The Journey has Just begun

Broadcast on BBC Radio Devon Pause for Thought 6th Janaury 2018

Shooting stars, comets, and the movement of planets in the sky have always fascinated people. We love a night when the sky is clear, the night is dark, and away from the glare of the lights of the city, we can witness the evening shower of shooting stars in a moonless night. For centuries people have been fascinated about what happens above us in the heavens.

Today the Church remembers the journey of the magi who as the resident scientist of the sky saw something occurring. What they saw is thought to have been an interplay between the two planets, Jupiter and Saturn and they decided to follow them.

The Magi left behind their summer palaces and journeyed along a way which was rutted and deep. The journey for some must have seemed a folly and the outcome at best uncertain but they persevered to deliver their gift to Jesus which we are told Mary treasured in her heart.

A few years ago with my family I walked 200km of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, also known in English, as the Way of St James. The route runs in north-west Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where the apostle St James is said to have been laid to rest. It has been a pilgrimage since medieval times but many walk for pleasure (although at the time I had to keep reminding myself that it was for pleasure we were walking!). It is the nature of long distance walks that you have time to encounter people and to exchange stories along the way. It became apparent that as we walked and encountered others we became different. Roads are good places to understand who you are and who others are.

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The journey of the Magi is a reminder to us that some of the best won things in our lives do not always come easily, some of the hardest traveled roads are better done with company and some of the greatest gifts require us to risk our all.

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Christmas is not Over!

Broadcast on Pause for Thought BBC Radio Devon on the 5th Janaury 2018

There is a great debate about when we should take down our Christmas decorations – tonight twelfth night or tomorrow which we call Epiphany? Well you may find that your local church or cathedral haven’t taken down their decorations and will not until the 2nd February which we call Candlemas. Why? Because Christmastide for the church is not over it continues until the day we celebrate Candlemas marking Jesus’ presentation in the temple.

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During this time we move from reflecting on the way in which Jesus is revealed as a baby to those very first witnesses, to shepherds, innkeeper, ox and ass, and we began to think more about the way in which Jesus is revealed to the world; Jesus reaching out to the hungry, the outcaste, the sick and dying – with a generosity and inclusivity and with love.

Christianity is not just a system of beliefs or narrowly conceived worship it is about making Jesus seen in the world today – is love with a generosity and inclusivity.

So we continue to see the face of Jesus in the work of those who run the food banks and soup kitchens not just at Christmas but throughout the year, we see the face of Jesus in those providing shelter and housing not just at Christmas but all year round. We see the face of Jesus in those who are welcoming the refugee not just in this season but throughout the year – Loving with a generosity and inclusivity.

Christmastide is a wonderful season which I hope you will savour and revel in; for it is the season of revelation, of pondering and wondering so that we can see the face of God in Jesus Christ.

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Random Acts of Kindness

Broadcast on Radio BBC Devon Pause for Thought on the 3rd January 2018

As the world begins to go back to work and return to normal patterns of life there are some for which normal is loneliness. Age UK in Devon showed that 11% of older people who live alone have less than one contact a month. Loneliness and isolation can lead to poor mental and physical wellbeing.

The Campaign to End Loneliness suggests that almost a million older people say they feel lonelier at Christmas. The Campaign is seeking to inspire thousands of organisations and people to do more to tackle the health threat of loneliness in older age.

Loneliness can be easy overcome by kindness. 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 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. Kindness can start conversations; kindness is calling by someone you haven’t seen for some time or providing an invitation for a meal, kindness can reduce loneliness.

Small things which make extra ordinary difference to the lives of other; Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said: ‘Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good when put together that overwhelm the world’

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Resolutions and New Beginnings

My ‘Pause for Thought’ Broadcast on BBC Radio Devon 2nd January 2018

New Year is full of the possibility of new beginnings. Many of us will have made New Year resolutions. The more cynical amongst us may have decided to give the whole idea away. If you are one of these you may consider yourself a realist, having learned by bitter experience how hard it is to maintain resolutions!

