Tuesday, 13 April 2010

St George's Day

I've been having a discussion with @goodinparts on the subject of St George's Day services.

Now despite having spent approximately half my life in church-going, mostly to the C of E and Methodist churches, I have only ever once been to a service that was a "St George's Day" service.  It came in that very short period in which I was a member of the cubs, and they made us all go to St Peter's Church Dunstable for a parade service.  Unusually, it was a sermon that I remember something of.

The vicar preached a very well-meaning sermon, but what I remember is his reference to death.  He talked about a young girl who was dying, and how she was happy in her dying because she was going to be with Jesus.

I didn't know much about Jesus.  I didn't know that much, frankly, about what I now regard as Christianity.  I did know that  I had been dragged into the church - which I freely confess I assumed was haunted, anyway - to hear a bloke in a dress tell me about dying.

11 years I think it was, before I went to church of my own free will again.

But what do you preach on St George's Day?  And why?  How can you extol the virtues of St George without saying that, actually, there clearly was no dragon and dragons are only in legends?  There's no theological value in St George that I can see, and obviously he's not in the Bible.  And although there's a dragon in the Bible he's definitely mythologized - and just as well, as we couldn't face the reality of what it stands for. 
So far I'm relieved  that I've never had to lead a St George's Day parade service - and wondering what I will do if I ever have to.  And wondering why we can't have a proper saint we can talk about like grown-ups: St Edmund the Confessor, for example - as our patron saint.


Kathryn said...

It's terrifying...The 2 occasions when I can expect to encounter most of these particular young people (St G & Remembrance Sunday) are times when I'm really struggling - Rem Sun isn't great for a pacifist not is St G for a not specially patriotic soul who wants to talk about Jesus and not about mythical ideas of "perfect knighthood" etc...And I so don't want to bore them rigid, or fall into the zillions of other traps that seem to lie in wait. Horrors!

G said...

As Judith Starkadder would say, it gives I the screamin' nadgers to think about it.
Regarding war as an occasionally necessary evil, I find Remembrance Sunday a deeply moving day. Especially now I know I had a relative who died on the Somme. But I won't preach on war on that day as a general rule - rather, reflecting the day in the Act of Remembrance and then moving on.

But St George's? I note that the Common Lectionary has St Michael's battle with the dragon, which just gives you another saint to deal with. Once again, I guess the best bet is simply to acknowledge why the uniformed groups are there - and then preach on the set readings for that Sunday.

margaret said...

St George is a 'type' of Christ, the dragon is death and the princess is the Christian soul :) Besides it's an excuse to wear bluebells (no more red roses thanks to Labour) and eat roast beef. Or if you are a vegan do something horrid with soy.

I agree that England should have St Edward the Confessor back but he's not exactly a fun-bunny. You can't have Morris dancers, real ale, roast beef and borrow the paper dragon from the Chinese for the day for St Edward which may be the real reason he got ousted.

G said...

Thanks for your comments, Margaret, but I can't accept George as a "type" of Christ because he's after Christ! No foreshadowing needed. If you want a dragon-killing there's Michaelmas. So we're left with George as a martyr and character in Mumming plays. Which is fine, but doesn't help with the sermon. There's lots of other martyrs with much more historical claims to the truth.

And thanks for your link to the Beaker Folk by the way. Eileen will not sleep, but she will be changed...

margaret said...

Yes, which is why I typed 'type', I was and am too lazy to find the word I really want.

I suspect as we get more and more secular you're stuck with St George because the modern world doesn't want to deal with the realities of sainthood and martyrdom; they would find poor old Edward too dreary (speaking of a use for gothic chapels and the Prayer Book Society). In Scotland we celebrate St Andrew's day by trying not to mention St Andrew at all so I'm not sure having a real, copperbottomed saint is much of an advantage although clearly he's better sermon material.

And very good news about Eileen!

G said...

St Andrew's patron saint of Scotland? I thought he'd been replaced by St Rabbie?

Kathryn said...

I'm stuck with a whole service on St G, because it's an additional Friday special for the Scouts...Am as anxious re boring them with the form of service as re peddling myths & dubious theology. Suspect only answer is to talk about the kind of dragons they might encounter & sound horribly "pi" as I invite them to confront them....but it's Not Good At All :(

Kathryn said...

PS Frankly, I'd rather be klettering with my little mop

G said...


For a mo I thought you said you'd rather be in Kettering. Understandable. I can think of worse things to be doing that rowing round the boating lake at Wicky Park. Especially with the clear blue sky and total lack of vapour trails today!

Taking Margaret's idea - if George's dragon is a symbol of the devil, then we can only defeat him in God's strength. Spiritual warfare is a kind of warfare we all agree with? And as the Revelation reading tells us, the Dragon is loose on earth and will be till the Last Battle.

And a warrior saint is such a nice change from the kind of St Bernadette, St Theresa etc saints that are so popular. Particularly if you're talking to lads. Tea lights and nice thoughts aren't really for them. Believe me. Because lads aren't girls. It's in the DNA. Sally over at RevGalBlogs will tell you this is one of my personal hobby-horses (or war horses!)

And there's the "full armour of God" reading you could use.

And you could use some decent spiritual warfare songs - "The Lord is Marching Out is Splendour", "Onward Christian Soldiers", "Stand Up, Stand up for Jesus".

This kind of talk is Christian and Biblical, as long as we remember that what we fight against are spiritual powers and kingdoms and not earthly ones.