Sunday, 9 June 2019

Bradford Industrial Museum

The bottom picture is an eight foot high 'coat of many cultures'.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Bound by original sin

We may have entered a new geological epoch.  The suggestion continues to obsess me.  The fear is that human activity is shaping the structures of the earth itself.  Permanent evidence of industrial pollution, nuclear activity, plastic waste, carbon dioxide release and antibiotic contamination are being laid down.  Human influence on the cycles of global cooling and warming will be affecting sea levels and thus shaping future land formation and loss.  Human activity looks set to give rise to the next mass extinction of species.  So the suggestion is that the Holocene (simply ‘the most recent’ epoch) has given way to the Anthropocene (the ‘human’ shaped epoch).

My obsession isn’t about decisions to be made by those entrusted with geological nomenclature.  It is about how this reaffirms and refocuses our doctrine of ‘original sin’.  Not so much ‘our mythical first ancestors initial disobedience, grasping of knowledge and consumption of creation, gives rise to a fatal intrinsic predicament for every one of their descendants’.  Rather ‘our shared human choosing, discovering and living inescapably embeds us in damage, destruction and the death of others’.  Either way, the same insight into human nature.

It obsessed me to much that I focussed on it again yesterday, the Sunday between Jesus’ apparent departure (Ascension Day) and the fresh gift of the Holy Spirit (the day of Pentecost).  Not quite the absurd idea of ‘a Sunday of the absence of God’.  More the Sunday calling out “Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth” (as well as “Thy kingdom come on earth”). 

I couldn’t quite bring myself to domesticate those cries into the Church of England’s invitation to use these days to pray for the religious conversion of five specific acquaintances - when what ought to give voice to those cries from originally sinful humanity is the vast need for the renewal of the whole earth and of God’s rule over it.

A central fragment of our set scripture reading then stood out for me like a parable. 

Paul and Silas’s activity has provoked anti-Semitic persecution which results in their own flogging and their confinement in chains in a prison’s inmost cell.  There, as midnight approaches, they pray, sing hymns, and fellow prisoners are strangely attentive to them.  When an example of God's acting is suddenly there, they do not quickly run towards their own personal freedom which this opens up, but call out reassurance to those driven to suicidal despair by the strange radical nature of the change being wrought around them.  Those habituated to the system of confinement ask what technique might be available to them to escape it as well, and are told that the only technique is to trust God can do what our sinful embroilment means we will always fail to do.  (Acts 16.19-32). 

So our own ingenuity and skill provokes horrific unintended consequences, brings down vicious punishment on us, and ultimately shackles our ability to move or respond.  As the Doomsday Clock is edged closer to midnight, the only faithful option left is to pray and sing, longing for God’s activity to release us.  Those who have been observing our longing cries, and those disorientated by any sudden luminous example of the way those cries can be answered, ask “how can I too be freed from the consequences of the human predicament?” and are promised that “God is already on to that”.

The story and parable does continue with baptisms, for all we know possibly even of five people (Acts 16.33-34).

And, although I didn’t mention it on Sunday and need to look properly at it again soon, I’m taken back again to the same Paul telling us that creation itself is watching for and longing for precisely this revealing of a new humanity – almost a poem with the apo- and ape- intensifier for eager-expectation (ape-kdechetai), stretching-towards (apo-kapadokia) and un-veiling (apo-kaluphin) (Romans 8.19).

The new welcome Bronte Society originated sign at the foot of the Haworth Church steps points out a better way, albeit still one which involves bumping across cobbles.

Monday, 27 May 2019

The will of the people

So we have finally held the second referendum on our membership of the European Union and almost all the results are in; what follows may need to be was tweaked following the final declarations with the one UKIP MEP in Scotland being replaced by a Brexit MEP.  

63% of registered voters chose not to participate, 15% voted for explicitly Remain parties, 13% voted for explicitly Leave parties and 8.5% for the two divided parties which form the Government and the Official Opposition.  

There were 23 24 UKIP MEPs (including Nigel Farage) at the beginning of the last European Parliament and there will be 28 29 Brexit MEPs (including Nigel Farage) at the beginning of the new European Parliament.  

And every politician being interviewed this morning is saying this outcome reflects people’s support for exactly the position that particular politician took yesterday morning.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Assets and deficits

Preparing to receive what will be a newly ordained Curate again next month reminds me how creative was the training I myself received at Queen’s College, Birmingham thirty-five years ago.  From the experience of worship across the whole breadth of the Christian tradition (which we were reflecting on deeply in tutor groups at the end of our first term in December 1982) to the most challenging academic ethics course (which included rigorous engagement with the churches’ public wrestling with issues of human sexuality during our final term in May 1984), we were encouraged to let in-depth sustained placement experience cross fertilise with serious theology whilst aware of how rapidly changing the ecclesiastical, mission and social context was around us - as I was remembering a little while ago.  I’m certain that the failures in my ministry since are not attributable to any falling short in the quality of my training. 

