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Monday, 30 April 2018

Foyer display: Justin Hedley

‘Above Gubbio I’ and ‘Above Gubbio II’ by Justin Hedley (oil and encaustic on canvas)

St Martin-in-the-Fields is home to several commissions and permanent installations by contemporary artists.

We also have an exciting programme of temporary exhibitions, as well as a group of artists and craftspeople from the St Martin’s community who show artwork and organise art projects on a temporary basis.

One of the initiatives from this group is a changing display of work by the group members. Each month a different member of the group will show an example of their work, so, if you are able, do return to see the changing display.

The two works shown here were painted following a pilgrimage to Italy, distilling life-affirming and all-enveloping experiences of place and genius loci in our otherwise constructed and complicated daily lives.

Quick visual notes were made as a reference (see example of sketchbooks in the nearby display cabinet), and the journey continues via the materials, exploring the unanticipated and tempering of the numinous. The aim is to strike a balance between the external visual – but not slavish to verisimilitude – and the internalised timeless – as a palimpsest of memories and reflection akin to prayer, and as such requiring daily nurture to provide nourishment.


Ralph Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Windows on the world (294)

Oxford, 2017


Bruce Cockburn - Stab At Matter.

HeartEdge Mailer | April 2018

HeartEdge is a growing ecumenical international network, passionate about nurturing Kingdom communities via four C’s - congregations, culture, commercial activity and compassion.

Each month in our Mailer we bring you commercial practice, cultural activity, community and congregational development. Inspiration, ideas and resource!

This month:
  • Tips for developing your church as a venue. Comedy clubs - examples and tactics, plus how to start that social enterprise. 
  • Anthony Wilson on ambition, Willie Jennings on inhabiting the abandoned spaces, Georgia May on radical hospitality.
  • Plus Liturgy on the Edge, previews from Ai Weiwei, free video resources and Liz Crumlish on renewal at the margins.
Forthcoming HeartEdge events include:

“Who is my Neighbour? The Global and Personal Challenge - Book Launch" London - 21 May 7pm, St Martin in the Fields: Revd Dr Sam Wells hosts Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu, Dr Megan Warner, Revd Richard Carter and Sam Ahmad Ziaee for an evening exploring themes in the book. Edited by Richard Carter and Sam Wells, “This richly challenging and deeply engaging book merits careful consideration at a time when fear of the 'other' threatens to overwhelm us.” The Rt Revd Adrian Newman Bishop of Stepney. “This brilliant book addresses one of the most urgent questions of our time: how to welcome the strangers who come seeking a home with us.” Timothy Radcliff. Register your free place here and buy the book for £10.

Thursday 24 May, 2pm - 4pm: St Martin-in-the-Fields, London: HeartEdge Start:Stop Workshop. Learn about Start:Stop, the popular 10-minute work-based reflections for people on their way to work, with Revd Jonathan Evens. Session include - growing a new congregation; engaging with working people; ministering in the workplace and communicating with busy people. Book here or call 020 7766 1127. HeartEdge members - free. Non-members - £10.

'At the Heart. On the Edge', a day hosted by Revd Scott M. Rennie, Minister of Queen's Cross Parish Church and Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Wed 13 June 2018, 10:00am – 3:30pm, Queen's Cross Parish Church, Albyn Place, Aberdeen AB10 IYN. Register at The day includes theology, ideas, solutions and support with a programme developed jointly by Queen's Cross Parish Church and St Martin’s. The day will explore mission and ministry in relation to: Congregation - Liturgy and worship for day-to-day communal life – gathered and local; Commerce – Starting and sustaining distinctive enterprise to generate finance for your church; Compassion – Growing participation and volunteering to address social need locally; and Culture – Using art, music and performance to reimagine the Christian narrative in your context. The day includes refreshments and lunch - we'll ask for a voluntary contribution towards the cost of lunch on the day. 

24 - 27 August: Boughton House, Leicestershire, Greenbelt: Sam Wells, Vicar of HeartEdge members St Martin in the Fields will be speaking at Greenbelt Festival this August Bank-Holiday. Carol Ann Duffy, Paula Gooder and Pussy Riot also feature. Details here.


