Thursday, 10 September 2020

A Pastoral Letter - September 2020

 

When the year started back in January, few of us could have imagined how the coming months would play out. As the summer turns to autumn, it appears that varying forms of the restrictions under which we have been living will continue for some time. As a nation we are heading into difficult times as the economy struggles, jobs are disappearing and we live with the fear of a spike of the virus in the coming months. We are also aware that church life as we have known it will be unlikely to return to ‘normal’ for some time. 


In this context it is critical that we learn to drink deeply from the wells of our Christian faith more than ever. The God who made us and made the world, and who has come to us in Jesus Christ gives us faith to trust in his care for us, hope for the future however dark the days may be, and the inspiration to love our neighbours at a time when COVID-19 might make us view our neighbours as threats to health and wellbeing. 


A part of Scripture that has been on my mind recently is the small letter of Jude. It was written towards the end of the first century at a time when the church was facing challenges of various kinds. A short section towards the end of the letter seems to me to speak very clearly into our needs right now:

 

But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And be merciful to those who are anxious or doubting.

 

That advice, to ‘build yourselves up in your most holy faith’ speaks of the need for each of us to take responsibility to strengthen the faith we have and to draw on the wisdom of the past at this critical time in our national and church life, not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of the wider community, so we can bring to others the hope we find in Christ. 

 

So how do we ‘build ourselves up in our most holy faith’? The letter mentions four things: 

 

1. Pray in the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray and our first calling as Christians is to do just that - for ourselves, our families, our neighbours and communities. If we are to build ourselves up in faith, we will need to be rooted in disciplined habits of prayer, as far as we are able, turning to God each day for our daily needs in a way that expresses our dependence and trust in him. Now may be a time for a renewal of our life of prayer, individually and corporately. You might contact your local parish to find times of prayer together either online or in person or find new ideas for prayer on sites such as https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/learning-pray or https://www.24-7prayer.com/helpmepray

            

2. Keep yourselves in the love of God: This world emerged out of the love that pulses at the heart of God and the privilege we have as Christians is to learn to live in tune with that love which we see in the face of Jesus Christ. We can be brought back to that love in different ways – through sharing in the Eucharist regularly, daily Bible reading, accessing sermons online, contemplation, enjoying God’s creation, listening to music, reading books or being active in the community. As we deliberately make time for these things, we need to allow this sense of the profound reality of the love of God for his world to seep into the rest of our lives, the way we view ourselves, others and even the ground on which we walk. 

 

3. Look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. COVID-19 has brought us face to face with our own vulnerability and mortality. Our Christian faith tells us that sickness and death do not have the last word and tells us of the reality of Resurrection that we proclaim at every funeral, in every bereavement. All of our lives will come to an end one day, and at a time of uncertainty and fear, our Christian faith encourages us to look at death with the hope of eternal life. 

 

4. Be merciful to those who are anxious or doubting. There are many around us, whether Christian friends, those of other faiths or none, who are anxious and fearful about their employment, their health, or their families. Of course we too share those anxieties, yet our faith is a resource that enables us to find reassurance for ourselves as well as offer it to others. Even if it is not possible to attend church physically as much as  we would like, it is important to link in with others online at least, to be able to encourage others as much as to gain support ourselves. If you haven’t already, do contact your parish church to see what ways there are to connect with others, or schemes they have for getting involved in extending care and compassion in the wider community.

 

This is a time for the church to hold out the hope we find in Christ, but we can only do that if our own lives are deeply rooted in him. My prayers are daily with you as we go through this time of uncertainty, that we will rise to the challenge of these days as the Christian church across our part of London.

 

+Graham



Thursday, 25 June 2020

A Wounded Realist - Guest Blog by Denis Adide

In recent days we have become aware of the pervasive presence of racism in our own hearts, our church and society. I asked Denis Adide, one of the younger clergy in the Kensington Area to offer a Guest Blog piece reflecting on his experience. 

Perhaps it was the collective awareness of our mortality brought about by the global pandemic. The world was made sensitive to the simplicity of lifes light and how easy it is to extinguish. The numbers of those lost to Covid-19 being read out in the daily briefings starkly reminding us all of just how vulnerable we each are. 


