Reflections on a journey

Over the last five years life has brought some unexpected developments, not least the events of recent weeks as I have taken up responsibilities at Lambeth Palace as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation. This is a part time secondment from Coventry Cathedral which itself is to be the focus for the new Archbishop’s commitment to reconciliation. As a practical expression of this responsibility by Coventry I am to provide support to ++Justin, a former Canon for International Ministry at the Cathedral and my predecessor in this post.

We first met in April 2005 at a consultation in Coventry arising out of the Lausanne consultation in Thailand the previous autumn where I had represented ECONI on the reconciliation track. The Thailand event was a formative experience for me and the declaration signed by those present in the reconciliation working group hangs on my office wall. It lead to our sabbatical in the US at Duke Divinity School where my wife and I enjoyed five months in 2006.

Coventry Cathedral had played a full part in that consultation and little did I realise in 2005 that I would be working there within three years. It was in fact my second visit to Coventry, the first in 1997 with a group of Southern Baptists who were developing a reconciliation ministry and network which still has links to the Coventry Community of the Cross of Nails. It was one of them, Phyllis Hardin, who sent me the information on the job at Coventry to see if I knew anyone suitable, the assumption being they would need to be Anglican and ordained.

++Justin was one of many Anglican friends who warmly brought me in to their circle in a job in which I have found much fulfilment and fun in serving God and the church. Dean John Irvine and the Residentiary Canons at Coventry went out of their way to make me part of the team and bring my Anabaptist convictions and pragmatic approach to this opportunity for ministry.

Now that role is to be developed. While an initial focus will be on the ongoing conflicts within the church over deeply held differences, the ultimate aim is to look out to a world torn apart by violent conflicts, and enable the church to live as the children of God, peacemakers.

The challenges that lie ahead are certainly daunting. One thing is certain, I will get many things wrong. Yet I can’t help but sense that God is in this journey as he was in the journey I took just over 35 years ago when my life in Christian ministry began.

Between my Irish Presbyterian upbringing and emerging from theological college a convinced Anabaptist, there was a sojourn of deep significance which changed me more than anything in my life, apart from my journey in partnership with my wife. I lived in Lahore, Pakistan, working with BMMF at St Andrew’s Church an old railway workers’ church with an English speaking congregation.

Part of the Church of Pakistan it was Anglican in practice and it was here I preached my first sermon, wearing a cassock! Rev Sid Iggledun, a CMS missionary from Sydney was my mentor and responsible, along with Jim Tebbe from the US, for my returning to the UK to study theology. A friend from that time Irfan Jamil is now the Bishop of Lahore.

At each stage of transition in my ministry there have been significant people who have been God’s gift to me in opening avenues of service and growth in faith. During lent I want to think on them, giving thanks, maybe finding time to write a blog or two on some of them.

++Justin is the latest in this lineage of friends in Christ who have seen something that I really don’t fully recognise and opened a path to grow in faith and continue in service. That they have been there at all gives me some hope that what lies ahead is of God, despite all that may tempt me to think otherwise in the days and months ahead.

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Not a New Year Resolution

O yes it is! O no it isn’t! But now that my Christmas holiday comes to an end and the year ahead looks as if it may take some exciting turns it is probably time to have another attempt at that blogging thing.

This is my third attempt and armed with Word Press apps on every available device I really don’t have any excuse, of a technical nature at least. Now that I have linked in to my twitter feed it should mean that at least one thing is kept up to date. And with seventeen identified categories under which I can link my random thoughts, it surely implies I have either little to say about a lot or a lot to say about too much.

Whether anyone bothers to take notice of what appears here is another matter. Whether I care if they do or do not probably depends on who is doing the reading. But if you do drift this way occasionally and the miraculous has happened and what I say is of interest to you, please comment and engage. For us extroverts blogging has to be a two-way street.

You will hopefully find a lot about reconciliation – it is what the day job is about after all. Not the smooth, dove of peace, hands together, spell of peace approach I’m afraid – I am a thran Ulsterman. More the hard-edged, jagged, confrontational, in your face honest to God struggle with all that drives us apart as human beings, both within the church and in wider society.

