Handing on the mitre

With the Church of England if you do something once it’s a dangerous innovation, if you do it twice its a precious tradition! So when the Archbishop of York handed a beautiful mitre to the newly consecrated Bishop Karowei Dorgu at the end of the service in Southwark Cathedral on Friday was he being wildly innovative or simply responding to a tradition?

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Bishop Wilfred Wood and Archbishop Sentamu place the mitre on Bishop Karowei

 

It was a bit of both to be honest. The mitre in question had been given to Bishop Wilfred Wood, a former Bishop of Croydon, now retired.  When he was due to retire he passed this mitre, beautifully embroidered by the sisters of the long gone St Peter’s Convent in Woking, encrusted with precious stones, to Bishop John Sentamu.  Bishop Wilfred was the first black bishop in the Church of England; Bishop, now Archbishop, Sentamu was the second.  He was consecrated twenty years ago. Bishop Wilfred had told him that on his retirement he should hand the mitre to another BAME bishop – it is twenty years later that there is one.  As Archbishop Sentamu was at pains to assure the congregation he wasn’t retiring but he wanted to mark the event by handing on the mitre anyway with the understanding that as soon as another BAME bishop is consecrated, Bishop Karowei will hand on the mitre.

It’s like an ecclesiastical, episcopal relay race, handing on the baton.  But it was a very wonderful moment in a  wonderful service that was a great celebration that the church had ordained another black bishop but also a sobering moment to consider that it was in 1985 that Wilfred Wood was made a bishop and that it is 32 years later that we have a third black bishop.  We have to do better than this and not for some  reason of ‘political correctness’ but because unless people see themselves reflected in the church at all levels, in all kinds of leadership positions she will never reflect the beautiful and diverse nature of many of our congregations and the reality of the kingdom of God.

So this handing on of the mitre was an innovation in that it had not be done in a service before but it has become a symbolic tradition, a powerful moment.

It took me to that great moment in the Elijah-Elisha saga in the Second Book of Kings.  Elijah, that fire-brand amongst the prophets, knows his days are numbered so he sets off as God directs.  Elisha, his protégé, follows him and despite numerous people and amongst them Elijah, telling him to leave him, he continues to follow.  His reason? When they had crossed the Jordan, Elisha says to his Master

‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ Elijah responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ (2 Kings 2.9-10)

Then, all of a sudden, horses of fire and a chariot of fire whisk Elijah away into heaven.  Elisha watches and as his Master disappears

‘He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him.’ (2 Kings 2.13)

It’s a powerful moment, a symbolic moment and as he strikes the waters of the Jordan with the mantle and they divide he knows that God has filled him with that double share for which he had asked.

Elijah

Elisha catches the mantle

 

But the question that this story and the handing on of the mitre asks of me is whether I and, more importantly, whether we, are ready to catch the mantle and to assume the responsibility for revealing the kingdom of God.

In the synagogue in Nazareth, at the very beginning of his public ministry, Jesus takes the scroll and reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah. St Luke tells us all about it. We often describe it as Jesus proclaiming the manifesto for his ministry.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4.18-19)

The spirit, like the mantle of God, has rested on him and it fits. That seamless robe that he’ll wear until it is ripped from him at the cross, is the mantle that he catches and lives out and proclaims and reveals in everything that he does and everything that he says.

A contemporary poet, Hilary Marckx, in a poem called ‘Pick up the mantle’ writes

Under that mantle we speak
for justice, for hope, for life, for Jesus,
we speak for all those who have no voice,
and we surely speak the Good News
that freedom/liberation/deliverance
is on the way—here!

It’s a powerful call to us to step up to the plate, to take responsibility, to stand in the shoes and wrap the mantle around us. Yet I think that in an age of individualism and isolationism in politics it can be counter cultural for some to think in this way. But the mantle isn’t just about politics, it’s about being prepared to take on all the roles of leadership that exist within society, within the church, watching, as Elisha was asked to watch and catching the moment, being there, involved, attentive and taking the part that we need to take part.

I’m on General Synod. The average Synod member is male, white, grey haired and probably retired. Young people are a rare commodity, black people are an even rarer commodity but when they speak they’re listened to because you don’t have to wait for older white people to be carried up into heaven, there’s kingdom building to be done now and in our churches are the people to do it. We need the prophets, we need the teachers, we need the priests, the witnesses, the proclaimers, the modellers of the diverse and real church who’ll clothe themselves in the mantle of Christ and make the kingdom known.

