Sunday, May 12, 2019

When the angel departed....a thought for the day for BBC Cov & Warwickshire

There’s a patch of bare earth in front of the cathedral – and a real sense that something is missing
For 8 weeks the Knife Angel occupied that spot, within sight of old and new cathedrals – and it turned out to be a really fertile ground to plant seeds of hope.
Every day for those 8 weeks we gathered close by at noon and shared the Cathedral’s Litany of Reconciliation – our trademark prayer with its two-word refrain “Father forgive” -  and followed this with a declaration of hope that invited people of all faiths and none to commit to better choices, to putting down knives and building community instead.
Over the weeks, in sunshine and rain, several thousand people must have stood to make that commitment – with its confident conclusion.
“we will each play our part – we will not be afraid – today we choose to believe in hope”.

Now, though, the angel has moved on. That’s what angels do. Right through the Bible, angels are sent as messengers from God to alert us to important things.
They usually begin with reassurance
“Do not be afraid”...and that’s good to hear if you’re confronted by a shining stranger who has apparently come from nowhere – even if he is not 27 feet high and made of knives.
But though we don’t need to be afraid, we CAN expect changes.
Angels disrupt the everyday order of life.
Think of Gabriel, telling Mary she’s going to become a single mum
Of a whole angelic choir telling some weary shepherds to leave their sheep and go and look for a baby
Of two telling some weeping women that Jesus, whom they had seen dead and buried, was no longer in the tomb but risen and alive for all time.
Angels alert us to big changes, and are always surprising. The Knife Angel has been no exception.

He’s stopped us in our tracks, gathering crowds around him at almost any hour of the day  – but his greeting was not so much “Do not be afraid” as “Beware...Things could get out of hand here – in this city and beyond but you do have a choice”….
So many people chalked their responses on the stones around or wrote commitments in the Cathedral’s Book of Hope...but now it’s time to put those words into action.
Without the angel there to inspire us, can we really commit to building a united, peaceful city?
We’ve done it in the past. Back in 1940 I’m sure the decision to commit to peace and reconciliation did not win Provost Howard many friends in a city that was wounded and grieving– but that decision, followed through by practical demonstrations of friendship to those who had once been our enemies, was the beginning of putting Coventry on the map as a city determined to use the pain of the past to build peace for the future.

That’s why the knife Angel seemed so much at home here – and, though it’s rather fanciful, I Liked to imagine him chatting quietly to our own guardian, Michael the Archangel, after dark when the crowds had gone home.

What it is that makes a city of peace? they might have pondered…
How can fragile seeds of hope be protected?
Can we help the people of this city to look into the faces of those who might be enemies, and see their own hopes and fears reflected there?

Angels never do the work for us – they just point out when we might need to take a new direction...but though the Knife Angel has gone on his way,
St Michael is still here, watching over cathedral and city alike, reminding us that the story of Coventry today is written by you and me as we make our choices.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A tale of rwo vineyards

I’m not a very assiduous gardener. I enjoy a bit of gentle pottering but confronted by the account of Isaiah’s vineyard, I’m instantly looking for a get-out clause.
Surely there’s way too much time and effort being lavished on that vineyard….
Why on earth doesn’t the vintner cut his losses and look elsewhere.

Except, of course, that we would be in real trouble, you and I, if he did…

Because this story is our story...and the story of generations of God’s people….

Listen again.

My beloved had a vineyard, prepared the ground, tended the soil, planted the choicest Vine, the Vine he had brought specially from Egypt...a people to be God's own, and to model God's way of living for all the world to see. Yet this hand - picked people had let God down. For all the care lavished on them, they could not, would not be fruitful. Instead of an abundant harvest of fine grapes to share, they were producing only the tiny, bitter inedible wild grapes..fruit to pucker your mouth and set your teeth on edge.
What more was there to do?..an question taken up across the centuries by the prophet Micah , before finding its place in the heart-rending agonising grief of the Good Friday reproaches. How could God love us more? Give us more of God's self?
"O my people. What have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me..."
For Isaiah, here and now is the moment of truth.
Looking at the vineyard, God finds no fruit, no justice, no righteousness on this Vine that is God's people, Israel. To be this Vine means to receive God's special care, God's loving nurture...but it means, too, to come under God's judgement.
And there is nothing to show him. No harvest at all.
"He expected justice but saw bloodshed, righteousness but heard a cry."
A well tended vineyard, with not a single grape. It was a theme that was to become heartbreakingly familiar.
So God spoke through the prophets again and again..the story of God's care and our neglect, God's cherishing and our indifference. As Jesus spoke to that mixed crowd in the Temple, where priests,scribes and elders mingled with disciples and the curious bystanders, everyone present knew that the vineyard parable was about them, about God's people, the Jewish nation. They knew too that the rejected messengers were those prophets who had tried, again and again, to call God's people back to themselves...and to their core relationship with God. Had tried to no avail.
But what next?
A Son and heir. Now we are onto unfamiliar ground...we enter a new chapter. A Son???.
Who knows if the tenants in the parable actually had anything worth offering their landlord. Maybe, rather than cheating him of his profits, they were simply trying to hide their own fruitlessness. They knew his hopes and expectations, but knew too their own complete failure.They had nothing to offer, no matter how many messengers, prophets, sons were sent. Israel, called to be a light to the nations, a people shaped each moment by God's law of love, had become instead a people bound and defined by other laws, a people intent on protecting themselves not for the sake of the fruit they might give to the world but for their own security, hanging on for dear life to an identity that had lost its purpose.
This is not just bad discipleship but bad viniculture too. An American nun, Sr Judith Sutera OSB, who is also a master Vine dresser, writes thus
"Good vines require cutting and more cutting. A mile of runners won't give you one more grape, so get rid of the branches that don't bear fruit. Do you want to keep everything? Then expect nothing. Cut and then cut some more."

It seems that this is the point we have reached, that even God has run out of patience, that the guardians of fruitless tradition have signed their own death warrant. We have reached the end of the story of Israel the Vine, but now God begins a new project, replacing the Temple whose core purpose has been lost with one where the rejected Jesus becomes the missing piece, the corner stone to comlete the whole building. Now he becomes the template, against which we will all be measured...

Does that sound terrifying...something beyond our highest dearest aspiration? Are you, like me, left scrabbling for good news in the dirt of a vineyard that seems to be so much less fruitful than you'd hoped?

Then remember that Jesus also said I AM the Vine...not simply the one in whom God's fullest intention for Israel is made good, but the one whose runners stretch even into those places of least fruitfulness, the one who is inextricably involved with our barren hopes, our wasted efforts, our inertia, greed and fear. Jesus the Vine is connected with us in those places where we are furthest from God's will and God's pleasure...Indeed he is here scrabbling with us in the dirt as we look desperately for some harvest worthy of the name.


Today Holy Week begins and as we walk again the way of the Cross, it is to discover for ourselves that the whole story of humanity, of God's love and our intransigence is focussed on the person of Christ as he moves towards Calvary. If we follow him closely, the sorrow and love that drops from the crucified one will transform our barren vineyards, softening our hard ground and harder hearts til we are fully human once more. A shoot shall spring up from the stump of Jesse...the Vine shall be renewed, its branches reaching everywhere, to bear fruits of righteousness for there is nowhere beyond the reach of that self giving love.

From Coventry to Notre Dame, a prayer


God, the source and inspiration of all that is good and lovely in our world,

Today we grieve with the people of Paris,

Mourning the brokenness and hurt to such great beauty.

We believe that your everlasting arms hold all things steady.

Help us to hold fast to that hope and to trust that with you

Nothing is lost or wasted, but everything transformed and made new.

Help us to glimpse, in this cathedral ruined and rebuilt, the truth that  beyond the dark of Good Friday the promise of the new dawn of Resurrection always shines,

And to trust this for ourselves, and for the world, through Christ, our sure foundation and our Saviour.




Sunday, March 31, 2019

Mothering - not just for mothers. Thought for the Day for BBC Cov & Warwickshire

Good morning – and happy Mothers’ Day to you...or is it actually Mothering Sunday.

 And does it matter anyway?

I think it does.

Mother’s Day is all about giving thanks to and for our mums – and that can be a wonderful thing. I remember once working with a class of primary school children on list of all the things they’d like to say thankyou for.
Some were predictable – Thanks mum for giving me cuddles, for cooking me pizza, for washing my football kit.
Some were hard to hear  (from a refugee child)“ Thanks for bringing me to England to keep me safe”
Some were in a class of their own.
I’m really glad that my children never needed to thank ME for defrosting the mice for a pet snake. I love my children more than life itself – but honestly, I don’t think I could do that!

Anyway – Mothers’ Day is all about celebrating that kind of thing and a whole lot more besides. It’s the stuff of tv ads and happily sentimental cards – and that’s great – except when it isn’t.
I always used to feel uncomfortable, when I my children were small, because I never matched up to those perfect tv mums...but actually I had it easy. Mothers’ Day is a really tough time if your own mum has died, or your relationship is broken, if you long to hug and hold your children but they’re living far away, if you’ve longed to be a mum but it just hasn’t happened, or if you’re the parent of a child who has died too soon. Many years ago I suffered a misscarriage just days before Mothers’ Day and it felt as if the whole world was intent on making me even more conscious of my loss.

So – I’m not very keen on Mothers’ Day. I think it carries too much potential for accidental hurt.

Mothering Sunday, though, is quite different! It’s all about the verb. Mothering: the work of nurturing,supporting and encouraging, of being there when you’re needed, of going the extra mile and sharing one other’s burdens.                               That kind of practical love has never been limited to those who have given birth: the year that I broke my arm, on Mothering Sunday I told my church that I’d received the BEST mothering ever from my teenage son.
So yes, of course we can give thanks for those who laboured to bring us into the world – but let’s remember too that we belong to a wider community than simply our biological family and let’s each one of us try to pass on that kind of practical love which is part of being human. At its best you see, that mothering love reflects the love of the God who is a loving parent to us all, no matter what. And that really is something to celebrate.  

Monday, March 18, 2019

I first visited this cathedral as a small child – one of the many who came in the 60s to see the wonder that was quite unlike anything else .
We DID engage with the ruins first. I remember touching warm stone and thinking “These aren’t ruins – not like my local castle in Hastings at least”...and I’m told that my first reaction on entering the Spence Cathedral was to plonk myself firmly on the floor with my back to the West Screens and announce, with some indignation, “You never told me God was THIS big”.

I don’t remember very much about the rest of the visit. I was distinctly alarmed by the tapestry and I obviously liked the Tablets of the word enough to demand a postcard – which found its way into my school Bible...but the moments that I would now expect to be highlights of any tour – the texture of the font, the glimmer of the mosaic in the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, and the moment of amazment as the hidden glory of the windows is revealed when you turn at the High Altar...All that passed me by.

I was still intrigued by the place, though – and took care to revisist whenever practical through the years. But the human journey which we hope to offer to our visitors just wasn’t part of my experience...not as a child and not, indeed, as a periodic visitor. Certainly my early visits were unmediated by anything except, perhaps, a Pitkin guide. It didn’t worry me. Something was still going on, an inner journey enabled by the space, and it was only when I became an insider , joining the staff, that I realised that there might be a “right” and a “wrong” way to experience the Cathedral. 

Of course, now I take care to lead them the “right” way – but I’m beginning to think that perhaps I could just trust the building to do its work. If each visit is a conversation between the visitor and the building, perhaps we should sit light to what they want to talk about…understanding that there will be as many different motivations for a visit, as many different needs to be met as there are feet crossing the threshold.

Of course this doesn’t mean that an absence of interpretation is acceptable. This building has many stories to tell – of 20th century art and architecture, of the Coventry Blitz and post war co-operation, of enmity and reconciliation, death and reresurrecti – all held within the over-arching Christian story without which there would be no Cathedral at all. We long for visitors to grasp something of each of those – for everyone who comes to have some sort of transformative experience and to realise that there is room for their own story to find a place too.

“This is our truth – tell us yours” might be a theme to consider as we present the different layers of meaning, inviting visitors to explore on their own terms, to arrive at places we might not have envisaged, either spatially or theologically, but trusting that the over-riding story of reconciliation hope will speak to them through the very stone, no matter how that 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Evensong on Lent 2 (St Patrick’s Day) 17th March 2019 Luke 14:27-33

Its very tempting to read this afternoons New Testament lesson, weighing in as it does to those who start building or go into battle without proper preparation, as a direct and timely comment on our current political situation! Back in 2016, there had been so little expectation of a Brexit decision, there was absolutely no plan for how we would reach that end point, what it might cost in financial, human or reputational terms. There wasn’t even a rough map, so getting lost was almost inevitable and however we voted, I think its fair to say that the widespread confusion of the national landscape has not reflected well on the country nor inspired anyone with hope in recent days. So, today's Scripture might indeed speak into such a time as this, - a word to the wise to be prepared but the advice to rulers from Jeremiah holds good for all time, all places
3 This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place
in contrast to our Deal or No Deal scenario, that's the kind of country I want to live in, the sort of manifesto I would get behind no matter what, - and tragically, it’s one which has been pushed yet further from our present reality by the events in Christchurch on Friday. There’s not much doubt about what we must NOT do. God’s words are no open to interpretation here “DO NO WRONG OR VIOLENCE TO THE FOREIGNER. DO NOT SHED INNOCENT BLOOD”
Later God makes it even more clear..."Is not this - obedience to these commands - Is not THIS to know me?" 
That anyone, anywhere, could imagine that in turning on a community at prayer they were doing right is as baffling as it is chilling, but thankfully in this as in all else the ultimate judgement rests not with you and me but with a God who is truly our compassionate and merciful Father.
So, for now, if we want to know God, let’s just do all that we can to carry on obeying God’s commands: to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly – and we will probably be OK.
Meanwhile, I think there's even more by way of challenge going on in our New Testament reading as Jesus invites us to carry the cross and to give up all our possessions.
It’s not a great sales pitch, is it?
We’d rather have the kind of Saviour who invites us to follow his triumphant procession, caught up in the slipstream of his glory, cheered on by adoring crowds.
I can’t imagine that carrying crosses was on anyone’s wish list for a happy outing, not then and not now. – certainly not mine.
But we can’t say that Jesus didn’t warn us. He didn’t promise an easy ride in any way.
We’re going to have to change, you see.
Because broken sinful humanity is as it is, we won't find ourselves truly living in a country that operates in accordance with God's love and God's justice, until we've made a long hard journey…
I think perhaps the subtitle for the New Testament reading might be “Know your Ts & Cs”, terms and conditions.
Or as a far better theologian than I put it “The cost of discipleship”
You see there is a cost. Not a charge, but a cost nonetheless.
Yes, it's easy to get carried away, to build castles in the air about changing the world for God but there are important things to remember. This journey of grace costs us nothing in some respects...God's love is truly an unconditional free gift, his amazing welcome open to us all, no matter who we are or where we come from.
But....it's a journey that will change us. You can't fall in love and expect to have every other area of your life left untouched.
You can't opt to follow Jesus and be unchanged by your decision, not because he demands it but simply because that's the way things are.
To follow Jesus means longing to be more like him,and that transformation will involve many choices that feel distinctly uncomfortable as our egos are manoeuvred into second place.
I don’t know what your cross might look like – what your struggles might entail – but I’m sure they’ll be real and hard. We are asked to pick up something we DONT imagine we want – that personally tailored, individually crafted cross – and to let go of things that we have valued so much that there’s a real risk that those possessions have come to possess us. That’s not the easiest of exchanges, I’m afraid. On the whole, when it comes to possessions, I don’t think material things are likely to be the big issue. It’s more about those ideas that form our world view, opinions that have become facts to us, sweeping generalisations that we take on trust, or maybe even that unconscious privilege which means we no longer notice the lens through which we view reality.
The point is that serious discipleship does involve submitting to discipline. 
The clue is in the word. God loves us far too much to leave us as we are. We are invited to risk a radical transformation, to give up whatever might impede us– to honestly work at following Jesus, and allowing his way to become ours.
Can I invite you to consider your own inner landscape afresh. Ask God to help you to identify those habits of heart and mind, those ways of being that we hold so tightly they dominate and distort everything. Then ask for the grace to let go - to leave your hands free to bear the weight of whatever your cross might be.

Jesus doesn’t promise us an easy ride, - that's all too true. But the rewards are out of this world and this is, truly, the journey of a lifetime.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

"I believe in angels...."


Today the Knife Angel arrived in Coventry.

 

Standing so close to our two cathedrals, it occupies a good place to plant seeds of hope, inviting us all to reflect on the choices we make in life. Of course, we’re no strangers to loss, pain and destruction here, nor to making positive choices when another route might seem so much easier. I can’t imagine that Provost Howard was universally popular when, in 1940, he responded to the Coventry Blitz not with hatred or anger but with the two words which are still present in the apse of the ruined cathedral, “Father forgive”.

The power of the missing word is, I believe, Coventry’s greatest gift to the world, for where there is no “them” you are prevented from “othering” anyone, forced to recognise that we all have potential for both good and evil, that the choice is ours.

 

The Knife Angel, looking down at his own empty hands, is not a figure of power but of helplessness. He seems to be asking “Why? Why?” and, like us, has no answer.

While our own patron Michael, the Archangel, is confidently beating down Satan under his feet, - an angel sure of ultimate victory - Alfie Bradley’s Angel finds himself unarmed and uncertain, still in the midst of the struggle. Under his questioning gaze we can perhaps gather our thoughts, our longings for peace in the city, and make our own choice, to opt for a better tomorrow in which violence and hatred have no place.

In making something beautiful from the ugliness and violence of the knives Alfie follows a pattern that is part of the Cathedral’s own DNA – using the pain of the past to build something brighter and stronger – a peaceful future.

Of course  we must not imagine for a moment that, having welcomed the Knife Angel, we have done our bit to stand against knife crime. The causes are many and complex, but the over-riding absence of hope in some parts of the community must surely be a significant part of the picture. I was particularly sad to hear how often victims are knived with their own weapons…in other words, whatever the popular narrative, carrying knives does not make anyone safer…Those who have been hurt are too often the very ones who brought weapons to the scene.

 

This year we’re exploring the mess and muddle of 21st century Britain in our Cathedral Lent course, based on the BBC series, Broken. Ethics look different when viewed from a perspective of grinding poverty and I’m so conscious of the sheltered viewpoint I still have. My hope and my prayer is that while he is with us, the Knife Angel will help us to review not only our own choices but the provision for those who may feel they have no choices at all.

I’m certain they do.

Please, put down your knives…

 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Just a Priest - some thoughts on 25 years of women priests in the Church of England


25 years ago, my youngest child was a cold-ridden toddler having an uncharacteristically fractious and clingy afternoon.

I was up to my ears in something that demanded that I couldn’t just stop everything and attend to him, so I turned on the small black and white television that balanced on the ledge between kitchen and playroom and sat him in his highchair, so he was at least at eye level as I got on with my tasks. I didn’t expect there to be anything worth watching – but tv was a special treat in our house, so just being allowed to watch was something in itself, regardless of the programme. To my surprise, we seemed to be in the middle of a cathedral service. Then I remembered. Today was the day. While our own diocese was not due to ordain its first women to the priesthood til May, Bristol, by virtue of alphabetical order, was launching the church into its new era TODAY. I thought to myself “How wonderful. J will grow up never having known a church in which women cannot flourish in ministry as equals…”. In retrospect, that was distressingly na├»ve…

I don’t remember much of the service itself. Already, newly licensed as a Reader, I was getting weary of the comments round the village “It will be your turn soon, Kathryn.” “Nothing to stop you now”.    I wasn’t ready to be called, was still sticking my fingers in my ears and singing as loudly as possible to drown the inner voice which became non-negotiable as I received Communion at the Gloucester ordinations from Viv Faull (fast forward to today, and she is, of course Bishop of Bristol). Even so, it took me a further 11 years before I actually knelt in that beloved Cathedral.                                        Send down the Holy Spirit upon your servant Kathryn for the office and work of a priest.

Talking to FabBishop (newly consecrated and arrived in our diocese just weeks before my ordination as Deacon) he was full of joy at the celebration of those first 10 years, but said “I hope we can just forget it now…that you’ll be able to simply exercise your ministry without gender being an issue at all. Let’s aim not to NEED to celebrate 20 years because women’s ministry has become so normal, such a fundamental part of the life of the Church”.

He worked and fought and encouraged and blessed so many as he tried to help the Church move to that place, and in the days that followed the vote against women bishops in November 2012 I’m not sure that some of us would have remained fully functional without his love and care. It is a huge joy that when he retired, Bishop Rachel took his place in the See of Gloucester, and that it continues to be a place where the ministry of women is fully affirmed, absolutely and non-negotiably part of the fabric of the place.

Coming here, I was greeted with an enthusiasm that suggested there was still something a little unusual about a woman in a senior role. That’s changed over the past 5 years, one important landmark the appointment of Archdeacon Sue last year, but still I’m conscious of places where I and my sisters aren’t welcome to preside, where we may hear mutterings about “priestesses”, - and of others where we are patronised or over-celebrated, as remarkable beings, symbols of more than any woman could possibly aspire to. I think it was C.S.Lewis, many years ago, who nailed the syndrome as either  “The women – God help us! Or “The ladies, God bless them!” Neither is helpful!

Of course there are many many amazing women in the priesthood. Lots of them are my friends.

There are many many amazing men in the priesthood. Lot of them are my friends too!

I dream of a Church where we are all alike enabled to flourish in this God-given ministry as priests without any additional labels. We are not in competition. Following a vocation should never be a matter of gender politics but of obedience to God’s call.

Today I am thankful for those who made this possible for me, for those who battered down doors so that I could walk through them, for those who encouraged and pushed and nagged me to answer the call, and who continue to walk beside me in this ministry that I love.