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Sunday, 27 September 2020

Windows on the world (297)

London, 2019


Carleen Anderson - Piece Of Clay.

Living God's Future Now - October 2020

'Living God’s Future Now’ is the HeartEdge mini online festival of theology, ideas and practice.

We’ve developed this in response to the pandemic and our changing world. The church is changing too, and - as we improvise and experiment - we can learn and support each other.

This is 'Living God’s Future Now’ - talks, workshops and discussion - hosted by HeartEdge. Created to equip, encourage and energise churches - from leaders to volunteers and enquirers - at the heart and on the edge.

The focal event in ‘Living God’s Future Now’ is a monthly conversation where Sam Wells explores what it means to improvise on God’s kingdom with a leading theologian or practitioner.

The online programme includes:
  • Regular weekly workshops: Biblical Studies (Mondays), Sermon Preparation (Tuesdays) and Community of Practitioners (Wednesdays).
  • One-off workshops on topics relevant to lockdown such as ‘Growing online communities’ and ‘Grief, Loss & Remembering’.
  • Monthly HeartEdge dialogue featuring Sam Wells in conversation with a noted theologian or practitioner.
Find earlier Living God’s Future Now sessions at

Weekly (October – December 2020)

HeartEdge is supporting the Festival of Preaching run by Canterbury Press and Church Times, on Tuesday 29 September which has a great line-up of contributors including: Mark Oakley, Anna Carter Florence, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Martyn Percy, Joanna Collicutt, Malcolm Guite, Augustine Tanner Ihm, and Rachel Mann. Sam Wells is giving the opening address and our regular HeartEdge Sermon Preparation workshop with Sam and Sally Hitchiner also features in the Festival's programme (watch the livestream at Find out more about the Festival at There is a ticket discount available to all who have joined HeartEdge. For more information on the discount offer sign in to the website and go to our Resources section of the website (first joining HeartEdge, if you've not already done so).

In the third session of 'Reimagining music in church post Covid-19', Andrew Earis (Director of Music at St Martin-in-the-Fields), Tom Daggett (Organ Outreach Fellow at St Paul’s Cathedral, and Director of Choir Church at St George in the East) and Alisa Campbell (choral scholar at St Martin-in-the-Fields) will explore church music education during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we might learn for the future. Tom Daggett is a former Organ Scholar of Lincoln College, Oxford. He has a wealth of experience in the field of education and outreach, principally from his association with the Centre for Theology and Community. He founded the Hackney Children’s Choir and has a deep vocation to help the disadvantaged, particularly through his own enthusiasm for and experience of music. This session is on Tuesday 29 September, 18:30-19:30 (BST), zoom meeting - .


Why be enterprising? Entrepreneurial impacts for churches: Thursday 1 October, 19:00 BST, zoom meeting - How can church and commerce be realigned to generate finance while creatively extending mission? This workshop is about sharing experiences of enterprise through stories and tips from practitioners. With Jaime Edwards-Acton (Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church Hollywood), Richard Frazer (Greyfriars Kirk), Catherine Jones (Grassmarket Community Project), David Neita (Entrepreneur) and Stephen Norrish (Milton Keynes Christian Foundation).

Let's Talk about Dying and Being With the Dying: Friday, 2 October 2020, 16:30 – 18:00 BST, zoom meeting - A conversation with palliative care doctor and best-selling author Dr Kathyrn Mannix campaigning for better public understanding of dying.

In What Do We Trust? Autumn Lecture Series: Monday 5 October, 19:00 (BST), SMITF facebook page. Lecturer: Rowan Williams. Register at

'Reimagining music in church post Covid-19': Tuesday 6 October, 18:30-19:30 (BST), zoom meeting - 4. Voluntary Choir focus.

‘Living God’s Future Now’ - HeartEdge monthly dialogue: Thursday 8 October, 18:00 (BST), Zoom meeting - Sam Wells in dialogue on improvising the kingdom with Barbara Brown Taylor.

Living Well with Grief: Friday 9 October, 16:30-18:00 (BST), zoom - Carla A. Grosch-Miller is a practical theologian, minister and poet. For the last three years, she has been working with a team researching, teaching and writing about congregational trauma. Their academic book is titled Tragedies and Christian Congregations: The Practical Theology of Trauma (Routledge, 2019).

Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story: Sunday 11 October, 14:00 (BST), Zoom meeting - Session 1 based on National Gallery’s ‘Sin’ exhibition.

