God the Father,have mercy upon us. God the Son, have mercy upon us. God the Holy Spirit,have mercy upon us. Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, have mercy upon us.
From superficial sentiment and painful platitudes about the plans you have for us, good Lord deliver us From sleepless nights and the dread of the ‘if only’, good Lord deliver us From kale smoothies, snake oil and the friend of a friend’s miracle cure on Facebook, good Lord deliver us.
For friendships forged in pixels and in person, we praise you O Lord For communities created in festival fields, workplaces and conferences, we praise you O Lord For Facebook updates, Opinion Minutes and the documenting of a life, we praise you O Lord.
For hospitals, hospices, consultants and nurses, respiratory physiotherapists, radiographers, phlebotomists and cleaners, we give thanks to you O Lord For #waitingroomfeet and the inspiration to others to share their stories, we give thanks to you O Lord For mail order, wish lists, Pokemon and cheese, we give thanks to you O Lord For researchers, clinical trials, hypotheses and all the knowledge of our bodies, we give thanks to you O Lord.
For faith in you the Creator and knowledge of your loving kindness, we give thank to you, O Lord For the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ, we give thanks to you, O Lord For the the rooms you have prepared for us, we give thanks to you, O Lord For the ending of pain and the gift of eternal life, we give thanks to you, O Lord.
In righteous anger and protest at lives undervalued, strengthen us, O Lord In campaigning, teaching and understanding chronic illness, strengthen us, O Lord In living on without our daughter, sister, cousin, colleague and friend, strengthen us, O Lord.
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
There are some chance encounters in life that turn out to have the power to change the trajectory of a life. I am deeply and profoundly grateful that I met Bex just over a decade ago, when I was in the first few years of my part-time PhD. Something happened in the way that Bex connected me into her network of Christians working in or with digital media and culture that changed the way the next few years turned out.
That conversation led to me presenting at the 2010 New Media conference, which had a knock-on effect of meeting lots of people that I’d known via Twitter, which had a knock-on effect of adding a few more Church of England priests into my social circle.
I’m not saying that Bex was entirely responsible for me finding the path to ordination, but I wonder what would have happpend if I’d not made those contacts. I have always been grateful for the friendship and encouragement Bex offered (she was the first person to cite my thesis anywhere, for example). Along with many others I was gutted to hear of her sudden death on 18 February.
I only have one photo of Bex where she isn’t smiling. This was a Serious Phone Call: standing in a bus stop in Salford in the summer of 2015 as she was offered the job at Manchester Met. I was on placement in Manchester that summer and we’d spent the afternoon waiting for that call…
Many others have written more, and will write more, about Bex’s extraordinary personality and heart. Her generosity, kindness, capacity for networking, enouragement, laughter, and ability to find time for adventure was rooted in a deep faith. We shared a real dislike for the glib use of Jeremiah 29:11 and the superficiality this is sometimes associated with (God’s got a plan! It’s fine! You’re *meant* to have cancer/get divorced/lose your job…)
There’s a line in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island that has been sitting with me this morning, thinking over the suddenness of Bex’s death. Ruby Gillis, one of Anne’s classmates has died, and her mother gives Anne (of Green Gables) the last piece of embroidery Ruby was working on.
“There’s always a piece of unfinished work left.”
There’s no last blog post, no last Cancer Update or Opinion Minute. No more retweets, Facebook comments, useful links to follow up. She’s gone, and we are sad. And even yet, I find hope in the unfinished work finding completion as her friends take to heart the call to Be More Bex. Smile more. Learn, question, teach, pray, play. Embrace friendship and connection and LIFE as far as you possibly can.
Not wanting to outstay my welcome in the sermon slot today, I rattled through about half of these 3,000 words – so I thought some folk might like to be able to revist, at a more leisurely pace, the words I spoke quickly; and to fill in the gaps from the parts I left out.
There is so much to say! I am really only going to be able to share some highlights with you this morning.
First, let me set the scene.
Why did we go?
Five Dioceses in the Mt Kenya East region, & Chelmsford Diocese have been in partnership for 40 years.
Every two years, curates given chance to see what Anglican Church in Kenya is – its people and projects
Personal contact important to strengthen relationships
Why did I go?
Never been to any part of Africa before. So it was sheer curiosity!
Wanted to see what Anglicanism looks like in a very different context
Wanted to see what I felt like in a very different context
Wanted to feel part of something Diocesan – bigger than just curacy.
But – a caveat – we are visitors. We couldn’t always ask the questions we wanted to, directly. So I was left with questions as politeness trumped curiosity in some places.
We flew to Nairobi, then drove north to Embu. My group stayed in Embu diocese, others went to Mbeere and Meru.
This was the pattern of our travels:
Embu, Isiolo, Archer’s Post, Samburu, Embu, host families, Nairobi.
Our driver was Julius, and he was a highlight of the trip.
The questions I had in the back of my mind were “what does it mean to flourish, to live life to the full in this context?” and “what is Christian life like on a daily basis?”
Rather than a narrative of what I did and where I went I shall pull out key instances and what they have left with me.
More tea, vicar?
We flew overnight, landing in Nairobi about 5am. After fighting our way out of Nairobi’s rush hour we stopped at a place called Thika for breakfast.
Tea in Thika
Tea in the tea factory
Mungania tea factory
I had a cup of tea, and it struck me that this was the first time I had drunk tea that hadn’t been imported. That really brought home to me that what can feel like a very British tradition – putting the kettle on and making a cup of tea – depends on global trade. Kenya supplies about half of the UK’s black tea. I had no idea it was so much; but I know now that market is shrinking because of competition from other African countries.
I learned quite a lot about the tea trade during the course of the trip. On the second day we visited a tea factory in Mungania – seeing the whole process from fresh leaves arriving to the final product being tasted. I then went on to try picking tea – and with an awareness I was probably in someone’s crop, it was quite hard! Later, on my parish visit, I went back to the same area and saw a tea selling point. Each farmer brings their crop to a place where it is collected by the vans from the factory.
We saw the work that goes into the growing of tea; the kind of factory jobs that are available. It gave me a glimpse of what daily working life might be for some – but not whether this counts as a good job, a stable job. Certainly the tea farmers are dependent on getting their crops to market.
Embu diocese is in one of the most fertile parts. On the slopes of mount Kenya, it is cooler, and wetter. The soil is red clay – very sticky when it gets wet – but great for tea and bananas.
For all the theme of tea during our visit, Kenyan teamaking is not quite my – well, cup of tea. As one who is happy with teapot dregs and a dash of milk, tea that was made with only milk and a hint of tea was a bit of a challenge at times.
We prayed a lot. That might seem an odd thing to say – you might expect us to, as we were a party of priests. And we did say Morning Prayer and Compline together on most days. But it was during the day that we noticed the difference. Kenyan Christians showed us a way of prayer that is about unselfconscious gratitude for the things of daily life – for food and drink, for visitors, for safe travel, for rest, for conversation – everything and anything.
I’ve been reflecting on this, and the number of times the Bible uses the phrase “all things.”
All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own do we give you. 1 Chron 29.
Allthings came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being. John 1.
We know that allthings work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8.
For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1.
So rightly, the Kenyan Christians give thanks for all things – the things we might overlook – the connections we might not make.
I wonder, how easy is it to give thanks for all things when we take so many of them for granted?
I have never knowingly been thankful for the sanitation in my house – but I was when I arrived home. I was fortunate that I didn’t pick up any bugs – some of the others were unwell for a day or so – but even so, the basic sanitation was something that opened my eyes to that which I take for granted.
We used an African prayer once or twice during Morning Prayer and I think this helps show the sense that all is God’s – that he has dominion over all the world – that we might tend in the UK to acknowledge God in some parts of life, but that there are parts where we can manage just fine by ourselves, thank you very much. And that is one of the things I took away from the Kenyan approach – the understated and ever-present integration of prayer in daily life.
An African Canticle
All you big things, bless the Lord.
Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria,
The Rift Valley and the Serengeti Plain,
Fat baobabs and shady mango trees,
All eucalyptus and tamarind trees,
Bless the Lord.
Praise and extol Him for ever and ever.
All you tiny things, bless the Lord.
Busy black ants and hopping fleas,
Wriggling tadpoles and mosquito larvae,
Flying locusts and water drops,
Pollen dust and tsetse flies,
Millet seeds and dried dagaa,
Bless the Lord.
Praise and extol Him for ever and ever.
Some of the big things were in evidence during the two nights we spent at Samburu Lodge. That was a real contrast to the “normal” Kenya we’d seen in Embu and Archer’s Post, and that which was to come in the Nairobi slums.
I won’t pretend I didn’t really enjoy this part! A safari holiday is way out of my price range and so is the kind of hotel with a turn-down service and a dedicated room steward. We went out into the game park four times, and all were exciting – one afternoon we saw two lionesses and four cubs just crossing the road. The next morning there was an Eden-like view of giraffe, warthog and deer all grazing as elephants walked past on their way to the river. The views were glorious even without animals and birds to see.
This is the only Kenya that some people will visit – the animals are the attraction, not the people. The stories and challenges of daily life go un-noticed. The day after blessing a water bowser, a swimming pool, garden sprinklers and baths feel like incongruous luxuries. But, tourism is a source of income and employment reminding me again that everything relies on some other part of the economy.
Back to real life, and one unexpected discovery for me was the role and significance of the Mothers’ Union. The women really are a force for good and for change. In Embu, they’re building a hostel for female university students. That means women can study away from home, when their families might not have let them. So a new generation of educated women can help build the future. And, it gives income to the church. Genius.
That’s just one project; our trip included several others.
We met children in different contexts – some joyful; others heartbreaking.
First, in a children’s home in Embu.
Then, we heard about children that are being cared for by grandparents supported by the Mothers’ Union.
We visited a school for the deaf whose buildings are crumbling, where parents don’t always collect their children at the end of term, and the school sometimes has to ask the church for money for food.
We met children in villages
We talked with children in St Barnabas school
We saw children on the streets and in the slums of Nairobi.
HIV/AIDs is a real problem in Kenya. The stigma of being HIV+ means people won’t seek treatment; there is a cost to treatment; and so there is a generation of children who have lost one or both parents.
It was hard not to feel like a cliché around some of the younger children we met on our day in villages near Archer’s Post. Some of them hadn’t seen white skin before – and were duly fascinated. We had lots of smiles as we took pictures and selfies with them.
The Mothers Union in Marsabit is working to prevent FGM and child marriage – the extent of their challenge is clear. The first child, a seven year old, that we met in Daaba village in Marsabit has already been “engaged” – she no longer goes to school, and will be married in a few years’ time.
The day we spent in the villages created more questions than it did answers.
It did provide one of the most joyful moments. We were welcomed by the women of the village into their church. We danced with them but we were doing what felt like a version of the hokey cokey. I had no idea what was going on. But we laughed. And as we prayed, we gave thanks to God for the universality of the language of laughter.
What does it mean for the church to build a brick church in a place where there are few other facilities? How does a fixed building affect the lives of pastoralist people? What does it mean to flourish – to live life to the full – when your possessions fit in a box, your home is a temporary hut, and your existence is dependent on rain? What is progress, or growth? How do you balance respecting tradition with ending abusive processes like FGM?
These villages are in the southern end of Marsabit Diocese – this extends right up to the Ethopian border, several hours’ drive away. They have solar-powered boreholes and so their water supply is relatively stable.
The next day Bishops Roger and John, and Qampecha from Marsabit, blessed and commissioned the water bowser that was bought through the Lent appeal. This was a fun moment – with a serious undercurrent – but it was lovely to see the concrete result of the appeal.
That day I had been in church in Archer’s Post – a small church, with around 50 people. I had nothing to do but introduce myself – and try to pick up some of the songs being sung in both English and Kiswahili – and to enter into the joyfulness of worship even if the volume and musicianship weren’t quite what I am used to.
You might have seen on Facebook that my attempt to introduce myself a week later hadn’t gone entirely to plan with my Kiswahili being interpreted. I am not terribly confident in other languages, so the first time I greeted the congregation in Archer’s Post with Bwana Asifiwe and they responded Amen was fabulous. Bwana Asifiwe means, Praise God. We say “praise God,” and anyone in earshot replies “Amen!”
The final weekend meant staying with Margaret and Paul. Margaret is the priest of Katangariri, near Embu, on the slopes of Mount Kenya.
On Saturday the Sunday school teacher Irene and the evangelist Ephlantus took me on several pastoral visits – to a woman who had recently lost her husband; someone recovering from a stay in hospital; one caring for her grandchildren. We chatted, sang, and prayed with them and I was very grateful for translations back and forth into English. I was asked to give them the word of God – I found myself using psalm 139 in many ways – because the one thing I knew about the people I met was that God loved them and knew them.
Again, questions of flourishing and development came to mind. Everyone in the village, it seems, has their own shamba – small farm. I was trying to explain to Irene that it wasn’t usual in the UK to keep a cow or a goat – that we are very removed from our farming history.
On Sunday I went to the church of the Good Shepherd for two services – the first in English for th young people, the second in Kiswahili. I preached at both.
Now, all along, the organisers had been saying that we could choose what we preached on. I’d looked at the lectionary and seen that one option was Bible Sunday, so I had prepared a sermon on this. You might imagine my squeaks when Margaret said they had organised a service around the dedication of the church… so I had about half an hour on Saturday evening to pull together some thoughts about that! Fortunately the passage in John 10 is one I’m very familiar with; and as Jesus talks of himself as the Good Shepherd – and I was in the Church of the Good Shepherd – I think it was OK. I nearly cried in the Kiswahili service; the sermon was heralded by a verse of “this is the day that the Lord has made,” followed by “this is the preacher that the Lord has made” – no pressure then!
Staying by myself in Margaret’s home was the one thing I had worries about. British reserve and wanting to be a good guest in a different culture contributed to the worries. I did find it hard – there were practicalities – like how using bug spray or hand gel was part of the routine as we got on and off the bus together – that became intrusive when it was me alone performing the rituals. I wasn’t always quite sure when we were going to eat or what we were going to do – and Margaret’s grandson didn’t really start talking to me until we were driving away from church on Sunday. Suddenly in the car his reserve fell away, too!
And then, suddenly, we’re all gathering back again at Embu Cathedral heading south to Nairobi for the last two nights.
Our final day was spent in groups in the slum parishes.
I have no photos from there, because we were advised cameras were too much of a target for pickpockets.
It was grim. For one family to live in the conditions we saw is bad enough. For there to be thousands, in one slum, in one part of one city in one country – knowing that according to the UN, one billion people live in slums – is truly horrific.
That day we visited two churches. One has been built on land the church does not own. The idea was that they’d build it in the month when local elections were taking place, so all the politicians and the council were busy – then they’d ask for the land. A risky strategy and one that made Archdeacon Vanessa twitch! One was in the heart of the slum – accessible after rain only with wellington boots. The scale of population and of the fragility of life was brought home after we heard there had been baptisms the week before. 31 babies baptised, but it should have been 32 – one child had died overnight.
In some ways the church buildings felt wrong – surely there were more needs that could be met? But perhaps – if Christ was anywhere, would he not be here, with the marginalised and the oppressed? So perhaps the very permanence of a brick church is a beacon of hope, of love, of the value of all people as God’s children. Psalm 139 is true in the slums as it is in the villages.
Such a huge challenge.
I confess that my reaction on returning to the guest house was to scrub myself clean. I felt guilty about that – that I could walk away from the families, the poverty, the insecurity and the danger – yet those we had met, who had welcomed us into their homes – were stuck.
And in another of the contrasts that Kenya gave me, we discussed how we had all felt something of this – the need to be clean – whilst we drank imported wine in the four-star hotel near our guest house on our final night. That was a good wind-down, with alarms set for 0430 the next morning for the flight home.
I still have only scratched the surface of the two weeks. So when you’ve asked me how I got on, and I’ve spent a minute telling you it was awesome – consider that you got off lightly!
One of the things that affected me personally was the community that was built up on the bus. Two weeks’ travelling is a lot of bus time – we sang, laughed, shared sweets and biscuits, asked deep questions of life to one another. I don’t feel welcome in new places unless I am invited; I don’t feel part of a group without encouragement – and yet I did; I was just one of the gang on Julius’ bus and that sense of belonging was a lovely rarity for me.
I certainly know more about what Anglicanism looks like in a very different context. We are definitely related in our liturgy; the expression of it is entirely different. There were some aspects I wasn’t totally comfortable with. I think there’s a bit too much American influence – I think the prosperity gospel has a hold in some obvious and some insidious ways. I’m definitely not a fan of Kenyan amplified music – unaccompanied singing is beautiful – electronic backing beats and uncertain keyboard chords are not.
I have renewed my commitment to fair trade – because of the tea growers, but also because the low-paid, insecure jobs that keep people in slums are the sharp end of global capitalism and consumerism. Kenya doesn’t export much that is manufactured to the UK, it is mostly tea and flowers; but the starkness of the deprivation and the scale of the problem shows us how we are all interconnected.
And I hope that I will continue in the habit of praying for All Things.
I have been thinking about silence. The two minute silence, instituted by King George V for the first Armistice Day in 1919, is now part of our national psyche. The King requested that “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”
I read an archive report of that first silence (from the Guardian, see here)
At eleven o’clock I chanced to be at Oxford Circus. It was a most impressive moment. There was a loud detonation, and immediately the restless traffic was silent, every male head uncovered, and all flags on the house-tops slackened in the leech until they were half-mast high. I have never before assisted in a pause so reverent. It was possible to gauge the thoughts of the crowd. Many themselves had served, and will have been flung back…to the memory of those fine fellows with whom they had lived in the closest union until the fatal scythe of war snatched them away. Of the others, who does not mourn a vacant chair?
99 years later countless more men and women have been added to that number whose thoughts will be flung back to other wars and conflicts. There are many more vacant chairs to be mourned.
It is the silence of the emptiness of a space once filled with laughter and the joy of being alive that strikes to the heart of remembrance.
There is silence which frees us from having to find the right words to use to express our thanks, our reverence, our anger, our compassion, our frustration or our love.
There may never be words that are right. There are famous words…, words we have heard today – “they shall not grow old…” “…for your tomorrow we gave our today…” but even these only scratch the surface of the depths of loss and grief in a century of conflict.
We think of the noise of war but there are so many other silences in war too.
Different silences that when bundled together with the King’s two minutes deepen the silence and stillness.
The silence endured by those waiting at home.
A favourite book of mine puts these words into the mouth of a young woman with two brothers fighting in France.
It isn’t as if it were some sort of fever to which you might conclude they were immune when they hadn’t taken it for two years. The danger is just as great and just as real as it was the first day they went into the trenches. I know this, and it tortures me every day. (Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery)
My generation and those younger than me are so used to instant communication. We live our lives around phone calls and messages. Telegrams are museum pieces and letters are a rarity.
What must it have been like to wait for casualty lists in a newspaper? To long for news of a loved one – but to live with silence?
Today’s military families don’t have the same delays – they are not reliant on letters, newspapers or telegrams – but there can still be an adjustment to only periodic emails or messages; and there are still deep operational silences during conflicts.
There is the silence of those who were not able to speak of what they had seen.
The final silence of those executed for cowardice in the face of shell shock.
The silence of those who witnessed horrific scenes – and kept a stiff upper lip, never sharing their experiences.
There is the silence that confronts us when we ask God for answers.
John’s Gospel reassures us that we are loved as the Father loved the Son.
That the Father may give us whatever we ask for.
Yet in our depths of grief – whether for an individual we have loved or the loss of peace in a community – we cry out to God and hear nothing but deafening silence.
A hundred years after the war to end all wars we are still making swords and not ploughshares. Nations are still training for war.
Has God not listened? Has he ignored the cries from the heart of those in anguish?
How long, O Lord, will you hide your face from me?
Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, do not be far from me;
Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
These are the words of the psalmists expressing their fear and pain and the silence from God.
The psalms tell us there are are no easy answers.
I believe that God is with us in all times and in all things.
I believe that God loves us as he loved his son, Jesus Christ.
I trust that even when God is silent he is grieving with us over the pain and the agony and the war in the world.
This isn’t how his wonderful creation was meant to be.
We are loved as the Father loves us.
And the gospel today speaks of laying down one’s life for a friend.
Jesus lay his life down; to take it up again in the power of the resurrection.
The resurrection that did change the world.
The resurrection that assures us that God has won the battle over sin, and death; that there is light and life in this world and in the next.
The resurrection that assures us God is watching and waiting for us to speak.
The resurrection that assures us of God’s love even across the silence.
There is one final silence that should be filled.
The silence of the bystander.
The second world war did not start with the gas chambers.
Rwanda’s tribal genocide did not spring from nowhere.
The Syrian Civil War did not just begin overnight.
We may not be able to broker international peace deals.
But we can show that love for one another that Christ asks of us by breaking the silence.
Breaking the silence when we see people marginalised.
Breaking the silence when we see people discriminated against.
Breaking the silence when we see people bullied.
If we believe that we live in the tomorrow that the soldiers of the first world war gave us by sacrificing their today; how do we honour them?
We honour those who gave their lives fighting against injustice, genocide, and oppression by refusing to stay silent when we have a chance – any chance – to pursue justice and to speak up for the oppressed.
We pledge in a moment to work to serve God and humankind.
Let us say those words with confidence and clarity,assured of God’s love for us all, as we make the promise to work for peace.
We are now back in Embu, and a lot has happened since we left our first hotel last week.
Marsabit Diocese is something I have heard a lot about. The Bishop’s Lent Appeal this year raised money for a water bowser for areas of drought. All through this year’s long hot rain-free weeks my thoughts were drawn to those who were not so assured as we British were that sooner or later we would have rain again. Travelling north from Embu we could see the change in terrain – from lush green tea bushes and banana trees, to scrub, acacia, and dust.
Based in Isiolo for three nights the first thing was a visit to the ADS-run school for the deaf. This was a hard visit. The school is falling down: built on soft ground, one large classroom had been condemned as unsafe. This means the children are being taught in smaller spaces which don’t allow them to have proper sight of the teacher and each other.
The school sometimes has to ask for food – but has never missed a ration. The teachers sometimes have to take pupils home because their parents don’t collect them at the end of term. The Chalet School this isn’t.
The next day our established bus groups were re-ordered and we dispersed in smaller groups to visit rural parishes. Rural as in, we turn off the highway and offroad for half an hour before we get to the first village. Not just five minutes off the A120 which has been my rural experience to date!
The day began at Archers Point, with Kenyan tea and a snack. We visited three communities of Turkana people. At times this felt a bit like being in a cliché – children who had never seen a white face before – and I was reminded of the Goodness Gracious Me sketch about young Indian backpackers in London. But, cliché aside it was true that remote pastoral communities wouldn’t have seen many white people, and our selfies were a source of amusement for us all.
Women from Daaba village welcomed us with song and dance which we joined in where we could. We then heard from the leader of the women what the challenges were that they faced. One – which is familiar at home – was the lack of men in church. But others – polygamy, child marriage, FGM – are less routine in Coggeshall. There is a primary school – children walk 8km to get to it. It is a tough life in a beautiful but unforgiving place. I noted that the leader had a very traditional dress on, but with a mobile phone neatly tucked inside. This began a thread of questions for me about what progress, flourishing and sustainability look like for a pastoralist tribe.
It felt a bit odd to be praying and discussing church life whilst English was translated into Swahili, and Swahili into Turkana, and back again. This is the sharpest reminder of what it looks like to be part of the same family I will probably encounter!
Greetings from Kenya. I am writing from Philadelphia Place guest house in Embu, a town about an hour’s drive north of Nairobi. Composing this on Wednesday evening although I don’t know when it might get uploaded!
We landed on Tuesday morning at about 5am…it is hard to remember that was only two days ago. ‘We’ are a group of 19 Bishops, Archdeacons, incumbents and curates here visiting people and institutions with which the Diocese of Chelmsford has partnerships. We curates are the newest people joining in the link between five Kenyan dioceses and Chelmsford.
We’re mostly split into smaller groups. So far the group I am in have visited a tea factory, four churches, two projects looking after vulnerable children, the cathedral in Embu and a nearly-complete hostel for female university students. This last was the brainchild of the Mothers’ Union. Today we all travelled together to visit the ACK hospital, and St Andrew’s Theological college in Kabare.
So already in less than 72 hrs we have had a very mixed set of experiences. Here are some things I want to share so far:
The wonderfulness of worship and Holy Communion at St Andrew’s today. Joyful singing and dancing, a warm welcome, laughter and prayer. So very different from home – so wonderful to be children together of the same Heavenly Father.
The bittersweet time in the maternity ward at ACK hospital. Seeing newborn twins, but hearing of the cramped space for expectant mothers. There is no space if things go wrong. Alongside that, viewing a new building opening soon which was supported by Chelmsford diocese.
Drinking tea grown and processed right here in Kenya. All my life I have drunk tea. Never before have I drunk local tea. It’s always been imported. So it was an interesting moment to notice the tag on the teabag and a privilege to then see tea leaves created. I shall never see making a brew in the same way again. Touring the factory gave us an opportunity to see a different side of Kenyan life.
A joyful welcome by the Caregivers at a project supporting families looking after vulnerable children. This lady has a daughter named Sara!
This week, quite a lot of clergy, licensed lay ministers, ordinands and staff from the Diocese of Chelmsford met at the University of Essex for the first Diocesan conference in a long time.
Thanks, Ethel: the unknown person who left a legacy that enabled this to happen.
What did we do? We worshipped together using both the C of E’s liturgy and that shared by our Kenyan partners. We prayed. We talked. We talked to strangers and to old friends. I ran, as did three intrepid people, because it was too good a chance to miss to run along my favourite path. There was silent worship and there was noisy worship. I might have had a couple of beers. People watched films, heard poetry, tasted wine. We listened; and we asked questions of ourselves and our speakers. And some people tweeted.
A few – those who perhaps struggle with the idea of lifelong learning, or the idea that being busy isn’t necessarily a badge of honour – will have gone home grumbling about the emails unanswered and phone calls to be made. That’s a shame.
I think that one after-effect will be an increase in the number of people using Malcolm Guite’s sonnets in sermons. Others will be continuing conversations begun in queues for lunch or coffee. Some will be reflecting on what impact the space and time given to the conference might have on their ministry and sense of self (that might just be me, but I hope it isn’t). Coming almost immediately after our priesting retreat with the theme of “on fire without burning out” there were many reinforcements of the message that it’s not a good idea for the priest to be the fuel for the fire…and that it’s imperative that we take care of ourselves and our spirituality.
In my previous life when I either organised or attended major conferences, I used to love the sense of temporary community. You get it at Greenbelt and other festivals – the common purpose bringing people together briefly before we disappear into our own lives again. Conferences and festivals act as an immunisation against losing ourselves in the routine…the time out resets, recharges, refreshes our souls. They remind us there are other ideas, people and ways of being than the one we’re in. They re-orient us to the God whom we are called to serve. They prod us to review, and move to forward. Or sideways. They strengthen weak friendship links and create new networks. Refresh did all these and I, for one, am grateful.
*NOW CLOSED – BOOKS ALLOCATED* I’ve been collecting EBD’s Chalet School series for about twenty years. Like many other collectors one has dreams of wandering into a charity shop and finding a shelf-ful of hardback books. This week that became a reality…
The McCann family are returning to Cambodia as missionaries with OMF and no longer want to store a box of hardbacks and paperbacks. I have offered to sell them to help with their living costs.
So. There are 19 hbs, and 17 paperbacks. You can see the full list here.
Now, here’s the thing. CS hbs are pretty hard to come by. Some can be quite pricey.
What we’d like to do here, though, is give folk a chance to own one who wouldn’t be able to afford the market rate. The current GGBP reprints are selling for £13 including p&p. So we reckon that would be a fair price to ask for the good hbs on the condition that you don’t sell them on at a profit. Think of it like we’re asking for a fee to adopt a book into your family, not selling an object to be profited from. I know there are plenty of people out there that would get the sentiment behind this.
Paperbacks that are good or acceptable are £4 including p&p. Make me an offer for anything in poor condition.
Here’s how it will work. Please email me or use the contact form below to let me know which book(s) you are interested in before 15th July. If there are more than one person interested, I’ll pick names from the hat. Payment by PayPal, and I’ll send those details out after the weekend.
This is a picture I have known for a long time. There was a copy of it in the hall at my primary school. I’ve had a postcard of it in the ‘box of nice postcards’ for more years than I’d like to remember.
I hadn’t seen it for real, though, until a few weeks ago. I’d gone to the National Gallery on a cold and miserable day to see if the Australia’s Impressionists exhibition could lift my spirits a bit (it did).
The first thing was that I was surprised by its size. A picture I’d known in print and postcard is, in reality, BIG. And the second thing I noticed was that on the horizon wasn’t just the sky, as the reproductions seemed to show, but a factory.
This picture, that I had held up in my mind as painting of an idyllic spot, is actually part of the industrial landscape. It shows people relaxing and taking a break along the river from chimneys and smoke and less-than-idyllic workplaces.
And I was stopped in my tracks.
I’ve not found it easy living in Chingford. The traffic, the Edmonton incinerator chimney, and the unfriendliness of the landscape around the reservoirs have been hard to get used to. I have been frustrated that there is no easy (read: pleasant) path to the Lea Navigation, which is only about a mile from my house. I have nearly cried at seeing beautiful little wagtails hopping across bleak pavements, pecking at cigarette ends. Something about the way nature persists even in urban landscape sits uneasily with my soul.
Seeing the Bathers at Asnieres in all its detail had something of an effect on me.
At its simplest, it was the recognition that people and nature and relaxation have happened in industrial areas for a lot longer than I’ve lived in E4.
Yet there was also something a bit deeper – first steps, I think, in reconciling me to the environment. To be able to, for the first time, think about what it means to live in a place….to be incarnational in a place… because the struggle with the place has lessened.
I don’t think I will ever stop wondering why people are so incapable of using bins, or public transport.
Six weeks of not being able to say Alleluia – and here we are.
