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

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Joanna at the empty tomb

Only in Luke’s Gospel do we come across Joanna, and he mentions her twice.

Is this because, when he was preparing his ‘orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us’, she was one of the ‘eye witnesses and servants off the word’ whose story had been ‘handed on’ to him (1.1,2)?

She is there with Mary Magdalene, Susanna ‘and many others’ at 8.2: ‘some women who [Jesus] had cured of evil spirits and infirmities... who provided for [Jesus and the twelve] out of their resources’; a group the nature of which we would not have had any idea were it not for this verse. 

She is ‘the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza’, which makes her a plausible source for the inside information about Herod’s involvement with and attitude to Jesus trial (23.8-11), something which Luke alone records.

She seems likely to be among ‘all [Jesus] acquaintances including the women who had followed him from Galilee [who] stood at a distance, watching these things’ at the crucifixion (23.49) and who ‘saw the tomb and how his body was laid’ (23.54), in which case, in a position to provide further first hand details.

And she is definitely there again in this morning’s Easter Gospel, at the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and other women, who ‘told all this to the eleven and to all the rest’ - which those they told 'took for an idle tale' (24.9-11).

So, I spoke this morning about feeling in touching distance of these first reports, and of what seems the importance of these first reports having come from those who had been mentally and physically damaged in the past, those whose witness also seemed so easy to dismiss or overlook.  They already knew, of course, that encounter with Jesus could be transformative.

And, although I didn’t explore this, perhaps Luke learns of Joanna and of Herod’s court from Manean, one ‘brought up with Herod’, part of the earliest church at Antioch, and one of those who commissions Barnabas and Saul for ministry (Acts 13.1-3), a ministry in which Luke appears to have shared.

Meanwhile, the photographs show decorations ready at St James’ and at home first thing today.  

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Go on loving

When a dictator strikes, he is quick and efficient.  A troublesome journalist steps inside his country’s embassy and finds it is already equipped with bone saws to dispose of his body.  The nun quietly opposing logging companies and championing the rain forest and those who live in it is found with a bullet in her head.  The political exile touches a nerve agent smeared on the door handle of his safe house.  And others in the media, in the church and in political dissent get the message.

So the story for today (Maundy Thursday).  

It is the sensitive time of year when the mob in any big city could easily be whipped up against the occupying forces.  A religious radical from the north has needed watching for some time.  Now he is in the capital attracting attention and crowds.  There is intelligence about where he will be late in the evening.  He will be picked up during the night.  An initial trial will take place in the dark.  The authorities will rubber stamp the conviction at dawn.  The public execution will be under way tomorrow (Good Friday) before most of the crowds even know he had been taken.

Next week, there will be Easter Day to write about.  The finality of death unfinalised.  The tyrant’s effective swift victory nullified.  The religious radical loose again.   

But that news isn’t here in time for this week’s paper.  We are still in the days when God-made-human is alongside those whose hope seems least secure.  He awaits the fate of those whose lives and ideas seem so easy for power to stamp out.  As he washes their feet tonight, he has puzzling final words with his fearful closest friends and collaborators – ‘go on loving whatever happens’. 

Then power strikes and thinks it has won.

 The picture is of Brookhouse Beck only a few hundred yards from our house, near the Railway Children tunnel.  The three hundred words are my piece for the Thought for the Week column in today's Keighley News (I only get asked about once a year). 

Monday, 15 April 2019

War Horses and mirror writing

Time in Haworth churchyard today with those developing a simple guide for the Bronte Society.  The Bronte Parsonage Museum is in the back of this first picture.

We found the new Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) sign in freshly in place.  The intention to install a sign alerting visitors to the presence of war graves was one of the motivations for developing the guide.  Both war graves are marked by family headstones and we feared people setting off on a fruitless search for distinctive CWGC headstones.

We found the tree which obscured the inscription on Frederick Carr’s grave had helpfully been cut down, we hope by Bradford Council which maintains the churchyard.  Carr joined the Army Veterinary Corps in 1897 and served first on the North West Frontier of India and then in South Africa during the Boer War (being seriously wounded).  The rate of the loss of horses became a scandal and he became involved in seeking to tackle this problem travelling widely with what was called the Remount Commission.  He saw service in northern Nigeria and in Egypt before going to France at the outbreak of the First World War (where he was again wounded).  Back in Egypt, he was seeking to tackle a cattle plague epidemic when bitten by an infected mule.  He was brought home to England and died in hospital in 1917.  He had been mentioned in despatches, awarded the Order of the Nile and an insignia in the Ottoman Order of the Osmanich.

We also pulled back the matted earth on one grave to find that roots had followed the lines of the inscription beneath and now represented a mirror image of it.