So here’s to the blogging year ahead. 2013 will soon give way to 2014 and time will tell if this was indeed a new beginning or just another paving stone on the road to hell.

Once Again with Feeling…

So here I am again on the road to hell that is paved with good intentions. No promises this time about the regularity of my blog! But the new iPad should help. It has become my constant companion, eye on the world and organiser of my life.
A major step has been made towards a paperless life and I have now delivered sermons and talks, shared presentations and watched movies on the go thanks to the sublime device.
Travelling has become a lighter burden, not only with the absence of a heavy laptop but my travel reading is now contained on the kindle app. I normally like to travel with three books, one on history/ politics, one on theology and one for fun, to read depending on how the mood takes me on long flights. Now the burden of such indecision is lifted!
I have also opened a new tweet account – @baldynotion – which derives from the old Belfast saying “I haven’t a baldy notion” meaning I don’t know what I am talking about.
Reading my blog you may also come to the same conclusion – but don’t leave without telling me why!

Pancake Blog

Time to get rid of the trivia and prepare to slow down for lent. Easier said than done.

Today began with breakfast in Berlin, lunch in Dusseldorf, followed by afternoon tea at a Chapter meeting in Coventry and pancakes for dinner at home in Meriden!

Diary and plans had allowed for a break from air travel from now until after Easter, except for the honourable exception of a weekend visit to Belfast over the Palm Sunday weekend for my mother’s 80th birthday. The travel diary for the first few months had also been well synchronised to allow for rugby weekends at home.

Alas however the best laid plans have come unstuck as I now have to travel to Hanau just outside of Frankfurt for a presentation of a Cross of Nails to a new CCN partner (Community of the Cross of Nails) church on 20 March. The devastating point is not so much the extra travel, but that I miss the last weekend of the six nations championship AND the critical Ireland / England game. Critical not in the sense of the tournament, but in the now living in England and needing the home team to win sense! Just like Ireland cricket last week.

However it is time to stand still for a season to catchup. Since leaving my previous job and beginning the process of taking up the job at Coventry I have travelled on 124 separate flights to 31 destinations using some 17 airlines and over 40 different beds! The sky blue or night blue view from the plane has been made up for with 3000 photos, 10 car hires, numerous taxis, trains, buses and car rides with new friends.

Herein lies the blessing, the countless hours in the company of the most amazing and inspiring people. Projects that challenge the status quo of hate and prejudice, initiatives to create the space for peace to take root, risks in reaching out to the historical enemy for the sake of a better future, moving acts of worship in German, Russian, Icelandic, Arabic, Dutch and Hebrew. With this comes the challenge to try to at least learn the Lord’s prayer in some of these languages of my new friends. Something to take up for Lent?

For now, time to slow down.

To cook up this pancake of memories and ingredients of movement across the globe.

To clear out the trivia of frequent flyer points and fantastic food.

To hold in my mind’s eye the wonders of nature.

To listen again to the stories of peoples and communities, division and hurt, suffering and loss.

To give thanks for those things that make for peace in communities, especially in the church.

To remember with gratitude the people, their hope and pain, which has made it all worth while.

Tomorrow Lent begins.

Lent Approaches

Living a disciplined life has never come easy to this impulsive soul. The many ideas and articles that have existed merely within the confines of my grey matter bear ample testament to this fact. You just have to take my word they did exist in this form and the large void between last new year’s declared intention to blog regularly and the threadbare product throughout 2010 prove the point!

Now another ritual of Christian discipline approaches – Lent. I’ve never been much for giving up but three years of the rhythms of an Anglican Cathedral are beginning to have their impact. Yet the contrarian in me has decided to take something up rather than setting something aside. Writing a blog comment everyday for Lent.

Of course to do this does indeed require me to give something up – an impulsive unstructured approach to reflective writing – and to take on board a disciplined approach to setting time aside each day to reflect and to do so in an ordered way that will make some sense on this blog.

