Monday 17 September 2018

ESL #4: Celebrations

Normally my weekends are tied up with ministerial responsibilities (which I love by the way so I'm not complaining) and so my ESL has given me the opportunity to do something different, particularly on Sundays.

I found the first Sunday really strange and even considered hiding in St. Mary's church balcony behind a cape like the Phantom of the Opera for the first Encounter evening service of the autumn. Instead I attended the service at Little Leighs where we worshipped for ten years before moving to Great Baddow and I found it both an enjoyable and refreshing experience. It was good to catch up with friends and acquaintances, some of whom I haven't seen for several years, and to see the church in good heart. It was helpful just to sit in a congregation with no responsibilities and to engage in the worship. I think one of the challenges for clergy is to relax and worship without analysing what is going on and what one would do differently!

The second weekend we shared a wonderful time with family celebrating the wedding of our niece. Normally on these occasions we would have to leave the reception early to get back home on the Saturday evening so that we were ready for the Sunday services. It was very relaxing to be able to stay with everyone for the full evening celebrations and then share Sunday morning with the family before taking our time travelling home. I was brought up in a vicarage and so haven't really known any other way of life but the weekend reminded me how much I can take for granted the 'sacrifices' clergy families sometimes make because of the nature of parish ministry.  I am immensely grateful to Kate, Kristin and Dan for the support they give to my ministry and their willingness to accommodate these demands of the role. Again I stress I'm not complaining; I was brought up in a very loving and supportive vicarage home, and I'm very aware of the many benefits of parish ministry alongside the demands.

Then last weekend I had a strange experience of being present but not being present! Being on ESL means disengaging from parish life, which is hard to do at the best of times, but there were two very important team celebrations that I really didn't want to miss. The first was attending the ordination of four members from Meadgate Church in Team GB (as we like to call the Gt Baddow Team Ministry) at Chelmsford Cathedral. As an Area Ordinations Adviser I would normally have been much more involved in the formal process of vocational discernment for each of the four but had to hand that on to a colleague because they were from our team and I knew each of them. When I turned up at the cathedral for the ordination service several people, including a couple of the Bishop's staff, asked 'what are you doing here, you're on study leave?', to which I was tempted to respond by trying the old Jedi mind trick of waving my hand and saying 'you haven't seen me' or 'this is not the team rector you're looking for'. Anyway, the service was a wonderful occasion and it was a real privilege to see Andy, Chris, Simon and Tom embark on the next stage of their ministries as servants of Christ. Please do pray for them and their families.

Finally, yesterday I was able to attend the morning service at St. Paul's (the third of our churches in Team GB) as they celebrated their 60th anniversary, having been planted from St. Mary's under the ministry of my esteemed predecessor Canon Jack Kingham. When the weekend celebrations for St. Paul's anniversary were planned I still wasn't sure what my movements would be during September so I was delighted that I was able to attend and offer congratulations on behalf of the wider Team. It was very heartening to see the displays telling the story of St. Paul's down through the years and to hear greetings from those who had been involved in the past as well as from the wider community who value all that St. Paul's is doing. Phil Sheldrake, the team vicar, preached using the theme of diamonds to tie in with the diamond anniversary, and reminded us that each one of us is precious to Christ and we are challenged to continue to sparkle for Him in our ongoing mission and ministry. It was a joyful culmination of their weekend of celebrations.

A concluding reflection. The Diocese of Chelmsford and the wider Church of England is investing a considerable amount of time and resources into planting churches and developing fresh expressions of ministry at this time. Disappointingly, but sadly not surprisingly, there has been quite bit of criticism about this from various sections of the church. Whenever I see this criticism I respond by pointing to St. Paul's (planted 60 years ago) and Meadgate (planted 53 years ago) as examples of what church planting is all about. Vibrant churches serving their local communities and resourcing the wider church in her call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

