I have just returned from holiday in Norfolk where we had a kind of pilgrimage to Croyland Abbey in the Fens. We went there because it was the site of the hermitage of St. Guthlac. Guthlac has been called the Anglo-Saxon Saint Anthony as he was an early pioneer of the hermit life in England, withdrawing to what was then an island in the middle of the Fen country. His life written by Felix of Croyland mirrors the experience of the Egyptian desert fathers but in a distinctively Anglo-Saxon way. I became interested in him after reading an account of his life by Benedicta Ward and have found him a helpful symbol around which to orientate my life and this discernment process.
1. Firstly there is the link with the Desert fathers who have been very important to me in recent years. I find the best way to understand my chronic illness is as being a kind of desert, something which isolates me from normal human life but which in embracing I can transform into a positive spiritual experience. The sayings of the Desert fathers are a constant source of inspiration in attempting to follow this path and I have found that the life of St. Guthlac similarly inspirational
2. Guthlac, however, is distinctively English. I have always found Anglo-Saxon spirituality has a vigorous masculinity about it which I have found helpful. I also like the sense of being rooted in a particular culture and it is important to me that the Anglican church is the Church of England. This does not need to be xenophobic, multiculturalism has always been part of our identity -- I myself have Welsh roots and my wife is Anglo-Irish with French ancestry. But to me it is important to be of a particular place and a particular time, maybe there is something about lay ministry which particularly witnesses to this.
3. The first part of Guthlac's life is much taken up with his struggles with demons. I would not interpret these literarily but they do speak to me of my own struggles with chronic illness and so makes Guthlac's story feel deeply personal. It is in these struggles that my own spirituality is formed.
4. Guthlac made his peace with nature. Much as Jerome made friends with a lion so the Saints are often depicted as restoring friendly relationships between human beings and animals. Guthlac is especially associated with ravens, who have a particular significance for me, and also with swallows, another bird that I have found meaningful. This close association with nature is very important to me and I feel that living at peace with the earth is an important part of what modern holiness might mean. I would hope that my ministry would have a strong ecological dimension to it.
5. Guthlac's relationship to the church is interesting. The monks at the monastery where he trained were suspicious of him, particularly because he avoided alcohol (something I also do) and there was an ongoing suspicion of his hermit life which I find echoed in modern-day accounts. Hermits don't really have a role in a worldview influenced by the Enlightenment. Nonetheless Guthlac was reconciled to the Church and was eventually ordained by the Bishop of Winchester after the Bishop visited him. Also, although, Guthlac was a hermit he, in common with the Desert fathers, obviously had significant relationships with a few people who were close to him -- notably St. Pega a female hermit who lived nearby and took responsibility for his body after his death. In these stories I can begin to see how my own necessary solitariness relates to the church, other people and, indeed, the world. Being recognized by the church as an LLM feels to me in analogous to this gradual incorporation of Guthlac into the Anglo-Saxon Church. After visiting Croyland Abbey -- the north aisle of which is used as the parish church my abiding reflection was 'this grew out of Guthlac's prayers'.
6. Finally as Guthlac's reputation grew he seemed to receive increasing numbers of visitors -- even including kings and bishops and in my own, far more modest way, this seems to reflect my own ministry of providing 'breathing space' to people who want to reflect on their life and work.
I keep thinking about Guthlac but I also find myself thinking about lay ministry. What is distinctive about lay ministry, that makes it different from ordained ministry? There is a formal dimension to this -- clearly lay ministry is non-sacramental, and it is also unpaid. This sets some important boundaries but is also not the full story. In particular licensed lay ministry -- the role of readers seems to have been in doubt in recent years. I was interested to find out that the office of reader has a very ancient history and is to be found in the Orthodox churches where it seems to be exactly what it says on the tin -- someone responsible for readings in the church. In Anglicanism its importance seems to have gone up and down over the years. Now it would appear to be under threat from two directions. Firstly the growth of non-stipendiary ministry, this, of course, is also unpaid but unlike the role of the reader it is sacramental. Secondly there has been a growth in notions of body ministry, particularly in charismatic circles and, also, perhaps from the emerging church scene which would tend to make the licensing of lay ministry redundant. Some people have argued that readers should become deacons and therefore subsumed within the traditional three orders of ministry that this would appear to be a formalistic approach which has little support. So what exactly is lay ministry. Are lay ministers just there to help the clergy? Is it a place for people who in some way weren't thought good enough to get ordained? Is it away for the institution to maintain some quality control over lay leadership? None of these feel particularly appealing, although they may contain truth in some circumstances. What is clear to me is that there is a difference between the formal role mapped out for readers or licensed lay ministers and the role they might actually play in particular contexts. And it is a contested field. So why do I want to be a licensed lay minister? Why does it seem to make sense to me at this time? Here are some initial thoughts:
-->1. Gifting. I seem to be good at preaching and leading certain aspects of worship, particularly because that's the feedback I get from people. It is something I am at ease with and feels right.