So as Ash Wednesday approaches it is time to get rid of some of the old ingredients in the cupboards of my head – pancake blogs sound fun – and prepare for the fresh perspectives that the discipline of a blog may bring.

No pope here!

Too much time has passed since I last blogged and my new year commitment to regularly do so has long since vanished into the mist. However sufficient time has now passed since the pope’s UK visit to reflect more calmly on it and surprise blog land by making a few comments on this as my first outpouring of the new season.

I had been an enthusiast for the visit – indeed I had lobbied for the pope to make a stop off at Coventry Cathedral – in the 70th anniversary year of its bombing by the Luftwaffe I thought it would be good for a German pope to come and ring the peace bell and lead the litany of reconciliation. A constructive PR engagement if nothing else.

On reflection I am glad that the lobby did not reap dividends on this occasion. The visit produced some unexpected reactions which I have found interesting to reflect on. The first is personal, in that all the ritual and ceremony reminded me of how Protestant I really am. Rather than being awed and moved, I found it cold and remote. I wasn’t present in person at any of the events, but I usually enjoy big occasions from the comfort of my sofa – and as political theatre it was grand. But spiritually it left me cold, despite my new-found enthusiasm for high church drama in a sterile secular world.

Secondly, I got very grumpy. Some of what the pope said does need to be heard – by us as a country and by the church. And if said as part of a PASTORAL visit, then fine. But this was a STATE visit and no other head of state would be able to make such a critique of the host country without causing a major diplomatic incident. It should not have been tolerated – if visiting in papal political mode, then criticising the country should be off the agenda. The Vatican cannot have it both ways. And this made me unexpectedly cross.

Third, I became increasingly dismayed. It actually was the service at Westminster Abbey that did it. Apart from the exception of a female Abbey Canon, Rev Canon Jane Hedges, the cameras revealed an overwhelming facade of male bishops and clergy. And this is where we have to say that the church – both Anglican and Catholic – doesn’t get it. Before anything is said, whether prayers, sermons or words of worship, the picture has said everything. And that everything not only puts the church in a place of cultural irrelevance, as it fails to honour and promote women in leadership of the body of Christ, it more significantly presents a distorted witness of God’s self and the nature of the human community for which Christ died.

Maybe it should be more pope here, for it reminds some of us what we truly stand for!

A BIG YEAR AHEAD

It’s that time of year when we make irrational promises to ourselves about the year ahead and life in general. Taking more exercise, eating less, getting organized…restarting the blog. Well the fact that this is on the site and being read is some indication of resolution being shown, albeit at 9.30 pm on the first day of the new year.

However the fact that today now marks the longest we have been in any house for 17 months, and we have been in three, there is some hope that a routine may begin to settle in to life for this Ulster Scot in Coventry. Not that there won’t be travel and its accompanying dislocation. Plans are already in place for trips to Germany ( 3 times), Russia and the US as well as regular travel to Ireland for various ongoing commitments.

But it is not just the physical dislocation that I anticipate as the year starts – it is the ongoing reshaping and crossing of boundaries that comes with the job that I most look forward to. Getting to know new people and new communities, facing new challenges and understanding anew what it may mean to live within the grace of God for another year. All of this brings opportunity for growth and sharing as well as the occasion to mess up, something that being older does not always eradicate through being somehow wiser.

In particular this is the year when the dreams and vision for what it is I am in Coventry to do must find their tangible outworking in the launch of new initiatives and a clear sense of purpose in investing the limited reserves of time and energy.  There are good things which will distract and knowing which to lay aside to focus on what will make the greatest difference will continue to be a challenge.

As I look into the year ahead it is with a huge debt to the years that have past and the people that have left their thumbprint on my life that makes it even possible to contemplate what lies ahead. One of those who passed away this year was Theo Williams, an evangelist and bible woman who 33 years ago as a veteran missionary about to retire took an interest in a young upstart and had an influence of which she was probably unaware, in kick starting the journey which has brought him to this place in 2010.