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.

Sheffield

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.

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.

Blessing

We have a couple of really exciting days ahead of us at Southwark Cathedral.  Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, is the day on which we gather on London Bridge with the Parish of St Magnus the Martyr, our neighbour across the river on the other side of the bridge.  For as long as the bridge and the Christian church has existed in London our two churches have had the care of the bridge and its residents (during the mediaeval period). We live out that responsibility by meeting where our parish boundaries meet and have a short service during which a cross is thrown into the river as a sign of blessing.  The river has been such a feature of the lives of both churches as has the bridge and that concern for both continues in this very public act.

The icon of the Baptism of Jesus at Southwark Cathedral

The icon of the Baptism of Jesus at Southwark Cathedral

On the following day we will be blessing the twelve bells that were removed from the Cathedral tower in July and have now returned.  Two have been recast and so will be baptised but all will be blessed by the Bishop of Southwark.  Bells have rung out from the tower since before the fifteenth century when we know that the original ring of seven was augmented for the royal wedding that took place in 1424 in the Priory of St Mary Overie.

At that time, the Bishop of Winchester, of which Southwark was his liberty, was Cardinal Beaufort.  His niece, Joan, was to marry King James I of Scots and, as at that time he was in prison in the Tower of London, he was let out in order to come across the bridge and to the Priory to be married.  And the bells rang out as their marriage was blessed.

Priests get called on to bless all kinds of things.  In the next few weeks I’m going into the Borough Market to bless the ‘First Flush Darjeeling’, very special tea that is sold at one of the stalls.  What reading we will have for that goodness only knows.  But I’m delighted to be able to do it, just as I’m delighted to bless the First Loaf at Lammas and bless anything else that is shoved in front of me.  After the Mass on Epiphany a young women asked me to bless two prayer books she had bought in the Cathedral Shop for a friend, lovely.

So we wait with anticipation to see what the House of Bishops will recommend to General Synod and the church at our meeting in February.  After the Shared Conversations – which had gone so well as far as I was concerned – they went off to deliberate what we might do and be able to offer to those in our congregations, as well as those in every part of our society, who wish to marry their same-sex partner and do so with a blessing.

It just seems odd to me that I can bless a river, bells, books, tea, bread, cats and dogs and not two people who love each other. Perhaps if I can’t bless two people, who happen to be of the same gender and who have decided that they want to spend the whole of their life together in a loving committed faithful relationship I shouldn’t bless anything.

Jesus blessing the world and all creation

Jesus blessing the world and all creation

God seems to treat us all equally, for as Jesus says of God in St Matthew’s Gospel

‘He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’ (Matthew 5.45)

and as I cast out indiscriminate blessing from the altar at the end of every Eucharist it falls in the same way.  But perhaps we are going to have to think differently about blessing in the future and, against the will and action of God, bless only those who REALLY deserve it.

God,
you bless without distinction,
love without discrimination,
may your church
bravely reflect your nature.
Amen.

The last post

Every ten years I, like many other clergy, get the opportunity for a sabbatical.  My last one was in 2006 when I went to the States, South Africa and India.  It was a really important three months for me and I’m amazed at how often I still refer back to the things that I experienced then. But what that means is that I can have another sabbatical and that is what I am going to be doing in the autumn.

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The Last Post

However, with unusually efficient diary planning (that is not one of my strong points as anyone who knows me will be able to confirm) my summer holiday will almost segue with the beginning of the sabbatical. The term ‘sabbatical’ of course has its roots in the keeping of the sabbath and the sabbath rest that we look to as the ultimate gift of God to his people. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is hot on that towards the beginning of his letter

‘So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his.’ (Hebrews 4.9-10)

If it was good enough for God then it’s good enough for us.  So the real privilege is that I will be having the whole of September, October and November off.  I will be back for the ROBES Sleepout at the end of November but that will be the only break into this time of rest.

