Thursday, 30 July 2009

a church beyond parody

bread-and-wine Sometimes the church is crucified for standing up for the Gospel but at other times we seem all too keen to invite the nails. There have been two stories doing the rounds in the media regarding the distribution of the elements in the Eucharist. The first relates to the pastoral letter issued by the Archbishops and their recommendation that administration of the chalice at services of Holy Communion be suspended in the light of the threatened swine flu pandemic. This is the advice being given in the Diocese of Chelmsford. The recommendation has been controversial and the bishops have come in for criticism, but there can be little doubt that they are genuinely trying to give guidance on best practice in a difficult situation.

The second story is just plain farcical. According to various sources including The Times Blackburn Cathedral has decided to offer communicants the choice of two wafers at the main 10:30am Sunday service. When the Revd Dr Sue Penfold, a residentiary canon of the Cathedral, is celebrating then the congregation are offered bread blessed by her, or the reserved sacrament consecrated earlier by a male priest if they find this unacceptable. “This situation is not ideal, but we are trying to be inclusive,” Canon Hindley said, adding that Rev. Penfold had been appointed to Blackburn Cathedral to reflect the “broad views” of the Church of England. So here we have two track communion for a two track church, to ensure that ‘untainted’ bread is readily available for those who require it and all in the name of being ‘inclusive’!

There are occasions when the actions of the church leave me almost speechless but not quite. At first I thought this story was a wind up, however, it does appear to be genuine, although there is little about it on the Blackburn Cathedral web site. What does this say about the church’s attitude towards female clergy and women in general? In what sort of Orwellian nightmare do we carry on talking about ‘two integrities’ and assert at the same time that we are ‘all one in Christ Jesus’? My concern is that we may still head down the same road for the consecration of women bishops. As a church we keep shooting ourselves in the foot; taking decisions and then apologising for them and undermining them at every turn. Sometimes the church is beyond parody.

If you want to read an account of how this decision is making women in the church feel then read Today I am truly ashamed to be an Anglican.

not happy

Not content with pinching Carlos Tevez from Manchester United and then sticking up a billboard in Manchester city centre to advertise it, Man City fans have produced their own version of the Cadbury 'eyebrows' advert featuring Sir Alex, Wayne, Rio and Michael Owen. Let's see what happens when the season starts in a couple of weeks.

h/t Off The Post

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

hunting the Unicorn

Camp Quest, the atheist children’s summer camp, opens this week and has already received much attention in the media. Several of my friends and colleagues are attending New Wine, a Christian summer camp, taking place in the same county as Camp Quest, so one wonders whether there might be the opportunity for an exchange visit. Who would feel more threatened by such a suggestion; the self proclaimed free thinking atheists or those Richard Dawkins and his chums so glibly dismiss as closed minded fundamentalists? I’m all in favour of children’s camps and many of the activities at Camp Quest are exactly what I hope my children will be doing during the holidays; plenty of activities to stimulate the body and the mind.

However, I do have some reservations about Camp Quest. I had a brief look at the biographies of the camp counsellors and was interested to see how many were keen to explain their atheism in ways no different from how Christians leading their camps might write. There is the whiff of zeal about those leading Camp Quest, a zeal which many atheists are quick to dismiss in those articulating a faith position. I was also amused to learn that one of the activities on the camp is ‘the famous invisible Unicorns challenge’ in which children will be encouraged to disprove the existence of these marvellous creatures. The problem is that most people know these creatures died out because they were too stupid to get aboard Noah’s ark when the great flood came. Seriously, it does seem rather defensive and reactive to laud an activity with the primary aim of disproving the existence of something.

I’m a big fan of children’s summer camps as in the early 1980s I helped run the children’s programme at a Christian conference centre and during the late 80s and early 90s was involved as a leader on CYFA ventures. I have seen the big impact these holidays have had on the lives of many young people, including members of the church youth group I lead as a curate. These holidays also had a big impact on me as a Christian leader. I learnt many important insights into what we called ‘servant leadership’ that have stayed with me throughout my ministry. But the biggest impact on my life is that on one of these ventures I met the person who is now my wife!

