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Reflections of Br Anselm

‘We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.’

 

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: Little Gidding

To begin at the beginning, we have to go to The Friary, Cerne Abbas – later to become The Friary, Hilfield, at the request of a local aristocrat who lived at The Abbey House, Cerne Abbas, to the confusion of the post office and Mr. Dubbin our postman who lived at Sydling St Nicholas.

It was on my sister Helen’s twenty-first birthday (15th September 1953) that I reported to the Friary, the last part of the journey being on the bus from Sherborne to Lane’s Cottages where I was collected by a friary van for an up and down woodland trip to my destination (and, it has since transpired, my destiny).

What was I joining? The Christmas 1953 edition of the Intercession Leaflet tells me that twenty-five brothers in Life Profession, ten in Simple Profession and twelve Novices were living at six addresses in England at Cerne Abbas, Plaistow, Hooke, Cambridge, Glasshampton and Stepney. Of the 47 brothers, three survive at the time of writing – Reginald, William in Australia, and me.  One, Arthur, had died soon after the publication of the leaflet.

Another, Sydney, was soon to follow him (November, 1954) and in those pre-cemetery days he was laid to rest in Hilfield churchyard, the gravediggers being Ronald (on a visit from Coventry) and me.  We borrowed the wheeled hand bier from Leigh – in places the gradient threatened to deposit the load in the road.  Sydney died at Damers House in Dorchester after a hernia operation, a measure of the shortcomings of post-surgery care in those days. The day before he died I had visited him – and forgotten to take the flowers.

I reflect on Sydney because in one short year I came to value his quiet faithfulness, his devotion to the Chetnole parishioners, his professionalism in the garden, his patience with garden staff largely composed of Brother Christopher’s probation hostel in St Francis’ House, and guests and novices.  The last category tested his patience by having bright ideas – perhaps I was the chief offender in that regard. It took his death to help me to realise what he meant to me – a part of the learning curve that we all follow in the search for ourselves; to learn that I could admire Sydney for reasons outlined above, and love him as a brother, but I could never be Sydney. I could only be Anselm, flawed, blemished and helped in the healing of flaws, removing of blemishes by the process of living with Sydney and many, many others.

Part of Sunday routine 60 something years ago was a bike ride, and from here I can see hints about where the vocation of SSF was going to take me in future.  To begin with, the rest of life was going to be a journey; not, it is true, a bicycle ride from Batcombe to Chetnole, but to London for teacher training and teaching experience, to Hooke to preside over (under?) a boarding school, to the globe as a trotter in search of First Order Brothers’ Chapter Meetings, to Scunthorpe, Cambridge, Birmingham – and to Glasshampton.

Landmarks on the Chetnole route: the ford where the bike could be carried over the footbridge, Hell Corner further on where once had lived the heller or thatcher, hell being a covered place; later, the turning to Chetnole Halt and so to the church, not far from the New Inn, now the Chetnole Inn, and not my destination!

The church of St Peter where on Sunday afternoons Brother Sydney gave the parents of Chetnole a weekly break from child care, helped by me, and where I can now see my role until I reached the age of 50 as in loco parentis (in a manner of speaking) at Hooke and elsewhere.

Br Anselm presiding at the Blessed Sacrament Altar in Glasshampton

And at the age of 50? Everything happened at once.  Mum died at the age of 79.  She had always hoped that I would be a priest, and SSF wanted a layman at Hooke.  So I was free from Hooke and almost at once, Minister Provincial. The then Bishop Protector bent the rules and laid hands on me – I was a priest and Mum lived to be at my first eucharist in the chapel at St Monica’s in Bristol, the retirement home where she lived, founded on the Wills tobacco fortune. It was very grand, and she glowed. There was a lunch; she died six months later.

Now, I can see that the seeds for all that were sown in St Peter’s, Chetnole at a school in a church, under the auspices of SSF and as an element of the Church of England’s ministry in Salisbury Diocese. Subsequently I enjoyed a priestly ministry in Scunthorpe, and in Cambridge at St Bene’t’s, in Birmingham, and here at Glasshampton. Twice a week I celebrate in the sacrament chapel at the side altar, sitting for the ministry of the word, standing for the ministry of the eucharist.

Thank you, brothers.

Thank you, family and friends.

Thank you, God. f

 

Crusade sermons, Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther: What does it mean to take up the cross? – Ida Glaser

Ida Glaser

Crusade sermons, Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther:

What does it mean to take up the cross?

ISBN: 9780 8527 3103 1

CMS, 2012, 34 pp, £2.50

This booklet has ample historical references, and very perceptive theological assertions for our time. Ida Glaser is now the Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Muslim/Christian Studies, and the reprinting of her study of preaching at the time of the Crusades notices the different approaches of Jacques de Vitry (1160-1240), and Francis. Both were at the siege of Damietta in 1219, but Jacques, Bishop of Acre understood taking up the cross and wearing the sign of the cross on their clothing, as physical conflict with Muslim enemies; and the giving up of life in battle so that afterwards crusaders may be carried up to heaven by the cross. It was at Damietta that Francis went without weapons across the battle lines seeking dialogue with the Sultan. He was ready for martyrdom, but proactive in love for the Muslims. He did not concur with Pope Urban II’s plenary indulgence: forgive-ness of sins for Crusaders.

Three centuries later, belief in taking up the cross in battle as the way to earn salvation was undermined by Luther who also strenuously opposed indulgences.  This was the time of Ottoman Turks pushing into Europe. Luther opposed the Church’s crusade because ‘our suffering is to be distinguished from Christ’s redemptive suffering, which has won our salvation.’  However, he distinguishes the Church’s eirenic duty of prayer and repentance, from the citizen’s duty to the state, and supported the emperor’s army in fighting against the Turks.

Glaser rejects Luther’s support for warfare in favour of Francis’ gospel initiative in taking up the cross in obedience to Christ who sent out his disciples with the greeting of peace. She surmises that Francis would have greeted Muslim soldiers with ‘as-Salaamu alaykum’. In contrast with Luther and Crusaders, Francis loved his enemies. Stating the importance of a right theology of what Jesus was doing on the cross, Glaser notes Francis being subject to Islam, as Christ was subject to the powers in his time. She maintains that the agenda of God’s kingdom means that we need to go the second mile to trump the choice between resisting the powers or collaborating with them. Good evangelistic theology for any time and especially appropriate today.

Donald Reece

Oxford

 

The Singing Bowl – Malcolm Guite & Coracle – Kenneth Steven

Malcolm Guite

The singing bowl

ISBN: 9781 8482 5541 8

Canterbury Press, 2013, 124 pp, £10.99

and

Kenneth Steven

Coracle

ISBN: 9780 2810 7209 5

SPCK, 2014, 49 pp, £9.99

These two books of poems offer reflections from a Christian perspective that is more obvious in ‘The singing bowl’. In that collection, poems are grouped under titles: Local habitations (many are churches), The Four Loves, Word and World, Intimations of Mortality, Clouds of Witnesses, and Three Sequences (on saying the daily office, of events or news items of the day brought into prayer, and On reading the Commedia). Many of the poems are sonnets; both poets show a discipline of form and use of words which is a pleasure to read.

The poems in ‘Coracle’ intertwine observations of nature (Horses, A green woodpecker, Otter, Glenlyon) with memories or people – real or imagined: George (a soldier), being bullied at school, the gathering for a funeral (After all). Both books provide poems to keep to hand to re-read and enjoy.

Maureen CSF

 

Jesus: First Century Rabbi – Rabbi David Zaslow with Joseph A. Lieberman

Rabbi David Zaslow with Joseph A. Lieberman

Jesus: First-century Rabbi

ISBN: 978 1 61261 644 5

Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, 2014, 254 pp, £11.99

This is a fascinating book. It tries to explain Jesus from a Jewish perspective to Christians, and also from a Christian perspective to Jews. Other authors who tried the same were not so successful.

In an eagerness to tell readers that the two faiths have much in common, the Foreword, Preface and Introduction are, however, all saying much the same. Once the ‘real’ text starts, it becomes interesting. Zaslow is an American rabbi with a wide experience of interfaith work and clearly shows a great deal of understanding of the two faiths, though obviously he is more at ease with Judaism than Christianity. He gets somewhat lost in the finer details of the Trinity and other doctrines and admits that he finds St Paul puzzling.

