We were doing something that we had never done before. The clergy of the Cathedral decided to go away together, to spend time talking about our life together at the Cathedral and where we thought we might be going. So we booked rooms in St George’s House behind the Chapel at Windsor Castle and in January went there for three days, two nights.
Out of our conversations came the spark of an idea, and that spark became ‘Living God’. What we all agreed that we needed to do was to find a focus of our life together, something that would bring our study and our prayer and our worship – in fact everything that we do – into one programme, not to limit in any way our life, not to shove it into a single form or mould but to give us a sense of direction. The conversation that we had went in the direction of talking about what we all meant when we talked about God and we thought that might be an exciting place to begin our journey together.
Canon Stephen Hance, the Canon Missioner, drew to our attention a book by Rob Bell called ‘What we talk about when we talk about God’ and I had been reading a book by a member of the congregation of the Cathedral, Mark Vernon, entitled ‘God: All that matters’. Both books explore the issue of the language of God and what we are talking about when we use the language of God. At the same time we were conscious that in 2013 we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the influential ‘South Bank religion book’ ‘Honest to God’ by Bishop John Robinson, who was Bishop of Woolwich.
We seemed to be pointed by the Holy Spirit in a particular direction – and we decided to take heed of the prompting!
As we planned for the launch we had to think of a logo and a style for the publications around Living God. That was where the spark and the bubbles came in. The bubbles – well they make me think of pictures of the universe. They’re also fun and we do want people to enjoy the programme ahead of us. But perhaps the spark is more important in terms of ‘branding’ what we do.
Those old enough to remember Melvyn Bragg’s programme ‘The South Bank Show’ will remember that the title sequence included the image from Michaelangelo’s amazing ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and the creation of Adam, symbolising the creation of humankind. There is what is called in neuroscience a synapse, which is what I like to think of as the creative gaps that exist in the nervous system – the little gap across which the spark of life passes. The fingers of God and Adam meet but do not touch – like a synapse at creation, room for the divine spark that brought all into being.
But the spark is also about imagination, about the creative possibility that always exists when we pray or think or talk about God. That is what is so exciting about what we are doing. We do not quite know where God will take us, we have to be open to the spark and the energy, the dynamic power of God.
So last Sunday we launched ‘Living God’ and invited the congregation to sign up for one of forty groups that will meet during October to talk about the basic question ‘What are we talking about when we talk about God?’. This afternoon I was trained as one of the facilitators for those groups. I had stood around the Cathedral in the morning in my ‘Living God’ T-shirt inviting people to ask me about Living God. One cheeky member of the congregation asked me over coffee where I stood on Arianism! Well I asked for it!
The training was fantastic, the conversation between the ten of us in the group, as we went through the process ourselves, was exciting and illuminating. I can’t wait to facilitate my first group. What was so exciting you may ask. Well, I suppose simply hearing people speak about their own image of the God in whom they believe, about their intimate and personal relationship with the Living God. And illuminating? Well, I was given an insight into who we are as a congregation and it will be interesting to see if we are typical of the rest of those who are part of our community.
However, Living God is about more than discussion groups. It is about the whole of our life as a community and that includes St Hugh’s Church and All Hallows. This week has seen important developments on both of those fronts.
It was great to visit with Canon Bruce Saunders the new church of St Hugh’s Bermondsey. St Hugh’s is located just off Long Lane in SE1 and has been closed for redevelopment for the past few years. The congregation has been worshipping at the church of St George the Martyr but are about to move back home to a wonderful new church. It was great to see the new building and imagine life there.
At the same time we are working with the local community in bringing the disused church of All Hallows on Copperfield Street in SE1 back to life. It has stood empty but in the midst of a wonderful community garden since 1990 (though the garden has been maintained by the community for the last 40 years!). Now we want to get it open as a place for the whole community. You will hear much more about this but as part of it Stephen Hance and I took a camera out on Friday and had a walk around the church and garden. You can follow our journey thorough this link here.
So we have begun and we pray that the spark will set us ablaze as we learn more about the God we love and who loves us. Please pray with us – this is the Living God prayer written to accompany us through the year.
your life gives life to the world;
live in us,
live in me,
may our lives reflect your life.