Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Nativity - God's protest song...

Well who would have thought that Rage Against the Machine would have the Christmas number one, especially as for the last few years at least, the winner of the X-Factor has been pretty much guaranteed the number one slot.

‘Killing in the Name’ could not be a more unlikey choice for the top slot this or any other Christmas... not a saccharine syrupy lyric in sight, a great guitar riff, and very very political (and fairly colourful) lyrics. It is a heartfelt cry for justice. The song is about the then campaign against corruption in the US police forces, trying to expose and remove officers who were also members of the Ku Klux Klan, and American society’s unwillingness to act against this clear abuse of power.

‘’Killing in the Name’ is a cry for justice that is echoed down the corridors of history: in the recent Climate Change protests, the ‘Stand Up’ anti-poverty campaign, the Make Poverty History and Jubilee 2000 campaigns, Band Aid, CND, the Suffragettes the anti-slavery movement, and so on... Things just should not be like this. We know they shouldn’t. God knows they shouldn’t... and yet they continue to be so, we continue to be so...

In a year of the failed Copenhagen summit, global recession, mass unemployment, flooding nationally and internationally, banking crises, and more fighting and dying in Afghanistan it is no wonder that we might think that God had gone on an extended holiday and left us to our own devices and our self-made mess... In that context ‘Killing in the Name’ seems a most appropriate anthem this Christmas.

We so easily approach the events that we recall tonight as though they were a scene from many of the Christmas cards that we have received or sent. The Holy Family surrounded by animals, shepherds, maybe an angel or wise man or two all enveloped in the divine light of God. A soft focus Nativity, and yet our first reading tonight could not be a more sharper contrast.

The prophet Isaiah speaks to Jerusalem has been ransacked and laid waste. It has been waiting for it’s day of liberation. Those who guard the city’s shattered buildings and nearly empty streets are scanning the horizon. They have to be especially wary as the Babylonians have undermined the city’s walls leaving the it defenseless. Suddenly, off to the east, they spot someone on the crest of the Mount of Olives. They can barely make out the person’s faint cries. As he makes his way down the mount they hear, “Your God is King!” The messenger is from Babylon and has made the 500 mile trip across the desert to bring this hopeful news to Jerusalem. God is returning to making the city holy by His divine presence.

We gather again tonight, looking out for hope and life too, for many of us feel hopeless. Yet over the brow of the year comes the Christmas story... and our hearts sink. The soft focus, saccharine stories of the God who fails to make a difference... And yet, have we really heard the Christmas story at all? Strain with me to hear again what St John says. The Word, who pre-existed with God, has brought all that is into existence. The life that he lives is like a beacon of light to people - a blinding light that cannot be extinguished. He lived that Divine light and life amongst us, but we did not see him or recognise him, but those who do are offered the life of God, life with God. Who or what is this Word? He is the one who speaks of, acts out and lives the very life of God Himself... Not a mention of global recession or unemployment, Afghanistan or climate change, but there is talk about light, life and an over-riding sense of hope...

If you came tonight to coo over a baby, born in conditions that the Social Services would have a fit about, but to go ‘ahhh’ at the Christmas story nonetheless, then you will find that child on the front of many a card at home. Through the child born in the manger in Bethlehem, tonight God speaks to us His Word, He blinds us with the light of justice and He deafens us with His protest song of hope.

Friends I am not naive enough to realise that this sounds all too utopian, a Christmas sticking plaster over the gaping wound of my life or our lives together - yet tonight I am reminded in the midst of political, financial and environmental turmoil this baby is born. The Word made flesh. God himself amongst us, returning to make the city, this village, our workplaces, our families, our lives, holy by His divine presence.

A colleague of mine was once describing the beauty of the world to some children, when one child popped up with, ‘He could not have done it without the council,’ meaning the workers of which his Dad was one. The child knew that without us, God will not, without God we cannot. Or to put it another way, ‘Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, if he is not born in you, you a still forlorn. Want a better life? A better year? Some good old fashioned hope? It begins at the manger. But we have got to accept what He offers. This baby comes to make us holy, to forge a friendship between us and God, to offer us light, hope and life, to transform our lives and together, our world. Amen

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent Antiphons


Click the picture to access the history of these traditional jewels of the Advent Litugy, and also some reflections on each of them...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just a test

This is me writing a post using Flock.  We'll see if it works.

Oh, then bed...

S
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Word as a Wordle - Advent II


A wordle of this Sunday's Old Tegstament reading from Malachi 3:1-4. Tim is preaching about peace... the peace of God that strips away all the superfluous stuff we carry as baggage and renews a relationship with us...

New Advent blog post

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Word as a Wordle


Here is Advent Sunday's (29th November) Gospel from Luke 21:25-26 as a seaonally coloured Wordle.

Hope it proves inspirational!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Go into all the [virtual world] and make disciples - why I use social networking sites...

Many of you will be aware that whilst I like to blog, I am also a regular user of social networking sites, especially Twitter and Facebook. Now I could perfectly well see why some of you might think that they are a waste of time, as the relationships forged on them are as virtual as the internet driven world itself. Some of you might also be thinking, hasn't he got enough to do? Is he just a lazy priest, swanning around on the internet all day, and not visiting the lonely, the housebound and generally spreading the word?

My response could be, in a way... fair point. But, I do believe that the use of these new media are essential to us as Christians, and to me as a pastor and priest, essential tools in the ministry which God has given me to exercise in His name.

My entry into the social networking world began out of necessity. When our church put on a special service or a special event our activity we were reaching a certain group of people - the 'regulars' we shall call them. Advertising these events is tricky, physically. Our church noticeboard is of the 'drive-past-able' variety. Some of the local shop keepers were willing put up the odd poster or two occasionally. This seemed effective only to a point. Was there a way of reaching others locally?

I decided to sign up to Facebook to see if there were others locally who had some contact with the church, perhaps through an occasional office, that might come back to something else that we were doing, as I was sure that people were sometimes not coming to these things because they did not know that they were on.

Very quickly I discovered there were many people that I knew locally, that I could invite to things, pray for, and do some pastoral support through this excellent tool. Now we have a church Facebook page, with a growing number of members who are both regular and occasional attenders at Sunday worship.

Facebook has also given us another spin off. In having to RSVP to an event that we might advertise, we also have a good idea of the number of people who will attend, and you can see straight away why that might be helpful.

Facebook has also been the entry point into pastoral care, prayer, and support too for the local community and I am thankful for it, as it gives an insight (however mundane or facile) lives. But, at times, it has provided the beginnings of real support - leading to prayer or a visit. A personal example is when son #3 had swine flu and we were able to post updates on Facebook and we were supported in prayer all over the world.

