Hope and Building Community

My Easter Message which appeared in The Sun Newspaper today

Just weeks ago, I fought my way through what seemed like an arctic blizzard as I walked towards St Mary, Stoke Newington to visit Hackney Night Shelter, which supports the homeless there. As I got past the corner of Clissold Park, I saw a daffodil with its head still sticking out of the snow. It reminded me that, however much if felt like winter, spring would come – that gave me a feeling of hope.

This time last year, London was in the midst of a frightening period, in the wake of the Westminster terrorist attack, which was all too closely followed by further attacks at London Bridge, Finsbury Park, and Parsons Green. London felt as if it was under siege from terror – as soon, sadly, would Manchester. The rest of the country shared in the pain.

I cannot imagine what it was like for those who lost loved ones, and those whose lives have been forever changed as a result. My heart goes out to them and I know that, in this last year, they’ve travelled a difficult journey in unknown territory.

Yet, in the midst of all this sorrow, we have seen acts of generosity which reflect the very best of humanity. The efforts of countless healthcare workers, first responders who ran towards danger, the police, neighbours, members of the public, faith leaders and many more who came together to demonstrate the resilience of our communities in the face of terrorists – they all brought with them hope.

Those who seek to bring terror also seek to break down community. But rather than give in, we have seen people stand in solidarity for the victims, their families and the survivors of those tragic acts – they give us hope.

Building community does not stop with responses to tragedy. In fact, it should be at the heart of exactly how we want to be as a society. In the face of not just terror, but also the political and economic uncertainly we find ourselves in, strong community holds individuals and families together in the face of difficult times. To build community requires us to understand that we have more in common than divides us, and this comes from sharing our stories. We share stories not to tell our own but rather to listen to someone else’s tale; someone who often we may see as different.

In the snowy days we have had in recent weeks, I found myself without suitable shoes so I borrowed a friend’s wellies. Unfortunately they weren’t a very good fit and I didn’t find getting around particularly easy. That feeling of uncertainty can be similar to the one when you’re trying to understand someone who might be quite different to you. There again, it may not feel easy, but ultimately putting yourself in their shoes – not literally in that case – helps us to understand them. Building community is about understanding we have more in common than divides us – that can bring us hope.

This week, Christians across the world are retelling the narrative of Jesus’s death. We are walking the way of the cross, before the glory of Easter Day as we celebrate his resurrection. Remembering and retelling narratives are at the heart of any culture. Remembering occurs as parents tell and retell to their children and grandchildren what is most prized in their community. We walk the way of the cross in Holy Week to remember who God is for us, his generosity and grace. We recall what God did in the death and resurrection of Christ in the past, which points to a future without pain and death but holds us here and now – that is hope.

Ahead of the anniversaries of the London terror attacks, Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that the hashtag #LondonUnited would be projected on to the Houses of Parliament, London Bridge, Finsbury Park Mosque, and Parsons Green Tube Station. For me, this is about highlighting resilience and hope, shining a beacon on victims and heroes, and demonstrating how we came together amidst times of real adversity. A permanent tribute now to those who were affected, to London, and to the country, would be to continue to build lasting communities which demonstrate our commonality and build resilience. There is hope.

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God is Faithful

Since my appointment was announced back in December I have felt slightly like the pushmi-pullyu from Dr Doolittle; Facing the Diocese of Exeter as I prepare to leave well and toward the Diocese of London as I take opportunities to meet with people across London. Whilst my confirmation of election means I will formally, legally become Bishop of London, I still have duties to carry out in Devon over the coming weeks until my installation at St Pauls’ Cathedral in May.

I have been very grateful for people’s prayers and good wishes over the last few months and one constant theme from those who have been in contact with me is that ‘God is Faithful’

On the inside of my episcopal ring is engraved Isaiah 43: 1-3   They are the verses which appear around the William Pye font at Salisbury Cathedral where I was Canon Treasurer

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.’

These verses remind me that God has called me by name and that he is faithful.

As I have begun to meet people in London the privilege of ministry that lies ahead of me has become clearer and the quality of the Bishop’s Staff and the College of Bishops more apparent. Already, my colleagues have been a great help and support to me. London is full of wonderful people and I look forward to working with them and serving them.

I’m conscious that serving this vibrant Diocese will be a hugely challenging task, and there will be so much for me to learn in these coming weeks and months. There will be much to be done, both within and beyond London.

My position on the National Safeguarding Steering Group will continue, while the Archbishop of Canterbury is also placing increasing emphasis on the Bishop of London’s role as Dean of the Southern Province – a sensible move to reflect the modern-day requirements of the Church of England. Plus, like my predecessors, I will sit in the House of Lords. Given all that, I’m thankful that Richard Chartres has agreed to remain as Dean of the Chapels Royal for the time being, to give me time to become accustomed to these various duties and responsibilities.

It has not passed me by that my Confirmation of Election is on 8th March 2018 which is also International Women’s Day. As the first Bishop of London who is a woman I am reminded that as women we have many opportunities today because of the women of the past but there continues to be unequal treatment for women across the world – more progress is needed. #PressforProgress. I know that there are some that feel that my aspiration for women to fulfil their potential is in conflict with a Church for whom some cannot accept women as priests or bishops.   Let’s be clear that this is a theological position which relates to either the sacramental ministry of priests or the issue of headship leadership. Women within these two segments of the church need to be able to flourish and within the rest of the church women need to be equally represented in leadership roles so that the church reflects the nature of God. With only 15% of priests being women in the Diocese of London we need to ensure that they and those from BAME groups are enabled to find their vocation.