Theology Group: Sunday 11 October, 18:00 (BST), zoom meeting - An opportunity to reflect theologically on issues of today and questions of forever with Sam Wells, who will be responding to questions from Eugene Ling, a member of the congregation of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Eugene will also chair the session and encourage your comments and questions.

In What Do We Trust? Autumn Lecture Series: Monday 12 October, 19:00 (BST), SMITF facebook page. Lecturer: Neal McGregor. Register at

In the Shadow of Your Wings: Thursday 15 October, 16:30 (BST), zoom. An interactive online event presented by Deus Ex Musica which is a musical bible study on the Psalms. This is a unique ecumenical event that combines new musical interpretations of psalms with small-group discussion. Register at

Being Interrupted: Reimagining the Church's Mission from the Outside, In – Friday 16 October, 14:00-15.30 (BST), zoom - Al Barrett and guests explore an 'alternative economy' for the Church's life and mission, which begins with transformative encounters with neighbours and strangers at the edges of our churches, our neighbourhoods, and our imaginations.

Let's Talk about Death: Practical Steps for Churches - Friday 16 October, 16:30-18:00 (BST), zoom - Li Mills, End of Life Doula UK; Revd Juliet Stephenson, Director of The Good Funeral Company, Liverpool; Lia Shimada, Death Café, St James Piccadilly; Death over Dinner Organisation, USA.

Telling Encounters: Stories of Disability, Faith, Church & God - Saturday 17 October, zoom and facebook. Explore stories and storytelling via talks, workshops, small groups - entirely online, partnering with HeartEdge and Inclusive Church. Includes (tbc): stories of ministry in restricted places; narrative theology; workshops on art, music, storytelling, godly play, public narrative - self, us, now; inclusive liturgy.

Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story - Sunday 18 October, 14:00 (BST), Zoom meeting - Session 2 based on National Gallery’s ‘Sin’ exhibition.

Death and Money: Thinking practically about Legacies in a Pandemic - Friday 23 October, 16:30-18:00 (BST), zoom - Dr Claire Routley has worked in fundraising for fifteen years Stewart Graham has a particular interest in the Spirituality of Fundraising Ruth Tormey, World Vision, has years of experience of working with legacies and churches at Christian Aid and around dioceses in UK.

Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story: Sunday 25 October, 14:00 (BST), Zoom meeting - Session 3 based on National Gallery’s ‘Sin’ exhibition.

Learning a Missional Practice: Dwelling in the Word - Wednesday 28th October, 14:00-15:30 (BST), zoom - Dwelling in the Word is a simple, but profound way of reading the bible in community, based on Lectio Divina while being subtly quite different from that ancient practice. This session will introduce the practice, enable an experience of it and offer a time to reflect together on what happened. There will then be an opportunity to take the practice away and introduce it “at home” and later, as an option returning to meet together to see what might happen next. The session will be facilitated by Nigel Rooms with Frauke Eicker from the Church Mission Society.

See to join HeartEdge and for more information.

Are we missing something? Be in touch with your ideas for development.

Want to run an online workshop or series with HeartEdge? Don't keep it too yourself. Be in touch and let's plan.


Corinne Bailey Rae - The Skies Will Break.

Renewal from the edge

St Mark's Pennington and St Thomas' Lymington are spending the next six weeks exploring HeartEdge themes including the 4 Cs. I joined them this Sunday to preach and introduce HeartEdge. Catherine Duce will preach for the final Sunday in the series. Their services can be viewed at

Here is the sermon I shared:

Are you at the heart (at the centre) or on the edge? Is your church at the heart or on the edge?

Your answer to that question will depend on what you identify as the area under consideration and where you see the centre or heart being. So, if the question was, are Pennington and Lymington at the heart of Hampshire, you might give a different answer to being asked whether the churches of Lymington and Pennington are at the heart of their local communities. The question can also be posed personally in terms of your churches; are you at the heart of your church or on the margins? Again, in order to answer that question, you have to think first, where is or what is the heart of this church?

These are important questions for all churches to be asking and the answers that we give shape the mission and ministry of each church, in ways that can be positive or negative. The HeartEdge renewal movement provides a framework for exploring these questions, but it is one which may reverse or challenge some of the assumptions you may have when you begin to ask these questions.

Our Gospel reading today (Matthew 21:23-32) is based on the same questions and, within HeartEdge, we want to be faithful to the answers it gives. As the beginning of John’s Gospel puts it, the Word became flesh and lived among us, the true light, which enlightens everyone, was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. That’s essentially what we see happening in today’s Gospel. 