I also blog, and you wouldn't be reading this if you did not know that. I blog for a number of reasons:
  • It is my diary - a place to record thoughts and experiences primarily for me
  • It is a repository of sermons and sermon prep - I post past sermons for your delectation and delight, and workings on current ones too. With the introduction of my Word as a Wordle - which I hope helps give a new take on (usually) the Gospel reading for the week. It certainly helps me to prepare, and to have some notes as 'work in progress I find helpful. If they inspire others too - result.
  • I use this blog - Rectory Musings - to also highlight the existence of my other blog Five Minutes Space and other assorted web based bits that might prove helpful - other blogs I read, Daily Prayer from the CofE etc...
I also feed my blog entries onto Facebook to ensure that the people I tried to reach out to locally have some sources of spiritual inspiration from their local church too - and the feedback I have from parents of football playing children for whom SUnday worship is an occasional thing - it is a good thing. It is a God thing...

Relatively recently, I have learned to 'tweet' and now use Twitter regularly. Twitter is not a social networking tool like Facebook, but a micro-blogging site. It allows the user to record, in 140 characters, what is going on for them. It has taken me a long time to 'get' Twitter. But now, with the right software (Tweetdeck is my personal fave) I have found it to be an invaluable tool.

Twitter is very immediate. There are some contacts I have there, who I also have on Facebook. There are some there, who I know personally. Many of my Twitter 'friends' I have never met and perhaps I am never likely to meet, and yet, there is some sort of community there.

There are a number of Anglican clerics who Tweet and we have been grouped together with other 'tweeting' Bishops as the Twurch of England. This network, for me, has been a network of shared interest, support, prayer and encouragement. A couple of weeks ago I tweeted that I was off to do, what could have been a tricky visit and I asked for prayer. Almost instantly, tweets came back from others in other places assuring me that I was held in prayer. I felt supported by The Church and by God through prayer.

In to the midest of all this positivity comes the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, who recently caused a bit of stir in the blogsphere with comments about social networking and blogging which you can be found here.

I take his point.

The other main reason that I use Facebook, tweet, or blog is about accountability. It can be clearly tracked what it is I have done and when. You can see the progress that I am making on a sermon etc. As church, you have some sense of what your cleric is up to. Sure that is open to abuse, but so was the banking systems that are the backbone of global business and look what happened when that was abused - global recession.

I accept that blogging, Facebook and Twitter may not be for you, but I am clear that they are part of the tools of my trade - making known the love of Christ - and that God uses them to reveal His coming Kingdom in the [virtual] world.

What more Advent?

Wow! I am really getting into the swing of this again, but I am supposed to be hoovering! Anyway, I have just added something else Advent blog which I got from a friend on Twitter. It is a a few minutes of utter genius... Enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Five Minutes Space 2009

I have just spruced up my Advent blog - Five Minutes Space - for Advent 2009.

I hope that you might read it and perhaps even find it inspirational. I will be updating it daily.

I will link the blog here for your delectation and delight...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More thoughts on Christ the King

Here is the basis for what I intend saying on Sunday. it will be changed between now and then. I might make reference to soemthing I saw on the news last night as the illustration. Either way, what follows are some reflections on what it means for Jesus Christ to be lord andking of my life...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today, the Feast of Christ the King marks the end of the church year. Over the year we have recalled the promise of Christ’s coming, his birth, life and ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. Today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today also marks the end of our annual training programme on how to be Christian disciples.

The conversation between the Pilate and Jesus revolves around the issue of kingship, with Pilate determined to discover whether Jesus poses a real political threat or not, and Jesus determined to redefine the notion of ‘kingdom’ and kingship.’ Again Jesus reminds Pilate that it is he who defines Jesus in political terms. “You say that I am a king.’ Even though Jesus was not a problem for Pilate - he believed he held Jesus’ life in the balance - Pilate was determined to get to the bottom of this and so should we - what does it mean for Christ to be King?

Christ’s kingship is God given and has a universal and personal reign. Universally Christ is king of all creation. When God sent his son, he did so to complete the work he began when he said. ‘Let there be light!’ Christ’s life, death and resurrection are about God taking all that it means to be created, broken, hurting, incomplete even sinful, to heart, and on the cross’s eternal embrace, to allow the eternal effect of sin and death to die with his Son. Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates every thing into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present,

Personally, Christ is King of our hearts. As Christ dies, the eternal affects of sin and death are annihilated. With his cry of ‘It is finished!’ Christ is not defeated, but victorious! Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates every thing into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present. Christ is King in me, for just as he took sin and brokenness to his heart, so I must take Christ’s kingship to heart. Christ is King in me by my faith in him. The liberation beginning to experienced in creation, can be experienced in my life, in yours only when we pay due respect to the king, when we listen to his words, and as loyal subjects, carry out his will.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who lay ourselves open completely to the will of God, we need to become a trusting people, we need to ask him to help us to become a faithful praying people. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows even Jesus found it hard - Gethsemene still rings with Jesus’ ‘Father if it is possible, take this cup from me!’ Yet when we do, even our deaths become resurrections and the problems and worries that might keep us awake at night pale into insignificance. It’s not that they disappear, but that we entrust them and ourselves to the will of God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who are filled to overflowing with the love of God. Just as God’s love for creation overflowed into the coming of Christ, so our love of God should overflow into our relationships with others. The hallmark of the Christian community in Paul’s day, back as the church was beginning, was the way that Christian’s loved one another. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the well where Jesus encountered the Syrophonecian woman still stings with Jesus’, ‘Is it right that the children’s food is thrown to the dogs?’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Jesus, even the most deepseated difference with our neighbours, friends or family pale into insignificance when we see all people made in the image of God and loved by God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who know that we are loved personally by God. If you were the only person on earth, God’s love is so great for you, Christ would have come - did come - just to restore the relationship between God and you. Hear Jesus’ words in 3:16 from God’s point of view - God so loved N so much that he sent his only son so that if they believe in me, they would not perish but have eternal life. God calls us to love ourselves too - he does. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the seashore is still lapped with Jesus’ words to Simon and his response, ‘Do you love me... you know that I love you.’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Peter, our self-worth is restored. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship as brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Friends, today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today marks our renewed recommitment to be Christian disciples, seeking Christ’s kingship, the love of our redeemer, brother and lord, in our lives, in our loves, in our world. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Word as Wordle


Here is the wordle of John 18:33-37, the gospel reading for the Feast of Christ the King (22/11/09). Sermon thoughts to follow... but I am struck by the importance of the words king, kingdom, world, Jesus, Pilate and answered...

Reading the passage again, I am struck that the lectionary compliers did not have the courage to give us more of the text as believe that we can only really make sense of Jesus' words by setting them in the wider context of th rest of John 18.

That said, even in the confines of these few verses, Jesus is mystifying, enigmatic, enlightening and confrontational all at once.

