Prayer and spirituality University of Nottingham Debate on Secularism <p><strong>On November 18th, Rev Christopher Harrison spoke in a debate on secularism at Nottingham University, organised by the ‘Voice your rights’ campaign. The motion was ‘This house believes in a secular society and that all religion should be completely separate from the state.’ Christopher’s opening speech, opposing the motion, follows.</strong></p> <p>The case put by the National Secular Society is on many levels very plausible.</p> <p>I would absolutely agree that in an open, democratic society – and in any society, for that matter, religious groups should not be given unfair preferential treatment; they should not receive exemptions from laws that are genuinely democratically made; and they should not be given the wherewithal to influence the making of laws in ways that run counter to the democratic process.</p> <p>I also believe that the traditions, in UK society, whereby faith groups are part of the structures of certain public sector services – health care, education, the prison and probation services, the armed forces, the police etc – and I refer here to chaplaincy work and similar provision – should not be abused, or used as an opportunity to advance the agenda – overtly or covertly – of the faith group concerned.</p> <p>I also have questions about those aspects of the Church’s life and work which do not fully reflect the true nature of Jesus’ teaching, which primarily concerns justice for the oppressed and those on the edges of society.</p> <p>I applaud many of the aims of the National Secular Society, particularly its emphasis on equality, justice, non-discrimination and challenging the abuse of power. However – and it’s a big however – to argue that ‘all religion should be completely separate from the state’ goes several steps too far. This aim can all too easily become a mantra, a rigid ideology, an inflexible dogma that fails to recognise that faith, spirituality, religion are an integral part of life for many millions of people. This still remains the case in materialistic and consumerist societies such as our own – but there are of course also countries where more and more people are now taking a faith-based stand against the lack of meaning and purpose that many are finding characterises both capitalism and communism alike. The National Secular Society may point to the decline in religious observance in this country, but what about the massive growth of Christianity in China, with over 100 million practising Christians; also Korea; and also the revival of the Orthodox Church in Russia – and of course the increasing attractiveness of Islam to many who are disillusioned with western social paradigms.</p> <p>The essence of my case, therefore, is quite simple.</p> <p>The ‘state’ is that body that governs the ordering of political, economic, social and cultural aspects of a nation’s life. To say that religion should be completely separate from the state, therefore, is to argue that those things that are to do with the human spirit should have no relation to politics, the economy, culture, and society. I believe you have to be very determined in order to make such an argument.</p> <p>When I talk of the human spirit, I mean all those things which are to do with aspirations, values, dreams, ideals, and how to lead one’s life; this may or may not involve the concept of a supreme being, or God. To insist that these basic aspects of human belief and behaviour must have no relation with the state is surely short sighted and fails to understand how integral matters of the human spirit are to society.</p> <p>The National Secular Society argues that religion, faith, spirituality should be private matters alone. But this view fails to recognise that like minded people will naturally organise and form groups; religious groups are simply an expression of this fundamental human characteristic, in the same way as members of a workforce combine together in a union, or those with similar academic interests form a society, and so on.</p> <p>To rule out on ideological grounds, then, any engagement between faith groups and the state; to prohibit any structural connection between faith groups and the state; actually verges on repression. Before we know it, and this is always going to be a risk in a society with a strong secular agenda, what begins as freedom for all kinds of religious observance, but only on a private level, becomes a social climate in which religion is looked down upon and increasingly marginalised and pushed back behind closed doors.</p> <p>Over many years, a wide range of mutually beneficial partnerships has been built up in this country between faith groups and the state. These are simply a subset of a far wider range of partnerships between the state and other elements of civil society, corporations, and so on. A blanket ban on faith groups from forming such partnerships would surely be unfair and unreasonable.</p> <p>To give a few examples: in hospitals, first, the emphasis in chaplaincy now is very much on spirituality at a very general level, and pastoral care, certainly not allowing any attempt on the part of chaplains to convert people to their faith. It is entirely reasonable for a society to put money into such work. In the field of education, also, at least in those Church schools which I’ve been involved in, the religious element is very light touch, and great care is taken not to impose religious views on the children concerned: indeed it is usual, even at primary level in church of England schools, to learn about at least one other faith than Christianity.