Friday, February 16, 2018

Breathing Space Prayer journey with John's Prologue

It's always a little confusing to be confronted with John's Prologue weeks after the candlelit solemnity of Midnight Mass, so when it cropped up a week or two back, I was slightly perplexed as to how to make it work for "Breathing Space". In the event, I needn't have worried. God turned up and made the evening take wings, so I've decided it's worth keeping a record of it, just in case...

Station 1:
A gold gift bag beside the font, with cards spilling out of it, each with a message from Scripture, a message from God.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love" 
"You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased"
"I will never leave you or forsake you"
"I have called you by name, you are mine"
"I am with you always, to the close of the age"
"See, I have written your name on the palm of my hand"
"You are precious in my sight...and I love you"
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
In the beginning was the Word”
God is all about communication - relationship - reaching out to us, wanting to make Godself known.
What God was, the Word was....As John puts it, Jesus is first and foremost God's word, God's expression of Godself. In what he said and what he did, he showed us what God was like, what mattered to him, what he cared about. If you want to know God, says John, look at Jesus - the Word that sums God up.

If Jesus is God’s word to us – then what does he have to say.
Here at the font, where we mark the beginning of our Christian journey, take a card with a 

word to you from God.
Spend 5 minutes reflecting on it...Carry it with you….Believe in its truth.

God’s word to you today and for the weeks ahead.

Station 2 at the chancel steps: An orchid in full flower, a jug of tulips, images of natural 

beauty and of the miracle of life in the womb
Script: All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
Jesus was there when the world began. The power of love that we see in his life is the same power that holds everything in being. The whole of creation might be seen as a love-letter from God. Enjoy these examples of creation. Ask God to help you to recognise God’s work day by day.
Station 3:  a large laminated world map spread on the floor beside the Kiel globe candle stand.
Baskets of tea-lights.

Script: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Think of the dark places and the dark situations in our world. Perhaps there are even some in your life. Take time to be glad that God’s light has not and never will be overcome...That all the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of even the tiniest candle. Light a candle – or many candles – for all those who specially need the comforting light of God’s presence, and place them on the world map on the floor.

Station 4: Beside "The Plumbline and the City" a pile of "certificates", and pens

Script:  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 
Like Amos, whose vision of a plumbline over his city set the true course for a nation that had gone astray, John the Baptist was called to speak out, to invite people to look at their lives in the light of God, to reconsider and to repent. He was to be a signpost, pointing to Christ.
That calling to John is a calling for us all. We too are sent to testify to the light….Each of our lives can speak of God, passing on something of his love to others if we let that happen.
Take a card and write your name in the space. Spend a bit of time with God thinking about how you might be a witness, your life a gospel through which others may come to see God at work. Carry the card with you as a reminder in the days ahead.
"Kathryn...Sent to bear witness to the light"

Station 5: the (closed) gates to the railing at the Lady Chapel
Script:  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
Sometimes Jesus can be a real bother! There’s his voice that reminds me when I’m getting too pleased with myself...Or beginning to think that it’s all about me. He speaks again, challenging me if I think I might not bother to do whatever act of kindness is obviously there in front of me, which just feels a bit too much like hard work. He keeps on saying “Love God first. Love others the way you love yourself”. And there are times when I really want to shut the door in his face and live life on my terms.
And he never ever forces himself on me. He just stands there waiting at the edge of my life, when I know I should keep him at the centre…God excluded from the very world that God made. God stuck on a cross to keep him out of our way, to stop him from interrupting our agenda.
Think of some of the ways you try and keep God out of your life….It’s really easy to open the gate and be close to him – but we use all sorts of things to keep him safely out the way. You might want to write some of them down and fix them to the railings….

Station 6: in front of the tapestry, inside the Lady Chapel
12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us
Look at one another. God became human like us….so that we, in all our human frailty, might become like God. God settled with show us what a God-shaped life would look like – and invites us to live that life, to be His body here and now.
We can help one another to see him and to welcome Him in all the wonder of his love, that is full of grace and truth
Look at your hands – see the touch and the tenderness God’s own for the world
Look at your feet – see the path and the direction God’s own for the world
Look at your heart – see the fire and the love God’s own for the world
Look at the cross – see God’s Son and our Saviour God’s own for the world
This is God’s world and we will serve God in it
May God bless you
May God keep you ever with great care
and lead your lives with love
May Christ’s warm welcome shine in our lives and peace in heart and home prevail
til greater life shall call. Amen.

Love means never having to say that you're sorry

That was the line espoused by Ali McGraw in the 1970s film "Love Story" - and as a romantically inclined teenager that made perfect sense to me. Falling in love would mean a soft focus walk towards a beautiful sunset, accompanied not only by my beloved but by a whole string orchestra. And because our love would be perfect, we would never ever disappoint one another and so we would never need to say "sorry".

Well, that phase lasted til my first romance, I guess...And when I married the father of my children, the exhaustion of early years parenting, the absence of enough cash for the number of days in the month, and a whole host of other stresses and strains presented me with a hefty dose of harsh reality really quite quickly. It turned out, in fact, that love meant having to say I was sorry on a distressingly regular basis. I realised that if love was going to have any hope of surviving, then it had to be based on reality. And in the real world I, and my loved ones, mess up regularly and so we need to say sorry several dozen times a day.
That's just how it is - even in human relationships, where there are always faults on both sides, and where learning to forgive as well as be forgiven is just the way things are.

So this year, with Ash Wednesday falling on 14th February, love and saying sorry come together with renewed force. Ash Wednesday, you see, is all about accepting the truth of who we are...fallible human beings, constrained by time and mortality...(though there is something very liberating in realising that we are, truly, dust...that so much of the stuff that preoccupies and disturbs us here and now is of no lasting significance at trying to adopt, as we travel through Lent, something of the perspective of eternity).

It's about taking a long hard look at ourselves, about seeing the mess, the pain, the destruction we have caused - and accepting responsibility for them.
BEING sorry.
But it's also about recognising the truth of who GOD is...the depths of his love from which nothing can separate us...
about accepting that even as we bring all our personal baggage of sin and failure, resentment and despair to God, God loves us far too much to leave us grappling with it. 

It seems to me that even as we begin to say "Sorry" the things of which we repent are swept away as God takes us up in the kind of loving embrace that every child should surely receive, if the world was as God intended.
Love sweeps away our "Sorry"...but we do need to say that "Sorry" to be free to hear and receive the love.

My friend Stu used, on Ash Wednesday, to use different words when marking his penitent congregation with their crosses of ash.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love" "You are my friends" "I am with you always".
Loving messages from the God who calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light...

Sorrow and love find their fullest expression at the cross, but as we begin to travel towards Calvary, they belong together here as well, where we begin to learn the joy of trying to walk with integrity and recognise that love will often mean having to say that we're sorry.
And that's just fine!

Sunday, February 04, 2018

8.00 Homily for the 2nd Sunday before Lent, Coventry Cathedral.

I seem to be powerless to change the bizarre formatting that appears here when I cut and paste and perfectly innocuous document from elsewhere in my files. Apologies. It makes my head ache too.

In the beginning was the Word”…
In the beginning.
As Genesis, so John. Here, we’re concerned with the roots and origins of all things, establishing beyond doubt the identity of the Christ with God the Creator.
The Word was with God and the Word was God.”
But existence is not the whole story. Indeed, this IS a story. Once upon a time – before time was…
The Word.
Ours is not a God who is content to just BE...remote, transcendant, “immortal, invisible,God only wise, in light inacessible”
Our God is bent on a relationship, on communicating Himself with his creation…He is not only a being, but the Word. God also reaches out in longing to communicate his love to us.
A couple of weeks ago, I woke up to find myself voiceless thanks to one of those irritating viruses...I took the dogs for their usual morning walk – but realised that I would have to keep them on the lead, as I couldn’t possibly call to them.
I walked through the Cathedral unable to do more than wave to those staff I would normally exchange a quick greeting with, as I hurried on to the next thing.
I hated it. I didn’t feel like myself at all – and that was just for two short days.
I can only imagine how hard long-term enforced silence must be...Frustrating, isolating, how does one ever get across the truth of who we are...
Words matter.
And John describes Jesus first and foremost as God’s Word.
He tells us that Jesus was God’s expression of himself.
In what he said and did, he showed what God was like, what mattered to him, what he cared about.
John is saying here, “if you want to know God, look at Jesus – the word that sums him up.”

It is an extraordinarily powerful thing to say, especially as actually,
there wasn’t anything very obviously special about Jesus. He wasn’t some
kind of superhero, just a first Century Palestinian Jew from an artisan
family in an ordinary village. There was no halo. There were no choirs of
angels or processions of trumpets going before him.
But those who experienced his ministry knew that here they could see God’s priorities lived out. There was a passion for justice, loving care and respect for those whom life had trodden down. That’s what brought Jesus into conflict with the authorities and got him crucified. In an age when might was right a Word that spoke out for the voiceless – the poor, the disabled,the outcast – wasn’t going to be one that those in power would want to hear. It had to be silenced.

And the first reading we heard, from the book of Proverbs, essentially says
the same thing in a slightly different way. It introduces us to Wisdom,
personified as a woman, present with God from the beginning, sharing in his
work of creation, present among human beings, close to them - “delighting in
the human race”. God isn’t sitting on a cloud in the sky looking down on the
world with disapproving judgement, says Lady Wisdom. He, and she, are right
there in the thick of the world, rejoicing in it.

The God who spoke through Lady Wisdom, the God who spoke through Jesus, the
Word made flesh, has not fallen silent now. He still speaks. The medieval
mystic Meister Eckhart once said “All creatures are words of
God.”* Each of our lives can speak of God, passing on something of his love
to others if we let that happen.  “To all who received him, who believed in
his name, he gave power to become children of God,” said John. Translated
into plain English that means, if we want to be a part of what God is doing
we can be. We can live as part of God’s family. We can show his family
likeness in the things we do. When we love others, when we speak up for
those who can’t speak for themselves, as Jesus did, we are at that moment God’s word for the world.

The Bible says that Jesus was, supremely, God’s Word to us, but it also says
that each of us is a word that speaks loud and clear too. Let's pray that the word of our lives speaks unmistakably of God's love, today and every day. Amen

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Rise and shine - a sermon for our Volunteers' Evensong at Coventry Cathedral. Epiphany 2018

Arise, shine -for your light is come!

My father spent some of the happiest days of his life as a serving officer in the Royal Navy, and so it was that in childhood my day always began as he put his head round my bedroom door offering a passable imitation of a Bosun's pipe before declaiming 
Wakey wakey. Rise and shine”…
And I knew, somehow, that, whatever the day might bring, the force of his love for me meant that I’d always shine, someho, in his eyes.
His faith in my abilities was absolute. 
Of everyone that I’ve known, he would probably be the least surprised that I’ve ended up here – something that was a far cry from my own imaginings when I finally stopped running away from God’s call to ordination and set out in reluctant obedience. You see, I know that I’m really deeply ordinary...Nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that all the lovely things that have happened to me along the road have come as joyful surprises. Daddy, perhaps, might have claimed to see them coming (and sometimes I’m still sad that he died without even knowing I’d be heading to the university of our dreams…)

However, - there’s nothing worse than a preacher who goes on about themselves...though I guess most preachers find ourselves engaging with the words we most need to hear as we prepare...But – that’s not the point.
It’s all about rising and shining today.

Your light has come

Such welcome words in these dark cold days when January bites.
Though the galaxies of fairy lights may have vanished, the decorations have been returned to their boxes, nonetheless we continue to celebrate
The light is come
The light that shines in the darkness – while the darkness cannot even comprehend it...

And – the dawning of that light means that we too are called to shine.
Not simply to bask in its transforming glow but to SHINE...and to recognise that
The glory of the Lord is risen upon you...” and in that light, the whole world is transformed.