-->2. Contextualizing faith. I have always been most interested in contextual theology -- i.e. theology that is aware that it always arises out of particular contexts and which seeks to work explicitly in and with these contexts. I bring a professional background of community development, a sensitivity to local neighborhoods and grassroots community work, but also my particular context of chronic illness and reflection upon that. Lay ministry would seem to have a particular role in rooting the church and theology in particular non-religious contexts.
-->3. Leadership. Lay ministry obviously is about leadership in some sense, but I notice that some readers seem to feel they are used by clergy rather than being released to express all their gifts. But I suspect that licensed lay ministry appeals to me because I don't want to be 'the leader', I feel my gifts are better used in supporting leaders, analyzing and reflecting on particular contexts and, perhaps, bringing new perspectives and resources to problems. It is a kind of leadership but more withdrawn and hidden away -- rather like that offered by Guthlac!
Yesterday I lead Evening Prayer for Stoke Newington on the theme of 'What Makes Me Afraid?'. I was happy with the way it went and used a meditation which I have been using for many years myself -- although, of course, slightly adapted to a corporate situation. Focusing, as it does, on fear I was concerned that it might touch into very uncomfortable things for some people so I tried to make it a very safe environment and give people plenty of ways out if they needed it. In the end this didn't appear to be necessary, although of course you can never tell what is going on inside people's hearts, but I think it was important to do it anyway. Not everyone was able to enter into the meditation but some people, at least, seemed to find it valuable. I never fail to be struck by how little you know about what impact the services you lead have. Although it is nice to have positive feedback, it is certainly problematic if that is what you are focusing on. I try to do what I need to do and let it go. On the other hand it seems to me that it is valuable to have some means of getting feedback so that you can evaluate what you are doing and so develop your craft. In the voluntary sector, of course, we get people to fill in evaluation forms but most people find this pretty tiresome -- I always find they never quite enable you to say what you want to say. How can we develop some kind of reciprocity between leader and congregation so that the good can be encouraged and the unhelpful discouraged?
I have been thinking about the Church of England, particularly as I have been reading The Study of Anglicanism edited by Stephen Sykes and John Booty. It is from the 1980s so is out of date and takes no account of the ordination of women or any of the present discontents of global Anglicanism, but it has made me think.
There seems to be some problem, and, perhaps, some embarrassment about defining exactly what Anglicanism is. Its roots are in politics as much, if not more, than in theology and this makes theologians uneasy
The revival of the appeal tradition came with Keble and the Tractarianians. In their eyes it was disastrous to rest the authority of the Church of England on its national character, or that of bishops on their nomination by the Crown, or that of the prayer book on his authorization by a secular parliament. Bishops must arrive authority only from their consecration in the apostolic succession, not from secular power. Liturgy and spirituality should be fed from the study of the fathers.
It is all very well to desire this, but in the case of the Church of England it is not the case, at least not exclusively. It is a Church for England. From my point of view this makes it more interesting, because it means it is deeply contextualized. It is an attempt to express the Gospel and Christian tradition within a particular context and at particular times. For me it makes much more sense of the Church of England to accept this and embrace it rather than engage in what seems like the rather vain task of justifying it entirely in terms of Catholic tradition and/or biblical authority. It seems to me that the reality is that to Scripture, Tradition and Reason the Church of England has added Context and as far as I'm concerned there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. We do, after all, believe in the incarnation. Many years ago I remember being at a Christian studies lecture by George Carey in Bristol while he was still principle of Trinity College and he talked about principles of interpretation. With the bright eyed enthusiasm of a theology student I challenged him about the importance of our context in interpreting Scripture, particularly having in mind liberation theology, and he conceded that he had missed out this dimension. I was impressed by his reaction and have had time for him ever since. Nonetheless the ignoring of the contextual dimension in theology still, seems to me, pervasive within the academy and the church and ultimately creates an ever-growing gap between the church and society. I think this is what Alan Billings in the Church Times often writes about -- the failure to take seriously how people actually experience faith. Occasionally we try but we don't seem to be very good at it. I remember buying a book called On the Receiving End which tried to look at how people experience worship. The problem with it was that it was entirely theoretical and did not involve any research into what people actually experienced but was just one long string of assumptions! On the other hand a friend of mine has just completed a PhD on the everyday Christologies of people in two American Baptist churches which involved in-depth ethnographic studies of these churches. That is the kind of thing we need more of. But he needed to go to America in order to do it.