Michael McDermott - Let A Little Light In.

Beyond: Art from the Edge

BEYOND is an opportunity for people to explore spirituality through a variety of creative approaches.

The aims of BEYOND are:
  • To help people to a deeper understanding of spirituality through the arts and other creative activities.
  • To explore non-traditional ways of being Christian.
  • To be a resource for church people who wish to further explore their relationship with God.
Using art, poetry, philosophy and theology, BEYOND curates provocative spaces in order to inspire and stimulate discussion.The installations and events create environments for questions and grappling with ideas about God without signing up to an established line of dogmatic thought.

6th May sees the launch of their ART FROM THE EDGE exhibition as part of the Brighton Artists Open House festival. The sub-title to this evening event is 'a spiritual private view', and it will be a chance to view the art along with some reflections and meditations inspired by this work and the situations of the artists involved.

ART FROM THE EDGE is an exhibition featuring work from and about the marginalised of society. St Luke's Prestonville hosts drop-ins for homeless and various recovery groups and the artworks on display will be work created by people from these groups or by artists working with them. This exhibition will be an eclectic mix of styles and formats and will give a glimpse into the world of those in our society who are often seen as being excluded or unable to contribute.

The image above is a pointillist sketch in ballpoint pen created by Richard Fletcher which will be on display with other examples of his work.


Michael Kiwanuka - Tell Me A Tale.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Peter S. Smith at Bankside Gallery & Kevis House Gallery

Peter S Smith is a Painter/Printmaker with a studio at the St Bride Foundation in London. He studied Fine Art at Birmingham Polytechnic and Art Education at Manchester. In 1992 he gained an MA (Printmaking) at Wimbledon School of Art. Examples of his work can be found in private and public collections including Tate Britain and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. His book 'The Way See It' (Piquant Press) is a visual monograph of contemporary work by a professional artist who is a Christian, which provides an illustrated introduction to the art of engraving.

Peter's work can be seen in two exhibitions. The first, Print REbels, is at Bankside Gallery until 13 May. This exhibition celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder and first President of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, Francis Seymour Haden. Prints by Haden and those who inspired him including Rembrandt and Durer are included, along with works by his contemporaries including Samuel Palmer and J.A.M. Whistler; members of the Royal Academy who were closely associated with the RE and current members of the RE responding directly to their Society's heritage. These current members have created a portfolio of new prints inspired by a past or present member.
Peter has chosen to honour Geoffrey Wales.

Wood engravings by Anne Desmet and Friends at Kevis House Gallery is a collection of new and recent works on paper by Neil Bousfield, Anne Desmet, Edwina Ellis, ​Peter Lawrence, Peter S Smith and Roy Willingham from 5 May - 23 June.

Anne Desmet says: "I am delighted to have been invited to curate this exhibition of contemporary wood engravings for Kevis House Gallery. I have chosen to focus on the works of six established artists in the belief that the opportunity to see a collection of works by each one will shed the particular light and offer the specific insights into each artist's abiding themes that one normally only gains via a solo show. I also hope the exhibition will demonstrate the shared concerns that create lively relationships between the work of all six of us.

I have known the wood engravings of each of these fine artists for years. Technically, they are all expert practitioners of the art yet, in addition, each brings something refreshingly unusual and innovative to this wonderful historic medium. From the most highly topographical and figurative to the most abstract, from editioned print to experimental engraved collage, from single-lock black-and-white print to multiple, overlaid, colour blocks, there are shared concerns and rhythms that link all our works and throw up interesting connections between them."


Duke Special - Condition.

commission4mission's creative retreat 4

The worship at commission4mission's creative retreat included poetry readings using poems by Pierre Jean Jouve, Edwin Morgan and John O'Donohue. Jean Lamb and I also shared poems we wrote during the retreat. I also brought poetry by John F. Deane, David Gascoyne, Jouve and Gabriela Mistral to read while on the retreat.

