself to prayer and contemplation but, as a man of compassionate disposition, he later befriended prisoners and captives of war.
In one account of St Leonard's life, it is also reported that Theodebert, King of Austria and grandson of Clovis I, while hunting with his couriers in the area, became distraught when his pregnant young wife, Queen Wisigarde, who was accompanying him, went into premature labour and was having serious difficulties. The royal doctor despaired of her life.
St Leonard arrived at her side and fell to prayer on her behalf. Through his prayers of intercession, the Queen recovered and gave birth to a healthy child. The king's gratitude was expressed by offering St Leonard the estate of Pauvin, where he was joined by young men wishing to share his monastic life and form a community. Over time, a flourishing monastery was built on this estate in honour of Our Lady of the Forest.
Leonard changed the name of Pauvin to Noblat in the King's honour. It was from here that he carried out his work of evangelisation, preaching the Gospel across the whole region. As reports of his characteristic holiness and miracles spread, sick people were brought to him and many went back home cured. Clovis I promised to release every prisoner St Leonard converted. Many of those released in this way joined his ever-growing community.
St Leonard's pastorate continued to grow until his death on 6 November, 559 A.D.
St Leonard's fame spread as details of his life and miracle-working became known. It was reported that prisoners who invoked Leonard’s aid discovered that their chains and shackles miraculously fell from them
(Although probably based on the incident in Acts regarding St Paul, Charles Wesley's words for 'And can it be,' verse 4, (circa 1735) certainly resonate with the stories regarding St Leonard and also with the work of OSJ.)
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee
It seems that Leonard was never at a loss for an edifying sentiment. “A fare of dry bread, eaten in the joy of a pure conscience,” he held, “is of more worth than a house abundantly furnished, where quarrels and divisions prevail.”
Yet St Leonard’s death was followed by five centuries of anonymity. From the 12th century, however, his name was copiously invoked, not merely throughout France, but in various parts of Europe.
In England, there were 177 churches dedicated to St Leonard, many of them in Kent and Sussex. There were also several dedications in the West Midlands, notably at Bridgnorth and Bilston, and also here in Yorkshire.
Also, monasteries, hospitals and hermitages were dedicated to him in France, Italy, England, Scotland and, not least, in Bavaria. At York, the largest medieval hospital in northern England, run by the Augustinians, was dedicated to St Leonard.
Noblat is identified as the Saint's home town and the church there became a great pilgrimage shrine. The Saint was invoked both by women in labour and by prisoners of war. Relics of Saint Leonard are placed above the main altar in the church of Saint Leonard de Noblat, at the place where his hermitage once stood.
St Leonard's Chapel at Hazelwood also has one relic of the saint which is housed in the tabernacle on the altar and also has the stewardship of two relics of St James the Lesser, one of St James the Great, another of St Bartholomew and one of St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.
These have been obtained from various monasteries in France and Belgium by the Order of St James. St Leonard's chapel has been re-consecrated for Christian rather than denominational use and all priests, ministers and pastors are welcome to use the chapel providing they treat it with the respect it is due.
The Order also holds a number of historical seals including those of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, along with its own episcopal seals, but is should be remembered that all OSJ members express their faith in their own way and through their own traditions by right of conscience. We appreciate difference and are not threatened by it but treat it as a gift from God.
Why an Order?
We don't need another 'church'.
The world is full of both old and new churches all saying that they are the real thing and the only true way to find God.
The only true way to find God is through personal encounter, and no one 'church' has the sole rights on that, as much as they may wish to think so.
Churches may provide good teaching and provide a safe environment to meet like minded people, but their strength is also their weakness. The ritual, tradition and canons put in place over the centuries can actually get in the way and become overly restrictive, particularly regarding ministry.
Instead of enabling ministry, it ends up disabling it. It finishes up in the hands of a few professional Christians and excludes everyone else. That situation is not acceptable.
We want to enable. We want to set free. We want ministry to be placed back into the hands of the people rather than it remain within the prerogative of a chosen few.
We also want people to stay where they are so they can do the most good in communities they are familiar with and amongst people they know.
Being an Order rather than 'a church' means that our members can do just that and make changes from within what already exists. They can belong to both.
It means they can have support and encouragement where perhaps none was offered or indeed existed, to do what God is calling them to do but under OSJ authority and jurisdiction once any training requirements have been met and safeguarding compliant procedures have be put in place.