Marckx concludes their poem in this way.

The mantle is not of a glorious nature,
but it is of an eternal nature…
Go ahead, pick it up and put it on…
it will fit you well.

The mitre fitted well on the head of Bishop Karowei and I welcome this innovative tradition and glad that it began in Southwark Cathedral.  May that mitre rest on many more heads and the mantle lie across many shoulders.

Jesus, as the Spirit rested on you,
may it rest on us.
Amen.

Messy church

A couple of weeks ago Southwark Cathedral was full of children having a ‘messy celebration’. By all accounts it was a really wonderful morning.  The children decorated an altar cloth and a chasuble which the Bishop of Croydon then wore for the Eucharist.  It was wonderful and what was even more wonderful, so our vergers told me the next day, was that everyone cleared up the mess that they had made.  So often people walk away from mess, leaving it for someone else to clear up.  It’s like those awful mornings after a really good party.  You come down and find the place full of stuff to be cleared away.  The messy celebration was nothing like that.

Whatever you think about Bishop Philip North and the events of the past few weeks, whether you think that he would have made a good Bishop of Sheffield or not, whether you think the CNC was right to nominate him to the Crown for this See, or not, whether you think that he had exactly the skills that the diocese needed at this moment in its life, or not, we are in a mess.

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‘Another nice mess …’

As kids we loved watching Laurel and Hardy movies, the tremendous slapstick, the improbable plots in the films and the regular line that Hardy would say to Laurel, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

The Church of England is good at some things – processions, hierarchy and getting into incredible messes and having public fights.  Even though I’m Rector General of another Anglican catholic ‘Society’, The Society of Catholic Priests (SCP) which in Europe, North America and Australia supports the ordination of people regardless of gender or sexuality, I have kept quiet about the whole business as far as the blog world and Twitter-sphere are concerned.  One thing that stopped me – apart from there being far too many opinions flying around – was my membership of the Crown Nominations Commission.  I have to stress that I was not a member of the Sheffield Commission and so know absolutely nothing about their deliberations.  But I do know how complex the processes are that the members of the CNC have to engage in and how strongly held opinions can too easily intervene in a process that you would hope responds only to the promptings of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit!

But whatever happened and whatever has happened we are now left with a situation which seems to have blown those Five Guiding Principles that we gathered around as a church, out of the water or at the very least led people to ask the question as to whether they mean anything at all.

I had the privilege of being a member of the General Synod that finally voted to allow women to be ordained to the episcopate.  It was those principles which were the key to unlocking the impasse that had defeated us on previous occasions from moving forwards in the way that many of us believed God wanted us to do.  That phrase ‘mutual flourishing’ that was included in those Principles was one that I personally rejoiced in – but does it have cash value and is it possible?  The ‘North Affair’ is the first real test of this in relation to a Diocesan Bishop and it looks like a mess that is going to be very difficult to clear up.

The thing is that on the issue of ordained women at all levels of the church and the issue of the place of LGBTI+ people at every level of the church and the recognition and celebration of their faithful, committed relationships, we have been encouraged to disagree well.  At the moment it looks like we are only able to disagree badly.

There are no winners in what has happened in the Diocese of Sheffield and to Philip North, just as there were no winners when my dear friend and colleague Jeffrey John was forced to stand down from being Bishop of Reading.  There has to be a better way, there must be a better way.

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The city of Sheffield

Perhaps though I’m just being naïve, perhaps the Five Guiding Principles are unworkable and especially in relation to the appointment of Diocesan Bishops who need to be, of their very nature, ‘a focus of unity’, not just for the clergy, not just for the laity, not just for the church but also for civic society, in the public square and some of what we saw in civic Sheffield was utter disbelief at a church in disarray and displaying, what can appear to be discrimination, and celebrating it.

I think it was also more than unfortunate that the ‘passports’, the ID cards for priests who are members of The Society, reassuring those who need to be reassured that their orders are valid because no woman has been involved in their ordination, were issued whilst the storm around Philip was raging.  To those, like me, who have tried not to talk about a ‘Doctrine of Taint’ being in the mind of some who hold that woman cannot be priests and, even when ordained, are not priests, it seems to suggest that there might be some very unpleasant opinions around that we might not want to flourish.

I have said too much; I am very sad that we are where we are, none of us is flourishing at the moment and Jesus must weep over us. My only consolation and hope is that from the very beginning God brought order out of chaos.  May he do it again and forgive us in the doing of it.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Amen.