Edwin Morgan is an interesting poet, who 'had his own disagreements with organised Christianity, both in its Protestant and Catholic forms' but who, nevertheless found that 'the powerful persona of the Jesus of the gospel narratives continued to niggle him, and to fascinate by his difference.' This led him, in the year 2000, to write a trilogy of plays on the life of Jesus, entitled AD. Morgan was a concrete poet, like Ian Hamilton Findlay and Dom Sylvester Houédard (aka dsh).

I finished reading Deane's Give Dust A Tongue, in which he shares aspects of his life and work which influenced his faith and his poetry using a combination of memoirs and poems. The culminates with meditations on Christ's question to his disciples, 'Who do you say that I am?', which Deane explores through an edition of Poetry Ireland Review and a sonnet sequence entitled 'According to Lydia'.

Our retreat ended with a special Communion Service at St Peter's Chapel led by Revd Brigid Maine which had Mary Fleeson's 'Remember Me' as it's centrepiece.


Live - Heaven.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

commission4mission's creative retreat 3

I led Compline for commission4mission's creative retreat this evening and began by reading Pierre Jean Jouve's 'Evening Prayer' and ended with a poem I began composing this afternoon drawing on the liturgies we used and poems we read:

We awaken to the presence of God here
in this ordinary place, yet make our Morning Prayer
in the spirit of Anglo-Celtic Saxon saints. We seek
the thin thread of grace by which God holds all
knowing that love of victory or profit and pride,
even in our perceived holiness, will close our
ears to his call. Like guilty Pilate washing and
watching, washing and watching, we need grace
and confession. Our Evening Prayer in the sacred
dark closes the ragged wound, as soft curtains
drawn on a day when healing and hope are welded as one.


Jeff Buckley & Elizabeth Fraser - All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun.

commission4mission's creative retreat 2

Thanks to Mark Lewis, who has organised our creative retreat, we have been using liturgy from Rex Hunt in our services at St Peter’s Chapel combined with poems from Jean Lamb, Edwin Morgan and John O’Donohue. Last night we shared the drawing, paintings and photography we had worked on during the day. This morning we shared a walk together around the Bradwell Ring.


Delirious? - Show me heaven.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Engaging with religious approaches to grief and loss

Exhibitions at Glasgow International 2018 and by Art Angel engage with religious approaches to grief and loss:

'For his solo exhibition at Tramway, Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey has taken as his starting point an 18th Century wooden figurine of Job held at the Wellcome Collection in London. Leckey has enlarged the object to human scale. This single forsaken biblical figure occupies alone the vast space of Tramway.

The title ‘Nobodaddy’ is taken from the poem by William Blake, a name that for Blake is a play on the idea of God the father of no one, but also the man with no body. In Leckey’s sculpture this body is expanded and infiltrated by technology. Man’s limbs are hollowed out, the organs removed, and filled with speakers that give voice to his state. Opposite the sculpture a large video projection mirrors the figure as it is toggles through different scenarios.'

Laura Cumming writes: 'Based on a German carving, Mark Leckey’s statue is larger than life and fully as profound with its sorrowful face and putrefying sores. A poor soul lost in suffering, almost, he sits alone in his melancholy contemplation, head in hand like Rodin’s Thinker.

But what he’s thinking is voiced in the air. The statue speaks, words emitting from its wounds and also from a screen in which the motionless Job is given some kind of life through a flux of shifting light and scenario. Time passes, place changes, the days speed and slow; and still the prophet endures. He talks of his plagues, ancient and modern (the camera enters the figure, an endoscopy of hollowed tracts), bewildered by their harshness; and yet there is still hope: he dreams of swimming, and even of flying.

The lament is powerfully moving, not least because the Turner prize-winning artist sets up a tension between the virtual and the real. The screen, with all its brilliant CGI effects, is restlessly compelling, and yet one is drawn loyally back to the poor simple statue. It is a gripping standoff between old and new technologies, in which the biblical agonies of Job, thousands of years ago, are made devastatingly present and timeless.'