The reality is of course that it isn’t just an opportunity to lie on a sofa, watch ‘Jeremy Kyle’ and do nothing.  Instead I have the space to do again as I did in 2006 things that I want to do but simply haven’t the space and time to do. The plans, therefore, are that in September I will be in Canada visiting some great cities and seeing the Anglican church in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.  That will be a real treat and will involve the 4 day train journey across the country from the west coast to the Great Lakes.

Then in October and the first part of November I will be in Jerusalem staying at the college at St George’s Anglican Cathedral. I’ve been to the Holy Land on many many occasions but never on my own.  I’m normally leading a group of pilgrims, shepherding them onto coaches, off coaches and out of gift shop queues. So it will be odd to be there onmy own doing things at my own pace.

But the principal reason for going there is that I have a plan.

When pilgrims stand on the belvedere at the church of St Peter-in-Gallicantu their guide will invariably point out a Greek monastery quite close by. ‘That is in the site of Hakeldama, the Field of Blood’ they say. We nod and take our photos and move on. There isn’t time to go down, there isn’t time to do everything.

Hakeldama

The monastery at Hakeldama

As pilgrims head up the road from the Church of All Nations to Mount Sion the guide will say ‘On your left is Absalom’s Tomb’; they may say ‘That is the monastery on the site of the martyrdom of St Stephen’ but as with Hakeldama there is no time to stop and visit.

Most pilgrims visit the same holy sites during their once in a lifetime pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is right that they do that because we have to see the Church of the Holy Nativity, the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the various places, Nazareth, Tabgha and suchlike in Galilee. But I am conscious that there are other holy places that we never see and yet probably have a great deal to say to the pilgrim who has already been to the ‘Top Ten’.

Two experiences in the last pilgrimage I went on earler this year have convinced me of this. The first was visiting Jacob’s Well in Nablus. In over twenty visits with pilgrim groups I had never been to this place and the opportunity to do so opened up and we visited it. It became a highlight of the pilgrimage for the whole group.

The second was in a throw-away comment from the bishop with whom I was co-leading the pilgrimage about a church that stands on the place where Mary and Joseph realised that Jesus was not with them after their visit to Jerusalem. I wanted to go and I want to go.

I have tried to find out what holy places I am missing out on. It is hard, if not impossible to do. Our focus is so much on the principal sites that we lose sight of the others. So I want to spend time visiting some of the ‘hidden and holy’ places.

My hope is that I can experience them, take some photographs, spend some time making a few notes and then writing up the experience with the intention of producing a book or website to help other pilgrims encounter the ‘hidden and holy’ because these places are also in our own communities and that is where the project comes back home – discovering the ‘hidden and holy’ where we are.

Then, finally, on my return I’ll spend a week in retreat, time to reflect on all these things.

So it’s all really exciting.  But the real thing I wanted to say is that I’ll be taking a sabbatical from this ‘Living God’ blog. There will be a sabbatical blog (look out for that please) because I don’t think I can resist the opportunity to share with others the experiences I will be having and reflecting on them and praying through them. So, as I titled this blog, this is the ‘Last Post’ ….. but only until December when I will resume thinking about what Living God means for us at Southwark Cathedral and beyond.

 I love Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Last Post’ with those wonderful final lines

If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.

I hope that my sabbatical can help me look backwards and forwards, with the God of past, present and future. So this may be the last post for now but not the last word.

God of daily work
and sabbath rest,
bless all we have done,
all we do,
all that we will do,
with your strength,
in your grace,
by your love.
Amen.

Requiem for Fr Jacques

This morning, on the day of his funeral, we held a Requiem Mass at Southwark Cathedral for Fr Jacques Hamel. This is what I said in introduction.