Crisps and sackcloth

Presumably Theresa May, our Prime Minister, eats lots of crisps, perhaps as she considers Article 50, her finger hovering gently over the button.  Presumably crisps are the Achilles heel of what appears a well ordered, neat life because we were told last week that the Prime Minister is giving up crisps for Lent.  I was delighted to hear it.  Not that I have anything against crisp eaters (for my American followers I’m talking about chips!). In fact, I love a bag of crisps.  I was fortunate enough growing up in Leicester to be able to go to the Walkers pork shops in the city.  They sold wonderful pork pies but they also sold crisps, Walkers crisps.  Their pork pies haven’t gone global but the crisps have.  Gary Lineker’s family fruit and veg stall was just a short distance in Leicester Market from Walkers’ premier shop.  The queues used to be round the block before Christmas as we queued for a big, family sized pie and presumably some crisps.  So it’s always been good seeing local boy Gary promoting crisp eating as a national pastime!

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Queuing for pork pies and maybe crisps in Leicester

 

Giving up things for Lent is of course an important part of the whole discipline of the season.  Yes, like many priests, I’ve preached about how its important to take things on, have a positive Lent and not see it simply in negative terms. ‘Read the Bible … go walking … help at a project.’ All those things are good but let’s be honest, giving up something we enjoy isn’t easy and maybe there’s some virtue in doing something that does challenge our tendency, my tendency, to self indulgence.  We can only imagine the pain Mrs May is going through as she opens the door to her well-stocked crisp cupboard knowing she can feast her eyes and not her appetite for those greasy slices of deep fried, heavily flavoured potato.

One solution is of course for her to cover the crisp cupboard door in sackcloth.  After all, that’s precisely what we do in church.  The vergers at Southwark Cathedral spent Calop Monday and Shrove Tuesday taking down the altar frontals and hangings and replacing them with ‘Lent array’.  Ours was designed by Sir Ninian Comper, sackcloth on which have been stencilled various symbols, crosses, chi-rho, fleur-de-lis, that kind of thing.  They cover up the more splendid decorations, give a fast to the eyes before Easter comes as the feast for the whole person.  As Passiontide begins on the Fifth Sunday of Lent the statues and the icons will also be covered, obscuring all that is decorative so that our focus is elsewhere.

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The Lady Chapel at Southwark Cathedral dressed for Lent

 

I had an object lesson the other day as to why its important for clergy to wear a clerical collar (a dog collar) in the street.  I was meeting a friend outside one of the many branches of ‘Pret a Manger’ round the Cathedral.  There was a young guy standing there as well, dressed for the office.  ‘Hello Father’ he said, ‘Have you given anything up for Lent?’ ‘I have’ I replied ‘bread and coffee, which makes me wonder why I’m going to this sandwich and coffee place for lunch!’.  He laughed.  ‘What have you given up?’ I asked. ‘Chocolate’ he replied ‘I eat far too much of it.  But Lent’s longer than forty days and forty nights isn’t it?’  A conversation followed about the season.  I didn’t ask him about church – I’m not a very good evangelist, but the conversation was about an outworking of faith and it reminded me how important Lent remains and how the crisp news story might have reminded people of that.

But a good Lent involves both crisps and sackcloth, the discipline and the repentance that in fact that Lent array represents in a visual way.  A good Lent does involve doing good for the poor and the marginalised, the refugee, the oppressed.  A good Lent does involve treading a hard path and occupying something of the wilderness space.  Crisps and sackcloth are only the beginning.

Robert Herrick, a 17th century English poet, reminds us of the truth of all of this in his poem ‘To keep a true Lent’

IS this a fast, to keep
The larder lean ?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No; ‘tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Those words ‘to fast from strife, from old debate and hate’ are the real challenge.  As the debates rage about the implications for our neighbours, colleagues and friends of Brexit, as we seek the restoration of the Dubs amendment so that lone refugee children can be brought to a place of safety, giving up crisps, giving up anything pales into insignificance. For God wants us to keep the true fast, the good Lent and the challenge comes to us from the prophet Isaiah.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly. (Isaiah 58.6-8a)

Lord,
as I enter the wilderness
and walk with you the path to Calvary
may I keep a true fast
and a good Lent
that lets the oppressed
go free.
Amen.

Respect

I have a feeling that Her Majesty The Queen does not ordinarily wear a mantilla when she goes to church.  But, of course, on those occasions when she has met the Pope at the Vatican there she is, dressed in black, mantilla on her head.  She dresses respectfully as is expected in those circumstances.