Taryn Simon's first major performance work An Occupation of Loss takes place in a subterranean location in Central London. 'Each night, professional mourners simultaneously broadcast their lamentations, enacting rituals of grief from around the world.'

'Their sonic mourning is performed in recitations that include northern Albanian laments, which seek to excavate “uncried words”; Venezuelan laments, which safeguard the soul’s passage to the Milky Way; Greek Epirotic laments, which bind the story of a life with its afterlife; and Yezidi laments, which map a topography of displacement and exile.'

Adrian Searle writes: 'Alone, in couples and in trios and quartets, these singers and musicians – Armenian Yazidis, Cambodian performers of Kantaomming, Ghanaian women wailing and crying, performers of Greek polyphonic panegyri – are singing for those who are not here ... Their indifference to us despite our proximity is disturbing, as one is led by sound from one group to another, from culture to culture, language to language, ritual to ritual. Sometimes I feel like I am intruding on a stranger’s grief. At other moments transfixed and bewildered, like a lost anthropologist, a rubber-necker, a ghoul. Do I think about my own losses, the dead I didn’t mourn, my insufficiency of tears, my failed gravitas?

For all the polyphonies and cultural differences, there is an overall measure to the forms and sounds of lamentation, a register of sorrow that appears to cross times and places, religions and beliefs. What they mostly have in common, apart from a display of outward mourning and loss, is a sense of paying witness, and of being alive among the dead.'


John Prine & Nanci Griffith - The Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness.

commission4mission's creative retreat

I'm currently on a creative retreat with other commission4mission artists at the Othona Community, Bradwell-on-Sea. This is a time for reflection, creativity and fellowship combined with creative time. Services are in St Peter's Chapel Bradwell-on-Sea, and meals and accommodation with the Othona Community.

Our creative times include drawing, painting, photography, reading, writing, poetry and beach-combing etc. I've been taking photographs on the beach this morning.


Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Laying down our lives

Here is the sermon that I preached this morning at St Martin-in-the-Fields (based on John 10. 11-18):

‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ Jesus repeats the phrase ‘lay down my life’ five times during his discourse about being the Good Shepherd. Clearly, that makes it of particular significance in this context and, while it has rightly been interpreted as being part of Jesus’ preparation of his disciples for his imminent death, it is a phrase with multi-layered meanings that have significance for us in terms of laying down our lives and taking them up again. For the Good Shepherd to lay down his life for the sheep has a daytime significance, a night-time significance and an end of lifetime significance.

The Greek word translated as ‘Good’ in our translations is the word ‘kalos’, which has the double meaning of attractive and skilled. This shepherd is good because he is both good-looking and effective in his role. His role was one that required a whole life commitment. Sheep, and therefore shepherds, were central to the economy in Jesus’ day. Sheep provided food, milk, meat and wool, and were essential to the Old Testament sacrificial system. Both men and women could be shepherds and among the Biblical examples are Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David and Amos.

However, caring for sheep involved a nomadic lifestyle because of the available pasture. Although sheep could survive in the arid Mediterranean environment with minimum water and could be left to fend for themselves rather than being fenced in, they had to be regularly moved on to find new pasture. This meant that shepherding was a 24-7 job where the shepherd lived, worked and travelled with the sheep.

One implication was that shepherds could not fulfil their religious duties and thus were religious outcasts. ‘So it was a radical, even appalling, idea that shepherds were the first to hear, directly from angels, about the birth of Jesus, the saviour of the world. Everything about that went against religious propriety.’[] ‘Sheep are the most frequently mentioned animals in the bible and shepherds get about 100 mentions because, in a pastoral society like ancient Israel, both were used to describe the relationship of God with his people: ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ (Psalm 23)’.[Richard A. Burridge, John]

So, the good shepherd, this attractive and skilful shepherd, ‘puts the whole of his mind and heart at the disposal of the sheep, through lambing time and shearing time, through summer days in the high mountains and through the cold winter days when food is scarce’.[Stephen Verney, Water into Wine] To do so keeps the economy functioning and enables the role to be used as a key metaphor for God, while turning those who worked as shepherd into religious outcasts. If ever there was a case of being ‘At the heart. On the edge.’, this was it!

