Life Stories in Black and White

I am grateful to Charnelle for this powerful, personal guest blog piece, following Georgina’s earlier in the week. We must listen and learn from these experiences – and above all, we must act.

Learning to find my voice. My reflections on George Floyd’s death

Yet again another black man has been senselessly killed. But this one hit me differently, I think it hit my community differently this time too. Year after year, decade after decade and century after century we have been experiencing racial injustice. I think about my dad, an upstanding man with integrity, getting stopped by the police because he was wrongly identified because he was a black man with short hair and glasses. My mum who tells me stories of the racism she endured at school from her teachers. How half of her lesson was spent taunting her because of her hair. Her teacher calling her crude names because of the colour of her skin and was not true of who she is and her character.

My own stories of being told ‘you look like poo’ at school. Not sharing my opinion or voice in the public spaces for fear of being labelled an ‘angry black woman’. Knowing that I have to work three times as hard as my white counterparts just to get the same recognition. Finding it hard to bring my whole self to work, because in society and the media I have been told that the entirety of my identity isn’t welcomed. Family members having to deal with overt racism in university today. People I call brothers being stopped continuously by the police.

I do not share this for pity but for an awakening. As Christian people, we have been given a blueprint to radical and counter-cultural living. We are told that to love God is to love our neighbour as ourselves. We are told in Micah, what the Lord requires of us, that is to ‘do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.’ In Isaiah 1 v 17 God says, ‘learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.’ We are not perfect, and God knew this and sent his son to die for all of our sins so that we could walk in power, with no condemnation and do right.

To the black girls and boys, women and men that might read this.  I want to tell you that your voice is valuable and can, and should be heard. I want to tell you that the bible is not silence on racial injustice. As Isaiah 61v1 – 4 & 8 – 9 says:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the broken hearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favour has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins,
repairing cities destroyed long ago.
They will revive them,
though they have been deserted for many generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice.
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be recognized
and honoured among the nations.
Everyone will realize that they are a people
the Lord has blessed.”

 

I’m finding my voice too, let’s find our voice together.

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Life Stories in Black and White

I am grateful to Georgina who, over the past week, has written this heartfelt guest post for my blog.

Who am I to write this piece, when I am sure that hundreds of thousands of words have been eloquently and emotionally written since the very public murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day/Bank Holiday Monday propelled the systemic injustices that permeate the life of black people into the public consciousness and forced the powers that be to take notice.  Who I am is a first generation Black Briton, whose parents arrived on the shores of their Mother Country sixty years ago expecting maybe not quite streets paved with gold, but at least not what would become known eight years later as rivers of blood.

Who I am is a black woman who withstands the drip, drip effect of death by a thousand cuts of daily micro-aggressions, who frequently avoids playing into the narrative of the few tropes available for a black woman (loud, late, licentious and of course angry!)  Yet, who I am is also someone who has learned to navigate the hate, maintain hope and to paraphrase Maya Angelou, still rise.

Until the age of four, my parents and my sisters and I lived – like many black people at the time – in one rented room in a house of rented rooms.  We shared a bathroom and toilet down the landing and punched the light switch to turn on the dim overhead bulb timed for a period not quite long enough to reach wherever you were trying to get to.  When we moved to the place we would spend our formative years, we were the only black family on the street, but also one of only three families that owned a car.  The nearest school was five minutes away but when my sister and I tried to enrol, we were told there was no space.  Funnily enough, when our white neighbour also approached, space was found.  So each day we trod on little legs the half an hour to the school that did allow us in, the school where you could count the number of black children on one, maybe two hands.

I was acutely aware of my differences to my white school friends.  Not least because when the dinner lady called me the ‘N’ word and I told the teacher on playground duty, she looked me up and down and said well you are aren’t you. Even at five, I knew that was wrong. And not only because of the inane and insulting questions fielded with a smile, but consumed with rising bile – is your uncle called Sambo? Is there something living in your hair? Why do you eat green bananas and what is yam?  Epithets were unimaginative but cruel – ‘rubber lips’, ‘blackie’ and the like, and ‘is that your brother, you lot all look alike’.  But mainly because what was obvious all around me, in TV programmes, on advertising hoardings, in books, comics and magazines, was nobody who looked like me did anything good.

They say what does not kill you makes you stronger, but I am not sure.  I think that often you just learn to internalise the pain.  I chose to become a chameleon, fitting into whatever situation I found myself and for a long while carrying a self-appointed mantle of being an exemplary representative of all black people to all white people.  But that role was suffocating, because I needed to be all of me, not just the bits that were palatable to whoever I was with.  I could not breathe for fear of not being accepted, for the fear of being pre-judged, for the fear of being too black for white people’s comfort, too … [loud, late, licentious, angry].

Fortunately, my parents gave us roots and wings and exposed us to a variety of activities that would cast my sight-line to horizons far beyond what would be expected for a girl like me.  It was an education that knitted together our rich history with our then present reality and one which fostered a sense in me that in my future anything was possible, despite the stranglehold black people often faced: we saw Tommy Steele in Hans Christian Andersen at the London Palladium and countless other theatre productions, we listened to Reggae Time on Radio London on Sunday afternoons after singing Canticles in our Methodist Church on Sunday morning, we got lost and found in Hampton Court Maze, we loaded up the car and visited coastal resorts near and far, we climbed Box Hill and celebrated Jamaican Independence Day at St Martin’s-in-the-Field, then tentatively held out our hands to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.  We learned about Marcus Garvey and read Macbeth, we read Black Beauty and learned about Nanny of the Maroons. I grew to love Beethoven and Bob Marley, we watched Benny Hill and Benny in Crossroads Motel, I could sing by heart two verses of God Save The Queen and quote Martin Luther King Jr.  I had a sleeve full of badges from Girl Guides and learned Morris Dancing, Maypole Dancing and Maori Dancing too thanks to my supply teacher from New Zealand.  I loved Ackee and Saltfish, the national dish of Jamaica, and every Friday we had Fish & Chips from the local chippie.  We were hybrids, but always implicitly aware that to be good was not good enough.  There was never enough knowledge, or wealth that could cover the colour of our skin.