Zaslow tackles some very important topics that are often misunderstood and therefore misinterpreted in Christian circles. He starts by setting the political scene at the time of Jesus as one of huge turmoil and as the background against which the ‘Younger Testament’ as he prefers to call the New Testament, is written. The transition that was taking place in Judaism from Temple-based worship to one based on prayer was in full swing and hence many different opinions and practices were available, traces of which can be found in the gospels and epistles. He describes the sacrificial system of the Temple, the meaning and practice of atonement and the understanding of sin and redemption, and goes into some details of the Akedah, the ‘Binding of Isaac’, which are largely unknown to Christians. These are main concepts for both faiths, but over the centuries their Christian understanding has differed increasingly from Judaism. To see them described as they would have been understood in Jesus’ time throws much light on them as possible sources for appreciating both faiths better. The book also stresses the absolute commitment to the Covenant of the Jewish people, which defines their understanding of themselves, and how Jesus would also have understood his commitment to it to the end.

Smaller sections of the book deal with Logos and comparative theology; with theological misunderstandings, especially grace, redemption and suffering; and with the ‘troubled past and hopeful future’, which describes anti-Semitism in some detail. These smaller sections are less satisfactory as Zaslow is trying to justify some positions taken by both Jews and Christians in defiance of each other. Perhaps because of this, or despite it, the book is a very good example of the long way that interfaith work has yet to go.

Verena Tschudin TSSF

 

Rich in years: Finding peace and purpose in a long life – Johann Christoph Arnold

Johann Christoph Arnold

Rich in Years: Finding peace and purpose in a long life

ISBN: 9780 8748 6898 2

The Plough Publishing House, Croydon, 2013, £8.

I found this an excellent book. It is well written, in an easy to read style. There is much wisdom and good practical advice in these pages, not just for older people, but also for those who care for them and about them. The book is divided into two sections: first, making suggestions about how older people can feel fulfilled; second, wise advice in a practical and spiritual way for those approaching the final stages of life.

Johann Christoph Arnold is now in his seventies, so he is speaking from personal experience. He suggests that some of the things that can drag down an older person’s quality of life are sickness, loneliness, losing friends and regrets about the past. He is also adamant that older people can find real fulfilment in their later years. He gives us some clues. It is important to develop a spirit of thanksgiving, giving thanks for what has been good in our lives rather than focusing on what might have been: practising forgiveness rather than holding grudges (this is key, Johann says, if we want to find peace); growing in our relationship with God; spending time in prayer; and focussing on others more than on ourselves. Johann believes that if we live for service and also practise forgiveness, then spiritually we will be ready for God’s appointed time.

‘Rich in Years’ would be a very good gift to give to older people. It would also be a very helpful book for any who have pastoral care or concern for those in advancing years.

David Jardine SSF

Signs of the times: seven signs of hope in a troubled world – Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier

Signs of the times: seven signs of hope in a troubled world

ISBN: 9780 2325 3015 5

DLT, 2013, 160 pp, £8.99

This is a profound book, and a challenging one. Jean Vanier has learnt something about the heart of God that has altered his perception so he has insights into how our society, our church and we, can be different. He insists that ‘to be with the weakest in our society is where we will meet the One who humbled himself for us all’.

He gives us seven signs. These are not static symbols but a way of moving from where we are now to where we should be: a more Gospel centred direction. He gives suggestions of how to set off in this direction. I write this as the BBC’s Songs of Praise may be coming from the ‘jungle’, the migrants’ camp in Calais. Using Vanier’s idea: if we go, not arrogantly as if we were taking God there, but humbly and to care, we will find God there among these poor and vulnerable people. We can learn from them.

Having spent over 50 years in L’Arche communities, which enable people both with profound disabilities and those who claim to be able bodied to live together, Vanier speaks from experience. This book is part testimony, showing a heart for a lived out faith. He challenges the church as an institution and us as individual Christians to listen, work with the poor and those who are sidelined by society, and there we become nearer to God.  We who have learnt that power, celebrity, youth, money, to be white and male is what we should venerate, can read (in translation) Vanier showing us another way which is Jesus’ way.

It is a book to savour; every paragraph is a thought, a gem. Even the chapter headings are contemplations in themselves: From Humiliation to Humility is my favourite. In this chapter he doesn’t duck the disgrace and sin brought about by the cover-up of the child abuses done by church members. He shows us how to redeem this so that we will take the humiliation and use it to become humble, how we will become as we should be.

It disturbed me and changed the way I behave to those people I visit in a home for people with dementia and behavioural problems. If you want to stay as you are, read something else.

Revd Jan Ashton

 Team Vicar, Kidderminster

 

The highest poverty – monastic rules and form of life – Giorgio Agamben (trans. Kotsko)

Giorgio Agamben

translated by Adam Kotsko

The highest poverty – monastic rules and form of life

ISBN: 9780 8047 8406 1

Stamford University Press, Ca. 2013, 184 pp, £11.99

This is not a book for the beginner, nor indeed for the faint-hearted!  It requires not only familiarity with different languages and their nuances (though in many cases translations are given) but some knowledge of monastic history, and also a capacity to move through meanings of less familiar words such as ‘scansion’ or infelicitous conflations like ‘undesirability’. Having noted these, the book ‘works’; and if we begin with a bit of a plod, the whole is redeemed by a refreshing chapter on Franciscanism at the end.

Lesser questions aside, the author applies himself to the relationship of life and rule. As he puts it, the individual does not promise to obey particular ‘rules’ but to live a life under Rule, in toto, so to speak. It is a shift from the level of practice to the idea of living it – a state of indistinction between rules and life, not a confusion but a new dimension of life – a ‘form of life’. It is, as Agamben says, not merely that the first Franciscans walked barefoot and did not accept or carry money; these do not imply ascetic or mortifying practices but are an indispensable part of a life professed with joy. To quote, ‘This is a form of life in which rule and life must be held in reciprocal tension, or as in Bonaventure who followed Francis, the rule of the Friars Minor is not in disharmony with their way of life.  So the term, “form of life” acquires in Franciscanism a technical meaning: a living that in following Christ gives itself and makes itself a form.” Thus ‘use’ (the way we live) and ‘necessity’ (what must be in some cases) define the Franciscan way of life, which Francis called not according to the church or to a rule but ‘according to the holy gospel’. To do so involves use but not ownership, and the responsibility of taking care – of treating things – and indeed life itself – as though belonging to someone else.

Elizabeth CSF

 

Leading Like Francis: building God’s house – Carl Koch

Carl Koch

Leading like Francis: building God’s house

ISBN: 9781 5654 8575 4

New City Press, NY, 2014,128 pp, £9.95

Taking the insights and teachings of Robert Greenleaf on Servant Leadership, Koch shows how both St. Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis exemplify servant leadership strengths. He examines the skills of listening, empathy, healing, inclusion, looking ahead and being a good steward through the teachings and examples of the two great Francises, lovers of Jesus.

Drawing on diverse Franciscan sources, Koch roots the teachings of servant leadership in various stories and documents, showing that these teachings can help us live out the way of St. Francis in practical, life-giving ways.

The book is written in easy to understand language and there are lots of ordinary examples of these leadership skills being used by parents, students, religious leaders and business leaders. Servant leadership is universally effective. As Koch says in his introduction: ‘Servant leadership is not only affectively and ethically right, but effective in moving people and organizations toward fulfilment of their mission’.

One of the best features of the book, is that in each chapter exercises are included  that help the reader to develop servant leadership skills. Readers are helped to move from theoretical insights to practical applications that show how easy and how radical the way of being a servant leader can be.

This book is highly recommended and can be very useful in working with leadership training, if you want something creative, practical and deeply in tune with your deepest spiritual convictions as an admirer or follower of St. Francis.

Clark Berge SSF

 

Journey to the Manger: exploring the birth of Jesus – Paula Gooder

Paula Gooder

Journey to the manger: exploring the birth of Jesus

ISBN: 978 84825 794 8

Canterbury Press, 2015, £12.99

Paula Gooder, theologian and Church of England Reader, is a lively, engaging and inspiring speaker who writes as well as she speaks and justly deserves her status as a bestselling author. This book is part of a series, Biblical Explorations in which she shares her expertise as a biblical scholar for the benefit of preachers and teachers and any who ‘simply wish to get to know the Bible better’. The current volume explores the main New Testament texts around the birth of Jesus, from enlivening insights into the genealogies of Matthew and Luke – and the ‘genealogy’ of John as she calls the latter’s famous Prologue – through to Luke’s account of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

I particularly enjoyed her discussion of the ‘Gospel Canticles’ in Luke, the Benedictus, Magnificat and Nunc Dumittis, and her reflections on the characters who gave us these or who, like Anna and the Magi, witnessed in their own ways to the significance of the events of which they were part.  Paula Gooder does not shrink from the challenging questions that surround, for instance, the historicity of the birth narratives, but her concern is with faith and discipleship; as she rightly points out, we completely miss the point when we obsess over such questions without giving weight to the ‘mind-blowing, brain-boggling truth that the God who shaped the universe into existence was prepared to be born as a tiny, vulnerable baby’.

I used the eight chapters profitably to accompany my own personal journey through Advent and Christmas and towards Candlemas. Discussion quest-ions are provided so that it can also easily be used for a four-week Bible Study or Advent Group.

Desmond Alban SSF

Farewell to St Matthias’ Canning Town and Hello to 42 Rossall Road, Leeds

Benedict writes:

We have been housed and served the parish of the Divine Compassion, Newham for getting on for 10 years, living first at St Martin’s for a short time before moving to St. Matthias Vicarage, Canning Town.  Philip Bartholomew had an unpaid post of associate priest in the parish and he and several brothers have lived in the Vicarage next door to St. Matthias Church.  Philip has given himself fully to the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral life of the parish, faithfully ministering, sometimes under difficult circumstances and he was key to holding the parish together through two interregnums.  Several brothers living at the Vicarage have had their own ministries, particularly Giles before he moved to Hilfield, and Benedict and Christian; but it has also been home for novices having a year’s urban experience.  We did think that we would remain at St. Matthias’ until Philip reached 70 years of age at the end of 2017 but the current interregnum has given the diocese an opportunity to think afresh about the Anglican Christian presence in Newham.  It seemed very right to us that we should give early possession of the Vicarage to the diocese so that they can forge ahead with plans they have for our part of Newham.  The Diocese plans to place St. Matthias with a separate neighbouring parish in South Canning Town, and a newly ordained Deacon will reside in the vicarage, under the tutorage of the priest at South Canning Town, and he will develop the Anglican presence by ‘church grafting.’  This should be an exciting development and one which we (SSF) heartily support.   With the closure of 45 Mafeking Road, Christian will move to 85 Crofton Road as will Philip Bartholomew once he has had his holiday and break.

As one door closes, another opens!  We have recently purchased a second house in Harehills, Leeds and the new house is just a minute’s walk from the existing property.  With the acquisition of the new house, we should have more accommodation for   asylum seekers who do not have a legal right to remain in the country.   By providing accommodation, friendship, a warm welcome, help when necessary with asylum applications etc, we hope to provide asylum seekers with both a home and a family.  The new second house will also allow us to have a third brother, guest accommodation, an oratory in which to say our prayers,  and space as  well  to receive visitors and friends; we did all this in the one house, but it was difficult at times to fit the life and ministry into one small terraced house!  So now there are two!  f

 

A Visit to Hong Kong

Youth Project in Macau

Christopher Martin writes:

For nearly four weeks, Alfred Boonkong, Christopher John and I went on mission to the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (HKSKH), the Province of the Anglican Communion in Hong Kong and Macau. This was my first trip outside of Europe and began with my first ever long-haul flight, which ran incredibly smoothly, with us all arriving from our various locations on Thursday 21st April. As I was the first to arrive I was instantly taken for my first Hong Kong food: a bread-meal with sock tea, which was lovely and refreshing after hitting the heat and humidity that knocked me as much as the jetlag, but also began my most lasting memory of HKSKH, a wonderful hospitality and generosity centred around food, tea and fellowship.

Our time was mainly divided between two activities; travelling around the Province, meeting people and learning about life in Hong Kong and Macau; and teaching through retreats, quiet days and lectures about Franciscan Spirituality and the Religious Life. We discovered an incredibly welcoming and generous culture, full of spirituality and the love of God, with many wonderful blessings. The churches are packed with both young and old, men and women, speaking a cacophony of languages: English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog and several others.

We were mainly based at Ming Hua Theological College in the Central area of Victoria Island, where we lived alongside the postulants, those training for ordination, always aware of the constant nightlife opposite us in Lan Kwai Fong, the bar and clubbing district. Living alongside the postulants was a brilliant experience and helped me to experience more of the local life, being told where was good for shopping and to just sit and people watch with a cup of coffee.

The Brothers with Students at the Theological College

We also spent time on Cheng Chau, an island about 30 minutes from Victoria Island and famed for its luscious mango snacks. This is where the Province keeps a small retreat house among beautiful and awe-inspiring scenery, with sea eagles flying overhead and following the fishing boats out to sea. Here we led two retreats on the life of Francis and made some delightful new friends. We also visited a wonderful youth project in Macau, a former Portuguese colony, which has now returned to be a part of China. I really enjoyed my experiences with the Filipina Fellowship that met in Macau and it was a great privilege to preach in the Protestant Chapel where Florence Li Tim-Oi (the first woman to be ordained in the Anglican Church) served the community there during the Second World War.

The Third Order has been in Hong Kong for several decades and First Order brothers have regularly visited; however, we have been invited by the archbishop to live there permanently. Sadly, we do not feel we have the numbers to enable this at present, but are considering plans that will hopefully strengthen and grow the Third Order and develop local vocations to the First Order. Hopefully it will not be too long before I am back there again! f

Ordination: Whose calling? Who’s calling?

Sr Helen Julian being made Deacon at Hilfield by Bishop Michael Perham

At the very beginning of every Church of England ordination service the bishop asks those to be ordained: ‘Do you believe that God is calling you to this ministry?’ They answer in unison, with well-schooled gusto, ‘I do so believe’, and the service continues.

If you have ever attended an ordination service in support of a family member, colleague or friend then you might well, at that point, marvel at such certainty and confidence. As a former Director of Ordinands (DDO), watching those people with whom I will have agonised, prayed, pondered and rejoiced over the years leading up to that moment, I am acutely aware of the depths to which they will have pondered that very question until they recognised that, wonderfully, God was inviting them to be living sacraments: visible signs to the world that God calls each of us to love, serve and follow.

It was my privilege to spend six years meeting people day – listening to them try to make sense of a feeling that, for some reason and in some way, God was calling them to be a priest or a deacon. At a first meeting I would sit with a blank sheet of paper on my lap and ask them simply, ‘why are you here?’ In many cases out would tumble the words; held back for fear of ridicule or incredulity, but now at last, invited. In every case I would sit and let them tell me, uninterrupted, what they needed to share, until they had told me everything that had been waiting within them. Only then would I probe, question or clarify.

Being a DDO, listening prayerfully and attentively to anyone who walked through my door, was exhilarating and also exhausting. What I was listening for, as each person spoke, was a glimpse of what God was doing in their lives. Sometimes they articulated this clearly and vibrantly, but more often I had only a hint, a whisper, as they tried to say what they imagined I wanted to hear.

What I always wanted, most of all, was the sense that God was calling them – not an idealised version of themselves. God calls real people to become bishops, priests and deacons. I met young people with barely twenty years of living in them. I met people with devastating histories, anxious that their past might de-rail their hoped-for future. Without exception, I met godly people who were seeking to do the will of God. They were the ‘clay pots’ that St Paul speaks of: with God’s treasure within.

