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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

What makes a good Lent? Making space for the hope of Christ

What makes a good Lent? Making space for the hope of Christ

Friday 20th February 2015
In this talk given at St Paul's Cathedral last night, the Archbishop of Canterbury reflected on what makes a good Lent for individuals, communities and society as a whole.

Some things stick in the memory. In 2004, when I was working at Coventry Cathedral, I was in a part of Africa which was in the midst of some very serious fighting. A group of black-clad militias was moving across the area, killing, looting, burning.
With a colleague I drove into the area where the fighting was going on to a small town that was under siege, or had been. On the way there, after a long period in the car on very bad roads, we stopped for a few moment break. There was a series of burnt huts to our right, and I walked a few metres towards them.
Around me rose ash. It was this time of year; in fact it was the Monday before Ash Wednesday. The ash rose in clouds, settling on me, from the burnt houses and, as I walked, I realised the ash from those who had been burned.
That was ash without hope, ash without change, ash rising in clouds to call all who saw it to acknowledge human evil but not to promise anything better.
Every Ash Wednesday when I’m at a service with the ashing, it’s that ash that comes back to my mind, and I see in my mind’s eye again, as I did yesterday, the small pumps in the ground of the people who’d been killed, the marks of blood upon the walls, the destroyed huts.
Ash Wednesday, this time of year, is a moment in which we are called afresh to look at the reality that that village represented – the reality that is the reality of human sinfulness and evil – and to reflect that that lies deeply within ourselves, all of us without exception. Not perhaps to that extent, but in one way or another.
A good Lent takes hold of that and, in an extraordinary way, makes space for the hope of Christ. It makes space for the hope of Christ not only in our own individual lives but also in the life of the household and family, in the life of the Church and of local communities and, I would suggest, in the life of society generally.
I want to speak to you about how this works through some words from an Old Testament prophet and the writings of a sixth-century monk: the prophecy of Isaiah and the Rule of St Benedict.
But also, because it happened this last week, like those burned huts all those years ago, let us remember this evening those 21 Egyptian Christians who made so much space in their lives for the hope of Christ that they witnessed to him to the point of their death.
Yesterday I was visiting Bishop Angaelos, the remarkable Coptic Bishop here in Britain, to condole with him on those losses, on those terrible killings, and he told me some of the details. I won’t tell you all of them, but there is one that is extraordinary.
They were given the opportunity to convert and chose not to, knowing the consequence, and then they were killed, most terribly. And the one who got away tells that each of them, as they were killed, was calling out, “Jesus is Lord.”
A good Lent makes space for the hope of Christ in a way that draws us into their fellowship and to walk with them.
Isaiah chapter 40, verse 3, says: ‘A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”’
The prophet Isaiah speaks to a people in exile and despair – much how many Christians across the Middle East and Africa must be feeling right now, and in other places too — offering them hope and return and a purpose.
The way in which that return will be experienced by the Jewish people, coming back from Babylon to Israel; the way that they are going to experience that covers every aspect of their life together – from the individual to the national – and draws in the decisions of their imperial masters, especially Cyrus, the Persian king.
Over the following 27 chapters of Isaiah, the exiled and those returning will find an extended justification by God of His judgement on the people – and a consequent call for holiness, and for place to be made in their lives and in their way of living that means the blessing of His presence is fully experienced.
A good Lent makes space for the presence of God in all.
But Lent is probably one of the most individualistic of the great Christian seasons, at least in our modern way of doing it. The question of “what are you doing for Lent?”, which I was asked on the train yesterday, is always one which is asked with an implicit singular ‘you’. In French it would be ‘tu’ rather than ‘vous’. I wish I had had a better answer! But actually we have to stop seeing Lent, if it is to be a good Lent, simply as something that is individual.
The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter, published on Shrove Tuesday, has at its heart that tension between the individual and the joint. It contrasts the solitary stranger and the community of communities. It calls for a moral vision of society in which every level is brought into forms of relationship that are healthy, energising and lead to human flourishing.
It is neither left-wing nor right-wing. It notes the absence of a capacity for moral debate in this country; it puts the way we live on a spectrum not of left and right, but of holiness and sin.
A good Lent makes space for hope by leading us afresh into encounter with the holiness of God.
The central point of the Pastoral Letter is that human beings are made to live in relationship, and communities of human beings are made to live in relationship with other communities.
In Lent, we are not to turn inwardly to ourselves, but to start with ourselves and to see a transformed life in community and relationship, not only with God but with each other. It’s not a ‘tu’, it’s a ‘vous’. It’s not what are ‘you’ doing [singular] but what are ‘you’ doing [plural] that Christ puts to us.
The key response in relation to God’s hope to the exiles come near the very end of Isaiah, chapter 65 verse 1, where the highway of God’s promised return is realised in God’s own words to the people. When God says to them, almost desperately: “Here I am, here I am”.
These are words that would echo loudly for Isaiah, because they are the very words he voiced to God at the very start of his ministry (6:8 – ‘Here I am, send me’).
The individuality of Isaiah’s Lenten call – “Here I am, send me” – is magnificently reversed, into a universality by which God is available, and longing to draw near, to his people.
God calls to us, and to each of us, continually. Our response must above all be to listen and to pay attention. In listening, the doors of hope are opened afresh. God says to the returned exiles of Israel: “When I called, no-one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen.”

