Saturday, 29 October 2011

Kenya (3)

It's raining heavily as I write this post before getting some sleep. Thursday afternoon was taken up with a visit to St Andrew's School (see previous post) and St Andrew's Theological College in Kabare. The college serves the five dioceses that formed what was previously known as Mt Kenya East. Most ordinands from these dioceses train at the college and there are also business studies and secretarial courses. These are the dioceses that Chelmsford Diocese is formerly linked with and the five diocesan bishops along with the Bishop of Chelmsford met together at St Andrew's to renew their partnership agreement. There was a short, simple signing of papers and prayer but behind this ceremony lies a real commitment to share in partnership in mission for the sake of the gospel.

Later in the afternoon we joined the students and staff at St Andrew's for their Thursday evening Holy Communion. This turned out to be a communion like no other I have experienced, though I suspect Sunday morning in the cathedral at Kerugoya might be just as amazing. Ostensibly the liturgy is not unlike a Common Worship service but with 'value added'. In part this took the form of various groups of students presenting songs and hymns of worship, some traditional and in English, others in Kikuyu and Swahili. The Clash once rocked the Casbah but these students rocked the chapel to its foundations. Bishop Stephen preached another captivating and challenging sermon on the resurrection words of Jesus from John's Gospel and every time it seemed like the worship was coming to an end the students broke into singing and dancing again. The one downside to the worship was the accompaniment by a rather dodgy out of tune guitar, unless there is an African form of tuning I had never encountered before.

Following the communion service we headed for the refectory led by students again singing and dancing. The food was the usual fare of beef stew and rice. At the end of our time the students stood and sang an African blessing to us which included throwing God's blessing at us. I have a segment of the blessing recorded and will post it when I am back in the U.K. I cannot get over the passion and enthusiasm of the students in worship and it was wonderful to experience a community of diverse tribes and tongues committed to studying together for the ministry of the gospel.

Friday morning began with a trip to the slopes of Mt Kenya to visit tea plantations and a tea production centre. Unfortunately the factory was undergoing refurbishment so we were unable to visit inside and therefore didn't get to do the tasting we had been promised. However, we did get to spend time at a tea research facility and were given some insights into new types of specialist teas, including white tea now marketing at $70 per kg. which is not bad considering a normal variety is sold at about $4 per kg. The head of the research centre has also published on the impact of climate change on the tea growers, pest control and the environment around Mt Kenya.

After lunch back at the cathedral we headed to Utugi to see the work of one of the Christian Community Service centres. These centres around the dioceses of Kenya are self financing and seek to help the poor and marginalised in communities develop self sustainable forms of enterprise. It is an exciting initiative developed by the church as a practical expression of the gospel and the centre we visited is having a profound impact on the local community.

Finally, and much later than planned, we moved on to the Utugi Boys Children's Home on the outskirts of the town. This home, again sponsored by the church, works with street children from across Kenya and seeks to provide them with a place of safety, love and learning. The head of the home, Revd Phyllis, is a remarkably lady who has given her life to serve the boys of the home. Of all the children's places we have visited this was most noticeably different because so many of the boys came from such challenging circumstances. When we arrived we were each invited to plant a tree by the staff and boys and then we gave them some sports equipment that we had taken to Kenya. This was another place where young people from St. Mary's had worked and it was particularly good to see that the football pitch they had created a couple of years ago had been put to such good use. The home is still being developed and the hope is that it will house its own school. I would say this visit has had the biggest impact on the group so far.

Another packed couple of days, full of memorable visits and encounters that will take some time to process and reflect upon. So many things to give thanks to God for as we have seen people's lives transformed by the witness and ministry of the church in this part of Kenya.

Time to finish as we have a power cut and the mosquitos are coming out to play.

Asante Sana Jesus.

- posted with Blogsy on my iPad from the Isaak Walton Hotel in Embu.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Kenya (2)

It's been a busy two days and I wanted to post a brief summary before I lose track of some of the events and experiences.

