Monday, 30 June 2014

So much to learn

Yesterday at St. Mary's we were joined by two of our Kenyan brothers and sisters who are in Chelmsford Diocese for a few weeks to help us celebrate our diocesan centenary. It was a particular joy to welcome Canon Moses, Principal of St. Andrew's College of Theology and Development, and Catherine Mwangi, who heads up the Anglican Development Services of Mount Kenya East. When I visited Kenya with my friend Glen for the consecration of the Bishop of Kirinyaga in 2012, Canon Moses was our host and made sure we had a wonderfully enriching time, offering us generous hospitality in the midst of a very busy period. On our previous church visit in 2011 we had seen something of the impact of the development services (known as CCS at the time) in working in developing sustainable communities. Katie, our curate, was in Kenya during Lent and spent time with Catherine and so was pleased to meet her again. Catherine will be staying with us at St. Mary's later in the week and preaching on Sunday morning.

with Catherine, Moses and
Roger (Dean of Mission and Ministry)
During the service our guests were invited to bring greetings from Kenya. As Canon Moses spoke he could not help but refer to the fact that five of his students had been refused visas to visit us in the diocese. It was clearly a matter of great hurt and pain that he was with us but his students were not and I felt shame for our country. Our immigration policies welcome many of the richest people in the world with open arms. Some of these people have acquired their wealth by extremely dubious means but in the UK it seems money talks. Unfortunately the Kenyan students don't have much money, they are ordinands training for ministry in their homeland and so their visas were turned down, despite assurances offered by bishops and even the archbishop.

And then Canon Moses challenged us to forgive and to trust the purposes of God. Quoting from Romans 8:28: 'We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose' he asked us if we believe this is true? Here is a man who not only speaks the gospel but lives it out, even in the midst of pain, hurt and rejection. We must forgive and pray for those who have made the decision to prevent our brothers and sisters in Christ from joining us. No words of bitterness or resentment, rather words of the grace of God spoken into a situation of injustice. We have so much to learn from our sisters and brothers in Christ.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Invisible signs

I seem to have developed the ability to see signs that don't exist. Take for example the sign in this picture. I know it doesn't really exist because I keep meeting cyclists on this path and I'm sure they wouldn't be riding there if they had seen the sign. This is the path by our church, St. Mary's, which leads from Church Street to The Chase and also to our Church Centre and office. I use the path every day and more often than not meet a cyclist riding along it. One morning a while back after morning prayer a cyclist rode into me, threw down his bike and ran after me while swearing and threatening me. Apparently I was a *&%$£*! +*^&%£$" for failing to jump into the hedge to avoid being caught by his handle bars. This is also the path many of our parents use to take their children to the Playschool and Toddlers in the morning and at lunchtime. My real concern is one of the little ones being hit by someone hurtling along the path and not seeing them. Now why doesn't the council put a sign up to avoid this happening?

Friday, 20 June 2014

A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief #worldcup2014

And so we gathered in The White Horse expectantly, the proverbial triumph of hope over experience. Over forty of us communing over curry, beer and World Cup football. Already on the back foot after the first loss against Italy, nevertheless there were signs of promise amidst the usual weaknesses and failings. The food, drink and company were excellent, unfortunately the same could not be said of the match. We lost. We lost to Uruguay. To be more precise, we lost to Louis Suarez. I won't detail the many reasons why this is a particularly bitter pill to swallow (his past racial abusing of an opponent, his attempt to eat another player etc.), what really hurts is the Uruguayan was only 75% fit and yet managed to make our defence look like a group of disorganised pub footballers.

The brief respite during the evening was provided by the half-time pundit we had invited along to save us listening to the inane ramblings of Adrian Chiles and the ITV crew. Bishop Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, rose to lift our spirits as England trudged off the pitch 1-0 down. He chose as his text Isaiah 53:3 and proceeded to recount just about every failing of the England team since the glory of the 1966 World Cup final. It was a litany of misery, failure, pain and suffering. From Peter the cat Bonetti's gaff against Germany in 1970, through the catalogue of missed penalties, red cards and squandered chances, up to Rob Green's howler against the USA in 2010. Bishop Stephen, speaking from bitter experience, reminded us that the lot of the England supporter is one of sorrow and grief, with each of us bearing the sores and scabs cruelly exposed afresh at tournament after tournament. He went on to remind us that each of us bears the marks of sorrow and grief accumulated over a lifetime and though we might empathise with one another there isn't much we can do about it. And then Bishop Stephen reminded us of the one who chose to share our condition and the only one who offers, not only understanding, but forgiveness, healing and hope; the Lord Jesus Christ, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. As we prepared to endure the second half Bishop Stephen concluded with his challenge: 'wake up and smell the incense!'.

True to form, having given us a few moments of hope with a goal from Rooney, England blew it as Suarez (may he be hounded from stadium to stadium next season) smashed the ball past a flailing Joe Hart in the last few minutes, to remind us afresh that we really are people of sorrow and acquainted with grief.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

PC or not PC isn't the question.