Some years ago the charity Mind urged people not to feel they must start the New Year armed with resolutions for self-improvement. The mental charity said resolutions which focus on issues such as the need to lose weight or job worries create a negative self-image. And if the plans fail to materialise, that could trigger feelings of failure and inadequacy.

Instead of making a New Year’s resolution, they urged us to think more positively about the year to come and to take a few steps to improve all-round mental health, including: being active, going green, learning something new and giving back something to the community.

As Christians we have just celebrated God’s great resolution. God resolved, in his infinite wisdom and love, to break into the world of human existence. God became uniquely one with creation through the birth of Jesus Christ – God with us.

It is from this foundation of love that that I hope I will seek to be more active this year, improve my green activities, learn something new and continue to serve people with joy.

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New Bishop of London Sarah Mullally: I will be a servant

Let me start with an admission: I am delighted but, yes, slightly terrified to be the next Bishop of London.

I have spent 32 years of my life in London so, for me, this will be returning home.

London is a world-facing city – multi-cultural and multi-faith.

It is a city of energy and diversity. London is open to all.

But it is also a city of inequality and deprivation. A typical woman in Tower Hamlets in east London will live 30 years in poor health, compared to only 12 for a man in Enfield further north.

It is a city where the number of people living alone will rise by over 50% in the next 25 years.

And it is a city where people feel ignored, marginalised and angry.

These emotions were present in St Paul’s last week for the Grenfell National Memorial Service. People stood together to remember those who died, to support the bereaved and offer a way forward for those who survived.

But the unity we witnessed doesn’t mean those issues have been resolved.

Although the time when people described themselves, by default, as Christians may be over, there is a huge hunger for spirituality and new ways for the Church to meet that hunger.

Perhaps nowhere in the country is that more evident than in London.

The Church of England wants to be a Christian presence in every community – confident in prayer; speaking about and living out its faith; working creatively with the people around. This diocese is halfway towards its target of creating 100 new worshipping communities by 2020. Many congregations are growing and planting. Just last month London’s first entirely new parish church for 40 years, St Francis, opened in Tottenham.

And just like London itself, the Church here reflects a real diversity of traditions and outlooks. I hope and pray that everyone can find a spiritual home within it and that this diversity can be a model of unity to the whole Church of England.

I made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ as a teenager. As one hymn puts it, I found in him my Star, my Sun. I look forward to sharing that good news with others as I come to London.

Before becoming a priest, I was a nurse and then the Government’s Chief Nursing Officer for England. People ask what it is like to have had two careers. I reply that I have always had one vocation – to follow Jesus Christ, to know him and to make him known.

For me that means living in the service of others.

Washing feet is a powerful image which has shaped my life.

As a nurse, the way we wash feet affords dignity, respect and value. As a priest I am called to model Jesus Christ, who took off his outer garments and washed his disciples’ feet, even the one who would betray him.

I keep that model of service before me, seeking to serve others and value them.

To be able to do that here is a wonderful privilege.

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Advent calls us to lift our eyes beyond the routine

I love Christmas – the carol services, the nativity plays, Christmas trees, Christmas Markets and Christmas lights. It is with some sorrow that this will be the last year we will see the unintended controversial lights in Tiverton! It is also with some sorrow that Advent and Christmas for bishops is much quieter! People don’t want bishops at Christmas.

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Christmas has arrived for the world but the church goes into a time of waiting. Advent tells us we must wait. Lifting us beyond the routine and the obvious–Advent invites us to watch, to expect the unexpected and to live in hope.

Last year I was given the book The White Road by Edmund de Waal. It is wonderful book in which Edmund describes his pilgrimage to walk the history of porcelain. Early on in the book the author paints a picture of how you make porcelain and his own personal journey as a potter. Then on arriving at the base of mount Kao-Ling in China there is a wonderful description of the shards of white porcelain found in the red earth including a base of a 12th century wine cup.

On his departure back to Shanghai Edmund talks about how on the plane there is so much porcelain that all the overhead lockers are filled and the loo is requisitioned. Next to him was a man who had a model of a helicopter and in speaking to him he realised that many other people getting on the plane had models of helicopters and he realised that he had missed the helicopter side of the city and his companion the porcelain side.