Anyway, I hope the young people on Camp Quest and the many other camps and ventures taking place around the country have a great holiday. I also hope and pray they are given the time and space to marvel at the wonders of the world around them and to reflect on the why questions as well as the how questions of life.

Monday, 27 July 2009

reflection not rant

Archbishop-by-Sea-of-Galilee_1 Over the past few days there have been plenty of demands for a statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury in response to the resolutions passed at The Episcopal Church’s General Convention earlier this month regarding homosexuality and ordination (CO56 and DO25). Open letters have been circulated, articles written and bloggers and Twitterers have expressed their opinions. There is clearly a great deal of uncertainty and confusion as to what the General Convention has actually decided and it does seem that there has been some deliberate obfuscation; how else to explain the competing claims made by those attending the convention and participating in the debates and votes? Has the General Convention decided to break the moratoria on the consecration of practicing homosexuals and same sex blessings or not? Are the leadership of TEC deliberately playing to two audiences; giving the impression to TEC membership that the moratoria can be broken while at the same time claiming to the wider Anglican Communion that there have been no decisions to break the moratoria?

Rather than offer an immediate response Archbishop Rowan has reflected on the issue and today he published a lengthy text of those reflections. Some will be dismayed that ++Rowan has not made a more trenchant criticism of TEC’s decisions and others have been more robust in their response to TEC, including the Bishop of Durham Tom Wright, but the Archbishop has clearly identified some of the key issues and the implications of TEC’s position and some possible outcomes. Should the Archbishop have gone further in his statement at this time, or is he right to pause, consider and reflect? Personally, I think the Archbishop shows a remarkable generosity towards TEC’s position, a generosity I’m not sure TEC’s decisions deserve. Here’s the text, you can make up your own mind.

Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future

Monday 27 July 2009

Reflections on the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion.


1. No-one could be in any doubt about the eagerness of the Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention to affirm their concern about the wider Anglican Communion. Their generous welcome to guests from elsewhere, including myself, the manifest engagement with the crushing problems of the developing world and even the wording of one of the more controversial resolutions all make plain the fact that the Episcopal Church does not wish to cut its moorings from other parts of the Anglican family. There has been an insistence at the highest level that the two most strongly debated resolutions (DO25 and CO56) do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria, if the wording is studied carefully. There is a clear commitment to seek counsel from elsewhere in the Communion about certain issues and an eloquent resolution in support of the 'Covenant for a Communion in Mission' as commended by ACC13. All of this merits grateful acknowledgement. The relationship between the Episcopal Church and the wider Communion is a reality which needs continued engagement and encouragement.

2. However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed. The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour, although a significant minority of bishops has just as clearly expressed its intention to remain with the consensus of the Communion. The statement that the Resolutions are essentially 'descriptive' is helpful, but unlikely to allay anxieties.

3. There are two points which I believe need to be reiterated and thought through further, and it seems to fall to the Archbishop of Canterbury to try and articulate them. To some extent they echo part of what I wrote after the last General Convention, as well as things said at the Lambeth Conference and the ACC, but they still have some pertinence.


4. The first is to do with the arguments most often used against the moratoria relating to same-sex unions. Appeal is made to the fundamental human rights dimension of attitudes to LGBT people, and to the impossibility of betraying their proper expectations of a Christian body which has courageously supported them.

5. In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion's life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.

6. However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.

7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. (There is also an unavoidable difficulty over whether someone belonging to a local church in which practice has been changed in respect of same-sex unions is able to represent the Communion's voice and perspective in, for example, international ecumenical encounters.)

10. This is not a matter that can be wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal. Prejudice and violence against LGBT people are sinful and disgraceful when society at large is intolerant of such people; if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.


11. The second issue is the broader one of how a local church makes up its mind on a sensitive and controversial matter. It is of the greatest importance to remember this aspect of the matter, so as not to be completely trapped in the particularly bitter and unpleasant atmosphere of the debate over sexuality, in which unexamined prejudice is still so much in evidence and accusations of bad faith and bigotry are so readily thrown around.

12. When a local church seeks to respond to a new question, to the challenge of possible change in its practice or discipline in the light of new facts, new pressures, or new contexts, as local churches have repeatedly sought to do, it needs some way of including in its discernment the judgement of the wider Church. Without this, it risks becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe.