The Church of England has, over the last few years, changed the way in which women and men seeking ordination are assessed. It is no longer enough, as it once was, simply to be desirous of ordination, of good moral character and decent education. Instead, there are criteria by which Directors of Ordinands consider each person they see. These criteria include how candidates speak of vocation and how it has affected them, how they pray and how faith shapes their lives. They are asked about their relationships, past and present, recognising that ministry is lived out in the context of family and friendships. They are invited to consider their own character, and insightful references are sought from colleagues and clergy. They are asked to give an account of what mission and evangelism mean to them and how their own love for God inspires others. They are asked about their Anglican identity and what that means to them; they also need to demonstrate an ability and importantly, a willingness to undertake serious study in theology.

Candidates submit written work; they might, with the guidance of the DDO, undertake a placement in a parish or other pastoral context. Some of them engage with study as independent students, particularly if their last encounter with formal learning was decades ago. They are sent to wise counsellors for spiritual direction and asked to talk carefully with people who matter to them. They are asked to think carefully about what ordained ministry is like in the twenty-first century. DDOs work hard to dispel the gentle myths of what ordained life looks like from the outside, and encourage candidates to get right to the heart of what church life is actually about – and what sort of person a priest needs to be to serve that Church today and in the future.

After time spent with the DDO and others within the diocese, each candidate then submits to a national process. This is known as a ‘BAP’, or Bishops’ Advisory Panel. It is a three-day-long series of interviews, drawing together sixteen candidates at a retreat house with six ‘Advisers’ and a Selection Secretary from the Ministry Division of the Church of England, who ensures that the process is smooth and fair for all. The Advisers ‘advise’ the diocesan bishop as to the fitness of the candidate; the bishop may choose to take or ignore the advice, although in practice he or she will take it. At that point a candidate becomes an ‘ordinand’: a person training for ordained ministry at one of the courses or colleges around the country. They train usually for two or three years, depending on their age and previous theological qualifications.

The period between the first encounter with the DDO and the ordination service is often much longer than ordinands expect or desire; although, as they almost always admit when they come to the end of it, it is never quite long enough! I have spent many hours listening to men and women telling me that, even after all the praying, reading and practising they have done, they are simply not ready to be ordained. My answer has always been the same: no one is ever ready, or able, or capable in their own strength. That’s why we pray for the grace of God; that God will take the unready and unsteady and work through them. This, for me, is the sacramental aspect of ordination: that God does indeed take the ordinary stuff of life and fill it, by grace, to reveal something of the divine call to each of us.

Not everyone who meets with a DDO becomes ordained. In the prayer and exploration and testing some find that God is leading them elsewhere: confirming the ministry they already have or nudging them into a new, and previously unimagined, direction. They may not find the answer they expected or wanted, but, having seriously asked the question ‘is God calling me to ordained ministry?’ they discover something about God and themselves.

‘Do you believe that God is calling you to this ministry?’ The next time you hear that question at an ordination service, remember that those who answer have been asking it for many years. Please pray for them too, that they might discover just how much the God who has called them will honour their response. f

 

The Revd Canon Dr Georgina Byrne is a residentiary canon of Worcester Cathedral. She was, until last summer, also Diocesan Director of Ordinands for the Diocese of Worcester, a post that she held for six years.

 

 

The Sacrament of Confession: a call to mission

Pope Francis makes his Confession in St Peter’s

As Christians, we confess our sins and seek God’s forgiveness. Our confessions can be made in private, perhaps with a priest, or form part of the liturgical life in our church. For many of us, the liturgy can facilitate a powerful encounter with God’s mercy and forgiveness, enabling us to reflect on the wrongs we have done and to hear the good news of God’s forgiveness in the words of absolution. Whichever form it takes, the act of confession is a vital element in the life of the church. Because we are reconciled with God, repentance and forgiveness define our lives.

I have long been interested in the mechanism of reconciliation, and the way the sacrament of confession functions in that process. My interest now focuses on the lives of those who don’t come to church, and the way reconciliation can become part of their experience too. This has led me to learn more about the practice of restorative justice, a process that attempts to reconcile victims with offenders. This ancient approach has impacted the legal systems of a number of countries, such as New Zealand, but in Britain, the criminal justice system remains largely punitive, and there is little room for forgiveness. However, there is one area of promise in our youth justice system. It centres on Referral Orders and community panels.

In 2010, I trained as a community panel member. The role allows me to work with young offenders who have committed a serious criminal offence. The law currently offers any young person who pleads guilty in court the opportunity to receive a Referral Order. Under that Order, the young person is supervised by a Youth Offending Team and a panel of community members. The young person has to first meet with two panel members – such as myself – and explain their offence. During the meeting, the young person is helped to see the harm that’s been caused by their offence, and thereby gain empathy for the victim and to express their remorse, either directly to the victim or in a written letter of apology. In this process, the young person also has to carry out an act of reparation, perhaps serving on a community project or some such task. The reparation aims to repair the harm that has been done to the victim or instead function as a symbolic repayment by the offender to the community. Additionally, the young person needs to complete a series of workshops, which are aimed at improving their life skills. At the end of the Order – providing the young person has completed all the elements – their original conviction is ‘spent’. This means the young offender has no criminal record. Effectively, the young person can walk away with a clean slate. In church terms, they are absolved!

As the previous point indicates, I have noticed many similarities between the process of community panels and the sacramental act of confession. Like a penitent, the young person is guided along the path of contrition and comes to recognize the harm they have caused. They are then encouraged to repent by way of apology and practical work, and finally, with the successful completion of the Order, the young person is set free. In short, they are forgiven by society.

I love my work as a panel member. It is a privilege to work with young people and their families, and to learn more about their lives and struggles. I have begun to wonder whether the victims of crime could be more encouraged to participate in the process. In my experience, when the young offender meets their victim, the reality of forgiveness reaches a whole new level. Genuine reconciliation can happen, and I’m convinced God is at the heart of the event, enabling all parties to see the reality of his mercy.

With all this in mind, I believe the Christian sacrament of confession offers us an insight into how we should work with young offenders. There are, of course, major differences between the two. In the sacrament, the roles are straightforward: the sinner asks God, the victim, for his forgiveness.  In the youth justice system, the roles are messier. Young offenders are often victims themselves, children who have been let down by their families and society as whole. Frequently, their upbringing has impacted their emotional and psychological skills, which thereby limits their ability to understand what they have done. It’s rarely very clear who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. The young people are usually both.

However, the main difference between the sacrament of confession and the youth justice system remains the place of victims within them. Whilst God is always present in the church’s act, the victims of crime are often unwilling to meet with young offenders. This is due to a host of reasons, most of which are understandable: fear, anger, wanting to move on and forget about what happened, or a general mistrust of the system itself. But, in my view, it can sometimes have to do with their lack of belief in forgiveness, even if the evidence suggests that a meeting between victim and offender has a positive effect on both, reconciling them in unexpected ways.

Nonetheless, our society remains punitive in nature, and so refuses to support the path to reconciliation. Yet without victim participation in the judicial process, the success of our community panels can only be partial. For example, the young person can certainly write a letter of apology – a heartfelt expression of remorse and a plea for forgiveness – and these can bring tears to the panel members’ eyes, but they won’t be read by the victims if they ‘want nothing to do with them’. That is like us confessing to a God who stands with his back to us.

Forgiveness is no easy task. The pain caused by crime can be unbearable, so we must not judge the victims. Those of us who experience God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of confession should consider ways for us to carry that experience out into the criminal justice system. In effect, the sacrament of confession could become part of the church’s mission, operating in the same way as our charitable works and evangelistic events. In other words, our participation in restorative acts of justice – just like a sacrament – could become a sign and instrument of the mystery of God’s forgiveness, freely offered to those who have harmed us in the hope that their lives can also be transformed by the miracle of reconciliation. In this way, our restorative acts could become an expression of God’s gifts to us.  f

Tereza Harvey is a Community Panel Member in London. She is a Trustee of The Association of Panel Members and studied criminology at King’s College, London.

 

The Sacrament of Confirmation: a moment of grace

William, Br Joseph Emmanuel’s Godson, is Confirmed by the Bishop of Wakefield

Confirmation has undergone huge changes in my life time. Perhaps most important have been the changes in theological understanding (about which more below), but we can begin in an easier place. We can observe the people coming forward to be confirmed. When I was young, ninety percent of them, perhaps more, were teenagers, may be aged thirteen or fourteen, more likely fifteen, only rarely as young as twelve. Any adult being confirmed alongside them was an exception. Bishops rarely confirmed less than twenty people at any given service and often many more. The service was probably on a Sunday afternoon or perhaps a weekday evening and would be attended by the candidates’ families and godparents, but not the whole church community. First Communion would follow later, most likely on the following Sunday. Quite a lot of those being confirmed because they had reached the right age, would not be seen in church very often once confirmed.

In my experience as a bishop in recent years a typical parish Confirmation would have only eight or nine candidates, the age range would be from ten through to senior citizens, sometimes in their 80s, with almost every decade represented, often more adults than youngsters, and at almost every Confirmation some of the candidates needing to be baptised. The Confirmation would be set within the Eucharist. This would be the occasion for First Communion for some candidates, though very often several would have been communicants before. The service was most often on a Sunday morning, attended by the wider church community, with often very few family or other supporters specially there for the candidates. A far greater proportion of those confirmed would be there when I returned, perhaps two years later for another Confirmation, than in the days when Confirmation seemed to mark an exit from church attendance.

How the Bishop confirms has also changed. When I was confirmed, we knelt, two by two, before a seated mitred bishop, and would have been looking at his knees were they not covered with vestments. He placed his right hand on one of us, his left on the other. As we got up to return to our seats we bowed to him. Today we would go with the Bishop to the font, witness the baptism of some of our fellow candidates, be sprinkled with water from the font to remind us of our baptism, move with the Bishop to the place of Confirmation and stand in a semi-circle as s/he came to each of us in turn, looked us in the eye, called us by name, anointed us with the oil of chrism and laid a hand upon us as s/he spoke the words, “Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.” It is something much more relational and personal than in the past if the rite is celebrated imaginatively and well.

But what does it mean? It is important to say that, if it is in any way sacramental, the confirming that gives the rite its name is not the confirming that the candidates do, but the confirming that God does. This needs emphasising, for to listen to people advocating Confirmation or clergy preparing candidates or even bishops preaching at Confirmation is often to get the impression that the principal point is the making of a mature adult profession of faith. That certainly is part of it, but, as with any sacramental act, it is only a preliminary to set the scene for God to make it a moment of grace.

The key question is whether Confirmation is to be understood as a stage of Christian initiation. Does Confirmation complete something that Baptism leaves incomplete? For the Church of England the key document was the Ely Report (‘Christian Initiation: Birth and Growth in the Christian Society’) published in 1971. It was a seminal work and still shapes Church of England understanding of the relationship between Baptism, Confirmation and Communion and the liturgies and pastoral practices that go with it. At heart it teaches that Baptism is complete initiation into the Christian community. It sees Confirmation as a pastoral rite and a declaration of mature Christian discipleship. It is worth recalling what it said:

‘Confirmation has often been regarded in the past as in some cases the completion of Christian initiation. We believe that Confirmation signifies far more than an isolated rite, important as that is; it is also a focal point in an on-going ministry of training. We propose that this vital element of training should now receive the widest possible recognition, and thus restore to Confirmation its true function of fostering the spiritual growth of the individual Christian.’

The reality through the more than forty years since has been that the Ely Report’s view that Baptism is complete initiation has been accepted and the Common Worship rites express that theology. Not surprisingly, there has been a slow move towards admission of children to Communion before Confirmation, but there has not been a consistent move in the direction that Ely advocated to make Confirmation the climax of a period of teaching and training to equip Christians for discipleship and ministry. Instead, Confirmation has survived, but without a clear single purpose, used in different ways in different communities for people on varying paths of the Christian journey. It has sometimes been said to be a rite looking for a theology. For myself I am content that the renewal of vows, prayer, oil, hand-laying and a desire that God confirm the candidate with the Holy Spirit does have the potential to be a huge moment of grace, whatever age the candidate and whatever their stage on the Christian pilgrimage. I find myself more interested in what it means in each individual case than in a general theological statement about what Confirmation is for in principle. I have seen it deepen faith, change lives and develop vocations.

Anglicanism is unusual in requiring episcopal Confirmation. The Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that Baptism makes a person a complete member of the Church (and admits to Communion on that basis), but also that Confirmation ‘renders the bond with the Church more perfect’, allows presbyteral Confirmation, though using the oil of chrism consecrated by the Bishop. I can find no absolute ecclesiological reason why Confirmation should need a Bishop, though I am clear that our canons require it, but I see an enormous advantage in a church that easily degenerates into congregationalism in having this opportunity for a relational encounter between those moving forward on their Christian journey and their chief pastor. Every reminder that we are part of the catholic church is good.

I don’t think the decline in Confirmation is much to do with a confused theology, nor with the admission of children to Communion, many of whom are later confirmed. The reasons are much more in line with the general decline in church going and in particular the failure of the Church to engage with young people. When such people do find themselves drawn into the life of the Church, Confirmation remains one of the things it has always been – a wonderful opportunity to express joy in God’s love and care for them and the Spirit God has planted within them.  f

 

 

Michael Perham was until 2014, Bishop of Gloucester and Bishop Protector of the European Province of SSF.

 

 

God in action: re-imagining baptism

 

In my former parish, baptisms took place once a month. They were held at the morning eucharist, on a Sunday. The reason we held baptisms at this service was simple: baptism is a church event, public not private.

Sr Liz Baptising

Our decision to baptise at the main act of worship always seemed right to me. Nonetheless, it proved troublesome in practice. That’s because a large number of baptisms would take place at the same time. One Sunday, for instance, we baptised nine children during the same service. This meant we had over three hundred people in church, the majority of whom had never stepped foot inside the building before. Things quickly got out of hand. Mobile phones rang, people chatted, with some walking in, others popping out, and there was some pushing and shoving around the font as the crowd jostled for prime viewing space. It was pretty chaotic.

From where I stood, it was clear that our visitors were not getting what they expected, which was a picture postcard ‘christening’, with lovely photos, all neat and tidy. Instead, the messiness of church was unsettling them, something especially evident when they found themselves centre-stage, pronouncing their promises, and clearly uncertain of their standing in the community. It just didn’t look like they fitted – and I don’t just mean their suits. As a result, I judged them.

With critical thoughts racing through my mind, I began to question whether anything – other than their physical presence – showed that these people really meant this. From what I could see, they clearly didn’t, and so I was left wondering whether we can make sense of such baptisms today. I believe that we can, but it requires us to think about God – and that is never easy.

First, a confession: we do not know how baptism works. That’s because baptism is a sacrament, and though we can make sense of these sacred mysteries, we cannot explain their fundamental mechanics in the same way we can other events. On one hand, sacraments are simply creaturely signs of God’s work. They are like signposts on the journey of life. Baptism states: Jesus Christ is the truthful way through death to resurrected life. But because they are sacraments, the things we do don’t just point to Jesus. They also bring about that which they signify. They are instruments as well as signs.

Imagine a sign and instrument like this. You are standing on a platform at the train station. You look up at the departure board to see what time your train will depart to your destination. The electronic board signifies what you need to know, but if the board was a sacrament it would also take you on your journey as well. A sacramental event, therefore, can be understood as a means by which God gathers his people into Jesus Christ, and a human sign of that action.

With this in mind, a brief detour will help us catch sight of what might be happening in baptism. Baptisms clearly have something to do with identity. The child is named during the service, and identified with God’s people. Now, as the theologian Robert W. Jenson – to whom I’m indebted throughout – shows, identity has something to do with completion. Think, for example, of the way we communicate. If the person speaking doesn’t finish their sentence, we can’t identify what they mean because the point is incomplete, the meaning left open. It is like me writing, “Here we must see baptism as…uhm…”, or, “The sacrament of baptism is a… uhm…” You wouldn’t know what I mean because the sentence is unfinished. In similar fashion, we might have known a person for years, but we don’t really know them because their life remains unfinished. Tomorrow, they could do something so amazing or so terrible that we’d be forced to re-imagine them. “Well, I always thought Smith was a good man, but this shows he’s terribly vicious.” “Well, I always doubted Jane, but wow, she’s so brave to attempt that”. The jury’s still out on our identities because we have a future.