And the decades passed, punctuated by atrocities and enquiries but never permanent change.  From the New Cross Fire to the Brixton Riots to the asphyxiation in custody of Joy Gardner and the murder of Stephen Lawrence, it seemed lip-service was paid to justice when the victims were black and the perpetrators were not.  Trevor McDonald read the news, but the measure of the Britishness of immigrants was in which cricket team they supported and the question ‘but where are you from?’ did not refer to which part of the Capital you hailed from, because blackness and Britishness could not be equated.  And me and my peers saw our lives mirrored in that of our American cousins – Rodney King, LA riots: we did not have to go back to Emmet Till or Medgar Evers, but viscerally recognised the lack of value placed on black lives, everywhere.
So for a few hours, I am sad to say, George Floyd’s name was just exasperatingly added to the long list of black men and women whose lives had been snuffed out either at the hands of those appointed (and self-appointed) to uphold justice and peace or eradicated by a system that was set up to fail them.  At a moment in time when COVID-19 ravaged the lungs of hundreds of thousands and took away the very breath of its victims, at a time when it was acknowledged that this novel virus, as if though a cliché, disproportionately affected black people, a black man lay prostrate on the ground under the knee of a white man, who saw fit to take his breath away. Permanently.  As if a cliché.  As if the hundreds of years of black bodies being publicly abused and cast aside like mere chattels, of black bodies worth solely their weight in labour, being afforded only the status of sideshow, sexual object or slave was not enough – we were all, the privileged and the dispossessed, witness to what black people have systematically endured for so long.

White privilege suffocates black lives.   But privilege is myopic, so there are those who refuse to believe that they benefit in any way from their colour, or that others face a disbenefit because of theirs.  There are those who refuse to see that when we tacitly acknowledge but do nothing to change a situation, we become complicit in perpetuating that situation. And suddenly George Floyd’s name became synonymous with struggle and resistance, and the ironic need to fight for justice, because George Floyd’s compliance did not serve to save his life.  Frederick Douglas, the renowned abolitionist, social reformer and former slave, said “Power concedes nothing without a demand”, and the demand now is for all to see and act, because Black lives matter.

But you’re a Christian, I hear people cry, so surely you believe all lives matter? Of course all lives matter, but denying the lived experience of a people and dismissing their pain does not speak to all lives mattering equally.  Black lives have not mattered, they have been undervalued: under-represented in the powerful and over-represented in the persecuted.  It is not an either or, it is saying black lives matter too.

What I do believe is that Jesus Christ was a disturber, counter-cultural and not one to uphold the status quo.  His righteous anger was frequently aimed at those who wielded power unfairly, and he often stood up and stood in for those who were voiceless, disenfranchised and othered.  The gift that Jesus left us after His Ascension was the Spirit, ruach, pneuma, breath.  So surely until we can all breathe equally, there is no equity, there is no justice, and that should not be seen as the cross black people have to bear.  Our faith is not to be used as a promissory note to be cashed in heaven and not before.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann, in The Prophetic Imagination wrote “Hope, on one hand, is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts. Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion… On the other hand, hope is subversive…daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question.”.

I remain embarrassingly and subversively hopeful. Why? Because after the fury and the grief have subsided, the world will have shifted a little, and the trajectory must be shalom – a universal flourishing, a return to wholeness, inclusiveness and restoration – when the image of God is identified, protected and cultivated in every person or situation.  We will not achieve this by being colour-blind, but by being compassionate, recognising our differences, naming and deconstructing our privilege wherever on that continuum we stand and then changing the behaviours that fossilise and normalise injustice.   Yet no one group ‘owns’ righteousness or can always claim the high moral ground.

Brueggemann also spoke of compassion as a radical form of criticism, one which “announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness”.  So with compassion in our hearts let us remain hopeful as we model justice, which as Dr Cornel West, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University and author of Race Matters, says justice is what love looks like in public.  With compassion, justice and love we can all breathe, we can all rise.

 

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Loving as Christ loved during COVID-19

The Domestic Abuse Bill returned to the Commons for its second reading this week, a timely reminder not to forget those who during the COVID-19 restrictions are in lockdown with the very people who may cause them harm. The report by the Home Affairs Select Committee on Covid-19: domestic abuse and risks of harm within the home made harrowing reading:

  • There has been a 49% increase in calls to the national domestic abuse helpline run by the charity Refuge with visits to its website trebling in March 2020 compared to the same month last year.
  • Researchers at the Counting Dead Women project (@countdeadwomen) told the Select Committee that 14 women and two children had been killed in the first three weeks of lockdown. The figure is the largest number of killings in a three-week period for 11 years and more than double the average rate, they said
  • In London, the Met Police have reported 4,000 arrests for domestic abuse offences – an average of around 100 a day –  since 9 March, when people with coronavirus symptoms were asked to self-isolate. They are calling on victims and family and friends to speak out.