I would hope that my ministry would be about exploring what it means to be a Church for England. Not in any way rejecting tradition or Scripture but trying to make sense of them in this place and in this time. I have tried to do this in Hackney and Stoke Newington and previously in Bellingham and Battersea, but it might look very different in the next place I happen to find myself. I hope so.
I was glad to read an essay in The Study of Anglicanism it was Lex Orandi - Lex Credendi by W. Taylor Stevenson. He addressed more specifically the culture and context out of which Anglicanism's first grew and gave some thought to identifying an English ethos. He identifies the desire for consensus through the rule of law which emerged out of medieval England and is symbolized in the Magna Carta and alongside that a pragmatism which lacked an interest in speculative philosophy. That is Anglicanism helped form the English identity in the early modern period and the emphasis on a middle way between extremes. I think this is very close to what I was talking about in terms of being a Church for England. The interesting thing is what this means now in a time when Christendom persists but is declining, where English society has become multifaith and there is increasing globalization.
I don't quite know what to make of the Anglican Communion. Certainly it is important to have these international relationships in our globalized world. Certainly there is much that we can learn. Our link here with Mozambique seems like a very good thing. But does it perhaps distract us from developing a 'church for England'? And what are Anglican churches in Texas, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea supposed to do with this English heritage which grew out of colonialism rather than our own struggle to form a national identity? I guess it just shows the further along you go the messier things get and you just have to make the best of what you've got. Very pragmatic!
I have been reading the chapter on the laity and it makes me think about my potential role as a Licensed Lay Minister. It is clear that the role of lay people has been seen as being increasingly important in the church and that theology has been changing along with this. I read an interesting book some time ago by Herbert Haag which from a Roman Catholic situation argued that the division into clergy and laity was not original to the primitive church. Nonetheless, whatever we think about the history this is the situation that we have now and we must make the most of it. Certainly I think it is natural for some people to assume leadership within any community and it is generally better to have this clearly codified, my experience of churches such as the Christian Brethren is that they have a de facto clergy even though they don't call them that, and this makes it even more difficult to resolve issues of power and authority. So how do I understand my role as a lay minister?
I think what I said on January 21 still holds good. Being a lay minister should enable me to express my gifting particularly in terms of preaching and leading small groups. But I think it will enable me to do this in a more emergent way without the demands of clerical leadership, I prefer to enter into contexts very slowly, trying to understand them from the inside rather than imposing my vision upon them. I have tried to do this with 'Evensong for Stoke Newington' even though I have had to move more rapidly than I would naturally want to. I realize this is also how many clergy try to work but I am sure it is easier to wait and be patient when you are lay minister because you don't have the same weight of expectation. I have enjoyed doing this with the house group where I have gradually taken it over from Lucyann and developed an approach which seems very comfortable.
I have developed three or four session Bible studies on 1 Thessalonians, Mark and now the wisdom literature. A typical sheet is attached below
These start with a prayer and then go on to a sharing around a theme which I hope will illuminate the passage when we come to it. Thus when talking about Proverbs I asked people to share about someone who they consider to be a wise person. Interestingly people most often referred to their parents and of course passing on parental wisdom is a key theme in Proverbs. I then give some small amount of background on the passage before reading the passage itself. I ask people to think about a particular issue as they hear the passage and then I have a large number of questions to stimulate discussion most of which I often don't use. Then to finish I have a time of quiet contemplation before concluding with a prayer. There is nothing particularly unusual about this process but I like it a lot. It is prayerful. It starts from real life. It is respectful of the text but it also interrogates it and it provides some quiet space.
Books of Wisdom
We thank you for the gift of wisdom. As we study the book of Proverbs may we learn wisdom; listening, sharing and discussing together, putting aside immature things and becoming the mature human beings you wish us to be.
What does it mean to be wise? Perhaps this is a difficult question to answer in the abstract but maybe we have come across people in our lives who have seemed to us to be wise. Who in their lives have embodied that mature wisdom which has been an inspiration to us…
· Who have you known who seemed to you to be a wise person?
