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Friday, 27 May 2022

Sophie Hacker's The Calling window dedicated

Great to see that Sophie Hacker's 'The Calling' stained glass window at Romsey Abbey commemorating Florence Nightingale has finally been dedicated after significant delays due to lockdown.

Sophie told me the story of the window in interviews for ArtWay and Church Times. We also filmed a short interview for HeartEdge at the same time. In the HeartEdge interview Sophie explores her understandings of imaging the invisible.

Sophie Hacker specialises in Church Art, including stained glass windows, vestments and re-ordering liturgical space. Since 2006 she has been Arts and Exhibitions Consultant for Winchester Cathedral, with particular responsibility for curating. Recent commissions include collaborations with musicians and poets, and numerous ecclesiastical projects.


Wovenhand - 8 of 9.

Derek Hunt and The Prince’s Master Crafters: The Next Generation

Derek Hunt, who designed the West Window at St John's Seven Kings, is involved in the current Sky Arts series 'The Prince’s Master Crafters: The Next Generation.'

The series sees a selection of top amateur craftspeople take on a variety of crafting challenges to supercharge their skills before each of them creates a final showcase piece to present to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in person. Drawn from across the country, the six amateur craftspeople explore the history and importance of six key disciplines. They’re joined by some of the country’s leading experts who each week set them a new task within their crafts. 

The challenges and experts are as follows:
  • Episode 1: Wood Carving – Sarah Goss asks the craftspeople to create a carving inspired by William Morris and the arts and crafts movement
  • Episode 2: Stained Glass – Derek Hunt challenges the craftspeople to create a stained-glass panel to include a symbol
  • Episode 3: Weaving - Rezia Wahid sets an intricate task asking the craftspeople to use different types of weaving in as they weave material of their choice
  • Episode 4: Blacksmithing – Phil Carter challenges the craftspeople to create a fire poker with a leaf detailing
  • Episode 5: Stone Carving – Zoe Wilson sets a task to create a stone carved leaf
  • Episode 6: Pargeting – Johanna Welsh’s task for the crafters is to create a pargeted panel of leaves and acorns
  • Episode 7: Grand Final
The West window at St John's Seven Kings was installed in 2005. The theme is “Light of the World” and its design brings together references from St John’s Gospel with elements particular to St John’s. Hunt’s commissioned designs can be found in churches, theatres, schools, public libraries, shopping centres and private buildings in Britain and abroad.


Pierce Pettis - We Will Meet Again.

Monday, 23 May 2022

Artlyst: Les Lalanne, Schütte And Gursky London Spring Exhibition Highlights

My latest set of reviews for Artlyst cover exhibitions at Ben Brown Fine Arts, Frith Street Gallery, and White Cube Bermondsey for Les Lalanne, Thomas Schütte And Andreas Gursky:

"Re-enchantment, magnification and framing; are some of the approaches utilised in three shows which demonstrate the diversity and vitality of the contemporary art world.

Les Lalanne, the late French wife and husband artistic duo, are the dreamers who re-enchant. As homage to their aesthetic and as a kitsch comment on their now elevated status, for one half of this extensive survey of their work at Ben Brown Fine Art and Claridge’s ArtSpace, the work is set within the cotton-wool clouds of heaven ...

Magnification is also an essential strategy for Thomas Schütte, as demonstrated by the grandiose figures and heads in his exhibition at Frith Street Gallery ...

Framing is key to the dual operation of Gursky’s images, enabling them to function as both astute social comment and painterly compositions. Social commentary and critique are shared strands running through these otherwise very different exhibitions. We are all richer for the diversity of approaches and work to be found here."

My other pieces for Artlyst are:

Interviews -
Articles -

Mavis Staples and Levon Helm - This May Be The Last Time.

Peter S. Smith, The Dalziel Woodpeckers, and Hans Rookmaaker

Peter S. Smith is currently showing work in RE Original Prints 2022 at the Bankside Gallery and also has a print called ‘Dalziel’s Apprentice’ in an interesting exhibition in the Print Room at the British Museum.

This intriguing new display, The woodpecking factory: Victorian illustrations by the Brothers Dalziel, highlights over 50 works engraved on wood by the Brothers Dalziel firm, illustrating literary and commercial work published throughout the Victorian period. Established in 1839, the Brothers Dalziel (one of whom was a sister – Margaret – a talented senior engraver) became the most successful wood-engraving company in Britain, employing dozens of engravers.

The Brothers Dalziel had enormous cultural power in Victorian Britain, shaping the way people visualised art, goods and ideas. Mostly the engravers made images after designs by draughtspeople, including major artists such as Frederic Leighton and John Everett Millais, and it's these artists who were widely credited and remembered. However, the process was collaborative and the skill of the craftspeople (affectionately known as 'woodpeckers') who engraved such illustrations was considerable.

‘Dalziel’s Apprentice’ is Peter's homage to those Victorian trade engravers and their apprentices who had to cut away all that white in order to make their prints emulate black pen and ink drawings!