In the Rule of St Benedict, Benedict says in his introduction: ‘Let us hear with all struck ears what the divine voice, crying out daily doth admonish us’; and also: “What, dearest brethren, can be sweeter to us than this voice of the Lord inviting us?”

So for each of us a good Lent begins with paying attention, with beginning to make straight the way of the Lord by listening.
Listening began with Ash Wednesday yesterday. We have to start by acknowledging our sin, and our humanity. We cannot listen while we fill our ears with our own self-confidence and our own self-worth.
What we are is what we are in Christ, and nothing more. And what that is is the summit of all God’s creation; flawed and fallen in sin, but with all the possibilities which our Saviour brings us.
Each of us, in Christ, is saved from slavery to sin and the condemnation that goes with it. We are saved for the delights of walking with Christ in relationship. Of being drawn into His global family. Into the great purpose of bringing in the Kingdom of God so that the world may see the glory of Christ and find itself the unmeasurable and surpassing joy of serving God and being embraced by His love.
And in Lent we open the way of hope, that the world may see.
We used to be a lot tougher about this. Today, Lent is a form of self-improvement, if it is observed at all. Someone said a few days that nowadays it tends to consist of giving up sugar in coffee or doing without your biscuit. I’m not sure what it achieves, but it is infinitely more than that. At the individual level it draws us to see what we have been saved from, and what we are being saved for.
With a slight sense of mischief, I have reintroduced the idea that we say the Commination from the Book of Common Prayer at Lambeth Palace on Ash Wednesday, as is prescribed in the Rubric…
It starts with an initial cursing of all kinds of interesting things like removing our neighbour’s landmark, as well as rather more serious modern sins like perverting the judgment of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and so on and so forth.
Towards the end it says this (I’m only telling you, not because I assume you don’t know the Commination by heart, but because the words have a certain resonance, even though you will have said them yesterday): “Although we have sinned, yet have we an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous… let us therefore return unto Him… and be ordered by the governance of his Holy Spirit; seeking always His glory and serving Him duly in our vocation with thanksgiving.”
This is a bit more serious than indicated by giving up a biscuit with one’s coffee.
So what do we do for a good Lent individually? We listen. We listen to the voice that echoes through creation, the voice cries to each of us: “Here I am, here I am.”
What does that mean in practice? One of the wonderful things about scripture is it is there that we listen, whether we are listening to it in a service in a liturgical setting, or reading a few words before we go to sleep.
And we need to remember that the words of scripture were not written by people in comfortable circumstances far from the distractions of life, but in the midst of all the terrors and horrors that we see still lived out today in the same areas of the Middle East.
Those who wrote it knew what is was to be a refugee and slave, they knew persecution and genocide. For that reason, as we turn to its pages and seek the Spirit of God, we will find comfort and hope.
But let us be practical. For those who have incredibly busy lives, with long hours, and many here who will work in offices where there is not a single moment of silence or space during the day, and I do remember that.
For those who leave early for work, who are not in control of their diary and the events with which they deal, and return late and tired. For those who are carers at home, isolated, often lonely, with many demands. For those who are housebound by illness.
For all the different categories. For those who amidst it all seem to maintain some kind of life in a household, time with partner and children or friends, developing some hinterland beyond the demands of daily life.
For all of them, listening is so difficult
So, how do we listen? Let me suggest one Lent discipline which you might like to add to giving up the biscuit.
Read Luke’s gospel, taking a small chunk each day, and ask yourself as you read it three simple questions: What does it say? What does it mean? What am I going to do about it? Very simple.
What does it say? This first question is simply an exercise in putting ourselves into the place of the listener or the observer. I was looking today at Caravaggio's picture of the call of Matthew where a rich group of tax collectors sits behind a table, and Jesus, in bare feet, comes in and points to him, and he's looking astonished, he's got his hand to his chest, he can't believe - "what, me? You want me?" Peter's behind him...not quite daring point himself.
Where are you in that picture? Fr Laurent Fabre, the founder of Chemin Neuf, says: "I'm Matthew, that's who I am. I'm the one who is far away, every time I look at him." Where are you in the story, first.
What does it say? What's going on? What does it mean? People are intimidated by the Bible, wondering if they should not see something immensely profound. The answer is that you see what God shows you on the day. Sometimes you see a lot, sometimes you see a little. If you have a short time ask yourself the obvious questions about the plain meaning of the text before you. Of course there is more, of course one can learn New Testament Greek and read profound commentaries and that is wonderful. But in Lent, do what you can, not what you can’t.
And what do I do about it? Ask yourself: “How do I make my life more open to Christ because of what this is saying to me?”
For myself, such reading is part of my own daily discipline of prayer, which includes a lot of other things as well. Time is spent and at the end of jotting down whatever banal or very occasionally less banal thoughts I have, I always put in a couple of lines of what I can do about it.
Sometimes it is very practical writing to someone or speaking to someone who I may have offended. It may be very simple, merely saying a prayer of sorry, or thank you, or petition for something of which I need reminding.
Of course, to make straight the way of the Lord, so that he comes to us, to open our lives so that hope comes up fresh, to smooth out the road so that our lives are open to listening, has infinitely more variety than this.
Let me suggest one other. As individuals, even short periods of complete silence during Lent, fasting from noise and conversation and distraction, will be of great value. How little we do of it.
Every weekday at Lambeth Palace, in the Chapel, there is a period silent prayer after Evening Prayer. When I can because I don’t have any immediate appointment, I join with the community there in the silent prayer.