We can say joyfully and loudly say “Praise the Lord” because Jesus Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
We will say that again during the Eucharistic prayer.
I will say “Great is the mystery of faith.”
And you will respond “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
Great is the mystery of faith.
We’re gathered here today in worship and praise and rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
Christ is risen.
And if you are sitting thinking “resurrection is a pretty odd thing,” then you know what – that’s OK.
Great is the mystery of faith.
And strange is the resurrection of Christ.
In today’s Gospel account of the resurrection, the familiar elements are there – the empty tomb, the grave clothes, the bemused disciples and the witness of a woman.
Like the whole of John’s gospel there are images and echoes backwards and forwards internally and to scripture.
Perhaps the grave clothes are mentioned so specifically to show they are different from Lazarus’ – Lazarus, whom Jesus had already raised from the dead. But Lazarus was still wearing his grave clothes when he was raised.
Jesus, the one who had the power over life and death, was different.
Peter – the favourite disciple of so many of us, because he just so often gets it wrong – went home.
There’s nothing different yet about Peter.
Peter went home.
I wonder why.
I wonder if he was tired. If he was burdened with the guilt of having let down his lord, his rabbi, his Messiah.
Did his ears still ring with the sound of the cock crowing, trumpeting his failure?
Peter saw the grave clothes, but he did not understand.
The other disciple saw the grave clothes and he did believe.
Seeing and believing are strong ideas in the Gospel of John.
In John 1, in the prologue, we read “the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.”
John the Baptist says “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The first words that Jesus speaks in John’s gospel are “what are you looking for?” and his first statement is “come and see.”
But Peter, and the other disciple, go home, leaving Mary Magdalene to see Jesus.
To have him ask her practically the same question as he asked in the beginning “whom are you looking for?”
And calls her by name.
Just as Jesus in John 1 names Simon Peter.
You may all by now be familiar with my desire to highlight the things that women do or say in the Bible that are so easy to miss.
This is one of them.
This is not just a trivial conversational exchange that the gospel writer has scripted.
We are also reminded of the image of the good shepherd in John 10.
He calls his sheep by name, and they know his voice.
And I wonder why Mary Magdelene thought Jesus was the gardener.
Was that the most logical explanation for seeing someone else in the early morning?
Was Jesus tidying up the shrubs?
I don’t know.
But it’s an image worth thinking about.
Is it an echo back to that first garden, Eden?
A reminder of the creation story.
You may have heard before that the name Adam is a play on words.
The Hebrew for ‘ground’ or ‘earth’ is adama. In Genesis 2, God puts the man in the garden to tend and till it.
Perhaps we have this link with the warden of the garden.
Echoes of the creation of the world in the re-creation of the world through the resurrection.
The resurrection changes things.
Peter’s simple statement in Acts shows the change in him.
This is the post-resurrection Peter.
The Peter that has been forgiven by Jesus for his denial.
The Peter that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Peter who seen the persecution of the fledgling church and is on his way to leadership – and his own death.
The resurrection changes things.
This morning at the beginning of the service we renewed our baptism vows.
In baptism, we sign the candidate with the sign of the cross using holy oil.
When I explain this to the children visiting from schools I talk about the identity that it gives us.
I say that they wear a school uniform to show they are part of that school community.
And that even when they’re not wearing the uniform, they’re still part of the school.
And the cross is like that.
It’s the invisible mark that we died and been raised with Christ in our baptism.
Our identity in Christ.
The resurrection changes things.
The resurrection changes us.
We belong now to God’s new world.
We are a new creation.
Paul wrote to the Colossians talking about this new life in Christ.
He tells us what the implication is.
What we need to do, if we have been raised with Christ.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
What does that mean today, tomorrow, when we’re back at work in the thick of life after a holiday weekend?
In baptism we say ‘Christ claims you for his own.’
We recognise Jesus when we are called by name.
Mary recognised Jesus when he called her by name.
Peter was called by name.
I think we need to look and see for those signs of the things from above.
The things that are of God, not of the world.
And we might have to look quite hard.
Because those things of God might come disguised.
Christ might look like a gardener at first glance.
The grave clothes might just look like any other linen.
Love might look like duty or hard work.
The mystery of faith might look like something to be laughed at.
We might fear faith for not understanding, rather than welcoming a mystery to be explored.
The other disciple had a chance to take a breather after his run to the tomb.
He went second into the tomb, and he saw and believed.
Perhaps for us to see and to believe we need to take a breather from our busy lives.