</p> <p>But of course there must be safeguards, to prevent faith groups from abusing and taking undue advantage of their relationship with the state. I would be the first to argue for total rigour in this, with the Churches, for example, being subject to a properly agreed Equality Act which has not been distorted by special pleading. Nor do I think that having only Bishops as representatives of faith groups in our second chamber is justifiable, but that a range of faiths should be represented, as well as other major institutions of this land.</p> <p>I remind you that politics in this country are actually dominated by other far more powerful lobbies and interest groups, which are usually concerned purely for their own interests. I used to work in the Civil Service, in Whitehall, and it was clear that business and finance had infinitely greater power and influence than religious bodies. At a time when certain voices in government are even saying that charities should not be allowed to campaign on political matters, it is all the more important that faith groups should retain their structural links with government, in order to ensure that spiritual perspectives, as well as those of social justice, are not sidelined or ignored.</p> <p>And finally – the nature of politics is such that there will always be those politicians who are guided at least in part by a faith based vision – whether this be on matters to do with social justice, peace and war, or the sanctity of human life. I challenge anybody to legislate successfully against such motivation.<br/><br/>And so on all these compelling grounds, Mr Chairman, I oppose the motion.</p> <p> </p> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:56:00 +0100 Ministry to the Rich? <p><strong>Andrew Harrison, formerly a member of this parish, has recently moved to pursue a lay ministry role in an affluent part of London - he considers whether the wealthy are as deserving as the poor</strong><br/><br/>The last time I wrote in the Nottingham City parish magazine, it was about my keen interest in social justice. Last October, while I was worshipping at St Peter’s Nottingham and working for an independent coffee shop I saw an ad in Church Times for a lay ministry role in Hampstead. Within a week of enquiring about the role, I was moving to London to become the children’s minister of the parishes of South Hampstead and Belsize Park. I live in a very creative, fashionable part of London with three other volunteers for the church. The accommodation is free, but the job is unpaid so I’ve just started another paid parish role doing youth work and elderly visits. My work in the church involves running Sunday schools, children's clubs, a youth club, befriending the elderly and leading Morning and Evening Prayer in the context of the liberal catholic tradition in the Church of England.</p> <p>To relax I like to sing in the Belsize Community Choir. I also spend time in the coffee shops that are surrounded by grand houses for high flyers. I was concerned that I would not fit in, but I have found quite the contrary that indeed I have fitted in. I get invited to champagne parties with bankers, record producers and artists.</p> <p>“What do you do Andrew? “ one says<br/>“I’m a lay minister” I reply<br/>“Could you pray for me? “ another asks<br/>“Of course so” I say<br/>“Thank you, I always feel better knowing someone is praying for me.”</p> <p>Another activity I have engaged in is the winter shelter where churches do meals and accommodation for the colder months , benefiting those who are without a roof over their head. I have also coordinated a social justice gathering in central London, for campaigns group The Speak Network. We are currently campaigning about food justice issues and had a meeting with DFID to ask them whether African farmers will have a voice in the future of their agribusiness, or will that decision be made for them by leaders of the world’s superpowers.</p> <p>Bridging between champagne parties and homeless shelters does not seem hypocritical. For me, it is natural that we have a ministry to all people. Many of the wealthier people I have met have told me of their mental health difficulties or general struggles with life. What I do know is my conviction remains that the gospel is inclusive and that we should be showing God’s unconditional love to all.</p> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:05:33 +0200 A Journey to Ministry <p><strong>Esther Elliot has recently been licensed as a Lay Reader with permission to officiate in this parish. She tells us a bit about herself and her journey to becoming a licensed reader<br/></strong><br/>In order to have a licence to operate as a Reader in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham you have to fill in a form. One of the questions that I had to give a bit of thought to was "how long have you worshipped in the parish you wish to be licensed to?" A bit of sturdy thinking led me to the conclusion that 20+ years was both about right and a bit of a shock!</p> <p>I have a very clear memory of one of the first services I came to at St Peter’s, I think it was Easter day. I was brought up as a Baptist and was completely out of my depth with Anglican liturgy until we sang "Thine be the glory" at the end of the service. It was accompanied by the sound of corks popping from the bottles being opened for a celebration after the service which was a bit of a surprise for a girl from a tee-total family who was going through a rough time.