Wednesday morning began with a meeting at St Thomas' Cathedral, Kerugoya the church with which we are exploring a possible parish link. This visit was for 'a cup of tea' but I hadn't realised a Kenyan cup of tea includes much more, basically a second breakfast within an hour of the first! Great for Hobbits, not so good for someone hoping to decrease their waist line during the visit. However, this is just one example of the generous hospitality offered wherever we go.

We then headed for Mutira and a visit to the Mission Church which is preparing to celebrate it's centenary. Interesting to discover the present Bishop of Kirinyaga Diocese, Daniel Ngoru, was vicar there. From this small and unassuming church 108 other churches have been planted so the title 'mission' is born out in the history of the church. The church supports a hospital, small but well equipped with pharmacy and laboratory. I chatted with a couple of mums. One had a two year old daughter with suspected Malaria and she was waiting the result of tests. The other mum had brought her young son to be wormed, a regular treatment for adults and children in the area. I smiled when I saw the little boy was wearing trousers with 'England 1966' written on them. There are also two church schools, a primary and the recently opened Canon Njumbi Mutira Secondary School. These schools are linked to Great Baddow High School from our home parish and it was encouraging to see the use to which equipment provided by the link school had been put. Conditions in the classrooms were very basic and a few of the children were without shoes, yet, it was clear the children took great pride in their school, their work and that they had a hunger to lean. The set up in Mutira reflects the outreach approach of the Christians in building churches, hospitals and schools to serve the local community.

Next to the church schools is Mutira Secondary Girls boarding school and the contrast in facilities with the neighbouring schools was dramatic. There was time to look round and chat with staff and pupils and again it was impressive to see and hear the pride that all involved in the school took in education. A couple of facts stick in the mind. Teachers in the state system are paid the same whatever their position. The head is paid the same as other members of staff and the emphasis is on distinction of role and responsibility but not reflected in salary. Teachers are also deployed by the Ministry of Education and are expected to go where they are sent, including the Head. The girls start at 5am and the day goes through until lights out at 9.30pm. Along with the studies they are expected to do the cleaning and their laundry and all the other tasks required to keep the school running. In general the schools are all very results orientated and there is strong competition between schools and celebration of academic achievement. Walls are covered with internal and external tables of performance and certificates of achievement.

The afternoon was taken up with lunch back at the cathedral and informal conversations with members of the ministry team before a tour of Kerugoya. The Provost Winifred Munene is a very gracious host who has worked hard to provide us with an interesting and varied programme of visits and we will be exploring links between our churches more formally later in the visit.

Thursday was a long day. It began with a visit to the recently opened Kirinyaga Diocesan Office and then attendance at the diocesan clergy chapter held in St Paul's church next door. St.Paul's is a massive building still under construction and when completed will seat 2,500 worshippers. There is much work to be done but the walls and roof and initial internal construction of the church is complete. There are no windows or doors and the floor is still bare earth but the church was a good venue for the gathering. After a Eucharist and welcome to visiting bishops, curates and our party from St. Mary's the chapter meeting centred around a powerful Bible study on Luke 24 led by Bishop Stephen (Chelmsford). The study drew out the shared challenges facing the church in mission in both Kenya and Chelmsford. There was also some excellent exuberant singing and I worried at one point that the worship might bring the walls of the new church down.

The afternoon was split between visiting St Andrews School and the Theological College in Kabare. The girls school is where the young people from our church worked in the early summer and it was a real joy to see the impact their time there had made on the school. As soon as we mentioned the team from St Mary's the children's faces lit up and when three of our party explained they were parents of members of the team the children became very excited. Our young people had helped create the playing field facilities and provided resources for a play area. We managed to get the Head teacher sitting on the playground roundabout and the deputy head on the see-saw for some photos which the children found highly amusing. Each of us had just over half an hour in a class with the students and I spent an enjoyable time chatting with a year 8 class (13) who will be taking their key exams in a few days. We prayed for the girls as they approach this crucial time and as they prepare to leave the school in November. The girls sang to us at various times during the visit and when they shared with us the songs they had learnt from our young people it was a very moving experience.

