Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow

Sermon preached at St Matthew’s Church, Bayswater on Sunday 2nd April, 2017.
The First Sunday after invoking Article 50.

Introduction

When I preached here last year it was the First Sunday after the EU Referendum. Today is the First Sunday after invoking Article 50. Perhaps we should pencil in a date for the First Sunday after Brexit!

Let’s start with where we are with Article 50 and ask ourselves in what language was the act of parliament to leave the EU signed into law? Norman French has been used to signify royal assent to a law since 1066 when a certain migration event occurred! So the words “La Reyne le veult” meaning “The Queen wills it” were used. Migration is inherent in the identity of the people of this country, inherent in our culture.

Just as this country is multi-cultural through migration, so was the area around the Mediterranean two thousand years ago. This morning I’d like us to explore how African Christianity is central to the story of the mission of God: in Jerusalem and Antioch, and in Angola, London and Mozambique.[1]

The first missionary era

In our gospel reading (Mark 15.15-24) it’s the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. He’s just had a Roman flogging and then been mocked by a whole company of soldiers. Jesus is too badly beaten to be able to carry his own cross, and so a man who was heading into the city was co-opted. Mark records the man’s name was Simon, that he was from Cyrene, and even named his two sons.

Where is Cyrene? Libya, so Simon and his family were North African Jews coming into Jerusalem for the Passover feast.

Who was Mark? Well, we think he was a young man called John Mark who was living in Jerusalem with his family.  This is recorded by Luke in Acts 12. Other historians of the Early Church record that Mark’s parents had lived in Cyrene where he was born and grew up, and they had only been back in Jerusalem for a few years. I guess that means Mark knew Simon and his two sons, and their mother. They were all North African Jews who had lived and worshipped God in the same city.[2]

Mark’s family were followers of Jesus and the disciples gathered in their house. That’s where they met to pray when Peter was arrested (see Acts 12). Mark and his cousin Barnabas (see Colossians 4) were involved in the missionary work of both Paul and Peter. Mark eventually returned to North Africa to sow the seeds of the Church in Alexandria.

Along with Mark, several other Africans are mentioned in the missionary journeys recorded in Acts and in the NT letters. Our first reading is another story of migration; this time due to the followers of Jesus being persecuted. We’re well north of Jerusalem in Antioch, which was then in Syria and is now in Turkey. And we find African and Cypriot believers in Jesus sharing the good news with Greeks. Their evangelism initiated the translation of the story of Jesus from Jewish culture into Greek culture. The Messiah of the Jews became the Word of the Greeks.

Luke records that African Christian teachers, such as Simeon and Lucius from Cyrene, were part of the missionary team who crossed this cultural boundary with the gospel (see Acts 13.1).

The second missionary era

Many years later, the people of Central and Southern Africa got to hear the story of Jesus through missionaries. In respect of Mozambique and Angola …

In 1861, the Scottish missionary explorer David Livingstone brought to Nyasaland Bishop Charles McKenzie and a team of Anglican missionaries from the Universities Mission to Central Africa. They planted the seeds for what grew into the Anglican Churches in Malawi and Niassa in Northern Mozambique.

In 1910, a young man from Toxteth in Liverpool was inspired by the Edinburgh Missionary Conference to become a missionary in Africa. His name was Archibald Patterson. This led to him leading a Mission to the North of Angola. He sowed the seeds for what in 1990 became the Anglican Church in Angola as part of the Diocese of Lebombo in Southern Mozambique.

The third missionary era

Around this time, the Anglican Communion encouraged the Diocese of London to partner with the Anglican Churches of Angola and Mozambique, and this seed led to the ALMA Partnership being formed in 1998. The partnership will be 20 next year.

One of the many seeds Archibald Patterson had planted in Angola some fifty years ago was the baptism of a young boy called André. Years later, he was elected Missionary Bishop of Angola and as Bishop André Soares has led the Anglican Church in planting new congregations in missionary areas across Angola. The church is now large enough to need to consider whether to multiply into two dioceses.