</p> <p>Since then I've got a Masters degree and Doctorate in theology, been tutored by Joyce Savage in the art of ironing the altar linen (she sensed I was never going to bake a cake or arrange flowers), helped with the Sunday school, worked for an overseas mission agency, been on the Parochial Church Council and Deanery Synod, worked for Church Army designing a new system to train their evangelists, carried on celebrating the good stuff, chewed my nails through the bad stuff and much more besides.</p> <p>For the last four years I have worked for Derby Diocese as their Lay Ministry Officer. The main purpose of my role is to nurture and encourage lay people in the Diocese to grow and develop in their faith and lives as Christians. As part of this remit I have responsibility for the ministry, training and development of the 260 Readers in the Diocese. And just in case I ever get too bored I am also a Bishop's Adviser who sits on the selection panels for people offering themselves to be trained for ordained ministry and a Canon at Derby Cathedral. <br/><br/>I've recently been licensed as a Reader in Derby Diocese and now have Permission to Officiate as a Reader in this parish. This seemed to be the easiest way in my particular circumstances to be able to offer some of the stuff I do in my day job in the life of the parish. I have a passion for words that help people think differently about life, either as creative liturgy or as part of sermons. And most of all I have a passion for supporting people to live with hope deep in their hearts. It was the reputation that St Peter’s had for being liberal, open and questioning in its theology that got me through the door 20+ years ago. It was the desire to celebrate and be hopeful in the midst of all of life that made me want to stay.</p> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:02:47 +0200 Vicar's Letter <p><strong>As most of us look forward to the Easter break it is easy to overlook Good Friday, but Rev’d Christopher Harrison suggests we all take some time to think about what it really means<br/></strong><br/>Not so many years ago, it was much more difficult to ignore Good Friday than it is today. Shops were generally closed, and city centres were fairly quiet. Nowadays, however, one could be forgiven for not being aware that Good Friday is still a public holiday, as life in many parts of the centre of Nottingham carries on very much as usual.</p> <p>It is encouraging, therefore, that when we mark Good Friday at St Peter’s with the three hour service of the cross, from noon to 3 pm, there always seem to be considerable numbers of people who find time to come and pray to God on this most sombre day of the Church’s year. In so much of life there is pressure to fill time with activity or noise; during the Service of the Cross, by contrast, we make a point of leaving space for silent prayer and reflection, to allow the full impact of the momentous Good Friday events to sink in. As we hear once again the account of Jesus’ path to the cross, we identify as closely as we can with his feelings of rejection, of fear, even his sense, at times, that he has been abandoned by everyone, including God. The spaces and silences in this extended devotional service enable a deep encounter to take place between Christ’s sufferings and our own. More importantly, they also lead us to think about, and even to be unsettled by, the sufferings of the many millions of people around the world, who are daily treading a way of the cross through no choice of their own.</p> <p>In a different way, we also trace the way of the Cross through the musical portrayal of Jesus’ Passion at St Mary’s in the evening of Good Friday. Bach’s majestic and acutely poignant music lifts our hearts and minds heavenward, and we feel we are actually one with the very witnesses of Christ’s suffering and death almost two thousand years ago.</p> <p>As we move through the Good Friday services, though, at the back of our minds is the knowledge that Easter Day will very soon be upon us; that suffering will be replaced by joy, and that despair will be turned into new hope. There is an inevitability about the victory of life over death, of the triumph of resurrection over the grave – and we know it. These are of course profound truths. They proclaim the eternal and inextinguishable love of God for all people, and they shout forth that even the most heinous of sins cannot separate humanity from God for ever. That is why we cry, ‘Christ is risen, he is risen indeed, Alleluia!’</p> <p>We must not, however, allow our confidence in the resurrection, and in the triumph of goodness over suffering, to tempt us to turn aside from those who seem to be perpetually trapped in misery and pain, and who seem to have no way of escape. In spite of the economic recovery which is occurring in some parts of this country, there are still very many people whose lives are blighted by debt, by seemingly unending poverty, even by hunger – when they are desperate to find a way out, but simply cannot do so. Then there are all those, not least in cities like our own, who bear the constant burden of addictions of various kinds, or mental troubles for which not even the best of modern treatments has much of an effect. Loneliness, also, is said to be one of the greatest and most pernicious epidemics of modern times in this country, especially among the elderly and dependent.</p> <p>During our Good Friday services, therefore, let us allow the space and the silence to incline our thoughts afresh to all such people, especially those in our midst, and those whom we see every day in the streets around us, if we have eyes to see them. We can’t necessarily solve all their problems, but we can be touched by their plight instead of allowing our hearts to be hardened. And if we can – just sometimes, maybe – go the extra mile, we will find that we are able to make a difference to the lives of even a few people - which is enormously precious in the sight of God.