During the visit to St Andrew's School we presented a few gifts of stationary and were taken aback by the response from the children. The gratitude for being given what most English children would take for granted in school was just one more reminder of the contrast in facilities and available equipment. The most challenging reminder, however, was the group of old small huts at the end of the sports field which turned out to be the student toilets. About eight of these long drop toilets served all the children at this residential school and the staff toilets were not much better.

It was a real privilege to visit the school which has had such an impact on the young people from our church. This is but one example of the way in which our diocesan and parish links with the churches and schools in this area of Kenya are greatly enriching our understanding of ministry and mission.

The rest of Thursday was spent at St Andrews Theological College in Kabare, however, that experience will require a separate post along with our trip to a tea plantation and visit to Utugi Children's Home today.

The only down side to the visit so far is that the television channels seem to have Man Utd's match against their noisy neighbours from last weekend running on a loop. The excellent Tusker beer is scant consolation.

Asante Sana Jesus!

- posted using Blogsy on iPad from the Isaak Walton Hotel Embu.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Kenya (1)

Arrived yesterday in Nairobi after an uneventful eight hour flight from Heathrow. I'm with a group of six others from our church, along with +Stephen, Bishop of Chelmsford, Canon Dr Roger Matthews (Bishop's adviser for mission and ministry) and Rob Fox (Diocesan Director of Education). A group of curates from Chelmsford Diocese also flew out with us as part of their CMD programme. News on arrival was not very good. I was already aware of an explosion in Nairobi before our departure and our driver in Nairobi informed us there had since been a second explosion. I've been wondering how much attention this has received on the news back home.

We spent the night at the ACK Guesthouse in Nairobi and then earlier today transferred to Embu where much of our visit will be based. Lunch and early afternoon has been taken up meeting the Provost of St Thomas' Cathedral Kerugoya, Winifred Munene, who has been planning our itinerary for some time. We have a packed and very interesting programme of visits line up. Part of the purpose of the visit is to explore how we develop our links at St Mary's with the church in this part of Kenya and with St Thomas' in particular. Our young people have been out to Kenya to work on various schools based projects in the last couple of years and I'm looking forward to seeing at first hand the work they have been involved with.

A few brief initial thoughts and reflections:
1. Driving through Nairobi in the morning rush hour is not an experience I wish to repeat in a hurry!
2. Pirates of the Caribbean 4 is every bit as bad as Mayo & Kermode warned me it would be.
3. I was surprised at the large number of churches, chapels and other places of worship on the side of the road on our route from Nairobi to Embu.
4. I have discovered my camera isn't working which put me in a bad mood. Then I thought about the poverty I'd glimpsed during our journey north and felt rather pathetic. I'm grateful to my friend Roger who has lent me his camera for the duration.

A good start to the trip with no hitches or problems so far. I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing about the work of the church in this part of God's world and am also open to the unexpected ways he might encourage and challenge us during our time in Kenya.


- published from iPad using Bloggsy

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Stop moaning, keep praying

Richard Dawkins has carved out quite a career for himself as flag waver in chief for the New Atheists. His utterances have ‘cool’ comedians genuflecting and Christians fuming in indignation. Sometimes Dawkins’ refusal to speak is more infuriating than his ranting. That seems to be true of his latest sortie into the battle. Or should I say his decision to decline entering the battle.