It starts with my mind churning with the event of the day and upcoming events, with reports in the press, with resentment and joys, and the occasional twinge of cramp in my foot. Fortunately, I am not the only one and silence is occasionally disturbed by an “ouch” and a shifting.
But as the churning subsides, I begin to hear other things. The sound of a siren going by (we live between a police station, a fire station and a hospital). Then after a while I incorporate that into the prayer and find, just a little, that God is in the midst, and space is being made and I can hear.
I’ve had to learn, and I’m still very much learning, that I do not need to do anything in that time. I need only to be willing to listen. It is a time of meditation and reflection, of discovering the God who – all the time – is saying: “Here I am.”
But Lent is no mere individualistic, narcissistic and inward-looking self-help festival. The basic building block of society has been communities of different sorts and shapes. What that means has varied extensively at different ages and in different places. For many people it is still a family, that wonderful building block of society; one of many. For others it’s an extended family, for others a group of friends you see most regularly or with whom you share a house. A good Lent must overflow in generosity. It’s one of the signs.
Here again, take out the bumps in the road. How do we live a good Lent with those whom we live with? The bumps in the road we need to smooth out for the Lord to come? Relationships that have been neglected and therefore are full of clutter that needs removing?
They can be very difficult: broken relationships may be easily mendable, little irritations – or it may be that we need, in a good Lent, to take the first step to clearing away a major landslide.
The Community of St Anselm, which we will be launching in September, will have as part of its prayer discipline the process of confession with one another, of being open with one another in prayer.
I’ve watched them do it at Chemin Neuf and I can tell you it’s not a lot of laughs, sitting with someone with whom you live, having to confess where you’ve gone wrong. But it doesn’t half make for functional community. We need to deal with what it is we find in those closest to us…
How do you do it in practice? Openness, transparency, and also go back and use the same approach to scripture as I suggested a few moments ago. One has to treat each person and situation differently.
There’s a wonderful book called the Pastoral Rule of Gregory the Great which describes this at great length. If you’re going to deal with relationships, if you’re going to smooth the road so God finds a living community of those who love one another and shine out and overflow with the goodness of Christ, you’ll have to deal with each person individually.
Look at the story of Zacchaeus. The story is dramatic enough, and also extremely humorous. Its events will have shocked the crowd that watched it.
Here was a bad guy, a tax collector, received by Jesus who knew his name, who then invites Jesus to his home (and Jesus accepts) and repents and turns away from all he does wrong.
What we have here is a series of mended relationships. Zacchaeus repairs his relationship with the community of Israel. With Jesus he makes a new relationship, and he sorts himself out with God. His household will have been turned into a place of hospitality rather than exhaustion. That is a good Lent, lived in a few hours in Jericho on a hot day.
The bigger the institution we are part of, the harder it is to have a moral centre that is maintained, and the easier it is to slip into bad habits with institutional life that drown out the voice of God. That has always been an issue with the church, and remains an issue today. Our own concerns and troubles, even the entirely legitimate ones, may obscure our capacity to see and hear Christ in those with whom we disagree. A really good Lent, for the church, moving outwards again, is one in which we give up not listening.
We may also give up insisting that everything must be done for us and in our way. We may even take up the habit of paying attention to those we find difficult and with whom we disagree.
Making space for Christ in the life of the church comes when the church looks outwards and suddenly He is there in our midst. The discipline of a good Lent is to find again how we welcome the stranger, how we practice hospitality, how we listen.
We hear in the most unlikely places, when we listen collectively. Benedict reminds us that “whenever weighty matters are to be transacted in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community… we said that all should be called for counsel, because the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.”
It is the eternal experience of the church that God’s word to us comes in surprising ways and from unusual, and very often in our eyes unimportant people.
In practice, let us see whether together we cannot make a discipline of listening better; and perhaps in churches gathering once or twice during Lent for a period of prayer, of silence, of confession, of dealing with bad relationships and of sharing a meal together. There we will find Christ. There the road will be made smoother.
And I just want to end by imagining for a moment whether it is possible to have a good Lent in society as a whole. Can we even talk of such?
It is the point for which we pray, "your will be done on earth as in heaven”, and like all prayer we need to follow that prayer by saying inside ourselves, ”here am I, send me".
It is where we find God's Spirit at work in the world: both where the world breaks into the life and action of the church, and where the church breaks into the life and action of the world.
The Bishops’ letter talked of the need of a new politics. Perhaps that new politics includes the capacity to listen humbly to one another, which we find so difficult. To serve and form new exercises of power. To create and make space for people to flourish, to grow their own businesses, to hold solidarity, to make space for those who are weak to bless the strong. To make straight the way of the Lord, to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The interaction of church and society is the foundation of a good Lent and a good Lent the foundation of a just society. Not a Lent of abstinence, but a Lent of listening to our vocation, to rejoicing with those for whom things are going well, to suffering with those left behind.
A listening Lent is one of robust disagreement not bland assurance; but disagreement with a moral vision and destination.
A good Lent starts within us. It moves through those most closely around us. It comes into the church and it must be so generously experienced that it overflows into society. We will not really have a Good Lent until that chain is complete, and for that, we pray, may your Kingdom come.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Learn how to Pray | The Church of England