Yesterday, a Mozambican called Vicente Msossa became Bishop of Niassa, and we expect a new missionary diocese to be planted in Northern Mozambique later this year.

Migration continues to be part of life. Here in London, we welcome the presence of sisters and brothers from other countries. African, Caribbean, South American and Asian Christians are helping to revitalise the church in this city and in other Western cities. Here we have Angolans and Mozambicans living amongst us. Our partnership needs to be experienced as being one in Christ here in London just as much as our sisters and brothers in Africa sense our solidarity in the gospel.

In Mozambique, the national refugee camp is home to 16,000 people from Burundi, Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. The government has asked for an Anglican church and school in the camp; to lead this new church, Bishop Manuel has appointed a woman priest supported by catechists living in the camp who are from Congo and Burundi.

Mission today is from everywhere to everywhere just as it was in the Early Church.

Providing help for each other

The Church in Antioch heard that life was going to get tough, and in their generosity they responded by collecting gifts to help their fellow Christians in Judea. Luke tells us this was according to each person’s means. He also makes it clear there was accountability in the giving, for Barnabas and Paul were put in charge of delivering the money to the elders in Jerusalem. The elders would then make sure it reached the needy, since they had from the start of meeting together adopted the principle of distributing according to each person’s needs.[3]

So it is for us. Bishop Richard asked that this year’s diocesan Lent appeal be for ALMA. The economic situation in both Angola and Mozambique is dire due to oil prices falling and currencies being devalued. Our partners said what they really needed was help with the costs of educational projects to help them continue to grow the Kingdom of God by investing in people.

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I wonder if you know the Indian proverb, “All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today”. Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow is the theme of the Diocesan Lent Appeal this year. Seeds can have some amazing flowers packed in them, which emerge bit by bit.

We have explored this morning how the Kingdom of God has grown through African Christianity, and in the video we have seen amazing projects chosen by Churches wanting to transform the lives of the communities they serve.

The mission priority for the Diocese of Angola is primary schools, they have plans to enlarge and build schools in specific places. Do you know what proportion of primary pupils attend Church of England primary schools? 25%. One quarter of primary school children. That’s about the same proportion of primary age children in the whole of Angola who don’t have a place in a primary school.

For the Diocese of Lebombo in Southern Mozambique, their priority is a seminary where both women and men can train to become priests. In the Diocese of Niassa in Northern Mozambique, they really need a training centre for the huge Lurio region.

Thank you for deciding to join in Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow. Our diocesan partnership is a commitment to mutual support and, as with the collection in Antioch, we ensure funds are used for the specific purposes they were given for.

This morning, we have explored how African Christianity is central to the story of the mission of God: in Jerusalem and Antioch through the ministry of North African Jewish followers of Jesus, and in Angola, London and Mozambique today through the Holy Spirit empowering the followers of Jesus to build God’s kingdom of love.

Do talk to me afterwards if you’d like to know more about the ALMA Partnership.

Lent Appeal Prayer

Lord God in times of great uncertainty when the future seems bleak and fragile, inspire us to hope. Give us the courage to plan creatively for tomorrow that we may boldly proclaim your gospel so your kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Bless the church in Angola, London and Mozambique as together this Lent we sow seeds for tomorrow. Amen.

Notes

[1] For inspiration on African Christianity I am indebted to Harvey Kwiyani and his book Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2014).

[2] See Severus of Al’Ashmunein, History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria: Saint Mark to Theonas (300AD)¸ (Paris: P.FAGES) and Eusebius, Eusebius: The Church History, ed. Paul L. Meier, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007).  

[3] See Acts 2.45 and Acts 4.34-35.

Spiritual partnerships post-Brexit

Banner in The Old Cathedral, Luanda
“Stay with us, Lord”

Sermon preached at St Matthew’s, Bayswater on Sunday, 26th June 2016
The First Sunday after the EU Referendum.

Come Holy Spirit, may I speak the Word of God, and in the Word may we see a vision of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Introduction

I am the diocesan twinning officer for the ALMA Partnership which links the Anglican Churches of Angola, London and Mozambique. I have the joy of helping parishes and church schools here in London establish mission partnerships with parishes and schools in Angola and Mozambique.