Additionally, ‘The Big Picture’ magazine has a section about Hans Rookmaaker and asked Peter to write about him focusing on one specific aspect of his work. In his article Peter has focused on Rookmaaker's use of the term ‘Modern Art’ in the book Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. For more of Peter's reflections on the work of Rookmaaker see here and here.

In his article, Peter refers to Sixten Ringbom's The Sounding Cosmos. A Study in the Spiritualism of Kandinsky and the Genesis of Abstract Painting, a work on the mystical and theosophical themes in modern art. He argues that spiritual elements in modern art have been hidden in plain sight "because many of the institutional guardians of Modernism chose to overlook it" citing Waldemar Januszczak, who argued, in a 2021 article, "that the art historians and institutions of Modernism repeatedly ignored any idea that in Modernism there can be found religious or hermetic intentions" because of "a fear that it would sully the waters."


Sarah Brown - I'm On My Way.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Renewal from the edge

Here are the remarks I made today in the Annual Parochial Church Meeting for the Wickford and Runwell Team Ministry:

As I’ve only just begun my ministry here, I thought it would be helpful to say a few words about my background and experience to highlight some of the things I’ll be looking at and sharing with you in the course of my first year with you.

The first thing to say is that I haven’t always been a priest. I worked for 18 years in the Employment Service before sensing a call to ordination and retain a strong interest in the world of work as a result. Throughout my ministry I looked to make connections for others between faith and work, something that looks to me to be important here as so many who live in Wickford are commuters working in Central London.

Initially, that fact seems to be a deficit for the church, as that’s a large group of people who aren’t around to attend church during the week and who are looking to rest and relax at the weekend meaning that going to church isn’t top of their agenda. One of the lessons I’ve learnt in my time at St Martin-in-the-Fields is that beginning with deficits is never the place to start. If we begin with the problems or issues we are facing then we end up overwhelmed by those issues and can’t see a way forward. Instead, we need to begin with assets or opportunities, as those always exist, even in the most difficult of circumstances. In fact, the Bible teaches us that God seems closest to us and is encountered most deeply in time of adversity than is the case in times of comfort. The Israelites discovered that when they went into Exile. Initially, they thought they had lost everything but Exile became the place where they learnt that God was everywhere, not just in Israel, and where they drew together and returned to their scriptures.

So, we need to look at the different groups of people who make up the community in Wickford and Runwell – including children, young people, parent, elderly people and others - assume that they are, in various ways open to encountering God, and work out how, when and where such encounters might take place. Different groups of people will be able to be engaged in different ways and at different times – in other words they won’t necessarily connect with our existing services and service patterns, maybe not initially, maybe not ever. So, in order to grow, as well as maintaining and developing our existing services and congregations, we will also need to grow new congregations by drawing on the riches of our traditions, history and heritage in the Team while representing those riches in new ways and at different times. 

As one example, Great Sacred Music at St Martin-in-the-Fields is a weekday lunchtime concert that engages with people who enjoy choral music but who don’t feel comfortable in a church service. As a result, it is a concert rather than a service but one in which the underlying spirituality of the music performed is explored and explained in ways that enable to encounter something of God despite not being in a service. This is an effective bridging event drawing on the riches of Church choral music while sharing those riches in ways that enable people who wouldn’t otherwise come to church to engage.

I’m not saying that we need to replicate Great Sacred Music here. Instead, I’m saying that we will need to find our equivalents for the community here that provide a bridge to God in the way that Great Sacred Music does in central London.

Understanding and engaging with culture is also key to enabling others to encounter God. This has been another significant interest for me, particularly with the visual arts and music, but also with the Arts as a whole. Engaging with creatives locally and further afield and encouraging the creativity inherent in each of us enables the church to engage with another segment of the local community which often feels disconnected from church and enables us to create a culture of creativity that is a reflection of God, who is the most creative being in existence.

I’ve talked already about three elements of the model of mission with which I have worked throughout by ministry. It’s called the 4Cs, with the Cs being Commerce, Culture, Compassion and Congregation. We began with work, which is based on commerce and where we need to make deep connections between faith and work in order that people see how faith is lived out in the working week, not just on Sundays. Commerce is also needed as an additional source of income for churches that can’t be fully funded by benefactors or stewardship alone. I’ve already said a lot about culture, so won’t say more about that now. Compassion is a part of the 4Cs with which the churches in Wickford and Runwell already engage through support for the Foodbank and Women’s Refuge. I wonder whether there might be compassionate projects that we could, in time, initiate; remembering that care for the environment and support for families, young people and elderly folk are all also compassionate initiatives.

Congregation is the fourth element of this mission model. Supporting, sustaining and growing existing congregations is fundamental but is not an end in and of itself. If inwardly focused, existing congregations dwindle. If outwardly focused, seeking to support and grow new congregations using the other 3Cs, that’s when congregations grow. When congregations do this, it puts church at the heart of the community whilst also being with those who are on the edge. The edge may be the edge of church or the edge of society or the creative cutting edge (which might be found in commerce or culture).

