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Friday, 31 January 2020

HeartEdge Mailer - January 2020

This month the HeartEdge mailer includes:
  • Kelly Brown Douglas on befriending the outcast. St Isidore Episcopal church on food pantries, plus 'how to' set up a 'Soft Play' project.
  • Walter Brueggemann and Kenyatta Gilbert on economics and Marilyn Robinson on Trump and the battle for good and evil.
  • Sarah Cave and Rupert Loydell on poetry, Plus Barbara Glasson on inter-faith, and politics and preaching with Doug Gay.
  • Plus Lucy Winkett writes on looking back, making plans and avoiding the dead eye in the 2020s.
Click here to read the January Mailer. More about HeartEdge at


Arvo Pärt - De Profundis.

Foyer Display - Ruth Hutchinson

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 or artists linked to the group. Each month a different artist shows examples of their work, so, if you are able, do return to see the changing display.

Ruth Hutchinson came to England from Jamaica in 1959 to train as a nurse. Now in her active retirement she enjoys lots of artistic pursuits including her art and her poetry. She does lots of poetry with local groups. She is also a longstanding active member of the congregation at St Martin-in-the-Fields, one of the welcoming stewards’ team and a co-leader of The Archers. Her passion for the arts was ignited when she re-trained as a nursery nurse but really grew when she studied art after retiring in 2001.

Ruth writes: ‘The Tie Suit was inspired by “my Dave.” When he died I found it difficult to part with his ties. I added to the collection by gathering more ties from charity shops to first create my tie skirt which was a hit at parties and then create the Tie waistcoat Shirt.

Sometimes we can find it hard to part with our loved ones. By reusing we can creatively create something new out of something sad and at the same time protect our environment.’


Julie Miller - All My Tears.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Assets and abundance

This morning I preached at the Watling Valley Partnership's Annual Covenant Service held at All Saints Loughton. The Watling Valley Partnership are a Local Ecumenical Partnership of the United Reformed Church, Methodist Church, Church of England and Baptist Church, who are also HeartEdge partners.

Here is the sermon I preached:

The Royal Horticultural Society says that sowing seeds outdoors is very straight forward – just think of how many plants scatter their seeds and they grow where they land as soon as it is moist and warm. The secret to success when sowing seeds outside is to prepare a good seedbed, free of weeds and with a crumble-like soil-surface texture. Beds should be dug over in advance to allow time for the soil to settle. Cover the bed to suppress weeds then level the surface and create a crumble-like tilth picking off any remaining weeds and debris. Other problems to be addressed include pigeons and other birds which can be a pest.

Just as in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13. 1 – 23), the RHS guidance is that seeds are less likely to grow well where there are weeds, debris like rocks and stones, or where birds can eat the seeds. Seeds are likely to grow well in good, well-prepared soil. So far, so good; so far, so similar – the secrets of growing good crops were really no different in the time of Jesus from those of today. Given that as much was known then about sowing seeds as is known now, there is just one strange element to Jesus’ story and that is the fact that the sower deliberately sows seeds in the areas where seeds are less likely to grow, as well as in the prepared soil where the seeds are more likely to grow well. The sower is profligate with the seeds in a way that goes counter to the advice from the RHS which, as we have seen, is consonant with the understanding of sowing demonstrated by the parable. So why does the sower ignore good practice and deliberately sow seeds on the path, the rocky ground and among the thorn bushes? Does this strange aspect to the story tell us something significant about God?

The seed is the Word of the kingdom and the Word, John’s Gospel tells us, is Jesus himself. So, it is Jesus himself who is being scattered throughout the world as the seed being sown in this parable (perhaps in and through the Body of Christ, the Church). As the seed was sown indiscriminately, even recklessly, there was a breadth to what was going on here as the places that were known to be poor places for seed to grow were nevertheless given the opportunity for seeds to take root.

This suggests to us the indiscriminate and reckless nature of God’s love for all. It means that no part of our community or our world is off limits to Jesus or to us as the body of Christ. Within HeartEdge, the international, ecumenical movement for renewal within the broad church that has been initiated by St Martin-in-the-Fields and of which the Watling Valley Ecumenical Partnership is part, we express this in terms of churches seeking to be at the heart of their communities whilst also being with those who are on the margins or at the edge. By being at the heart and on the edge our mission and ministry will have something of the breadth with which the sower scatters the seed in this parable.

As we recommit to God in this service through the Covenant Prayer, may we commit to loving others in the way that God loves; at the heart and on the edge, with a reckless, indiscriminate love that welcomes all, including those who may not return that love and welcome.

The sower scatters the seed indiscriminately because the life of Jesus can spring up and flourish anywhere. This means that the life of Christ grows outside the church as well as within it. As a result, our task as Christians is not simply to take the love of Christ to all parts of our community and world but also to be actively looking to see where the seed of Jesus is taking root, growing and bearing independently of anything that the church has done. Another of the key concepts for HeartEdge is that God is continually sending gifts to the church of people who we don’t expect or recognise as being Jesus. The renewal of the Church has not come from those already within it, so instead it is likely to come from those who are currently outside of or on the edge of Church.

There are many people and organisations of good will in our communities with which we, as churches, are not yet engaging who nevertheless are well disposed towards the Church and will give some form of support, if the right connection can be made. Sam Wells, the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, tells a story of talking with a politician whose mother gave an annual donation to the Christmas Appeal at St Martin’s. When asked why someone who lived a long way from London would give regularly to St Martin’s, the answer came back that St Martin’s cares about what is important. The more we seek to be blessing to our wider community, the more we will find those locally who will support the church and partner with it, regardless of whether or not they are able or willing to attend.