· Do you still think of them as a wise person?
· What was it about them that made them wise?
Wisdom in the time of the Old Testament
John Drane gives us some useful context
"When the Jewish historian Josephus described the wisdom books as 'precepts for the conduct of human life', he was probably thinking especially of the book of Proverbs, which contains many easily memorized observations on how people should behave in order to enjoy a satisfying life. Here we find advice of the sort that parents throughout the world might give to their children, and for that reason many of the instructions of the book of Proverbs would not have been out of place in quite different cultural contexts. Indeed, Proverbs 22:17-23:11 is at many points identical to an Egyptian document of about the 12th century BC, the Teaching of Amenemope. In the ancient world, the pursuit of wisdom seems to have involved many different skills. Perhaps it was a term used simply to note possession of whatever abilities were necessary for a particular individual to be successful in their own sphere of life".
Do you agree with these ‘words of wisdom’ -- what seems insightful, what seems strange to you?
· Are the old always wiser than the young?
· How can parents help their children become wise?
· Why might the fear of the Lord be the beginning of wisdom?
· Do those who are ‘greedy for gain’ always destroy themselves?
· In what ways might it be true that the wise will be secure and and live at ease?
· Why do you think Wisdom is normally personified as a woman?
· If Wisdom was crying out on the street today what would she be saying?
· How might we become more wise?
· What benefit might this bring to us?
· Jesus is often seen as a personification of Wisdom -- in what ways do you think this is the case?
Time of reflection
Is learning wisdom something that has been important to me?
What might it mean for me to seek wisdom?
What practical steps might I take to learn wisdom?
We thank you for the teaching about wisdom that we find in Proverbs and for the example of wisdom that we see in the life of Jesus.
Teach us what it means to be wise, and place in our hearts a hunger for wisdom and understanding, that we might learn to become the people you created us to be. Amen.
I have always really enjoyed the Bible but I have become increasingly frustrated with what I see as ultraconservative hermeneutics which pretend to be but aren't actually respectful of the text. They pretend to be biblical but are reading it through such a rigid grid of assumptions that they don't really seem to be listening at all. In recent years I have been particularly struck by the theological implications of having four Gospels, rather than trying to harmonize these into a single narrative, or dismissing those parts which we think are later additions, surely the point is that reality can be seen from different perspectives and the more of these perspectives we have the nearer we are likely to get to the truth. The Bible is always using multiple perspectives (cf. the narratives of Kings and Chronicles) and is making a very important theological point in doing so. For me this is not a problem but it's great glory. But I am beginning to get off the purpose of this journal!
Emergence is definitely a key to understanding how I work. I find the work of the artist Andy Goldsworthy very inspiring. He works with the natural world, working with what he finds in the landscape but also with ideas and themes such as the colour red and various shapes such as the cairn. Out of these he creates beautiful works which are as much about change, destruction and failure as success and beauty. This is the way I try to work, yes I have recurrent themes -- the Bible, questions, the way of Jesus but it all depends on what I find out there in the world and the failures are as important as the successes because it is always about learning.
I enjoyed preaching at St. Mary's yesterday. It felt very normal and natural and I was able to give myself to it wholeheartedly without nerves. I like the way preaching integrates writing, drama and spirituality. People were also very positive about what I was saying and I had lots of interesting feedback, although I couldn't help but reflect on the words of Gilbert Burnet from the 17th century
For it is certain that the sermon, the conclusion where of makes the Auditory look pleased, and sets them all talking one to another, was either not right spoken, or not right heard; it had been fine, and has probably delighted the congregation, rather than edified it. But that sermon which makes everyone go away silent and grave, and hastening to be alone, to meditate or pray over the matter of it in secret, has its true effect.
But I also think he would've been rather appalled at the short length of it! Still I have found it interesting to reflect on the feedback I received. Many people seemed to enjoy having the chance to think about St. Paul and identified with what I said about him being unpopular and difficult, but at least one person was inspired to go and study him more seriously. Other people were more struck by my rhetorical style, which was dramatic at times. Although there are dangers in a surfeit of rhetoric over content I think, by and large, most preachers don't pay enough attention to the use of rhetoric by which we can engage peoples attention and imagination. I think, however, there was sufficient depth to engage people more deeply, actually it is easier to make the profound dramatic. The superficial is always boring. What I enjoyed most about preparing the sermon was the time that I had to spend on it -- not something that is always possible if you're churning them out week after week -- it went through at least three different phases and the final one did, I think, engage deeply with the text. I was inspired when I realized that Paul was using the crucifixion as a symbol rather than the component of a logical argument and this made preaching the sermon much easier. I was particularly struck by one comment. The person said that not many sermons 'open the door', which I find an arresting phrase. I take it to mean that the sermon itself opens the door to a genuine spiritual experience for the listener. Which I suppose is what Gilbert Burnet was talking about, in his own way.