If this is how things stand, our identity is known only when we die. Death fixes identity because it means there’s no longer a future for us in which the unexpected can happen. Death really is our end.

A theological point follows from this: if Jesus never died, but was instead happily walking around Galilee and about to celebrate his 2016th birthday, we couldn’t know whether he’d wake up tomorrow and reveal something new about himself, a spiteful side or a selfish streak perhaps. But Jesus did die, and so we know his identity. He is the one we meet in the gospels, the friend of tax collectors and sinners, the truthful man of peace and mercy. It is this Jesus who is raised from the dead, eternally alive, with death now behind him. We can really trust him because his identity is fixed.

What has this got to do with baptism? The God of the gospel is eternal. This doesn’t mean he is without time, but instead has the fullness of time. In his freedom, he is time’s Lord and it cannot contain him because he outpaces it, embraces it. The past and the future are neither lost nor separated for God because he infinitely has the beginning, middle and end present to him as he transcends them through the eternal life of Father, Son and Spirit. Thus, our lives are strangely present to him in a way that they’re not to us, not because our lives are over determined, but because God is free from the restrictions of time’s single direction. He can go ahead and he can return.

If all this is true, then we can say that God, who is present in the baptismal event, has always-already seen our end, thereby knowing the highs and the lows and where we’ll end up. We are fully known by him because he transcends our limits, coming at us from every direction, including beyond the grave. With this in mind, baptism can be understood as the event in which God promises today what he already sees ahead of us. He declares that the identity of the baptised is to be found in Christ because he sees them die in Christ in the future. Baptism is therefore God’s anticipatory word on the question of our identity, a strange word from the future by which God establishes what lies ahead.

If baptism is a divine word of identifying action from our future then the human action of the candidates – and their parents and godparents – becomes less central. The human act is located within the live miracle of divine action which takes place amidst the messy open-endedness of life. Of course, the candidate must still be carefully prepared, supported, and incorporated into the ongoing life of faith. But these processes are to be understood within a theological account that has divine action at its centre. Consequently, there is less pressure on us to police the purity of everyone’s intentions, because we trust the intention of the eternal God whose identity is the mercy of Jesus Christ. That, I think, is very good news.  f

 

Revd Dr Lincoln Harvey is Assistant Dean and Lecturer in Systematic Theology at St Mellitus College in London, as well as being Associate Priest at St Andrew’s Fulham Fields. He was previously a novice in SSF. He is author of A Brief Theology of Sport (SCM Press, 2014).

 

Editorial

Sacraments of discipleship

‘Sacraments’, say the Thirty-nine Articles, are ‘effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us’.  Two are pre-eminent – Baptism and the Eucharist – but the full list has varied over the centuries, settling down in the West to seven in the early Middle Ages.  Here four are explored, helping us to ask the question: ‘How is God’s grace visible in us, in the decisions and commitments we make, as we become what we are: the body of Christ?’

 

Community Routes

Community Routes

The Hope within us

Gina writes:

Gina in St Helen’s Church with the Prayer Focus in the Labyrinth

For eight days from Pentecost until Trinity Sunday 2016 the parish of Abingdon-on-Thames hosted a week of exploring, explaining and celebrating the Christian faith entitled ‘The Hope within Us.’

An ambitious range of events was on offer at the three churches of St Helen’s, St. Nicholas’ and St Michael and All Angels’, with the intention of exploring the theme in a variety of mediums. This included a lecture series entitled “The Heart of our Hope : the Apostles Creed” given by Fr James Harvey SJ, Dr Mary Marshall, Professor Paul Fiddes, the Rev Douglas Dales and Professor John Barton; an icon writing workshop, ‘Painting the Face of the Invisible God’ with Philip Davydov and Olga Shalamova who had come from Russia; evening ‘Conversations’ with such illustrious people as Clifford Longley, Rupert Shortt, Professor Keith Ward and Bishop Rowan Williams; two concerts, and finally, a School of Prayer led by myself who has no title other than Sister and could contribute nothing to the ‘Written by the Speakers’ book sales table in the local bookshop!

However, the five afternoon workshops were well received by the 20–26 participants, and they were very engaged and responsive. The rector said that the talks were accessible and full of wisdom and people have requested copies of the script, so I guess over fifty years of trying to pray has taught me something worth passing on. I felt privileged to contribute my widow’s mite to the wealth of erudition on offer through the week. The School of Prayer concluded with an evening of Taizè-style  Prayer and Praise and a short reflection.

The whole week culminated with a joyful Festival Eucharist at which Rowan Williams was the celebrant and preacher.

JPIC Conference

Hilary writes:

Hugh and I attended the annual ecumenical, though largely Roman Catholic, JPIC Links weekend Conference, in April 2016. The theme was ‘Reconciling Mercy and Justice’ and the leader was Dr Mary Grey who has held a number of University chairs in the University of Wales, Southampton and Nijmegen. Mary has written in the areas of social justice, ecology, liberation theology, and reconciliation in diverse contexts, and her work in social justice is underpinned by over 25 years of involvement in a charity she helped to found, ‘Wells for India’; she is also Chair of Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust, an organization working for the wellbeing of Christians in Palestine and the Middle East.  Alongside her spoken input there were Power Point presentations, including many of her own photos of the places and situations about which she spoke.

In her first session Becoming Mystical Communities she explored the meaning of mysticism ‘asking if mysticism can be a community dimension, if we can stop seeing it as solely the privilege of a monastic, clerical elite, then asking if it could be restored to the people, the believing community –  what difference would it make?  After all, the primary meaning of mysticism is the contemplation of the mysteries, the mysteries of God – and that is the heart of the liturgy, the peoples’ work.’  She explored this at length.

The second session explored Community as Prophet, asking Who are the prophetic figures for you? Who are prophets for you?  She spoke of the need for the embodiment, earthing of alternatives to the cultural currents. ‘One hint that we are right in the search for community as prophet is that many prophets are not isolated figures but are supported by strong movements, people on whom they rely and who sustain them.’

In Mercy in the Christian tradition, Mary traced the history of mercy throughout the Bible especially Jesus’ teaching and action, and then through Christian history, showing how mercy could lead to a new social order; ‘active compassion with political consequences’.

Her fourth session explored the teaching in Laudato Si – Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter, An Eco-Theology of Connectedness, Communion and Justice.  She traced the history of human interactivity with the created world with reference to the Franciscan tradition, Liberation Theology, the need to live simply and in solidarity with the poorest of the world. ‘Joy in enough’ – a challenge to Christians (in Britain), and an invitation to all people of good will, to join in building a just economy within the ecological limits of the Earth’

Finally, she traced Jesus’ way of non- violence as a challenge to the present day, in particular with reference to the Israeli/Palestinian situation. One in three of the world’s refugees is Palestinian:  approximately seven million. This is an area where she has been very involved socially over the years.

It is not really possible to give more than a ‘taster’ of what became the basis of a lot of discussion in groups or with individuals over the weekend. I think we all went away with a lot to pray and think about over the coming months.

Manchester University Mission

David writes:

Br David with his ‘ask me’ sign.

From 2-4 March 2016, St Peter’s University Chaplaincy hosted a Franciscan Festival right in the centre of the university community in Manchester. The event was organised by university chaplain Terry Biddington and Tertiary Simon Cocksedge. Brothers Nicholas Alan, David and Robert joined in during three eventful days filled with worship, lectures, meals and lots of informal conversations with students or others who we came across.

One of the main events during the week was the so called ‘Monk on the Street’, when we wandered around the campus encouraging students to ask us questions and giving out free ‘spiritual health checks’. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side during this event. The rain and snow made it at times difficult to engage with students, as they were rushing from one lecture to another, but nevertheless we were still able to have some good conversations.

St Peter’s Chaplaincy is a great place in a very vibrant part of Manchester and we were very grateful for the opportunity to join them in ministering to students, even if it was only for a few days.