After years of tireless campaigns by charities and pressure groups, domestic abuse is now very much on the national agenda. A fortnight ago the Home Secretary announced a new domestic abuse awareness campaign launching #youarenotalone and last year the Government appointed its first domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs.

But Church has always been a voice for the voiceless and a sanctuary for those in need. Domestic abuse in all its forms is contrary to the will of God and an affront to human dignity. Our current times should be no exception – our buildings may not be open but the Church’s work goes on. Out of sight must not be out of mind.

Melissa Caslake the Church of England’s national director of safeguarding says this: “We all need to play our part in preventing or halting abuse and if you are concerned about someone, through one of your church’s activities, or a friend or family member, do follow this up.”

Our parish churches are in every community and through their work will be aware of the most vulnerable and those they have particular concerns about. Women’s Aid reminds us that in the vast majority of cases (there are men’s advice lines), domestic abuse is experienced by women and perpetrated by men, seriously affecting the children if there are any.

Again, Melissa says: “Get advice from your Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor and of course if you think that someone is in immediate danger, call the police on 999. For victims knowing they not alone, particularly during these restrictions, can be the first step. There is a lot of advice out there and the National Safeguarding Team has put together a helpful guidance note on its COVID-19 pages.”

I was struck by a particularly horrific item of news this week about the fatal stabbing of two very young children. We should continue to pray for all who live in fear, but we should also act if we have any concerns. Let us continue to follow God’s example, walking in the way of love, just as Christ loved us (Ephesians 5:1-2).

 

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Nursing – the determination and kindness of humanity

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see – Mark Twain

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During 2018 we marked the centenary of the end of World War One and I spent time reading the account of nurses during the World War.

Emily Mayhew in her book Wounded (The Bodley Head 2013) gave an account of the extensive research she had undertaken using public and private archives to produce an account of the men and women who struggled to save lives among the horrors of the Western Front.  In doing so she has created a comprehensive account of the medical care and recognised the courage and determination of the men and women who saved hundreds of thousands of lives.  The book is a vivid mix of the horror of war and the determination and kindness of humanity.

During the horrors of war, we saw nurses, medical staff, drivers and support staff take on roles which had not previously been theirs.  There was courage and kindness.

In another nurse’s account I read the vivid image of mustard gas which hung in the air at the London railway stations where injured men were received off trains before being taken by ambulance to a London hospital.  In one such account a nurse placed flowers on the pillow of the soldier seeking to take away the smell which added to his agony – an act of kindness.

Nurses, medical and healthcare workers find themselves again on the front line and we see this time the horror of a virus alongside the determination and kindness of humanity.

The government’s Chief Nursing Officer Ruth May has reassured us that while people cannot be with the ones they love when they are dying no one will die alone.  In the midst of personal protective equipment and ventilators it is a reminder that the art of nursing is in the application of the science and that at its heart nursing is about kindness.

Mayhew in her book speaks about how the nurses in the First World War would place each soldier’s uniform and belongings into a bag, carefully pulled together the drawstring and then labelled it for the mail office to send it home.  In the bag she would place a letter because it was up to her to hold each ending memory, for as long as she could, so that the families would have more than a drawstring bag and a tattered tunic as the last remnants of their loved one – courage and kindness.

In Dorothea’s War edited by Richard Crewdson (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2013) there is an entry for Good Friday 1918 which speaks of it being a time of dust and ash where the past week had been an anxious one, and for the first few days, one’s heart sank pretty low.

I can only imagine that at times those working on our front line of our hospitals today will feel anxious, at times sink pretty low, and this Good Friday has been a time of dust and ash. I am grateful for their courage, kindness and determination in the face of such adversity.  Which is why I took the very hard decision last week to ask clergy not only to continue the closure of church buildings but also to stop living streaming services.

It feels extremely hard to ask that of clergy in Holy Week, of all weeks, to do this.  But if being in our churches to stream, even if it is accessed by a door in your home, is seen as encouraging others to want to travel to their church, and for others to ask for churches to be open to the public we had to stop. We would not want to encourage any laxity in the requirement to stay indoors, because this will save lives, and protect the NHS.

For this season church is not in our buildings and Christ in the words of the poem Easter 2020 by Malcolm Guite is away from church
To don his apron with a nurse: he grips
And lifts a stretcher, soothes with gentle hands
The frail flesh of the dying, gives them hope,
Breathes with the breathless, lends them strength to cope.’

https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2020/04/12/easter-2020-a-new-poem/

This year is the Year of the Nurse and Midwife – and what a year!  We are seeing the care and compassion of nurses which has always been there, we have heard stories of nurses determination and humanity and we are seeing nurses put others before themselves as they have always done – it is just that we are now paying more attention.

The First World War saw women in medical teams, on hospital trains, driving ambulances, but there were also large numbers of women recruited into jobs vacated by men who had gone to fight in the war. New jobs were also created as part of the war effort, for example in munitions factories.  The high demand for weapons resulted in the munitions factories becoming the largest single employer of women during 1918.  Some will argue that it was this contribution which resulted in the passing of the Representation of Peoples Act 1918 which gave the first votes for some women and paved the way for universal suffrage 10 years later.  But others argued that after the war women returned and where not valued in their new roles.

I hope that we have learned that lesson and after the storm is past, we will continue to value those who have shown determination and kindness in the face of such adversity.

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God has touched the world and we are not alone.

John 20:11-18 Easter 2020

Reflection by The Rt Rev and Rt Hon Sarah Mullally Bishop of London  

Alleluia! Christ has Risen
He has risen indeed. Alleluia!