Here in London, partnership is important to us. We value partnership. London is a world city. There are more languages spoken here in London than in any other city in the world. We live here together. We work here together. We worship God here together. We look after each other here together. Here in London, we value partnerships in our communities and we value global relationships. As London is so diverse, we experience global relationships locally through those we live among, as well as through our international connections. Partnerships are important to us.

Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu taught us here in the West about the African concept of Ubuntu which says that we are people through other people. That it is our relationships with others that make us who we are.

This weekend our sense of identity as a people in partnership has been hugely impacted by the results of the EU referendum.  As Christians, our sense of partnership is much bigger than our mutual identity as Europeans. We are connected with God and with our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world through our spiritual relationships.

Spiritual Partnership

ALMA is one of our spiritual partnerships. Alma is also a Portuguese word which means soul in English.  The soul of our partnership is to be one in Christ with our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Churches in Angola and Mozambique. Angola, London and Mozambique associate together as partners in the Mission of God.

I wonder how you see the Mission of God. For me it’s all about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ through our lives: locally and globally, and our two readings point to these two dimensions of local mission and global mission.

Local Mission

On the Road to Emmaus we meet two devastated disciples feeling they’ve just lost their sense of identity and their hope for the future. Perhaps you can identify with them.  They’re sharing their grief when a stranger appears, what’s up? Is he from outside London that he doesn’t know our pain about what’s just happened?  Yet he does understands their story, but tells them an even bigger story, and it suddenly all makes sense in a wonderful way they had never imagined before. Not only does he share their cultural background, but he can also teach them more than they ever knew. Come and stay with us, they urge their new friend. “Fica connosco, Senhor” as Christians in Angola and Mozambique would say. Stay with us, Lord.

Hospitality is a wonderful gift to somebody. You give of yourself and often receive much more than you gave. You receive the gift of another in whom the Spirit of Jesus Christ lives. There is often a revelation. A new way of seeing things. The guest becomes the host as they give of themselves to you and then what you experience just has to be shared with others. Visits between mission partners are like this Emmaus experience. They are transformational for everyone who has the privilege of encountering a stranger and getting to know something of their story. Once we’ve experienced Christian life in another context, we end up doing mission in our context in a different way because our eyes have been opened to new possibilities.

Global Mission

The Ethiopian had been on a visit to Jerusalem to worship. Perhaps he had been on a pilgrimage, seeking help from the God of Israel to put his life in context. On his way home this African royal official encountered Philip, a Greek-speaking Jew and minister of the Early Church, who had been sent to him by the Holy Spirit.

This cross-cultural encounter led to the gospel being taken into Ethiopia and to the first African Church being planted.

Nearly two thousand years later, thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans are living here in London. An Ethiopian pastor I know has a vision for Churches doing mission together. Christians from African Churches and Western Churches together, so that the world may know that we are one. Yesterday churches in Islington hosted a festival together: Ethiopians, British, Koreans, West Africans, Latin Americans sharing their faith with those curious about God and Jesus. The vision of this Ethiopian pastor has started to re-invigorate local British churches.

I think there is something quite unique about the transforming effect of cross-cultural encounters. For one London church what they heard on a visit from their Angolan partner parish was a challenging question, “Where are your young people?” They took this challenge on board and developed a youth ministry.

After a church high school had visited their linked school in Mozambique, all the pupils returned with their lives changed in some way; for some, their faith was deepened by the love they had experienced, others changed the subjects they were going to study. The school itself started a gospel choir because the pupils had been so impacted by the music they had heard that they wanted to create it themselves.

Each visit with a mission partner creates communion. Sharing conversations and stories, exploring Scripture together, hospitality, all build our unity and take us into the presence of God.

The disciples rushed back to Jerusalem, they just had to share the good news that Jesus is risen. The Ethiopian official was baptised and went on his way rejoicing.  Perhaps it was this joy which overflowed into his Ethiopian brothers and sisters as he shared with them the vision God had given him and his new faith in Jesus.