13. This is not some piece of modern bureaucratic absolutism, but the conviction of the Church from its very early days. The doctrine that 'what affects the communion of all should be decided by all' is a venerable principle. On some issues, there emerges a recognition that a particular new development is not of such significance that a high level of global agreement is desirable; in the language used by the Doctrinal Commission of the Communion, there is a recognition that in 'intensity, substance and extent' it is not of fundamental importance. But such a recognition cannot be wished into being by one local church alone. It takes time and a willingness to believe that what we determine together is more likely, in a New Testament framework, to be in tune with the Holy Spirit than what any one community decides locally.

14. Sometimes in Christian history, of course, that wider discernment has been very fallible, as with the history of the Chinese missions in the seventeenth century. But this should not lead us to ignore or minimise the opposite danger of so responding to local pressure or change that a local church simply becomes isolated and imprisoned in its own cultural environment.

15. There have never been universal and straightforward rules about this, and no-one is seeking a risk-free, simple organ of doctrinal decision for our Communion. In an age of vastly improved communication, we must make the best use we can of the means available for consultation and try to build into our decision-making processes ways of checking whether a new local development would have the effect of isolating a local church or making it less recognisable to others. This again has an ecumenical dimension when a global Christian body is involved in partnerships and discussions with other churches who will quite reasonably want to know who now speaks for the body they are relating to when a controversial local change occurs. The results of our ecumenical discussions are themselves important elements in shaping the theological vision within which we seek to resolve our own difficulties.

16. In recent years, local pastoral needs have been cited as the grounds for changes in the sacramental practice of particular local churches within the Communion, and theological rationales have been locally developed to defend and promote such changes. Lay presidency at the Holy Communion is one well-known instance. Another is the regular admission of the unbaptised to Holy Communion as a matter of public policy. Neither of these practices has been given straightforward official sanction as yet by any Anglican authorities at diocesan or provincial level, but the innovative practices concerned have a high degree of public support in some localities.

17. Clearly there are significant arguments to be had about such matters on the shared and agreed basis of Scripture, Tradition and reason. But it should be clear that an acceptance of these sorts of innovation in sacramental practice would represent a manifest change in both the teaching and the discipline of the Anglican tradition, such that it would be a fair question as to whether the new practice was in any way continuous with the old. Hence the question of 'recognisability' once again arises.

18. To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities'.


19. As Anglicans, our membership of the Communion is an important part of our identity. However, some see this as best expressed in a more federalist and pluralist way. They would see this as the only appropriate language for a modern or indeed postmodern global fellowship of believers in which levels of diversity are bound to be high and the risks of centralisation and authoritarianism are the most worrying. There is nothing foolish or incoherent about this approach. But it is not the approach that has generally shaped the self-understanding of our Communion – less than ever in the last half-century, with new organs and instruments for the Communion's communication and governance and new enterprises in ecumenical co-operation.

20. The Covenant proposals of recent years have been a serious attempt to do justice to that aspect of Anglican history that has resisted mere federation. They seek structures that will express the need for mutual recognisability, mutual consultation and some shared processes of decision-making. They are emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions). They remain the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are not simply local.

21. They have been criticised as 'exclusive' in intent. But their aim is not to shut anyone out – rather, in words used last year at the Lambeth Conference, to intensify existing relationships.

22. It is possible that some will not choose this way of intensifying relationships, though I pray that it will be persuasive. It would be a mistake to act or speak now as if those decisions had already been made – and of course approval of the final Covenant text is still awaited. For those whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way, or whose vision of the Communion is different, there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness – existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily. But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces.

23. This has been called a 'two-tier' model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

24. It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely.

25. It is my strong hope that all the provinces will respond favourably to the invitation to Covenant. But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. It is important that there should be a clear answer to this question.