Like the Good Shepherd, we are encouraged by scripture to lay down our lives through our daily work (whether paid or unpaid). So, Jesus encouraged us to work while it is daylight, because night is coming on, when no one can work (John 9.4). Similarly, St Paul encouraged us to work hard and cheerfully at all we do, just as though we were working for God and not merely for our employers (Colossians 3. 23). That is the daytime significance of the phrase ‘lay down your life’.

During the day, sheep could wander within the area of that day’s pasture and the flocks of different shepherds could mingle but, at the end of the day, the shepherd would call his sheep by name and lead them to a sheepfold for the night, counting them to ensure none had been lost, and would then lie across the entrance to the fold; hence Jesus’ reference earlier in this discourse to himself as the door of the sheepfold. So, the night-time significance of the phrase ‘lay down your life’ is that the Good Shepherd lay down to sleep across the entrance to the sheepfold, thereby forming a protective gate for the sheep through the physical barrier of his or her body.

Who might we be called to protect or shelter in a similar way? One example could be that of the Irish poet John F. Deane, whose faith and poetry memoir I have recently read. He chose to leave his work in order to be the sole carer for his two young daughters following the tragically early death of his first wife, Barbara. Through this decision, in addition to caring for his daughters, he found his vocation as a poet by contributing to an Arts Council programme that funded writers in schools. He is, therefore, an illustration of Christ’s words that laying down our lives for others is paradoxically the way to find life and come alive ourselves.

A second example of someone laying down their life for others brings us to the third understanding of this phrase, which is to do with its end of lifetime significance. On 24th March this year, French police officer Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame walked into a supermarket having swapped places with a hostage to secure their release. Later, responding to the sound of shots inside, his police colleagues stormed the supermarket and the terrorist shot Beltrame through the throat. Originally from a secular background, Beltrame had found faith in his thirties. The National Chaplain of the French Police force said of him: ‘He did not hide his faith, he radiated it. We can say that his act of self-offering is consistent with what he believed. He bore witness to his faith to the very end.’ As Giles Fraser stated in a recent Thought for the Day ‘Beltrame was indeed a Christian martyr, a hero of selfless commitment to other people and a witness to the courage and love that is exemplified by the cross.’

Jesus said that the Good Shepherd would lay down his earthly life to protect the sheep if they were attacked by wolves or other predators. King David is perhaps the most famous example given of this in the scriptures. In order to convince King Saul to let him fight Goliath he said, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it.’ David risked his life for the sake of the sheep and that was the basis of his rise up the political and religious hierarchy in Israel to become the shepherd King. His story suggests that the last came become first, that the least can aspire to become the greatest.

Jesus, however, reversed that journey; as God, he gave up all power and prestige to become a human being, to be with us through his incarnation, like shepherds, generally, to become a religious outcast and, ultimately, to lay down his earthly life in order to save others. In Jesus, we see that divine leadership (being a shepherd King) is not about personal aspiration and achievement but, instead, about service and sacrifice.

So, we see that laying down our lives for others, when we’re not called to make the ultimate sacrifice, involves commitment to our daily work, protection and support of others on an ongoing basis, and the turning upside down of the usual hierarchies that we find in business, politics and religion.

At St Martin’s, we have a particular opportunity to explore what that means in practice through our business. From the point that Geoffrey Brown established the Enterprise here at St Martin’s, he engaged the church with the world of work. Our Vicar Sam Wells explained in the Memorial Service for Geoffrey that his understanding of the incarnation ‘meant taking human existence seriously.’ ‘It required particularly taking seriously some things the more pious and world-wary church ignores or scorns – things like wages, work and wealth-creation. Geoffrey earned people’s respect because he didn’t see faith as an escape from life: he saw it as a deep attention to, and trust in, the details of making a living, doing good and doing well.’