That's what an Epiphany does. It helps you see things differently.
Simply put, it's the moment when God is revealed.
It’s that instant of “Aha!” when you can say with confidence that this experience is nothing less than a real live encounter with our real live God – and after that nothing will ever look the same again.
Lift up your eyes and look around”...
This is not the same place that it was before...
These people are more beautiful...
They reflect that light which has dawned...and so do you
You shall see and be radiant. Your heart shall rejoice!”

Epiphanies change everything.
How we see the world – and how we see ourselves.

The Common Worship liturgy for this season invites us into a season of marvels .
Three wonders mark this holy day.
This day, a star leads the wise men to the Christ child.
This day water is made wine at the wedding feast.
This day Jesus is reavealed as the Christ in the waters of baptism.

Wonders that show us, and all humanity, something of the truth of God with us...
A birth story, a baptism and a wedding. What a wedding!

I have to say that, as one who has spent a fair bit of time involved in the fine details of wedding arrangements, I find them very nerve wracking affairs. So much seems to ride on the success of the day, there is such a longing for “perfection”, that the risk of disappointment feels enormous.
It's bad enough if the clouds gather, or the florist fails – but I would really really hate to be too close if the wine ran out.

But, of course, this is exactly what happens at Cana of Galilee.
A wonderful day of celebration is transformed, not by the radiant light of an epiphany but by the looming clouds of family shame and disappointment.
Such disaster!
Despite the best planning, the many attempts to ensure perfection, a roomfull of guests is faced with the exciting choice of water or water.
Human resources have failed.
But luckily that bride and groom whose names we'll never know had the good sense to invite Jesus to be part of their celebration – and in doing so, had, against all their expectations, brought God directly to their marriage feast.
Lift up your eyes and look around you!
So, when all they could offer was water – Jesus intervened and turned it into wine – and not just supermarket plonk but the finest vintage ever tasted.
How did it happen? I can't help with the mechanics of the miracle, and sadly I don't know how to replicate it, but at the most basic level it happened because someone had the sense to ask for help....a useful reminder for all of us. God is waiting, longing to bless us – but too often we try to struggle on, claiming our independence even as we fall flat on our faces again and again.
The God who in Jesus took the ordinary things of life and made them extraordinary is the same God who takes ordinary people – you, me and the lady down the road – and blesses us to be signs of God's kingdom.
Pablo Picasso, who knew a fair bit about being gifted, I’d say, once wrote
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”
And that’s exactly what you do, - each of you  splendid volunteers, who give of your time and energy, talent and skill to God through the work of this Cathedral. Be you singer or ringer, musician, verger or server, reader, welcomer, steward, Blitz museum host, archivist, guide, teacher, caterer, coffee maker, bread maker, polisher, weeder, filer, copier, editor ,Night shelter host or Work Club advisor, intercessor, prayer minister, or planner,  embroiderer, committee member, small group leader, pastoral visitor,f- or a host of other roles…
You give of yourself – and we are deeply and truly grateful – not just today when we voice our thanks, but on each and every day of the year.
You give of yourself, and God uses you as a gift to bless others.

Yes each one of us is fundamentally quite ordinary...As we wander through Broadgate, there’s nothing to make anyone take a second glance and yet.........and yet, we can and will be transformed by God, if we can only find the courage to ask God to work with us.
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose is to give it away.
Arise. Shine. For God knows that you can...and will..shine for God.

The water that we bring, our everyday lives, our time, our being is blessed and transformed into that we too can be a sacramental sign of God's presence – for that is what the church is called to be.
But the thing is – those servants who poured out the contents of the water jars as directed had NO idea that a wonder was occurring. They had to act first – and one can well imagine how it felt to approach the MC with a cup of – well, they knew that the jar had held water...they'd filled it themselves...
There's something for us to learn here, isn't there?If we don't actually RISK trusting that God can do amazing things....if we don't attempt the extraordinary for God's sake ….then we will never discover what God's grace can accomplish.
Yes – even in me. 
Even in you.

Arise. Shine.

Truly, this is the season of wonders, as we continue to celebrate God with us, - in the simple things of everyday, - in water, bread and wine and in men and women, giving of their gifts of energy, time and talents.
For all this and so much more, thanks be to God!