Renewal comes from the edge. Those who are currently outside our congregations are those who have the greatest potential to renew us. That is because the Holy Spirit is always at work in the world and our wider community. We often don’t recognize what God is already doing in and through others because we think God is with us and we are those who have to share God with others. It’s freeing to turn that thinking on its head and realise that our calling is often to recognize and name what God is already doing in and through others, while getting involved to support those initiatives and help others see that what they are doing is of God.

This is a brief summary of some of what I have learnt about mission and ministry from nineteen years of ordained ministry. I hope it gives some ideas and frameworks that we can explore more fully over the months ahead. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas as we seek to learn from each other and share together in being God’s people engaged in God’s mission here in Wickford and Runwell.


The heart of the Gospel - Being with

Here's the sermon I preached at St Andrew’s Wickford this morning for a joint service of the Wickford and Runwell Team Ministry

I wonder how you would respond to a friend who has just been bereaved. Your friend has lost a close family member in sudden, tragic and complicated circumstances. There is nothing you can do to fix this situation. You can't bring back the one who has died. There is nothing significant you can do for your friend and there are no words that can explain what has happened or that can take away the pain.

You can simply be there - be with - your friend in the middle of their grief pain and loss; alongside, sharing, being with. And that is what your friend needs from you. It is also the one thing you can give. Being with is also how God is with us. Being with is creation, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection. It is the Christian story and the Christian hope in one simple word, with.

Sam Wells, the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, explains it like this:

‘The Gospel of Matthew begins with the angel's promise that the Messiah will be called Emmanuel - God with us. The Gospel ends with Jesus's promise to his disciples, "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." In between we get Jesus's promise to the church, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them." … And, perhaps most significantly of all, the Gospel of John says "The Word was made flesh and dwelt with us."

… Jesus's ministry, above all else, is about being with us, in pain and glory, in sorrow and in joy, in quiet and in conflict, in death and in life.

And that same "with" is even more evident when we turn to the relationship within the Godhead itself, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is three, which means God is a perfect symmetry of with, three beings wholly present to one another, without envy, without misunderstanding, without irritation, without selfishness, without two ganging up against the third, without anger, without anxiety, without mistrust. So present to one another, so rapt in love, and cherishing, and mutuality, and devotion … that it seems they are in one another. And, to the extent that they are in one another, we call God not three, but one …

Given this perfection of being, this intersection of being with and being in, the astonishing mystery is why the Trinity's life is not simply self-contained, but becomes open to creation, to fragile existence, to life, to human beings - to you and me.’ Yet God’s longing to be with us in Jesus was such that that became the reason God created the world. God’s life is shaped never to be except to be with us in Christ, so God’s life as Trinity is shaped around being in relation with us from the very beginning of time.

We see this most profoundly on the cross where Jesus cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" That question shows us that Jesus has given everything that he is for the cause of being with us, … because for the sake of our being with the Father he has, for that moment, lost his own being with the Father. And the Father has longed so much to be with us that he has, for that moment, lost his being with the Son, which is the essence of his being. The cross shows us the astounding truth that God thinks our lives are worth the Trinity setting aside the essence of its identity in order that we might be with God and incorporated into God's life forever. When we see the cross, we see that God is with us, however, whatever, wherever ... for ever. That is our faith.

All of that is encapsulated in today’s Gospel reading (John 14:23-29). Jesus teaches his disciples while he is still with them preparing them for the moment when he will no longer be with them. He is going to leave them but, although he will be gone, he will leave his peace with them through his Spirit who will remind them of everything he said and did. In that way, through the Spirit, the Father and the Son will come to the disciples and make their home with them. It is the same for us.

That is the revelation at the heart of the whole Bible. God is with us. That was what Moses discovered at the burning bush. That was what Isaiah discovered in the Servant Songs. That was what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego discovered in the fiery furnace. That was what Mary of Nazareth discovered at the Annunciation. That was what Mary Magdalene discovered in the garden. That was what the disciples discovered on the day of Pentecost. The revelation is that through the Holy Spirit in Jesus, we are never alone; God is always with us.

In Isaiah 43 God promised that when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. We could add to that list the pandemic and recognise that it is because God is with us in all these circumstances that we are not overwhelmed or burned or consumed and that, ultimately, we pass through them. God is with us, that is our witness as Christians and it is also our ministry.

If the heart of the Gospel is that God is with us in every circumstance and into eternity, then our task is to be with others in order that they experience God with them. That is ultimately why your friend needs you to be with them in their grief and pain and loss. Not just because there are no words you can say that will fix things and make it all alright for them, but, primarily, because it is as you come alongside them and are with them in their grief, that God is with them too. Because, through the Spirit, the Father and the Son have made their home with you, God will, in you, be with your friend as you are with your friend. Being with is the revelation of the Bible, the heart of the gospel, and the mission and ministry of the Church. It is how God is with us and how we can be with others. 

It is my prayer that together in our three churches – in our Team Ministry - we will experience God with us more deeply and fully than ever before and become more able and willing to be with others as God has come to be with us.


Saturday, 21 May 2022

Windows on the world (380)

 London, 2022