Conclusion

The ALMA Partnership is a spiritual relationship which parishes can engage with:

  1. ALMA Sunday – We always have a visit from one of our partner bishops, and next month Bishop André Soares will be visiting us from Angola. You would all be very welcome to meet him at the ALMA Sunday Eucharist at St Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday 10th July at 6pm.
  2. Becoming an ALMA Parish – developing awareness of the life of our partner churches, supporting the Partnership in prayer, worship, and perhaps occasionally money
  3. Establishing a parish link – partnership in the gospel between parishes (normally two)
  4. Developing both parish and school links – integrated mission partnerships between parishes that also involve their church schools

Partnership is important to us here in London. I think we get the African philosophy of ­­­Ubuntu that we are people through our relationships with other people. Cross-cultural partnerships in the gospel open our eyes to new possibilities where God is to be found.

Prayer

The ALMA Partnership Prayer by Bishop Dinis Sengulane from Mozambique.

God our Father,
the source of all gifts,
give us humility to receive,
honesty to ask and generosity to give,
in order to bring each other up
to your honour and glory.
We ask this through the merits of
Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen.

 

Partnerships of messengers

Malachi The Prophet (James C. Lewis)
Malachi The Prophet by James C. Lewis 1

Sermon preached at St Andrew’s, Sudbury on Sunday, 31st January 2016
for the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Come Holy Spirit, may I speak the Word of God, and in the Word may we see a vision of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Introduction

Thank you Greville for your invitation. I am a lay minister at St Stephen’s, Canonbury in Islington and am also involved in encouraging mission relationships between parishes and schools here in London and our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Churches of Mozambique and Angola through the ALMA Partnership.

This morning, I am delighted to be here to share something of the good news of partnership in the gospel as we reflect on prophecies and stories about messengers.

Messengers

Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He spoke the Word of the Lord to the people of Israel about 500 years before the birth of Jesus. His name, Malachi, means ‘my messenger’ or ‘my angel’. He reminded Israel of God’s love and warned priests and people they had stopped being in love with God. Then in our reading this morning he announced they were going to see two messengers coming from God.

These messengers would be different. ‘See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord who you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, he is coming.’ There would be a messenger to prepare the way and a messenger of the covenant between God and his people. Two different messengers but working together for God who sent them. 2

Some 500 years later, two baby boy cousins were born in miraculous circumstances. One born to Zechariah the priest and his elderly wife Elizabeth became John the Baptist, and the other born to her virgin cousin Mary was Jesus of Nazareth. They were partners in the mission of God, both called to speak about the love of God, one to show the way to God is by personal repentance of things we’ve done wrong, and the other to reform God’s covenant of love so that God and his people can have a good relationship again. The cousins were different but were a partnership of messengers to God’s people.

More Messengers

In our gospel reading, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple. It was quite a journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, but it was important to them to make this thank offering to God for their son. They encounter two other people in right relationships with God, Simeon and Anna.

Simeon’s name means ‘he has heard’ or ‘he who listens’, listens to the word of God. The words he speaks to Mary and Joseph resounded for them and still resound for us two thousand years later as they are part of the liturgy of the Church. Simeon spoke of what he had heard God say, and of what he saw God was going to do through Jesus, and the spiritual pain that would cause his mother Mary. 3

Anna means ‘favour’ or ‘grace’, she was daughter of Phanuel which means ‘face of God’. She was recognised as a prophet and spent most of her time in the presence of God. Anna praised God and spoke about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 4

So here we have a story of two visitors to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph, meeting with two local prophets, Simeon and Anna, in the presence of the child Jesus. In their different ways, Anna and Simeon both praise God for allowing them the privilege of seeing this child. They announce he is the revelation of God, that he is salvation and glory. In effect they say he is the Messiah, the Christ. They are messengers to Mary and Joseph. If Joseph and Mary had any doubt who this child was that they had brought to the temple, they can have none now. He is the Christ of God.