The Christmas journey - sermon for Midnight Mass at Holy Trinity, Coventry

This is what I said at Midnight Mass....The following Sunday someone came up to me after the Cathedral Eucharist to say "thank you"...She had suffered a heart attack some years ago, had felt betrayed by her body until someone suggested that the place where her heart had been "broken" was the place where God was lodging to heal and restore. She found my sermon confirming that sense - and in sharing her story, she blessed me hugely. 

Light looked down and beheld darkness

I will go there, said Light
That’s the most important journey, of course…the journey we are preparing to celebrate…the journey that makes all the difference to everything….
But St Luke’s account of the nativity is full of journeys.
Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem,
The angels come from heaven to the shepherds
Just after they’ve heard the angelic chorus, the shepherds hurry to the manger.
Even at the moment of his birth Jesus is intent on stirring us up, on moving us out of our familiar ways, taking us out beyond our comfort zones.
Ironic, then, that we’ve transformed our celebrations of his birth into the epitome of traditions. We dream of Christmasses “just like the ones we used to know” and exclaim in distress if an “essential” carol somehow gets missed from the Midnight Service or too many features of our own ideal festivities are altered without permission.
Ironic because that baby is born to challenge and to change us…
The shepherds went on their journey – they saw the good news story with their own eyes – and then they had to go home and demonstrate that the baby’s birth really was good news for the whole world. Once the angels had stopped singing and gone on their way, the good news depended on them. Who would have believed their wild stories of a sky filled with angels if the events of that night had not changed the shepherds so that they began to live a new kind of life?
They turned from people who had been on the receiving end of good news, - who had heard it and seen it, - to people who were good news themselves.
And now we are invited on the same journey…called to travel even to Bethlehem
We’re not there just to see, marvel and return home to the status quo.
We go, like so many before us, just as we are, because we have no other option.
We go empty handed, because the Christ child needs nothing except our hearts.

Let me make a confession. Please be kind to me!
I spend far too much time that I don’t really have online...and sometimes I even get drawn in to utterly pointless quizes. I’m sure that none of you would ever be so silly...but there we go. That’s me.
And so it was that earlier this week I established, thanks to Classic fm, that if I were a Christmas carol, I’d be Harold Darke’s wonderful setting of “In the bleak midwinter”. That made me very happy, actually, as it’s one of my favourites, with its last verse that encourages us to give our hearts to the infant King.

It sounds so beautiful, a precious gift on this night of wonders...– but sometimes, you know, our hearts aren’t all they might be.
If we’re honest, - and there’s no point in being anything else - we’ll know that the gift of our hearts isn’t really that amazing.
There are probably some patches of selfishness, of un-forgiveness…of intolerance or prejudice…of anger or pride...and all of those parts of ourselves of which we are least proud are nonetheless wrapped up in our offering of ourselves to that baby.
Still, we travel as we are, because that‘s the only way that we can go.
No possibility of white-wash or self-deception here, since the One we go to visit is our God, our creator, a helpless baby swaddled against the night air.
But though we are all of us welcome just as we are…we are invited there to be transformed.

There’s another journey that we must make…from self interest to love, from anger to peace, from despair to hope…
As we stoop to enter the stable, that cramped space that contains Someone greater than the world and all that is in it, we are invited to change….to offer our poverty, our inadequacy, our disappointment, our fear and to receive back riches, strength, comfort beyond all expectation.
We come as we are and are changed till we are as He is….
That’s the point of it all, as Ireneaus recognised so many centuries ago, when he proclaimed:
God became what we are, so that we might become what God is.”
And God, of course, is love.

Imagine if everyone in this packed church went out into the world to live every day by the light of God’s love.
Imagine how our city might look then.
A sudden outbreak of love, joy, peace and reconciliation transforming everything.
And that’s our invitation, as we come face to face with Jesus, the one who can transform us tonight…
Jesus born in a stable, but present for us in one another, in God’s word and in the Sacrament of bread and wine.