Perhaps, in addition, the stripping away of all the normal distractions gave some of us - for the first time - a long sight of the mirror. We were forced to confront who we were - apart from the normal what we do for a living’ answer. 

Perhaps, the recently developed culture/habit of long, YouTube and TikTok spirals with videos linked to videos meant that the sight of something viral’ was inevitable. 

Whatever the case, it seems the world was forced to be still for those long eight minutes and forty six seconds. Twisted between the knowledge that this man was losing his life, and the illusory hope that someone - anyone - might intervene. 

By all accounts the sight was shocking. A man pleaded for breath, another knelt on his neck - hands firmly in his pockets, as firm as the scowl he presents the watching crowd. A young girl films the scene on her smart phone, a few passers-by intercede for a reprieve while the very ones sworn to save life, take it: they do so in a torturous and lengthy way. It is hard to watch but something inside us compelled us to. 

For many the world presented by this scene was foreign. Like new borns, they awoke and for the first time drew breath and felt the cold. Like the road to Damascus, the dazzling light recalibrating their eyes with the realisation that they couldnt see what was always in plain sight. 


For others, like myself, this was the world we awoke to at birth. This pain - watching a lynching - wasnt new but recurring. We knew the terror of entering rooms which bore the threat of being made to feel like the lesser other. We knew the ears that disregarded our pleas for dignity, utilising the power available - in ways both subtle and obvious - to dismiss our laments. We knew the frustration of having our prophetic utterances - calling out the wickedness we could see and were enduring - dismissed as irrational’ or angry. We knew the inner shake of watching - as I did - and old black man rising from his seat on the crowded bus so that the middle aged white woman would sit. She took the seat without batting an eye or a second thought, or a thank you. We knew the threat of being stopped and searched for resembling’ the suspect, or driving a car that was beyond your station, or not possibly living in that’ neighbourhood. 

I knew the pain of preaching in a prison full of people who look like me; of looking at the statistics and seeing the truth I knew before checking - that there was a clear disparity along ethnicity lines. I knew the indignity of being asked to remove my coat in a shop because the shopkeeper and his wife were convinced I had stolen something. Convinced of my guilt none of the folks in the queue behind me objected or intervened. I had to return to theological college and somehow carry on with my day. I knew the pain of seeing depicted in the news an idea of what it meant to be a black man that was deeply false - seeing the disparity between the representations of black and white men across all media. 

We, I, have been marked out to be the exotic, dangerous, desirable, other. A body to be displayed at times - show casing the ‘white authority figure’s’ philanthropy. An appearance to be freely commented upon; hair to be touched; identity to be questioned. With our sovereignty of flesh, mind, and will constantly suffering violence it’s no surprise that the private divinity of death isn’t afforded us: the black man’s last breath was broadcast. I know the sorrow of watching folk react to the spectacle, claim to desire change, then search for the next spectacle. I know the pain of watching my white colleagues gloss over the killings of unarmed black men, buying ‘necessity’ as a just cause. 

This world isnt new. 

The ill treatment of the Windrush generation and their families is still ongoing. I still have monkey noises made at me. I still have to justify my cry for equality, equity, and dignity. I still have to call on twice as much grace to forgive the daily assaults from those that surround me. 

My country doesnt teach its own history and has a special relationship’ with the country where a young woman who resembles my own sister was shot and killed in her own home by a police officer: no one has been held to account for this as yet. My country now wishes to leverage aid to the very places for which it bears responsibility for buried bones. In truth, my country’s idea of its own citizen’s face, doesn’t include mine. 

My Church… my church. At best, woefully blind, and at worst wilfully complicit has its own hands drenched in the same blood. Binding its course to the rest of the worlds instead of heavens, this bride built her house with the same blue-prints as society, and has etched in all its windows the images that make me that other: the dragon that George slays. With crucial pages of history stuck together, generations ignored the mirrors that the scriptures held up. In thought, word, and deed; through negligence, weakness, and deliberate choices her face now resembles the world and not its groom.