We are continuing to work out what that vision means in practice through our approach to mission which integrates all we do commercially, with our congregational, cultural and compassionate activities. It is why in this year’s Annual Report we say that,through the St Martin’s Action Plan, we are seeking to become an exemplary organisation. ‘Exemplary organisations have an admirable and inspiring ethos and embody it in everything they do. They monitor their performance through good governance. They cherish their people, communicate their purpose, embrace a range of partners, and share their wisdom. They thus attract engagement, participation, commitment, support, and imitation. We seek to become widely and rightly recognised as such an exemplary organisation.’

Doing so, in the light of the incarnation and the example of Jesus as Good Shepherd, means inverting the traditional hierarchical structures of business, politics and religion in order to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard wherever they are within the organisation and providing all with the right training, resources and tools to succeed, so everyone can feel prepared and comfortable about making appropriate decisions on their own. In such organisations, ‘Me’ commands turn into ‘We’ control and the focus is on collaborative success, not on individual glory.

The Good Shepherd gave his own life so that the sheep could receive the superabundant life of God. The ordination charge for priests in the Church of England says ‘as servant and shepherd … set the Good Shepherd always before you as the pattern of your calling … to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations … the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock’. As we have seen, however, this is true for us whether we are an Archbishop or a lay person, a minister or a manager, a volunteer or an employee. As Lesslie Newbigin wrote, ‘This is the way for all humankind, and to follow this way is to learn the only true leadership’.[Lesslie Newbigin, The Light Has Come]


Gordon Jacob - Brother James' Air.

Taizé refound, 40 years on…..

Here's a guest post from Rev Hilary Oakley, Associate Priest, St Mary’s Hitchin:

I first visited Taizé in 1970. I was 16, and the Taizé community was just about to enter its heyday, when tens of thousands of young people came to witness this place of reconciliation and share in its life. I was deeply touched by the worship, in the large concrete Church of the Reconciliation, constructed in 1962. It was not so much the spirituality as the participation of people of different traditions, saying the Lord's Prayer next to me in French, Spanish, German or Dutch, and discovering that I too could use their words to praise God in the multi-lingual chants of the Taizé liturgy. My eyes were open to traditions, people and languages beyond my own, and I began to understand the importance of ecumenism, as well as my responsibilities as a European citizen.

In the second week of Easter, I visited Taizé again, after 40 years. The 1960s concrete church was still the same, but larger, with three waves of wooden extension at the west end. Beyond 60 or so adults, there were around 2,000 young people, many German, whose energy and exuberance brought Taizé alive, as it had done 40 years before. The numbers were smaller than I remembered, but the languages were more extensive, and now included Polish, Bulgarian, Swahili, Chinese, reflecting a wider Europe, greater mobility, and our engagement with a bigger world. It was challenging in a number of sometimes contradictory ways. The perspective was wider, the different traditions less important, the variety greater, the numbers smaller.

I came away wondering just how far as a Christian community we can continue to afford the luxury of division, divergence or mutual suspicion, as we struggle to afford to maintain separate buildings and church infrastructures in parallel. Taizé has nudged me to find a renewed enthusiasm for ecumenism, an energy to enable us to address and overcome those challenges that so constrained the previous generation of ecumenists, and lost us the last 40 years. As Taizé founder, Brother Roger, so simply put it: “Make the unity of the Body of Christ your passionate concern.”

Our country is also hugely divided as politicians struggle to find the Holy Grail of a Brexit that suits everybody. Yet on this biggest of all issues facing our national life, we the church have so little to say. Perhaps we just don't want to rock the boat, a stance so alien to the way of Christ. Perhaps we need to refind our commonality of faith and liturgy with our European friends and neighbours. Perhaps while the politicians argue, we should be building bridges across the Channel, a new European Christianity, an integration, a reconciliation. Perhaps we can find a vision of a future where we can speak together, and speak out, about the issues that concern us all.

I think this is a good time for us to refind Taizé and share its vision with our young people, tomorrow’s church and tomorrow’s world, those in whom we need to be investing now. If you would like to take a group pf young people to Taizé this summer, you can make contact directly with Brother Paolo at, or else drop me a note at, and I will make the contact for you.


Taizé - Stay With Me.