The Queen and Pope John Paul

The Queen and Pope John Paul

So why would Marine Le Pen refuse to cover her head when she was to meet the Grand Mufti last week in the Lebanon? We can only assume that it was a deliberate publicity stunt to make her point about people of the Muslim faith. Her supporters will be gleeful but the rest of us, I assume, only saw someone lacking in respect, unwilling to accommodate the traditions and teachings of another brother or sister.

When I was on sabbatical in Jerusalem I had the real privilege, with clergy from the Diocese of Southwark and the dioceses with which we are linked in Zimbabwe, to visit the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock on Haram al-Sharif, otherwise known as the Temple Mount.  The Arabic name for that ancient and deeply holy site means ‘The Noble Sanctuary’ and as any visitor there knows there is a real nobility about the place.  We went, however, as guests of the Waqf which is the religious trust in which is invested the care of religious and other property on behalf of the Islamic community.  But before we went there we were clearly told how to behave, so that we were appropriately respectful.  The women in the group would have to ‘cover up’ and we would all have to remove our shoes when we went into the Mosque.  We would talk quietly, not shout like tourists and respect those who were praying or reading their scriptures.

It was a wonderful visit, we respected our hosts, they respected their guests.

There is one of the Ten Commandments that stands out from all the rest.  Nine of the ten tell us what not to do but the fifth is different

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20.12)

Having respect for our parents, honouring our father and our mother leads to the promise of a blessing, that life will be long and good.  Good things flow out of respect, we are being told; the opposite must be true.

This constant battering of the Muslim community, constant finger-pointing, disrespect, criticism, denunciation, vilification that we see not just in Trump’s USA but elsewhere is an utter disgrace to the whole of our society.  I was reading a blog by the only hijab wearing member of the White House staff.  She had worked for President Obama, she lasted only 8 days in the Trump west wing.  She wrote that she had to go because she could not stay where her people were being singled out in such aggressive ways.

In Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brain’ the members of The People’s Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People’s Front) sit around asking the question ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ and they come up with a long list.  We can ask ourselves the same question about Islam and the Muslim community and, if we do so, we end up with a list that includes mathematics, algebra, medicine, architecture, the preservation of libraries of thinking and philosophy otherwise destroyed in the western world, the most beautiful roses and sublime poetry.  Just as with the dominant Christian culture in the west they have been responsible for some horrors and we see some of them being played out by sects of Islam today.  But that is not the real story just as the Crusades are not the only story to tell about Christians.

The poet Rumi

The poet Rumi

The Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic beautifully writes in one of his mystical poems

Others call you love, I call you the king of love;
O you who are higher than the imagination of this and that,
go not without me.

God, who is love, God who is the king of love, calls us to the honouring of those in our family, blessings will flow from it.  Covering our heads, removing our shoes is the least we can do, it doesn’t dishonour the God we know in Jesus Christ, it celebrates the love that all people of faith know is at the heart of the divine, the structure of the Noble Sanctuary in which God invites us to dwell, at ease with each other.

God of love,
I stand before you
on holy ground
with all my sisters and brothers.
Amen.

The echo of a vision

It was a hard week, last week.  If you haven’t read my various blogs from the General Synod then you can find a link through on the sidebar.  But no doubt you will have heard about the debate on Wednesday in response to the report from the House of Bishops on sexuality and same-sex marriage.  Since then a number of things have happened.  The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a statement – you can read that here – and various bishops have issued Pastoral Letters, including one by the Bishop of Southwark which you can read here.

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A silent vigil at the start of Wednesday

 

Other groups will be preparing their statements, making their assessments of what was said, reflecting on the vote, lauding or criticising the House of Clergy, suggesting its the best outcome or the worst.

One thing that encouraged me, however, was hearing Archbishop Justin’s speech, the last one in the Take Note debate on the report, much of which found its way into the Archbishops’ Pastoral Letter.

The letter says

‘We need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church …. The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.’

There was something of an echo of a vision in this.  I know that makes no sense, but bear with me, please.  You may remember that at Southwark Cathedral we’ve been working on new vision and priorities for the next season of our life.  The vision statement that we finally arrived at is this

Southwark Cathedral an inclusive Christian community growing in orthodox faith and radical love.