There are also many people and organisations of good will in our communities with which we, as churches, are not yet engaging who nevertheless are acting in ways that bring Christ to others by giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison. We need to look for signs of God within our communities and then come alongside those people in solidarity and support for the ways in which they are bringing Christ to others.

The story of St Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar outside the gates of Tours has been an inspiration to us at St Martin’s. The story has inspired our congregations over the years to show compassion and care towards those in need, particularly those who are homeless or refugees. But the story has a twist, that night Christ appeared to Martin in a dream as the beggar to whom he had given half his cloak. Martin had thought he was the one sharing the love of Christ with the beggar. In reality, it was the one who was outside, on the edge, marginalised and in need, who showed the face of Christ to Martin. In the same way, we need to be alert to all those within our community who can show the face of Christ to us.

As we recommit to God in this service through the Covenant Prayer, may we commit to discerning where the Spirit is already at work within our local community in individuals and organisations becoming a blessing to the community by getting involved in the work that the Spirit has already begun and receiving a blessing as the face of Christ is shown to us in new ways.

The love of God as shown in the Gospels and in this parable is abundant, profligate, indiscriminate, and reckless. It is, as Jesus says elsewhere, pressed down, shaken together, poured out and overflowing. Jesus came to give us life in abundance, life in all its fullness, yet, within our churches we often operate with a mind-set of scarcity.

The church is getting smaller and becoming narrower. Those regularly attending worship are fewer. The church’s reputation and energy are becoming associated with initiatives that are introverted and often lack the full breadth of the gospel. In response we often focus on what our church doesn’t have, who isn’t there, and what problems it faces. In a deficit culture we begin with our hurts and our stereotypes, and find a hundred reasons why we can’t do things or certain kinds of people don’t belong. As churches we are often quick to attribute our plight to a hostile culture or an indifferent, distracted population or even a sinful generation; but much slower to recognise that our situation is significantly of our own making. In the imagery of this parable when we focus on our deficits, we are focusing on the path, the rocky ground and the thorn bushes.

By contrast, in HeartEdge, we believe that churches can do unbelievable things together by starting with one another’s assets, not our deficits. We believe churches and communities thrive when the gifts of all their members are released and they build one another’s assets. We are enough as local communities because God has given us what we need in each other. We also 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. Wisdom and faith are found in the places of exile and rejection. The rejected are to be sought out because they are the energy and the life-force that will transform us all. If you are 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. Thus is deficit turned to plenitude, threat turned to companionship, and fear turned to joy. This is the life of the kingdom. The life of the kingdom of God is found in recognising the abundance of the seed that is continually being sown. The life of the kingdom of God is found when we expect and look for the growth of that seed at the heart and on the edge, often in unanticipated ways, in surprising places and in unexpected people.

As we recommit to God in this service through the Covenant Prayer, may we commit to being a people who live out of the abundance of God, rather than our scarcity, by beginning with our assets, not our deficits; both those within our church and those without.

Let us pray: God of hope, in Jesus you made heaven visible to earth and earth visible to heaven: make your Church a community at the heart of your kingdom alongside those on the edge of society, that each day we may seek your glory, and embody your grace; through Christ our Lord. Amen


Come, let us use the grace divine.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Windows on the world (262)

London, 2019


The Traveling Wilburys - Handle With Care.

HeartEdge at Rooted in Jesus 2020

I was in Atlanta, Georgia, this week as the HeartEdge representative at the Rooted in Jesus 2020 conference organised by the Episcopal Church.

HeartEdge was there at the invitation of TryTank Experimental Lab, one of its US partners, who ran a series of workshops on innovative mission at the conference. Together with another US partner, Rev Paige Fisher of Trinity Church Boston, I led a workshop on 'Resourcing Innovative Mission' that introduced HeartEdge and key concepts such as 'being with' and 'renewal from the edge.'

Through the conference I was able to renew existing contacts in the USA and make new contacts not just in the US, but also in Canada.

Rooted in Jesus 2020 was intended to assist the Episcopal Church to take a bold new step into the next decade by talking about discipleship, leadership, evangelism, formation, preaching, and much more, in order to go out and be the Body of Christ. It was an interesting and opportune moment in which to be sharing ideas on mission with new contacts and existing partners in the US.


Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II - The Danger of Worship Without a Conscience.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Angels, aliens, and annunciations: Sarah Cave and Rupert Loydell in conversation

Here's a guest post from Rupert Loydell:

Aliens, angels & annunications: Sarah Cave and Rupert Loydell discuss their new Shearsman book, A Confusion of Marys, on the Tears in the Fence blog at
Rupert Loydell: So, A Confusion of Marys is finally out. A couple of people have asked about the process, the research, and motive for writing it. I can talk about trips to Italy and being mesmerised by a couple of Fra Angelica paintings, and then following through by looking at lots more annunciations and art and photography about angels, about deliberately [mis]reading works of art and events as annunciations, and a vague idea of something from elsewhere intruding into the human realm, but what's your perception of coming on board as it were? I honestly can't recall how we ended up doing those Joyful Mysteries pamphlets and then the Impossible Songs pamphlet.

Sarah Cave: I grew up a Christian and have been mentally dealing with what that means for the best part of three decades. My long poem in A Confusion of Marys was really my way of trying to understand Mary – a figure of grace – and to draw her for myself; beyond the annunciation, beyond liturgy. I think our conversations about the annunciation and John F Deane’s beautiful sequence of poems about Lydia in Give Dust a Tongue – the woman Jesus meets at Jacob’s well – helped frame how I wanted Mary to emerge in her own right. Also, when Pussy Riot’s ‘Punk Prayer’ was released in a softer form by the Norwegian singer Moddi, I was struck by their pleas, ‘Mary, our hands are tied in prayer / Help us if you’re there!’ and ‘O Holy Mary, be a feminist!’. I was also struck by the way that Maria Alyokhina talked about faith in interviews; faith wasn’t something that belonged to the church but to the individual. ‘Punk Prayer’ is irreligious, it’s rather an intercession begging Mary to dissolve the kyriarchy and free women from society’s oppressive expectations.

I think the two pamphlets we did were a combination of this and some very silly poems about ducks. I’m certain there was an element of irreverent one-upmanship going on there too.

RL: So, what's an autophagy then? And what's it got to do with Mary or the annunciation? Explain yourself!

SC: Autophagy literally means self-eating.

It’s a biological process of cell regeneration – clearing out old cells to encourage regrowth – and I’m interested in the idea of regenerative theology. I was a cradle Anglican and within that tradition Mary is more of a backseat figure – usually appearing in knitted form at crib services – no intercessions etc. I wanted to bring her to the forefront and to understand how, in her all pervasive way, she has shaped my life and the expectations people place on my life – gender, sexuality, politics, mysticism – and the lives of the women around me, and of course, how those expectations must have affected Mary’s own life.

I like that the title, A Confusion of Marys, evokes a sense of the process of writing and re-writing, the Marian annunciation scene as palimpsest. Was this deliberate?

RL: Very much so. I thought of it as a series of variations, accumulations and versions of the same event – including, as you say, some very silly and jokey ideas. I wanted to get away from any idea of theological certainty, I'm much more interested in doubt and myth, symbolism and tangential ideas than anything fixed or final. I like stories that get retold throughout culture, and the annunciation certainly seems to be one that has. I guess the long prose poem that opens the book is an attempt to pile up versions of the story: it could be this, or this, or like that, or what about this?

I confess I'm quite interested in being slightly irreverent, too. I'm not very good at po-faced religion in any shape or form, although I quite like some traditional liturgy. But I abhor those who use their certainty as an excuse for censorship, racism, hatred and abuse.

I enjoyed finding some of the images of angels and annunciations I did. There's a surprising amount of angel imagery, for instance, in contemporary photography, and many abstract paintings use 'Annunciation' as a title. I don't think these tie in to any version of the traditional Mary and angel story, but I was happy to make the link for myself, just as I did with other ideas such as a magician and his assistant, or boys at a fancy dress party.

From what you've said, I'm guessing that your work is actually much more personal to you, and less ideas-driven, than mine is? I'm not suggesting it's autobiography, but more concerned with ideas that are really important to you, whereas mine could be seen as a bit of an intellectual joke?

SC: Yes, they’re ideas that are important to me because I feel part of those stories. I see their patterns in my own life and the books that I read; a kind of cultural pareidolia, the culture I am simultaneously absorbing and rejecting, honouring and dishonouring. But, of course, the sequence isn’t autobiographical, no more than any other post-confessional poetry.

I think humour, play and irreverence are important when talking about theology. Human spirituality is such a beautifully absurd thing and, as you say, there’s nothing worse than po-faced believers, who sit in judgement. It’s the first step to exclusion and ‘theological certainty’ is what makes heretics and heresy is merely an historical excuse for killing people who don’t agree with you. There’s no way either of us would have survived the inquisition!

You don’t have to look much further than the bible for the sense of versioning, which you’re talking about. I love that this weird and supposedly holy text is the best sense the Council of Nicaea could make of the disparate strands of accounts, prophesy and scripture, and gloriously, it still doesn’t make much sense.

Did you have a personal sense of Mary? Where did your interest in her start?

RL: I've always been very resistant to any sense of Marian theology. Saints weren't a thing in the church I was brought up in, and Mary was simply a human being chosen by God. I think I'm mostly interested in the painting and the way people do turn Mary into something else, almost non-human: it's very strange to me. I keep coming back to that moment as the idea of worlds colliding; it's not just me being silly when I wrote about the annunciation as an alien encounter.

Having said that, a lot of the contemporary art I looked at, such as Eija-Liisa Ahtila's video installation and the book of it, is very concerned with female human experience, with exploring the story through Mary's eyes. And of course I've reversioned the story from both the male and female gaze, from lustful angels and desirous Mary, with the idea of the angel turning up via an online dating agency, to Joseph's point-of-view, feeling resentful and sidelined in both the original event and the ensuing art.

It's strange how once an idea starts – and originally my sense of the annunciation was very much to do with Renaissance art and Italy, as well as colour and ekphrasis – one can interpret almost anything through the lens of a particular story or event. At times it feels like an endless and somewhat ridiculous shaggy dog story, but it's become a real way to think about all sorts of stories and encounters in the world, a way of understanding human beings. So, I guess my 'sense of Mary' is not very specific, it's about bewildered, frightened, confused and perhaps empowered humans caught up in strange encounters and activities, sometimes aware they are within a painting, sculpture, film or story.

I can't help thinking about a text I use to teach the first years with, where Gabriel Josipovici talks about how stories die unless they are changed, reinvented, argued over and made new. He also questions the idea of ownership of stories, or even being able to 'ring-fence' them. Perhaps we are just part of a religious and artistic dialogue?