When we checked, no one had stood up and spoken for us. No one had taken up our case. In its corridors we are happened upon by bandits who with their words and deeds steal our dignity. Though I have had champions along the way, my story is one with those who’ve had to endure discrimination in its many forms in the isles, pews, church offices, assessment rooms and meetings. Her hands are not clean. 

I heard from the streets these past weeks - while the church was silent - the prophetic voice that should have been hers. And when she eventually did speak, it was a familiar song. For my life-time, the truth of its institutional racism has been known. In my life-time no substantial change has been made. Confession and penance divorced at the altar, words ever flowed but actions never followed. And the bitterness I feel and I seek God’s face in order to endure, is also echoed in the voices of my contemporaries and forebears. We lament on the margins with no refuge on the earth. 

The murder of George Floyd was a painful thing to watch. But the world that made - and still makes - such a thing possible prevails. This death, at the hands of an old and firmly established tyranny, adds one more black body to the vast cloud of witnesses: unwilling martyrs. We who survive do so in a life restrained, unable to fully become for the weight we bare until change happens or the judge takes his seat. 

The freshly opened eyes of the world and its ‘new found’ voice now pose a challenge. Will this new swell of outrage, ‘protest and ‘confession’ bring about a change to the world Ive lived in: to the church I’m called to serve in? Can I dare dream that the day will come when my armour and first aid kit wont need repair and replenishing? There have been waves like these, will this be different? 

Hope is such a hard thing for a wounded realist to hold onto.

I, for one, will wait. Seeds take a while to germinate. Until I see the shoots of something new, Ill continue to weep for the world my son and daughters are growing up in; Ill continue to tell them what I need to to keep them safe. They will know that the many layers of their being are under constant threat. They will know that the tears they’ll shed join their sorrow to the spirit of those who’ve gone before. They will know vigilance, to spot the obvious and subtle assaults. They will know the scars these wounds leave. And when we talk about the many lives lost, and George Floyd, I’ll remind them of the rock on which I’m anchored. 

They will know of the one who struggled to draw breath for hours on a tree; the same one who was with God in the beginning. They will know that, despite what the world and the church (if no change happens) might say, they are fearfully and wonderfully made - chosen before the foundations of the world. They will know that in the colour of their skin is the inheritance of an un-suppressable human spirit - forged in fire and chains and forever rising. They will know that their place is alongside Christ, proclaiming the wickedness of the times while enduring so that they might reign with him. Hopefully, with no scales in their eyes they might survive, and maybe even thrive in this nightmare.

Monday, 16 March 2020

In the current crisis around Coronavirus, I have been reflecting on St Paul’s trinity of Christian virtues: Faith, Hope and Love, and how they might frame our Christian response to the crisis in our communities:

FAITH: We are in uncharted territory where there is no clear trajectory for spread of Coronavirus and no obvious cure as yet. Yet our Christian faith tells us that we can trust the God who holds our times in his hands. We do not believe that the world is governed by blind fate or random chance but Providence – the sure and trustworthy hand of the God of Jesus Christ working his purposes out through all the confusing and bewildering swings of history. Fear can be as infectious as the disease, so why don’t we try to counter it with the even more infectious influence of faith? Faith, especially during this time of Lent, urges us to pray with greater urgency, as the church has always done in times like this in the past, for those at the frontline in the NHS, for the most vulnerable and for a turning of the tide of this virus.

HOPE: one thing that will not be cancelled is Easter Day. We may or may not be able to celebrate it together in person, but it will still happen. We have in our faith the greatest message of hope in the world, and this is the time to hold onto that hope and make it known where we can. When we reach the end of our own resources the risen Christ meets us there, and so to counter despair, try to find ways to practice hopeful action, looking forward to the day when this crisis will pass, and even more, when Resurrection comes. Light a candle in a window. Keep one burning in your home as a sign of hope. Use sermons and social media posts to spread message of hope and not fear. Think of other imaginative signs of hope that remind people of the hope we have in Christ.    