 

Marching for the love of God and neighbour

Robert writes:

The SSF Working Group for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation joined about 100,000 people in London on 16 April to march for ‘Health, Homes, Jobs and Education’. In a

Brs Hugh, Micael and Robert with Matthew Callow (formerly Br Matthew)

very good atmosphere a colourful group of people came together, including teachers, nurses, junior doctors, a wide range of community groups (like the Kurdish-Turkish Community Centre), firemen and firewomen, students, post men and women, womens’ rights campaigners, trade unionists, various party activists, peace campaigners and many more. Sadly, Christian groups with similar concerns were not really represented, but we had many good conversations with people (usually starting with ‘Are you real monks?’), whilst we imagined that our prayers kept the rainy clouds at bay and made the sun come out reluctantly from time to time. We even had an unexpected re-union with former Brother Matthew and some Tertiaries. Altogether it felt like a worthwhile thing to do and people really seemed to appreciate a Franciscan presence at the march.

Three Confessions pilgrimage

Despite the topic of one of the theme articles, this was not a sacrament of that kind.

Robert writes:

Three Confessions Pilgrimage

At the beginning of May, a delegation of Anglicans, Lutherans and Catholics met in Kloster Drübeck in northern Germany to have an exchange about Pilgrimage. This conference is part of a lively ecumenical dialogue between the Anglican Diocese of Worester, the Lutheran Diocese of Magdeburg and the Catholic Dioceses of Birmingham and Erfurt. Worcester Diocese was keen to have its religious houses represented, so Brother Michael OSB went on behalf of Mucknell and Robert came as an honorary Glasshampton Brother.

In good old tradition, Anglicans were representing the middle way. Whilst (German) Lutherans had done away with things like pilgrimage a long time ago, Catholics were entirely at home with it and Anglicans had a foot in both camps; however it was noticeable that Lutherans tried to reclaim a bit of lost heritage in a way that fits with their theology. Thus we met in an old monastery that was dissolved in the Reformation era, but has now been turned into a spiritual hub and retreat facility for Lutherans. There you can find all sorts of things, which once used to be fairly bizarre for the average Lutheran in Germany, such as icons on the walls, depictions of the Blessed Virgin, and Prayer of the Hours.

The English contingent was greeted with great warmth by the Germans, and it was lovely to see such a vibrant ecumenical dialogue in action. After an initial exchange about different ways of pilgrimage, we were hitting the road. Led by Brother Hubert OSB from the local Huysburg Abbey, we went through the beautiful Harz mountains, part in silence, part talking, interrupted by stations with some input. When we finally reached Huysburg, we were greeted with bells and joined the monks for Vespers. On the way back, one of the local Catholics driving our bus, kindly stopped in Halberstadt, so we could quickly drop into the local OFM house. On Sunday morning, we joined the local Lutheran parish for a mixed language service, where Archdeacon Rob Jones celebrated the Eucharist in the Anglican rite. It is probably safe to say, that at the end, we all felt enriched, by the input, as well as by the people we had met.

Round up

James Douglas moved from Glasshampton to Hilfield in June.  Cristian Michael will move to Leeds (around 25th July); Christian is moving to Crofton Road on the closure of the Canning Town friary at the end of August and Philip Bartholomew is also moving to Crofton Road after his holiday and break.

We have the new house in Leeds, over the back from the Karnac Road house. It is at 42 Rossall Road.

Richard Fryer has withdrawn from the noviciate.

In the Province of the Divine Compassion, the brothers have decided to close the Hamilton (New Zealand) friary, and Damian Kenneth hopes that he will soon move into Tamahere Retirement Village.  f

 

Theme Prayer

Theme prayer

 

Almighty God,

who sent your Holy Spirit

to be the life and light of your Church:

open our hearts to the riches of your grace,

that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit

in love and joy and peace;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

 

 

Collect for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Common Worship)

 

Minister’s Letter

Dear Friends,

As I reflect on unexpected turns of events in several areas of the life of our Community over the past two years, I have been struck yet again by the wonderful reality of God’s generosity and faithfulness, of God’s creative energy breathing new life and opening up new paths in hitherto unpromising or bad situations.  This is indeed good news, not only for us as Franciscans, but for all Christians, for our wider society, and indeed for the whole of God’s world.

Our current situation in C/SSF embraces considerable uncertainty, some inevitable changes and the possibility or likelihood of others, most of which would impact each other. This of course is a reality shared in various ways and to very different degrees by people the world over.

Like many other religious communities, our First Order Sisters and Brothers are living with diminishment.  We are fewer in number and a higher proportion of us is older than used to be the case.  We do not have a ready supply of sisters or brothers to undertake new work, so sometimes we need regretfully to decline invitations to consider exciting new projects.

In this situation it would be understandable and in some ways easy for us to see no further than these limitations: the scarcity of sisters and brothers and of other resources, the projections of decline. We could allow our natural anxieties about the future to shape a fearful negative response to possible new opportunities.  We could choose to focus on keeping everything as it is for as long as possible, which would result in a dispiriting and probably rather grim rear-guard action against inevitable change.

However, instead we can choose to focus on the goodness and abundant generosity of God who is utterly trustworthy. Saint Bonaventure, a Franciscan friar and eminent theologian, who died in 1274, nearly fifty years after Francis, pictured this creative loving goodness of God as an ever–flowing fountain of water.  He offered the image of ‘fountain fullness’ overflowing from the inner life of God the Holy Trinity, streaming throughout the cosmos bringing transformation and new life, and through Christ gathering all creation back into the heart of God.

St Francis himself expressed a similar conviction about God’s unfathomable, mysteriously powerful and all-sufficient goodness, very clearly in a prayer: ‘The Praises of God’

You are the holy Lord God who does wonderful things.

You are strong, you are great.

You are the Most High, you are the almighty King.

You, holy Father, are King of heaven and earth.

You are Three and One, the Lord God of gods.

You are good, all good, the highest good,

Lord God, living and true.

You are love, you are wisdom.

You are humility, you are patience.

You are security, you are rest,

You are gladness and joy,

You are our hope.

You are justice, you are moderation.

You are all out riches and you suffice for us.

You are beauty, you are meekness.

You are our protector,

You are our guardians defender.

You are strength,

you are refreshment,

You are our faith,

You are all our sweetness.

You are our eternal life:

great and wonderful Lord,

Almighty God, merciful Saviour. Amen.

 

These Franciscan spiritual resources often help me to refocus on God when my negative thoughts and feelings loom large, and I commend them to you.  I believe we all need to be open prayerfully to new possibilities, and to be watchful and patient to see what emerges.  We are called to sit lightly to understandable fears and anxieties, and to encourage one another to trust in God’s utter and eternal goodness, going forward with that authentically Franciscan mix of humility and confidence, as we seek to follow where the Spirit leads.

 

May the Lord give you Peace.

Sue CSF

 

Br Cristian Michael and Sr Gina attend CIR gathering in Castellar Ring

Br Cristian Michael writes:

Br Aidan OSB with Br Cristian Michael SSF and Sr Gina CSF

I was very blessed to represent SSF at a Congress which took place at Schwanberg in a Bavarian Convent of Lutheran Benedictine Sisters. I traveled with Sister Gina CSF and Brother Aidan, a  Benedictine from Mucknell Abbey.  Our main topic was ‘How Religious life may contribute to the renewal of the Church’. Attending were a mix of Brothers and Sisters from different communities and denominations – Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans and Orthodox, Benedictines, Franciscans,Chemin Neuf, and Dominicans. The presence of mixed languages made it very interesting (English, French, Italian, German and Norwegian).  Father Nicholas CR and his team did a wonderful  job planning our daily program: we had time to socialize, meet and discuss, and join in the daily prayer life with the Sisters there. We also had a free day at Würzburg, a beautiful town with a lot of history and also many memories of suffering and loss of life.  This town was nearly destroyed in the Second World War, which led us to prayers for peace in the world and unity. We met two or three times a day in our language groups to discuss our topics, and they were many: Ignatius and Luther-discovery of a spiritual relationship; the consecrated life’s contribution to the Catholic Church; devotional talks by Sisters Gina CSF, Ruth CCR, and Paula OSB; a talk from an Anglican perspective; and many more. As a whole it was a rich and

Sr Gina CSF addressing the Conference

blessed meeting full of new and promising views and advice that the Brothers and Sisters shared, so we can contribute each one of us in our tradition as Religious members in our communities, for a revival and renewal of the Church worldwide. Being there and seeing all the Brothers and Sisters together in a spiritual network and being united in an internal relationship surrounded by prayer is what strengthened us, bonding us in Christ and as God’s people. After all what we all seek is to be good servants and work for God’s Kingdom and his people wherever they may be in this world, with no hesitation whatsoever, and always to seek and find common ground and unity. I came back with a heart full of joy and hope for the future, and also with new friendships with the Brothers and Sisters who were present there. May God bless us and watch over us in all we do to make this world a better place for the future generations to come.