26. All of this is to do with becoming the Church God wants us to be, for the better proclamation of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. It would be a great mistake to see the present situation as no more than an unhappy set of tensions within a global family struggling to find a coherence that not all its members actually want. Rather, it is an opportunity for clarity, renewal and deeper relation with one another – and so also with Our Lord and his Father, in the power of the Spirit. To recognise different futures for different groups must involve mutual respect for deeply held theological convictions. Thus far in Anglican history we have (remarkably) contained diverse convictions more or less within a unified structure. If the present structures that have safeguarded our unity turn out to need serious rethinking in the near future, this is not the end of the Anglican way and it may bring its own opportunities. Of course it is problematic; and no-one would say that new kinds of structural differentiation are desirable in their own right. But the different needs and priorities identified by different parts of our family, and in the long run the different emphases in what we want to say theologically about the Church itself, are bound to have consequences. We must hope that, in spite of the difficulties, this may yet be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage.

+ Rowan Cantuar:

From Lambeth Palace, Monday 27 July 2009

© Rowan Williams 2009

Friday, 24 July 2009

fresh expression of wedding

The Church of England has announced a new liturgy for a Wedding and Baptism in one service. There is already considerable comment about this new initiative, but perhaps an alternative approach might bring in more punters. Consider the following:

Now that's what I call a Bridal March! H/T to Paul Ould

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

canon fodder

Spent an enjoyable hour this morning at Bishop’s Court being licensed as a non-residentiary Canon of Chelmsford Cathedral by Bishop John. The licensing took place during Morning Prayer in Bishop John’s chapel and Revd David Banting was also licensed. David and I helped lead a CYFA venture together back in 1988. I was pleased that my friend and colleague Canon Roger Matthews was able to attend along with Lydia Gladwin, Chris Newlands (the Bishop’s Chaplain) and Bishop Daniel,the Bishop of Kirinyaga, Kenya (link diocese with Chelmsford). It was a real privilege as this is the second to last official engagement before +John’s retirement; the final event will be the installation of Canon Martin Webster as Archdeacon of Harlow on Sunday evening.

I heard last Saturday that my Canon’s stall in the Cathedral will be St Mellitus, which is fitting as I’m on the staff of St Mellitus College. Somewhat relieved as Roger ended up with Queen Maud when he became a Canon. The installation in the Cathedral will be 24th August when I hope friends and family will be able to come along. I’ve been asked what is involved in being a Canon and the answer is not a lot! I get to hand over £20 a year, attend a dinner, an afternoon tea and a Canons’ day with lunch. Other onerous tasks include guarding the statutes of the Cathedral and being locked in the Cathedral with the other Canons to elect the new Bishop of Chelmsford. In the Church of England, when a diocesan bishop retires, moves to another diocese or dies, the monarch will summon the Greater Chapter to elect a successor. This election is ceremonial as the monarch also tells the members of the Greater Chapter whom to elect. If members of the Greater Chapter fail to attend they are declared to be contemptuous, so I've been warned. I understand that each Canon is given a Psalm which they are supposed to say every day; wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up with Psalm 119, though being a drummer I’d quite like Psalm 150.

canon5 The Declaration of Assent


The License

canon3Phil Ritchie, Bishop John, Bishop Daniel, David Banting

Monday, 20 July 2009

the long goodbye

Saturday was one long goodbye in Chelmsford Cathedral. In the morning we celebrated the St Mellitus College Graduation and Valedictory Service. The service was an opportunity for final year students to receive their academic awards and to give thanks for their time in training for ministry. During the service Readers, licensed last October, and recently ordained Deacons received their degrees and diplomas from Professor Edward Esche, Dean of Arts and Education at Middlesex University. It was a very special day as this was the first group of Readers to complete their training with St Mellitus College and be awarded the Dip HE Ministry, specifically designed for Reader training.

Readers Maureen McPherson, Julia MacGregor, Margaret Plant, Margaret Fowler and Jackie Sams. (Sue Sterry, Brenda Miller and Sue Masters were unable to attend.)

The Dean of St Mellitus, Rev Dr Graham Tomlin, was celebrant at the Valedictory Eucharist and Rev Dr David Hilborn preached on the theme of Ministry as Jazz, a theme which was continued throughout the day. Other members of staff took part in the service and we were joined in the Cathedral by family, friends and current students of the college.