LOVE: perfect love casts out fear, and now is the time more than ever for the church to be known by its Love, worked out in down-to-earth practical ways. So here are a few thoughts on what you might do:

  • Make a plan: Get together with key people (wardens, staff, lay leadership) to work out a proper plan to put in place on how to show the love of Christ to your neighbourhood, as this crisis will most likely last several months.  
  • Care for the Vulnerable: With many over-70s being confined to home, why not ask people to look out for elderly neighbours and make a point of checking they are ok, phoning in regularly, offering to shop for them if they need help. Check what is happening in your local area & co-ordinate with others where you can -https://covidmutualaid.org/local-groups/
  • Communicate often: Why not send round a weekly email message of encouragement to people not able to get out, especially if church meetings are curtailed? If you can broadcast your service on Sundays for those self-isolating, it’s relatively easy to do - check out this advice
  • Meet Virtually: When self-isolating we still need human interaction. Encourage and imagine new ways of keeping in touch, digitally, by phone, or even old-fashioned letters, which don’t involve physical contact. 
  • Stay Safe: Remind people often of the value of social distancing, washing hands etc. as acts not so much of self-interest but of compassion for those who are most vulnerable.
You will think of many other ideas to put into your plan. This is a time of testing for all of us perhaps especially the Church. Now is the time to keep the faith, hold out hope and live out the love of Christ in these critical days.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Lent, Jean Vanier and Harvey Weinstein

An internal report revealed Saturday Feb. 22, 2020, that L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, a respected Canadian religious figure, sexually abused at least six women.Lent is traditionally a time we think about sin. Of course, we think we know what sin is, who are the saints and who are the sinners. Jimmy Saville & Harvey Weinstein = sinners. Mother Teresa & Jean Vanier = saints. 

Or so it seemed. 

What Jean Vanier did with l’Arche was remarkable, as I tried to explain in an article I wrote in Unherd when he died. To create a set of communities across the world based on the conviction that mental or physical abilities bear no relation to the value and beauty of an individual human being was extraordinary. So the news that over a period of 35 years, he abused at least six different women is devastating, first and foremost to the women who suffered at his hands, who still live with the effects of his behaviour, but in a lesser way for the many who thought of him as someone as near as you might get to a modern saint. The discovery that someone who displayed a level of compassion and love beyond which most of us can manage, was also capable of devious manipulation of women who trusted him is disillusioning and deeply depressing. 

There seems to be a pattern, maybe particularly strong in religious circles, of placing our trust entirely in those who seem better than us. Maybe it is a sign of our need to find heroes, saints, people we don’t question, who can lift us up to be better than we are. We desperately need to find people who satisfy our need for a Saviour who compensates for our own weakness and compromise. 

Yet it never quite works out that way. 

The writers of the Bible seem at pains never to let us believe the hype about the ‘heroes of faith’. Moses murdered a man and tried to hide the body. Abraham lied repeatedly about his wife out of fear for his own skin. Jacob cheated his own brother out of his inheritance. Samson ended up a proto-suicide bomber, killing his enemies as he died. King David, the ‘man after God’s own heart’, arranged a contract killing of one of his own loyal soldiers to cover up getting his wife pregnant. Even St Peter swore blind that he had never even heard of Jesus. 

Wayne Lapierre, Chairman of the National Rifle Association in the USA once famously said “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” If only it were that simple. The world is not neatly divided between the good and the bad, saints and sinners, with or without guns. We are all a bit of both (that’s why guns are dangerous whoever wields them). Some, granted, are more one than the other, but all of us share in that odd mixture of compassion and neglect, truth and lies, bravery and cowardice. We are divided selves. 

The Czech writer and politician Vaclav Havel, reflecting on his experience as a dissident under Stalinist eastern Europe once wrote that “the line between good and evil did not run clearly between them and us, but through each person. No-one was simply a victim. Everyone was in some measure co-responsible.” There are no irredeemably bad people. There are bad actions that deserve punishment, but no purely evil people. There may be some that have turned so far away from goodness and life that it’s hard to imagine them ever being turned back toward the light, but if, as Christian faith says, all that God has created is good, then however much a person may have turned away from the light towards the darkness, while they are still alive there is something good in there – if only the continued existence of life itself. 