ESL #3: Political

Another of the books I'm reading on my ESL is Justin Welby's Reimagining Britain. A couple of days ago the Archbishop fronted the publication of a report by the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice having served on the Commission. You can read ++Justin's remarks at the launch of the report here. ++Justin has copped quite a bit of flak for his involvement in the report, however, he isn't backing down and he explained earlier in the year why he is involved in politics in an article entitled Is Mixing Faith and Politics Worth The Risk? The Archbishop's argument is summarised in this paragraph:
We need to face our challenges today with a fresh vision that is confident, practical and outward looking. We need to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed, as the churches often are (although the also often get things wrong) and also by speaking of a vision for society. I passionately believe it can be done.
Ian Paul has written an interesting blog post reflecting on the Archbishop's involvement with the IPPR Commission. I always find Ian's blog posts well considered even if I don't always agree with him. In this piece Should Christian Leaders Pronounce On Political Positions? Ian raises some important questions for those of us who are Christians in positions of leadership to reflect upon. Ian concludes his piece by commenting:
I think Christian leaders should avoid making pronouncements that align themselves with particular economic or political policies. I cannot remember anyone ever saying ‘Oh, I see that that bishop votes Labour—I think I had better find out more about this person Jesus’.
My concern is that as Christians we may end up with a pietism which limits our faith to the private and personal and abandons whole areas of public life and policy to others. As Christians I believe we have a responsibility to speak into the public square about the values and priorities of the Kingdom of God and we have a responsibility to make concrete proposals about what that means in practice. It's all too easy to sit on the sidelines criticising the proposals of others, but if we aren't prepared to put our necks on the line and take responsibility for the sort of society we want to live in then we forfeit the right to speak.

I remember very well the criticism the Church of England received when it published the Faith in the City report in 1985. At the time the usual arguments telling the C of E to keep its nose out of politics were plentiful; Normal Tebbit denounced the report as Marxist and inadvertently ensured it became the C of E's best selling report! However, the report was a considered response to the plight of the urban poor at a time of turmoil in our nation and made practical proposals for both Church and State to implement. Despite the initial hostile reception, in subsequent years many of the proposals were adopted by both the government and the C of E. The report certainly had a big impact on me as I embarked on ordained ministry. Should Archbishop Runcie, who commissioned the report, have kept out of politics and public policy, I don't believe so. I regard the Faith in the City report as a prophetic document that challenged both Church and State and helped shape debate, policy and action regarding the plight of our inner cities at the time. By the way, to those who responded to the recent IPPR report by saying the Church should put its money where its mouth is, by 2005 the C of E had invested more than £55 million supporting nearly 4,500 faith based projects in some of the poorest parts of our nation. This money was distributed through the Church Urban Fund set up in response to the Faith in the City report.

One final comment. The Taxpayers' Alliance responded to ++Justin's involvement with the IPPR commission with the following tweet:
The Archbishop seems to have forgotten Jesus' command to ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s’. He should stick to his important theological work and keep out of politics!
In context Jesus is telling those questioning him to pay their taxes, which is both a political and theological statement, and one which goes against everything the TPA seem to represent.

Monday 10 September 2018

ESL #2: Freedom

During my ESL I've begun catching up on some reading. I have a whole stack of books I've been looking forward to getting stuck into and one of them is Bound to be Free: The Paradox of Freedom by Graham Tomlin. Last summer I spent a very enjoyable day with Graham at Lord's watching the England v South Africa Test Match and he told me something about the latest book he was writing and it resonated with some of my own thinking on the subject of freedom. Here's a video in which Graham describes something of his reflections and introduces the content of the book. At a time when the word freedom is bandied around by so many in the political sphere it's important to reflect on what freedom means for the Christian.
Freedom - Graham Tomlin from St Mellitus College on Vimeo.

Thursday 6 September 2018

ESL #1: What am I up to?

Following a very enjoyable family holiday in Cumbria, I started an Extended Study Leave (ESL) on 1st September. An ESL is what used to be referred to as a sabbatical and clergy are encouraged to take one about every ten years. My last ESL was in 2008 and the main focus was spending Advent in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. If you want to see what I got up to then simply click on the sabbatical link under the label cloud on the right column of the blog. Following my last Ministerial Development Review (MDR) conducted by my Archdeacon I was encouraged to consider another ESL and so here we are.