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Some years ago, I needed to have a small day case operation.  Having spent almost 3 decades in the NHS you may have expected me to be claim and confident, I wasn’t. I had never been a patient and I had never had an anaesthetic.  And maybe, I knew just enough to know what could go wrong and things do go wrong – although I had no reason to think this on this occasion.

As I lay on the operating table waiting to be put to sleep the one thing, I longed for was for someone – anyone just to hold my hand. I know that it wouldn’t have made things better or reduced the risk but it would have told me that I wasn’t alone.

I was encouraged to hear last week both the government’s Chief Nursing Officer and the head of the Royal College of Nursing telling us that nurses won’t let patients die alone.

Throughout the bible there is recognition of the importance of touch to human beings – both pleasure and reassurance and yes, the pain it can bring.

The combination of kiss and embrace is not unfamiliar in the Christian tradition. It is used in the prophetic statement about the union of the earth and heaven.  The psalmist tells us’ Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other’ (Psalm 85.10)

Here the divine and the human touch.  Easter reminds us that God has touched the world in Jesus Christ.

Touch is central to Jesus relationships.  Filled with compassion Jesus reached out his hand and touched the leper, a women who has suffered a great deal with a bleeding disorder, came up behind Jesus and touched his cloak, Jesus took Jiraus’ daughter by the hand and said to their little girl get up, he took the man who could not speak or talk and put his figures into his mouth, he took the blind man by the hand and put his hands on him,  people brought little children to him for him to touch, the betrayer kissed him, and there on the road to Emmaus in the breaking of bread the touch of the presence of Jesus made their hearts burn.

Touch brings reconciliation, reconciliation to a community and to God, it brings restoration of relationships and healing.

Which is why we are in grief at the lose of our freedom to touch.  It is counterculture not to touch, to the mother who wants to hug a child in pain or how we welcome with the clasp of hands or an embrace.  Touch my not make things better but it does tell us we are not alone.

John’s gospel tells us that in the garden that first Easter morning Mary is in the midst of grief and the darkness of death and Jesus tells Mary ‘do not touch me’ – ‘do not to hold on to me’. This feels like a hard ban and it has become the inspirations for a number of pictures not least Titian Noli me Tangere (Touch me not).

In Titian’s picture Mary knees in humility, with the oil in one hand, a reminder of her anointing of him with oil poured out, for Mary had held Jesus by his feet and she worshiped him (Matthew 28:9) Mary’s other hand is seeking to touch Jesus.  But the shroud lies between Jesus and Mary like a veil which hides the living from those who have died. A barrier to the touch which Mary so longs for.

Do not touch or hold me is explained by Jesus Christ. ‘for I am not yet ascended to my father to my God and your God’. “I have not yet sent you The Spirit, who will reveal to you who I really am.”

Mary was holding on to who she thought Jesus was with all her misconceptions.  It had been Mary’s sad searching for Jesus’ body that had led her to mistake him for a gardener.  The picture portrays the tension between the love of Mary for Jesus and his love for her and Jesus’ desire to lead her into deeper truths.

It was only once Jesus had ascended and the Spirit had come that Mary would understand of who Jesus really was.

In the place that we stand this Easter Sunday we find ourselves in a place of grief, grief for those who have died and are suffering, grief for what could have been, grief for the loss of many things which defines us, grief for the loss of what maybe we thought the church was and is.  Hear the words of Jesus do not hold onto me for he longs to lead us into deeper truths.

And although Mary like us cannot touch Jesus, she in her grief glimpsed the hope that he spoke of and Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”.

In a sense we have no more or less than Mary for we like her have glimpsed the hopes of Easter – death does not have the last word. The promise of a new creation without pain and suffering.

Now hope is not blind optimism.  It is with hope that we can with eyes open to see the suffering and yet believe in the future.

Let us this Easter day not deny our grief, be open to let go of who we think Jesus Christ is for us and allow the spirit to lead us into a deeper truth.

Let us like Mary go a tell that we have seen the Lord and by the hope we have be motivated to touch the lives of others maybe not physically but by phoning people, staying at home, giving to the food backs and by praying.

Let us know that the message of Easter is that God has touched the world and that we are not alone.

Alleluia! Christ has Risen!

He has risen indeed. Alleluia!

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‘I am here, I am with you. I have called: do you hear me?’

 

Sermon not preached by The Rt Revd Sarah Mullally Bishop of London
9th April 2020 Chrism Mass and Renewal of commitment

 Readings:
1 Samuel 3.1-10
Revelation 1.5b-8
Luke 7.36-50

The Anthem:
The call of Wisdom
Will Todd (b1970)

Michael Hemple (b1967) after Proverbs 8

Lord of wisdom, Lord of truth, Lord of justice, Lord of mercy;
Walk beside us down the years till we see you in your gory.
Striving to attain the heights, turning in a new direction,
Entering a lonely place, welcoming a friend or stranger.
I am here, I am with you. I have called: do you hear me?
Silver is of passing worth, gold is not of constant value,
Jewels sparkle for a while; what you long for is not lasting.
Rulers govern under me with my insight and my wisdom.
Those who know me know my love, those who seek me find their answer.
God the Father and the Son, Holy Spirt coeternal.
Glory be ascribed to you, now and to the end of ages.

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A year ago, I returned to The Old Deanery after last year’s Chrism service and the builders who had been working on the building had watched us pour out of the West End doors of St Paul’s Cathedral.  They said to me ‘So that’s what you do!’ I spoke to them with great pride about what you do – the clergy and people of the Diocese of London.