At the same time there are no totally good people either. Some while ago, a Labour politician was doing a question and answer slot for a political website. He was asked a series of questions that demanded quickfire answers. One of them was ‘Winston Churchill – hero or villain?’. He thought for a brief moment and instinctively replied ‘Tonypandy - Villain’, referring to Churchill’s decision to send in troops to control striking coalminers in South Wales in 1910. Predictably he came in for a barrage of criticism for this slur on one of Britain’s favourite and most revered Prime Ministers. Yet the problem was not really the answer, it was the question. It was the instinct, so common in our polarised, Twitter-mediated world, to place people entirely on one side or the other of a moral ledger. Was Churchill a hero or a villain? Was Jean Vanier a saint or a sinner? The reality is that at times they were one, at other times they were the other. Like the rest of us. 

Jean Vanier was capable of real compassion. He was also, it turns out, capable of devious wickedness. None of us in leadership positions, however holy and wise we think we become, are immune from the abuse of power, from the possibility of self-deception, from giving in to the seductive temptations of harmful desire. 

Jean Vanier was capable of greater goodness yet also darker sins than most of us. The revelation of the terrible harm he did to the women he abused, despite his great achievements, brings us back to the realisation that there is only one true Saviour. The gospels remind us that there is only One who can save us. Only One who is truly good. 



[1] Psalm 14.3

Sunday, 5 May 2019

St Mellitus - a Story of Redemption

This is the text of a sermon preached at St Paul's Cathedral on Thursday 2nd May 2019, when the Cathedral was celebrating St Mellitus' Day


If it wasn’t for St Mellitus we would not be here. Let me explain. Christianity came to these islands in the 2nd century, and apparently there were bishops around this area near the Thames from that time onwards, but the records and the dates of those early leaders of the church in Britain are very uncertain. 

It is the Venerable Bede who tells the famous story of Pope Gregory going to the market in Rome and seeing some young slaves with “fair complexion, handsome faces and lovely hair.” He asked where they came from, and was told they came from the island of Britain. He asked were the British Christians, and was told (inaccurately as it happens) that the country was still pagan. He then asked what was the name of their race, and was told they were Angli. His well-known reply was: “Good – they have the face of angels and such men should be fellow-heirs of the angels in heaven.”

Partly as a result of this encounter, and maybe some more prosaic factors, Gregory launched his mission to the English in 595 AD. He chose Augustine, Abbot of the Monastery he had founded in Rome, dedicated to St Andrew, to lead the mission. Augustine arrived on the shores of Kent two years later, settled in Canterbury as a base for their activities, and started to evangelise the locals. They were helped by the fact that the local king’s wife, Bertha, was a Christian – and the king, Aethelbert, was himself baptised soon after. Augustine’s mission was hard work though, and it wasn’t long before he was asking Pope Gregory for reinforcements. And this is where Mellitus comes onto the scene. He was a well-born Italian, had been appointed as Augustine’s successor in the monastery of St Andrew, and was now asked to help Augustine by travelling to England to support his mission – a request he could hardly refuse!

He arrived in 601 and three years later was appointed the first Saxon Bishop of London. He was to be bishop of the East Saxons – the territory north of the Thames (south of the Thames was considered Kent, which is why to this day the diocese of London only contains the land north of the Thames.) Bede then says this “after this race had accepted the word of truth through the preaching of Mellitus, King Aethelbert built the church of the apostle St Paul in the city of London in which Mellitus and his successors were to have their episcopal seat.” It was of course on this very site, what later became known as Ludgate Hill, that the original St Paul’s church, presumably a small wooden structure, was built for Mellitus and his mission. I always like to imagine Mellitus preaching right here on this spot, doing his best to convert pagan London around him. 

About 13 years ago, the 132nd successor to Mellitus as Bishop of London, Richard Chartres and John Gladwin the Bishop of Chelmsford, wanted to reimagine theological training in their dioceses. Holy Trinity Brompton and its vicar Nicky Gumbel also had innovative ideas on developing new forms of theological training, as a vital partner in those discussions and a new theological college emerged out of the conversations. The combined territory of the two dioceses covered the old land of the East Saxons, so it was decided to name the college after St Mellitus. I was privileged to be asked to be the first Principal of the college, and remain its President today, so have had good reason to think about the ministry of Mellitus over the past few years, and I have come to think that his story is all about redemption. 