Rest in peace and rise in glory

Rest in peace and rise in glory

For over 20 years we have been twinned with the Cathedral in Rouen. At the beginning of the twinning agreement which we recommitted ourselves to on the 20th anniversary of our relationship in 2014 we said

We, members of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Rouen and the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Saviour and Saint Mary Overie, Southwark declare that:
We give thanks as children of the same and only God and Father, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ our Saviour, quickened by the same Holy Spirit.

It is in the spirit of those bonds of faith, friendship and affection and bound to one another in prayer and our common service of God and all our brothers and sisters, that we gather here this morning. This afternoon, in the Cathedral in Rouen the family and friends of Fr Jacques Hamel will gather for his funeral. As the day begins we gather here.

Fr Jacques was a faithful and much loved priest who was simply doing what priests are called to do, stand at the altar and represent the people to God and God to the people and in that very act he was killed. We hardly need to pray for his soul for we are confident that God has gathered him into the divine embrace.

But for ourselves and for our communities and for the people of Rouen and of France and, indeed the people of the world, we must pray. Those who commit terrible acts against others and believe they are serving the purposes of God are wrong. We must not allow ourselves to be terrorised. Christians believe that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ goodness, love and life are already victorious, for as St Paul says to us ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God’ not even death itself.

So as we gather we remember the love and mercy of our God who never abandons us and we call to mind those times when we have abandoned God.

And so we pray with the community on the day of Fr Jacques’ funeral.

Almighty God,
you bring life out of death,
light out of darkness,
hope out of despair;
as you gather Jacques
in your divine embrace
hold all your people
in your unfailing love;
for the sake of your Son,
our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

A city of martyrs

Southwark Cathedral has had a twinning relationship with the Cathedral Church of Notre Dame de Rouen for over twenty-five years.  It grew out of a personal friendship between the then Administrator of the Cathedral in Rouen and the Vice-Provost at Southwark. But from those beginnings, grounded in personal friendship and respect, has grown a much wider and deeper relationship. These kind of associations that we make with other parts of the Anglican Communion – Southwark Cathedral is linked with the Diocese of Masvingo as part of the wider diocesan link with the Anglican church in Zimbabwe – or other denominations or other parts of the world – we are also linked with the Cathedral in Bergen, a Norwegian Lutheran cathedral – are sometimes strong and meaningful, at other times struggling to find a purpose.

The relationship that we have with Rouen is an interesting one.  Any Anglican-Roman Catholic link hits up against the fact of not being in communion at one stage or another and is always much discussed.  I’ve been to a number of big events in Rouen – last year the enthronement of the new Archbishop – and seated in splendour and treated with honour – but unable to make my communion. I understand it and I respect it and I know that the desire, the passion for unity, comes out of the pain of disunity which itself is fuelled by the literal hunger for communion.

Yet, the relationship goes from strength to strength and becomes more real as it becomes embedded in true friendship.  Yet there are interesting historic links as well.  Just over a thousand years ago King Olav of the Norwegians, left London, after pulling down London Bridge next to the church which is now Southwark Cathedral, and was baptised in Rouen Cathedral. He then went from his Norman cousins in Rouen back to his own land where he converted his people to Christianity.

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Joan of Arc by Sir John Everett Millais

In 1431 at the age of around 19 Joan of Arc was condemned to death as a heretic and committed to the flames in the market place in Rouen.  At that time Cardinal Henry Beaufort was Bishop of Winchester and living in the Palace alongside the Priory of St Mary Overie (now Southwark Cathedral). In 1431 Beaufort was present to observe some of the heresy trial sessions In Rouen presided over by Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais. He was present at the execution and so we’re told that wept as he viewed the horrible scene as she was burned at the stake. His arms and cardinal cap are carved into the stonework of the south transept of our cathedral.

So the links go back in history but are made real and alive today.

When we heard of the brutal killing of Fr Jacques Hamel whilst saying Mass last week in Rouen we were all horrified.  This was a new level of terrorism. Christians, many, many Christians, have already been murdered by the so-called Islamic State. Indeed, when I was last making my way through the Coptic Church on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, there was a banner above the door showing the killing of twenty-one Coptic martyrs last year. But this murder was closer to home, this was in the city of our friends, this was an elderly priest doing what priests do on behalf of the world, offering the sacrifice of the Mass and being sacrificed as he did so.

