Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Public Face of Christian Conflict

Heart blog

‘Love at the heart of faith is visible’

On Monday (20th January 2014) I came up to Ripon College, Cuddesdon to hear Christopher Landau speak on “Who cares what the church is saying? Christian disagreement and the credibility of public theology.”  Christopher is a former student of the college and is presently a curate at St Luke’s, West Kilburn. This interesting lecture was part of the OxCEPT series and gave me pause to reflect further. The following is based on some of the points and ideas that Christopher put forward

Sometimes it’s hard being a Christian. Not because of my beliefs or the way we are called to live our lives (although I so often fall short in many ways). Not because it can feel that what I understand as basic common standards of respect for self and others appear to be being been gradually eroded in our society. Not because I expect anyone to listen to me and instantly recognise that I have all the answers – I don’t!

What is really hard is the ‘face’ of Christianity that the general public gets to see nowadays

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another
John 13:35

If, as a voice in the public domain, we are to be more and more portrayed as nonsensical, irrelevant fools, then maybe we need to consider not only what is being said, but how it is being said. How many times do we cringe when the press pick up the views of individuals with ‘extreme’ theologies and opinions; when they misquote or home in on the more sensational expressions of people’s religion, ignoring the mundane yet essential work carried out by millions of Christians each day in the name of their faith? Yet our own worst enemies may just be ourselves.

I think I should make it clear from the start that we should always be prepared to speak out loudly and clearly against injustices; that we have a duty to expose falsehoods and to stand firm on undeniable principles, but the tone and the way in which we do so needs to come from a deep-rooted love and regard for all those involved – to exercise ‘gracious restraint’ as advocated by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Where better then, to start showing that respect and restraint, but among fellow Christians. I am sure we have all come across situations in our churches where the love of God seems to have been divorced from hearts and minds; being swept aside by petty arguments and disagreements; where it appears acceptable to snipe and carp against our brothers and sisters in Christ; to turn a deaf ear to anything that doesn’t resonate with our personal views. If this is what the outside world sees is happening, then why should they think we have anything relevant to say?

‘Gracious restraint’ should mean that we must not only be prepared to share our own views with each other, but that we should also be prepared to listen; though certainly not to remain silent so that we give the impression that we unquestionably concur, yet all the while dismissing the other as misguided. We need to find arenas where these conversations can take place; to provide room for mutual disagreement; for them to be undertaken using gentleness in speech and manner and to leave space for the Holy Spirit to guide us.

As Christopher pointed out, if we can achieve this at personal and parish levels then we can create a ‘trickle up’ effect and honestly speak as the body of Christ. Perhaps then our words and actions will become more relevant and our public theology more engaging and news-worthy. In this way we will also ensure that ‘love at the heart of faith is visible’

Christian Conflict

Christian Conflict

For Those In Peril On The Sea

'Lusty' returns home

A long-awaited welcome as ”Lusty’ returns home*

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Peril on the high seas is nowadays only one aspect of the Royal Navy’s defence commitments. There is also the time spent flying the flag as ambassadors for Great Britain, as well as shoreside tasks such as refitting ships and career training development opportunities for ratings and officers

In amongst all of these are a remarkable bunch of people, without rank or obvious promotion agendas; who hatch, match and dispatch with the best of their civilian counterparts, but who also serve alongside those whose main occupation is to learn and use the skills of warfare – Navy chaplains!

For the last ten days I have been privileged to shadow and observe the chaplains and pastoral workers as they go about their different roles as part of HMS Nelson’s chaplaincy service. Based within HMS Nelson, Portsmouth they care for and provide spiritual welfare to all who require their services; at the same time as making themselves known and available to the wider dockyard groups and ship’s companies.

The 'Reverends' Andy, Ned and Jon with Ryan

The ‘Reverends’ Andy, Ned and Jon with Ryan

The Chaplains also come into their own when they join a sea-going ship and become part of the ship’s company; so that whilst the Captain has ultimate responsibility for the the pastoral care of his men and women, like any good leader he delegates this in a great part to the chaplains, who become a sounding board to all on board. The ship then becomes the chaplain’s ‘parish’ but without a church building worship services can be held in many surprising  places – the mess hall; the library; the upper deck (a particular favourite in good weather and sunny climes) or even the engine room – and it’s notable that many on board will join in with these, who may not have considered doing so on land