SC: Gosh, yes. The book is undoubtedly part of a wider dialogue. Even in Christianity there are so many different interpretations, the same story manifesting through art, literature and performance; from scratches of fish and crosses in caves, renaissance frescoes, Sunday school cartoons, those strange graphics in JW pamphlets and school plays. I don’t know about you, but one of the first things I was asked to do at Sunday school was to draw Jesus. I love the version of the nativity in Quran, which has Mary give birth to the prophet, while clinging to a palm tree. We’ve come an awful long way in two thousand years with this particular story, considering only half a century ago re-versions by writers such as Robert Graves, Nikos Kazantzakis et al and were met with horror and derision; it’s only forty years since The Life of Brian upset Malcolm Muggeridge and the Archbishop of York. I find Michael Palin’s visible pain at being told the film is irreligious during that debate very identifiable. For me, a sense of irreverence is its own reverie.

In ‘Autophagy’, I’ve tried to create my own Marian theology, based on tracing a matriarchal line of caregiving. By looking at the other women in the bible, such as Sarah and Hagar for example allowed me to draw lines of comparison between different aspects of female experience. Sarah had her own miraculous conception, and, like Elizabeth’s, it went beyond biological expectation. God blesses Sarah but he also causes a rupture between her and her handmaiden Hagar. Women’s relationships are footnotes in the bible and the more we think about them the less clear cut the stories are and the less suitable for the simplistic moral guidance deployed by believers.

© Sarah Cave & Rupert Loydell 2020


U2 - Magnificent.

Come and see

Here's my sermon from last Sunday for the Chinese congregations at St Martin-in-the-Fields:

Seeing is believing, they say. When Thomas was told that Jesus had risen from the dead, he famously said unless I see … I will not believe.

In today’s Gospel reading (John 1.29-42) we hear Jesus saying to those who would become his first disciples, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw … and … remained with him that day. Then they said what they saw, telling Simon Peter, Andrew’s brother, ‘We have found the Messiah.’

The two disciples initially speak to Jesus because John the Baptist has told them to look at Jesus. John does so because of what he has seen: ‘John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’’

At the beginning of his story, the writer of John’s Gospel is telling us to come and see Jesus for ourselves. That is his purpose in writing. What is it that we see when we come and see?

James Allan Francis gives us one understanding when he writes in ‘One Solitary Life’: ‘Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of His divine manhood. While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was his coat. When he was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centrepiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.

Allan Francis is saying that when we look at Jesus we see an amazing story of incredible influence deriving from one obscure life; a story so amazing that it must be of God, a life so amazing that it must be of God.

But if the story and its influence are amazing, the person that we see is equally so. St Paul describes the character of Jesus in Philippians 2: ‘Christ Jesus … / 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, / he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — / even death on a cross.’

In Christ’s actions and character we see the most exceptional love expressed in self-sacrifice. Jesus was, as Lord Hailsham once said, ‘irresistibly attractive.’ That is why Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote: ‘I believe there is no one lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic and more perfect than Jesus. I say to myself, with jealous love, that not only is there no one else like him but there never could be anyone like him.’ It is why Bernard Levin poses the question: ‘Is not the nature of Christ, in the words of the New Testament, enough to pierce to the soul anyone with a soul to be pierced? … he still looms over the world, his message still clear, his pity still infinite, his consolation still effective, his words still full of glory, wisdom and love.’ Jesus was ‘Love all lovely, Love Divine,’ as Christina Rossetti noted.

If we say what we see when we come and see Jesus, then we are likely to say with the writer of John’s Gospel: ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth … From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace … No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’

When we come and see Jesus, we also see God himself. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says: ‘God has spoken to us by a Son … He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.’

The next day one of the disciples to whom Jesus said, ‘Come and see,’ repeated those same words to a friend. We read in John 1. 43 – 52 that: ‘Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”’

Philip was giving testimony by saying what he had seen and by encouraging Nathanael to come and see for himself. That is what we are called to do ourselves, once we have seen Jesus ourselves. We don’t need to have theological training. We don’t need to be able to answer every question that others have about the meaning of life or the existence of God. We simply say, ‘Come and see Jesus,’ trusting that when people genuinely see Jesus for who he is, like us, they will fall in love with him and wish to follow him too.

By inviting others to ‘Come and see Jesus,’ we are giving our testimony that he is the most important person in our life and in the lives of all people. We are saying, ‘I could invite you to see all sorts of things and all sorts of people, but I want you to see Jesus because he is the one that is most important to me.

Testimony is what is given by a witness in a trial. A witness makes his or her statement as part of a trial in which the truth is at stake and where the question, ‘What is the truth?’ is what is being argued. The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin argued that this is what is ‘at the heart of the biblical vision of the human situation that the believer is a witness who gives his testimony in a trial.’

Where is the trial? It is all around us, it is life itself? In all situations we encounter, there is challenge to our faith and there is a need for us to testify in words and actions to our belief in Christ. Whenever people act as though human beings are entirely self-reliant, there is a challenge to our faith. Whenever people argue that suffering and disasters mean that there cannot be a good God, we are on the witness stand. Whenever people claim that scientific advances or psychological insights can explain away belief in God, we are in the courtroom. Whenever a response of love is called for, our witness is at stake.