Pilate asks Jesus about his kingship. This is a question about geography, politics and military might. We will never really know what Pilate was gettig at or what his notion of kingship meant. Did he have Caesar or the puppet-king Herod in mind? Either way the Messianic connotations will not hav been common parlance for him, but he must have been aware of them.

Either way, Pilate throughout John 18, is constatly looking to do the right thing. So we join him trying to make sense of why Jesus has been sent to him and to give Jesus a chance to defend himself.

Jesus, as he usually is especially in John's Gospel, starts to be infuriatingly allusive. 'My kingdom is not of this world' says Jesus. What on earth?

But then that's maybe the point. Jesus is perhaps trying to expalin some Messiah theology to a non-Jew. You have no need to be threatened, says Jesus, as my kingly power is not about politics or the exterior world of geography and place.

The kingdom says Jesus, centres itself in the realm of truth and values. The kingdom of God is not therefore about the exterior world but about the inner landscapes of the human heart - the place where truth, love and values reign and rule our lives and lifestyles.

If you want to understand the way that kingdom is run, Jesus says to Pilate and to us, then listen to God speaking through me...

~~~~~~~~

Well folks that's the beginnings of where the sermon is going. I will try to post more as we near Sunday!

Anish Kapoor and the Via Negativa...

I have just watched the first of a new series of the BBC series 'Imagine.' The programme tonight was handed over to the work of British artist and sculptor Anish Kapoor. The excellent program is available to watch here.

Over the years I have become familiar with his work - especially his voids. These have been set everywhere for me, most notably in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern with his enormous 150m long 'Marsyas' and as part of the exhibitions in the Sir John Soane museum.

The thing that struck me about Alan Yentob's interview was Kapoor talking about his use use of colour. He went on to talk about his use of 'black' an example of which is above. The 'black' of course is a dark red. But it is the sort of black that you see as you close your eyes - blackness tinged with the redness of blood.

This all got me thinking about how Anish Kapoor's work therefore is an external expression of the inner world. In other words, his art, some of it massive, reveals something of what is going on inside him and each of us. Kapoor like Bill Viola is a true apophatic postsecular artist... an interesting article can be downloaded from here...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Who do you trust?

Below I copy a version of what I preached at All Saints on Sunday. It was good service and I am beginning to feel quite at home there.

The day before, I spent a day at a conference called '

The Future of the Planet: Wilderness or Promised Land?' From the Diocesan website:

The St Albans Diocese Board for Church and Society's second Environment Conference

Since the first in 2006, the debate has moved on to practical measures for tackling climate change.

Can we as individuals and as members of local churches really make a difference?

Our 2009 Energy and Climate Change conference is a joint project between the Environment, Europe and World Development groups.

It takes place just weeks before the vital UN Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen. The conference is introduced by the Rt Revd Richard Inwood, Bishop of Bedford and the theme of Exodus will run throughout the day. The morning session will consist of talks by eminent speakers on environmental matters:

  • The Revd Professor Ian James, meteorologist - Climate change science
  • Richard Howitt, Labour MEP - European energy policy and its effect on business
  • Mark Dowd, Head of Campaign Group Operation Noah - Our response as Christians
  • Chris Goodall, environmental author - Future energy opportunities

The afternoon of the conference will focus on how individual parishes can take practical steps towards the aim of the Church of England in “Shrinking our Footprint”. There will be an opportunity for discussion in small groups about measures we can take in our personal lifestyles, our churches and congregations, our local communities and in the wider world.


The afternoon was very practical and held together by Benedict Southworth, formerly of the WDM. All in all it was excellent, challenging, rewarding, mobilising day. Well done John, Alice, Helen, Sue and everyone else concerned...


Here's the sermon for Kingdom 3:

I love going away on holiday and when I do I love to go and visit some of the sights. One of the best places I have ever visited is Chicago. It is beautiful - right on the banks of Lake Michigan. It has loads of really amazing buildings - some quite old by American standards with nice bricks and stone and carving; some really new with smoked glass and chromed steel. Some of the most successful companies in America have been and are based there.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem doing a bit of sightseeing. The disciples are amazed at some of the things they see. They are particularly taken with the size of the Temple - they notice how big the stones used to make it were. Jesus warns the disciples that one day these great buildings will be destroyed. That’s sad, especially if they were as amazing as the ones in Chicago are. Jesus’ point though is: these buildings might be used by companies who make all sorts of amazing things that we might really want, that help make life good - PS3, drums, trainers - but if we have the best trainers, a fantastic drumkit and a new PS3 and don’t trust in God and listen to Jesus then we have missed what life is all about.

So where do place our trust? What do we hope for? What makes life good for us? Lower taxes? A new car?? Aromatherapy???

Back in Jesus’ day, people were pretty anxious. They were people living in an occupied land, kept ‘secure’ by foreign soldiers. They longed for freedom. There was also a strong feeling that they were living in ‘the end times’ the end of the world was near. The metallic taste of fear was in the air. There were sections of Jewish society that played on that fear - the tax collectors who helped to finance the political status quo - the all encompassing influence of one nation, Italy and the Roman system of government - oh and line their own pockets too! Another such section of society was the Temple. Instead of being a place where God was worshiped, and people were liberated to live for him - they were being crushed by the weight of the letter of the law, and being tithed financially dry. This suited the religious leaders - it kept them in jobs, in the lifestyle they loved, and in the respect of the masses.


Jesus deplored this. It stood rank and file against the coming kingdom of his God and father, with it’s inverted values that benefitted the many not the few. Whilst the Temple and the rest of Roman influenced society was an amazing structure, there was a time coming when God would tear it down and raise it to the ground. This, along with the persecution of Jesus’ followers would lead ultimately to his return.


Jesus is unnervingly specific in his predictions - in the future, disciples could expect to face famines and earthquakes, wars, the break up of families and community strife. This is just part of the process of freeing that the Son of Man will himself complete.

Yet this is an unnervingly contemporary gospel. We too live in anxious times. Whilst our land may not be occupied, in many places we are the occupier albeit in the name of peacekeeping. Yet we are occupied, or at least our political leaders are pre-occupied with the very real threat of Islamic terrorism. With that threat and nuclear programmers being developed if not in Iraq then certainly in Iran and North Korea then we maybe also feeling a bit apocalyptic. There are also those in our society who play on our fears - offering us loans we cannot repay, health remedies that may not work, legal advice to sue when what happened was a genuine accident - and the all encompassing influence of one nation America, her MacDonalds culture and ‘democracy at all costs.’

An anxious people look for surety in all sorts of places and some find it in religion. But if the church is ever a place where people are drawn in and all your gifts, talents, time and money are used up here, then it makes us no better than the Temple enforcing the unenforceable.

The church should be a place where we are encouraged, where we meet with God and are empowered by him , where we are sent out to face earthquakes, wars, family break up, community strife.

It is here where we learn what suffering means - or put a better way, where life is headed. Jesus doesn’t try to down -play or explain the sufferings he talks of - except that we see later that he himself would walk the same road, being rejected by the same institutions of power and influence, taking suffering to it’s conclusion. And yet his death marks the death of those who play on our fears - the Temple curtain tears in two. Not one stone will be left one on another.

We have no way of knowing whether any of what Jesus talks of here will happen. Except... the things Jesus predicted happening to him happened. Except... men and women around our world have been and will suffer in exactly the sorts of way that Jesus suggests.

Go on - place your faith in the institutions of power; see if that massage helps long term not just for you but for others; long for the Iraq or Afghan war to end or Gordon Brown to resign - or place your trust in a God who made the world, loves it, suffers, dies and rises again in it, and who is freeing it’s anxious people from fear one at a time. Amen

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

John Lawson - 1932-2009

Today was John Lawson's funeral service in church. My own feeling was that there could not have been a more full and fitting celebration of John's life, faith and work. It was a privilege to lead.

Below I firstly enclose words of Dom Lawson, John's son, from his blog, paying tribute to John. Dom's tribute was mentioned at the service, and hope Dom does not mind me sharing it here:

Being a writer and all-round opinionated bore, words don’t often fail me, but I’m finding it extremely hard to describe how I feel this morning. Last Friday night, my father passed away after what we are, I suppose, obliged to refer to as “a long battle with cancer”. He slipped away in the night, at home and in bed with my mum (just as it should be), and he leaves a yawning chasm behind, not just for me but for my entire family and anyone who ever knew him.

I know almost everyone thinks that their parents are infallible, but my dad really was a wonderful human being. He was a kind, generous, gentle and fiercely intelligent man who never knowingly said or did anything that caused pain or sadness to another living being. Most remarkable of all, he seldom spoke unless he had something to say. God knows, the world could use a few more people like that.

In some respects I didn’t have a huge amount in common with my dad. I didn’t share his religious faith, his political views, his taste in music or his calamitous dress sense, but those things are utterly trivial when you love someone as much I loved him. The important thing is that I always knew that my dad loved me and was proud of me, despite my many faults, and that he knew that I felt the same way towards him. And I admired him immensely. I’m lucky enough to do what I love for a living, and my dad was the same. An insanely talented artist, he designed stained glass windows for a living and leaves behind an astonishing legacy of beautiful creations that, with luck, will survive for many hundreds of years. I can only hope that I will be able to make such a lasting and worthwhile mark on the world. I also hope that I can become a little bit more like my dad along the way.

I miss him terribly and will carry his memory in my heart forever, as will my mum and my two sisters, Rebecca and Helena. We all love you, Dad.

I also enclose my own brief tribute, picking up especially John's life of faith:

It seems most appropriate that we gather together to give thanks to God for John today - Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day is a day filled with many memories for generations of people and over-flowing with a hope that events past should not be repeated.

Today is also a remembrance day for the Lawson family and so many others of us, as we give thanks to God for John, treasuring many memories. But our remembrance of John today must also be a day over-flowing with hope because of the faith in God which was John’s quiet and sure centre.


I first met John as I moved to be Vicar of Leverstock Green nearly 6 years ago. I have to be honest that it took me some time to begin to get to know him. He was always faithfully here, but we didn’t do chit chat. But what I did quickly discover was that whilst John didn’t say much about his faith, it could almost tangibly be felt flowing from him. John was a man of few well chosen words, and this man of few words lived out a quiet but sure faith, and he would not want to be centre of attention today, yet this church with so many many others shout aloud about his life and his faith.

John’s faith journey begins at at St. Saviours church, St. Albans as a boy, becoming a server as a teenager and marrying there as a young man before moving to worship at Holy Trinity when his first child arrived.
John’s quiet faith was lived out as he served God over the next 40+ years at HT - as a Server, Reader, Sacristan, Sidesman, Chalice Assistant, all done with the quiet dignity and lack of fuss that was needed and was just John.

Where John did publicly express his faith was in his art, and what a God-given gift John had! In this church some of the kneelers, the altar rails, the Stations of the Cross, the tea-towels, notelets and the window in the Benedict Chapel are all John’s handiwork. But John expressed his faith, especially in stained glass in windows in many churches as diverse as Elmore and Westminster Abbies. It was in glass that we saw something of the depth, colour, shape, beauty and yet simplicity of John’s faith.

Describing John, I would feels like I do him a disservice when I say what so many others have - he was 'a lovely gentle man' yet his quietly held faith centred on the love of God was a hallmark of his life - the characteristics of that love were described so beautifully by St Paul in the reading Martin will read for us later. Whilst John’s faith was a personal & private thing to him it was a wellspring of resources for him throughout his life. John was involved in planning the content of this funeral service and in the light of this his family wish to remember John by letting the music, art and words speak, not just of him, but of the God who gave purpose, direction and meaning to his life.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Word as a Wordle

Well folks it's back to the scriptures following a deviation into song lyrics by Marillion (thanks for the idea Merlin!)

Here is this Sunday's (15th November - 2nd Sunday before Advent or 3rd Sunday of the Kingdom) Gospel reading (from Mark 13:1-8) as a Wordle.

I hope and pray that God may continue to use this medium to bless us as we read His Word...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Word as a Wordle... with a difference!

Instead of this Sunday's readings Wordled... I enclose a Wordle of a song called 'A Voice From The Past' by my fave band Marillion. The words move me and speak politically right into the demands for action by those with the power for action on global poverty and climate change.

The lyrics read:

A voice from the past
Entered my head today
Fresh and alive. Full of life, passion and pain.
A voice now past.
A beautiful soul.
Gone, gone, gone.

Speaking clearly - clearer than the living
Talking perfect sense
Used to not being understood
While talking perfect sense to the next generation

Have we caught up yet?
Is it time?
I think it is.
Enough is enough
Enough is enough

A voice from the past
Entered my head today
Tiny child sighed in my ear.
Giving up breathing in
Over and out
Over and out
Taken by bad luck and the ill fortune of geography.

Common cold. Dirty water. HIV.
Common apathy. Common crime.
Perfect nonsense to the next generation

Dead yet alive
Dead yet alive
Gone but shouting anger
Gone but talking perfect sense

Have we caught up yet?
Is it time? Well I say it is. I say it is.
Deaf and dumbed-down
Enough is enough

Give me a smile. Hold out your hand.
I don't want your money
I don't want your land
Gimme a smile. Hold out your hand.
I don't want your money
I don't want your land
I want you to wake up and do
something strange
I want you to listen
I want you to feel someone else's pain
Someone else's pain
Someone else's pain
Someone else's pain.

Deaf and dumbed-down
Deaf and dumbed-down

A tap with clean water

Words by Steve Hogarth that echo the sentiments of the Jubilee 2000, Drop the Debt, Stand Up, 10:10 and countless other campaigns... As a Christian my desire to act is one driven by a God-given cry for justice. We cannot sit on our hands.

See you at The Wave on December 5th...

Friday, October 30, 2009

A bit of culture

I enclose links to two video's by my art 'hero' Bill Viola.

The first piece I first came across when I lived in France. On my day off, I found details of an art exhibition by an artist I had never heard of, a chap called Bill Viola. The write up sounded interesting so off I went. The exhibition included the piece below (I have a snippet here) called The Crossing. It was massive, arresting, and forced me to ask questions abput myself and my mortality. I cam away open mouthed, awed that art could ask me those huge spiritual questions and it was love at first sight.

The second piece that I enclose a link to, is a piece that I didn't see for a long time, but was to impact my academic life. The piece is called 'The Messenger' and was commissioned by Durham Cathedral. Again this is a massive, arresting and deeply spiritual work and continues Viola's fascination with mortality and the spiritual.

I later studied Theology at Durham and did an MA the title of which was 'Rites of Passage: A Theological Reflection on the Contemporary Video Artwork of Bill Viola.' My thesis was to do with Postmodern thought and culture and anthropology (the theology of what it means to be human.) I enclose the thesis here for your delectation and delight.

The basic thrust of my aguement was,

'...It is clear that our culture is experiencing a time of crisis. Some have put this down to the death throes of Modernity giving way to Postmodernity. This paradigm-shift has led to the death of meaning, unregulated interpretation, and assertions of the will to power which disregard the Other. It is also a time where the sublime is re-presented. The postmodern sublime arises out of the gap between conception and imagination. There is a yearning to be able to bridge that gap, but not by longing for a non-existent Golden Age, but rather by re-presenting the unrepresentable with a disfigured form of the signifier itself. This whole project may be put down to a corporate crisis of Self.

It seems that the struggle we are witnessing today is not between moral beliefs or the legal system and individual freedom; it is between our inner and outer lives, and our bodies are the arenas where this is being played out. I will show that the mind-body problem is reaching crescendo latterly, as an ecological drama where the realisation that the environment and our bodies are one and the same. This ‘making strange’, which implies a distance between subject and object, has been the basis of Viola’s work. It is at this point of risk where art and science may be unified with all created activities. It is a point of theoria, transfiguration, and personal transformation where art recreates the viewer and moves us beyond the postmodern flux of the self.

Viola’s work is a meditation on states of consciousness and being in which dream and reality are indistinguishable but where what lingers in the mind is a state of confusion in terms of what is seen and in registration of external data. Viola demonstrates that states of mind and vision are one and the same.
I will show that a critique Viola’s work is based on the understanding of the confusion in postmodern culture between transcendence and the sublime. I will also show that the anthropology that underlies his work, and postmodern culture in general, is a sense of abjection – that is repulsion of the Self and the Other. This does not lead to a theoria, but rather a self-deluded postmodern narcissism in the guise of theoria. This is not in line with a Biblical understanding of the self, based on the Imago Dei in Genesis.

Whilst his work revolves around spiritual themes, I will show that this fascination with the Other is due to the tension in the Self. A critique of Viola’s project will involve a reclamation of the power of the Incarnation that incorporates the Other in the Self, which may heal the wound of gaping abjection in our culture...'


Now I am aware that my work may not ring your bell, and that's the case, fine, but do try to enoy the art for the art's sake because it is beautiful and deeply moving...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Music heaven!

I am just loving a cd that my dear Dad has leant me. It is a wonderful, life-affirming, and emotional mix of Scottish folk and jazz. 'Stramash' by Colin Steele. Stramash is a Scottish word meaning a disturbance, racket, or crash. The music is disturbing and creates a racket, but the disturbance is good because it unsettles the listener out of norms and expectations. The music is a racket, because I suspect that live it is pretty loud! I had never come across him before, but from his website:

Since the release of his debut album Twilight Dreams in 2002, Colin Steele’s highly original and melodic Scottish folk-influenced jazz has won just about every UK jazz plaudit there is; from BBC Jazz CD of the Year and Jazz Review international CD of the Year (for his album ‘The Journey Home’) to CD of the year accolades in The Guardian, Observer, Independent and The New Statesman. Steele’s compositions are inspired by Scottish and Irish folk music, but are firmly rooted in the jazz tradition.

Colin took up the trumpet in 1980 and joined his first jazz group the John Rae Collective at the age of 19 (which included Brian Kellock and Phil Bancroft). He then went on to work with Tommy Smith, Tom Bancroft Orchestra and pop band Hue and Cry.

Between 1990 and 1996 he travelled Europe extensively, living in France, then London, then Italy. On his return to Scotland in 1997 he established the phenomenally successful live music club Midnight Blue, which ran for three years and attracted over 40,000 people during this time. Around this time he also began composing, forming his first quintet in 2000.

Colin has also toured and collaborated with many international jazz artists, including The Bad Plus, Jon Christenson, Arild Anderson, Geri Allen and Steve Slagle. He is also involved with a variety of different genres, including Scottish folk music with the Unusual Suspects and Aidan O’ Rourke’s band Sirius, and with various dance and drum and bass projects including Aqua Bassino, Jo Malik and Yush 2K, as well as Latin and funk with his own bands Mas Que Nada and Melting Pot.

Colin has also collaborated on a number of theatrical projects including writing the original score for Mike Maran’s highly successful theatre show ‘The Little World Of Don Camillo’, and he wrote and performed the score for ‘Look Back In Anger’ which starred David Tennant.

Check it out some soundclips here.

I hope you investigate it and enjoy it as much as I am.

A little light relief!


For your delectation and delight, a picture that my son Ben (aged 4) drew of me earlier today. I am sure that you will agree that he has been very very kind!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For those love but see no longer...

This afternoon we held our annual Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance for the Departed. As usual it was a very moving affair. About 100 people in attendance and lots of very good feedback. One person commented how life was still hard since their bereavement, but services and occasions such as today made a real difference. Nice. Thanks be to God for he is good!

Below is the text for my sermon. The ending is missing, but you get a sense of where things are going. I am indebted to ideas from elsewhere for some of it. I also enclose some photos...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(Based on Ps. 139:1-18 and John 14:1-6)

As bad as we may be feeling just now, there is a being, as the Psalmist wrote, a perfect Father, a God who knows us, understands us, sees us and is all around us on every side and who protects us with His power. What about the loved ones we remember today, we might ask? How was they protected?

The Psalmist continues: Your knowledge, of them and each one of us, is too deep. It is beyond understanding. Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.Our loved ones, I believe are in God’s presence. They are still, and now completely, unassailably, protected with God’s power. They are out of harm’s way.

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ created every part of each of the people we come treasuring today. He put them together, them him before they was born, knew them, understood them, watched them all through their life, surrounded them (as he does all of us) on every side, protecting them (as he does us, if we wish it) with His power. That’s all good. But it had to end. There was suffering and death.

O God, how difficult we find your thoughts. How many of the them there are. We don’t understand all of them. We don’t agree with many of them. And we have to suffer losses like this. We have to see loved ones and friends in pain and we can’t fix them or make it go away. It hurts and we wish we could escape, run away, “beyond the east” cries the Psalmist, or to “the farthest place in the west.” We’d like to just go to sleep or take something so we can skip all the pain and anguish. But even if we could do that, the Psalmist says, when we awake, and wherever we try and hide, we are still with You.

Think of it: when those whom we remember today went to sleep sick, tired, weakened and when they awoke, an instant after, they were still, and even more wonderfully so, with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with angels and all the host of heaven. But still it hurts.

“Don’t be worried and upset,” says Jesus in our Gospel passage. “Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for every one of you (if you want one). I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.” Jesus mets each of us and takes him to Himself so we will be, with our loved ones, where Jesus is.

How can we know this? Because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.” If we believe in God and in Jesus, and in so doing, we make and confirmed our reservation.

Those whom we remember today are fine. They each, by faith in God, have a room that Jesus picked out and prepared for them in his Father’s house. By faith, they are with Jesus in paradise. All their problems are solved and all their questions answered.

What about us who remain? How do we honour their memory? We’re upset and in pain. Things are feeling dark some days, maybe today, perhaps every day.

First, know that the darkest darkness is not dark for God. All He does, as the Psalmist wrote, is strange and wonderful. Despite the darkness of our loss, having those whom we love but see no longer in our lives for a time was wonderful. We can be thankful and enjoy that. God has not abandoned us.

Second, Jesus puts it quite simply: “Believe in God and believe also in me.” Believe what? That Jesus is the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and who rose from the dead, thereby securing one of those rooms He went on ahead to prepare one for each of us who would like to join him there.

Third, since the rooms are not an automatic entitlement, we must confirm the reservation. How? Well, to believe in Jesus is to follow Him—to do our best to live our lives the way He lived His and taught us to live ours. What’s the best environment in which to do that? As a member of His body of believers, the Church. That involves this book, the Bible, prayer, worship, sharing our money, serving others—it can be messy—the church of Jesus is not perfect yet—but it contains people loveable people. Kind people. Good dancers, who laugh and enjoy life and with whom you can hang out and with whom you can go out to dinner from time to time...

For us who remain, deciding to believe in Jesus and acting on it is not only the best way to get through our grief, but I suggest it is also the best way to honour those whom we come remembering today. For faith in Jesus assures of a life then with God for all eternity and with those whom we love.

But faith in Jesus Christ also assures us of a life now with God too, as Jesus reminds us that he is the way - God’s way leading us through life; Jesus reminds us that he is the truth - what he tells us about God we can take as true; Jesus reminds us that he is the life - a life in the now filled with peace and love and that a certainty that death is not the end. but a return to the loving arms of the God who created each one of us...











Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Word as a Wordle is back!

In time for Bible Sunday - 25 October 2009 - I have 'wordled' the two readings we shall be using from Isaiah 55:1-11 and John 5:36b-47. Interesting themes come out...

Towards the end of the service I shall be encouraging the congregations to read the Bible for themselves. I shall encourage them to try Lectio Divina, as I have been so profoundly moved by what God has been saying to me through using it. Lectio Divina (spiritual or divine reading) has it’s roots in the early days of the church and can be found in the monastic rules of both St. Augustine and St Benedict. What I encourage people to try is:

1. Find a quiet place, pray, and ask God to help you to understand what it is you are reading and to speak to you through it.
2. Read the passage that you have slowly out loud
3. Read the passage quietly to yourself
4. Read the passage again quietly to yourself and underline key words or phrases that stand out to you.
5. Go back over the words or phrases that you have marked and prayerfully seek what Richard Foster calls ‘God’s Word for us.’ We should apply all of our senses and imagination to the task and enter into the phrases or words highlighted. We may find our minds linking to other passages or parts of our own lives. Doing this we are asking ‘God, what are you saying to me?’
6. This reflecting or meditating should lead to a response in us, in prayer. The highlighted words and the connexions we have made should give rise to confession, a cry of gratitude, lament, relief or praise in us.
7. The final stage in this process is obeying or applying what we have read and prayed. How will it affect our choices and lives this day?

Lord, may your Word be a lamp to our feet and a light upon our path...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stand Up For Micah!

Today following of from last week's excellent Harvest service, we thought and prayed about and responded to issues of global poverty and justice. We also asked God, by His grace, to do what is impossible for us - to be welcomed into his Kingdom and in turn for us to respond in grace by seeking justice and mercy for the global poor through giving, but also through prayer and direct action too.

The worship had the gospel for the day at it's heart and I preached in three chunks - once in the 'usual place' just after the readings, again before the Peace and again following the Post Communion prayer. The heart of what I said was helping us to realise that we are the rich young man, from the Gospel reading (whether we like it or not) as we own and earn far more than the average wage of $2 a day for much of the Global Poor. In the reading though, I believe that Jesus neither condemns those who are rich, nor is the passage a comment on God's priority to the poor. Rather, in the reading, Jesus reminds us that we may well come close to the Kingdom under our own steam, but there will be things that prevent us from entering, whether that is wealth, family, perhaps even life itself. God looks at us, and loves, and it is God alone who who can transfer us into his kingdom.

Then, as part of our response to the grace of God, over 100 of us in church pledged the Micah Call...

The Micah Call: This is a moment in history of unique potential, when the stated intentions of world leaders echo something of the mind of the Biblical prophets and the teachings of Jesus concerning the poor, and when we have the means to dramatically reduce poverty.

We commit ourselves, as followers of Jesus, to work together for the holistic transformation of our communities, to pursue justice, be passionate about kindness and to walk humbly with God.
We call on international and national decision-makers of both rich and poor nations, to fulfil their public promise to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and so halve absolute global poverty by 2015.

We call on Christians everywhere to be agents of hope for and with the poor, and to work with others to hold our national and global leaders accountable in securing a more just and merciful world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Barbara led intercessions today using the Millennium Development Goals as a starting point, encouraging each us then and every day, to pray for the justice of God for the world's poor.

The as a response to God's grace shown to us in Jesus Christ, we shared the Eucharist and at the end of the service nearly 50 of us wrote letters to our MP asking him to Stand Up for justice for the Global Poor and against Climate Change, not just this weekend, or next, but every day.

Many of us were deeply moved by what God was asking us to do. He challenged us to step out of our comfort zones, and in a way out of leafy Hertfordshire and to 'sell all we have and to give to the poor' by identifying ourselves with our siblings in the Global Community.

Whilst Micah Sunday and the Stand Up initiative are not until next weekend, they tied in so strongly with the Gospel reading this morning, and followed on so naturally from last weekend's worship, God seemed to be leading us to hear the cry of the poor again and respond in a different way from raising around £700 to aid water projects in Ethiopia.

I am exhausted, exhilerated, challenged, blessed, and called by God's grace to seek justice, and to love mercy as I walk with God in humility.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

'In the midst of life we are in death...'

I am sitting at home trying to focus on preparing for tomorrow and yet I am well aware that not far from here are two people who are taking their last steps on the journey through life.

I know both of them reasonably well, and I know they have both lived rich, full and varied lives. Neither of them are particularly aged. Yet, from the safe distance of my study, even from the distance of being their priest and not a member of their respective families, it is perhaps inevitable that together we will feel cheated of their presence in the days that lie ahead, knowing that there are many stories about their lives we have not heard, that we will not hear the tone of their voice, the firm shake of a hand or the warmth of an embrace or the tenderness of a kiss. There are also lives that will be shattered by loss, and all of our worlds will feel their lack. Something... someone will be missing.

It is into this maelstrom of bereavement that I offer these prayers in the hope that they might help us pray into the days ahead, relying the compassion and presence of the Lord of Life.

¶ Prayer for a dying person

Eternal God,
grant to your servant
and to us who surround him/her with our prayers
your peace beyond understanding.
Give us faith, the comfort of your presence,
and the words to say to one another and to you,
as we gather in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

¶Prayer when someone has just died

The minister, a family member or a friend may use some or all of these words

In this moment of sorrow the Lord is in our midst
and consoles us with his word:

No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him.

Blessed are the sorrowful; they shall be comforted.

Into your hands, O Lord,
we humbly entrust our brother/sister N .
In this life you embraced him/her with your tender love,
and opened to him/her the gate of heaven.
The old order has passed away,
as you welcome him/her into paradise,
where there will be no sorrow, no weeping nor pain,
but the fullness of peace and joy
with your Son and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

Heavenly Father,
into whose hands Jesus Christ
commended his spirit at the last hour:
into those same hands we now commend your servant N ,
that death may be for him/her
the gate to life and to eternal fellowship with you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Remember, O Lord,
this your servant,
who has gone before us with the sign of faith
and now rests in the sleep of peace.
According to your promises,
grant to him/her and to all who rest in Christ,
refreshment, light and peace;
through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Most merciful God,
whose wisdom is beyond our understanding,
surround the family of N with your love,
that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss,
but have confidence in your goodness,
and strength to meet the days to come.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.













































Thursday, October 01, 2009

Harvest Celebrations

Hi, hope this finds you well. Just to remind you that it is our Harvest Festival this weekend - 4th October at 10.00 am. Please do bring with you traditional harvest produce but please do also bring with you some extra money to support the Bishop's Harvest Appeal (see poster attached here) as we raise money to help people in Ethiopia.

Services on Sunday look like this:

8am Said Eucharist (traditional Language)
10am Family Harvest Communion
12noon Bring and Share lunch in the Village Hall
3pm Thanksgiving for Harvest Service (like 9 lessons and carols but with Harvest hymns and readings)

More details on all of this here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

ComeAsYouAre ~ 25-27 September 2009


Some reflections from me on YouTube on how our teaching weekend has been so far. Will try to find a way of loading the slides here too if poss. Been great so far... And also (if that we're enough excitement!) here's the Back To Church Sunday 2009 promo video...

Been great so far!


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A new world (for me at least!) - video-blogging

video

St Albans welcomes a new Bishop

Bishop Alan Smith was welcomed as the tenth Bishop of St Albans on Saturday afternoon. The text of his sermon on that day follows below, but it can also be heard here.

I have high hopes for him and will be praying for him as I encourage all of you to do too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Enthronement Sermon of the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith as 10th Bishop of St Albans

The Feast of St Theodore of Tarsus 19th September 2009

Philippians 4. 7-13 and John 10. 7-16

speechcrest

Today the family of the Diocese of St Albans has gathered together here in this ancient Cathedral. From Bedford in the north to Barnet in the South; from Billington in the West to Buntingford in the East you have come to welcome me and I hope, to pray for me. Thank you for your warm welcome, which I find deeply reassuring. Last year I read Diarmaid MacCulloch’s book on the Reformation. He describes how Charles 1 imposed a new Prayer Book on the Scots. When the Bishop of Brechin led the service from the new book he had to take a pair of loaded pistols into the pulpit with him in case he was attacked by the congregation[1]. I am relieved to discover that your welcome has been more generous.

I feel hugely privileged to be your new bishop. Despite all the voices of doom and gloom, I want to give thanks for the Church of England. There is a church in virtually every community across the land. We have nearly 12000 clergy in parishes and chaplaincies; more than 1000 paid youth and children’s workers ministering alongside thousands of volunteers. There are over than 8000 Readers and Church Army officers, and more than 98,000 members of the Mothers Union. And let’s not forget our 4700 Church of England Schools with their dedicated teachers and staff who make such a huge contribution to our national life. We should also be proud of the £45m that Anglican parishes give away to charities every year. So three cheers for the good old C of E!

This Diocese also has much to give thanks for, with its long and distinguished history. Over the past three weeks I have visited Bedford Prison, the parish and the interfaith project at Queen’s Park in Bedford, Watford General Hospital, a nursery at Green Tye growing tomatoes, GlaxoSmithKlein at Stevenage, All Saints Academy in Dunstable and Wenlock Church of England School in Luton. I have been deeply impressed with the people I have met and the work I have seen. I am glad that representatives from those visits will be leading the prayers later in this service.

I welcome those here today from other world faiths. Thank you for coming. We are glad that you have joined us. I also want to thank God for the other Christian churches and denominations represented here, both from this country and from overseas. Thank you for all you do and for our partnership in the gospel. As I begin my ministry here I have come to listen and to learn and then to work with you as we discern God’s call to us for the future

I am acutely conscious that today we are living in a world gripped by anxiety. The media bombards us with an unending diet of fear:

v Daily reports about the recession and the yawning deficits in pension funds

v Concern about global warming

v Panic about the Swine Flu epidemic which might kill thousands of people this winter.

Yet in spite of the recession we are living in a time of prosperity undreamt of by our grandparents. Even though we have experienced decades of peace, even though medical breakthroughs and the wonderful care of the NHS are enabling us to survive longer than ever before, we are living in a deeply anxious age. Just under the surface, lurks fear. This is why Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, asked ‘How do we live without anxiety in the midst of an age of anxiety?’

As I reflect on our service today and on the world in which we are living, let me share with you a vision, a challenge and a promise which are, I believe, especially relevant in an age of anxiety.

First, a vision – a vision which has three parts and which begins with going deeper into God.