An ecumenical presence, they are also able to offer support to the lonely and the troubled regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of them and offer both spiritual and practical advice. Perhaps one of the loneliest position to be in on board is that of the Captain, and here, because of the lack of hierarchical boundaries, the chaplain can act as a critical and compassionate ‘friend’

Aggie Weston’s, a Christian charity that provides practical pastoral support to the Royal Naval Service

Aggie Weston’s, a Christian charity that provides practical pastoral support to the Royal Naval Service

Back on shore, the pastoral workers are also very busy. They are part of Aggie Weston’s, a charity set up in 1876 by Agnes Weston, a Christian who started by writing letters to lonely sailors at sea and then provided them with a home from home when they came ashore

This active and dedicated group of people help provide a welcome at The Haven and The Waterfront in the dockyard, as well as running a very successful ‘Bacon Butty’ morning on a Thursday at HMS Collingwood, and in the process raise hundreds of pounds for charity. They also work out in the community at places like Hilsea, Portsmouth and Rowner, Gosport where many naval families live.

This very brief overview hardly does justice to the multiple tasks that the chaplaincy service undertakes and doesn’t really look deeply at the tension in which Christian values and beliefs are held in an environment where people are ultimately trained to kill. I think that will definitely need a lot more reflection. Maybe something for another blog!

However, what I can say is a huge thank you for being allowed to enter this short time of ‘service’ and being made most graciously welcome.

Panoramic View of St Ann's Church, Naval Dockyard, Portsmouth

Panoramic View of St Ann’s Church, Naval Dockyard, Portsmouth

* ‘Lusty’ refers to HMS Illustrious, who returned home after an extended deployment after she was diverted just before Christmas to offer aid in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan – Details of the Royal Naval Chaplaincy Services – Details of the Work of the Aggie Weston’s charity

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – Joseph’s Story

Flight To Egypt

Flight To Egypt

This is the last in a series of four meditations for Christmastide. I hope you have enjoyed reading them

Joseph sat under the welcome shade of the sycamore trees. Mary, his wife and their child also rested nearby. He could see his son chattering away to his mother, who was doing her best to answer his inquisitive questions.

His son? He knew that wasn’t strictly true, according to nature’s law; too much had happened over the last two or three years to make him only too aware of that fact; but the truth was he felt it was now his responsibility to fulfil a father’s role.

The last time they had been on a journey like this Mary had been expecting their first-born any day; the child that now played happily at his mother’s feet. Her latest pregnancy wasn’t obvious yet, still it was hard to have to travel in such conditions. However, circumstances meant that they had become refugees – putting themselves into self-imposed exile, heading towards a land where their ancestors had been treated like slaves.

Joseph knew it was for the best. The vivid dream, warning him of death and despair, had prompted their hurried departure from Bethlehem. Even now, from such a great distance, there were stories exchanged between fellow travellers and the camel trains they passed, telling of King Herod’s murderous slaughter of thousands of innocent children – death on the whim of an egotistical maniac with an inferiority complex

After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.” Matthew 2:13

It was as if a dark shroud of mourning was descending on the land; a palpable wail of inconsolable sorrow rising up. What sort of world was this going to be to raise children in?

Hopefully, though, his family was safe now, only one more day till the border crossing and that was merely a desolate rocky outcrop in the Wilderness of Egypt. He’d bought them as far south as he dared, but after crossing they would have to make their way north-west in order to find villages and towns where he might earn his trade as a carpenter. He was grateful for that at least, for who knew when they might be able to return.

The strange gifts they’d been given, by those unexpected visitors, might be of value if their lives depended on it, but somehow he’d couldn’t see Mary agreeing to part with them and who was he to treat such precious gifts so lightly. No, he would rely on his own skills, skills taught to him by his father and ones which he would pass on to his sons in the future, to give them a good chance to earn a decent living and start families of their own.

He looked up at a sudden burst of laughter, and watched as his son ran smiling towards him with his arms open wide.

“Aba, Aba. We have to go – let’s get on our way!”

Joseph scooped him up into his arms and walked back to where his wife was sitting; gently helping her to her feet. Setting his son down, both he and Mary prepared to follow Jesus as he hastened on a little way ahead, leading them towards their new life.

He Qi, Nativity - The Flight Into Egypt

He Qi, Nativity – The Flight Into Egypt

*Sycamore Trees have been cultivated since ancient times. The Pharaohs of Egypt called them Nehet. The oldest sycamore tree is in El Matariya, Egypt and is known as the Virgin Mary Tree.