But we are not alone in being witnesses. We are one with millions of others who have testified to the reality and presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. No courtroom on earth could cope with the number of witnesses to Christ who could be called by the defence. That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

This is what Andrew began by saying to Peter, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ Later, when Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ Peter gave the answer, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ He had come to see Jesus at the invitation of his brother. By coming to see for himself, he had realised that Jesus was the Son of God and could therefore tell others to come and see and then say what they saw.

We are part of the witness that has been built on that same rock. So let us be encouraged today by the incredible numbers of others testifying to Christ and let us be challenged to add our own testimony in words and actions to those of our brothers and sisters in Christ because every day in every situation we face, we and our faith are ‘on trial.’


Tell Out My Soul The Greatness Of The Lord.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Betty Spackman: Posthumanism Debates

My latest interview for Artlyst is with Betty Spackman discussing past work and her latest installation 'A Creature Chronicle':

'Life and learning cannot be compartmentalised. One thing affects all things. Different ways of seeing help us all to see more and to see more clearly. Faith and science communities have mainly been at odds and separate and the Christian community, in particular, has resisted seeing past belief systems they think they must adhere to and are afraid to explore new advances in science and technology. They are afraid to question and to learn from science as though God is going to be destroyed by knowledge. Yet faith is not about answers but mystery and awe – about walking in blindness. Science also walks blindly to discover and find their way. I feel we should be walking beside each other as we explore, and the faith community should be offering the questions of how any new thing discovered can be used to love – or not. And the arts? Well, I believe more than at any other time in human history, the arts can play the role of mediators, interpreters, and inquisitors – as well as comforters, and healers. The arts can allow difference without exclusion and controversy without intellectual or spiritual apartheid. I am often frustrated that I cannot be anything but an artist – and yet as an artist, I hope to be able to provide this place of hospitality and humility where the big questions of life can be examined freely and safely.'

My other Artlyst pieces are:



Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Bright Horses.

Beth McKillop - Picturing the Buddha

The British Library has an exhibition Buddhism, curated by Jana Igunma (Henry Ginsburg Curator of Thai, Lao and Cambodian) and San San May (Curator of Burmese) which runs until the 23rd of February, 2020. It is a truly wonderful exhibition with a range of striking items, from illuminated manuscripts and palm leaf manuscripts to sutra incised in silver and gold, covering the whole development of Buddhism across Asia and the three main traditions of Buddhism, alongside items related to Buddhist practices, contemporary productions and evocative soundscapes.

Beth McKillop, senior research fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum and President of the Oriental Ceramic Society, gave an illustrated talk on 'Picturing the Buddha' at St Martin-in-the-Fields last Thursday, which was a marvellous introduction to the British Library's Buddhism exhibition. The talk discussed depictions of the Buddha included in the exhibition and, more generally, within Chinese Art.


Leonard Cohen - Listen To The Hummingbird

Windows on the world (261)

London, 2019


Brandon Flowers - Dreams Come True. 

Hidden Gems - Bill Fay & Malcolm Morley

2020 has been labelled a Biblical year for TV with 'The New Pope' following 'The First Temptation of Christ' while 'The Two Popes' is still on cinema screens. Fascinating as these are for those who explore the interface between faith and culture, the most interesting work is often that which is or has been more hidden.

'Bill Fay Was a Hidden Gem. One Musician Made Finding Him a Mission.' is New York Times headline for an article exploring the background to Fay's latest album 'Countless Branches.'

Bill Fay made two albums at the beginning of the 1970s before losing his contract and disappearing from the scene. The strength of these albums, particularly the second 'Time of the Last Persecution,' led several musicians and producers to find Fay and assist in releasing more of his music.

Fay’s first two albums since his rediscovery, “Life Is People” in 2012 and “Who Is the Sender?” in 2015, were both profitable and effective follow-ups to the records he’d made 40 years earlier resulting in the recording of the most recent 'Countless Branches.'

Grayson Haver Currin notes that Fay's: 'self-titled 1970 debut featured idealistic odes to friendship, nature and peace swaddled in swooping strings and cascading horns. But only a year later, he’d turned to thorny rock for “Time of the Last Persecution.” Fueled by the horrors of the Vietnam War and the violence of the Jim Crow South, Fay railed against social corruption for 14 fractured songs, framing life as a revolving door of chances to get right with God.'

With the more recent albums Fay is: 'still writing about his distrust of governments and his belief in the goodness of people. Henry smartly dressed those songs in chamber-pop elegance. Tweedy lent his voice to a jangling tune called “This World,” while Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce added subtle harmonies to “Bring It On Lord,” a paean to valuing the days you have left. Fay’s voice wavered and rasped with age, the seams worn like proud wrinkles of wisdom.'

A Bill Fay song is often a 'deceptively simple thing, which carries more emotional weight than its concision and brevity might imply.' They are musical haikus on 'his recurring themes: nature, the family of man, the cycle of life and the ineffable vastness of it all.' The most recent releases being 'as pointed and as poignant as anything he’s ever recorded, as if songs waiting for their time have finally found their rightful place within our current zeitgeist.'

Nigel Cross explains that Malcolm Morley’s 'first musical steps into the public eye came as the leader and chief songwriter of Help Yourself, and it was with them that Morley made his mark, recording four albums for UA (and a posthumously released fifth one) between 1971 and 1973': 'Ignored by record buyers at the time, there are now many who believe these albums rank as some of the most musically enduring and unique releases of their era. Post-Help Yourself, Morley played with a diverse array of musicians including Bees Make Honey, Wreckless Eric, Kirsty MacColl, and Man, long-lived Welsh rockers whom he has recently re-joined.'