That is the vision and in what the Archbishop said there were clear echoes of what the community at the Cathedral has pledged itself to be and pledged itself to working together to be more perfectly.  So I was delighted.  It means though that we really have to move forward and to get on with the work and the witness to which we believe God is directing us.

However, that will not be easy because there will be many in the Diocese for whom we have care and concern, for whom we are the Mother Church, who will not agree with us, who will have serious disagreements with us.  At the end of the day this all boils down to how you regard Scripture and what authority it has in the life of the church.  The Archdeacon of Southwark, Dr Jane Steen, in her first speech in Synod, compared the way in which the Church of England coped with the remarriage of those previously married who have a former partner still alive, even though Jesus is very explicit in his teaching on the subject.  Nevertheless, in 1992 the House of Bishops issued guidelines to help the clergy make a decision about whether such a marriage could take place in church and those same clergy were given latitude in their decision on the grounds of their own conscience based on the reading of Scripture.  Why can’t the same apply in deciding whether or not to bless a same-gender relationship?

Well, talking to some who do take a different position they suggest that Scripture envisages and allows for the fact that relationships fail but that the issue of committed relationships is part of the created order, because there it is in Genesis 2

‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ (Genesis 2.24)

This critical verse is then repeated in Matthew 19.5, Mark 10.7 and Ephesians 5.31.  That really does make this an authoritative text for many.  It’s interesting that the debate has moved on to focus on the issue of marriage rather than the issue of homosexuality.  Perhaps people are beginning to accept that LGBTI people really do exist but cannot accept that they can live in blessed relationships because such a relationship is contrary to scripture, contrary to creation, and thereby is sinful and what is sinful cannot be called holy by blessing it.

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With this ring …

 

So that is where we seem to be and its going to take some radical love within the church to move that one forward.  But the end point of the discussions seems to have been identified and that is the really good thing that has come out of the Synod debate – that ‘we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.’ That is the task and that is the goal.

I was at Premier Radio’s studios on Friday recording some ‘thoughts for the day’ but also being interviewed for another programme.  That involved, in ‘Desert Island Discs’ style, choosing three favourite pieces of music.  I won’t give it all away but one of them was a hymn written by Fr Faber.  Frederick William Faber was ordained a priest of the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholicism.  He was a Victorian and a friend of John Henry Newman.  But he’s best known for his hymns.  The one that I chose is ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.’

It was written in 1862 but it seems so modern and relevant and its sentiments seem to echo the vision that we have in Southwark and that we now have in the Church of England as a consequence of last week. One verse says

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

It’s a fantastic expression of the vision, an echo from another age into ours.  We now need the grace and the guts to get on with the task.

Lord,
direct your church
as we seek to embrace the vision
and sing songs that echo with your love.
Amen.

Putting the pieces together

I have to apologise.  After my last post from Masvingo there’s been the blog equivalent of ‘radio silence’.  The simple explanation for that is that after we left Masvingo on Wednesday there was either no Wi-Fi or no time! So I need to put the final pieces together of the Zimbabwean journey that we’ve now completed through the five Anglican dioceses.

One of the themes of the visit, and indeed of the life of the church in Zimbabwe and I suspect in other parts of the world in which the church has been formed by missionaries, is the presence of ‘missions’.  In both the diocese of Masvingo and the Diocese of Manicaland which we went on to, there are significant missions.

The first we saw was Christ the King, Daramombe, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the diocese and perhaps the Zimbabwean church.  This was a return visit for me and a very welcome one.  The mission comprises a primary school, residential secondary school, a clinic, a church and, of course, attendant agricultural projects.  The mission is more like a village in itself, providing for the lives of the local people and people from a wider area the things they need, practically and spiritually.  As before we were met at the gates of the mission by a corps of drum majorettes who led us triumphantly into the secondary school and to a very hot hall in which the whole school was assembled awaiting our arrival.

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Being marched to assembly

 

It was an impressive sight, as was the ‘computer village’ now nearing completion.  USPG are funding this latest development which will provide the students at every level with state of the art computer facilities for learning.  It was wonderful to see.

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Touring the new ‘computer village’

 

The visits we made in the Diocese of Manicaland were often to a school alongside which something else was happening.  So at the Holy Family School we saw the construction of new blocks to enable the school to expand and provide residential facilities.  At Mary Magdalene’s School we saw a maize project covering 17 hectares of land that will provide for the local schools and communities in an effort to increase food security.