Some of St Mellitus College Staff: Ann Coleman, Andy Knowles, Graham Tomlin, Mary Smith, Prof Edward Esche (Middlesex University), Phil Ritchie, Jeremy Ganga and David Hilborn.

After a buffet lunch and a good chat with students and guests, Graham and I headed off to the pub to catch the afternoon session of the Lord's Test Match before returning to the Cathedral for the second goodbye service, this time for Bishop John and Lydia Gladwin. Bishop John has served the Diocese for nearly six years as Bishop of Chelmsford and is the sixth bishop in a row to have the name John! It was another great occasion, with +John preaching and various tributes offered from those representing different aspects of his ministry both locally and nationally. +John is a great jazz fan so it was fitting that the service included some jazz and the refreshments afterwards were accompanied by a jazz band. Bishop John served as Chairman of Christian Aid, reflecting his passion for social justice, and in retirement he will take over as Chair of the Citizens Advice Bureau.

There was time for one more goodbye on Sunday when the family went to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Professor Dumbledore has finally departed Hogwarts for the last time, though it took nearly two and a half hours to reach the denouement. My children are now engaged in a forensic dissection of the film and detailed comparison with the book. They have already identified several inconsistencies and gaps in the plot. I tremble in fear of the day when they turn their analytical skills on my sermons.

Rather than post a review of the film, I recommend the following reviews by +Alan Wilson and David Keen.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

am I being fired?

The Bishop of Chelmsford has just announced that he has appointed me as a non-residentiary Canon of Chelmsford Cathedral, which begs the question: ‘Is he planning to fire me?’ Six non-residentiary Canons have been appointed and the details are published here. It is an honour and I believe it reflects the importance that Bishop John places on lay education and training for ministry in the Diocese. I used to attend Chelmsford Cathedral as a young boy while at Chelmsford Cathedral Primary School. In those days the Cathedral was a very dark, dusty, gloomy place and my memory is of miserable Thursday morning BCP Morning Prayer; it’s a miracle I ever went near a church again. I was ordained in the Cathedral in 1987 and by then it had become a light, airy and attractive worship space, the old pews had gone and the only items from the old days that I remember are the rather tatty flags, now kept well out of the way. I was licensed to my present role in the Diocese in the Cathedral in 2001.

Unfortunately, I can't attend the collation and installation on August 16th so Bishop John will be licensing me in his chapel on 21st July and then the installation by the Dean will take place at Evening Prayer in the Cathedral on 24th August. My dad Sam is an honorary Canon of St. Edmundsbury Cathedral so we'll get to compare scarfs. 'What larks, eh Pip!'

Monday, 13 July 2009

arks and churches

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of going to St Andrew’s Westcliff-on-Sea, but things didn’t go quite according to plan. The purpose of my visit was to hand out certificates to church members who had completed Getting to Know the Bible; an introductory course on how to read the Bible which we have developed for use in the diocese. I had also been asked to preach. Just before the service started the vicar’s wife Gill, who is a Reader at the church, fell over and dislocated her elbow and appeared to have broken her arm. An ambulance was called and Gill and Stuart, her husband, went off to hospital and I took over leading the service. Gill was released from hospital later in the day after having her arm put in plaster.

Members of the St Andrew's Getting to Know the Bible Course

It was great to meet a group of people who were excited about reading the Bible and discovering how it can nurture and enrich their Christian discipleship. This is the second group at St Andrew’s to take the course and more are planned for the future. The passage I was given to preach on was the Old Testament reading set for yesterday from 2 Samuel 6, the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant from Abinadab’s house to Jerusalem. It’s a tricky passage because as events unfold Uzzah, who touches the Ark during the journey, is struck down dead. During my time in the Holy Land last Advent I visited the site which Jewish and Christian tradition believes to be Abinadab’s house. There is a convent on top of a hill overlooking the Muslim town of Abu Gosh and the church is called The Shrine of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant. Incidentally, this is also believed to be one of the possible locations of the town of Emmaus.

Icon from The Shrine of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant

During my sermon I handed out copies of an icon from the church. The picture portrays the priests carrying the Ark using poles in the prescribed manner (unlike David who put the Ark on a cart) and above this are the figures of Mary and Jesus. Mary is portrayed as the new Ark of the Covenant; bearing the very presence of God in the person of Christ. I reflected on the contrast between the old Ark that no one could touch and Jesus, who spent his life touching and being touched by others.