It bore the marks of the killing of Blessed Oscar Romero in 1980, gunned down as he said Mass. The motivations of the killers in both instances might have been different but the effect was the same.

This is when, however, the relationships that we have become so much more real. Messages of prayer and support have been sent to Rouen from Southwark; messages of thanks and nuggets of news have been sent back. One member of the congregation has told me that all Muslims are being encouraged to attend a church in the city this Sunday as a sign of solidarity; others have told me that Muslim and Christian neighbours have been spending time together. One friend in the congregation sent me this message

‘These 3 days, the mass has been said for Fr Jacques in the Cathedral with about 400 people each day. Muslims are invited to come to masses on Sunday to share prayer with Roman Catholics. Let us hope this drama will help building peace. One in faith and prayer.’

In the midst of the trauma there are signs of hope.

The artist Monet who lived and worked close by to the city produced beautiful pictures of the towers at the west end of Rouen Cathedral; they are bathed in different colours. Now once more the city is bathed in the red of martyrdom, a colour it has borne historically.  We stand with them at this time.

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Rouen Cathedral bathed in Monet’s many hues

 

Fr Jacques’ funeral is in the Cathedral in Rouen on Tuesday.  We will offer a Requiem Mass for him in Southwark Cathedral that morning.  Communion, instead of dividing us will unite us, we will break bread together. As we pray for Fr Jacques and that love and mercy of God for him, which needs no prayers to secure, we pray for our sisters and brothers in Rouen, Christian and Muslim, ordained and lay, in that city of martyrs, witnessing to the God who transcends and transforms all things, the God of the Mass, the God of the meal, the God of broken bread and wine outpoured, the God of fast and feast. May priests still offer that ‘one true, pure, immortal sacrifice’ for the peace of the world and may we all receive the bread of heaven that gives true life to the world.

Lord, accept the sacrifice we offer
of bread and lives
as we accept the sacrifice you offer,
yourself,
bread and life.
Amen.

London is open

Hashtags are an interesting part of the whole Twitter business.  You can get some hilarious ones, others simply help to gather together the reactions of people, others create something.  The Mayor of London has been encouraging us to use a hashtag this week ‘#londonisopen’ to get across the message in this post-brexit Britain that we are open and doing business.  He was pictured at the doors of City Hall and so, not to be outdone, I was at the doors of Southwark Cathedral.

But that hashtag has a deeper message too and a more long-lasting one and a more life changing one.  It’s all to do with hospitality.

I was watching the news on Friday evening, seeing again the aftermath of a terror attack, this time in Munich.  It was only a week after Nice and in those intervening eight days other terrible things have happened, and some, I suspect, have gone unreported.  One of the things that really moved me, however, was the report that social media was being used by the people of Munich with the hashtag #offeneteur (open door). It was a fantastic, generous, human, hospitable response in a crisis.  People were stranded as a result of the lockdown in the city; no one knew who was out there, or who had perpetrated the crime, and here were people saying to others ‘my door is open’.

When Abraham looked up from his tent he

‘saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.’ (Genesis 18.2)

He didn’t know who they were, he didn’t know why they were there, but the instruction went to his wife Sarah that food was to be prepared for their guests and the men were made comfortable and welcome.  As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13.2)

The people of Munich even in a moment when the doors might be bolted for fear of what was outside, opened their doors to the stranger and to angels.