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Building new blocks

 

But the place I wanted to go to was St Augustine’s Penhalonga.  Again, this is a mission in the diocese, a few miles outside of Mutare. In that mission there is both a primary and secondary school, a convent, and a magnificent church.  It’s a school that achieves excellent results and has a high reputation.  But the reason I wanted to go was because of the association with the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.

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The magnificent St Augustine’s Penhalonga

 

When I was at the College of the Resurrection to be formed for priestly ministry I would often idle away time looking at the college photo albums.  For those now there I feature in the pages that cover the years 1980-83! But earlier in the albums were pictures from the life of the Community in Africa.  CR was present and significant in both South Africa and, what was then, Rhodesia.  The focus of their life in what is now Zimbabwe was at St Augustine’s and I remembered looking at the black and white pictures of the twin towered church so reminiscent of the community church in West Yorkshire.

As we drove down the dirt road that leads to the mission all of a sudden, through the trees, I saw the two towers and it was a really emotional moment.  Drawing into the grounds and before the west end of the church is amazing.  This enormous, brick built, cathedral-like structure, is awe inspiring.  We did the formalities, met the Headmaster and the Chaplain and were then led into the church.  What we found was not just a magnificent basilica in the heart of Africa but a church filling up with students.  The Practice, I suppose begun by CR (it was so reminiscent of life at the College and Community), was for the young people to undertake their private prayers, meditation and devotions in the church before the evening Office.  Two boys were knelt in silent adoration before the domed tabernacle in the side chapel where the Sacrament is reserved.  The nave was full of children praying silently, preparing for Evensong.

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The Blessed Sacrament altar

 

I wandered around, delighted to be there.  It felt a bit like coming home, coming to a very special place, a very special mission, God’s mission for God’s people – a final piece in the jigsaw.

Alongside the church is the Convent where we met the eight Sisters who are resident there.  I was asked to visit an elderly sister, Sister Hilda, who was ill in bed.  Would I pray with her before I left, I was asked. I was led to her room and there was the elderly sister in bed, in her habit, and it was a privilege to pray for her healing, to lay hands on her and bless her.

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With the sisters at Penhalonga

 

The Zimbabwean journey ended for us in Harare. That diocese if actually linked with the Diocese of Rochester but we took the opportunity to meet Bishop Chad and some of his clergy, not least the Dean and those who went to Jerusalem with clergy from Southwark and Rochester, to study at St George’s College.  It was fantastic to hear what the church is doing and planning to do in that part of what is a fantastic country.

So, from the ‘Smoke that thunders’ through five dioceses, along miles of roads, many destroyed by the floods that have followed the drought, we’ve seen more maize than I’ve ever seen before, thousands of chickens and hundreds of pigs being reared, even more children being educated, women being empowered through the work of the Mothers’ Union to serve their communities and feed their families, missions making Christ known and a church in very good heart.

Next year the nation engages in fresh elections and people are looking to those and praying for a peaceful expression of their hopes for the future.  It was wonderful for me to meet my five fellow Deans and see the cathedrals in which they serve, to meet the friends I made in Jerusalem and talk about how we can continue to study together and learn from each other, to experience the hospitality of people who’ve very little but from hearts overflowing with love will wash your hands and sit you at their table and feed you richly.

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Overflowing generosity

 

It was that hospitality that reminded me so much of an episode in St Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus has been invited to supper at the home of Simon the Pharisee.  A women turns up, a notorious woman, who ministers to Jesus much to the shock of the other guests at the table.  But it’s the comparison that Jesus draws between Simon and the woman that’s so important.

‘I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment ….. she has shown great love.’ (Luke 7.44-47)

The love that I experienced, the care, the generosity, was Christ-like.  It’s a challenge to me, as was the breadth and reality of their concept of mission, their devotion to the Lord through prayer and praise and the sacraments, their passion for responding to the needs of their society, their deep down optimism that in Christ all will be well. We have so much to learn.  Putting these pieces together has been one lesson for me.

This is the prayer that we pray each day at the map of Zimbabwe in the nave of Southwark Cathedral and that the children pray each day at assembly in Cathedral School.  Pray with us – please – for the great people of Zimbabwe.

God bless Zimbabwe;
protect her children,
transform her leaders,
heal her communities,
and grant her peace,
for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

What a difference..

.. two years makes!  It’s two years since I was in our link diocese of Masvingo.  This is the youngest of the five Zimbabwean Anglican dioceses.  In fact the diocese is 15 years old this year and we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Cathedral link next year.  This morning we left the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe and drove south to the city of Masvingo.

Bishop Godfrey and his wife, Albertina, met us outside St Michael’s Cathedral.  It was great to see so many friends waiting for us to arrive.  What was planned for the morning were opportunities for Bishop Godfrey and Bishop Christopher to meet, for me to meet Fr Gerald, the Cathedral Rector (the Bishop is acting as Dean at the present time), for Jane Steen, the Archdeacon of Southwark, to meet with the 6 archdeacons from this diocese and, finally, for Wendy Robins, Fr Fungayi and me to meet as we had all been in Jerusalem in November.  These meetings were fantastically useful and especially in learning that we are all facing the same challenges, but to different degrees.

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Bishop Godfrey at the bore hole

 

In the afternoon we headed out of town to the Transfiguration Centre.  This is a food security project which aims to give skills to villagers in farming and animal husbandry.  There are fields of maize, sheds of chickens, pigs and goats.  We came to this centre two years ago and this is a project that the congregation at Southwark Cathedral has been supporting.  When we were last here the bore hole needed to be sunk to a deeper level to find water, the fields were empty and the project needed to up its game.  There has been a transfiguration! The bore hole with its pump was working; the maize was tall and full of heads of corn; the chicks were healthy, the pigs well looked after and the goats delightful.  A tractor is there to make farming more efficient and in one of the chicken houses a new Anglican congregation gathers for worship in the months when the chickens are not in the shed.  It really is wonderful to see all of this.

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The chicken shed church

 

What was particularly encouraging was that in addition to growing the maize, healthy and strong, a new congregation is also being grown.  I was reminded of a passage from St Mark’s Gospel

‘The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ (Mark 4.28-29)

Jesus is not just talking about farming but about building the kingdom, growing the kingdom and seeing a good harvest.  We saw that happening – food security being addressed but also doing what we are called to do, to make Christ known and bring his people to worship.

Lord of the harvest,
for the harvest of the field,
for the harvest of the kingdom,
we thank you.
Amen.

Mazviita

Those who know me will be aware that I’m appalling at speaking languages other than English – and sometimes even that is challenging!  I was therefore a bit surprised when I went home to see my Dad the other day and he presented me with all my school reports that my Mum had carefully kept in the ‘deed box’ and in reading through them I discovered that my highest grade was for French!  How did that happen!

Similarly I was surprised today when I finally learnt a word of Shona, the local language, the first language for many, of the people we are visiting here in Zimbabwe.  I was really grateful to learn that ‘mazviita’ (pronounced mash-vita) is Shona for ‘thank you’.

Cooking sadza in industrial proportions


And it was timely as I wanted to say a big thank you, a big mazvitta for today.  Most of the day involved a visit to St Patrick’s Mission.  It’s a large mission owned and run by the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe that lies about 30 kms outside of Gweru. The first part to be built was a primary school.  But now there’s a secondary school for 800 boys and girls (borders and day pupils) through to the end of the VIth form, a clinic (where we met a mother and her twin boys born this very morning) and a connecting hospital almost ready to open, a convent of the Community of the Holy Fire, a retreat centre and a farm with cows and maize and bees.

What is amazing is the vision and commitment and determination of the people to succeed, sometimes, often, against tremendous odds.  They have new ideas constantly for how to make the place even better.  My caution that often stops me doing things is not something that affects them at all – they simply go for it and, after all, what else can they do.

Bishop Christopher meets the bees


I was thinking about a verse from the book of Proverbs

‘Without vision the people perish.’ (Proverbs 29.18)

If it was simply down to vision then this people would undoubtedly flourish. They were a challenge to my lack of courage, my own lack of vision and often that lack of passion that our church exhibits.  Mazvitta, sisters and brothers of St Patrick’s Mission.  At the end of an almost impassable road, right there where the bush encroaches on otherwise fertile ground you are building the kingdom and it is a blessing for all of us.

Holy Fire,
burn within us
and fill us with vision,
courage
and passion
for your kingdom.
Amen.

Salt and light

It’s now the third day in Zimbabwe and we’ve moved from Victoria Falls, from where I last posted a blog, through Bulawayo and now to Gweru in the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe.  That’s been a long journey along roads damaged as a result of the heavy rainfall that this country has experienced latterly.  From going from a situation of drought they’re now experiencing flooding and I saw the spectacular effects of that at the Victoria Falls, but the evidence is all around.