Anyway, it was very encouraging to see a church willing to study the Old Testament in their main service of worship and prepared to wrestle with one of the more challenging passages. I really liked the way the people at St Andrew’s have developed the church plant, with a comfortable coffee area at the back of the church, and there are plans for a bigger community cafĂ© to be built. The church, under Stuart and Gill’s leadership, is also developing their work amongst people with learning difficulties in the area.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

raja shehadeh

A few days ago I blogged about the book Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh. The Guardian has just published Echoing Lands an article by Raja in which he writes about his annual holiday in the Highlands of Scotland. Raja draws parallels between his beloved Palestinian homeland and the Highlands in a powerful manner:

A year later we came back to Glen Orchy for another walking holiday. This time the weather was kinder to us. We started on the Old Military Road. Walking by the cultivated forest, the river Kinglass ran to our left. It was wider here and flowed slowly. Its shallow bed was full of shiny round stones. I stopped to take in the view. What superb country this is. The river flowed in an open expansive glen with hills to the right, and along our path as far as the eye could see lay more lochs with a track that would take days to walk.

I thought of Palestine's main river, the Jordan, and how it was impossible to take such a walk along its banks, for the river is caged in barbed wire from the point where it leaves Lake Tiberius until it flows into the Dead Sea. The smooth contours of the green hills here reminded me of the Galilee hills in spring. Not long ago I walked in them searching for the villages that a great-great-uncle of mine used as hiding places when he was on the run to escape arrest by Ottoman forces during the first world war. Those villages were all destroyed in 1948 when Israel was established. Cleared of its former inhabitants, the land is now used to plant barley and wheat. I had tried to imagine what it must have been like over 60 years ago when it was alive with the labour of simple farmers, their lowing animals and active village life. Now the land lay silent except for the whisper of the wind among the wheat stalks. A silence not unlike the quiet pervading these Highlands which, as I now know, had been inhabited until the early 19th century when greedy landlords decided it was more profitable to raise sheep and forced the tenants out of the land.

The Hills are Alive is another interview given to The Guardian by Raja in 2007, including an extract from Palestinian Walks. Raja's latest book Strangers in the House is published this week and is reviewed in The Independent.

Friday, 10 July 2009

st mellitus college inspection

One of the really exciting aspects of my job is being part of the staff of a new theological college. St Mellitus College is a partnership between the Dioceses of Chelmsford and London, training people for ministry both lay and ordained. My own involvement as Director of Lay Ministry is to head up the Dip HE Ministry programme for Reader training. During the first few months of this year the college underwent an inspection and the report St Mellitus Inspection and Reader Moderation was published a few days ago. It was a fairly demanding and challenging process but the outcome has been very encouraging.

Here's what the Bishops have had to say (pictured left with the Dean Revd Dr Graham Tomlin):

The Bishops of London and Chelmsford have welcomed the excellent first Inspection Report of St Mellitus College, a theological college created through a joint initiative between the two dioceses to offer innovative ways of training in theology and ministry for ordained and lay ministry.

St Mellitus College, which saw its first graduates become ordained as Deacons this summer, received a glowing report from the Ministry Council inspection team. The report concluded that the college had an “excellent breadth of teaching and academic standard” and recognised “examples of outstanding teaching which related well to the student body.”

The Bishop of London, Rt Revd Richard Chartres, said:

“We have worked hard and prayed hard over the past two years to establish this college which serves the two dioceses of Chelmsford and London and the wider Church.

“It is an inspiring example of the sort of co-operation and holy imagination that I long to see driving forward our mission and ministry across London.”

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd John Gladwin, added:

"We are very encouraged by this excellent report and by the way St Mellitus has established itself. It is becoming a vital institution in the mission and ministry of the diocese."

The Bishops congratulated the Dean of the college, Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, and his dedicated staff on the progress that has been made by St Mellitus. Staff have now begun to explore the recommendations which the report gives to improve the work of the college in training ordained and lay ministers.