Thank you for your ministry. The bishops of this diocese have the deepest appreciation for all you have done in another year of ministry and especially this year: appreciation for everything you have done as confident disciples  – advocates for belief in God and trust in Jesus Christ; appreciation for the encouragement and nurture you have offered to people in their journey of faith; appreciation for the compassion you have shown to the people that has been entrusted to you in God’s name – laughing and weeping with them; appreciation for how you have contributed to the growth in depth and numbers of the church and for your forbearance whenever you find yourself doing things that were never on your list of why you were ordained or licensed, nor on the syllabus of your training.

Thank you for your kindness and generosity to your bishops. A special word of thanks to those of you who have arrived in the diocese, or begun a new ministry, during the last year; and of course much appreciation to the families of all of us in public ministry, for your support and for being ready to share your life with us – we may sometimes be off duty but nevertheless always still have ministry running in the background.  Thank you for all that you have done and endured in the last month together. Thank you.

Until three weeks ago London was alive with the sounds of humanity. The rumble of the tube. The piercing ring of a siren. The drilling. The shouting. The honking.  And even now after the lock down, the bells of St Paul’s on every quarter hour – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These are modern sounds created by a 21st century society, and whilst noise has reduced it is still there and noise pollution isn’t a modern trend.

According to Peter Ackroyd, a novelist and poet, 18th century London “rang with the hammers of artisans and the cries of tradesmen”, producing more noise than anywhere else in the country. Industrialised London was the noisiest city in the whole world, according to Walter Besant. Hogarth translated the maddening sounds of London onto canvas in his 1741 painting, which depicted an enraged musician despairing at the cacophony of sounds around him.

We risk in a world full of noise not perceiving the whisper of God.  In the words of the anthem by Will Todd ‘I am here, I am with you, I have called: do you hear me?’

David Runcorn, in his book Fear and Trust, suggests that when we don’t hear God it is not as if we hear nothing, it is more that we start to hear everything.

We are told in our Old Testament reading that visions were not wide spread and for Samuel’s storyteller the word of the Lord is nothing less than the sustaining and renewing source of the world’s life and this absence describes a life out of touch with its true meaning and calling.  Deaf to what is most needed.

In a world full of noise when we fail to hear properly listening above all else is about the capacity to be faithful to the presence of God.

The bible is full of calls to hear, not least in the teaching of Jesus himself ‘’let everyone with ears listen’ Matthew 11:15

A capacity to hear the word of the Lord, involving a willingness to be present, is central to the story of Samuel. Eli is a priest on the edge, an isolated figure, lacking discernment, who completely misreads Hannah’s distress before God.  He is a wooden figure in comparison to the passionate immediacy of Hannah’s faith.  He lacks the ability to be present.

Under Eli the word of the Lord has grown scarce; a vocation has been betrayed and this will lead to decline and death.  The focus switches to the arrival of a young Samuel at the temple, as promised by Hannah, to begin his lifelong vocation to minster to the Lord.  He will learn to hear the voice of God and through him the word of the Lord will sustain and guide people.

Samuel is lying down in the temple of the Lord and the light of God has not yet gone out.  These are dark times, but the light of God’s presence is not extinguished.  After a long silence God speaks in the darkness and Samuel responds ‘Here I am Lord’.

People often ask me if I miss Devon and I will briefly reflect on the joy of the farming community and the joy of the space for creation but my joy of ministry here means that although I miss them I do no yearn after them.

What I don’t miss are the sea gulls.  Sitting on the sea front at Ilfracombe, fish and chips in hand, without warning a sea gull came into sight and on leaving had stolen my fish. Sometimes without warning we can find our vocation – our calling- snatched from us and the word of the Lord seems that it has becomes rare.  But we need to know even then the light of God has not yet gone out.

David Runcorn in his book Fear and Trust talks about the ‘ison’ – not the Dean (David Ison) but the continuous bass note in ancient Byzantine worship.  The bass note held in the background by the choir.

The cantors improvise and weave into the worship and prayers of the church and words run around the ‘ison’.  David Runcorn suggests that theologically the ‘ison’ represents the sound of God – the divine song that holds all creation in being, makes all other songs possible and gives them their freedom.  It is the note which is there even if we do not discern it.

R.R Thomas writes:

It’s not that he can’t speak…
it is just that he doesn’t,
or does so at times when we are listening,
in ways we have yet to recognise as speech.

The women stood behind Jesus at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

She recognised what those around her didn’t and in a counter cultural act she poured out herself at Jesus’s feet.  If only we, like her, are to find an ability to sense the moment, to hear the  ‘ison’ and develop the ability to distinguish signal from the noise – but that requires us to return to the Lord and be truly present to ourselves, the world and to God.  And what does God say?  ‘I have called you by name and you are mine.’

There is a risk that in this strange time as the noise of the city is dulled that we fill the silence with other noise.  I pray that during this triduum you will hear the ‘ison’ and hear God saying ‘I am here, I am with you.  I have called: do you hear me?’

Amen.

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#Nursing2020#Midwifery2020

As we start the New Year, we mark the beginning of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.  As a collaboration between the World Health Organization and International Council of Nurses, it seeks to raise the status and profile of nursing and Midwifery recognising their place at the heart of tacking 21st Century Health challenges.

Why 2020? Because it marks the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale whose birthday falls on the 12th May the day I was installed in 2018 as the 133rd Bishop of London in St Paul’s Cathedral.  In the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral there is a memorial plaque to Florence Nightingale where she is remembered simply for her Mercy.

 

Florence Nightingale is still best known as the doyenne of the nursing profession.  She is less known for her contribution to hospital reforms, her contribution to public health, her statistical innovation (in analysis and the presentation of data) and as a theologian (including writings such as Suggestions for thought).