The high altar at Bulawayo


This morning I had the joy of being at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Bulawayo with Dean Fritz who I had the pleasure of meeting when we both in Jerusalem at St George’s College.  Fritz invited me to preach at the Choral Eucharist.  The congregation filled the Cathedral – many young people, many members of the Mothers’ Union in their uniforms seated at the front of the nave and some in the choir.

The gospel for today was Matthew 5:13-16 and so I preached about salt as the gospel begins with that double command of Jesus to us

‘You are the salt of the earth …You are the light of the world.’ (Matthew 5.13, 14)

One of the things that I was really looking forward to on my return to Zimbabwe was to be able to eat sadza again.  This is the staple food in Zimbabwe and, though called by other names, throughout parts of southern Africa.  It’s a stodgy ‘porridge’ made of cornmeal that you eat with your main course, like mashed potato in our context.  You find the members of the Mothers’ Union stirring vast cauldrons of it whenever there’s a feast.  The thing is without anything to give it taste it is tasteless (so it seems to me) but just as with porridge and a sprinkling of salt or sugar it becomes something altogether different.

The wonderful team who cooked for us


Jesus is so brilliant at taking the most ordinary thing and speaking of faith by referring to it – light, a mustard seed, a city set on a hill, a farmer sowing seed, a cloud on the horizon, a lost sheep, a lost coin.  They, like salt, are things that we all understand, whatever our situation.

Driving the long distances and seeing tiny hamlets in the middle of the bush, just a few thatched huts in which people are living a subsistence lifestyle, filling up on their bowl of sadza with a few vegetables and maybe, but only maybe, a chicken, you wonder where the similarity with us and our overblown lifestyle can be.

But it is in the simplicity of salt that we can find some truth.  The challenge I gave to the congregation this morning and to myself is whether, they, we, I, brought the flavour of Christ to the world in which we moved, the savour of Jesus, that heightened experience of faith that makes life flavoursome.  Jesus says if we are not doing that we are as useless as non-salty salt and that the life we are living is bland.

Jesus wants us to live the full flavour life that he brings.  In a testimony in Southwark Cathedral the other week (yes, we do have testimonies from time to time) the member of the congregation being interviewed was asked what word of encouragement she had from the Lord for the congregation.  In answer she told us that the text she was given at Confirmation is the one that she lives by

‘I came that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.’ (John 10.10)

That is what having the flavour of Jesus in our lives is all about.  That’s what I see around me in faithful people here.  But am I still salty?

Lord,
fill me with the flavour of Jesus
that I may be salt to the earth.
Amen.

The smoke that thunders

It’s hard to describe just how fantastic the Victoria Falls are.  They are massive yet you seem to be able to get so close to the water pouring over the edge as the Zambezi drops a distance of some 355 feet down into the gorge below.  A cloud of water droplets is thrown into the air and rises constantly from the falls.  One ‘factoid’ you may like is that the quantity of water needed by Johannesburg for two days descends over the falls in just one minute.  The real name of the waterfall is Mosi-oa-Tunya which means, ‘The Smoke that Thunders’ and the falls live up to their traditional name – the smoke rising and the thunderous noise sounding.

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Our first sight of the thunderous smoke

 

At the present time the waters are swollen as a result of much higher rainfall than is usual.  The irony is that Zimbabwe was suffering as a result of drought, now she suffers as a result of the floods.  As we say ‘It never rains but it pours.’

I was reminded of the psalmist, who obviously knew a thing or two about the grandeur of waterfalls,

Deep calls to deep
   at the thunder of your waterfalls.
(Psalm 42.7)

It could have been written of this place. It is said by some to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and standing there, transfixed by the sight of so much water and overawed by the sound it makes you give thanks for the sheer wonder of creation. Deep truly does call to deep – you never escape the sound of the waters in this place.

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The statue of Livingstone

 

So this is where this journey through Zimbabwe has begun for us.  Victoria Falls lies on the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia and the Zambezi Bridge spans the divide, built in 1905 under the direction of Cecil Rhodes. And it was here that David Livingstone came on 17 November 1855, perhaps the first European to see the falls.  His statue still looks out over them.  But we are here not to do sightseeing, though this first day has been wonderful, but to visit the dioceses, their cathedrals, parishes and their many projects with which we in the Diocese of Southwark and at the Cathedral are linked.  So there will be plenty to see and tell you about.

But here where the smoke thunders we glimpsed something of the awesome nature of God.

Creator God,
in a single drop of water,
in a mighty waterfall,
we glimpse the delicacy
and the awesomeness
of all that you have made.
Amen.

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