LIGHT looked down and beheld darkness.
I will go there,’ said Light.
Peace looked down and beheld war.
I will go there,’ said Peace.
Love looked down and beheld hate.
I will go there’ said Love.
So light came, and shone.
So peace came, and gave rest.
So love came, and gave light.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

Advent 4 Ana-Mary-Gram

Though they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, I would contend that poetry can often get into places in our hearts and souls where other words cannot reach…That poets and prophets alike have the gift of standing at a distance and seeing things in a new way – and as I pondered this morning’s readings I realised that beloved George Herbert had done it again. In common with most writers of his day, he loved a bit of word-play and among all the treasures of his “Temple” collection is a two-line anagrammatic poem which sums up pretty much all that today’s readings represent. He is playing with the name of Mary – an anagram of army as he writes -
HOw well her name an Army doth present,
In whom the Lord of hosts did pitch his tent!
And there we have it.
After so many dreams and longings to secure God’s presence by building God a house…after David’s aspirations and Solomon’s international construction project (which always puts me in mind of the way that treasures were gathered from all over the world as this Cathedral rose from the rubble)….after Israel’s years of exile and return…after the Roman occupation…after all this our God on the move finally settles, for a while at least.
The one who walked with Adam in the cool of the evening, who spoke to Moses through the Burning Bush and talked to him face to face as a man speaks to his friend, the God whose still small voice was heard by Elijah…the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob comes among God’s people once again and pitches his tent …
As one translation of that well-loved phrase in John’s prologue runs, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us…moved into the neighbourhood…dwelt among us
Heaven taking root on earth –
“For in that rose contained was heaven and earth in little space”
In Mary.
A teenager in a small town in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire.
One among many, you’d imagine. Nothing to mark her out in the crowd. What was so special about her?
I suspect that for David, right the way through, there was a hope that to build a Temple might be his great legacy project. You see, though he knew God well, David was so often the centre of his own much of his life was All About Him. Hard for him to let go of the idea that it would be DAVID’S Temple that would stand for centuries...though there is the promise for him, too
“I will make for you a great name...Your throne shall be established forever”.
That’s not bad, really, for a shepherd boy turned king, with some very dubious moments along the way. David matters. His story counts...the David chapter remains important in the grand sweep of God’s story of love for God’s people.
But with Mary, things are quite different.
She may seem to be just an ordinary girl and yet – and yet, even before God bursts into her life turning everything upside down, she’s already described as “favoured one” – “full of grace” in some translations…
David was a man after God’s own heart, but here is someone so open to God that grace already fills her heart and soul.
God knows he will feel at home with Mary…IN her…
God comes close to her “The Lord is with you” – and because God comes close to Mary, Mary comes close to God…so close that, incredibly, she becomes the God-bearer herself.
Here is God’s stopping place – the site where God is pitching his tent for now. Forget the splendours of the Temple, - all that God is, the whole fullness of divinity, will be contained within her womb.
As the carol puts it “res Miranda” – a wonderful thing indeed...Mary, blessed among women indeed –though it is a costly blessing…
Small wonder that the angelic messenger opens the next part of the conversation with that familiar angelic greeting
“Do not be afraid…”.
If ever those words were appropriate, this is the time. And though what he says is terrifying enough, what actually happens is far more so. Though Mary responds with obedience, it doesn’t honestly feel as if she has much choice
“The power of the Most High will overshadow you…” – and at that point, really, resistance is futile…
From then on Mary’s life is transformed forever – and so is the life of the world.
Yes, David gets his mention. We know that it matters that Joseph is “of his house”, - that, very soon now, Mary’s child will be born in Bethlehem, Royal David’s city…
“He will be great...and the Lord will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there shall be no end”
The parallels are unmistakable. Luke’s hearers are meant to recognise that here an ancient promise is being fulfilled. Mary may not know where the road ahead is leading but here and now God has come home, pitching his tent …
While George Herbert enjoys the word play that turns Mary to Army, the God whom she sings of in her Magnificat turns things the other way up. David’s calling was to be mighty in battle, to defeat the enemies of God’s people and assert the power of his name over all earthly rulers…
Mary’s calling, higher by far, was and is to provide hospitality for the One whose power is made perfect in weakness, who puts down the mighty from their seat, and exalts the humble and meek.
As Gabriel speaks to her, this new world order is already coming in to being.
And – we are part of it.
The promise of mercy...made to Abraham and his children is made to us too…
but we have to make room, as Mary did.
We HAVE to offer God hospitality, knowing that to do so as fully, whole-heartedly, as she did will probably turn our worlds upside down too.
Tonight, many of us will find ourself singing the familiar words
“Be born in us today”.
While Mary was God-bearer when Christ came into the world, we are all called to be God-bearers here and now. The world needs God so much – and with God, nothing is impossible.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Coventry - a place I love.