</p> <p>A very happy and blessed Holy Week and Easter to all readers,</p> <p>Christopher Harrison</p> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:58:38 +0200 Blue Sky God <p><strong>Norman Todd introduces a book which attempts to combine scientific understanding with theology</strong></p> <p>I enjoy the Radio 4 program ‘The Life Scientific’ in which a scientist at the cutting edge of her or his specialism talks with infectious enthusiasm about their research and how it affects their own life and the life of many others. One of them said recently, ‘Science has to be explained at all levels’. This reminded me of a new book I have enjoyed, ‘Blue Sky God’. The author gives a short account of his own spiritual evolution: He was a science teacher in a secondary school in the East Midlands, an agnostic. He had a spiritual awakening. Along with his wife he explored various aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism, Theosophy and the teachings of Alice Bailey which included meditation. From being a ‘New Ager’, he describes his evolution through Christianity to membership of a large, loving and active church in Leicester, born-again charismatic evangelical, a call to full-time ministry, training as an Anglican priest, becoming priest in a large evangelical church and then a mid- Anglican church, chaplain to a major UK university; and now a priest in the Church of Wales for three traditional churches in Pembrokeshire. He writes, ‘Over the last 15 years I have been drawn to the silence of contemplative prayer and meditation, the wisdom of the mystics, and a more liberal and radical theology.’ Among many fascinating quotations is one from a 12th century mystic, Hildegarde of Bingen: ‘Everything that is in the heavens, in the earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.’ and one from Albert Einstein: ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.’</p> <p>The first half of the book starts from science and relates it to Christianity. The Chapter headings give an idea of the contents:</p> <p>1. Quantum Reality and God as Consciousness.</p> <p>2. Epigenetics [what goes on around the gene] Healing and Prayer.</p> <p>3. Morphic Fields [patterns of some kind of power that decides how organisms, e.g. stem cells, develop] and the Works of Christ.</p> <p>4. The Quantum Sea of Light. [Beneath Absolute Zero (minus 273 degrees Celcius) where we thought there could be no electromagnetic energy waves we now find the Zero Point Field of immense but hidden power.]</p> <p>The author introduces the second half of the book as follows: ‘The new scientific concepts previously outlined are interwoven into Christian theology and terminology, which is challenging for some and illuminating for others.’ For me it is both; an impetus to continue the human search for practical Christian wisdom. That is, how everything works, and how we can more effectively cooperate with it all; and an invitation to meditation on the possibilities and probabilities introduced in this welcome book.</p> <p>How can we more accurately imagine what is happening when we digest the Host at Holy Communion; when we intercede, meditate, contemplate the Word behind all words, or the ‘I AM’, the Ground of all our ‘I am’s’? If Jesus were a man who had grown up in England during the last thirty years, how would he be attempting to communicate his knowledge of his Father with us in our common contemporary culture and belief systems?</p> <p>Happy meditation!</p> <p>Read it:</p> <p>BLUE SKY GOD: THE EVOLUTION OF SCIENCE AND CHRISTIANITY</p> <p>By Don MacGregor. [ISBN 978 1 84694 9371]</p> Fri, 18 Oct 2013 11:29:02 +0200 Seeking Justice <p><strong>Andrew Harrison, a member of the congregation at St Peter’s, explains his interest in the diocesan mission to seek justice</strong></p> <p>Part of the mission of the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham is 'seeking justice'. This has become a great passion for me over the last five years. Yesterday I got back from a midsized community event in Sheffield that I helped to organise with a charity called The Speak Network. The heart of the charity is to pray and campaign on issues of global injustice. The name "Speak" comes from the Hebrew Proverb:<br/><br/>"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy Hebrew 31:8-9 (NIV)</p> <p>Our gathering was centred around prayer, workshops on how to campaign effectively and plenty of food that was both vegan and organic. We had a cabaret service where I sang some of my original songs, and I also was honoured to lead the liturgical body of the Night Service of the church that we stayed at in Sheffield. You can find out about this inclusive, radical church <a href="">here</a>.</p> <p>The theme of the weekend, including the Night Service at the church that Speak led was "War no more" inspired by Scripture: " He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" Isaiah 2:4 (NIV)</p> <p>We are all dreaming of a day where we can all live in peace, yet we know that in this scarred world it is a great struggle. This is why that groups like Speak come together with a common goal to seek justice and why it is an important part of our Diocesan mission. We come together so we can encourage one another with our different passions. Speak's campaigns are diverse, campaigning issues on like corporate accountability, climate change, the arms trade and more recently food sovereignty that fights for the rights for farmers do choose what they want to do, rather than large corporations making that decision for them.