For OSJ, the huge advantage of being an Order rather than 'a church' is that we are able to work outside of traditional denominational boundaries, simply because we are not tied to them or their traditions.
It also means that we can reach out to those who have been missed, overlooked, ignored or have been rejected by 'the church' as we do not represent any particular denominations.
We are just 'Christian', Christ is our head, we serve God and community, and that is all that matters.
Building Centred or Community Centred?
Being an Order means that we don't have to focus on funding and maintaining buildings that are empty most of the week but can focus on building up the community instead.
Having said that, we do have some need to use buildings for holding services, especially where people don't have any attachments to local churches.
We use whatever is available for as long as our presence is needed and that has included private or friendly churches and chapels, hotel rooms, upper rooms in pubs, converted barns, monastic ruins, school rooms, village halls, working men's clubs, gardens, parks, as well as people's own homes.
These are our Mission Churches. We take our altars with us and place them wherever they are needed.
It means we are not tied down with endless building and maintenance committees or fundraising.
Quite simply, people matter more than buildings, and that is where our focus lies.
That is why we often refer to our priests as 'Community Priests' because that is where they are based.
Members provide everything they need for their own ministries. Some even have vehicles with everything required to set up mission churches.
The Order's 'Rule of Simplicity'.
This is the basic handbook for all members of the Order of St James.
It is not complicated. It's about faith, encouragement and support with the minimum of interference.
We do have our own liturgies but we are not tied to them. We use what is appropriate in the circumstances.
We expect all our members, whether priests or laity, to be flexible in their ministries and meet need rather than canonical requirement.
Is OSJ (UK) really an underground Church?
(UK) can mean many things. For OSJ (UK) it signifies that we are based and work in the United Kingdom and simply distinguishes us from other parts of the OSJ family found worldwide.
It also coincidentally signifies something else, 'Unterirdische Kirche'* which when translated from the German means 'Underground Church' 'underground' as in 'not seen', and 'church' as in 'Christian community' rather than 'religious building'.
It translates better perhaps as 'the unseen Christian community' which cannot be destroyed. It is something that is not tied to buildings, denominations, rites and rituals, canons or any other artificial boundaries. It is where true faith is kept and is actually the strongest.
As an organisation, a church is built on existing 'faith'. You can take away the organisation but 'faith' still remains. However, if you take away 'faith' then nothing remains.
'Faith' is held most strongly in the family unit. It is passed on generation to generation and it is less dependent on the organised 'church' than we may think. Family is 24/7, whereas 'church' might just be a couple of hours a week. Any attack on the family unit and the binary nature of human sexuality is therefore is simply an attack on the Christian faith.
The current COVID-19 Emergency Measures have certainly been an opportunity for a government that is largely pursuing a largely unbiblical and anti-Christian course according to its legislation. The attack on the family unit and the redefinition of marriage and human sexuality is clearly at the heart of its agenda.
(I only need refer to recent changes and additions in legislation on abortion**, no fault divorce***, and that of 'same sex' marriage, gender identity, and surrogacy to name but a few. We need to face up to the real possibility that we have a dangerously anti-Christian and morally bankrupt Government that has little interest in the 'common good', staying in power by any means for as long as possible and regardless of the cost to society.)
Whilst the politics should be of great concern, the real and immediate questions for us are 'what happens now?', 'what do we do?', 'how do we reclaim society for God?'.
It is no longer about canons, traditions, vestments, lines of succession, theological minutiae, liturgical language, buildings and sacramental theatre, trappings and all the other largely incidental and unimportant stuff. It is all about not giving in as some churches already have, growth, rethinking what 'the church' really is about, and fully understanding the shared nature of 'whole church' community ministry.
It's often a simple question of which is more important, 'faith' or 'religion'. If we look back through history, we as Christians have been here before.
It could be a wonderful opportunity for the Christian community to rediscover and reconsider its purpose and role.
The OSJ (UK) model of community based rather than building based ministry is a workable alternative in these new circumstances. It is a practical and workable vision that could transformational if adopted.
We want to share it with you because we know it works and we have already proved it works effectively.
* pronounced roughly as 'unter-er-dish-ey key-acre'
** 42 million abortions recorded worldwide for 2019. In 2018 in the UK there were 205,000 abortions, i.e. 1 in 4 pregnancies. Since when has avoidable death on this scale become morally acceptable?
*** nearly 91,000 divorces were granted in the UK in 2018 - this is a sad indictment of the church's inability to prepare couples for marriage and effectively council and support couples facing difficulty.