'The songs on his new CD started to flow after a bout of illness over the winter of 2017/18.' 'Sound-wise with the sizzling organ and his newly-acquired Telecaster on some of the songs they suggest vintage Band or even the Dylan of Highway 61 Revisited and Tempest.'

Richard Gould writes that:

'Malcolm’s voice now bears a rich smoky timbre and the imagery in his lyrics carries a certain world weariness of the experiences of life.

As for the tracks themselves, proceedings open up with ‘To Evangeline’ – a mid paced effort with the aforementioned organ nicely to the fore. The couplet regarding the woman and the babe on the bridge is nothing short of brilliant by my book. It almost has the feel of being from the lineage of ‘Paper Leaves’ – one of the early Morley classics that still sounds so good today. Next up is ‘Forgotten Land’, and this has a feel about it not a million miles from Tony Joe White – we tend not to have too many swamps in the UK, maybe we could settle for some fertile moist woodlands with a moody groove.

‘A Walk On The Water’ carries some great biblical imagery in its lyrics. ‘What Hurts’ has a JJ Cale swing and growl to it. The only cover here is ‘Two Brothers’ and is an American Civil War tale – anybody else remember the early 60s TV series ‘The Americans’ – the Clanfield family where Jeff joined the Confederates and his brother Ben the Unionists ? You’ll be impressed by Malcolm’s acoustic picking. ‘Broken’, as with ‘All Washed Up’, the mood belies what the title may lead you to suppose. Not for the first time, you will find the lyrics intriguing in their imagery. Some lovely organ breaks courtesy of Daisy Rollins.

‘Must Be The Devil In Me’ – sounds as though it could be an old Blues Standard. The title track, ‘Infinity Lake’ comes across as perhaps the most perfect piece among those on offer here – the understated music allows the lyrics to bite and hit. ‘All Washed Up’, although hardly a joyous sentiment, the track kicks along with another set of quality lyrics. Matters conclude with ‘Rambling Boy’ and its tone is perhaps the closest to that which Malcolm put to such good effect on the previously cited ‘Summerlands’. There is a magical air to its rural purity and imagery.'

Bill Fay - Countless Branches.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Review - Barbara Hepworth: Divided Circle

My latest review for Church Times is of Barbara Hepworth: Divided Circle at The Heong Gallery:

'The works in this exhibition demon­strate Hepworth’s intuitive and spiritual understandings of form and energy. Form is inherent in the material and needs to be discerned by the artist to be realised. This con­cept of truth to materials is a spir­itual search for the inscape (the term coined by Gerard Manley Hopkins) or essence of objects and artefacts as originally created by God. Energy is found in ideas, the imaginative concept that gives life and vitality to the material; and this vitality is its spiritual inner life, force and energy.'

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


Bill Fay - In Human Hands.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

HeartEdge events & activities 2020

In 2020 HeartEdge will be creating new resources for members based on the 4Cs (compassion, culture, commerce, congregation), introducing HeartEdge hub churches to provide more regionally based support, holding Introductory Days in Norwich, Liverpool, Penzance, Christchurch and other locations, organising consultancy days as requested by members, holding 4Cs events (such as the Deepening Spirituality day in London on 1 February), organising our 3rd national conference (21 and 22 September, London), beginning a new community of practitioners, and further developing our partnerships and networks in Europe and the US.

Some upcoming events include:

Rooted in Jesus workshop - Resourcing Innovative Mission

Rooted in Jesus involves four days together, talking about discipleship, leadership, evangelism, formation, preaching, and much more—so we can go out and be the Body of Christ. HeartEdge will be there together with our partner TryTank Experimental Lab:

Workshop 3: Thursday, January 23, 2020; 2:00PM - 3:20PM, Resourcing Innovative Mission, Rev. Jonathan Evens, Associate Vicar HeartEdge, St.-Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. HeartEdge is an international, ecumenical movement for renewal of the Church, initiated by St Martin-in-the-Fields. This workshop will use key HeartEdge concepts to enable reflection on innovative mission and ways in which such mission can be resourced. The workshop will provide opportunities to share ideas, identify key challenges and assets for future initiatives. and assets for future initiatives.

Deepening Spirituality, Saturday 1 February, London Centre for Spiritual Direction, St Edmund's Church, 59 Lombard Street, London EC3V 9EA

Many of us want to go deeper with our Spirituality, but often lack ideas of how to do that. This is a day to explore and experience a number of different approaches to deepening the spirituality of individuals and congregations including accompanied prayer, art, lay communities, spiritual direction and more. There will also be an opportunity for personal refreshment.

Canon Dr Nigel Rooms, Partnership for Missional Church UK, CMS; Richard Carter, Associate Vicar for Mission, St Martin-in-the-Fields; Julie Dunstan, Director for Formation and Professional Development, LCSD; Antonia Lynn, Community Warden and Referrals Coordinator, LCSD.

Register at For further information, please contact

The day is being run in partnership between members of HeartEdge and the team from the London Centre for Spiritual Direction.

East of England | HeartEdge Day
12 February 2020, 10:00 – 3:30pm, 'At the Heart - on the Edge' at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich.

A mix of theology, ideas and support for re-imagining Church. Developed by the Diocese of Norwich, St Peter Mancroft and St Martin’s the day explores, with input and examples from local churches, the HeartEdge 4Cs. The day includes input from Sam Wells plus local practitioners all experts by experience - sharing their insights about assets and obstacles.