It struck me that looking only for what we expect to see we may miss the unexpected. With the procession of advent services, nativity plays and carol services we could just expect to see what we always see at Christmas – so maybe we should find time to wait, stand back, life our eyes beyond the obvious and expect the unexpected this Christmas and know Emmanuel God with us.

 

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Making the Church Safe for All

On Saturday I spent the day with Parish Safeguarding Reps from across the Diocese of Exeter.  I spoke to them about my faith and I talked about it being the anchor of my soul.  In God I have, in the words of the psalmist, ‘found my rock, my fortress and my deliverer.  It is in God whom I take refuge’ (Psalm18:2).  As the body of Christ we are called to reflect the nature of Christ, the nature of God and I believe that as churches, part of the body of Christ we are called to be places of safety, places in which people can take refuge.  This is why I believe that safeguarding is at the heart of the gospel.

Something inside me weeps every time I hear when as a result of the abuse of power in the church someone has been hurt and accounts are coming all too often. Rosie Harper in her blog on Via Media news talks about the apparent shift in the current political climate that “people have begun to talk about their experiences of being harassed, abused or criminally attacked, with an openness that wasn’t acceptable even a few months ago”. She makes the point, fairly, that whistleblowers still lose their jobs, and women can be mercilessly interrogated in court to search out a way of framing their assault as ‘they were asking for it’. This has to change.

You may have seen BBC One’s Have I got News For You on Friday night where it took Jo Brand – the only woman on the show – to say why those relentless comments putting women down as well as sexual harassment itself are not acceptable. We have to change our underlying environment so it is clear that sexual abuse, harassment and such comments are simply not acceptable.

The former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones was asked about this issue in reference to his new Hillsborough report on how public institutions should treat the relatives of people killed in tragedies. He said that there needs to be a culture change in all our institutions and spoke of how the Hillsborough families felt ‘dehumanised’ when they challenged people in authority. He is absolutely right that we need to sit down and ask what does happen when an individual complains and what should happen? This is an urgent question for the Church.

Abuse almost always occurs as a result of the imbalance of power. When Dame Moira Gibb published earlier this year An Abuse of Power (the report into the serious sexual wrong doing of Peter Ball, a bishop of the Church of England) she spoke of the abuse of power. Dame Moira pointed to the Church having made significant progress in recent years in understanding abuse and in its safe guarding practice. Whilst recognizing we have some way to go, she highlighted the fact that trust accorded to clergy and bishops can bring an exceptional level of power.  Different kinds of power constellate around clergy: the power of ritual leadership, the power of being entrusted with intimate secrets, the power of having the strongest voice both in making the community’s critical decisions and in shaping culture and attitudes. (The Gospel of Sexual Abuse and the Church The Faith and Order Commission) Clergy don’t always acknowledge such power but we have to be accountable for how we use it – that can only be by following the pattern of Christ doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regarding others as better than ourselves. Looking not to our own interests, but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).

Jayne Ozanne’s interview on Channel 4, disclosing the abuse she suffered, made difficult listening but she clearly identified why the culture in the church must change.  We have to encourage people to speak up and we have to say that any abuse of power is wrong – but where do people who want to speak out go to find places of safety? Progress has been made in developing professional safe guarding teams who are accessible across the church but we need to ask ourselves what more should we do?  Do we need a national helpline or access to other support services to supplement what we already have?

The Church needs to own a safe culture; we have come a long way where increasingly people understand their responsibility and I would not want to lose this, which will be the risk if we hand over safeguarding to an independent body. However I think we should search ourselves to see if there is more we can do to ensure independent monitoring. We are already committed to implementing the Elliott Review recommendations which propose that safeguarding decisions as they occur across the Church, should be subject to review by an independent body. This review was an important milestone in the Church’s Safeguarding journey.

The Church is made up of individuals and each one of us needs to commit to following the pattern of Christ, a pattern of the incarnation, the pattern of humility and look to the interests of others.  We need to ensure that the church is not only safe, but is a place where everyone can flourish.

 

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