I have been thinking about pastoral care and what my role as a pastor might be.
Obviously there is the role of providing what I call 'Breathing Space' to people who come and see me. This is something which seems to have developed naturally over the years. Moving out of London will, of course, diminish this but it might begin to emerge again as time goes on. I certainly have a lot of experience now and certainly feel I have a better idea of what I am doing than when I started. I have done a lot of work with a friend of mine called Geoffrey Court and some others on what is the nature of this 'Breathing Space'.
Secondly there is the work I have done around Chronic Illness. I have found there is a kind of implicit community amongst those of us who have suffered long-term illness which becomes explicit when we start to reflect on it together. It is as if we can look into each other's eyes and know what we are talking about. I have been particularly influenced by my experience of older Caribbean women's spirituality in this regard, they are people who know what it is to suffer but they refuse to let it get him down, rather pressing on that they might gain the crown. It is a very beautiful thing.
Connected with this, but also distinct is an interest in building relationships with people who are somehow marginal within communities. Maybe this is because I feel that same marginality
I also, at times, find myself taking a more central role within communities. I prefer this to be a slightly withdrawn role and often think of myself, using a cricketing metaphor, as being a kind of backstop. Happy to fill in the gaps which emerge in any community (this obviously relates to the previous point). I am never entirely happy being the leader but will do it if necessary. Nonetheless I do enjoy opportunities where my ideas can take concrete form -- as in Evening prayer for Stoke Newington. I find the Belbin team roles helpful in understanding this. In this description of the roles of different people playing teams there is a role called the Plant, this is the person who responds to other people's ideas and particularly problems the group is encountering with new perspectives and novel solutions. So I like to play off other peoples initiative and leadership. The other role I score highly in is that of Resource Investigator who is the person who brings in new ideas and researches resources for the group. I think this describes me quite well.
I am continuing to enjoy reading The Study of Anglicanism. But John Pobee's article is the first to really embrace a contextual understanding of Anglicanism because he's African perspective enables him to see more clearly how deeply embedded Anglicanism is in the English experience
To be able to free themselves from the Anglo-Saxon albatross, the younger diocese must themselves search for an indigenized theology, spirituality and worship. Loved as Hooker, Gore etc. are, their theologies are contextual, emerging out of a particular situation... Spirituality, like worship, is contextual and cannot meaningfully and satisfyingly be appropriated from another culture. It comes from the resting of real living bodies with that same revelation of God. That wrestling cannot be done for one by another; the revelation of God demands engagement with it in one's own context, if it is to be understood.
It is difficult to resist the logic of this argument but, it seems to me, that it is rarely at the heart of Anglican theology. In England we seem to think that contextual theology is all very well in the 'Third World' or in the 'inner city' but what 'we' should really be doing is a universal theology based on Scripture, tradition and reason, and our context can be conveniently left on one side.
I have also been continuing to think about pastoral care and I realized that community development is an important part of my approach. OC Edwards Junior in his article on the Anglican Pastoral Tradition in the same book points out how pastoral care is often reduced to the individual relationship between pastor and parishioner and is thus increasingly thought of in terms of counseling. This, however, diminishes the full tradition of pastoral care which involves worship and other more communal activities. Pastoral care is most effective when we all hold each other in the community of the church and I think community development has some useful things to say about how we can enable these kinds of communities to develop.
Monday 28th February
A very busy 10 days. Last Saturday we held the Abide with Me event which was the conclusion of my work and chronic illness. I found it a very beautiful time, people were open and honest and there was a lovely atmosphere. Giving people the opportunity to share about the tough stuff in their lives without imposing easy solutions but struggling together for some real-life healing is such a valuable thing to do.
Then this week we were looking at new parishes for Lucyann. In one the housing seems totally inadequate. Given my limited mobility where I live is of extreme importance. I find myself very attracted to the idea of living next to a church, I'm not quite sure what to make of this but it must have something to do with an attraction to holy places and seems to relates to my identification with St. Guthlac. The other parish was a very remote rural parish which seemed much more possible and I find myself strongly drawn to the idea. I like the idea of becoming deeply identified with one particular community and exercising my ministry within that context whilst also providing some space within that context for people to come and visit and occasionally visiting other places as my health permits. One of the clergy team here suggested I could have a wider preaching ministry there after hearing me recently, I had never really thought of this but I suppose it might develop. It has some attraction.
Saturday 5th March
I have been reading the book To Know As We Are Known -- education as a spiritual journey by Parker J. Palmer and have been finding it very inspiring. Certainly it helps that he reflects deeply one of my beloved desert fathers (!) but his philosophy of education seems to me to connect with my concern for a contextual knowledge. He argues that all knowledge is neither objective nor subjective but found in relationship with what we seek to know. I find this very amenable and it seems highly relevant to my prospective ministry. The Christian gospel is not simply a deposit of objective knowledge which has to be communicated to people but a living experience which we unearth and explore together, and neither is it merely my subjective experience which I somehow try to get other people to believe in, rather it is revealed as we experience it together. I think this is very much what we have been trying to do with Evening Prayer for Stoke Newington, but this doesn't diminish for me the value of preaching when you share your own experience of the divine and your encounter with the Word -- providing I do share it as my personal response rather than tablets of stone descending from on high!
Saturday 12th March
I have been writing up the Abide with Me event. The thing that has really struck me about the whole process is that what we were talking about was not just about chronic illness but about all the tough and difficult things that people go through in their lives -- unemployment, difficult relationships, insecurity -- and how Christianity doesn't in some magic way solve all these problems. Rather it enables us to deeply engage with this experience, feeling all the pain and loss but not giving up hope. Healing and resolution does not come through simple or instantaneous solutions but through personal spiritual growth, through the practice of loving community and through the Spirit which inveigles itself into our experience. During the event we came to see that people with chronic illness can have a prophetic role in the church, their experience of the dark side of life can enable churches to become more engaged with the difficulties and contradictions of life which are all too easily smoothed away. They can help churches develop a cross shaped spirituality which enables new life to emerge out of pain and struggle. Because all churches have people with chronic illnesses the issue and opportunity is of widespread significance, but, of course, our attitude to chronically ill people needs to change as does the confidence of chronically ill people themselves. It is a hard road but very worthwhile. I think my experience of running this chronic illness programme over the past five years is going to be very significant for my future ministry whether or not I am directly working with chronically ill people. It has fundamentally changed my spirituality and understanding of what churches can be. At their best they are places where pain, struggle and difficulty are held, listened to and understood and out of which emerges hope and new life.
Sunday 20th March
Evensong at St. Mary's Old Church
-- an update March 2011
We have been established in our new pattern for a number of months and are now settling into a well-established rhythm. This involves the traditional BCP sung evensong on the first Sunday of the month normally led by Jonathan or occasionally by Alan Murray. For the rest of the Sundays we have been following the Evening Prayer for Stoke Newington liturgy which we developed last year.
The new liturgy in many ways follows the traditional evensong structure and includes familiar items such as the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis in the Lord's prayer. Nonetheless it has a very different feel being much more informal and participative. Theologically it emphasizes asking questions rather than giving answers and seeks to create a safe space where people can explore their spiritual journey and tries to avoid giving people answers to questions they aren't asking! We have had discussions so exciting that one long standing member of st Mary's commented that ‘God has landed’. We have had other services where participation was more meditiative and less obvious.
I have taken a participative leadership role in a small group of leaders - Clare Lissaman, Sara Cottingham and recently Melissa Martin has started to lead a few services. We have missed Tania Coke who left for Japan in November and we are aware that I will be leaving sometime this year which will put additional pressure on the leaders. For this reason, amongst others, we have developed a basic form of the liturgy which does not require previous preparation. This will enable us to maintain the rhythm without overtaxing the existing leaders.
Numbers vary. We have been as low as four, just after Christmas, but normally are around a dozen and occasionally have got as high as 23. There are relatively few people who attend most weeks but at least six groups of people can be identified
1. Regular attenders who get involved in leading and participating in making tea and coffee and clearing away
2. A small group of relatively regular attenders
3. More occasional attenders who come perhaps once every month or two
4. People who attend regularly for a while then disappear but often come back later. Sometimes this has a clear reason (the coldness of the church in winter) often it is less clear why
5. People who attend because they are getting married in the church. It remains to be seen whether any will become more regularly attached to the congregation
6. One-off attenders who occasionally reappear six months later.
Sara Cottingham as the new pastoral contact for the congregation is seeking to draw together a list of attenders with contact details. The intention is to make sure attenders feel supported and nurtured as part of St Mary’s worshipping community.
The people who attend are very varied, including a number of children which has surprised us. But we have young and old, black and white and people from a variety of different social backgrounds, although there is probably a bias towards younger white people with a professional background
1. Forming a community who will sustain the service. As mentioned above there is an issue around finding leaders for the service, Melissa has become involved and we have the option of the service without need of preparation. Nonetheless the relative lack of regular attenders means it is more difficult to develop a community which will secure its future
2. The building. Most of us like meeting in the old church but it is very cold in the winter and likely to be disrupted by redevelopment. Nonetheless the redevelopment should create a space in which the service could flourish, it seems to us to fit very well with its increasing identity as a centre for the arts
3. Outreach. The building is a real magnet for people passing by and especially in the summer we get many people popping in, occasionally these will stay for the service. There is a real opportunity here which we haven't fully tapped
4. Development. There are lots of small things which we are gradually developing such as introductory leaflets and a list of contacts mentioned above. We are also keen to have a good Internet presence and generally improve awareness of the service both within the church and in the community. We are making progress but they're always more things to do!
Evening Prayer for Stoke Newington is not everyone's thing. We are aware of a number of people who only come to the traditional BCP service on Sunday evenings nonetheless we have received many warm comments about the service and generally feel good about what we have achieved. It has a sense of continuity with what St. Mary's has been in the past but is also breaking new ground in providing something which is not otherwise available in the parish. Although we're still small and sometimes feel vulnerable, generally, I think, we are in good heart and looking forward to the future.
I was asked to write this report for the PCC and have compiled it in collaboration with other members of the leadership team. I have very much enjoyed being involved in the service and gradually see it develop and I will be very sorry to leave this group of people when we move on from St. Mary's. Although it has evolved in ways I didn't necessarily expect e.g. placing a strong emphasis on discussion, it models a form of Christian worship to which I feel very committed. As I have said previously I think it fits alongside worship where preaching and the sacraments are emphasized and would resist any attempt to set our informal service against more formal worship.
Sunday 20th March
One of the things I have enjoyed doing at St. Mary's is the intercessions. I did them today and focus particularly on the situation in Japan particularly because we have a former church member who has recently moved to Tokyo so I was able to make use of some writing she sent me recently. It struck me that one way to understand doing the intercessions is as writing liturgy. I have found it helpful to refer to the lectionary readings for the Sunday when preparing the intercessions as this begins to create a liturgical framework in which I can work and makes me feel more like a coherent whole rather than just a jumble of random prayers
Intercessions Second Sunday Lent 2011
Lord God as you blessed Abraham and Sarah in their travels over the wide world so we ask you to bless us as we travel through these complex and confusing times. Be with us in the big issues which confront us and be with us in our domestic struggles
Lord in your mercy...
This is from Tania Coke who is now living in Tokyo and married to Kentaro.
It is eerily quiet this evening. I hear no traffic, no wind, not even the birds. It’s hard to believe that Tokyo has been in a state of emergency for four days, following earthquake, tsunami and radioactive leaks. I was at home alone on Friday at 2.45pm, in a quiet residential area of Tokyo. When the house started shaking I ran out onto the street. I could see only two other people. They disappeared before I had a chance to talk to them, so I too went back inside. Bottles had fallen off shelves, coffee was splattered across the hob, the contents of one bookshelf lay strewn across the floor. … Since then, the mood has deteriorated. This morning (Tuesday) we were jolted out of bed at 5am by another big tremor. The news from the Fukushima nuclear plant is grimmer and grimmer. Tokyo has been divided into groups, in preparation for rolling blackouts, but so far none have occurred. There is food in the supermarkets, but stocks are low. I’ve heard of some foreigners who are leaving the country, but most of the Japanese people I’ve contacted have no plans to evacuate. They are used to earthquakes. And besides, “there is no safe place in Japan”. …
let us pray
God of Abraham and Sarah we pray for the people of Japan as they recover from the shock and horror of the tsunami and as they struggle to contain the damage at the nuclear power stations
Lord in your mercy...