</p> <p>The Speak group that I attend in Nottingham which is mainly students and young adults have been focussing on issues around Palestine and Israel. We have spent great time learning about the complex issues regarding history, geography, politics and theology on this issue. We have sought help from the Nottingham Palestinian Society and the Nottingham Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. This has culminated in me meeting MP Anna Soubry where I discussed some of the trickier issues around this struggle. Likewise to myself, Anna said that ultimately she wishes for peace. In all these issues, it is easy to feel disempowered as there are so many 'issues of justice' that we can engage with. Yet seeking justice can come in many different other forms:<br/><br/>• Serving a homeless shelter</p> <p>• Buying a big issue and offering to buy a meal</p> <p>• Find out about groups offering to help asylum seekers and refugees</p> <p>• Respecting the elderly</p> <p>• Respecting the young</p> <p>• Always saying 'please' and 'thank you'</p> <p>• Saying 'grace' before every meal.</p> <p>Indeed there are many ways where we can be 'seeking justice'. If you wish to find more about my voluntary work with The Speak Network and/or wish to get involved please do not hesitate to <a href="mailto:andrewstephenharrison at">email me.</a></p> Fri, 18 Oct 2013 11:22:22 +0200 Daily readings for Lent <p>This year's series of Daily readings for Lent, written by Reverend Christopher Harrison, can be found <a href="">here</a>.</p> Wed, 13 Feb 2013 15:09:24 +0100 Candlemas, Lent, Holy Week and Easter <p><strong>Stephen Morris explores the meaning of the period from Candlemas to Easter</strong></p> <p>My dear friends, This edition of Nottingham in Faith for February and March coincides almost exactly with the busiest part of the Church’s liturgical calendar. 2nd February has several names including Candlemas but it is known in the Prayer Book as The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It will be celebrated in St Mary’s Church on the evening of Sunday 3rd as Patronal Festival because it is also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That last title refers to the Old Testament rite of purification commanded for all mothers of boys on the 40th day after childbirth (Exodus 12 and Leviticus 12). It concludes the group of seasons known as Advent, Christmas and Epiphany which are all about the mission of God the Father sending His Son.</p> <p>Now there comes a short period known as Common season ending with Shrove Tuesday in anticipation of Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent. Shrove Tuesday, or ‘Pancake Day’, began with households using up and clearing out of their pantries any rich winter foods prior to the fasting, purifying season of Lent. People would bring their palm crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday to the service on Ash Wednesday for burning. Then, as a sign of penitence for sins, the ashes of their burnt crosses are smeared on their foreheads. The 40 days which begin on Ash Wednesday remind us of Jesus’ 40 days of prayer, fasting and being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness. During this time, Jesus turned His back on wealth, power and fame and remained true to His vocation. This reminds us that the freedom to be who God has meant us to be involves refusing to let those same things be our gods.</p> <p>In the middle of Lent lies what is sometimes called ‘Refreshment Sunday’ – a sort of “day off” from Lent’s rigours. We call it Mothering Sunday and remember the gift of good mothers and give thanks. But there was also a tradition that the whole family of God in a city or community would gather together to celebrate and party in the ‘mother church’ of that community i.e. the oldest church out of which other parishes were planted. Many of these were named after St Mary. Having completed Lent, we all get fresh palms again. This recalls Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt where he was greeted with a great crowd who wanted to make him King, laying a carpet of palm leaves along his path (Matthew 21).</p> <p>But this rather joyful day leads us immediately into the most solemn week of the year, Holy Week. That very progression of high to low via His teaching reflects how quickly those who greeted Him turned against Him and roared for his crucifixion. Their fickleness is just like ours: it’s so easy to want things from God – or any leader – as long as we don’t have to change ourselves. It goes without saying that there is no renewal if everybody only wants other people to change. Towards the end of the week we have Maundy Thursday from the Latin Mandatum Novum meaning ‘a new commandment’. On the night before He died, Jesus had supper with His friends and, having washed their feet as an example of servanthood, gave them ‘A new commandment, that you love one another’ (John 14). As St Paul said later, ‘If I have not love I am nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13). Immediately after commemorating Jesus’ instituting of the Last Supper (or Holy Communion) on that first ‘Maundy Thursday’ evening, many Christians keep a vigil, or night watch, and most churches strip bare their altars. They are metaphorically doing what the first disciples were unable to do by staying awake with Jesus during His testing time at Gethsemane and then through His trial before Pilate.</p> <p>Love being everything is the essence of Good Friday. The three long hours during which Jesus hung on the cross are replicated between midday and three o’clock with quiet meditations allowing Christians to contemplate the quality and extent of Christ’s love for the world and the implications for our lives here and hereafter. This was the passion and mission of God the Son that everyone, everywhere could be drawn up into Him regardless of anything that we may have said or done, regardless of our station in society, race or gender.</p> <p>There is little to say on Holy Saturday. We imagine the bleakness of that day for the disciples and all those who had loved and followed Jesus - dumbstruck and desolate that God should allow His innocent Messiah to perish. Yet, in the sight of God, perfect love must triumph over the greatest evil.</p> <p>On Easter Sunday, this year the 31st March, churches around the world will greet the new dawn around bonfires symbolising the transition from gloom to joy; confusion to confidence; pain to healing; darkness into the Light; from death to resurrection. And so to the first Eucharist, remembering and participating in Christ’s death and resurrection; the firstborn of a new creation of which we are all inheritors because of His love and His mercy and His grace.</p> <p>When the pilgrimage through Lent seems irrelevant or fruitless, let us do what Jesus did and keep our eyes fixed on the joy that is set before us. (Hebrews 12). Amen.</p> Mon, 11 Feb 2013 12:23:14 +0100 Amidst disagreement we can all consider the wonder of Christ <p><strong>Rev’d Christopher Harrison considers the recent rejection of legislation allowing women bishops, suggesting that, despite the disagreement, Christmas is a time for a common focus</strong><br/><br/>Some years ago, in my last parish in Derbyshire, an elderly churchwarden told me that she had changed from being vehemently opposed to the ordination of women to being in favour of it. What had made all the difference was that she had got to know several women lay readers who took services in our church, and it began to feel perfectly natural to her that such people should be able to become priests. I thought of her when I heard about the General Synod’s vote rejecting women bishops, and was saddened by the reflection that people like her, who are prepared to change a deeply-held opinion and be open to new ways of understanding God and the Church, may be rather rare, especially on General Synod. Indeed the run-up to the vote seems to have led to a hardening of attitudes, rather than any real attempt to grow in mutual understanding.</p> <p>The Church of England has been dealt a heavy blow, whichever side you happen to be on. Even if you are on the side of the opponents of women bishops, the credibility of the Church as a whole has been severely shaken. This parish, however, has for many years now been in the forefront of efforts to ensure that women and men have an equal place in the ordained ministry, as well as in other areas of the Church’s life, and at a meeting the day after the vote, our Church Council agreed the following statement:</p> <p>"The Parochial Church Council of the parish of All Saints, St Mary and St Peter, Nottingham, wishes to make known its profound sadness in relation to the rejection of the draft legislation which would have enabled women to become bishops in the Church of England. Considerable efforts have been made to provide for those who oppose this change, and it is iniquitous that the persistence of blocking tactics should prevail over the wishes of the huge majority of members of the General Synod as a whole who are in favour of the proposals. We deplore the inability of the Church of England to legislate for something whose theological rationale is overwhelming, and press for a successful outcome to this impasse to be achieved at the earliest opportunity."</p> <p>As Christmas approaches, we should not let disagreements within the Church, however serious, prevent us from focusing on the spiritual heart of this season. We can easily become so caught up with frustration or sadness about aspects of the Church with which we disagree, that we forget the sheer wonder of the coming to earth of Christ, the Son of God, as a baby, with all the vulnerability and fragility that this implies. The incarnation of Christ means that the very nature of God became human. It also means that through Jesus, living and dying among us, rising again and ascending to heaven, we can glimpse something of God and be given a way to enter heaven, if we believe and trust in him and follow his way of self-giving love. So, when you see the babe lying in a manger, or when you sing Christmas carols, do remember the cosmic aspects of all that we celebrate at Christmas time. For this isn’t just a time for giving and receiving presents, and for lots of eating and drinking, but for remembering that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3.16).</p> <p>What, though, do we mean by ‘eternal life’? Is it some vague concept of unending pleasure and happiness, in a mystical alternative world? A particularly interesting contribution to the debate about what we mean by heaven and eternal life has recently been made by an American neuroscientist, Dr Eben Alexander, who has just published a book entitled ‘Proof of Heaven’. While the title may at first sight sound over-confident, you will see, if you read the book, that Dr Alexander has every reason to believe that the realm of existence commonly known as heaven actually exists. A few years ago Dr Alexander went into a deep coma for seven days, caused by bacterial meningitis, during which his brain largely ‘closed down’. During this period, as he understands it, he had a remarkable experience in which his consciousness, freed from the filtering normally done by the brain, became aware of a kind of reality, a dimension of existence, which was beyond time and space and in which all things somehow were connected with one another. It was, mostly, a place of love and light, where his own personal identity was somehow part of a greater whole, but he was still able to be aware of his surroundings as an individual conscious spiritual being.