In the Chelmsford Diocese the purpose of ESL is to offer licensed office holders a sustained period away from normal duties for professional development and personal enrichment, normally for a period of three months. I'm actually taking two and a half months following some annual leave as I want to be back in the parish for the lead up to Advent. The three components of an ESL are professional development, retreat and rest and I am hoping to include all three in various ways during my ESL.

The main focus of my ESL will be a month in Kenya during October. The Diocese of Chelmsford has links with five Kenyan Dioceses and I will be teaching some church history at St. Andrew's Theological College Kabare. I am looking forward to seeing how the students view the topics from an African perspective. Interestingly the curriculum for church history at St. Andrew's is very similar to that at St. Mellitus College when I was a member of the faculty. I am also hoping to learn about any difference in pedagogical approach in a context very different from my own. A significant portion of my time during September will be spent preparing for my lectures.

I will also be spending time with St. Thomas' Cathedral Kerugoya, furthering the developing partnership with St. Mary's that began about seven years ago. This is my third visit to Kenya, the first was in 2011 with a group from St. Mary's when the relationship with the cathedral began. The second  visit was in 2012 when I represented the Bishop of Chelmsford and the diocese at the consecration of Bishop Joseph, Bishop of Kirinyaga. (click on the Kenya label for further information about these visits). Last year St. Mary's hosted the Provost and some church members from St. Thomas' Cathedral for a couple of weeks and I'm looking forward to catching up with them. I am also looking forward to preaching and leading some seminars at the cathedral, but my main hope is to learn from the experience of seeing ministry and mission in a context quite different from St. Mary's and the Great Baddow Team Ministry. During my time in Kenya I'm hoping to spend a couple of days at a wildlife reserve and a group of ordinands, clergy and some senior staff from Chelmsford Diocese will be in this area of Kenya for part of my time there so I look forward to seeing what they get up to.

Other aspects of my ESL include catching up on some reading (I'll post some reviews), worshipping in various churches in the diocese (probably best not to post reviews), some retreat time as well as Kate and I celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in November!

I want to finish this first ESL post by saying how grateful I am for the support and encouragement of diocesan staff, my colleagues in the Great Baddow TM, the congregation at St. Mary's, the Principal of St. Andrew's, the Provost of St. Thomas' Cathedral and of course my family in preparing for this ESL which has made it so much easier than it might otherwise have been.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Song for Advent #28: Coventry Carol - Trinity College, Cambridge

This may seem a strange carol to select for Christmas Eve but I make no apologies. The Coventry Carol comes from the 16th century and was originally part of the mystery plays performed in Coventry. The carol commemorates the 'slaughter of the innocents' following the birth of Jesus as recorded in Matthew's Gospel. I've chosen it because it reminds us that God came to us as a vulnerable baby into a world of threat, danger and death. As we celebrate this Christmas, across our world children are being born into situations no less deadly. If our Gospel cannot speak into their situations and if we have no room for them in the midst of our festivities then it really is not Good News for all.

Friday 23 December 2016

Song for Advent #27: Whenever God Shines His Light - Van Morrison and Cliff Richard

Thinking about the shepherds in the fields when the birth of Jesus is announced, I was going to go for Manfred Mann singing Blinded By The Light but opted for this instead. Van Morrison has been a favourite artist for many years and I was pleased Springsteen listed him in his Desert Island Discs. I've had a love/hate relationship with Cliff down the years. He was my mum's favourite and didn't fit into my early 70s obsession with Led Zeppelin, The Who etc. Still I have to respect his place in the development of rock n' roll and his longevity. I also respect the grace with which he has handled his appalling treatment at the hands of the police and media over the last couple of years. Above all I respect his witness as a Christian and his tireless support of Tearfund over decades. For many years every other tour Cliff did was dedicated to raising money for Tearfund long before other musicians found supporting charities the thing to do. Anyway, here it is, Van the Man and Cliff singing Whenever God Shines His Light.