The day is about exploring practice related to the HeartEdge 4C's. About what works - and why, and the learning from when things don't work out.

Details and book in here.

Liverpool | HeartEdge Day
1st April 2020 from 10am - 3.30pm, Liverpool Parish Church (Our Lady and Saint Nicholas), 5 Old Churchyard, Liverpool, L2 8GW

The Liverpool HeartEdge day includes input from Sam Wells plus local practitioners all experts by experience - sharing their insights about assets and obstacles.

The day is about exploring practice related to the HeartEdge 4C's. About what works - and why, and the learning from when things don't work out.

The day is organised and programmed locally, by practitioners who know about issues, challenges and opportunities in Liverpool. All participants focus on learning and sharing ideas and experience that are transferable. It makes the day useful!

To learn more and book your place visit here.

Members of the HeartEdge team will also be out-and-about giving presentations and/or preaching at HeartEdge partners:

Over The Rhine - May God Love You (Like You've Never Been Loved).

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Windows on the world (260)

Johannesburg, 2019


Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

CTiW AGM: Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking

Hear Kevin Hyland OBE, former UK Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner speak on Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking at the AGM of Churches Together in Westminster.

This event will be held on 20 January 2020 at 6pm for 6.30pm at Hinde Street Methodist Church, Hinde Street, London W1U 3QJ.

Major Heather Grinsted, Deputy Director for The Salvation Army's Modern Slavery Unit and Abigail Lennox Local Programme Coordinator - Modern Slavery Post-NRM Survivors Support Service will also contribute.

Other related information will also be available including The Clewer Initiative.

The Salvation Army provides a specialist support for all adult victims of modern slavery in England & Wales. Their confidential referral helpline 0300 303 8151 is available 24/7.


Michael Kiwanaku - You Ain't The Problem.

Chinese Art Talk 5: 'Picturing the Buddha'

'Picturing the Buddha' is the fifth lecture in an occasional series at St Martin-in-the-Fields focusing on aspects of Chinese Art will discuss depictions of the Buddha in Chinese Art.

The talk will include discussion of depictions of the Buddha in the British Library, where an exhibition ‘Buddhism’ is running until 23 February 2020.

Beth McKillop is a senior research fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She has specialised in Chinese and Korean collections, and has published on the history of publishing in East Asia. Beth teaches book history at the Rare Book School, University of Virginia, and at SOAS, University of London.

Thursday 16 January, 6.30pm, St Martin's Hall. Free tickets from


Bill Fay - Salt Of The Earth.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Epiphany Carols: The end of all our exploring


Journeys feature heavily in the Christmas story. There are the physical, geographical journeys of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register in the census, the rather shorter journey of the Shepherds from the hills surrounding Bethlehem to the manger itself, the lengthy journey of the Magi following the star via Herod’s palace to the home of Jesus, and the journey of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Egypt following the Magi’s visit.

Then there are the emotional and life journeys that the characters in the story make. For Mary the journey of pregnancy and birth following her submission to God’s will at the Annunciation; the journey of carrying God himself in her womb for nine months while enduring the disapproval of her community. For Joseph, there is the journey from what was considered right in the community of his day – a quiet divorce – to the realisation that to do God’s will meant standing by Mary despite the local disgrace and scandal.

Tonight our focus is on the journey made by the Magi (Matthew 2. 1-12). What can we learn from their journeys that will help us in our own life journeys? The Magi searched for a sign, then searched for the one to whom the sign pointed, and then gave gifts when they found the one for whom they were looking for. They were seeking answers, by the best means they knew how, to the big questions in life: Who are we? Where are we? What's wrong? What's the remedy? We think of them as being wise for doing this. When we think about their story in these terms, it can give us a framework or a pattern for thinking about our own lives; perhaps then we will also find or know wisdom!

The sign which the Magi found through their searching was the star in the east which they understood to be a sign that the king of the Jews had been born. This sign uprooted them from where they were. If they were to see and to worship the baby King then they had to leave where they were and travel not knowing for sure where their journey would take them. They, no doubt, had a lengthy and uncomfortable journey not knowing exactly where they were going and nearly being seduced by Herod into contributing to the death of the child they sought. Their journey was probably inconvenient and uncomfortable for them but was the only way for them to find what they were seeking.

It is similar for us as we consciously ask ourselves the big questions in life and seek answers; doing so is uncomfortable and often means making changes to the way that we are currently living which are inconvenient and disruptive, yet necessary, if we are to find any sort of answers at all. T.S. Eliot wrote, in his poem called ‘Little Gidding,’ “We shall not cease from exploration,” and that is right because if we stop searching and questioning, then we get stuck and stagnate. Growth involves constant change and if we apply this principle to our thought life, our emotional life and our spiritual life then, as Eliot wrote, we must not cease from exploration. This is also true because, with God, there is always more for us to know and understand. Knowing God is like diving into the ocean and always being able to dive down deeper. If we are to know God better, deeper, more fully, we must not cease from exploration.


The Magi searched the stars looking for signs of divine communication; messages from the gods that could guide individuals and nations in the present. The first sign they might have seen was in the year 7 BC. Three times that year the planets Jupiter and Saturn passed close to each other in the constellation of Pisces. To ancient star-gazers this was significant. Jupiter was the king of the planets, Saturn stood for the Messiah, and Pisces was the constellation of the Jews. The Magi could have seen this as a sign that the Messiah, the King of the Jews, was coming. Two years later, in 5 BC, Chinese records tell of a bright comet that was visible in the sky for seventy days. That may have been the Christmas star that led the Magi to set out on their quest.