Our Bible readings tonight highlight two aspects of his story. The first reading from 1 Corinthians 3.10-17 highlights the way which St Paul saw his ministry as laying a foundation which others built on. In the same way, Mellitus built on the foundations that Augustine had laid before him in sharing the good news of Christ with the people of England. By all accounts, Mellitus was a pretty good missionary. Many people embraced the Christian faith through his preaching, and the fact that he was made the first Saxon Bishop of London may suggest that he played a major role in the initial conversion of a good many in this city to Christianity. 

So why did his mission meet with some success? Bede cites a letter written by Pope Gregory to Mellitus, which maybe gives us a hint as to why his mission worked. 

Remember that Mellitus was preaching to a pagan society, one where people were not atheists, but regular worshippers of the pagan gods in the temples and sacred groves that were scattered across the Roman Empire of the time – and the Christians viewed these gods as essentially demonic powers. The instinct for someone like Mellitus might have been, once people were converted to Christianity, to destroy their previous pagan buildings and replace them with newly built churches. In his letter, Gregory recommends something different – he suggests that the Christians use these pagan temples for their worship. Only the statues of the gods should be taken out, to be replaced with Christian altars and relics of the saints. The idea is that these former pagans will be more likely come to worship in places they are more familiar with, and be able to transition to Christian faith more easily. 

As they were used to sacrificing animals in worship, Gregory also suggests that they continue to kill animals, but only for food, not for worship. In other words, he wants to make it as easy as possible for a person to leave paganism and embrace the Christian faith. This is not an aggressive, imperialist approach to evangelism, but one that looks for what can be redeemed within the existing culture and can be enriched and find its fulfilment in Christ. It is grounded in a strong doctrine of creation, which sees God at work in different aspects of human culture. It sees any particular human culture as a mix of createdness and fallenness, good and bad, neither denying the goodness that can be found any human society, yet not being na├»vely uncritical about that culture. It sees Christianity as enriching and fulfilling the best aspirations of human culture, not destroying them. What strikes you is the confidence that a culture can be redeemed, transformed, enhanced, re-directed by the coming of the gospel. 


 At a time where our own culture seems at a crossroads, not knowing quite where to go after (or if) Brexit happens, haunted by fear of knife crime or modern slavery, with growing anxiety over climate change, Gregory and Mellitus’ confidence that a similarly directionless Britain in their own time can be changed is remarkable and an inspiration for us, their successors in C21st London. Just as those pagan temples were re-used, re-directed to the worship of the true God, so human lives and cultures, baptised into the gospel are not destroyed but re-directed, re-focussed to their true end, the God revealed in Jesus Christ. 

Yet Mellitus’ story does not just speak of the redemption of culture but also of people. The gospel reading for this evening (John 10. 11-16) speaks of the good Shepherd, and the ‘hired hand’ who runs away at the first sign of trouble because he does not care for the sheep. This would have been an uncomfortable story for Mellitus. 

After he had been made Bishop of London, Mellitus had an argument with the still pagan sons of a later King – King Saeberht - who insisted that he give them the special Communion bread which they thought had magic powers, despite the fact that they had not been baptised as Christians. Mellitus refused, at which point the king’s sons expelled him from the city. Mellitus went to confer with his fellow bishops Laurence and Justus, and it seems they were so fed up with these pesky, obstinate Saxons that they decided to give up on them, planning to return home to Italy to live a quieter life. However in a dream, St Peter appeared to one of them – Bishop Laurence – who rebuked him for deserting his post. He quickly persuaded Mellitus to return, which he did. 

This must have been a distressing episode for Mellitus. Banished from his Cathedral church here on this site, his mission, despite its initial success, seemed to have failed, London remaining stubbornly pagan. Faced with a little difficulty, he had run away, just like Peter had done in denying Christ. 

