Tag Archives: Nelson Mandela

Called to Love

Brussels_Love One Another

Love One Another, As I Have Loved You

 On Maundy Thursday we are explicitly called to love one another. Sometimes though it’s not as easy as you think. This reflection was preached as a sermon at St James’ Church at the Maundy Thursday evening service and is shared with you now.

Readings: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and John 13:1-17, 31b-35

‘That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’

This week has for me been a week of great sorrow. In a week when we are following in the footsteps of Jesus to the cross, his words to his disciples have a great poignancy. A week in which we have once again witnessed the total disregard for the value of human life.

‘That you love one another’

On Monday we heard of the devastating effect that one person can have on one family, the Philip’s family, we heard of the anger and hatred that is justifiably felt as raw emotions are still very much on the surface.  Then on Tuesday, the indiscriminate attack on innocent victims in Brussels, as they went about their ordinary business; treated not as individual human beings but an in-distinguishable mass target.Still each of those who died or were wounded will be connected in a myriad of ways to others: wives, husbands, fathers, mothers , sons, daughters, friends. Connected to people who love them.

Brussels - Tintin

Herge’s Tintin weeps for Belgium

Far too frequently we think of ourselves as just individuals, separated from one another by race, culture and faith, yet we share a common humanity. Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, when having to deal with the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa, choose to walk the way of love rather than retaliation. Tutu explained that one of the sayings in his country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human, and that it speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

Our common connection means that what we do as individuals affects the whole world. When we love each other and recognise that common humanity and things go well, it spreads out and shows what the power of love can do; but when we disregard it we act in fear, creating hatred and violence.

 ‘That you love one another’

 That you love one another. Just as I have loved you’

If we want to know what that love should look like then we only have to look at Jesus. Love is never straightforward but he managed to show us the different sorts of love that are needed to unite us rather than divide us.

Love can be tough – we only have to think of the rich young man who when told that he had to give up all that he owned went away grieved.. Yet Jesus didn’t give him a get out clause. He looked at him and he loved him even though he knew how hard that would be

Love enables forgiveness as well as  demanding a change of heart. Like the woman caught in adultery, who was judged and condemned by those who were blinded to their own sinful natures. ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. She was sent away with the instruction to sin no more, knowing that love enables us to forgive.

Love gives us a servant heart. What better demonstration of Jesus’ love for us that he stoops to wash our feet, not as master but as a servant and asks us to do the same. Amongst his disciple he was aware that one was going to hand him over, to be part of his inevitable death and yet he still washed his feet.

And that brings us to the greatest love of all, that he would offer up his own life in order to give us ours. A love that we celebrate each time we come to share at the communion table, and taste the bread and wine.  A sacrificial love that didn’t distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy but was poured out to encompass all of humanity.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’

You also should love one another’

There is one more love that he calls us to emulate – to love our enemies. Jesus tells us that if we only love those who love us back then love has no real value. But to try and love those who perpetrate violence, surely this is the hardest love of all.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t hate the crime and that punishment must follow according to the agreed judicial system, and let’s be clear that in the case of the ISIS attacks in Belgium this has nothing to do with the Muslim faith in general, but is caused by a perverted religion of hate.

Even so we are called to show mercy and offer grace. We are called to look at each individual and imagine what has happened in their lives to make them turn to such hatred, to make them so blind that they forget their common humanity with their victims, to espouse causes that deny the power of love, and despite this to love them­­­­­­. How hard that is.

‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples’

What has also been demonstrated, is that evil and hatred were not allowed to get the upper hand in Brussels, as Christian throughout the city offered practical help and prayers and the Belgian people rallied defiantly in the an open square to write chalk messages of love and hope.

The Archbishop of Brussels, Josef de Kesel, also announced that he had received messages from around the world, as signs of fraternity, and which he said, ‘let us feel how we are united in faith and humanity. He added that “We must stay faithful to our message of peace and go on promoting a discourse which appeals for acceptance, unity and coexistence’

So, as we continue to commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ this Holy Week, let us all remember that God is the source of love and life, and ask him to bring peace to our troubled world.


Servanthood image

© ‘Servanthood’ by Debbie Saenz.

Madiba – A Light For The World

African Trinity

African Trinity

Nelson Mandela 1918 – 2013

This small tribute that I wish to pay to Nelson Mandela will without doubt be just one amongst millions. Unlike the news of his passing it will probably only reach a handful of people; but somehow a man that few of us have met or claim to have known personally, except through the media, became part of our lives and his loss means we are the poorer for it.

His is a rare breed, a true child of God, whose faith was the bedrock on which he based his life. Who saw ways of dealing with the world, not with hatred and a desire to extract maximum retribution for the events in his life, but who took love and made it the measure by which he weighed up his actions both on the personal and political stage.

He undoubtedly prevented a bloody civil war from breaking out in South Africa in the 1990’s with his message of truth and reconciliation, which paved the way for a far-reaching constitution that dismantled apartheid and guaranteed freedom for all; regardless of whether your skin was black or white or any hue in between. He valued the person not the persona; the genuine not the gender; the true of heart not the heartless.

The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a small step.” —Chinese Proverb.

As his book title ‘Long Walk to Freedom‘ suggests, his journey was long and arduous at times. The fact that he continued to do all he could to bring about freedom for the people of South Africa, even whilst imprisoned for many years, shows that his vision was not diminished and his first step back into the outside world turned that walk into a joyful race in which the prize was not only won for Africa, but for the whole world.