The beginning of John's Gospel says that God came into the world but was rejected and not recognised. Yet, the stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone. The one who was at the centre of the Universe – the creator God – chose to be on the edge by becoming one with his creation; not as one born with power and prestige, but as one on the edge – a servant, a slave – who was then unrecognised, rejected and killed.

God chose to be on the edge, with those on the edge, and to be recognised by those on the edge. That’s what today’s Gospel reading tells us; those at the centre of religious life in Jesus’ day - the chief priests and the elders of the people – didn’t recognise him. But those on the edge of religious life (including those excluded from it) – the tax collectors and prostitutes, did recognise him. As he said of John the Baptist: ‘John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.’ The clear implication from Jesus is that exactly the same thing was happening in regard to his ministry too.

So, we ask the questions with which we began this sermon not because the centre is the place to be and the place into which everyone needs to be brought, but, instead, because God is actually with those on the edge and the renewal of the heart – the centre – will only come from those on the edge.

‘At the heart. On the edge.’ is the vision statement of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Sam Wells, our Vicar, has explained what it means for us. St Martin’s is at the heart of London and at the heart of the establishment. Theologically, St Martin’s exists to celebrate, enjoy, and embody God being with us – the heart of it all. This is not a narcissistic notion that we are the heart, but a conviction that God is the heart and we want to be with God. The word ‘heart’ refers to feeling, humanity, passion, emotion. It means the arts, the creativity and joy that move us beyond ourselves to a plane of hope, longing, and glory. It means companionship, from a meal shared in our café or a gift for a friend perhaps bought in our shop. At the heart means not standing on the sidelines telling the government what to do, but getting into the action, where honest mistakes are made but genuine good comes about, where new partners are found and social ideas take shape.

The edge, for us, refers to the edge of Trafalgar Square, looking over its splendour and commotion, pageant and protest. But theologically, as wehave been reflecting, the word ‘edge’ speaks of the conviction that God’s heart is on the edge of human society, with those who have been excluded or rejected or ignored. God is most evidently encountered among those in the margins and on the edge. St Martin’s isn’t about bringing those on the imagined ‘edge’ into the exalted ‘middle’; it’s about saying we want to be where God is, and God’s on the edge, so we want to be there too.

Being on the edge does mean facing the cost of being, at times, on the edge of the church. Some of the issues we care deeply about are not areas of consensus in the church. We aim to practise what we believe is a true gospel where we receive all the gifts God is giving us, especially the ones that the church has for so long despised or patronised. We believe that God is giving the church everything it needs for the renewal of its life in the people who find themselves to be on the edge. But the ‘edge’ also means a leading edge, perhaps a cutting edge with an outstanding music programme, a green footprint, and an eye for issues around disability. In particular it means a commercial enterprise that’s integrated into the life of the church community and, rather than simply being a source of funds, is at the forefront of the congregations interface with London’s civil economy.

The stone that the builders rejected didn’t find a place in the wall somewhere by being thoughtfully included like a last-minute addition to a family photo. The rejected stone became the cornerstone, the keystone – the stone that held up all the others, the crucial link, the vital connection. The rejected stone was Jesus, as our Gospel reading makes clear. In his crucifixion he was rejected by the builders – yet in his resurrection he became the cornerstone of forgiveness and eternal life. That’s what ministry and mission are all about – not condescendingly making welcome alienated strangers, but seeking out the rejected precisely because they are the energy and the life-force that will transform us all. Every minister, every missionary, every evangelist, every disciple should have these words over their desk, their windscreen, on their screensaver, in the photo section of their wallet, wherever they see it all the time – the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 

If you’re looking for where the future church is coming from, look at what the church and society has so blithely rejected. The life of the church is about constantly recognising the sin of how much we have rejected, and celebrating the grace that God gives us back what we once rejected to become the cornerstone of our lives. That’s what prophetic ministry means. That’s what HeartEdge is all about.


Paul Baloche - God, My Rock.

Friday, 25 September 2020

The treasure and the pearl for which Jesus seeks

Here's the reflection that I shared during today's lunchtime Eucharist for St Martin-in-the-Fields:

I wonder how it feels to be thought of as a treasure for which someone will give all that they have and are. I can respond to that wondering from my own personal experience as I was a child who invited Jesus into my heart but who, as a teenager, felt I was unworthy of his love. At that time if I had known them I would have identified with the confessions written by Lancelot Andrewes in which he admits to being the chief of sinners, an unclean worm, a dead dog, a putrid corpse saying I have sinned, I have done perversely, I have committed wickedness; Lord, I know the plague of my own heart.