Dear DCMS,
I know that today you're being inundated with pictures and tags about this remarkable city. Here are some thoughts that have been brewing gently over 4 years now. Enjoy reading them - and reflecting on our city. We love it - and it is making an extraordinary journey from despondency to joy. You have the power to help us on the way to transformation...that's really special. I hope you'll fall in love with Coventry too 

Home for now. 
A phoenix city that has reinvented itself repeatedly through history - from weaving and dyeing, to ribbons, sewing machines, bicycles, cars...and latterly, students.
A city that, not long ago, seemed to have run out of energy and resources, losing its self-belief and with it, the ability to dream.
A city that people don't visit.
A city that defines itself over and against its neighbours
"Well, of course, we're not Birmingham!"

Four years ago, my experience of Advent was unlike other years. It was, more than ever, a time of preparation, but this year as well as all the busyness of parish life, the comings and goings of schools and community groups, the 24/7 carolling, I was also preparing, beneath the surface, to be interviewed for the post I now hold. At that point, I knew little of Coventry, though in common with many thousands of others I had visited with my parents in the 1960s, had reportedly sat myself firmly on the floor by the West Screens and said, with some indignation, "You never told me that God was so BIG".
As part of the interview I was asked to give a presentation about creating a reconciled and reconciling people - and instinct suggested to me, even then, that the Cathedral itself might need to seek reconciliation with its city. This is what i wrote then...

The Cathedral stands as living symbol of resurrection and healing through brokenness....and can offer a safe space to gather and hold individual and community stories, tales of a city destroyed, reborn, and travelling onward. Sometimes those stories will seem to point to differences that cannot be resolved, divisions almost beyond healing.
For all the joy and pride in the new Cathedral, the loss of its predecessor was a real blow for the city. The night of the blitz left scars even as the whole shape of the city was redrawn. Writing of the post-war redevelopment of Ladywood, not so very far away, the parish priest of St John's pointed out ““The heart of our community was destroyed. A living, corporate personality was crushed by the bulldozers” - and the impact was significant and lasting, for all the obvious local improvements. 
Similarly here the building that had evolved over generations to be a theatre of memory where the story of Jesus and the story of the city came together was replaced by an award-winning project not welcomed by all.
If stories were lost, or voices stifled, perhaps now is the time to hear them.

Perhaps too the remarkable ministry of international reconciliation you now represent, created a distance between the Cathedral and the city?  Do we need reconciliation at home as well as further afield?

I think I was onto something then - but I believe that  things are different now. 
Yes, for many our Cathedral is still defined above all by a moment in history and the challenging decision of Provost Howard, the morning after the night before, to write just two words on the wall of his ruined Cathedral's sanctuary. "Father forgive", he said, and in that moment plotted our course from then on, as a place where we don't talk of "them" and "us"....where we recognise that both destructive and creative habits lie within all of us...where we understand that whatever is happening in the world, the responsibility is shared. in choosing reconciliation over retribution, he established our DNA - but that has led us to places and encounters that I imagine he could not have dreamed of.

Our reconciliation story is as powerful now as it ever was, and we continue to lean on the power of the past to build peace for the future....but there is more afoot. 
With a culture of openness and welcome that tries to reflect God's unconditional welcome of each one of us, with a programme of worship and events that is wide-ranging and sometimes challenging, with strong friendships with our neighbours at the University next door and the leaders of the city across faith, cultural and political divides, we are doing all that we can to be a space for all. I love the city and the Cathedral's place in it and look forward to working with our neighbours and partners to nurture the seeds of hope til they flourish and grow to make our city beautiful again.