Dialogue leads to hearing God

In these two stories, we meet messengers from God and people who received words from God through them. Messengers are people sent with a message, like John the Baptist and Jesus, like Simeon and Anna. Each messenger is on a spiritual journey themselves. Those they speak with may also be on a physical journey, as Mary and Joseph were.

Partnership in the gospel is like this. We are a partnership of messengers to each other. A partnership of messengers to God’s people. We live in the world which Christ has redeemed for God, but ‘we only see through a glass darkly’ as the Apostle Paul put it. 5 Partners – messengers – can help us see more clearly.

Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have helped us in the West to understand the African philosophy of Ubuntu that ‘A person is a person through other persons’. We need each other to see more clearly.

We say in our African idiom: “A person is a person through other persons.” A solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. A totally self-sufficent human being is ultimately sub-human. We are made for complementarity. I have gifts that you do not; you have gifts that I do not. Voila! So we need each other to become fully human.

This is also true of the different nations: that one people has particular gifts, a distinct world view, a cultural ethos, which is not necessarily better or superior to those of other people. It is just different and needs to be balanced by those of other peoples. So we find, for instance, that Africans have a strong sense of community, of belonging, whereas [Westerners] have in contrast a strong sense of the individual person. These attributes, in isolation and pushed to extremes, have weaknesses. For instance, a strong herd instinct can smother individual initiative so that the person is often sacrificed for the collective, whereas a too highly developed individualism can lead to a debilitating sense of isolation so that you can be lonely and lost in a crowd.

God is smart, making us different so that we will get to know our need of one another. We are meant to complement one another in order to be truly human and to realize the fullness of our potential to be human. After all, we are created in the image of a God who is a diversity of persons who exist in ineffable unity. 6

Building relationships in the world church such as yours with the parish of Chiuanga means you can be a partnership of messengers to each other. The Anglican Communion is held together through thousands of such relationships.

Based on the idea that God can be known only through personal relationships and personal love, Pete Ward suggests ‘Communication within the Church becomes an expression of divine life.’ ‘The Church is a place of divine encounter.’ Dialogue leads to hearing God and to sharing in the mission of God. 7

Around the ALMA Covenant are words written by Bishop Dinis Sengulane, ‘To be a partner is to be one another’s angel.’ As we now know from Malachi, to be a partner is to be one another’s messenger.

Prayer

God of heaven,
you send the gospel to the ends of the earth
and your messengers to every nation:
send your Holy Spirit to transform us
by the good news of everlasting life
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. 8


 

  1. ‘Malachi The Prophet’ by James C. Lewis in Raw Noire Icons of the Bible. See ‘What would characters from the bible really look like?’ in HuffPost Religion [accessed 31 January 2016].
  2. Malachi 3.1.
  3. Luke 2.25-35.
  4. Luke 2.36-38.
  5. 1 Corinthians 13.12.
  6. Desmond Tutu, An African Prayer Book, (New York: Doubleday, 1995), pp.xiv-xv.
  7. Pete Ward, Partnership and Mediation, (London: SPCK, 2008), pp.96-98.
  8. ‘The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany’ in Additional Collects, (London: Church House Publishing, 2004), p.9.

 

 

It’s not just for us

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On a recent retreat in Canterbury, I much enjoyed the hospitality of the Franciscan brothers who live in the Master’s House with this beautiful garden.

I saw a cross disappearing into water. In baptism we go under the water to signify our dying to sin, to then rise again to new life. The cross signifies the pain and agony of dying as Christ. Perhaps a cross going under the water means the previous pain and agony of being like Christ is itself now dead; washed in the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit.

We die to sin.
We die to pain as we live the life of Christ.
We die to death itself.

We let go of sin.
We let go of life.
We let go of death.

If we hold on, be it to sin, or to life, or to death, we hold on to what is not God because God in Christ transforms all sin, all life, all death, into new life.