Fortunately, a youth leader talked this through with me one evening and showed me Romans 5.8 - God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. I came to realise that God loved me; loved me so much that he gave up his own life for me. I was the treasure and he was the one who sold everything in order to purchase me. I was the pearl of great value and he was the merchant who sold all he had to buy me (Matthew 3.44-46, 52).

Later, I had an experience of uncontrollable laughter for what seemed like hours on end as I became aware of the weight that had been lifted from me and the love that had filled me.

Most sermons we have heard preached on these parables will have told us that our salvation is the treasure and we are those who have to give up all we have to possess it. Those sermons pitch us back into guilty and uncertainty; have I done enough by giving up enough or have I compromised and forfeited salvation? Those sermons have it all upside down and back to front.

Jesus is the one who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Jesus is the one who gives up all he has – even to the point of death - to seek and save us; the lost, the hidden. We are the treasure and the pearl for which he seeks because to him we are of great value; treasure, though we may not know it. In the Eucharistic Prayer shortly we will hear that the ever-present and ever-living God is with us, for we are precious, honoured and loved. We know this because Christ gave up all he had in order to be with us, even in death.

I wonder how it feels to be thought of as a treasure for which someone will give all that they have and are. For me, it felt as though a weight had been lifted from me, that love had filled giving a sense of joy – of uncontrollable laughter – welling up within and overflowing. I wonder how it feels for you.


Michael Kiwanuka - I'm Getting Ready.

Church Times: Christian Rohlfs review

My latest review for Church Times is of 'Christian Rohlfs' at The Red House, Aldeburgh:

'with the post-war rehabilitation of German artists, Rohlfs’s work was exhibited once again and gained new admirers, in part through the advocacy of his widow, Helene. It was her advocacy that led to this exhibition. In 1959, a friend of Helene’s, Margaret Hesse, became President of the Aldeburgh Festival, which had been founded by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, and Eric Crozier in 1948. Through her friend, Helene came to know and develop an affectionate friendship with Pears and Britten ...

those who love Expressionism would be well advised to visit this beautiful corner of Suffolk with all that it offers at Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings near by, though mostly to encounter Rohlfs’s radiant images of light-infused beauty and Christ-like compassion.'

Other of my pieces for Church Times can be found here.


Fleet Foxes - Shore.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Crossing boundaries to bring the possibility of change

Here's the reflection that I shared during today's lunchtime Eucharist for St Martin-in-the-Fields

Imagine for a moment what it would have been like to be Matthew, the tax collector (Matthew 9. 9-13). You would sit day-by-day in a hot little booth waiting for travellers to pay the toll as they passed from one province to the next, just like people used to do at the Dartford Crossing.

Just like today people didn’t enjoy paying tolls in order to continue on their journey, and it wouldn’t have been much fun for you either. On top of that, those who come to the toll booth and those in the villager or town where you live were constantly angry with you. Angry, because you were collaborating with the hated authorities and angry, because you were making extra money for yourself by collecting too much. As a result, tax collectors like you are lumped together with ‘sinners’ and ‘outcasts’ in the places where you live and work. And this went on day by day, year by year for most of your life.

Then think what it would be like to have a young prophet with a spring in his step and God’s kingdom in his heart coming past one day and simply asking you to follow him. How would that feel? Well, we are told in the story itself because when it says that Matthew responded by getting up and following Jesus, a resurrection word is used that means he arose, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. The act of getting up was for Matthew an entry into a completely new way of life. It was a coming alive all over again, a resurrection.

This is a story of resurrection. For Matthew, his work was a dead end. Jesus touched the life of Matthew in a way that transformed his existence and brought him back to life. And this story raises the same question for us this morning. Are there places in our lives where we are at a dead end?

Jesus brought the life of God into all that was dead about Matthew’s life. He was the catalyst for change. His arrival on the scene brought the opportunity for hope and faith and so we see Matthew getting up, leaving his work but not his friends, and following Jesus.

Jesus’ arrival and presence was the catalyst and opportunity for change and for the faith that life can be different, can be better than it is now. How will you respond to Jesus today? We are in the presence of Christ as we come together to worship, how will we respond? Will we ask for his help, reach out to touch his life, and get up to follow him this morning? He is here and his presence can be the catalyst for our change in our lives and communities. What change is it that we need to see?

