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Friday, 30 November 2007

Let The Slave

I meant to post this extract from William Blake's America on 28th November, the 250th Anniversary of his birth, but forgot to do it. Paul Trathen reminded me on retreat of just how great these words are:

'The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrappèd up;
The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk and dry'd
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing, awakening,
Spring like redeemèd captives, when their bonds and bars are burst
Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field,
Let him look up into the heavens and laugh in the bright air;
Let the enchainèd soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,
Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open;
And let his wife and children return from the oppressor's scourge.
They look behind at every step, and believe it is a dream,
Singing: "The Sun has left his blackness, and has found a fresher morning,
And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear and cloudless night;
For Empire is no more, and now the Lion and Wolf shall cease." '

Van Morrison sings a version of the above combined with The Price of Experience (taken from The Four Zoas) on A Sense of Wonder:

What is the price of experience? Do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither'd field where the farmer plows for bread in vain.

It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer's sun
And in the vintage and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.
It is an easy thing to talk of prudence to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,
To listen to the hungry raven's cry in wintry season
When the red blood is fill'd with wine and with the marrow of lambs.

It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements,
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughterhouse moan;
To see a god on every wind and a blessing on every blast;
To hear sounds of love in the thunder-storm that destroys our enemies' house;
To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, and the sickness that cuts off his children,
While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door, and our children bring fruits and flowers.

Then the groan and the dolour are quite forgotten, and the slave grinding at the mill,
And the captive in chains, and the poor in the prison, and the soldier in the field
When the shatter'd bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead.
It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:
Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: but it is not so with me.


Joni Mitchell - Hejira.

Public Art and Churches: ideas for involvement

Love & Light


Graffiti mural

The Cabinet of Sin and Salvation

In the four years that I have been ordained I have had the opportunity to be involved in four church-based public arts projects that in different ways have involved the local and church community in the art. This article, which has just been published in the Veritasse Artisan's newsletter, briefly describes these projects in the hope that they will stimulate ideas for other ways of doing public art through and in churches.

Love & Light

Visual Jockeys, SDNA, filmed people from the congregation and community and then digitally enhanced these images before projecting the images onto the windows, roof and tower of the church. This project, which SDNA called Abbey Happy, turned St Margaret’s Barking into a temporary artwork that was a blaze of light and colour with moving images showing the diversity of the church’s congregation. The project was part of an evenings’ art trail, called Love & Light in the Town Centre which highlighted, through projections, significant heritage buildings in Barking. The project was organised by the local council through their Arts Services department and funded by the Arts Council.


Michael Cousin was commissioned by the local council to produce a film and photographic exhibition in collaboration with the community. When he thought about where to go to find groups of local people, he realised that local churches were one of the best places to go. Michael interviewed several people from St Margaret’s about their experience of living in Barking. From these, and other interviews, he created a film called RE:Generation which is a recording of personal anecdotes, memories and views on change, past and present with a view to reflecting on all our futures in a borough currently undergoing large scale redevelopment and change. This film was shown in St Margaret’s as part of an exhibition by Michael Cousin called Memento which featured places and personal events, from days past, as recorded by our community in their personal photo albums, alongside images of how those places and people are now.

Graffiti mural

Under the banner of SOULINTHECITY St Margaret’s Barking has been involving young people in the Arts through workshops in Fashion Design and Graffiti Art. These workshops culminated in the creation of a graffiti mural on the blank wall of a local park. This project involved many local youngsters, teaching them can-control and design skills while also learning about the history of hip hop culture. The names of all those taking part in the workshop and enhancing their own local environment were recorded in the mural. Graffiti Artist AKS who led the workshop that produced the mural stressed that the work carried a Christian message as the words included in it - "one, heart, soul, unity, community and together" - reflected the essence of SOULINTHECITY and showed that there is "no conflict between hip hop values and Christian values."

The Cabinet of Sin and Salvation

The most recent project came after I had moved to St John’s Seven Kings. There I customised and decorated a four drawer cabinet as a public arts project carried out over the course of one week in the lounge of the Parish Centre. The resulting conceptual sculpture, The Cabinet of Sin and Salvation, included constructions, paintings and photomontages and was exhibited as part of the Visual Dialogue art exhibition that was held in the church over our Patronal Festival weekend. As I worked on the project I invited users of the centre to comment on the work as it developed. I also documented the project photographically and posted daily blogs about the project here. The project generated considerable interest and comment locally and was featured in the Church Times and the local press.

Public Art projects – benefits

The projects I have been involved in have encouraged our congregations because they have been able to contribute to the project and see their contribution in the finished artwork. They have raised the profile of the two churches locally because the projects have each made very visual stories that the local press wanted to feature. Finally, the projects have either brought people into church to see the project/exhibition or they have taken the church out into the community, as with the Graffiti mural, and left something of benefit to the community created through the church and community working together.

Public Art projects - tips

Here are a few suggestions of things to do that might result in a public arts project:

  • Find out if your local council has an Arts Services department or a local Arts Council. Get to know them and support the projects they commission.

  • Talk to local artists to see if they have ideas for ways of involving local people in arts projects.

  • Offer your church building as a venue for projects, workshops or exhibitions.

  • Apply for funding to commission artists or run arts workshops.

  • Get together with other local churches to organise art activities that benefit the local community.


U2 & Daniel Lanois - Falling At Your Feet.

Advent & Christmas @ St John's

At Christmas we, like the Wise Men, can go on a journey in search of the Christ-child. Instead of being guided by a star we are guided by the Bible as we hear from the prophets who prepared people for Jesus’ birth and from the Gospel writers who recorded his birth.

The Wise Men did not find Jesus where they expected to. They went to a palace but he was not to be found there. Instead he was found in obscurity, in the home of working people. The Wise Men were surprised by Jesus’ birth but worshipped him nonetheless and I hope that will be our experience this Christmas as we listen to the familiar story and sing the familiar carols.

In the familiarity, may we not miss the surprise that the child we come to find is in fact God himself. In Jesus, God has moved into our neighbourhood, entered our world and come to be with us by becoming one of us. The God, who created by saying "Let there be ...", became a baby who had to be taught to speak. The one on whom the universe depends became dependent on a human mother for milk. God could be dropped or hurt or harmed or left unchanged or left unfed or just left. In Jesus, God became weak, wordless, vulnerable and dependent.

For God to become a human being and ultimately die for our sins, was inherently risky. What it made possible, though, was for our humanness to become part of who God is. God comes alongside us as someone who understands all that we know and experience. What Jesus did was total identification with us and the result is that we can be totally identified with God. God came into our human nature in order that we might return to God and to his nature.

This Christmas may we reflect on both the risk and the reward. May we seek after God's nature and ask ourselves what we will risk in future as thanks that Jesus became God with us. I wish you a joyful and peaceful Christmas, and all God's best for 2008.

Advent & Christmas @ St John's Seven Kings, 2007

* Saturday 1st 6.00pm Tamil Carol Service
* Sunday 2nd 6.30pm Advent Carol Service at St Teresa’s Newbury Park - Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches
* Friday 7th 6.30-7.30pm Carol Singing outside Newbury Park Sainsbury’s
* Sunday 16th 10.00am All-age Christingle Service - a colourful service of music & light
6.30pm Service of Nine Lessons and Carols by Candlelight - traditional carols and readings
* Tuesday 18th 7.00pm Carol Singing around the Parish - wrap up warm
* Friday 21st 2.00pm Carol Tea – Mothers’ Union (All are welcome)
* Sunday 23rd 10.00am Reflections of Christmas Holy Communion - poems, readings and songs
* Monday 24th 5.00pm All-age Nativity Service - dressing up, carols, fun for all
11.30pm First Holy Communion of Christmas
* Tuesday 25th 8.00am Holy Communion - Book of Common Prayer
10.00am Christmas All-age Holy Communion - children, bring a gift you have received to show others
* Monday 31st 11.30pm Watchnight Communion Service - welcoming the New Year in prayer and reflection


Larry Norman - Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Christmas exhibitions

The Christmas season traditionally brings with it several exhibitions focused on Christian imagery and stories and this year sees two particularly interesting examples.

Epiphany at Wallspace showcases contemporary Iconographers working in Britain. This is a uniquely beautiful exhibition with an ambience and setting that supports worship of the reality to which each icon is a window. I was particularly drawn to the work of Dr Stéphané René who practises Coptic Icongraphy. The Contemporary Coptic style is a refreshing alternative to the more familiar styles which is both more stylised and lively in its composition and colours.

At the Chappel Galleries 'The Life of Christ' is shortly to be depicted in ninety-one etchings by Francis Hoyland. These prints were originally commissioned by Aimee and Monroe Price, a well known American art historian and her lawyer husband. One complete edition is in the Print Room at the British Museum where a selection from it was exhibited. On receiving the prints into the British Museum’s Print Room Anthony Griffiths, Head of Prints and Drawings wrote. “It is a most extraordinary and impressive achievement and we are very glad to have it in the department as one of the major monuments of British print making in recent times."


Mark Olson - The Salvation Blues.

Transnormal Skiperoo

Jim White writes songs that could have been sung by the characters who people the stories of Flannery O'Connor. Like the characters in Flannery O’Connor’s novels we are, at best, incomplete – even the good, she felt, has a grotesque face, because “in us the good is something under construction.” The holy interpenetrates our world but we also see in life distortions which are repugnant to it and the problem for the novelist with Christian concerns is to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural.

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, the film about the American South that Jim White narrated, has this double sense of the holy in the grotesque and the grotesque in the holy. The film shows desperate people with a hell-fire religion and a God who will whup the ass of those prefer the sinful flesh over the Holy Spirit but, at the same time, you also feel the presence of the Spirit; alive and awake and in the blood of those who live in the South.

Transnormal Skiperoo takes us into the same locale. both musically and lyrically. Take Me Away a boy, who appears to be mentally disturbed, steps into the path of an oncoming train crying, "Take me away." As he does so he sees a stranger calling him in the voice of an old friend. White deliberately leaves us pondering the significance of the stranger and of the boy's cry to be taken away.

In A Town Called Amen he laments our lost innocence and in Blindly We Go reflects on our inability to penetrate the mystery of life. At one turn a plywood Superman becomes a symbol for our inability to achieve our dreams but at another pieces of heaven can be seen in "photographs of you and me."

Jim White is, I think, the pre-eminent bard for the postmodern Christian but he achieves this by going back in time to the old-time religion of the American South and the mystery and manners of Flannery O'Connor's stories and characters.


Vigilantes of Love - Resplendent.

The CF Celebrity Cookbook

Dear all

Nearly 3 years ago, Rachel and the children had a really good idea to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Partly because diet is really important in CF, they thought we could write letters to famous people and ask them for a recipe, and then we could put the recipes we got into a book, to sell and raise money.

Well, to cut a long story short, we did it! "The CF Celebrity Cookbook" came back from the printers 10 days ago, and we have already sold over 400 copies!! It is in full colour, with recipes from all sorts of people, including Gordon Brown, Rowan Atkinson, Ian McKellen, Ellen McArthur, and Andrew Flintoff!

We were really fortunate in getting a designer friend to do us the layout and design for free, and Dave's firm and others have helped with the printing costs - all of which means that ALL of the £5 cover price goes straight to the CF Trust.

If you would like to buy a copy, either: let us know when you can pop in and get one, and we'll put one (or more than one!) on one side for you, or if you would like one posted to you, then please send a cheque payable to "DS and RJL Alcock" for £5.76, with your name and address, to: CF Celebrity Cookbook, c/o Anthony Collins Solicitors, 134 Edmund Street, Birmingham B3 2ES.

£5 covers the cost of the book and 76p is the actual cost of postage and packing. All funds we receive go into a separate bank account, set up just to process the recipe book. Dave's work have been really helpful and have agreed to process letters and sending out for us.

Please help us raise more money for research into CF. If we sell all our copies, we'll raise over £6000!

Thank you.

David, Rachel, Charlie, John and Louisa


The Style Council - Walls Come Tumbling Down.

At Last the 1948 Show - The Four Yorkshiremen Sketch

Monday, 26 November 2007

Workplace Gospel reflections

From the beginning of Advent the website for Mission in London's Economy (MiLE) will have a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading read in many churches which use the Common Lectionary. The reflection will be written from a work perspective and will be particularly suitable for a Monday morning following the weekend.

MiLE was started in 2005 as an independent ecumenical Christian organisation covering the 32 London Boroughs and the City of London.

It has set itself the following objectives:

1. To co-ordinate the churches’ interventions in discussion of London’s economy.

2. To respond on behalf of the churches to consultation exercises on London’s economy.

3. To support workplace chaplains ministering within London’s economy.

4. To support Christians working in the institutions of London’s economy.

5. To educate churches in the issues facing London’s economy so that they might be able to respond appropriately.

6. To work with other faith communities in order to create co-ordinated faith community responses to the issues facing London’s economy.

Practitioner Groups have been set up to further these objectives, the first two being covered by a single group.

MiLE was conscious right from the very beginning that their website was an essential tool in resourcing individuals Christians seeking to relate Christian faith to daily work, as well as making contact with other groups and organisations with a particular interest in this area, and of course with the churches. Their weekly Gospel reflections are the latest initiative to develop their website in this way. They would be very pleased to receive responses ( on how the weekly reflections could be improved in the future.


Morrissey - Every Day Is Like Sunday.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Christ the King

What kind of King is Jesus? That was the question that was on people’s lips all the way through our Gospel reading (Luke 23. 33-43) this morning.

The Jewish leaders jeered at Jesus: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah [or King] whom God has chosen.” The Roman soldiers mocked him: “Save yourself if you are the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals hanging there alongside him hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah [or King]? Save yourself and us!” All of them were asking “What kind of King are you then? If you are a King then behave as we expect a King to behave.” Their mockery came because Jesus did not look or behave as they expected a King to do.

What did they expect? For the Jews, the Messiah was expected to be a revolutionary able to deliver their people from the oppression of the Roman invaders. For the Romans, the Emperor was the leader of a vast military machine capable of defeating any army anywhere in the then known world. But the man given the title ‘The King of the Jews’ was a poor, pitiful, pathetic individual being tortured and killed by powers far greater than him. You can understand why their answer to the question what kind of King is Jesus, was no kind of King at all.

But there was one person there that day who recognised Jesus as King. The second of the criminals being crucified alongside Jesus recognised that Jesus had done no wrong and asked to be remembered by Jesus when he came as King, in other words when he came into his kingdom.

And here, in Jesus’ response, we begin to see the real answer to the question what kind of King is Jesus, because Jesus accepts this man, despite his past, on the basis of his recognition of Jesus as the true King. Jesus is the kind of King who accepts those who are unacceptable, who includes the excluded and who sees those who are unseen and overlooked. As far as he was concerned this criminal, by being killed, was only getting what he deserved but Jesus is the kind of King who does not treat us as we deserve and instead of punishing us promises that we will be with him in Paradise. So Jesus is an inclusive King.

More than this, Jesus is the kind of King who forgives his enemies. In verse 34, we have Jesus’ prayer for those who have had him nailed to the cross and have gathered there to mock and abuse him: “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus is a forgiving King, who does not hold against us even those sins that we have committed directly against him.

Then, Jesus is a dying King. The one who died in place of, or in order to save, his people. Jesus is the kind of King who does not put all his time and energies into securing his position and power or into amassing great wealth for himself instead he is a King who gives up all he has in order to give himself for his people.

As a dying King, we remember his words about a grain of wheat remaining “only a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies.” “If it does die,” he said, “then it will produce many grains.” So Jesus connects his death with the ground, the earth, and with the natural cycle of death and birth that we see within creation. And in this way, we see that his death is not just something for human beings but also something for the earth and the creation.

Jesus is the King who, through his death, enters into the earth, as he is buried, and who rises from within the earth and from death in order to change the earth itself. The word ‘Paradise’ was originally a Persian word, meaning park or garden, which was taken into Greek and then Hebrew. It was used as a translation for ‘the garden of Eden’ and then became associated with the belief that God would, in time, restore us to a future Eden. So, Jesus here is promising the second criminal an immediate experience of Eden because he will be with Jesus the King who will, in time, bring the whole world into a Edenic future. Jesus is the King who will restore the world to its originally intended state as an Edenic Paradise.

Now, in this story, people responded to the kind of King that Jesus was in two ways. The majority mocked and ridiculed him. And we could be in that camp today. But, if we want to be part of a kingdom of acceptance, of forgiveness, of salvation and of restoration then, like the second criminal, we need to ask to be part of Jesus’ kingdom. And not just to come into that kingdom for ourselves and our benefit but to come into that kingdom in order to act like our King, as people who accept the unacceptable, forgive our enemies, give our lives in the service of others and seek to restore our world to its originally intended Edenic state.


Runrig - Tear Down These Walls.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Two ways to live

In John 18: 33 – 37 we see two different ways to live being demonstrated and these are symbolised in Cecil Collins' picture Christ Before The Judge. In this picture Pilate is angular, aggressive and threatening while the curves and crosses in the depiction of Jesus are suggestive of love and sacrifice.

Pilate represents the oppressive, aggressive, controlling power of the Roman Empire (perhaps, of any Empire) while Jesus represents the kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, service and self-sacrifice. Two opposed kingdoms; a clash of civilisations; two very different ways to live.

When Jesus says that his kingdom does not belong to this world, he means that it does not belong to the aggressive, militaristic world of Pilate. The empire to which Pilate belongs is “based on power,” writes Stephen Verney the former Bishop of Repton. It is “ based on power and can crucify people but does not know how to set them free.” Jesus’ kingdom does not belong to that world. In the kingdom of God, by contrast, powerlessness is the route by which compassion can “transform men and women, so that they are born again into the freedom to love one another.”

In our lives there are also these two ways to live: the way of compassion or the way of domination; the way of self-sacrifice or the way of self; the way of powerlessness or the way of power; the way of serving or the way of grasping. The question before us this morning is whether we are living in the kingdom of Jesus or the empire of Pilate.

The empire of power, aggression and selfishness, with its strength in numbers and weaponry, appears to be the stronger kingdom. It is also backed by science as scientists suggest that our selfish instincts constitute the natural way for human beings to live; part of the survival of the fittest. And yet every empire based on these things has in time been overthrown, including that of Rome, while Christ’s Church continues to this day and continues to grow. So which is really the stronger?

Mike Yaconelli recounts a wonderful story from World War II that demonstrates the power of small unselfish acts of kindness. During the final months of World War II daily bombing raids were being conducted from Britain. The bombers would take off from an airstrip surrounded by smaller fighter planes whose job it was to keep the German fighter planes from attacking the bombers.

One night, as they returned from their raid, a group of planes was attacked by German fighter planes. As the dogfight unfolded, one of bomber crew found themselves flying alone with no protecting plane and a German fighter plane bearing down on them. The bomber crew watched helplessly as tracer bullets began spitting from the German plane. Five bullets slammed into the fuselage of the bomber in the location of the fuel tank. The crew braced themselves for the explosion but it did not come. Fuel was pouring from the holes the bullets had made but there was no explosion. Miraculously they made it safely back to base.

When the plane was examined five bullets were found inside the fuel tank. When these shells were opened each was empty of gunpowder and instead contained a tiny wad of paper on which was written the following note: ‘We are Polish POWs – forced to make bullets in factory. When guards do not look we do not fill with powder. Is not much, but is best we can do. Please tell family we are alive.’

Five tiny bullets out of all the millions made during that war yet they made all the difference to the crew of that bomber. Yaconelli concludes: “The power of goodness is found in the tiny. Since the beginning, God has chosen the tiny over the large – David and Goliath, Gideon and his 300 soldiers, Elijah over the prophets of Baal, one sheep over ninety-nine.” “Spirituality,” he says, “is about doing the tiny work of God, little acts, small responses to God’s presence in our lives.”

Such things don’t seem much, don’t seem as though they can oppose the empire’s of power. But such acts are based on the truth that all need love and acceptance received through the service and self sacrifice of others while the empire’s of power are based on the lie that one person or nation is better or stronger than another. As Jesus said when he was brought before Pilate he had to speak about the truth and it is the truth that endures and which sets people free.

There are two ways to live and this clash of civilisations in every generation and each generation needs to choose for itself which way we will go. What have been our choices? Have we and are we making decisions that solely benefit ourselves or are we giving our lives away in the care and service of others? These are life choices that Jesus makes apparent for us through his life and death. They are pictured for us in his trial and in this painting by Cecil Collins. They are choices that we make daily as we encounter other people. Which way will we choose to live?


Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey - OLOWO LAIYE MO.

The Stature of Waiting

the life
he consciously
He lies
for death's
Unfocused eyes
at random.
Head back,
mouth open,
each breath
the stature


Josh Groban with Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Lullaby.

The Worth of Worth

Dialectics in discussion
over retreatant's evening meal.
Stipend versus tentmaker's salary,
Temple versus Synagogue theology,
the hangover of Christendom versus Early Church freedoms,
clergy mistreated, congregations empowered,
structures legitimated, pain embraced.
We are spooked and suspicious,
power games
weave in and out
of the stories we tell.

Shadows lengthen
across the vast expanse
of Pollen's church.
Natural light dies,
darkness falls
and in the dark
there is
Lectio Divina.

Subterranean catacomb,
monolithic construction of brick and concrete,
Modernism evoking the endurance of faith.
Circular, centred on the stone table
of the once-for-all sacrifice.
Above, a concrete chimney
filtering, not the acrid fumes
of the industrial pollution revolution,
but chants, rising like incense
from black-robed and white-hearted
angels and men.

What is resolved? Nothing!
We go in faith
to minister differently
in different places
as different people
with different people
in the One Love
that has embraced pain
and legitimated (temporary) structures
throughout millenia,
beginning now and ending then,
incarnated in action and contemplation;
twin beams of light
illuminating the stone table
of the once-for-all sacrifice
continually re-membered,
continually consumed.


Jide Chord - Jide was a member of St Margaret's Barking and performed there in 2005.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Contextual artistic conversations

Last time I was at Wallspace Meryl Doney was commenting that, while many contemporary artists were keen to have their work exhibited in a gallery that is also a church, others were reluctant to display work in a setting that would highlight the Christian themes or images in their work. Combined with visits to the From Outside exhibition and Mark Titchner's recent exhibition at Vilma Gold, this got me thinking about the effect on the artwork of its being exhibited within a church setting.

The works exhibited by Damian Thompson and Caroline Burraway in From Outside illustrate the issues well. Damian Thompson exhibits photographs of corpses where the photograph acts as a vessel for maintaining some uncanny presence of the dead. For From Outside one of these photographs was exhibited as an altar cloth, which suggests the image of Christ in the tomb awaiting resurrection. Immediately, we have moved beyond Thompson's stated purpose for these photographic corpses but, as he is searching for meaning in the face of death and exploring the issues of belief that are tied-up with this search, to do so is not necessarily to do violence to the core of his art. Instead, a wider frame of reference is opened up for that search than might otherwise be the case.

Burraway's work functions differently from that of Thompson's in this context. Burraway filmed Kathleen, an elderly relative, in her final days and the resulting videos and charcoal's emphasise the finality with which breath leaves the body. In the context of a church where a central tenet of belief is in resurrection this sets up a challenge between the work and its location.

Nicholas Cranfield, in his review of Sam Taylor-Wood's three films shown recently at Wallspace, claimed that they "gain little from their being shown in a consecrated building" with none suggesting "a narrative or symbolic shape to benefit by being at Wallspace." This is despite Pieta and Ascension making direct reference to traditional, western Christian iconography which, perhaps, suggests shortcomings in Cranfield's critical response rather than in the works themselves. The third film, Prelude in Air, has none of the Christian references of Pieta and Ascension and yet, as with Thompson's work, its showing in a church does open up new references which would not otherwise be apparent.

Prelude in Air presents a musician totally engaged with the Bach prelude he is playing, but he is performing without a cello. The music and the man are present; the instrument that links the two is absent. As a result, the performer is improvising the playing of the cello within the framework of the Bach prelude that he can here. For Christians, this has resonances with our calling to be inspired by the Holy Spirit to improvise actions that fit within the framework of the Christian story and contribute to the movement towards its fulfillment. Again, without being in dialogue with the church context, such a reading would be unlikely to occur.

These works displayed in a gallery would not have these resonances or set up the same kind of conversation with their context. This is apparent in seeing The Eye Don't See Itself, Mark Titchner's recent exhibition at Vilma Gold. Here the white cube of the gallery sets no external framework for the work with which it can be in dialogue. As a result the work speaks solely in its own right. In this case, as a monumental reflected projection enveloping the viewer in a state that seeks to disturb perception through use of Rorschach inkblots, Alpha states, and self-improvement mantras. The work, therefore, deals with aspects of belief but its references are solely contained within the work.

This is not to say that one is better than the other simply to flag the way in which works displayed in a church, to work well, have to be strong enough to enter into dialogue with their context in a way that is not the case in the white cube of a gallery. These extra references or resonances can also deepen the experience of interacting with the artworks themselves.


Love - She Comes In Colours.

Folk Art & Fairy Tales

Folk Art and Fairy Tales, currently at the mac in Birmingham, is an exhibition that delights, thrills and charms. As I viewed it, I constantly heard people saying, " I like ..., I like ..."

The exhibition brings together ten leading artist-makers from Wales and other parts of the UK, connected by their excellence, creativity and their fascination with narrative and literature, folk art, legends and fairy stories. Their works range from the witty and humorous through to those that explore the darker, more mysterious side of myth and fairy tales.

The exhibition presents the disarming creatures of Lucy Casson and Julie Arkell, Samantha Bryan’s exercising fairies, Cathy Miles’ witty wirework birds and quirky sculptures by Jayne Lennard. Carys Anne Hughes’ textiles look at the uneasy side of nursery rhymes while Jennifer Collier’s shoes and dresses weave stories and fruit into their fabric. These show alongside Su Blackwell’s exquisite book-sculptures and installation, Rachael Howard’s wonderful fabric hangings and a major new ceramics series by Lowri Davies. Fresh, fun and full of joie de vivre, this exhibition brightens the winter days.


The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn!

Religion in the workplace

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach (Vice Chairman, Goldman Sachs) gave the Christian Association of Business Executive's (CABE) Eighteenth Hugh Kay Memorial Lecture: "Religion in the Workplace" on 16 October 2007.

In the lecture Lord Griffiths asks: Is your organisation "faith friendly"? What are the benefits to organisations of being faith friendly? How should we be good followers of Christ and effective witnesses at work?

He makes the case for being faith friendly by saying:

"an individual who takes their faith seriously will wish to explore how it relates to issues raised by the particular workplace in which they find themselves. What does it mean for example to show integrity in a financial transaction? How does a partner in a leading international accounting, law or investment banking firm maintain an appropriate work – life balance? How does the idea that “my word is my bond” apply in a fast moving negotiation? How does one handle a conflict between being an agent and a principal?

The subject also raises issues for management.

How much knowledge of other religions should managers be expected to have? How should a manager deal with the zeal of a new convert who wishes to share his/her faith with others? Should people be allowed to wear jewellery which are religious symbols at their place of work? Should people who are opposed to same-sex unions be required to attend training sessions in order to better understand sexual preference? Should women be allowed to wear a burkha or a hijab (veil)? How should management respond to a person of religious conviction who refuses to travel on business to a certain Middle Eastern country? Should employees in a company have the right to hold a Christmas carol service? Or an Eid party?

All of these are practical issues faced by employees and managers in today’s world.

What I find remarkable is the way in which these issues are now being discussed openly and seriously in the business world as well as in business schools. Not that long ago the subject of religion in business was a taboo subject. Religion and business simply did not mix. They were entirely separate enterprises. Within the last ten years however Fortune magazine has run a cover article on “God and Business: The Surprising Quest for Spiritual Renewal in the Workplace”, Business Week has led with a piece on “Religion in the Workplace: The Growing Presence of Spirituality in Corporate America”, and there have been numerous articles in the Financial Times, the Times and the Wall Street Journal dealing with similar issues."


Edwin Starr - War.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Prayer for work

A prayer that I have written for working people has been added to the website for Mission in London's Economy (MiLE).

The prayer page also gives information about joining the Work-Based Email Group run from St John’s which provides a weekly e-mail containing a brief work-based reflection and prayer combined with information on a resource for Christians in the workplace.

Also on the MiLE website is information about a Round-Table discussion in January on faith community responses to the issues facing London’s economy and papers by me on Taking Faith to Work and Faith IN Work.


Kanye West - Jesus Walks.

The CF Celebrity Cookbook

My sister and her family have just published a celebrity cookbook raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. In the introduction to the cookbook they explain why:

"Hello, we're the Alcock family. We live in Birmingham. We are David, Rachel, Charlie (13), John (11) and Louisa (nearly 5). Two of us, Charlie and Louisa, have Cystic Fibrosis.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a genetically inherited disease that mostly affects the lungs and the stomach by clogging them with thick, sticky mucus. It is permanent, gradually gets worse, and there is no cure.

That's the bad news.

The good news, at least as far as Charlie and Louisa are concerned, is that sometimes when you have CF you get to eat all sorts of nice food, because putting on weight can be a bit of a problem.

Which is why, when we wanted to raise some money to help with research into CF, we thought of a recipe book.

So we wrote to all sorts of famous people, and asked them to send us a recipe that they really liked to cook and eat. And lots of them wrote back! All of the recipes in this book were sent us, in response to a simple letter from Charlie, John and Louisa by people who very kindly wanted to help us.

Thank you, from us, to all of them ... Every penny we raise will go towards helping not just Charlie and Louisa, but thousands of other people with Cystic Fibrosis."

The cookbook costs £5.00 and includes recipes from: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Benn, Gordon Brown, Menzies Campbell, Jaspar Carrott, Fearne Cotton, Andrew Flintoff, Ainsley Harriott, Ian McKellen, Ellen MacArthur, Philip Pullman, Gordon Ramsey, Cliff Richard, Delia Smith, Benjamin Zephaniah, and many more.

The book makes a great Christmas present. I have a small supply and can get more, so let me know if you'd like one or more!


Paul Weller - Into Tomorrow.

Come, rise with me

Yesterday my Mum, sister and I spoke again with the Consultant who is overseeing my Dad's treatment. He explained that, as they anticipated, Dad has not shown any signs of returning to consciousness. As a result, the kindest thing for Dad is not to seek to prolong his life through active treatment but instead to allow his life to end naturally and to make that end, when it comes, as peaceful as possible. Having said that, because Dad's heart rate and breathing are relatively stable, that natural end to his life, while it could occur at any time, will not necessarily be immediate.

In one sense this is no more than we have known all along but the past two weeks have been an opportunity to see whether there was any prospect of a return to consciousness. We have understandably hoped that there would be and so to be faced again with the reality of Dad's situation has been hard for us. As always, we greatly value your prayers for us and for Dad at this time.

Today Mum and I held a short service preparing Dad for death (although his death could still be some time away), anointing him and commending him to his Lord and saviour. On the way home I listened to the poignant words of When All Around Has Fallen by Delerious?:

"When all around has fallen, your castle has been burned
You used to be a king here, now no-one knows your name
You live your life for honour, defender of the faith
But you've been crushed to pieces and no-one knows your pain

Come, come, lay your weary head, be still my friend
Come, rise, I'll place my sword upon your shoulder
Come, rise with me

When tomorrow has been stolen and you can't lift your head
And summer feels like winter, your heart is full of stone
Though all your hopes have fallen, your skin is now you're only armour
Wear your scars like medals, defender of the faith

Come, come lay your weary head, be still my friend
Come, rise, I'll place my sword upon your shoulder
Come, come lay your faithful head, be still my friend
Come, rise with me"


The Call - I Still Believe.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Two blogs to go

Here are two blogs that I've come across recently that are well worth taking a look at:

The first is run by someone that I trained with at NTMTC. Pitch A Comment is an on-line journal and forum for occasional discussion hosted, written and edited by George Pitcher, Curate at St Bride's, Fleet Street, which he hopes will stimulate some alternative reflections on matters of life and faith, as well as airing some personal idiosyncracies. St Bride's has long been known as "the journalists' church", so its congregation should be accustomed to leader pages that read like sermons - and vice versa. And like any good newspaper there is plenty of room for reader-response, so he welcomes your comments and looks forward to publishing them.

The second I found when my sister gave me a book by a friend from her church. Richard Sudworth's blog has the same title as his book, Distinctly Welcoming, and is an opportunity to generate ideas and reflections on the Christian engagement with our multifaith society. Richard is based in Britain's second city of Birmingham and working from a church in a Muslim majority part of the city.


The Velvet Underground - Sunday Morning.

First Anniversary at St John's

The St John's congregation at our Patronal Festival.

Signing the licence during my Collation service

My first Communion service at St John's.

Our children at the Christingle Service.

Our confirmation candidates together with Bishop John.

Today is the first anniversary of my collation at St John's Seven Kings, so this post has some photos from my first year.
London Community Gospel Choir @ Gospelfestival Amsterdam

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Paintings & photos

I have recently updated the pages showing my paintings and photos on the Veritasse website. You can view, rate and purchase paintings there, as well as reading my personal statement.

In addition, I've begun a discussion thread about artists that are an inspiration to Christian artists. So far the list of influences includes:
  • Georges Rouault for the way he combines compassion and critique;
  • Marc Chagall for the way in which reconciliation informs every aspect of his work from content through to construction;
  • Albert Herbert for the freedom and depth of his style and imagery;
  • Norman Adams for the vibrancy of his use of colour;
  • John Reilly for the way in which he depicts the oneness and unity of God’s invisible power binding all things into one whole;
  • Jan Vermeer for his truely reformational vision; and
  • Australian artist, Warren Breninger, a painter in the OT prophet mould whose work calls to account the world and its sin.


Jim White - Book of Angels.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Awesome space

Next week I am looking forward to being on my annual cell group retreat at Worth Abbey with several of those with whom I trained at NTMTC. One of the real delights on being on retreat at Worth is simply being in the awesome space that is the Abbey Church and listening to the monks sing their daily prayer.

The Abbey Church can seat up to 1,400 people, the largest capacity of any church in Sussex. The foundation stone was laid in 1964, the Church was consecrated in 1974 and the exterior structure completed in 2001. The interior furnishing remains incomplete. To achieve an open space on such a scale, the architect employed a bridge building technique never before used in a church. This modernist design by Francis Pollen is considered by many to be the finest example of 1960’s church architecture in Britain.

Francis Pollen, who died in 1987, was the architect responsible for most of the alterations to old buildings at Worth and for the design of most of the new ones. Pollen studied architecture at Cambridge. While still an undergraduate, he designed a beautiful chapel for a Carmelite convent which could not afford an architect. In his early days he was influenced by the ideas of a great British architect, Lutyens. Afterwards, he was a partner in the firm of Brett, Pollen and Bosanquet. Among church buildings, he designed a remarkable extension to a neo-Gothic church by Pugin at Marlowe-on-Thames. He considered Worth Abbey church his greatest achievement.


Billy Preston - That's The Way God Planned It.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Money Well Spent

FaithAction have announced details of their first National Conference. Entitled Money Well Spent it will be hosted at Central Hall, Westminster on Tuesday 26th February, 2008 and will provide an opportunity to: hear first hand from important commissioners in this country including ministers and government departments; listen to the experiences of faith organisations who have successfully worked with local authorities; and network with organisations that could prove potential partners.

Speakers already confirmed include:
  • from the Department for Children, Schools & Families - Diana Barrington, Third Sector Procurement;
  • from the Department for Work & Pensions - Tracy Hughes, Head of Sourcing & Employment Programmes;
  • from the Department for International Development - Peter Kerby, Civil Society;
  • from the Department for Health - Mark Davies, Director of Partnership;
  • from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport - Simon Broadly, Deputy Director for Lottery, Communities & International;
  • from the Department for Communities and Local Government - Anna Cummins, Head of Faiths Unit;
  • from the Home Office - Carole Eniffer, Head of Guns and Knives; and
  • from the Metropolitan Police Service - Chief Superintendent Tony Eastaugh, Commander of Barking & Dagenham.

Tickets are priced at £49 and are only available to FaithAction network members by phoning 08456 528 900, or £5.00 can be saved by booking online here.


Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah.

Contemporary icons

Epiphany: Contemporary Iconographers in Britain (21 November–12 December) is the new exhibition at Wallspace showing the work of 15 contemporary, traditional iconographers who live and work in the UK, in what is believed to be the first exhibition of its kind. While there have been survey exhibitions of icons from other places in the world, such as Russia, Greece and the Balkans, there has never been an opportunity to get the work of the very best iconographers working in Britain together in one place.

Not all of the iconographers are UK-born, but they all work here. And while all the icons shown are contemporary, they are nonetheless produced in the traditional manner, using authentic ancient designs and methods. The exhibition is timely, given the current revival of interest in icons and their increasing appearance in cathedrals and parish churches across the country.

Epiphany will include works by some of the best current practitioners of traditional iconography including:
  • Patricia Fostiropoulos, who studied with Russian iconographer Leonid Ouspensky now teaching iconography at the Orthodox Cathedral of the Divine Wisdom in central London.
  • Aidan Hart, visiting tutor for The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and lecturer at the Cambridge University International Summer School.
  • Dr Guillem Ramos-Poqui, founding member of the Association of Iconographers of Ireland, and a Patron of the Association of British Iconographers. He is the author of The Technique of Icon Painting.
  • Dr Stéphane René is the foremost exponent of the Contemporary Coptic style, an associate of the Temenos Academy and also teaches at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts.

The exhibition is open Monday - Friday 12-6, Thursday 12-7, Saturday 10-4. Admission is free. In addition there are two special events:

  • Modern Mystery, 6 December 7-9.30pm: The Bishop of London, The Rt Revd Dr Richard Chartres, will chair a discussion with a distinguished panel. He'll be asking: 'Why are icons experiencing a revival in the West?' 'Is this influencing British churches’ approach to imagery, devotion and liturgy?' 'How does this distinctive visual tradition relate to contemporary art practice?' Refreshments will be served.
  • Vespers, 29 November 6.30pm: A service of Vespers will be sung by Father Alexander Fostiropoulos, Orthodox Chaplain, King’s College London.


Stacie Orrico - (There's Gotta Be) More To Life.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

In the absence of God

The First World War poet, Wilfred Owen, wrote in a poem called Exposure about the literally chilling experience of waiting in the trenches for something to happen. He wrote that the soldiers he was with endured their horrific experience:

“Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn; Nor ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit. For God's invincible spring our love is made afraid; Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born, For love of God seems dying.”

In a world where love of God seemed to be dying, Owen writes that the soldiers he was with fought to ensure that love of God would not die, fought that God’s love would be seen again in kind fires burning and the sun smiling true on children, fields and fruit.

Owen’s poem has echoes for us in the story that Jesus told about the three servants and their talents. In that story the God figure, the Master, has gone away and is absent. In those days if someone went on a long journey, they could be gone for several years and no news could be heard of them during that time. It would be easy to believe, as one day passed into another, that they had gone away for good and were not returning.

For many in wartime that is their experience; love of God seems to be dying, God himself seems absent or dead. Famously, Western society in the twentieth century declared that God was dead and for many of us today, this is how we live; with the sense that there is no God. So it may be of interest to us that Jesus anticipates this sense by telling a story in which it appears that the God-figure is absent.

What does Jesus’ story suggest that we do in the absence of God? Well, the story suggests that we have a responsibility to use all that we have for the benefit of the world. If the Master represents God then his property is the world and so we, his servants, are placed in charge of his world and given responsibility for its change and development. It is also worth noting that in the story we have the abilities needed for this responsibility. The Master considers that all the servants have abilities and gives responsibility to them according to their differing abilities.

How we respond to this situation is what is at the heart of the Jesus’ story. The faithful servants are those that accept this responsibility and act on it. The unfaithful servant is the one who does nothing, who does not act. This is, of course, similar to what we have heard Wilfred Owen saying in Exposure; that the soldiers he was with were acting, by fighting to maintain a world in which kind fires can burn and the sun shine true on child and field and fruit.

More than this, it seems to me that this is something on which we could all agree regardless of whether we believe in God or not. Whether we think that God is not there or only seems to be absent, we could perhaps agree that our response is to be responsible for the change and development of the world in which we live. That it is fundamentally wrong to sit back and do nothing; whether out of laziness or fear.

In Jesus’ story, of course, the God-figure is not dead and returns to call the servants to account. What have they done with all that had been entrusted to them? Similarly, Wilfred Owen saw Christ in No-Man’s Land as his fellow-soldiers laid down their lives in self-sacrifice and said, on behalf of those he fought alongside, for this we were born; to fight to maintain a world in which kind fires can burn and the sun shine true on child and field and fruit.

Can we say something similar? Are we faithful or unfaithful servants? Are our lives dedicated to using the gifts which God has given to us for the benefit of others and our world? Do we recognise that each of us has much that we can give; that we are all people with talents and possessions however lacking in confidence and means we may be? We all have something we can offer.

As Christians we give in gratitude for all that we believe God has given us in Jesus. But if there are those here who may not view themselves as Christians or as religious, this story still has something to say to you. To dedicate our lives to the service of others and of the world, as those who have lost their lives in war have done, is something that each of us can do whether we believe that the suffering and issues that we see bedevilling our world indicates that there is no God or that God shares with us those issues and that suffering.

How will we respond? What will we do to dedicate our lives to the service of others and our world? Can we work to make cohesive communities or to make poverty history or to address environmental issues or to achieve political change? What talents do we have and what will we make of them? Will we be faithful or unfaithful servants? How will we respond?


The Jam - Start.


Today is the eighth anniversary of the death of my brother Nick in a plane crash in Kosovo. Here is a Psalm that I wrote out of the pain of that grief:

No, Lord, no. This word I will not hear.
No, Lord, no. This word I cannot bear.

My brother’s body lies on the stones strewn mountainside,
my mind alert to realities it cannot admit.
His body lifeless, broken by Kosovan heights,
my body alive to the stabbing pain of his loss.
My blood racing in my veins,
My heart pounding like a jack hammer,
My tears gusting like gale lashed squalls,
My tongue spilling out the word, no.

You gave up all, becoming a no-thing.
You offered up all, giving your life.
You spoke the word, forsaken.
You lived the offering, sacrifice.
On your flayed back was the torture instrument carried.
On your forehead was the round of razors rammed.
In the place of your skull was the pain of the iron piercings.
In place of life immortal was the path of the damned.
In place of Man, you placed yourself.
In place of God, my brother lives.

At the foot of the mountain is the telling of tales,
stories recounted of the one who is gone.
In the mountain’s shadow tales told are bitter-sweet,
memories recover the one who is gone.
To speak of the dead is bitter.
The telling of takes amplifies loss.
To speak of the dead is sweet.
The telling of tales confirms love.

Yes, Lord, yes. This word I will hear.
Yes, Lord, yes. This word I will bear.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Remembrance Sunday

Jesus could have been reading the news headlines off a teleprinter when he said, as is recorded in Luke 21: 5-19: “Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be terrible earthquakes, famines and plagues everywhere; there will be strange and terrifying things coming from the sky.”

On Remembrance Sunday we come to remember and to honour those who gave their lives because our world still is as Jesus described it all those years ago. Countries still fight each other, kingdoms still attack each other. So, like a certain newsreader several years ago, we ask, “Where is the good news to be found?”

In Malachi 4: 1-2a we read of God saying that his “saving power will rise on us like the sun and bring healing like the sun’s rays.” Life on earth seems like a long, dark night of the soul but the night will pass, the day will eventually come and we will emerge blinking into the light that will heal our world.

Those who have known active service know what it is like to go through the fearful experience of conflicts where the only relief is the company of your colleagues. But they also know what it is to survive those experiences and share in the joy of victory and peace. Jesus, too, knew this experience - the long torturous death that was crucifixion followed by the joy and victory of resurrection. Like the sun, Jesus rises upon us and brings healing.

Because of Jesus there is light, not just at the end of our tunnel but here in the present too. Many of us at St John’s have known that light breaking in to our personal darkness to bring God’s healing into our wounds and brokenness.

But this personal healing is only the beginning of a process that can move us towards the day when God’s saving power will rise on all, not just individuals. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and our experience of Jesus in our individual lives are both intended to bring us a place where, in the middle of a world where conflict and bad news are the norm, we work for peace to bring the good news of God’s coming kingdom to all. May it be so for each one of us.


Corinne Bailey Rae - Like A Star.

Voice of the People - Part 7

Bringing his story right up-to-date, in his retirement my dad has had to deal with the deaths of his son Nick and his sister Jean. Combined with several different health problems over this period, he has experienced periods of depression as well as grief.

During this period he has also worked on and completed an MPhil based on the 'Woven Cord' programme that he ran at St Edmunds Tysley. This was an extensive piece of applied research that summarised his knowledge of and views on Celtic Christianity and its application to urban communities.

Andi Thomas, one of the young people that Nick supported and helped through the Aston and Newtown Community Youth Project, has, since Nick's death, continued several of the initiatives that Nick began. This includes taking young people from Birmingham on expeditions to Uganda and supporting the work of the Salem Brotherhood in that country. My dad has worked with Andi to turn these activities into a charity called Rejunevate Worldwide.

Together with my mum, he has also been actively involved in supporting the Headstart group that meets at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. This group provides a place where people with experience of head injuries can tell their stories and support each other.

The Queen Elizabeth is the hospital where he is now receiving treatment himself following brain damage caused during a cardiac arrest. Please pray for him as he is not expected to recover consciousness.


Mike Peters - Strength.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Voice of the People - Part 6

My Dad has been a man of commitment and integrity throughout his life. He is, without doubt, the person from whom I have learnt the most. At this point in his life when he is so ill I would like others to know a little of what it is about him that has been so special to me and many others. What follows, in this and subsequent posts, is a little of the man that we know and love in his own words:

"During the ten-year period when I was vicar of the Birmingham parish of St Edmunds Tyseley, I sought to apply many of the principles and practices of Celtic Christianity to the church and its mission. There were three main reasons why we came to apply aspects of Celtic Christianity to this disadvantaged urban parish. The first was my lifelong involvement in working class communities. Second, was the approach to ministry at St Edmunds, that of an extended Christian family committed to being a church for their community. This concern was expressed through an experimental Neighbourhood Project that we called StEdicare – Tyseley. StEdicare created an environment where, by the mid 1990s, we were motivated to search for a fresh and relevant set of Christian mission principles that applied both to our own lifestyle and were relevant to the local community. Third, in my own spiritual journey I had begun to explore Celtic Christianity.

In ‘Wholeness through Christ’ prayer counselling a focus on my Christian radicalism emerged, which linked it to a deep sense of loss of land in my family history. Our sense was that this related to Celtic and Highland forbears and to the Highland land clearances. The reasons for this sense of loss had been forgotten over time but the radical attitude it implanted remained across the generations.

This link between a personal Celtic heritage and my current Christian practice led me to undertake two personal pilgrimages. Firstly, to the island of Lismore where I discovered the opportunity for reflection and dialogue with God afforded by Celtic Christian sites. Secondly, a six week ‘pilgrimage of discovery’ which started at Iona, finished at Holy Island and involved travelling and camping in a small diesel van.

This personal journey of discovering Celtic Christian sites became linked to my parish ministry and Christian radicalism in Urban Priority Areas through the ‘Woven Cord’ programme that we used in Tysley. Coupled with this were a series of visions, regular Bible teaching, social action in Tysley, and academic study of Celtic Christianity. It has been an immense privilege to minister among those who the Celtic Christians would have seen as the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” and who I view as the ‘salt of the earth’.

Fourteen Principles of Celtic Christianity were identified through Michael Mitton’s Restoring the Woven Cord: Strands of Celtic Christianity for the Church Today. These were checked for authenticity through a critique of Celtic Christian literature and historical examination of the Christian life style of three 4th-6th century Celtic Saints and of the evolving 6th century structures of monasticism and wandering pilgrimage (peregrinatio).

These principles were then studied by various groups within St Edmunds and their responses analysed. The ‘Woven Cord’ programme aimed to act as a prerequisite for mission within Tyseley by encouraging the growth of participants’ spirituality. The results showed that 80% of the people in these groups responded positively to the principles and practice of Celtic Christianity and transferred to their life style much of its approach to spirituality.

Whilst the ‘Woven Cord’ programme at St. Edmund’s was not epoch making, it did result in building up in the faith a small group of the Lord’s people who live in a UPA, with its marginalisation from affluent society around. Christian believers from the lower social classes were thereby helped to reflect and be strengthened in the living out of their faith using the Celtic Christian model of spirituality. Their perception and awareness of the possibilities of Christian living as something distinctive, in which they were no longer pushed into the mould of the world around them, was strengthened. It is my view, that for such programmes within this type of urban context, “small is beautiful”.

A significant but unheralded happening at the end of the ‘Woven Cord’ programme that related to the transfer of Celtic Christian principles to the practice of Christian living at St. Edmund’s was the ending of a concentration, within the fellowship’s worshipping life, on ‘thing’s Celtic’! The Celtic resource material and the ways in which individuals had been strengthened through an in-depth sharing of the Celtic Biblical themes had been effectively applied into the context of the participants’ own urban world. The individuals who had gained through the mission programme and the Church’s own growth in spirituality had been transposed into being a spirituality for believers living in Tyseley. It was now part of their shared experience, and in a holistic manner they owned ‘it’. We no longer referred to these matters as ‘Celtic’.

Wynton Marsalis, an American musician made a moving statement that I will use as an ending to this reflection, with the hope it may encourage others ministering in UPAs: “I say to the kids in the schools, make sure you play a solo, all of you, and whatever you play, do it like it’s the last thing you’re ever going to play. Even if its sad, play it. But just don’t play too long! That’s my belief and the music is a reflection of that. Being in the process, that’s what counts. You might not be there at the end of what’s being worked out. Look at the cats who built those big cathedrals, put down the first stones. They weren’t going to see the thing finished, but they were putting those stones down with a certain vibration.”

Perhaps our initiative could become a tune for some sad and lonely UPA Church to re-discover ‘hope’ in Christ, and become established like a Celtic island ‘Inis’, an island base of Christian warmth, belonging and service to others, created within the hope of a new beginning. A place where believers could be sent out to re-establish a people for the forgotten God from among the dusty, noisy, stressful streets."
Margaret Becker - Hear All Creation.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Voice of the People - Part 5

What follows is the Mission and Values statements for the Voice of the People Trust, as an indication of the values and concerns of my dad:

Mission Statement

The Voice of the People Trust exists to initiate and oversee projects and initiatives which seek the glory of God in faithfully obeying the biblical imperatives to bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, receiving of sight to the blind, set free the oppressed and announce the time has come when the Lord will save his people (see Isaiah 61: 1 - 2, Luke 4: 18 - 19). The Trust understands its task in obedience to these imperatives to include listening to God's voice in the desire for good news, liberty, sight, freedom and salvation in the people of Britain's inner cities and outer estates.

The Trust believes that such obedience will involve patterns of work and organisation which are innovative and flexible.

Values statement

We draw our values from the character of God as revealed to us in the words and life of Jesus, and through the Bible. Jesus spoke of God as a holy and loving eternal Father (Matthew 6: 9 -13). Jesus is our human example of perfection and reconciliation being held together. His holiness did not stop him from being accepted by sinners and social outcasts, nor did His compassion compromise His holiness.

  • Incarnation: The Trust will aim to get outside of church buildings, and the organized network of church based activities, into the places where non-churchgoers congregate. Our staff will be people who both share the culture of the people with whom we work and can communicate the values contained in this statement. (Hebrews 2: 14 - 18, Luke 4: 14 - 21, Matthew 9: 36, Mark 5: 1 - 10).
  • Redressing disadvantage: We aim to positively discriminate in order to prioritise services for disadvantaged people and, to campaign for social justice for them. (Mark 11: 15 - 17).
  • Equality: We aim, after taking account of the prior value (Redressing disadvantage), to demonstrate God's commitment to equality by working to ensure that no one is discriminated against in any prejudicial way that is neglectful, hurtful or harmful. (Galatians 3: 26 - 28).
  • Value: All people have value as uniquely gifted creations of God who retain in some measure the image of God and for whom Christ died. We aim to express this sense of the value of people by; listening and empathising, supporting and empowering, creating services requested by users, and by not abusing in any respect (confidentiality, professional boundaries of expertise or conduct etc) the users of our services.
  • Listening: We aim to develop projects based on the expressed needs of local people using the skills of local people. We are ready to listen to people, to their story, as they tell it, within their culture and to act on the basis of these stories. (Acts 1: 8 and 1 Corinthians 7: 17 - 24).
  • Responsibility: The Bible teaches individual responsibility for actions because all must account for their lives to God. We will aim to empower people using our services in order that they are able to develop their skills and make informed decisions for themselves with an awareness of the consequences of their decision making.
  • Service: We aim to serve our users and each other. Managers will serve by providing, within available resources, all that their staff require in order to provide services to our users. Staff will serve by providing services to users, within agreed parameters, to the best of their ability. (John 13: 12-17, Ephesians 5: 21).
  • Innovation: God's relationship with the world is a creative, renewing one (Isaiah 43: 18 & 19, Revelation 21: 5). As a result we are committed to experimental and innovative developments that link into contemporary needs within multi-ethnic UPA areas.
  • Partnership: The equality that exists in God's kingdom derives from a God-given unity in which individuals with differing skills and experience co-operate in order to achieve an overall aim. We are, therefore, ready to create relationship links between what we hear from local people and self-help groups in the neighbourhood and are ready to see a more meaningful relationship develop between the local Christian community and society around it.
  • Quality: The Bible encourages giving our best in all we do as everything should be done for God (1 Peter 4: 10). Therefore, we are looking to improve continuously the services we provide, aiming to get things right first time but also to learn from any failure. Biblical evaluation: We believe that the unchanging truths about God as revealed in the Bible and the historic Christian creeds are directly relevant to the inner-city. We will therefore regularly evaluate our actions, activities, procedures, policies and statements against Biblical frameworks and models. We aim to allow these truths and values to inform every aspect of our organisation. (1 Peter 3:13).


Galliano - Prince of Peace.

Voice of the People - Part 4

Here is a description of the approach and achievements of the Youth Project that my dad set up in Aston, Birmingham:

The Aston and Newtown Community Youth Project sought to reach out to 16-25 year old young people on the streets of the Aston and Newtown areas to steer them away from criminal and anti-social activities towards further education, training and employment.

A model for social inclusion

The approach used by the project is a model of social inclusion which can be set out under five headings:

  • Outreach: project workers went out to where disaffected people were and contacted them on their own territory – the streets. In Aston and Newtown over 30% of project workers’ time was spent on outreach leading to contact with 30-40 young people on the streets during any week. Of these, approximately five in any week were be new contacts. Project workers were supported by people within existing local structures but worked outside of these structures;
  • Affirmation: project workers affirmed people by going to them where they are, uncovering their interests and developing activities that reflected those interests;
  • Empowerment: people learned valuable personal and social skills through the experience of setting up activities in partnership with the project workers;
  • Role models: the project workers were examples of people with “street-cred” but who were also successfully integrated into the local community. They were, therefore, appropriate role models teaching social and personal development skills by example;
  • Re-integration: as much as possible existing community resources and facilities were used in running project activities (the project deliberately did not use a centre-based approach where people would be expected to come to the project to use its facilities). This meant that disaffected people were re-introduced to the community from which they had felt alienated with the support of the project workers. Social skills could be discussed and developed through this process of re-integration.

Importance of relationships

In the project’s work, uncovering the interests of the people with whom they were working was the vital first step in building relationships that resulted in people re-integrating into the local community. Once known, project workers set up activities that developed the interests of these project participants. Working with them on activities that interested them developed trust and provided opportunities to discuss and address the roots of their disaffection. Programmes were individually tailored to meet the interests of each participant. Young people, for example, are no different from the rest of us and develop a sense of being valued only when they are listened to and their interests and ideas taken on board. It is this experience rather than that of working in particular settings that young people find most valuable.

Relationships are an important way in to understanding social exclusion. We all exist in relation to our local community as we access local services and facilities. However, for some people their relationships within the local community become strained and this effects their access to local services and facilities. The reasons for this are many but include unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown. A breakdown of relationships in one aspect, for example exclusion from school, impacts on all other aspects. In this way to view social exclusion in terms of relationships is a means of considering the issue as a whole rather than as a series of separate issues.

When an individual’s relationship with their local community breaks down two things tend to happen. First, the disaffected person rejects existing community structures and organisations. Second, the person views relationships formed outside of the local community as more positive than those formed within it. This is often the experience of disaffected young people who draw their role models from peers involved in crime and drug taking and then seek to win the approval of such people. To genuinely counter the effect of the negative relationships people from within the local community must go outside its existing structures and services to build positive relationships that pave the way to re-integration.

Those structures and organisations that have been rejected by disaffected people are not best placed to be able to win those same people back. The project’s work in local partnerships was, therefore, often at the recruitment end of the development spectrum, seeking to ensure that disaffected people in most need were not left out. As a result, thought should be given to targeting disaffected people specifically through organisations outside of established local and central government networks who can demonstrate success in contacting, involving and re-integrating such people.

Examples of achieving social inclusion

Kieran* was part of a gang from the South Aston area of Birmingham heavily involved in car crime. He also had a problem with solvent abuse. This led to his being charged for a number of offences. He was on probation at the time that the project workers first made contact. Kieran was out of work, so had plenty of time to get involved with the project activities. It soon became apparent that he had a real talent for climbing. This developed to the stage where he was able to lead climb up to a severe standard. Kieran came on the first project expedition to the Alps even though he was on probation at the time. He gained full time employment as a carpenter and became a voluntary leader with the project helping other young people on trips away.

Mike* was fourteen when he first became involved with the project. At the time there had been a family breakdown, which resulted in him moving into foster care. His schooling was severely disrupted and he became involved in petty crime. Soon he was a regular on all project activities being especially keen on climbing and camping. On leaving school with no qualifications he went to college and studied sports. At the same time he helped as a volunteer worker for the project. His dedication and hard work eventually paid off when, in 1997, he was taken on as a full-time sports youth worker for the project. He successfully completed his SPSA training and other courses.

* Names have been changed.


Nanci Griffith - It's A Hard Life.