Florence Nightingale was baptized into the Church of England.  She made no secret of the experience of a literal ‘calling’ from God, a ‘call to service’ on a precise date of 5th February 1837. (page 8 Florence Nightingale At first hand by Lynn McDonald 2010) She is said to have offered the church her ministry but it would not have her yet her Christian faith continued to shape her work and in an address to nurses in 1873 she said ‘ Feeling God has made her what she is, she may seek to carry on her work in the hospital as a fellow worker with God.  Remembering that Christ died for her, she may be ready to lay down her life for her patients’ (page 10 Florence Nightingale by Lynn McDonald)

Florence Nightingales faith is the key to her work:  She told her sister in 1853 that:

It did strike me as odd, sometimes, that we should pray to be delivered from ‘plague’ pestilence and famine’ when all the common sewers ran into the Thames, and fevers haunted undrained land and the districts which cholera would visited could be pointed out.  I thought that Cholera came that we might remove the causes, not pray that God would remove the Cholera’

For Nightingale, the burnt offering that God desired was action. She believed that God wanted us to act, to reflect God’s glory to the world by making it better, with practical achievements. Healing the sick was doing this, showing God’s goodness by doing His work in the world.

As we enter 2020 challenges remain for our NHS and for both Nursing and Midwives and Anne – Marie Rafferty’s comments in 2011 (nursingtimes.net 24 June 2011) remain relevant

“We can read Nightingale as a credo for compassion today. She recognised that systems needed to foster and institutionalise compassion, and that small touches and details mattered. Leading by example and embedding a code of behaviour that could be sustained even in your absence was and should remain our goal today.The challenges we see in care are not new. We continue to fail the most vulnerable members of our society. We need to acknowledge there is a problem, accept responsibility and understand the dynamics of why some organisations succeed and others fail.Clarity of purpose, moral courage and a coalition for action was Nightingale’s response to the call. We need to do likewise – to light and lead the way.”

As we enter 2020 Florence Nightingale’s faith remains an inspiration as do the words on her memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral “Blessed are the Merciful” .

And so my New Year’s resolution is to:

act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God” Micah 6:8

 

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‘Jesus was the human face of God, God’s self-portrait glimpsed in the puckered vulnerability of a newborn baby’.

Sermon Preached by The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally
Bishop of London
Midnight Service St Paul’s Cathedral 24th December 2019

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The Christ Child has arrived. After months of buying presents, preparing food and planning. He is here.  We are here – I wonder what your journey was like getting here – I don’t mean just to the Cathedral but to Christmas eve?

Although your journey to the Cathedral may well have been interesting too.  I recently returned to St Paul’s’ Cathedral and stood in a tube train, standing packed in like sardines in what is known as the central line.  More parts of my body touched strangers than was comfortable and then 6 more people got in and tensions were high – so I looked into the eyes of the person who I stood nose to nose with and said – ‘As we are standing so close maybe I should tell you may name’ – the people around began to laugh and by the next station strangers had become friends.

As we tell the Christmas story we tell of Christ’s welcome by his parents, the shepherds, wise men and the angels, we forget that not everyone became friends that night. Some were not so welcoming. The innkeeper, for example, who turned his family and him away, or King Herod and Emperor Augustus, who acted with overt hostility toward Jesus him. Yet this was all part of God’s design.

The Christ Child became vulnerable to make us safe. He left his father in heaven to invite us into a new family.

In The Times one Boxing Day, a former Bishop of Oxford John Pritchard talked about how it is our claim as Christians that ‘love came down at Christmas’, and that this was embodied in the only form we could ultimately understand – a human life. ‘Jesus was the human face of God, God’s self-portrait glimpsed in the puckered vulnerability of a newborn baby.’

From the outset, the Christmas story sets the pattern for Christ’s ministry and the picture of God’s love.  The outcast made the insider and the stranger become family.

When Matthew’s gospel tells us of Jesus’ heritage, the list includes Tamar, Rahab and Ruth – all marginalised women.

In the gospels Mary who Joseph had mind to divorce quietly sings her song, the Magnificat – “God has scattered the proud and exalted those of low degree, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty” – she sings of revolution.

The shepherds, social outcasts, were not trusted in their community enough even to give evidence in a Jewish court of law, but hear the angels declaring that God was with them: “Gloria. In Excelsis Deo.”

Wise men are outsiders to the Hebrew faith but who, against all the odds, came and worshipped at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus’ ministry is shaped by the stranger – the women at the well, the leper on the road side crying out, the women who had been bleeding for 12 years and touched his cloak, the tax collector – yes he even ate with the tax collector – and it was women who witnessed the resurrection.

All who were included not by chance but as signs of the kingdom of God. No wonder the angles cry Glory to God in the Highest. I hope you know you are family.

On one night of all nights God entered our world with an infant in his arms. In him we got a permanent glimpse of God, and we see, the face of God. The face of one who welcomes the stranger.

Despite how close we stand on the tube; London is one of the loneliest cities in the world. According to the Greater London Authority’s Survey of Londoners, over half of us have been lonely in the last year, with just 19% saying they never feel alone.  Those under 24s are most likely to be affected. One 23-year-old living in our capital put it like this: “loneliness can often feel like British weather. Suddenly the clouds disperse, and you have a long unexpected heatwave of joy, of feeling included. Other days it starts raining with no warning.”