God of Abraham and Sarah we pray for the children of Ishmael as they struggle against autocratic and repressive regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain and throughout the Arab world
Lord in your mercy...
God of Abraham and Sarah we pray for ourselves as we seek to recover from the tsunami of the financial crisis and as we, too, struggle against injustice, entrenched self-interest and systems which oppress and diminish human life
Lord in your mercy...
God of Abraham and Sarah we pray for ourselves in our day-to-day struggles. Be with Martin as he travels to a new parish and with us as we seek to fill the gap left by his absence. Be with Paul Sorenson and all the night shelter team as they come to the end of another season and the ever more difficult task of finding accommodation for homeless people. And be with us in our private struggles which often loom so large in our hearts and mind and can threaten to overwhelm us with anxiety
I enjoy writing liturgy and it's very obviously intersects with my interest in poetry. Poetry can sometimes seem very private and even solipsistic but poetry as liturgy has a communal aspect to it which I find very attractive. It is poetry as the work of a craftsman rather than the individual ravings of the poetic genius!
Tuesday 29th March
I met with Sarah Green and Andy Windross yesterday to talk about my progress towards LLM. Except they were not sure this is quite the way to go. This didn't altogether surprise me and I valued the opportunity to talk through with them where I was at and what my gifting was. In the end I raised question of whether I was really being called to the priesthood. This, of course, changes everything but I've been aware that the question has been growing in me over the past few weeks and maybe I need to explore it now. I think I had been hoping that the question could just emerge more slowly but with the LLM route running into problems it brings it into more immediate focus. Lucyann always talks about me being a priest, and I understand what she means, it is not uncommon for people to assume that I am a priest and it doesn't feel alien to me. When we were visiting Wales to look at a potential job for Lucyann the Archdeacon asked me if I was thinking about ordination and I couldn't say that I wasn't. Then when I was reading Rowan Williams biography it seemed to emerge more strongly. Although our lives have taken very different paths I had a strong sense of fellow feeling with where he was coming from, the interest in the Russians and orthodoxy, the importance of poetry, the dissatisfaction with the theological liberalism of the 60s and 70s etc. I have in the past seriously explored ordination in the URC but the role of minister of word and sacrament in the nonconformist church feels very different to me than the role of an Anglican priest. I was just never enthusiastic about the ministerial role which is why, on reflection, it never led anywhere, as soon as I experienced any resistance I just backed off and thought 'okay, it's not the thing for me'. But being a priest does feel more like who I am. I don't think I feel called to the leadership role of the parish priest but what exactly is it that I feel called to? This is what comes to mind
1. What I feel most comfortable with is providing space for people where they can explore their life, their work, their calling, their relationships, their spirituality. I do this in one-to-one sessions called Breathing Space, I do this with groups such as the Be Not Afraid course, I do this with communities such as Evening Prayer for Stoke Newington
2. I am a resourcer of other people. In the Belbin team roles I always come out strongly as a resource investigator and this is clearly part of my identity. I resource people through my writing but also more individually networking people and putting them in touch with suitable resources and also providing structures and processes (this is very evident with Evening Prayer for Stoke Newington). I think I've also had an important role in resourcing Lucyann in her ministry.
3. I am a preacher. That is I am interested in articulating and proclaiming a gospel for the particular contexts in which I find myself. When I was at university I was very concerned that we should apply Christianity to the subjects we were studying. My working life has mainly been about developing and practicing a contextual urban theology and now I am more focused on a theology emerging out of the context of chronic illness.
4. What priesthood would add is a sacramental dimension. When I was in the nonconformist church I did quite often preside at communion and I found this a meaningful experience. It is true that my place is really within the Anglican Church, and I do feel pretty convinced about this, then priesthood is required for me to play this sacramental role. I think resourcing people through the sacraments could become something that would be very important to me and actually as I write this I do feel myself responding to it. In the past year I have become very aware of the sense that in the Eucharist God gives himself to us. The Christian life is a demanding and challenging one at its best, but this is made possible because we are resourced by God rather than pushing ourselves in our own strength.
5. The other dimension is where I started with the Guthlac role. That is a withdrawn role which is nonetheless interconnected with the wider community and the wider church. Guthlac was visited by the Bishop of Winchester because people were suspicious about what he was doing, the role of the hermit always seems to make people uneasy (!), but when the bishop actually met him he ordained him there and then. I am very aware that my role is not on the front line of mission, particularly so because Lucyann is so obviously a mission priest and this is where she finds her purpose and meaning.