Yet, as it had been for Peter, failure was not the end. Mellitus did return. Even though the people of London did not accept him back, he ended up succeeding Augustine as the third Archbishop of Canterbury. The last we hear of him is it as a sick old man, suffering from gout, yet still full of faith. There is a story of him as an elderly man being carried out from his rooms to face a fire which was ravaging Canterbury, and threatening the church in a fashion that reminds us of the recent fire in Notre Dame in Paris. This time however, Mellitus’ prayers were answered, the wind turned, and the disaster was averted. As Bede puts it “so brightly did the man of God burn with the fire of divine love, so often had he repelled the stormy powers of the air from harming him and his people by his prayers and exhortations, that it was right for him to be able to prevail over earthly winds and flames so that they should not injure him and his people.” 

Failure did not define him – but faith did. His story is one of redemption. That in Jesus Christ, culture can been redeemed and enriched. But even more, people can be. Even you and I can be. Failure, rather than the end of the story ,can be the beginning. It can be the gateway to humility, true self-knowledge and wisdom. At this Easter time, the story of St Mellitus can point us back to the truth that through the cross and resurrection of Christ, we and the whole world can be redeemed, forgiven, restored.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Christmas Message 2018 - God's Glory in human life

During Advent we have been reminded of the tension between waiting patiently for the coming of Christ, and the urgency of knowing that ‘the times are short’. We are all aware of the anxieties in our national life over recent weeks, and the sense that we are living in a time that could set directions for many decades to come. It leads us to hold our nation in prayer this Christmas and to extend the invitation to know the peace of Christ in a time when there is precious little peace around. It also teaches us to base our hope not in the prospect of Brexit or the European Union or in any other human construct, but in Christ and his kingdom that is not of this world.

The great mystery of the Incarnation is that in Christ, God’s glory shines, not despite his humanity, but precisely through his humanity. And that means that ordinary human flesh like yours and mine, when it is conformed to the image of Christ, is capable of displaying the glory of God – through simple gestures of love and words of encouragement offered in the name of Christ. St Basil the Great has a way of putting it – that each human being is made in the image of God, but has to grow into the likeness of God by learning to walk the way of Christ and growing in the fruit of the Spirit. Origen, who got some things wrong, but many things right, put it like this: “For Christians see that with Jesus, human and divine nature began to be woven together, so that by fellowship with divinity, human nature might become divine, not only in Jesus, but in all those who believe and go on to undertake the life which Jesus taught, the life which leads everyone who lives according to Jesus' commandments, to friendship with God and fellowship with Jesus.”

May this Christmas be a time when we open our hearts and minds again to this wonderful gift of Christ, so that, as St Paul puts it, “the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor 4.11). My prayer is that through the life and witness of our churches, God’s glory will shine and at this time of uncertainty our great city of London will know the peace that passes all understanding.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Freedom in Five Minutes

For many years I struggled to understand what we Christians mean by freedom. We talk about how Jesus sets you free, that faith brings freedom and yet we also talk about obedience to God’s law, or submission to his will which doesn’t sound much like freedom. At the same time I was aware of how much our culture values freedom, yet its ideas of personal freedom often clash with a longing for our societies to be a bit more cohesive and integrated, which would presumably require a certain limiting of personal freedom.

I suspected I wasn't alone in thinking about all this, and so a few years ago decided to think more deeply about the theme. What I discovered was that the Christian idea of freedom is so much richer, positive, and constructive than secular ideas of freedom, even though they sound superficially more attractive and liberating. The result was a book - Bound to be Free: The Paradox of Freedom, which was published by Bloomsbury last year.

A little while ago I gave a summary of the book in lecture form at a conference. Someone came up to me afterwards and said it would be a great idea to summarise the main ideas in a very short video as a bit of a taster for the full document. So that’s exactly what I’ve done. You’ll find the video here. It lasts only around five minutes, and hopefully gives you an idea of the basics of the argument and why Christian ideas of freedom work so much better than secular ones. Hope you enjoy it. 

A Pastoral Letter - September 2020

  When the year started back in January, few of us could have imagined how the coming months would play out. As the su mmer turns to autumn,...