Now, for what is actually the fourth time in twenty years, I’ve been over to a training institution’s briefing event for incumbents receiving Curates from it, albeit a slightly more token event than the previous ones elsewhere – this time it was three and a half hours so there wasn’t quite time for any personal engagement with tutors, questions or exploration of course content.  Two students spoke movingly about the experience of worship across the whole breadth of the Anglican tradition and the Principal outlined almost exactly the principles and much of the practice of my own training.  He offered the way that week questions about gay marriage and divorce had arisen in an ethics class as evidence of how well the issues from placements challenged and grounded the theological exploration (I’m sure that issues of clerical abuse would have been at the forefront of students’ and placement parishes’ minds and ethical questions that week as well), before moving on to other things he had to do in the college to give us the opportunity to talk further with our about-to-be ordained new colleagues.

It is the demand of mission in a rapidly changing context with which he challenged us most - and promised us to expect new colleagues to have deep insights and questions as they settled in with us.  So it was welcome that almost immediately I had to go over to Bradford Cathedral where the Bishop wanted us to find out what the HeartEdge movement from St Martin-in-the-Fields could provide.  Canon Sam Wells was stretching – he suggested that it is precisely the areas of apparent ‘deficit’ which are our ‘assets’.  The people of God had more insight in exile than in the promised land.  The ministry of Jesus was the road to the cross.  So, the community needs and ecclesiastical failures around us ought to be what alerts us to our task and opportunities.  He gave examples of where paying attention to those with dementia and those bereaved by suicide (places of human deficit as deep as any) had been for him places of the most authentic encounter with God - not far from my most recent Queen's, Birmingham inspired reflection.

He (Sam Wells) suspected that it was a post-War ‘stewardship’ model of church life which deceives us into ideas of congregational self-sufficiency and restricts the possibilities of ministerial prophetic focus.  He offered the idea that the creation of social enterprises might both better finance our churches and better ensure some less expected areas of mission engagement – although he was very realistic about how the most idealistically designed social enterprises might not be the most financially advantageous ones.  Challenges, questions and insight abound just as the excitement and opportunities of beginning to work with a new Curate present themselves.

Meanwhile, the picture is of gas main renewal in our road this week.  It uncovered the fact that this house’s conservatory had been built across the line of our gas main.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Enfolded in weakness and hope

We do not have to be
saviours of the world; 
we are simply human beings,
enfolded in weakness and hope,
called together
to change the world
one heart at a time.

Jean Vanier 1928-2019

The Trinity frontal is in Linton Parish Church.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Justice deferred

There is something quite awful in both the prevalence of abusive clergy behaviour and the inadequate way in which it has been acknowledged and victims properly responded to and cared for – and the Panorama programme this week, with its focus on some of the story in the diocese of Lincoln, is only the latest visibility of this shame.

From my small personal knowledge of some of the Lincoln situation, I had hoped that the present leadership and safeguarding team’s initiatives in consistently feeding through to what quickly became a specialist police team would at least be seen as creditworthy amidst all the justified criticism.

It had been heart-breaking when it became apparent in about 2015 that the previous national ‘Past Case Review’ process across the Church of England, which had been intended to ensure that there were no neglected or concealed disclosures, had not in fact been as selfless or rigorous as everyone imagined it would have been.

Without breaking any confidentiality, I was one of a decently sized group of longer-serving clergy and others who were asked to come together quite frequently to be made aware of what the police were able to share about the developing situation and to be prepared to be deployed with appropriate informed pastoral care for individuals or parishes without protecting the backs of anyone as soon as it might be needed.

But, a couple of years ago, I moved away from the diocese to take up my present post and have not been in touch with any of this since, other than to pray for those who will have continued to share this responsibility.

The Bishop of Grantham’s statement this week now is:

Whilst some matters remain under investigation it is not possible to comment specifically on the questions that have been posed to the diocese by the BBC.

The Diocese of Lincoln wishes to acknowledge that past matters have not been handled well. The diocese is committed to learn from its mistakes. I am very sorry that it took so long for justice to be served.

The past abuse that our safeguarding team brought to light, through our revisiting and review of past cases, is all the more appalling given what the public deserve and are fully entitled to expect, which is the highest level of conduct from clergy and all those involved in leadership in the church. All people are made in the image of God and abuse of any kind is contrary to that belief.

It is as a result of our commitment to ensuring justice is served, that our safeguarding team have developed an effective partnership with Lincolnshire Police, working together on Operation Redstone. Together they have worked tirelessly to ensure that convictions were secured where possible and where this was not an option, that risk was managed appropriately. Throughout all recent processes our hope is that victims and survivors have felt heard, and been well supported and cared for, although we acknowledge we may not have always got this right.

Every effort is being made to ensure that safeguarding is part of the DNA of the Diocese of Lincoln. There are high levels of confidence in our safeguarding practitioners from Lincolnshire Police and statutory authorities. There is mandatory safeguarding training that is externally audited and independently validated with support from Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children and Adult partnership boards. Our safeguarding team have delivered face to face training to 3296 people in the past five years.

As a diocese we promise to offer support to anyone who contacts us about issues of harm or abuse and are committed to ensure that churches are a safe place for all.

Friday, 26 April 2019