In his book God’s Pattern, Bishop David Stancliffe explores how the story of The Road to Emmaus presents a pattern that shapes our entire response to God through worship, ministry and life. “What is important is that in this new creation by water and the spirit, the emphasis is not so much on the outcome so much as the process. ‘Beloved we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2) is the motto for this developing relationship of transformation.” [God’s Pattern, SPCK London 2003, p.158]

How do we make this happen? “We can bring people into conjunction and persuade them to talk to each other but we have to leave the process of transformation to God and let him work in the space that is created. Reconciliation is a gift not the outcome of good management. Yet, as the disciples who lived in Emmaus discovered, when we hold together our concern for what is happening in the world with Christ’s real presence, known in the breaking of bread, powerful things can happen that we could never forsee.” [Stancliffe p.163]

“The model of encounter with God visible in the Emmaus story is of encounter with God who suddenly stands in the way at a narrow point and holds up the need for radical change. ‘You fools’ says the Christ, who walks unrecognised by his companions, ‘and slow of heart to believe’. The relationship with God that we long for is not all about sympathetic listening and encouraging each other with stories on the way. There are moments of decisive challenge too, when we are brought up short. That is what happened to Balaam and his ass (Numbers 22:21-35) when the Angel of God, visible only to the ass, stands in the way and refuses to let Balaam go on without confronting the moment of radical re-orientation which the encounter demands.” [Stancliffe p.164]

Coming out of the Canterbury Cathedral precincts in search of coffee, I saw a young woman out jogging through the narrow streets around the cathedral. What really amazed me was that she was pushing a double buggy, and yes the double buggy had two young children in it. She wasn’t out jogging by herself, she was getting her children trained as well! But if we want others to go with us it takes more effort. The young woman out jogging had to use more energy, probably a lot more energy, in order that her two children could be out jogging too. They were too young to walk let alone jog. Being together when we are different requires us to give more.

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French Protestant Church in Canterbury Cathedral

The French Protestant Church has met in Canterbury Cathedral since the Huguenots arrived in England in the 16th century. They are a Reformed Church descended from Calvin. Yet they have a chapel in an Anglican Cathedral with their own entrance. That’s hospitality.

Bede Griffiths came to this firm conviction that in the Mystical Body of Christ which embraces all redeemed humanity, we do not disappear in the Godhead but we discover a personal relationship of love. Each person is fulfilled and open to the other person; it is an inter-communion of love in which each embraces the other and all are embraced by God. [Quoted in Graeme Watson, The Song of Songs, SPCK London 2014, p.60]

It seems to me that the answer lies in Partnership in the Gospel; believing no-one has all the answer but each has a bit of the answer. Being Church is like having to put together a jigsaw puzzle collectively. Throwing our piece out of play, or shouting and screaming at someone else demonstrates spiritual immaturity. Many Christians haven’t learnt this yet, but we all need to.

“Holy places … may be at the same time beautiful and yet deeply infected by human pride and sin. Religious movements start out with the highest ideals, but too often become battlegrounds of competing aspirations in which anger and frustrations may boil over into intemperate words and behaviour. No-one who has been a member of a church for very long will be unaware of this. It is something that brings shame and necessary penitence for the sin and folly in which we all take a share”. [Watson p.49]

There are several ways of reading the Song of Songs. One is as an allegory for the relationship between God and the city of Jerusalem and the temple. In this approach the blackness or darkness of the female figure may be the sin of the people of God, and yet she is beautiful because Jerusalem is the place where God’s glory dwells. Another reading of the Song is that’s it’s about the mystical love relationship with God into which all members of the Body of Christ are called.

I know a church which loves diversity; that’s a good start but we really only love diversity when we love those who are different or have a different view. Maria Voce, president of the Catholic Focolare movement, said in an interview with Crux: “Pope Francis will succeed (in Christian unity) if he finds Christians who … are willing to lose the privileges they believe they’ve acquired. To put together a unified Church, Christians must be committed to mutual acceptance and listening, as well as willing to be testimonies of reciprocal love as the basis of unity, which is a gift from God.”

Clasping Hands in Three Mills Park
Clasping Hands in Three Mills Park

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Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral