2019 – A Year for Kindness

When I left Salisbury Cathedral, where I had been the Canon Treasurer, the Works Department gave me a piece of Purbeck Marble – wonderfully cut and prepared and marked with a Stone Mason’s Banker Mark.

Some of you may know that when stone work is undertaken by stonemasons they mark their stone with their mark – a banker mark each unique.  Originally this was done so that they knew who to pay for what work. Now they leave their banker mark to demonstrate the mark they left on the building – the house of God.

I wonder what our mark will be in 2019?

If you happen to look back at my blog you will find that at the turn of the year I often write about kindness – why? Because I believe that there is no better mark to leave.

The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, in his blog on the 11th November 2016 wrote “I reckon kindness is one of the most underrated virtues in today’s world. It isn’t bland or soft or feeble or weak. It isn’t about namby-pambyism or avoidance of conflict. Kindness comes when, even where it isn’t deserved, we dare to offer an opening to humanity and mercy, regardless of cost or reward. It is more than being nice and it can be very demanding in certain circumstances.”

We find ourselves in a world where our communities seem to have developed fractures, loneliness is on the increase, mental illness among your people is on the rise and I believe that diverse communities are strong communities and divided ones are weak and we hold the power to make a difference.

In 2017 The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Carnegie UK Trust published a report by Zoe Ferguson called ‘The Place of Kindness’. The report showed how random acts of kindness have a significant impact on the quality of lives. Kindness reduces social isolation and improves wellbeing. It also provides the building blocks for community empowerment and is a necessary ingredient of successful communities.  The report suggested that for the public policy realm talking about kindness is too personal and too ephemeral but we all know when someone has been kind to us.

I hope that Churches this year will increase the mark they are making on their communities by growing their acts of kindness for that is the true work of Christmas.

As Howard Thurman an African-American theologian wrote in his poem
‘The Work of Christmas Begins’

When the song of the angels is stilled
And the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and princes are home
And the shepherds are back with their flocks
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken hearted
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations
To bring peace among the people
To make music in the heart

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Light and Darkness Dance together but we have Hope

Sermon Preached at St Paul’s Cathedral on Christmas Morning:
John 1:1-14 and Hebrews 1:1-12

Regent Street kicked off the Christmas season back in November as it turned on its Christmas lights – the spirit of Christmas –  the sky above Regent Street filled with winged creatures, Bude in Cornwall has a Perspex shopping trolley tunnel which has been decorated with lights in such a way that it has attracted international headlines as it has become a place for marriage proposals, The Tate closer to home has snails with their slime trails over the south front formed of sparkly lights and Tiverton in Devon have had pants – just in case you think you miss heard me over the PA yes I did indeed say pants.

Three years ago Tiverton Council used three years’ worth of funding to commission new Christmas lights for their high street.  They were selected because the town’s Christmas committee “liked their shapes”. But once switched on, they resembled festive undergarments on a washing line.

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The Committee chair said: “They’re Father Christmas’s sparkly underpants and they’re great.”  And although this year they have been replaced by something more traditional they can still be viewed online.

At this time of the year our sky lines are full of lights – light and darkness dance together.

Life does not exist without light.  From the moment of birth we are surrounded by light. The warm light of a summer drawn, the harsh light of office buildings, the magical lights on a Christmas tree, lights that reminds us of home which is see though windows of trains or buses as we travel in winter months and the light of the moon and stars. We have been born into a world of light.

Without light we would not have colour or form, without light we would not have oxygen or life. But light has deeper meanings for us. Stevie Wonder sings ’you are the sunshine of my life’ and Debby Boone’s song lyrics declare ‘you light up my life and give me hope to carry on’ I wonder what or who is it that gives your life light?

In contrast to light we have Darkness.  Darkness is the absence of light, darkness affects our orientation, our perspective and it affects our emotions bringing us fear and confusion.

Now this is the season of darkness and as the sun has become short-lived in our sky the shadows become long. We have come face to face with shadows throughout the world, we live in the shadows of political turbulence, of a harder economic environment and maybe you see shadows in your own lives.

The reality of our lives is reflected in our reading from John where light and darkness dance together.  The promise of Christmas is that ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’

In the North aisle of St Paul’s cathedral there is an art installation by Bill Viola called Mary.  Installed in 2016 it is 13 minutes long audio visual installation shows a beautiful Madonna of colour gazing straight out to us with an expression of compassion as her baby suckles at her breast. Behind her traffic moves though a high rise cityscape building up with an intensity as the sky changes from day to evening to night but the women keeps looking back at us with some unwavering composure.

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Mary by Bill Viola

Then Mary as a lone figure wonders among cliffs and the scenes of the annunciation, visitation, birth of Christ reflecting her life and her dreams – biblical images transposed into a modern setting making ancient narratives alive in a new way.  The final image is the Pieta – the Virgin Mary as pale as chalk holding the dead Christ – her hand caressing a lifeless cold leg   – infinite sorrow.

The installation encompasses the great themes of life, of birth, relationships, joy, suffering and death – the themes of light and darkness all of which are our shared experience.  I am sure you are aware this Christmas morning of both the joy and the sorrow in your life.

It is into this shared experience which God was born in Christ – Emmanuel to bring us hope. Christmas invites us to be people of hope as light and darkness dance together.

Now hope is not about optimism which is almost entirely related to personality. Hope is not about a short lived happiness which we know will pass away. It is about a deeper inner peace which can exists in the dark places of our lives. And as our reading reminds us hope is not born of blood, it is not born of the will of flesh it is born of God.

We hope for a future where God’s kingdom is seen in full, we hope for a world of justice and of peace and we hope for eternal life in which there is no more death and dying.  I wonder if you can imagine for one moment what that would be like?

Whilst hope speaks of a future it also breaks into our present like shafts of sunlight. Whilst Christ came into the world in the past he is still in our present Emmanuel – God with us for he is the same and his years will never end.  It is this hope which holds us when we are living in shadows.

The lights which fill our skies at this time of the year, angels, stars, Christmas trees or pants are beautiful but if we are not careful they point not to the true spirit of Christmas but rather the transient happiness or optimism of this world.  To be a person of hope I need to live praying Emmanuel – God be with me as the light and darkness of my life dance together.

The lights which fill our skies at this time of the year reflect off the environment around them and seem to shine brighter so we are called to reflect the light of Christ to be part of the light calming the fears of those around us, breaking like light into the loneliness of others, reaching out through divisions in our community, sitting with those who are hurting and giving to others the light and life of Christ.  Who can we be light to this Christmas?

Light and darkness will continue to dance with each other but the message of Christmas remains that God is with us – Emmanuel and that the light shines in the darkness and darkness will not overcome it.

I pray that Christ the Sun of Righteousness will shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path.

Amen

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Challenges facing young people

My speech in the House of Lords today as Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top moved that his House Take note of the challenges facing young people.

It has been said that young people are our future. They are not – they are our present.  They hold the potential to reimagine the world and see possibilities not obstacles. They are a transformative presence in our present and reshape theirs and our future.

But life is complex for them – the high household income and home ownership rates that were a feature of the 20th century have failed to materialize for younger generations so far in the 21st. Yet, what I recognise more than anything, are the concerns over identity and belonging.

In October BBC Radio 4 announced the results of The Loneliness Experiment, a nationwide survey conducted by BBC Radio 4’s “All In The Mind” in collaboration with the Wellcome Collection.

The survey results indicated that 16-24 year olds experience loneliness more often and more intensely than any other age group. 40% of respondents aged 16-24 reported feeling lonely often or very often, while only 27% of people aged over 75 said the same.

The young are disproportionately affected by violent crime. This is even truer of those from a Black and minority ethnic or disadvantaged backgrounds.

Last month 250 churches across London gathered with youth workers, our schools, the police and young people to ask what we can do together. As part of their place in the local community, churches made a commitment to work in partnership with other organisations to seek to build on the existing work of our schools, after school clubs and youth projects to make their communities’ places where young people can find their identity, feel they belong and are safe.

One of the greatest challenges is how do we fund, recruit and retain good youth workers?  People who will remain in the community as young people grow up.  Role models are highly important for us psychologically, they help to guide us through life during our development and teach us to make important decisions that affect the outcome of our lives.

I also know from my previous life as a nurse that the only way to tackle these problems is through a whole-system approach, which I understand is now the consensus view.  Funding is central to this, and I welcome the £250 million allocated by the Mayor of London to establish a Violence Reduction Unit.  But, as the Commission on Youth Violence has spoken of, funding is often given in silos, with youth clubs regularly competing against one another for narrow funding streams.  I understand that the Commission’s final report is forthcoming, and I look forward to reading its findings.

I would like to pay particular testament to the vital youth work which is happening in places of worship and community halls across the country. In part of my own Diocese, in the London Borough of Camden, where according to the End Child Poverty coalition, 40% of children live in poverty, St Mary’s Primrose Hill’s youth workers mentor more than 20 young people a week, and undertake multiple prison visits a month.  The likes of St Mary’s are working hard to give our young people the hope that they deserve.

One of the wonderful characteristic of London is its diversity; it is multi faith and multi-racial yet at the same time we have seen a growth in people feeling marginalized – but I believe that we have more in common than divides us.

I wish to end my remarks today by reminding noble Lords that there is reason to be hopeful. Earlier this year I attended a youth Iftar – an opportunity for young people from a range of religions to celebrate that diversity, and to discover new things about each other.  Our conversations planted seeds which will build community bonds and friendships.  It also helped us to learn to value each other, to help build the peaceful and just society that all our religions seek. I reflected that this type of grand vision begins by taking such simple steps towards each other – but sometime we need to help each other to do it.

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“to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

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Today, as we begin a new Triennium of this Synod, we celebrated the Eucharist and heard from Ephesians 3:14-4:6 and the gospel of John 15:1-12. We reflected on the generous love of God and Jesus’ call to love each other as he loved us, and Paul’s call to bear with each other in love.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

It has been 8 months since my installation, and a year since I became aware of the new ministry to which God was calling me.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your welcome and support.  It has been a great joy to have begun to get to know you, the Diocese, our churches, and the community to which I have been called.

It has been a privilege to see the way in which the Church in London is responding to God’s call to speak confidently about the hope we have found in Christ, to act with compassion in our communities and to creatively plant new worshipping communities.  There is much to celebrate.

We have seen:

  • 38,000 people sign up as Ambassadors;
  • We have over 55 new worshipping communities, well on the way to our target of 100;
  • There are 153 parishes delivering 230 distinctive projects focusing on tackling poverty and inequality through 1500 volunteers working alongside paid staff to create positive outcomes for over 14,000 lives each year;
  • And we should not forget the 60 thousand children attending one of our 160 schools.

As a city, as a country and as a church we are entering a time of uncertainty. What is it that we are called to be and do at this time?

What are the signs of the time?

  • 123 people have been killed in London so far this year – 71 fatal stabbings and 14 shootings.
  • There are some 8000 people sleeping rough in the capital.
  • St Luke’s healthcare for clergy found in a recent survey of clergy that around 12% of those who responded said they are struggling or barely coping. Two-thirds of those said they frequently considered giving up their role in the Church because of stress
  • The Church in the Diocese of London is growing in confidence. However, while our worshipping community figures are stable, this is a city where still only 1.6% of the population attends church.
  • We are a diocese where only 5 per cent of our some 850 clergy are from Black and Minority Ethnic Groups.
  • The House of Bishops will within this Triennium respond to Living in Love and faith. The project on relationships, marriage and sexuality.

Sometimes the signs of the time may seem overwhelming but we need to keep in mind Paul’s audacious prayer in which he reminds us of the power that is at work in us and the people we have been called to be:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. (Ephesians 3:20)

So looking forward, rooted and grounded in love with Christ dwelling in us we have been called in all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

It is rooted and grounded in love with Christ dwelling in us we look forward to the new Triennium and in doing so we begin a new Church year which marks the last two years of Capital Vision 2020, all areas of focus remain but we are going to pay greater attention to:

  • Young people
  • New worshipping communities
  • Increasing vocations
  • Our ambassadors
  • Capital Mass

Paul reminds us that it is not just what we do but how we do it. Central to what we do as a Synod is to reflect on how we support and enable the local church resourcing them to be confident in speaking about their faith, compassionate in their care of the community and creatively planting new worshipping communities.

The Diocesan Lent Appeal has in the past been a way in which we have supported our parishes to consider prayerfully how we can as a Diocese join together and raise awareness of an issue.  This year it is on Modern Day Slavery. Our appeal will build on the work of the Clewer Initiative, part of the national church’s approach to eradicating modern day slavery. We will be partnering with five charities that are already active in London.

There are at least 40 million victims of modern day slavery in the world today, and tens of thousands in the UK.  In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in a capital city heralded for its history and culture, modern slavery is thriving.  Thousands are forced into domestic servitude, forced labour or sexual exploitation in plain sight of Londoners, and many more are at risk of falling through the cracks, hidden from the view of the authorities, charities and the church.

We as a Synod need to consider prayerfully what God is calling us to do beyond 2020.  We must be rooted and established in Christ, growing deeper into God and towards each other and the world – the fruit of which will be growth, spiritual and numerical.  We need to ask of each other what it is to do this with humility and gentleness, with patience; what it is to bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bonds of love.

Together we need to support the clergy of this diocese and set all of God’s people free; we need to work with our church schools. We need a vision which has young people at its heart, underpinned by our values of confidence, compassion and creativity.

20 Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

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“for just such a time as this”

Having just returned from the Diocese of London Senior Staff Residential I look back on our time together with a sense of real hope.

It was both a privilege and fruitful to spend time together; reading scripture (we studied 2 Corinthians 3-5), praying together, working and yes we had some fun!

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We left with a renewed sense of confidence ‘Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.’ ( 2 Corinthians 3: 5-6)

We left with a renewed sense of urgency ‘For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all;’ (2 Corinthians 5:14)

We left with a sense that we are here ‘for just such a time as this’ (Esther 14: 14)

You will be aware of the narrative of Esther, Ahasuerus seeks a new wife after his queen, Vashti, refuses to obey him, and Esther is chosen for her beauty. The king’s chief advisor, Haman, is offended by Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai, and gets permission from the king to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed. We then see Esther consider for what has God placed her in the position of Queen.

‘Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”’ Esther 4(13-14)

I have over the last six months spoken about my understanding that God calls, specific people at specific times to specific places for a specific purpose and we see this in the life of the apostles and in the epistles. And I am sure you will recognise this in your own lives and ministries.  As a senior staff team we have a renewed sense that we are called for such a time as this.

Together we prayerfully looked at the signs of the time, we looked back on Capital Vision 2020 and where we should focus for the next and last two years.  We then started to prayerfully consider what our vision beyond 2020 should be and we spoke of our aspirations to begin to engage across London, especially with young people, to begin to develop this.

We have so much for which to thank God. Our hope in what God has done in Christ not only holds us in our present but points us to a future full of hope. I hope that together as the people of the Way across the Diocese of London we will develop a greater understanding to what God has called us to at such a time as this.

‘For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.’ (2 Corinthians 4: 7-11)

 

 

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For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

My message to the Diocese of London

As we enter September, however long it has been since we – or our children – have been at school, it feels like a new term. 

I hope that you have found time for rest over the summer.  I am often reminded that we do not always look after ourselves and we should be reminded of the need for Sabbath rest. Sabbath is central to the rhythm of the week and the makeup of life. The Sabbath commandment brings together God and the human world, the loving of God, loving our neighbour and ourselves.

In our own lives, Sabbath rest is not just about a day but about a rhythm that is played out across days, weeks and years.  The question for me is how best to help those who are in ministry across the diocese to look after themselves, enabling them to find a rhythm of life with a rhythm of the Sabbath.

A new term reminds us that we enter into a new season. Even in London it smells like autumn: it is a reminder that the one certainty about life is change.

At the beginning of the summer the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, announced that he had decided to step back from full time ministry on health grounds. He will withdraw from public duties at the end of October, and the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, will serve as Acting Bishop of Stepney until a successor is appointed.

I am very grateful to have shared, even for such a short time, ministry with Bishop Adrian and I am sure everyone in Stepney and in London will join with me in thanking Bishop Adrian and praying for him, and for Gill and his family, as he makes this life-change.

I am now beginning the process of discernment about his replacement. This process requires us first to consider filling the vacancy and notifying the Dioceses Commission and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unless the Commission considers that the proposal requires further consideration, they will then indicate to the Archbishop that they agree with my proposal to fill the see.

Over the next few months I will want to seek views and discern with others what is the specific calling for the new Bishop of Stepney. While this will naturally involve those in the Stepney episcopal area, others should feel able to contact me at any time with their views.

The news of Bishop Adrian stepping back has also precipitated reflection on my oversight of the Two Cities and I have decided that I will continue to have area oversight.  I am confident that the London Plan will ensure appropriate episcopal oversight for those who do not accept the ordination of women on theological grounds and that the work we are undertaking to reflect on how we support clergy and parishes in the Two Cities will bear fruit.

Right across our Diocese, as we enter this new term, we have much to be grateful for in our schools. Following recent exam results, the vast majority achieved outcomes which will show their students made well above national average rates of progress – this data is published later in the term.

This is the second year of government reforms to qualifications, with the introduction of more demanding exams and of the new 9-1 grading system for GCSEs. With an ever-changing environment, teachers entering a new term will face such challenges as well as opportunities. If you are a teacher, what students will not always tell you is how your enthusiasm for a subject has enthused them, how your stability in the midst of an unstable world has held them and how your belief in them has formed them.  I am very grateful for what all those in our schools do – thank you.

Over the last four months, I have been out and about across the Diocese, and schools have been just part of my diary.  Parishes, homeless hostels, hospitals, food banks, lunch clubs, Sunday and weekday worship – all signs of the hope we have found in Christ Jesus. We should continue to be confident of the hope that we have in Christ, continuing to share that hope in word and action.

What I have also been witnessing has been a growing Diocese. The Strategic Development Grant awarded last year to London by the Church Commissioners will in the coming months and years play a vital role in continuing to revitalise, expand and support mission and ministry across a range of Church traditions in the capital.

Diocesan Synod’s oversight role here is important: to meet in Synod is to meet together ‘as people of the Way and on the Way’ of our shared life of discipleship. I would draw your attention to Synod vacancies, clerical and lay, that still exist, ahead of the meeting of the new Synod on 1 December. Local deanery officers will be able to provide details of by-elections. Similarly, elections to the five Area Councils, start this September. Do consider getting involved and putting yourselves forward.

I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

 

+Sarah Londin

 

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“walking towards and among survivors borrowing some of their courage”

I am very grateful to Jo Kind (MACSAS), Shelia Fish (SCIE) and those survivors who attended the fringe session and the debate at General Synod today. I know that there was a cost for them.

At the fringe event as I listened to their stories and I was again saddened.  I continue to find it hard to comprehend how individuals who speak and preach of the love of God have abused the trust that was put in them.  I also regret that as a church we have not always responded well in the past and I have seen the cost that this has had and continues to have on those individuals. I am sorry that in the midst of this some have lost their sense of God.

It is a personal frustration that we are not moving quicker and I know we have not yet involved survivors and victims in a way that they, or I, would have liked.  The involvement of survivors last night and today demonstrate why we need to move towards co-production. They will help us to understand what good looks like and how we put victims and survivors at the heart of what we do. In the words of Jo Kind “walking towards and among survivors borrowing some of their courage”

I believe that we are on a journey and we have made progress over the last few years including in our culture ‘the way we do things around here.’

For culture to continue to change the leadership for safeguarding must remain within the Church.  I am clear about my responsibility and I believe that that it is time that further work is undertaken to reflect on the balance between responsibility and independence.

We also need to become more sophisticated in drawing a distinction between safeguarding activity:

  • Firstly, the activity which we undertake to keep our churches safe places today; for example policies and procedures must be implemented by those in the parishes who are supported by safeguarding officers appropriately trained and resourced within the diocese to ensure a safe church.
  • Secondly, how we respond to those who chose to disclose abuse in a church context but where the abuse did not occur in the church context again locally provided.
  • And, finally the processes that are in place to respond to those that have been abused by church officers which may be more appropriately provided independently.

Separate activity managed in different and appropriate ways.

Having listened to survivors I do believe that:

  • There is a need for more independent scrutiny of what we do
  • I would support the principle of an independent place where people who have been a victim of abuse by an officer of the church can disclose to, where they will then be appropriately and professionally supported throughout an investigation and an independent advocate allocated.
  • I also think we need to consider how best the mental and physical health of those that disclose can be better met and not just at disclosure but on into the future.

Finally Jo Kind brought us back to the issue of power and trust and its abuse ,this is something which we need to talk about more seriously.

I wish change could occur overnight – it can’t, but I hope to match the tenacity shown by survivors by ensuring that change does occur.  The actions discussed today may not be where we want to get to but it is a point on the way.

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