dawkinsThe theist William Lane Craig has invited Dawkins to a debate and Dawkins has declined. Fair enough, no one is required to participate in a debate about their views, even if others might suspect it is because Dawkins fears the weakness of his arguments being exposed. Dawkins has explained his decision in The Guardian. The first reason he gives is that he had never heard of Craig and neither had any of his philosopher chums so why should he give Craig publicity by granting him a debate:
Don't feel embarrassed if you've never heard of William Lane Craig. He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a "theologian". For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: "That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine"
Dawkins then went on to explain that he would not debate Craig because of Craig’s explanation of the text of Deuteronomy 20. Dawkins’ argues that Craig is guilty of defending genocide and that makes him an unworthy opponent:
Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn't, and I won't. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.
And if any of my colleagues find themselves browbeaten or inveigled into a debate with this deplorable apologist for genocide, my advice to them would be to stand up, read aloud Craig's words as quoted above, then walk out and leave him talking not just to an empty chair but, one would hope, to a rapidly emptying hall as well.
dcameA response to Dawkins has been offered by the philosopher Daniel Came. Again writing in The Guardian Came suggests:
Given that there isn't much in the way of serious argumentation in the New Atheists' dialectical arsenal, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dawkins and Grayling aren't exactly queuing up to enter a public forum with an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed…
Came goes on to say that though he is disinclined to defend Craig’s argument about Deuteronomy 20 the issue is a red herring:
But whatever you make of Craig's view on this issue, it is irrelevant to the question of whether or not God exists. Hence it is quite obvious that Dawkins is opportunistically using these remarks as a smokescreen to hide the real reasons for his refusal to debate with Craig – which has a history that long predates Craig's comments on the Canaanites.
As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins's conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people's beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn't care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason. On the contrary, people's attitudes towards religious belief can and should be shaped by reason, not bile and invective. By ignoring this, the New Atheists seek to replace one form of irrationality with another.
The interesting point here is that Came is arguing from a philosophical, not theistic, position and he is clear that he is not a theist. Came despairs at the arrogance and lack of intellectual rigour at the heart of the New Atheist enterprise and longs for a different tone to the debate:
The New Atheism is certainly a far cry from the model of civilised interlocution between "old atheist" Bertrand Russell and Father Copleston that took place and was broadcast on BBC Radio in 1948. The New Atheists could learn a lot from the likes of Russell, whose altogether more powerful approach was at once respectful and a model of philosophical precision.
Now here is what I think of the matter. It is about time we Christians stopped moaning about Dawkins and his pals. They have every right to spout about their particular brand of atheism and they have every right to decline defending it when confronted with anything bordering on a rigorous intellectual examination. I think we should spend more time praying for these people and less time complaining when they don’t do what we want. I suspect that would wind them up far more and, who knows, they may find their hearts strangely warmed by the Good News of Jesus Christ. As it is I can’t help feeling there is something of the hound of heaven about Dawkins’ increasingly vehement attacks on everything to do with God.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Segment of lost gospel scroll found

‎'On reaching Ludgate Hill, Jesus entered the precincts of St. Paul's Cathedral and began driving out those who were speaking out against the greed and corruption inherent in the capitalist economic model. He overturned the tents of the protesters and the sleeping bags of those pedalling utopian ideals and would not allow anyone to prevent the cathedral restaurant or shop from functioning or infringe health and safety regulations. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:“‘My house will be called one of London's top ten tourist attractions for visitors from all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of subversive thinking.’ The cathedral authorities heard this and began looking for a way to get Jesus invited to a banquet at the Guildhall, for they feared him, because what at first had seemed like a good idea was now calling in to question the cathedral's very purpose'. Gospel of God and Mammon 15:12-16

Discovered by Nicholas Wheeler an old chum from vicar school who serves as a priest in the City of God, Rio de Janeiro.

For an excellent account of the camp at St Paul’s check out Pete Phillips blog.

Countdown

The Christmas countdown is well under way and the prize for most bizarre Advent calendar so far goes to Lego who have produced a Star Wars calendar.

star wars lego

Lego tell us:
With 24 unique gifts, including iconic minifigures, vehicles and accessories from the Star Wars universe, the all-new LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar is the perfect way to set the festive holidays into hyperspeed!
Do they refer to the baby Jesus as a youngling and does it warn children that the figures aren’t edible?