You don't have to know any prayers if you want to pray - in fact, words can often get in the way. Picture Jesus, and then say what is in your heart, what you feel.
God hears every prayer - but not all prayers are answered in the way we might expect or desire: we don't always pray for his will to be done!
'Arrow' Prayers
can be offered to God anywhere, at any time.
But thankfully we don't live all our lives in moments of extreme crisis. What about day-to-day praying? We need to come closer to God, to experience His love for us and to try to make sense of where we are in the world. Prayer is the way we do this. Sketch of Hand
How to start?
Use your hand.
Your fingers can be used to bring to mind different things to pray for.
this is the strongest digit on your hand. Give thanks for all the strong things in your life, like home and family, relationships that support and sustain you.
index finger
this is the pointing finger. Pray for all those people and things in your life who guide and help you. Friends, teachers, doctors, nurses, emergency services and so on.
middle finger
this is the tallest finger. Pray for all the important people who have power in the world, like world leaders and their governments, members of parliament and local councillors, the Royal Family, other world leaders and their governments.
ring finger
this is the weakest finger on your hand. It can not do much by itself. Remember the poor, the weak, the helpless, the hungry, the sick, the ill and the bereaved.
little finger
this is the smallest and the last finger on your hand. Pray for yourself.
When should I pray?
Traditionally, prayer times have been morning and evening, but you can choose a time which is best for you. It helps to be somewhere quiet, where you can have some time for yourself.
Do I have to kneel?
Kneeling is the traditional posture for penitence and standing for praise, but you can pray anywhere - walking, standing, sitting, whatever feels comfortable.
What else do I need to know?
Be creative - use music, a stone, a feather, a flower, or a candle to help you focus - if you are very young, or elderly, be careful with candles!
Prayer activity is a discipline - it can be difficult at times, just like keeping fit, being on a diet, or keeping weeds down in the garden! Little and often is best, but don't give up! No prayer, however inadequate you may feel it to be, is ever wasted or of no value.