The Confirmation of Election reminds us that bishops are called to lead in the serving and caring for the people of God and to work with them in the oversight of the Church – that bishops are to know their people and be known by them. I look forward to knowing and being known by the people of London.

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Accelerating Change – Safe and Open Churches

It is my fervent prayer that the church is a place where all people are welcomed into open and secure communities that make known Christ’s reconciling peace and love. Over the years it has been with sadness and horror that I have heard stories from survivors and victims of clerical abuse. Their stories have included not just the appalling acts of abuse but the way the church has added to their injury by not responding well when they disclosed them

Since I received the Elliott report two years ago I have seen change. I know it may not have been fast enough for survivors, but we should welcome the change which has taken place.

Most significant has been the beginnings of a cultural change which is reflected in the importance safeguarding is being given within the Church by those in senior leadership: improved and increased training, better policies and independent monitoring by the Social Care Institute for Excellence.

It is of course easier to change structures than change culture yet without culture change true, lasting change does not occur. I know of a church whose new vicar wanted to change the format of the chairs from rows into a circle to develop a more loving community. So he did. But every time he went on leave, the congregation moved the chairs back because they couldn’t bear looking at each other. Perhaps if he had enabled them to grow their love of one another first the chairs would l have stayed – but that change would have taken much more effort, much more time.

So starting with culture change is good. But our challenge remains how do we accelerate how we involve survivors in improving the church’s culture? How do we find that balance of being open to those who disclose without rushing to conclusions?

We will over the coming weeks hear more about how the church has and has not dealt well with survivors and victims of abuse – we will find incredibly difficult and painful to hear these stories, but they have to be heard and they have to motivate us to change more, and more quickly so not to undermine all those who have to date paid the personal price for us not yet getting it right.

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What I’d tell my 14-year-old-self

Published in the Church Times 9th February 2018

Have confidence in who you are, the skills and gifts that you have and know that your dyslexia will not be what defines you.  Have courage to walk away from the expectations others have of you, for that is when you will discover who you really are. The decision you are making to follow Jesus will be the best decision you have ever made and  soon  there will be a time when you cannot imagine life without the knowledge of God’s love.  In the decades ahead of you, God will become your refuge, strength and inspiration. Hold onto your courage and your anger against injustice – and celebrate the joy that caring for others is beginning to give you.

Although you worry about those you love dying, believe that they will stay with you – in your memories, in who you are, in the faces and nature of your children. Take some more photos of the children and husband you are going to go on to have – though it may be hard for you to imagine now the joy they will give you, your children will grow up far too quickly.

And lastly, don’t give up playing the French Horn and don’t give away your sister’s signed Paul Weller vinyl – you’ll get decades of grief from it!

 

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Votes for Women #Suffragette100

My grandmother, Emily Louise, was a confident women – she had to be. Like many she lost her first love in the First World War and though she celebrated in 1918 when the first women received the vote she like many  had to wait another 6 years before she was 30 and could vote herself. She had her first child at the age of 33 and looked after two boys while my grandfather fought in the Second World War. She continued throughout to work as a comptometer operator (the first commercially successful key driven mechanical calculator). I recall her always assuming that as girls my sisters and I could do whatever we wanted to do and I also remember my grandfather offering the same encouragement. Looking back I have been so grateful for their encouragement, which along with the support of my parents, gave me confidence as a child to believe that anything was possible.

Today we mark the day that Millicent Fawcett, the Pankhursts and other suffrage campaigners won a hard fought victory – 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. Today speaks of the efforts of so many which have shaped my opportunities and the life I am able to live today and I am profoundly grateful.

My daughter, whose middle names are Emily Louise, is a confident women of whom I am very proud. I am also aware that research tells us that even with our second female Prime Minster when we think of a powerful person we are likely to think of a man. Mary Beard in her book Women & Power writes that her ‘basic premise is that our mental, cultural template for a powerful person remains resolutely male’. Changing that cultural template will be as hard a fight as that fought a hundred years ago but if we are to shape a more equal future for our children then this culture must be challenged at every possible opportunity.

Mary Beard goes on to make the point that a headline in The Times in early 2017 ‘Women Prepare for a Power Grab in Church, Police and BBC’ suggest that we are taking something to which we are not quite entitled, the article reported the possibility that women might soon gain the positions of Metropolitan Police commissioner, chair of the BBC Unitary Board and the Bishop of London. Two out of three ain’t bad, I suppose. But in the year that I am to be installed as Bishop of London, the year we celebrate the centenary of the vote for some women, then I believe more is possible and not just possible, but necessary. #equallyvalued

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Its not always what we see that is important but what we miss

Broadcast on BBC Radio Devon Pause for Thought 7th January 2018

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 is a man who had a model of a helicopter and as he spoke to him he realised that many other people were getting on the plane with model helicopters.  Edmund realised that he had missed the helicopter side of the city and his companion the porcelain.

It struck me that looking only for what we expect see we may miss the unexpected.

One of the wonderful things about living in Tiverton is being able to walk along the canal path. Now there is no porcelain along the canal path but there are Kingfishers. However, you only see the orange and blue of the Kingfisher as it takes flight if you have time to stop and expect the unexpected.

I hope that in the coming year we will find time to stop and to have eyes to see the unexpected.

 

 

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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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