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Enjoying the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah

Last week we had the privilege at Southwark Cathedral of welcoming the family of Sam King MBE for his funeral.  They brought with them friends, former and present Mayors of Southwark, representatives of the wider community and hundreds from the Jamaican-heritage community in London and beyond.  Sam was the first black Mayor of Southwark and the first Jamaican to be Mayor anywhere in the world outside of Jamaica.  But Sam was so much more, one of the founders of the Windrush Founder, the Notting Hill Carnival, a champion of human rights, a member of the RAF, an inspirational family man and a dedicated Christian. It was a fantastic funeral service.

But in one of the tributes to Sam King that we heard in the service there was a reminder that when he arrived in London after sailing across in the SS Empire Windrush he was met with a notice on the doors of lodgings ‘No Irish. No blacks. No dogs.’ It was the complete antithesis of #londonisopen or #offeneteur.

Notice

One of the many dangers that it seems to me that face us in this challanging and at times frightening age is the closing of doors and the assault on that basic spirit of hospitality that should be the hallmark not just of Christians but of humanity.  It was disturbing to hear US Presidential Candidate Donald Trump reiterating his pledge in his acceptance speech that he would build a wall across their border with Mexico and saying that ‘americanism not globalism will be our creed.’ This contradicts so directly that amazing sight that welcomed new arrivals in the States, the Statue of Liberty outside of Manhattan, ready to welcome, suggesting the open door, for it was an open door.

It could have gone wrong for Abraham and Sarah, opening their home up like that for those three men, but in fact it was the reverse – it brought them a blessing. Just before the strangers arrived God had made a covenant with the old man

‘This is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.’ (Genesis 17.4)

By letting the strangers in blessing and fulfillment flowed and a child was born to Sarah and Abraham became our ancestor. When we open our doors we welcome people like Sam King MBE and others who make a difference. The hashtag says ‘London is open’ – the challenge is to ensure that it continues to be and perhaps the Munich hashtag has a lesson to teach us.

Lord,
you welcome me,
your house is open to me,
may I welcome others
and may my door be open.
Amen.

A world gone mad

I arrived home on Friday evening after having seen a production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park only to switch on the news and hear about what was happening in Turkey. A military coup was underway and the BBC News was showing live pictures of people trying to get on to one of the bridges over the Bosphorus only to be faced with the sound of gun fire.  It followed waking up that morning to find out that 84 people had died in the carnage in Nice and that more were critically ill. It followed the dreadful shooting of police officers in Dallas which in turn followed the shooting of African-American citizens by the police in the south of the USA.

What is happening?  How do I make sense of the world?

All of these violent acts were in addition to the upheavals occurring in our own political system; a leadership race becomes a coronation; a leader without support from colleagues refuses to stand down even though challengers emerge; markets are in turmoil one day and then booming the day after.

In the church we spend even more time talking about who is allowed to love who, whilst hundreds and thousands fall out of love with the church.

What is happening? How do I make sense of the world?

beastie-boys-1

The Beastie Boys

 

It feels as though the world has gone mad.  I never thought I’d be quoting lyrics from a song by the Beastie Boys, but life is more than surprising.  In March 2003 in the midst of the Bush-Blair war on terror and on Iraq they sang a protest song called ‘In a world gone mad’ the chorus goes

In a world gone mad it’s hard to think right
So much violence hate and spite
Murder going on all day and night
Due time we fight the non-violent fight.

Watching ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ again after so many years I was struck particularly by the message of non-violent resistance in the face of violence which we found in Jesus.  There, on stage, before Pilate, before Herod, Jesus looks like the victim whilst he is the victor. It was such a powerful image, this bleeding tortured man, crowned with thorns and receiving the 40 lashes minus one.  In the staging of that moment in the passion, instead of whipping him, the cast ran up and threw glitter at him which stuck to his sweating bloodied body.  It sounds weird but it worked fantastically well because the more he was beaten the more glorious he became. It sounds like madness and, of course, when the apostles and the early Christians began witnessing to Christ after his resurrection it sounded like madness.

jcs

I love the episode in the Acts of the Apostles in which Paul is standing before Festus.  As Paul gives his testimony before King Agrippa, Festus cries out

‘You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth.’ (Acts 26.24-15)

The only way of responding to the madness is to witness to Christ, and in a non-violent way, to ‘fight the non-violent fight’ to quote those Beastie Boys and to continually proclaim a better way whether that be in domestic politics, the life of the church, of our communities, of our world, a way that witnesses to the God who embraced the cross, defeated death, that the world may live.