 

Sr Gina with Br Jacob CR

Sr Gina with other participants

Greenbelt 2017

Sisters and Brothers from the First and Third Orders were present at the Greenbelt Festival held in the Boughton Estate. The Daily Office and Eucharist were offered in the Franciscan tent and the ‘Mobile Monastery’ was also there. The Festival (which was entitled ‘The Common Good’) provided numerous opportunities for people to listen to music, poetry and talks as well as to socialise and pray. In addition to the Franciscans (Bev, Chris James, Maureen, Hugh and Finnian) three other Anglican Religious Sisters were also present Sr Hilda Mary CSC, Sr Catherine CHN and Sr Helen OHP.

 

The Franciscan Tent.

The Franciscan contingent (and friends)

The Rev’d Debbie Plummer TSSF presiding at the Eucharist.

Service of Thanksgiving for CSF’s Ministry in Birmingham

On Saturday 23rd September there will be a Service of Thanksgiving for CSF’s life and Ministry in Birmingham beginning at 2.30pm in Christ Church Memorial Hall, Summerfield Crescent (adjacent to the Church in Gillott Road, B16 0EZ). It will be followed by light refreshments in St Francis’ House (on the corner of Gillott Road and Westgate B16 0ET). Join us to give thanks and celebrate the Sisters’ life and Ministry in Birmingham, over more than 4 decades, in 3 successive locations:

  • Trafalgar Road, Balsall Heath, working with Wellclose House.
  • St Elizabeth’s House, Hampton Road, Birchfield
  • St Francis’ House, Gillott Road, Edgbaston

This marks the end of our corporate ministry in Birmingham, as Sisters Hilary and Jannafer move from St Francis’ House.

If possible please let us know you’re coming by emailing  birminghamcsf@franciscans.org.uk or telephoning 0121 454 8302.

Life Profession in Alnmouth

On Friday 28th July Br Joseph Emmanuel made his Life Profession in the Society of St Francis which was accepted on behalf of the Church by the Bishop Protector (Bishop Stephen Cottrell). Sister Helen Julian CSF preached at the Mass and Br Joe was joined by people from many different stages in his life.

Alnmouth Friary – Retreat bookings

Alnmouth Friary is now entirely full for the year 2017 and therefore we can not accept any more bookings. There are, however, plenty of spaces in 2018!

Franciscans at Greenbelt!

Br Hugh writes:

For over twenty-five years Franciscans have been attending the Greenbelt Festival and praying the Four Offices in our tent Chapel. We will be there this year too and look forward to welcoming people to pray with us. In addition to there being Franciscans of both First and Third Orders we will be joined by Sisters from other Anglican Religious Communities.

Our contribution as Franciscans is a small part of this four day multi-arts inter-generational festival. I’m looking forward to a feast of extraordinarily good talks, drama, art, music, culture on the 2017 theme ‘the common good.’ If you’ve never been it’s an amazing experience and more information can be found by clicking here. Please pray for good weather!

 

Hugh SSF

Franciscans and friends at the Kirchentag in Berlin and Wittenburg – 24 – 28th May 2017

Br Hugh; Br Micael Christoffer; Br Robert; Dörte

Brs Robert, Micael Cristoffer, Hugh were joined by Darius and Dörte, present and past volunteers respectively at Hilfield from the church in the Rhineland at this four day event which the Evangelical – Lutheran – Church holds in a different German city every 2 years. This year Berlin and Wittenburg had been chosen as it is the 500th Anniversary of the start of Luther’s reformation. We were part of over 100,000 people attending. Brothers, both British and German have attended over the years but this was the first time we had gone as a group with an official stall.

Our stall, with a display in both English and German, was open from Wed 24th May till Sat 27th. We had been placed by a main entrance into our enormous hall, the market of opportunities, only one of several similar halls in the Messe, the Expo Centre. During the week we could sample only a fraction of the other stalls, and even less of the city wide events, even though some were translated or in English. Many people were intrigued by the existence of Anglican Franciscans in England and many stopped to talk. It was really good to have three native German speakers among us; nevertheless many visitors to our stall spoke sufficient English so all of us could participate. We gave out hundreds of Franciscan magazines and leaflets, and invited many to visit us, or even to join us. It was very hot, and we gave out lots of cups of tea too.

We also renewed contacts with some members of German communities and orders, as well as meeting some TSSF who were visiting from the UK, and a number of theological students with excellent English.

L-R: Br Robert; Darius; Br Hugh; Br Micael Christoffer

The pictures show our stall, which we staffed in shifts while the others explored elsewhere; the opening service (in which Justin Welby spoke) was held at the Bundestag. We heard Barak Obama and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, speaking to thousands the next day, in the Kirchentag tradition of politicians being involved, and various outside musical events. We spent a lot of time travelling on trams and buses round Berlin between the school where we slept to the east of the centre, and the Expo Centre to the west; so different to when I last visited in 1983 – there are now very few traces of the wall left.

Luther and family?

Robert and Micael spent the final Sunday at Wittenburg, Luther’s town, and only 50 mins by train from Berlin, at an enormous celebration.

We are already looking forward to the next Kirchentag in 2019.

The Bundestag

Martin Luther with one of his Swedish sons!

The final celebration in Wittenburg

Sr Sue in Korea (2)

At the CSF Korean Regional Chapter meeting in Cheonan on May 1st, Brother Raphael represented the SSF Korean brothers. The brothers had just returned from Brisbane where their Provincial Chapter had been meeting. (The brothers in Korea are part of the Province of the Divine Compassion.)  During that Chapter in Easter Week Raphael had been elected to Life Profession  and his Life Profession service had taken place. The sisters were delighted to hear his news and seized the opportunity to celebrate with him in a festive coffee break during their meeting.

Sr Sue in Korea (1)

Won Seong Dong Church in Cheunan, Daejeon Diocese in South Korea on 30th April during Sue’s visit to the Sisters.  Here Sue is  preaching with Jemma interpreting.  The altar frontal and lectern fall are Jemma’s work – her sewing business making vestments, church linen and clergy clothing bring her into fruitful relationships with many churches of various denominations.  This Anglican church is where Juliana works 2 days a week, staying overnight, and normally making the 2 hour journey by train back to Gumi, on Sunday evenings.

Life Profession in Cambridge

On Saturday 22nd April Br Christopher Martin made his Life Profession before the Bishop Protector Stephen Cottrell (the Bishop of Chelmsford). Chris was supported by Brothers and Sisters of the Society, members of his family, friends and members of the College community at Westcott House (where Chris currently lives)

Br Benedict (L); Br Chris Martin and Bishop Stephen Cottrell (R)

AUDIO FRANCISCAN MAY 2016

Articles

Christians and Muslims in Woolwich – Bishop Michael Ipgrave

Community Engagement: a Muslim Perspective – Julie Siddiqi

A Christian celebrates Eid – Judith SLG

Engaging with Islam – Oliver Coss and Anthony Murley

 

Book Reviews

To listen to the book reviews click here:

Jesus, his home, his journey, his challenge: A companion for Lent and Easter – David J. Bryan

Religious Life at the Crossroads A School for Mystics and Prophets – Amy Hereford CSJ

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale

Silence: A Christian History – Diarmaid MacCulloch

Becoming Human, An appreciation of the Life and Ministry of Geoffrey Ainger – Warren Bardsley

Seeking Peace: Notes and Conversations along the Way – Johann Christoph Arnold

Blessed are the Poor? Urban Poverty and the Church – Laurie Green

 

Obituaries

Brian SSF

Damian SSF