Extract from
Learn how to Pray | The Church of England (click on link)

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Church Times Letter

'Nobody told Hilda that the boiler was fixed'

This St Gargoyle's cartoon appeared in the Church Times this week.

Our benefice made the National Press last week ....well may be that's a slight exaggeration  - my letter was published in the Church Times. I wrote it after our rather cold  (in temperature - not content) benefice day and in the light of the discussions on growing rural ministry that were to take place at General Synod last week.


As the general synod discusses reform and renewal of the Church this week, I suggest that all this discussion will not throw light on how we are to cope with our beautiful rural churches and grow the Church at the same time.
We held a very successful benefice morning with our six churches, carrying out a healthy-church audit – to help shape the way forward for the Benefice. We ran it in one of our churches which could accommodate 60 people working at six long tables.

We turned the heating on to constant the day before (estimating that this was going to cost us £300 to get the church to a reasonable temperature – which it wasn’t). A wise ministry team member brought bags of blankets to wrap up our elderly congregation members. They just about survived.
For the Sunday morning services the temperature had dropped to 9 degrees again. We wouldn’t put babies or elderly people outside in this temperature; so why do we think they should have to endure church for an hour on a Sunday? I am fed up of freezing in church each Sunday (and I have six to choose from).

We are not a backward looking benefice as the church we were using has an award winning south aisle converted into a meeting room, kitchen and disable facilities. Our churches have worked hard to provide lavatories despite the cost. Our benefice cannot afford to rebuild the churches to make them energy efficient – nor, I expect, would we be allowed to. Nor do we have the luxury of church offices or halls.
So we cannot be surprised that the young families don’t want to leave their centrally heated houses and come to church regularly. We can provide activities, events and facilities to welcome them but we can’t keep them warm.

What do rural churches have to do to survive beyond being beautiful buildings? We had so much enthusiasm at the benefice morning, and yet we will always be defeated by our beautiful, cold buildings. You have to be very hardy to attend church here in rural Dorset!

Harriet Ryan
Benefice secretary to the Winterborne Valley and Milton Abbas Benefice
The Rectory
North Street

Monday, 16 February 2015

From our own correspondent at the General Synod 2015

Ian Bromilow writes -

What is the link between General Synod and our Benefice?