The new term at St Mellitus will see over 90 ordinands and many more lay people studying at the college, committed to deepening their faith and being equipped for the work of ministry.

St Augustine of Canterbury appointed Mellitus to be a missionary Bishop to the East Saxons in 604. He was based in London, but covered the whole of the region now covered by the dioceses of Chelmsford and London.

On Saturday 18th July Chelmsford Cathedral will host the St Mellitus Graduation and Valedictory Service. I am looking forward to taking part in the service particularly because our first cohort of Chelmsford Readers trained at St Mellitus will be receiving their Dip He Ministry awards; they all received a merit pass which is a fantastic start.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

celebrating the course in christian studies ‘09

Another great celebration in Chelmsford Cathedral last night as graduates of the Course in Christian Studies and Pastoral Assistants’ Training received their certificates from Bishop John. Nearly 70 CCS students and 12 Pastoral Assistants successfully completed their courses and arrangements are well under way for the new courses beginning this autumn. It was a wonderful service with music led by Dry Bones and an excellent sermon from Revd Graham Hamborg (Graham receives his doctorate from Nottingham University next week). The bishops of Chelmsford, Barking and Bradwell, archdeacons of Colchester and Southend, families, friends and clergy from across the diocese all joined in congratulating the students on their achievement. Here are a few photos from last night’s service.

A packed cathedral

Bishop John and Lydia Gladwin

The Pastoral Assistants & tutors

Students from the Ilford CCS centre with tutors

Three Essex bloggers at the service: Sam Norton-Elizaphanian, Phil Ritchie-Phil’s Treehouse, Tim Goodbody-Friends’ Meeting House

Details about the new Course in Christian Studies starting in September can be found at CCS.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Palestinian walks – notes on a vanishing landscape

I was thoroughly depressed last Friday to read Garth Hewitt’s account of the ongoing Israeli settlement programme and the annexation of Palestinian land (Church Times 3rd July). Particularly upsetting was the news of the changes occurring on Shepherds' Fields. I had the privilege of visiting Shepherds' Fields last Advent but it looks like any future visit will be a very different experience.Palestinian Walks

Since my visit to the Holy Land I’ve been dipping into a book by Raja Shehadeh called Palestinian Walks; Notes on a Vanishing Landscape which won the Orwell Prize in 2008. Raja is a Palestinian lawyer and writer who lives in Ramallah. He is founder of the non-partisan human rights organistion Al-Haq, an affiliate of the international Commission of Jurists and the author of books about international law, human rights and the Middle East. In the book Raja recounts seven walks taken in Palestine spanning a period of twenty seven years. Each walk is placed in a particular stage of modern Palestinian history, linking his walks with particular characters and reflecting on the wider social, political and economic situation.

Palestinian Walks is beautifully written as a love story between a man and the land of his birth; packed with incisive observations and haunting descriptions of a rapidly changing or disappearing landscape and people. I was rather suspicious when I was lent the book that it would be little more than propaganda; I’d had enough of that on my visit last year and the subsequent reporting of the conflict in the Gaza strip. However, there is a balance in Raja’s writing which displays a generosity at times towards those Israelis who could be regarded as the enemy and criticism of fellow Palestinians when it is deserved. In his introduction Raja writes:

The penultimate journey led to a confrontation with a young Jewish settler who had grown up and spent his twenty-five years of life in the very same hills. I knew that a large part of his life is based on lies. He must have been brought up on the fundamental untruth that his home was built on land that belonged exclusively to his people, even though it lay in the vicinity of Ramallah. He would not have been told that it was expropriated from those Palestinians living a few kilometres away. Yet, despite the myths that make up his world-view, how could I claim that my love of these hills cancels out his? And what would this recognition mean to both our future and that of our respective countries?

One chastening reminder in the book is the way in which Western visitors to Palestine have helped shape a view of the place that gives the impression of an uncivilised wasteland before the British Mandate and subsequent establishment of the State of Israel. For example Thackeray described the hills Raja loves as:

Parched mountains, with a grey bleak olive tree trembling here and there; savage ravines and valleys paved with tombstones – a landscape unspeakably ghastly and desolate, meet the eye wherever you wander round about the city. The place seems quite adapted to the events which are recorded in the Hebrew histories. It and they, as it seems to me, can never be regarded without terror.