The comet may have prompted the beginning their search but their destination would initially have seemed obvious to them; Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews. They arrived in Jerusalem asking ‘Where is the baby who was born to be the king of the Jews?’ The answer they were given came from scripture, Micah 5.2: ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, are one of the smallest towns in Judah. But from you will come one who will rule Israel for me. He comes from very old times, from days long ago.’ The Magi then set out on the last few miles to Bethlehem. We are then told that the star ‘stopped over the place where the child was.’ In ancient writings, words like ‘stood over’ usually refer to comets, so this may have meant that by the time they got to Bethlehem the comet’s tail was vertical in the night sky. This could have been the final confirmation that they had found the right place and a few simple enquiries in the village would have led them to Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

Their journey brought them to the birth of Jesus; the birth of the new thing that God was doing in the life of our world and the new thing that he was doing in their lives too. Epiphany means a revealing of the presence of God and that is what the Magi experienced when they found their way to the place where Jesus was. It was because they were looking for signs of God’s presence in their world that they followed those signs until they found the new thing that God was doing in the world through Jesus’ birth. Similarly, God is continually doing new things in our world and we are called, as Christians, to look out for these epiphanies; these revealings of the presence of God.

The Magi’s journey found its immediate conclusion when they knelt before the Christ-child and worshiped him. They had no independent verification that this child was the King that they were seeking; they simply had to trust that this was so because they had arrived at the place to which the star had led them. Once again, ‘Little Gidding’ describes this well: “If you came this way, / Taking any route, starting from anywhere, / At any time or at any season, / It would always be the same: you would have to put off /Sense and notion. You are not here to verify, / Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity / Or carry report. You are here to kneel …”

The answer to our questions is a person, not a fact or a proposition. Facts and propositions are either one thing or another and can be known as such, but a person always has hidden depths which can only be known through relationship. Then the person who is the answer to our questions turns out to be God himself and, because God is infinite, God cannot be fully known or understood by human beings. There are always greater depths into which we dive.

So, there are ultimately only three responses we can make to the wonder and majesty of God. The first is to keep exploring, the second is to express our sense of awe and wonder by kneeling in worship, and the third is to give gifts. The Magi gave gold, frankincense and myrrh; each being costly gifts expressing aspects of Christ’s nature and purpose. Christina Rossetti expressed the significance of the Magi’s gift-giving beautifully in her carol, ‘In the bleak midwinter’: “Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” She understood that the costliest gift we can give is our life and that our life is given to Jesus when we express through our lives something of who Jesus is.


Kneeling in worship was the end of the journey that the Magi took when following the star but it was also the beginning of the new journey that they were then to make; the journey home. Eliot used the phase, ‘In my end is my beginning,’ at the end of his poem called ‘East Coker’ and, in ‘Little Gidding,’ he wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”

The Magi journeyed home but their home was no longer what it once was because they had been changed by their journey. Eliot’s poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’ ends with these lines: “We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, / But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, / With an alien people clutching their gods. / I should be glad of another death.” The Magi were no longer at ease with their old way of life because they had been changed through their searching and journeying. Now they saw life differently because of what they had seen and heard; the answers they gave to life’s big questions were no longer the same as before – their worldview had changed and so their home was no longer an end in itself. For the Magi to see the new thing that God was doing they had had to leave where they were and travel not knowing where their journey would take them. Beginning their journey was important but it didn’t tell them how to find their way and when they did finally arrive, their arrival actually meant the beginning of a new journey.

All of which suggests that how we travel may be as important as why or where we travel. In Matthew 6.34 we read of Jesus saying: ‘Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.’ When we are preoccupied with what might happen in the future or what has happened in the past, we are not living fully in the present and may well misunderstand or misinterpret what is actually happening in the here and now. Jesus encourages us to live fully in the present because, that is where we encounter God and find epiphanies.

The poet and sociologist Minnie Louise Haskins echoed this in her poem called ‘God Knows’: The stretch of years / Which wind ahead, so dim / To our imperfect vision, / Are clear to God. Our fears / Are premature; In Him, / All time hath full provision.’ The poem begins: ‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: / “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” / And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. / That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

The answer to our questions is a person, not a fact or a proposition, and the person who is the answer to our questions is God himself. God becomes past, present and future to us. God becomes all in all and is in us and with us in all our exploration and journeying. God is with us through the Spirit which is in us and in our world. God is also with us in understanding our explorations and experiences because, by being born as a baby in Bethlehem, in Jesus, God experiences and understands our life journeys. It is for these reasons that the one who stands at the gate of the year says we can go out into the darkness, living fully in the present and tread safely into the unknown by putting our hand into the hand of God.


Herbert Howells - Here Is The Little Door.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Windows on the world (259)

Merville, 2019


The Civil Wars - Tip Of My Tongue.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Foyer Display - Asanka Lekamalage

The changing monthly display by the St Martin-in-the-Fields artists' and craftspeople's group in the Foyer of the Crypt for January is by Asanka Lekamalage. Each month a different member of the group or artists linked to it will show examples of their work, so do look regularly to see the changing display.

Asanka is a member of the congregation of St Martin-in-the-Fields. He has been interested in art since childhood but didn’t have a chance to pursue it further until the last few years. He enjoys experimenting with colour, techniques and media. Currently, he particularly likes working in soft pastels and subjects from nature.


The Innocence Mission - On Your Side.