Holy God,
when madness abounds
may love witness strong
and your word be heard
above the world’s clamour.
Amen.

The sound of silence

If you’re expecting a Living God blog today I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m at General Synod and so my Synod blog has been active. But more importantly today we begin two days behind closed doors talking about sex. We’re not meant to blog or Tweet about it. So I have to be silent. 

But as Elijah discovered it was ‘in the sound of sheer silence’ that he encountered God on the mountain. So my prayer is that that may be true for us who engage in these shared conversations. 

Lord, in our talking and our listening may we also enter into that deep silence in which your voice can be heard. Amen. 

Looking back

It’s the season of ordinations and on Facebook I’ve noticed that a great many of my friends have been posting about the anniversaries of their own ordination. So I added mine.  On Friday, 1 July, it was 33 years since I was ordained deacon; today, St Thomas’ Day, it is 32 years since I was ordained priest.

Inevitably you look back at the photos that were taken on those occasions.  For younger readers of this we were using ‘cameras’ with ‘film’ that needed to be taken to ‘Boots’ to be ‘developed’. You then had to spend a few days, maybe even a week before you could go back and collect them.  Dylan Thomas uses a lovely but tear jerking phrase at the beginning of his play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ in describing the photos on the walls of the rooms in Llaregyb of the

‘the yellowing dickybird-watching
pictures of the dead’

It’s a bit like that looking at the photographs of all those years past – Mum in her hat, aunties then alive who are now dead.  There’s the inevitable wondering as well, where have those years gone.

Deacon

After my ordination as a deacon

 

It took me a long time to get to the point where I was able to face up to my sense of vocation. I knew that God wanted me to be a priest when I was just 14.  I was worshipping at the church where we had always gone, All Saints Wigston Magna. It was (and still is) a lovely mediaeval church in the heart of a not so wonderful industrial village on the edge of Leicester.  I was in the choir and by that stage I think I was singing alto.  Anyway, it was a June afternoon, the sun was shining and I was walking through Willow Park from where we lived on Carlton Drive to the church for the rehearsal before Choral Evensong.  I was just passing the cricket pavilion (as I write this it is as fresh in my mind as the experience was then) and I just knew, just knew, as much as  I have known anything, that God wanted me to be a priest.

I didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. You have to understand that I was a very shy boy, with a small circle of friends, stayed a great deal around home, lacking in confidence, not what I thought God was after and there was a lot I didn’t know about myself.

Priest

After my ordination as a deacon

 

It took me until I was studying for my first degree to really begin to tell others and to tell our priest what I had experienced.  Those intervening years had been difficult because the call of God niggles away inside you.  I love reading the passages in 1 Samuel and Jeremiah that talk about their sense of call.  To each of us it will be different and particular, sometimes come through others, sometimes a growing realisation, for me it happened like this.

Yet, those words of Jeremiah still resonate for me.

I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’
But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you. (Jeremiah 1.6-7)

The 33 intervening years have been incredible.  God has equipped me for the tasks I’ve been presented with in the most incredible way.  But at the heart I remain, and I hope will always remain, the boy by the cricket pavilion with a consciousness of the very real presence of God and able to hear his voice in an instance.  Because, if I remain authentically him then I won’t begin to imagine that I am doing any of this in my own strength.

If you know that God is calling you, to whatever it is, then all I can do is to encourage you, even if you think that you are the last person God needs – maybe God knows better.

Lord, you call us
and equip us.
Give confidence to all
who feel the persistent niggle of your call
within them.
Amen.

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