And some groups are even more vulnerable. If you happen to have a disability, the barriers faced in everyday life make loneliness more likely.[1] Likewise Pakistani, Gypsy Roma, Irish Travellers, and the homeless are more vulnerable to loneliness than other ethnic groups because of racism and lower incomes.[2] In other words, those on the margins find themselves doubly disadvantaged.

Rabbi Sacks said that he used to think that the most important line in the Bible was “Love your neighbour as yourself”. But love the stranger occurs no fewer than 36 times. Rabbi Sacks said that he realised that it is easy to love your neighbour because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours.

From Genesis to Deuteronomy, the command to love or welcome the strange was central in Israelite understanding, care of the “resident alien” or “foreigner”, for widows and orphans, or “the least” of that society and context. God calls on us through the Old Testament scriptures to extend a particular welcome to the outsider, the one not at home, the one who is vulnerable and thus in need of hospitality.

Jesus reaffirms and reinterprets the idea of welcoming the stranger: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” And when they wonder when it was that they offered him hospitality, he says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” In Jesus’ interpretation, the “least” are to be viewed as the face of Christ himself, as God-with-us.

These days, it can sometimes seem that there is increasing fear around welcoming strangers or refugees.  This speaks of a broader distrust of diversity and difference. In times like these, the idea of making space for a stranger seems vastly removed from our reality, a naïve hope. Yet there are examples all around us where intentional welcome for other people who have been made “strangers” or vulnerable, people who are presumed not to belong or not to matter and it makes a difference.

As we welcome the Christ Child today, let us remember that we are called to be part of God’s family and we are called to form a river of angels that shelters the homeless, the displaced, the refugees, the strangers, all of whom are the face of Christ. So, in a world that so often turns vulnerable people away, let us continue to be people of welcome, knowing that through our hospitality, God is able to make strangers into kin.

In John’s gospel we read of Jesus: “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

To follow the Christ of Christmas is to become part of God’s family in heaven and in the church family here on earth.  Amen.

[1] https://bit.ly/33PsX6M

[2] https://bit.ly/36dZ0yD

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For we have heard of your faith

ALMA is the Diocese of London’s Companion link with the Anglican Church in Angola and Mozambique, and part of the network of Companion Link Dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion.

During the last 18 months I had heard much of our partners and their faith in Christ Jesus.  Visiting the Diocese of Lebombo, in southern Mozambique during August this year was a wonderful opportunity to experience that faithfulness and put faces to my prayers.

We can fall into the trap of thinking that we have much to offer the partners of our links – my experience is that we have much to learn.  The parable of the Good Samaritan gives the model for the act of love going beyond what we see is conventional.  It teaches us that love come through seeing the other, not simple as I see them but in the light of God who has created us both.  That recognition leaves us not only capable to reaching out in support of other but also being willing to receive support from the other. Without my neighbour I cannot become my full self.

London adopted a pre-existing Willesden Area partnership with Lebombo (started by Bishop Donald Arden in the 1980’s when he retired to Harrow after his time as Archbishop of Central Africa).

The ALMA covenant was signed in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1998; was renewed in 2008 at the ‘River of Prayer’ Service before the 2008 Lambeth Conference and extended in 2018 for 2 years until the 2020 Lambeth Conference when all partners will be together to sign the next covenant.

My visit was to the Diocese of Lebombo, in southern Mozambique, covering 5 provinces + Lebombo side of River Zambezi in Tete province which was founded in 1893. Eamonn and I were very grateful for the generous hospitality of Bishop Carlos Matsinhe, Bishop of Lebombo, and his wife Hortência.

Mozambique’s history has been shaped by war; the war of independence 1964-1974 and then civil war between 1977-1992.

The church has played significant part in the peace processes with the now retired Emeritus Bishop of Lebombo, Mozambique, Bishop Dinis Sengulane, and the Christian Council of Mozambique  being part of the negotiation and initiating the TAE project – transforming arms into tools /swords into ploughshares which has taken over 900,000 weapons out of commission and turned many into pieces of art (see: Throne of Weapons and Tree of Life in Africa Gallery British Museum or Music Man hosted at St Paul’s Old Ford and read ‘Object 98’ in Neil McGregor’s ‘History of the World in 100 Objects’)

I arrived on the 6th August a day on which Mozambique’s president and the leader of the country’s main opposition group signed a new peace accord, pledging to end years of violence and facilitate elections in the fall.

In signing the Peace and National Reconciliation Agreement, President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Ossufo Momade said they would peacefully participate in Oct. 15 elections.  Bishop Carlos lead the prayers at the end of the event.

At home in a city in which divisions hold the potential of deepening the lessons of a country who have known war for over 50 years must be worth listening to.  The biggest one being is that peace begins with us.

At the service of ordination at St Cyprian’s Maputo I preached on John 20:19-23 ‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”’  I reflected that lives lived in the presence of Christ and filled by the spirit produce peace.  Peace is not something which happens because we are tired of fighting, but it is intentional, it is something which we need to put on. Part of the ministry as priest and deacon is to bring peace.

Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries in the world, but the generosity and hospitality of the people was obvious. I am now the proud owner of many Capulana which is a thick cloth printed with beautiful art worn by women.

The church in Mozambique is growing. Its vibrant witness has had a major impact at a local level through church planting, choirs and bands, youth groups, Mothers’ Union, the Bernard Mizeki Guild for men and ‘Umoja’ community development facilitators. Nationally the churches have been heavily involved in their countries’ peace processes.

 

The week demonstrated that we share some common challenges not least; the encouragement of lay leadership, the development of clergy, how we encourage young people, how we create financial sustainable churches and how we plant new churches.