Jesus becomes a catalyst for change because he crosses boundaries. Matthew was an outcast to his community because he was a hated collaborator with the Romans. People asked, ‘Why is Jesus eating with outcasts, with tax collectors and sinners?’, and the answer was that by crossing those boundaries he brought the opportunity for change. His work was not to protect himself from ‘outcasts’ but to bring the possibility of change into the lives of such people by crossing the barriers that kept other people out.

It was into this way of life – the crossing of boundaries in order to bring the possibility of change – that Matthew was called. Jesus called him to be a disciple. In other words, someone who sat at the teacher’s feet to hear his words and who followed the teacher everywhere to see his actions in order to learn what to say and do himself. As followers of Christ, we have the same calling; to see what Jesus does and get involved ourselves. As such we need to ask ourselves, ‘Who are the people considered as ‘outcasts’ in our workplaces, communities and nation?’ We need to know because, if we are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, those are the very people with whom we should be meeting, eating, and seeking transformation. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What are the boundaries and barriers separating people from others?’ We need to know because those are the boundaries and barriers which we need to cross in order to bring the possibility of change?

And so, the story of Matthew’s call brings us both the possibility and the challenge of change. What are the dead-ends of our lives where we need to be brought back to life? What are the boundaries that we can cross to bring the possibility of change to those who our outcasts in our day and time?

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, you were despised and rejected by human beings, so we bring before you the needs of those who are despised and overlooked in our world, including ourselves. You value all and call us to put aside our sinful tendency to scapegoat and ignore others in order that we see what is unique and especially valuable both in those who are other than us and also in ourselves. Amen.


Sunday, 20 September 2020

Living God's Future Now w/c 20 September 2020

'Living God’s Future Now’ is the HeartEdge online festival of theology, ideas and practice.

We’re developing this in response to the pandemic and our changing world. The church is changing too, and - as we improvise and experiment - we can learn and support each other.

This is 'Living God’s Future Now’ - talks, workshops and discussion - hosted by HeartEdge. Created to equip, encourage and energise churches - from leaders to volunteers and enquirers - at the heart and on the edge.

Sunday 20 Sep
  • Theology Reading Group: Sunday 20 September, 18:00 (BST), zoom meeting, register here. ‘Silence’ by Shusaku Endo - discuss and share this critically claimed book with Sam Wells, the congregation of St Martin-the-Fields and other friends.
Tuesday 22 Sep
  • Sermon Preparation Workshop, Tuesday 22 September, 16:30 (BST), livestreamed here.
  • Reimagining music in church post Covid-19': Part 3. Educational Choir focus, Tuesday 21 September, 18:30-19:30 (BST), Zoom meeting, register here.
Wednesday 23 Sep
  • Community of Practitioners workshop, Wednesday 23 September, 16:30 (BST), Zoom meeting. Email Jonathan Evens to register.
Thursday 24 Sep
  • ‘Living God’s Future Now’ - HeartEdge monthly dialogue Part 2: Thursday 24 September, 18:00 (BST), Zoom meeting - register here. Sam Wells in dialogue on improvising the kingdom with Stanley Hauerwas, Justin Coleman (UMC), and Debra Dean Murphy (West Virginia Wesleyan). Watch their Sam and Stanley in their first talk here
Friday 25 Sep
  • Shut In, Shut Out, Shut Up: Fridays in September, 16:30-18:00, zoom meeting, click here to register. In this HeartEdge series we'll share some of the experience from the Living Edge conferences, exploring issues and ideas across current practice and systemic barriers, outmoded belief and cutting edge thinking. In Week 3 Fiona MacMillan, Tim Goode and Zoe Heming explore the topic of disability and church.
Looking Back

Monday saw the kick off the Autumn Lecture series - In What Do We Trust? with a lecture from Tom Holland. Tom Holland is an award-winning historian, biographer and broadcaster. His latest book Dominion is a rich and compelling history of Christendom which won The Sunday Times History Book of the Year in 2019. Have a look here.

See to join HeartEdge and for more information.

Over the next few months we are looking at everything from growing online congregations, rethinking enterprise and community action to doing diversity, deepening spirituality and responding to social need.

Are we missing something? Be in touch about your ideas for development and change.

Please note that invitations will be sent 24hrs, 12hrs, 1hr and 10 mins before an event, mostly to minimise the chance of misuse. Thank you.


St Martin's Voices - Greater Love.