I hesitate to speak when you are hurting, but as Bishop of Huntingdon I want to say that I am sickened by the cards that have been distributed there attacking you. As a Christian, as many of you are, I know that we are called to be one in Christ Jesus, whatever our race or nation. As a human being alongside you I treasure the ancestry of my own Polish great-gran Annie Szamborski whose family left Poznan to escape a pogrom. The attack on you is an attack on me and an attack on all of us: but the love of God will win.
The parish register at Grantchester suggests that it is nine years since a Confirmation was held (though some members will have been confirmed at their schools). So it was a joy to preside at a packed church on Sunday, as four folk were confirmed and baby Alexander baptised alongside two of them as well.
Prowling around the church before the service I came across this old door on its south side, the sort whose old oak is now as hard as iron, and wondered how much change it had lived through – not just keeping the thieves and the elements out but welcoming in all who seek the fullness of life that Christ can bring. May that be God’s gift to those baptised and confirmed on Sunday here and everywhere.
Within living memory Walpole St Andrew was a fully functioning parish church, perhaps even putting its grand neighbour at Walpole St Peter into the shade. But the extraordinary spalling of its stonework and the challenges of maintaining two such magnificent buildings in close proximity caught up with it and it was transferred to the care of the Churches Conservation Trust to enjoy “retirement”, still consecrated and open to visitors, but not in use for regular worship.
Once a year though first the cleaners and then the choir descend on it, everyone robes up as they ever did, and Evensong is sung, spurred on by local Authorised Lay Minister and organist David Baddeley. He invited me to lead this year’s service which I was delighted to do: the first time that I have done so with a (presently dry) moat and bridge between the choir and myself on the one hand and the congregation on the other!
The set readings spoke of Paul’s shipwreck and of the Jubilee year in old Israel when debts were remitted and of our duty of generosity to the poor. Staying well short of the hourglass’s hour I commented on the stormy seas of the last week, and the need to learn from the principles behind the Israelite law: that no-one must be left without a stake in our society, and that we must use our good fortune to bless those in need. My visitors from Africa and India this week had reminded me both of how rich even the poorest of us here are in world terms, and of how the greater danger we face is not material but spiritual poverty. Yet again we must recommit ourselves the work of prayer and care that an old parish church like this has always stood for.
The Diocese of Ely is encouraging its churches “to engage fully and courageously with the needs of our communities” – and re-imagining our church buildings is named as a vital way of supporting that ambition.
The Trust would like to encourage such re-imagining and engagement by presenting ten Engage Awards to Cambridgeshire Churches each year for the next three years in recognition of good work done in that direction, by churches of any denomination, large or small.
The awards will be admittedly small – just £100, but a tangible token of our appreciation, and I aim to tour the recipient churches on our annual Ride, Drive and Stride Day (10th Sep this year) to present them in person.
P.S. The Trust is limited by its remit to supporting Cambridgeshire churches, but Ely diocese churches in other counties who would otherwise qualify are invited to contact me as I hope to find a way of acknowledging them in due course.
Think welldressings think Derbyshire. I used to visit them as a boy from Sheffield. But Hunts has its own tradition, especially at Holywell on the Great Ouse near St Ives. It’s an old Saxon ring village with a spring by the river, and each year at the Patronal Festival of St John the Baptist (a give-away of old summer celebrations as it falls at the solstice) there is a well dressing erected, and a flower festival and special service in church. I got to preach again this year which was excellent fun. We celebrated Shakespeare (theme of the festival) as well as John but took issue with Brabantio in Othello who said, “words are words; I never yet did hear / That the bruis’d heart was pierced through the ear.” A quick check showed that lots of people in the congregation had been hurt deeply by words, so we committed ourselves to being people of blessing not cursing – rather important for us as a country just now after all the words of the referendum campaign.
There is much for me to reflect on today and perhaps for you too. I have been surprised by how deeply I have felt about the issue, often (as an introvert) under the surface. There is something powerful going on here about identity and belonging that I need to work through.
As it happens I am leading a Day of Reflection today at our retreat house in Ely http://www.bishopwoodfordhouse.com/ and since it was the feast day of our patron saint Etheldreda yesterday I am using her life story to give us time to ponder on some basic and relevant questions:
- What is the story of our own life so far?
We’ll be able to draw it, or knot some cord, if that helps. Etheldreda’s life had some BIG twists and turns and some very difficult times.
- What is God saying to us now?
We’ll take advantage of a beautiful day to get outside and look and listen. God speaks in so many different ways.
- What is our vision and vocation for the future?
We’ll wonder (slightly scary thought) what we’d like those who come after us, like they came after Etheldreda, to say about us …
There are a few spaces free and if you feel the need for some reflection time the House may be able to fit you in – but ring first to check: 01353 663039. We start at 9.30 for 10.00 and finish at 4.30 and there is a charge which includes lunch of £27.
Otherwise why not use the same pattern of reflection at home for yourself, perhaps re-reading a saint’s life or a Bible story like that of Abraham first?
Meanwhile there is a huge and tender task of reconciliation to be done. Whether we are feeling jubilant that “we have got our country back”, rejected because we are an immigrant, wondering where we fit if we have grown up here but don’t share the nationalist sentiment: all of us still face the challenge to love our neighbour and especially anyone we might see in any sense as “different” or our enemy just as we love ourselves. This prayer will be said in parishes across the Church of England today:
Eternal God, light of the nations, in Christ you make all things new: guide our nation in the coming days through the inspiration of your Spirit, that understanding may put an end to discord and all bitterness. Give us grace to rebuild bonds of trust that together we may work for the dignity and flourishing of all; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
I posted earlier about Alfie and Jared our visitors from Vellore (and look at the wonderful gift they left: Jan and I will fight over the right to wear the shawl!). Then came the Revd Martin Olando Wesonga, Principal of The Bishop Hannington Institute of Theology and Development, Mombasa; and again I was learning so much and finding so much encouragement from having good Christian folk from a different context alongside me.
And then today the members of the Deaf Church in the diocese came to call, along with Billy the dog. It was very special to work together to communicate across the obvious barriers, and hear the story of their spiritual growth over the last few years, with some really exciting stories – all taking turns to sign parts of the Easter or Christmas story for instance – and hearing how members had gone to Greenbelt, Spring Harvest, New Wine and more. A great example of diversity and inclusion right under our noses.