That is a question which I often ask myself when I am sat in the auditorium at Church House in London. However, last week there were two very clear answers which link directly back to our Benefice morning on 7 February.

 Firstly, a large part of the Synod was focussed on discipleship – I am sure that rings a bell for us all, as one outcome of our Benefice morning was the need for us all to ‘seek to find out what God wants’. We do this through our reflective prayer (listening to God), reading the Bible and our conversations with others.
Notwithstanding the above, discipleship is one of those words that we can often use but what does it actually mean? According to Archbishop Justin, discipleship is an invitation to the strongest hope, the deepest joy, the greatest fulfilment, the most authentic pattern of living and the highest adventure known to humanity. Now that sounds exciting! Who wouldn’t want such an invitation?

Secondly, there was a focus on rural ministry in multi-parish benefices – just like ours. A report was presented with some very clear and pragmatic recommendations based on real research and which, in my view, affirmed what is ongoing in the MAWV benefice and what I heard on our benefice morning.

 The good news is that ‘mission and growth are possible in rural multi-church groups when time and space is created for it to take place and where lay people are enabled and equipped’! That then requires all of us to reflect on our own vocation or calling – after all, we all have one!

But how do we discern what God wants each of us to do? We’re back to discipleship or ‘seek to find out what God wants’.

Ian has given Alan a copy of the report on rural ministry - if you would like to read it  - do ask Alan for it - or find it on the web at

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Benefice Day Photographs

 Lots to think about......

 The Rector's Study!

Bishop Nicholas takes his seat in the House of Lords

 Bishop Joins House of Lords Bishop Nicholas First Day in the Lords

Bishop Nicholas will take his place as one of 26 Lords Spiritual today: (updated 5.30 pm, Mon 9 Feb).
UPDATED - Bishop Joins House of Lords
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Revd Nicholas Holtam, will take his seat in the House of Lords in London today, as one of 26 Bishops who sit as Lords Spiritual.
Bishop Nicholas said, “To sit as a Lord Spiritual in the House is a serious piece of public work, which we undertake on behalf of the whole community, not just those who are Christians or Church of England. As Lords Spiritual, we bring a different perspective to those who have become Peers.
“The Church of England has a presence in every community, from Dorset villages to inner city estates in Newcastle. We have a uniquely long perspective. That gives us a chance to articulate a vision that is truly national and genuinely long term.
“The particular subjects I want to make a contribution to in the House of Lords will be the concerns of the Diocese. I am the lead bishop for the Church of England on the environment. This is of great theological and political significance.
“The churches will be able to help build a climate of public opinion that encourages our politicians to make tough decisions. This we will require both the recognition of the need for urgent action and the hope we can make a real difference. This is particularly important with the Paris Summit on climate change in December, but it will need sustained commitment over many decades.
“There have been a number of recent examples when the Lords Spiritual have helped bring about change on important issues. The Archbishop of Canterbury has made a significant contribution on payday lending and banking standards, as the Bishop of Coventry on religious freedom for all, including the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
“Bishop Tim Thornton of Truro, Bishop Graham’s predecessor as Bishop of Sherborne co-chaired the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty. I gave evidence to the inquiry last year and Salisbury MP John Glen was also a member of the Inquiry.
“One interesting fact, I may be the last male Bishop to enter the House of Lords before the first women Diocesan bishops start to have priority. Indeed, the first vote I cast as a Lord Spiritual will probably be to pass legislation to give any women bishops waiting to join the House of Lords priority over men for the next 10 years.”
UPDATED - 5.30 p.m.
Speaking after his introduction to the House, Bishop Nicholas added:
“The Clerk read the summons from the Queen. I found it very moving to be summonsed like that, to have to make an oath, and then to be welcomed by the House – warmly. Then immediately into questions which were pretty serious stuff to do with access to sports stadiums for people with disability, banking – much in the news today – council tax and welfare reform.
“I found it quite awesome to find myself sitting there thinking I need to pay attention and try to speak on behalf of people in the Diocese of Salisbury.”
Listen to a short interview (2 mins) with Bishop Nicholas carried out after he took his seat.