Notes of a journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo

Raja observes that it is as though visitors were disappointed not to find the Palestine of their imagination and took a strong dislike to what they encountered. Here are some of Mark Twain’s comments:

Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes

Palestine is desolate and unlovely

Palestine is no more of this work-day world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition – it is a dream-land

The Innocents Abroad

A cruel paradox is highlighted in this quote from Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman, two Israeli architects:

the very thing that renders the landscape ‘biblical’, its traditional inhabitation and cultivation in terraces, olive orchards, stone building and the presence of livestock, is produced by the Palestinians, whom the Jewish settlers came to replace.And yet the very people who cultivate the ‘green olive orchards’ and render the landscape biblical are themselves excluded from the panorama. The Palestinians are there to produce the scenery and then disappear.

A Civilian Occupation, The Politics of Israeli Architecture

Shepherds Fields In the first chapter of Palestinian Walks, The Pale God of the Hills, Raja describes how his grandfather’s cousin Abu Ameen built a qasr, a stone structure where farmers keep their produce and sleep on the roof, and cultivated olive tree terraces. Raja discovered the long abandoned plot on a walk between Ramallah to Harrasha and reflected on the effort put in by so many Palestinians to create these plots and landscapes. Raja marvels at what was created:

I felt I could sit all day next to this qasr and feast my eyes on this wonderful creation. What fortunate people once lived in this veritable paradise.

His delight in the landscape contrasts with the description of Herman Melville:

Whitish mildew pervading whole tracts of landscape – bleached-leprosy-encrustations of curse-old cheese-bones of rocks, – crunched, knawed, and mumbled – mere refuse and rubbish of creation – like that laying outside of Jaffa Gate – all Judea seems to have been accumulations of this rubbish.

Journals of a Visit to Europe and the Levant

Raja has devoted his legal practice to defending Palestinians whose land has been taken by the Israeli authorities or settlers. He movingly records the way in which much loved land has been deemed abandoned and forfeit by the state. The Kafkaesque system that covers land law in the Holy Land and the implications and impact of its application are carefully explained. Raja’s patience, discipline and dedication are remarkable as is his passion for justice. He represents both Palestinian Muslims and Christians who face the loss of land to the settlers and this is a stark reminder that many Palestinian Arabs are Christians, though their numbers have fallen drastically in recent years.

The ever expanding Separation Wall or Barrier is a recurring presence in the narrative and Raja describes the impact of the wall on Palestinian towns, farms and businesses. In one short but powerful passage he reflects on the impact of the wall/barrier on Palestinian school children.

The mighty wall stretched from the top of the hill down to the road, leaving the southern slope, outside its borders, where some villagers had their homes. The government school serving several villages, including the two Beit ‘Urs, stood at the bottom of the hill – sandwiched between the wall and the new highway. The school and houses were reached by a steep, narrow, asphalted road bordering the wall. We could see some twelve-year-old boys returning from school, carrying their heavy bags up the hill. Adel pointed out that twice a day they pass along this ugly, prohibitive structure when in the past they had a panoramic view of the entire valley to the east. ‘What will they grow up thinking?’ he wondered aloud.

There is one very powerful image from the book that sticks in my mind and seems to encapsulate the tragedy of the Holy Land. There is a common thistle called natsch (Poterium Thorn) and tradition suggests it may have been used to make the crown of thorns worn by Christ. Natsch is plentiful and tenacious with strong roots. However, in Israeli military courts the presence of natsch is often cited as evidence that the land is uncultivated and therefore public land that the Israeli settlers could use as their own. The thistle is used as evidence against Palestinian claims to land ownership and an indication that the land has been abandoned. It is as if this humble thorn is being used to humiliate and punish inhabitants of the land.

If you want to discover more about the Holy Land, the beauty of its landscape, the nobility of its people and the terrible price being paid by its inhabitants in the present turmoil, I can’t think of a better place to start than Palestinian Walks.

Blog posts on my trip to the Holy Land can be found in my archive entries for November and December 2008.