</p> <p>It is ironic that modern technology, far from simply reinforcing the modern belief that the material world is all that exists, is now able – by keeping people alive in far more extreme circumstances than has ever been possible before – to open doors to the non-material world that have largely remained closed until now. Of course much rigorous analysis of such experiences must take place, and we should not rush to hasty conclusions. But I still do feel, having followed the literature on near-death experiences over many years now, that this latest account takes us much further in our understanding of such things than has previously been possible. Perhaps, then, as we think of Christ coming to earth at the first Christmas time, we can see this coming together of earth and heaven in a new light. In Jesus, the realms of eternity and of time and space were somehow bridged in a unique way; and the love which pervades the heavenly realms was spread forth in our world in a manner which changed humanity forever. <br/><br/>A happy and blessed Christmas to you all.</p> <p> </p> Tue, 04 Dec 2012 14:58:47 +0100 The meaning of Christian life <p><strong>Rev’d Christopher Harrison suggests that the Bible can help us to understand the world in which we live</strong><br/><br/>A well-known course in Christian discipleship challenges us to ask ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ Most of the time we tend to be so preoccupied with the demands of daily life that we ponder on such matters only in moments of crisis, or perhaps at times of change in our lives. It is easy to be carried along so briskly through life by the flow of media stimulation, by the search for pleasure or money, or by the need to be accepted by others, that we always sidestep such questions when they rear their heads.</p> <p>Different religions will each have their own answer to the question of the purpose of life. All of them, in their own way, however, urge us to go beyond ourselves in the search of something deeper. They invite us to wrestle with the ambiguities of what is right and what is wrong, what it means to be fully human, and what we understand by ‘God’. Why, then, should Christianity have answers which are better than or preferable to those of other faiths?</p> <p>It is possible to be a Christian without questioning or doubting the various elements of the Christian faith. Most Christians, however, if they are honest with themselves, will find themselves from time to time questioning aspects of what they have been taught. This can be a healthy process – for surely, if God gave us brains and critical faculties, they are intended to be used, even in matters of religious belief. Indeed, as soon as we begin to apply the Bible to our lives, we have to face up to the question of how exactly we are to interpret it. This may mean trying to understand more fully the meaning of the words used in the original texts (Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament). It may involve asking ourselves how Jesus might have acted or spoken in situations in which we find ourselves today. It might be a question of using core Christian principles, as far as we can, in order to help us to decide how to react to the many ethical challenges thrown up by modern life.</p> <p>By wrestling with such issues, we can get a clearer picture of what the purpose of life is, at least as it is understood by Christians. For the Bible is not a mere rule book or manual of good behaviour; it is, rather, a way of understanding the world, through the lens of Christian faith, which helps and guides us as we seek to make sense of our little corners of the world and to live within them. This is another way of understanding what we mean when we say that Scripture is inspired by God. In particular, it means that the divine and eternal power of Love, expressed and made visible most fully through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, can come to each one of us today, if we seek to know God and to live in accordance with God’s purpose for us.</p> <p>This is expressed particularly succinctly in Jesus’ words to the disciples at the Last Supper, as described in the gospel of John, when Jesus says, in a prayer to his heavenly Father, ‘Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (John 17. 3). Eternal life, here, does not mean just life in the hereafter, but also life here on earth – and in both cases is to do with the purpose and meaning of life lived in accordance with God’s will for us. Knowledge of God, however, has to go hand in hand with faith in him, as St Paul emphasises. Together they can be summarised in what is traditionally known as the Golden Rule, originally taught to the people of ancient Israel by Moses, but repeated by Jesus: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and all your strength and all your mind’, and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10.27).</p> <p>The question naturally arises, however, as to how we are to apply such a teaching in practice. Doing so can be the work of a lifetime, as we study the Bible, try to understand it, apply it to our lives, return to in order to apply it to changed circumstances in our lives. If we allow it to do so, the Bible should ask us questions – questions which may well, in the end, help us to understand more fully the purpose of life. One way in which we can enable the Bible to do this is to re-word some of the key texts, so that they are directed to us personally. Can you, for example, recognise the origin of the following?