You know that many runners enter a race, and only one of them wins the prize. So run to win!
1 Corinthians 9:24

We are called to be lights to the world, and with the passing of Nelson Mandela many may say that a light has gone and the world is a darker place for it. I believe that his light has ignited a flame that will shine in the lives of millions of people now and for eternity. God speed Madiba and rest now in glory.

Follow the Leader!

What Style of Leadership Do You Have?

What Style of Leadership Do You Have?

Over the last six months, I have taken part in a course entitled ‘Leading God’s People Today’ (LGPT). Over the ten sessions we worked on developing collaborative leadership skills, and learning all sorts of management techniques. A lot of these were not specifically for church leaders but could be thought of as tools that may be useful in our ministry.

As well as our personality types being revealed (one for a whole other blog!) we role-played group discussions using Appreciative Inquiry – ‘I have a problem’ …. Action Learning – ‘What you could do is’…. and Open Space – ‘Well, what do you think?’ …. all of which will be great when I get to chair PCC meetings!*

Now before you leave this ‘marketplace’ – sorry blog, thinking that you’ve stumbled on a Richard Branson type guide to ‘Running a Successful Business‘ let me share with you one other thing that I found particularly interesting.

Over thousands of years there has been much discussion about whether leaders are born or created. Consider the likes of Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, born into humble beginnings yet rising to become two of the greatest leaders of the last century or Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill, both from prosperous backgrounds, whose superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics saw them become inspirational leaders. What is clear is that all leaders have a particular style to their leadership

How then is a humble vicar-to-be to compete and what might be their leadership style? Well Keith Lamdin’s book, ‘Finding Your Leadership Style‘ breaks this down into six different styles which I have precised. Read through them and decide what YOUR style of leadership might be – then read my take on ‘How to Become a Great Leader’

  • The Monarch: His or her word is law and because they don’t have to waste time on consultation they are often able to get things done quickly with little fuss. People look up to them because of their desire to feel safe and protected, however they may also feel unable to challenge this type of leader
  • The Warrior: This type of leader frequently performs exceptional deeds. They have a deep desire to bring about changes in social welfare and are energised by charitable work. With charismatic personalities they lead by pursuing a clear direction and have a certain knowledge of what is right and wrong. Their devoted followers live by a simple mantra, but what happens if the leader turns out not to be right? Do they recognise their own flaws?
  • The Servant: Their belief is that humans function best when they are part of a community. They are good listeners and are skilled at identifying people’s needs. There is a great acceptance of others with whom they seek to empathise and build up a relationships. They do, however, need to be aware that people may try and take advantage of their loving nature
  • The Elder: One who is perceived to be wise; who will invite you to talk with them about what needs doing but will leave you to reflect and then make up your own mind. They place great importance on listening and their life experiences often enable them to discuss things as broadly as possible. Their leadership can be liberating to their followers but frustrating when clear, decisive direction is needed
  • The Contemplative: There is no attempt to overtly lead you, believing that it is God’s job to bring about the work of mission. They call on people to hold God in their heart’s, recognising that we are not necessarily called to be successful but to be faithful. Therefore, prayer is an important tool and they will encourage people to pray into situations. To some people though, this may look like a lack of initiative and purpose.
  • The Prophet: Their success as a leader is not measured by numbers, despite the modern obsession with numerical growth. They are closely in touch with local issues and take a prayerful and meditative approach, preferring to wait on God

So which style do you fit into? On a personal level which style do I fit into? What I do know is that ‘Great leaders rally people to a better future’ (Marcus Buckingham, ‘The One Thing You Need To Know‘) so here is my own guide to how to be a great leader

How to Be a Great Leader

Choose your team carefully. Having a team with a range of skills will give you more flexibility. It is important to check people’s availability; if they are able to come together fairly quickly then they will be able to bond together and identify themselves more easily as part of the team.

Get to know your team on a social as well as professional level, showing a interest in their home lives, perhaps visiting them or their relatives or attending conventional social occasions such as weddings and funerals. This will not only give you an insight as to what makes them tick but will show them that you are interested in them as whole people

Share your knowledge with your team: there are many ways this can be done and you should be aware of the different learning styles of the group, whether they are auditory, visual or kinaesthetic learners. Some will learn best through question and answer sessions; others by seeing you demonstrate these skills, and then having a go themselves. It is important for you to be able to assess their progress from time to time by setting them specific targets and providing opportunities for reflection afterwards.

You will soon find that one or more of your team will clearly show potential to take on more of a leadership role themselves. Build up their confidence with positive encouragement at the same time being prepared to provide a safe environment in which to allow them to make mistakes. Make it clear of your expectations for them as individuals, whilst being fair but firm about the standards you require

Eventually there will come a time when members of the team will decide to leave, perhaps after being head hunted for a new career; often it will be you. It would be good therefore that you prepare your team for this eventuality. You may have to deal with their feelings of fear, resentment and abandonment, as the team adjusts to your absence and reorganises itself. A testament of your leadership skills will be how the remaining members of the team pull together and go on to continue and expand the work you started.

Reunions can be tricky things as people will often have moved on emotionally. However these can be joyous occasions, seeing how people have changed and sharing fond memories. In years to come you may be proud to know that they still hold you in high regard and have remained true to the basic tenets that brought the team together in the first place. Surely the marks of a great leader!

Now I wonder…  just who might fulfil that description?

The Holy Lamb of God detail in stained glass window, St John the Evangelist, Hedge End

The Holy Lamb of God detail in stained glass window, St John the Evangelist, Hedge End

*PCC = Parochial Church Council meetings. These are notorious (although not in all instances I hasten to add) for being very long and micro-focused on the minutiae of church management such as whether custard cream biscuits are too extravagant for after church service refreshments – I kid you not!