I was very impressed how Bishop Carlos was modelling the involvement of lay leaders and their Catechists mirror our Licenced Lay Ministers. The Bishop intentionally uses lay people at every opportunity and is providing training to bring about the culture change with clergy.

We attended the launch of a new ecumenical youth project in Maputo.  They, like us, lose young people when they leave Primary school.  By involving young people in the development of worship they are finding encouragement.  I met some great worship leaders who are working with the young people to form choirs among other activities.

The Diocese encourages churches to develop means for their own financial stability and I met several entrepreneurial women who are giving their time to projects for their churches in a country where they cannot depend upon the giving of their member.

I met several church plants; they have planted 20 in five years.  They start off with a family who have been travelling a long distance who start meeting in their home.  Once established, a priest is then provided, and the church builds the building.  I was struck that they have learnt, like us, that none of this grows quickly, they often support enthusiasm even when little structures are in place and their plants are predominantly Anglo catholic in nature.

Since 2016 women have been able to be ordained and the first ordinations are likely to happen in 2020 in Lebombo Diocese.  Bishop Carlos used my visit to underline his support of women as priests and I met with those in training and we specifically used several events as vocational opportunities.

Bishop Carlos modelled shared ministry and took every opportunity to give me a role in sharing ministry including in the ordinations – I am very grateful for this and it reflected an intention I have rarely seen in the Church of England.

We pray for Mozambique every Wednesday as part of our Diocesan Cycle of Prayers – prayers used in St Paul’s Cathedral each week.  The visit has enabled me to pray in a different way with faces to the names and memories of the places.  I have not only heard of their faithfulness, but I have now seen it and the fruit which it is bearing, and I am giving thanks.

 

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,  for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,  because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.  (Colossians 1:3-6)

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Keys to the Kingdom of God

Sermon Preached at St Paul’s Cathedral 29th June 2019 at the service for the Ordination of Deacons
Ezekiel 3:22-end, Acts 12:1-11, Matthew 16:13-19

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For those of you being ordained today there is much which is new which I am sure makes you feel uncomfortable- new collars, new robes and new stoles – signs of your orders and you will be given other new items – You will be given a new bible as a sign of the authority given you this day to speak God’s word to his people.

Friends and family’s will; give you gifts – sign of their love and support for you.

And tomorrow or Monday many of you will be given a bunch of keys. Serving in the church means that we find ourselves keepers of keys – keys to the church gate protecting a building from vandalism, keys to the church front door closed to keep unwanted people out, keys to the photocopying room locked so it is not missed used, keys to the church hall, key to the safe – often historic and far too big and if you are lucky you may be given the key to the side door! – You will develop deep pockets!

Keys become a sign of authority – and if you are not careful you begin to act as a gate keeper.

Peter in our gospel passage declares that Jesus is the messiah the Son of God and Jesus goes on to tell him that he will be given the keys to the kingdom.  These keys are not about keeping people out but rather about opening the way to the kingdom of God.

And what the disciples and we so often miss is that the kingdom that Jesus speaks about is not about buildings, property or wealth or power. It is about love, generous and extravagant, there not because of what we have done but because of what God has done and our call is about making that love, generous and extravagant known – making known what God has done in Jesus Christ.  The keys Peter is given and you have are not about locking people out but are there to open up – to open up to others the possibility of coming into the presence of God, opening up the possibility of finding the hope that you have come to know in Jesus Christ.

Now if you are here today to support one of these ordinands and you don’t know the love of God ask one of these people being ordained about it – having spent time with them I know they know the love of God as seen in Christ Jesus – it has transformed their lives.

In our service we have heard that Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known and to be heralds of the kingdom – to know and to make know the love of God.

Christian service, the service into which these women and men are being ordained, should always follow this pattern, the pattern of the incarnation, the pattern of humility and vulnerability. Too often service from a position of strength and security becomes an exercise of power.

Pope Francis has said this about his vision for the Church – for the Roman Catholic Church, but it will do for us too: ‘I prefer a Church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. ’  (from Guadium Evangilii – The Joy of the Gospel)

Maybe we need to be more generous not just on the keys of the kingdom but also the keys to our churches?

Today you are to be ordained as deacons you are going to have great fun in your parishes, but ministry is not grand. Being a Christian, a disciple, is not grand, being a deacon is not grand you are to reach ‘into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible’. That is what ministry is about.

Reaching into the despair of prisons, or to reach into the darkness and loneliness of sickness, depression, unemployment and broken relationships. Reaching into the shadow of death. Reaching into the places and towards the people who fear that God is not for them, that forgiveness is not for them, that grace is too far away to reach and to make the love of God known.  That is what ministry is about.

Today as we ordain these women and men, we celebrate Peter – I wonder if Peter ever regretted being given the keys to the kingdom. Peter who ran out of the boat towards Jesus but whose faith failed as he went under the water, Peter who ran to defend Jesus in the garden but who then denied him around the fire, Peter who only when he came to himself in prison realised there where angels.

There will be times when you may regret that you have been given this ministry.  It is then you should remember that it was Jesus whose hand reached out towards Peter as he went under the waves, it was Jesus who met Peter on the beach after his denial and asked him to feed his sheep and even when Peter didn’t recognise the angels God was with him.

There may be times in the future when we regret our calling but do not forget that we are not alone, there may be times when we are confident in our ministry but remember that we can’t not do this alone. We can only do this by the grace and power of God.  We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus remembering who he is for us and we need to pray that God will enlarge our hearts and understanding of scripture.

You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened.

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Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit it is only then that we may use the keys given to us with the wisdom and generosity of God.
Amen

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