Over the last few weeks the blogger Cranmer has been having a dig at the Church of England and has developed a particular narrative. During the European elections he attacked the House of Bishops for being too pro Europe in a piece entitled The Church must now reconsider its Europhile bent. I won't get into that particular debate as the bishops are more than capable of defending themselves as bishops Pete Broadbent and Nick Baines ably demonstrate.

Today Cranmer published a post entitled Why does the church preach a PC gospel of middle-class respectability? The simple answer is it doesn't. Cranmer's blog post is prompted by a report into the educational challenges facing white working class children and the Church of England's response. I don't know where Cranmer lives or in which church he worships but he is clearly detached from the reality on the ground in white working class parishes up and down the land. Why am I qualified to speak about this? I was born in white working class Kentish Town in 1960 where my father worked as a London City Missioner. I grew up on the streets of white working class Belfast in the mid 1960s. I've lived in Brixton, Hull and Durham. My title post as a priest was in a white working class parish in Thurrock. My second parish was a church plant on a white working class urban overspill housing estate. My third post was on the white working class Becontree Estate in Barking and Dagenham in the 1990s. I am still good friends with parishioners in these places. I have many close friends and colleagues serving as priests in white working class parishes today. They are often the only professionals working and living in these parishes, serving sacrificially and faithfully proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. What Cranmer describes is a reality I simply do not recognise. The Church of England does not preach the gospel he claims.

What I do recognise is that there are particular challenges regarding the educational under-achievement of children living in some of the most deprived parts of our country and the church takes these very seriously. Cranmer has the grace to acknowledge this in his article. I am glad Cranmer recognises this commitment because through its church schools the Church of England is working hard and dedicating resources in some of the most challenging parts of our communities.

So what is Cranmer's real problem with the Church of England. I think he gives the game away in this revealing line:
While His Grace welcomes this development, he can think of one or two bishops who might find this sort of language a bit Ukippy, not to say BNP-ish or 'racist'. Funny - isn't it - how the Church permits matters of social justice to be determined and developed by ethnic identity, but those policy issues of considerable concern to the working class - such as immigration, housing and employment - may not.
For Cranmer the issue is all about ethnic identity and so he completely misses the point. The Church of England is concerned about the education of white working class children, not because they are white and working class, but because they are children precious in God's sight and deserving of the same life chances as anyone else. The tragedy is that many of these children have struggled generation after generation long before immigration was an issue. I hope and trust that if the report Cranmer refers to had highlighted that children of another ethnicity had been shown to be those struggling most educationally, then we would be committed to addressing those particular needs. The truth is that there are children in other communities, for example some Afro-Caribbean communities, who are also really struggling and the church is just as committed to meeting those needs through its church schools.

It is also wrong of Cranmer to claim the Church of England is not concerned about immigration, housing or employment. If you want to know how concerned the C of E is about housing and unemployment read Faith in the City published in 1985, look at all the work done arising out of that ground breaking report since and the real difference it has made to people's lives, including those from white working class backgrounds. Also check out who was most opposed to that report and you may be surprised to discover it was Cranmer's political party. So much for being concerned about white working class people.

Finally, we come to immigration. The Church of England is concerned about immigration as am I. I am particularly concerned about the way we seek to scapegoat and blame the other for the ills of our society; pandering to prejudice; stirring up hatred; fostering resentment and pretending that if only we could keep x, y and z out then all our troubles would be over. What Cranmer is concerned about is not that the Church of England isn't concerned about immigration but that it isn't concerned in the way that he wants it to be. Well, here's an example of how we have got into a mess as a society over immigration.

The Diocese of Chelmsford is linked with several Anglican dioceses in Kenya. We take groups of curates there regularly and greatly value our partnership. We are amazed at the welcome, hospitality and generosity of our brothers and sisters in Kenya, giving so much often from so little. This year we are holding a year of mission and outreach in our diocese and as part of that we invited a group of Kenyan Christians, including some ordinands, to come and share with us in mission during June and July. All of the ordinands invited have had their visas turned down and only two women invited have been granted visas. These people are not a risk to our country, they are not going to seek residence here because they are called to ministry in their own country. We wanted them to join us as our guests. Yet, despite all the assurances given and appeals for common sense to prevail, visas have still been refused. And so the Church of England in our diocese will be impoverished because of the pernicious application of rules which suggest we are a country that trades hostility for hospitality, rejection for welcome and suspicion for generosity out of fear. Of course the Church of England is concerned about immigration!

The Church of England is concerned about issues that affect all the people who live in our parishes and we address those issues day in and day out. That is not about being PC, it is about proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people, whatever their ethnicity.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Cross packing

Yesterday I posted a video about the way in which redundant church pews had been turned into holding crosses as part of a Diocese of Chelmsford initiative. Today's video tells the story about how some of the crosses came from our partner dioceses in Kenya. The technology used may have been different but the results are the same. Our curate Katie talks about the journey.