We may feel that we are living in difficult times for the church. But there have been many periods in the past when the church has lived through challenging events. In the fourteenth century in Hertfordshire in a relatively short period over 50 clergy died of the plague. It puts our anxiety about Swine Flu into perspective. In 1538 Robert Hobbes the abbot of the Cistercian Abbey, just up the road at Woburn, and two of his monks were executed for opposing Henry the Eighth. Again it places the current debates in the Church of England into context. Even the most difficult PCC meetings today don’t usually end up in the vicar being taken out and shot, however tempting that might be. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century the church faced rapid growth in urban areas with their slums, their lack of schools and hospitals. All of these must have seemed like impossible challenges.

Sometimes in the faces of such overwhelming odds we lost our nerve, we retreated in fear and became self absorbed and irrelevant.

But there have been many other times in the past – glorious times - when Christians have risen to God’s challenge and opportunity: when in the midst of all the confusion, threat and fear we have gone deeper into God, we have put worship back at the centre of our corporate life, we have stepped out in faith and we’ve been captured afresh with a vision of a God who is a Good Shepherd.

Think for example

- of the Day of Pentecost, after the disciples had spent 40 days in prayer, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began to worship and to share their lives. They scattered across the face of the ancient world with a message of love and forgiveness;

- or St Francis of Assisi and his little brothers in the 13th century embracing the poor for the love of God;

- or the rapid growth of the church in the Victorian period when clergy such as Father Charles Lowder moved into the slums with practical acts of care and compassion nurtured by worship and prayer

What enabled these ordinary men and women to do such extraordinary things? Their reckless altruism was inspired by the knowledge that they were in the hands of the Good Shepherd. These were people whose hearts and minds (and even their purses and wallets) had been grasped with a vision of a world shot through with the love of a God who pours out his life for the world, who lays down his life for the sheep. They went deeper into God.

The second part of the vision is that those men and women didn’t only go deeper into God but they transformed communities. There is a wonderful example of this in ancient records of the Emperor Julian in the fourth century. The Roman Empire had been Christian for about 50 years but Julian wanted to take it back to paganism. To do this he tried to set up charitable organizations to rival the Christians. In one of his letters he wrote ‘It is disgraceful that all men should see our people lack aid from us, when no Jew has ever had to beg, and the impious Galileans (that’s what he dismissively called Christians) support not only their own poor, but ours as well’. Around 400 AD we have records to show that the church in Antioch supported about 3000 virgins and widows and the church in Constantinople financed the care of 50,000 poor.

Although I have only just moved to St Albans I have already been hearing examples of similar self-giving love: the work of Open Door here in the city, a night shelter and day centre to help those who are homeless; in rural Bedfordshire a vestry which doubles as village shop[2], in Luton a big breakfast club[3] serving kids on their way to school; the holiday club for older people in Ware[4]; the Living Room project in Stevenage changing lives of people with addictions; in many of our town centres reaching out to young people through Street Pastors or Street Angels[5]

Might we become a church known for our overwhelming generosity and practical care? Can we be right there at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals, working for a world where children are not dying through lack of food or medicine? Can we be at the forefront of protecting the environmental? Can we, in the name of Christ, make a real difference?

But as well as going deeper into God, as well as transforming communities, the third part of my vision is to be a church which is passionate about making new disciples, not because we want to build a little empire, but because we have discovered the liberation and fulfilment in being a disciple – a follower – of Jesus Christ. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer collect ‘in whose service is perfect freedom’. Recently I met a young man who had come to faith a few weeks earlier from a totally agnostic background. ‘Why didn’t you tell me about the good news earlier? I feel as if I’ve suddenly come alive and I’ve got something to live for at last’.

My longing – my vision - is for a church where we are all going deeper into God, where we are transforming our communities and where we are making new disciples.

So far I have been sharing with you a vision. Now I want to share with you a challenge.

Such a church will not come about simply because of a mission strategy (although we do need one to underpin our work); it won’t come about through better organisation (although we need to plunder all the best contemporary insights to help us in our mission and ministry); it won’t come about by having more clergy (although I hope and pray that more people will hear God’s call to the priesthood); and it won’t come about by just having better equipped laity in their places of work and at leisure (although this is of vital importance).

It can only happen when we recapture the Christian way of laying down our lives for God and for each other. ‘I am the good shepherd’, said Jesus, ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’. It’s about putting God and putting others first. I am talking about nothing less than walking in the way of the cross.

If we were really willing to do that it will affect the way we welcome people to our Sunday worship, to baptisms or wedding or funerals. It will alter the way we open ourselves to the poor and the marginalised for each person is special and important. It will also affect the way we debate some of the issues which have been so divisive in the Anglican Communion. On all sides of these debates there are people who want to have ethnic cleansing, who want to exclude others and banish them. Can we at least treat each other as if we are receiving Christ himself? Can we draw inspiration from St Benedict, whose teaching was lived and prayed in this great Abbey church for hundreds of years by the monks that we should welcome and treat each person as if they were Christ?

I pray that God will raise up a generation of Christians who rediscover the power of the Cross of Christ.

Thirdly, having shared a vision and spoken about the challenge, there is also a promise. ‘I came’ said Jesus ‘that they might have life and have it abundantly’. Go into any bookshop on the High Street and you will find shelves of self-help books on how to find happiness. But Jesus Christ taught that happiness is not an end in itself. It is a bi-product. He tells us that we find our deepest and our truest humanity in knowing and being known by God. This abundant life comes through being in right relationship with God and with others: ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father’.

We are living in an age which tends to reduce everything to measurable outcomes, so that education is judged solely in terms of exam results and health is measured by how many medical interventions are successful. In contrast the good news reminds us that the most important and the most valuable things in life are relationships. If you are not convinced, think about the frantic phone messages left by passengers in New York on that fateful day that’s come to be known as 9/11. They didn’t talk about money or their house or their holidays. Instead they spoke passionately and urgently of their love.

This is the most important thing that we have to attend to individually and corporately – knowing and loving God. It is the basis of our humanity, it is the bedrock of our personal faith, it is the foundation of all ministry and mission and it is the source of ‘abundant life’. It is because this is so important that my fellow bishops and I are calling on people across the diocese to join us next Lent with a special ‘Ch@llenge’. You will be hearing more about this in the next few weeks.

As your new bishop I long that we may be a church that does not give into the anxiety which is around us on all sides, but rather that we are grasped afresh with a vision of going deeper into God, which is transforming communities, which is making new disciples; a church that is responding to the challenge of walking in the way of the cross and which is discovering the reality of abundant life which is God’s promise and God’s will for us.

[1] MacCulloch, D. (2003) Reformation, p.522

[2] Cople

[3] St Hugh’s Lewsey

[4] Christ Church, Ware

[5] up and running in Watford, Hoddesdon, Broxbourne, Bishop’s Stortford, Stevenage, being developed in Dunstable, Bedford, Ware and Hertford