Sorry Lego but I think I will stick to a more traditional approach and this year will be going for the TradeCraft Advent calendar. You know, the one that reminds us what Christmas is about.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

For some, little has changed.

In early second century AD Ignatius of Antioch faced death because of his faith and we remembered him in the church's calendar yesterday. In some parts of the world little has changed.



For further information and the latest updates on Yousef’s situation go to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fig leaf or bay leaf

I attended a clergy study morning on Thursday and was disappointed that most of the material covered was a straightforward summary of the basics of theological reflection with some case studies. Having spent the last ten years teaching ordinands and lay ministers how to engage in theological reflection I was beginning to despair of a wasted morning. However, in amongst the familiar there is usually some gold and it came in the form of a comment that resonated with me and I think several other participants. The speaker related an insight drawn from a particular experience about the use of the Christian tradition in theological reflection. She spoke about the need to move away from using the tradition as a fig leaf to using it as a bay leaf. In other words we should not use the tradition, in particular the Bible, to legitimise or justify our predetermined reflections but allow the tradition to infuse and flavour our reflections. An important reminder and an effective image, so the morning was not entirely wasted. The session ended with an excellent Shepherd's Pie for lunch, though I'm not sure if it was flavoured with a bay leaf.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Is this what church feels like?



An excellent advert which prompts the question:
‘Is this what church feels like to many visitors?’
h/t Paul Trathen.

Not one stone left upon another

I was surprised to read a report today drawn up by the U.S. State Department which declared that there are no public Christian churches left in Afghanistan. The International Religious Freedom Report on Afghanistan covering the period July to December 2010 describes the situation regarding non-Islamic places of worship:
In the 20th century, small communities of Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Sikhs lived in the country, although most members of these communities emigrated during the years of civil war and Taliban rule. By the end of Taliban rule, non-Muslim populations had been virtually eliminated except for a small population of native Hindus and Sikhs. Since the fall of the Taliban, some members of religious minorities have returned, many settling in Kabul.
Nuristanis, a small but distinct ethno linguistic group living in a mountainous eastern region, practiced an ancient polytheistic religion until they converted to Islam in the late 19th century. Some non-Muslim religious practices survive today as folk customs.
There are two active gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) in Kabul and 10 in other parts of the country; there were 64 gurdwaras throughout the country before the war. There are four Hindu mandirs (temples) in three cities: two mandirs are located in Kabul, one of which shares a wall with a mosque; one is in Jalalabad; and one in Ghazni. Eighteen others were destroyed or rendered unusable due to looting during the mujahidin civil war.
There is one synagogue, located in Kabul, which is not in use for lack of a Jewish community. There is no longer a public Christian church; the courts have not upheld the church's claim to its 99-year lease, and the landowner destroyed the building in March (2010). Chapels and churches for the international community of various faiths are located on several military bases, PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams), and at the Italian embassy. Some citizens who converted to Christianity as refugees have returned.
The report also commented on the persecution of Christians in Afghanistan:
The government's level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice declined during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals. Residual effects of years of jihad against the Soviet Union, civil strife, Taliban rule, popular suspicion regarding outside influence and the motivations of foreigners, and weak democratic institutions remained serious obstacles. In May 2010 video footage of Christian converts being baptized aired on an Afghan television station and was re-aired every night for a week due to its popularity with the public. The station did a series of follow up segments as well. In response, inflammatory public statements were made against Christian converts by two members of parliament. These incidents led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals. At least two individuals who converted from Islam remained in detention at the end of the reporting period. (Note: All individuals detained for conversion from Islam were released after the reporting period ended.) Negative societal opinion and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Muslim converts to Christianity. The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom.
The detailed account is well worth reading in full to gain a snap shot of the state of religious freedom in Afghanistan at the turn of the year.

I read this report on the day the Morning Prayer reading is Mark 13:1-13.