The follow up videos about the Chelmsford Holding Crosses are at the links below:
Holding on.
Exploring a rule of life.
Shaped by God.

More information about the Chelmsford Holding Crosses here.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Give us a pew

Church pews, what are they good for? Keeping the congregation awake? A job creation scheme for osteopaths? Making church as uncomfortable as possible for visitors? Playing how many splinters can I collect in one sitting? The Diocese of Chelmsford has come up with another use. As part of the Living Distinctively initiative to help people be a transforming presence in their communities the diocese has launched the Chelmsford Holding Cross. 10,000 have been made, with some coming from our partner dioceses in Kenya and many coming from church pews. Here's the first part of the story, featuring our wonderful curate Katie.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The wrong Neville #worldcup2014

You can understand how the mistake happened but pity the poor minion who is going to pay for the error. A couple of years ago Gary Neville retired from playing football and took the pundit's chair at Sky Sports for their Monday Night Football show. Many questioned Sky's judgement but Neville soon won over the critics with his detailed analysis, incisive comments and in-depth knowledge of the game based on a footballing career with honours that include 8 Premierships, 2 Champions League trophies, 3 FA Cups and 2 Football League Cups amongst many other achievements. Neville also has the qualifications to talk about international football having played 85 times for England. So when the BBC were looking for a new summariser to replace the world weary Mark Lawrenson for England's World Cup matches, Neville was an obvious choice. Imagine the delight at the BBC when they discovered Neville was available and the champagne corks will have been popping at BBC Sports when he signed up for the gig.

Unfortunately, the BBC got the wrong Neville. It had escaped their notice until too late that they'd signed Phil Neville not Gary and the consequences were played out in high definition, surround sound glory for all to hear last Saturday night as England's opening match against Italy kicked off. And that strange sound you could hear at half time, that was Mark Lawrenson chuckling as he sipped his Ovaltine.

Neville Neville
P.S. Truth be told, I thought Phil did a decent job, offered some good analysis and his CV is a lot more impressive than many on the airwaves at the moment. O.K. his delivery was fairly monotone and he needs to work on his microphone technique but he offered a lot more insight than most of the other summarisers on offer. If you want an over-excited airing of ignorance turn over to ITV or tune in to Robbie Savage and don't get me started on Jonathan Pearce's meltdown for the BBC covering France v Honduras.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Still conflicted #worldcup2014

This is probably the most conflicted I've felt about a football World Cup. I always look forward to seeing some of the best players in the world on the biggest stage. I say some because Ryan Giggs and George Best, to name but two, never graced the World Cup finals. However, this time more than ever, I am aware of the contrast between the staging of the tournament in Brazil and the terrible conditions endured by so many of that country's citizens. Alongside this is the ongoing saga of the FIFA shenanigans around awarding Qatar the 2022 finals and Sepp Blatter's continued mismanagement as president. I posted about the problems facing Brazilians a few months ago and nothing much has changed. For me the issues are incisively summed up in this sketch of the World Cup trophy by French illustrator Pez.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The shaming of our political class

What I hadn't counted on when posting yesterday about the free edition of The Sun, was the desperation with which our political leaders crave the support of Murdoch's press. All three leaders of the main parties were photographed holding up their copy of the freebie and the only reason can be that they are courting its support in the lead up to next year's general election. Not long ago we were being told that our politicians were ready to take on the vested interests in the press; it was time for them to be held to account and properly regulated. And yet, at a time when former News International employees, including editors, are on trial accused of various crimes connected with phone hacking, there are Dave, Nick and Ed gurning at the cameras clasping the newspaper. Business as usual then.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Unwelcome post

Made a basic school boy error this morning when I forgot to put the note on the door asking our postie not to deliver the free copy of The Sun to The Rectory. Today Murdoch's rag is being delivered free to households up and down the country. The excuse for doing it today is the start of the World Cup and the newspaper is touting itself as a celebration of what it means to be English under the headline This Is Our England.

I thought I'd check out the content. No page 3 for a change so at least something positive but it does raise the question why? If they are worried about causing offence then why do they have it in their normal editions? If you want to campaign against page 3 then check out the No More Page 3 website. Some of the usual suspects are in there including the professional rent a gobs represented by Clarkson, Hopkins, Moore and a predictably obnoxious piece courtesy of  Rod Liddle. I was very disappointed to discover James Corden and Alex James contributing.

This free edition isn't being delivered to Liverpool post codes; recognising that to have done so would have led to one of the biggest bonfires since 1666. Never forget the way that The Sun defamed those caught up in the Hillsborough tragedy and used the death of 96 supporters to boost its circulation figures.

Anyway, what to do. Well I thought I'd return the compliment and send my copy back to The Sun. If you'd like to join me here's the address: FREEPOST, The Sun, London E98 1AX.