It begins:
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
And ends:
and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Gamechanger

Today we remember the life and death of a man whose gifts, passion and dedication to his work helped to change people’s lives and shape our culture. His gift was to harness a developing technology and to use it to make life changing communication available to the masses.

William Tyndale (1494-1536) committed his life to translating and publishing the Bible. Drawing from the Hebrew and Greek texts, he used the development of the printing press to make the Bible available for wide distribution in the common tongue. During this year when we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible it is important to remember that the scholars who laboured on that work drew heavily on Tyndale’s translation. Tyndale was strangled at the stake and his body burnt in Brussels after being found guilty of heresy. His dying words are recorded as being ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes’. Within four years of his death four English translations of the Bible were published in England.

Worth remembering this great scholar, translator and Christian martyr, whose work was so significant, on the day we also remember the death of another game changer, Steve Jobs CEO of Apple.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Bert Jansch

Best known for his work with Pentangle, Bert Jansch has died at the age of 67. A great guitarist, singer and songwriter, Johnny Marr is just one of many guitarists to reference Jansch as a major influence: ‘He completely reinvented guitar playing and set a standard that is still unequalled today … without Bert Jansch, rock music as it developed in the 60s and 70s would have been very different’.

Here’s the beautifully understated One for Jo.



Watch out for the classic knitted jumper about half way through!

Fair Trade Spooks

Interesting idea from Fair Trade Canada for Halloween to encourage people to give out Fair Trade chocolate and stickers to visiting trick or treaters. I thought the wording of the French version of the poster was particularly amusing.

poster vertical

In our church we are offering an alternative to Halloween called Glitter and Glo. The event has been very successful in the past and we are looking forward to welcoming loads of local children again this year.

glitter


The Diocese of Winchester has some good links to interesting resources for Halloween.

h/t @fairtradesleuth

Monday, 3 October 2011

Chocolate Jesus

Excellent cover of Tom Waits’ Chocolate Jesus by Wooddragon and the video is beautifully rendered.



Listen out for the crow.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Not me guv’.

I received an enquiry from a Twitter friend, Ronnie, asking if a newspaper story referred to me. The story was about a Rev Phil Ritchie who had come up with an idea to increase his congregation. The Argus reported as follows:
A vicar saw his Sunday congregation go up by half after warning on Facebook he would give it all up and become a window cleaner if he didn't boost numbers. The tongue in cheek threat made by Reverend Phil Ritchie turned out to be a holy success when 207 people turned up -seven more than his target.
Rev Ritchie normally sees up to 140 people at All Saints Church in The Drive, Hove, but wanted to get the numbers up on the national annual Back to Church Sunday. As well as telling parishioners at the church to ask one at least one other person to come and join them, he also posted a message on Facebook. He said: “I urged people to come along and then said if I don't get at least 200 I would give it up and become a window cleaner- during the summer months only of course!"
“At first I was quite confident and sure that enough people would come along but when it got closer to the day I started to think I was going to end up with a lot of egg on my face. In all seriousness, I would not have gone for a change in career although obviously I've nothing against taking up window cleaning. It would be a great job and I love being in the outdoors. I'm certainly used to cleaning the lead windows of the vicarage so I've had some practice. I also told the congregation about the window cleaning comment and I thought some of them might think that was a good idea and stay away but everyone came along.”
Rev Ritchie, who has been at the church for three years, says he is keen to get the wider community involved. He said: “This was obviously a little bit of fun but there is a serious message behind it. The church is an important part of the community and I would like to reach out to as many people as possible.”
There are a couple of simple reasons for ruling me out of being the brains behind this wizard wheeze. Firstly, I don’t live in Hove and secondly, and more significantly, I don’t like heights so window cleaning is one of the last jobs I would consider. I urge the good folk of our parish not to get any ideas.

By the way, we still haven’t contracted the services of a window cleaner for The Rectory so if Rev Phil Ritchie, All Saint’s Hove, fancies supplementing his stipend…