</p> <p>• Are you patient?<br/>• Are you kind?<br/>• Do you envy?<br/>• Do you boast?<br/>• Are you proud?<br/>• Do you dishonour others?<br/>• Are you self-seeking?<br/>• Are you easily angered?<br/>• Do you keep a record of wrongs?<br/>• Do you delight in evil?<br/>• Do you rejoice with the truth?<br/>• Do you always protect?<br/>• Do you always trust?<br/>• Do you always hope?<br/>• Do you always persevere?</p> <p>All too often, at a wedding, the profound words about love which are found in chapter 13 of St Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, in Greece, can reassure us with their familiarity, but leave us nonetheless somewhat detached from them. By turning a statement into a question, however, can you hear God speaking more clearly and personally to YOU?</p> Mon, 15 Oct 2012 15:55:05 +0200 Time Waits For No Man <p>There is some particularly fertile and lush soil in the area around Taunton where I grew up. Among the mediaeval records is a note saying that a 5-year old child would be able to support him/herself. Such a child, if male, could be expected to have five years of childhood, 30 years of work and possibly a little while of dotage. If female, the burden of work would probably be mixed with pretty constant child-bearing.</p> <p>Since World War II, western culture has added the idea of ‘teenagers’ and, in the increasing prosperity of the 1950s and 60s, these became objects of mass marketing and increased education and training. With significantly longer life expectancy we have got used to the idea of the ‘early retireds’ who have sufficient fitness and energy to engage not just with leisure pursuits they didn’t have time for while at work but to play significant roles in looking after grandchildren, both of whose parents will probably be working, and in charity work.</p> <p>Entry to adulthood might be seen as 1; leaving home, 2; getting married, 3; starting a family, 4; and 5, becoming financially independent. But over the last generation another ‘age’ has been added, known as the ‘the odyssey years’ - a sort of delayed adulthood. So, while in 1960 70% of American 30-year olds had achieved these things, by 2000 that number had fallen to 40% and the number is still falling. In the U.K. it may be lower still. These odyssey years are seen as an opportunity to carve out a life full of other accomplishments professionally, and in sport, travel etc. with a wide circle of friends – as in the T.V. program of that name. In other words, young adults making the most of their affluence prior to “settling down” and having a family at about the same age by which our mediaeval ancestors had more or less lived out their days.</p> <p>Naturally, our life expectations are nurtured by the prosperity which provides our longevity and health. So the prospect of living into our 90s or beyond requires a different pacing out of life so that we can remain stimulated, engaged, and creative. Once upon a time, the sacraments of infant baptism , marriage in the teens, the baptism of offspring and then the funeral were our rites of passage coupled with weekly church attendance in the same parish throughout. Mobility has been transformed as much as longevity and so has access to global information.</p> <p>With so many stages of life, there is a greater need to discover how we are supposed to spend our time beyond just avoiding boredom or dissatisfaction, using our gifts and talents productively and creatively. For good or bad, we are unlikely to spend all our lives raising one family or to have one job at 16 which we keep until we are 65. It is less relevant now to be defined by our job because jobs change and there is so much more to life. For some, exploring ‘who I am’ is at least as important as ‘what I do’ and it becomes part of the spiritual quest in which life could be more helpfully described as a series of vocations. It is also a key to happiness.</p> <p>‘Vocation’ comes originally from the sense of being called to something by God and was commonly applied to ordination or to teaching, nursing etc. where there was a presumed ‘good’ arising out of some kind of sacrificial service. I think that is still an appropriate word but is being somewhat opened out. There is a theological point here. If we have any sense that there is purpose to how we spend our time, then the pursuit of how to make best use of our talents for the benefit of others and society is incumbent upon us all. Of course, I’m not advocating a devaluation of the word of vocation to any opportunistic, selfcentred career but in the belief that God is concerned for how we spend every part of our lives. Life is a gift to be well-used.</p> <p>In these days of unsettled economic security, there are millions of people across Europe without paid work and massive proportions of them are under 25. There are others who are ‘between jobs’ for much longer than they ever imagined. There are those who are in enforced retirement in their 50s whose skills and experience are no longer valued. There are growing numbers of newly- and elderlyretired living longer on diminishing pensions while, on the other hand, there are the tired and unfit who work because their retirement pension is being delayed.</p> <p>There are no simple answers to this evolving and unhappy situation. But wouldn’t it make more sense for younger, fresher people to be in employment and contributing to the exchequer rather than have older and more tired employees being kept in work to make contributions to the unemployment benefits? Abolishing the standard retirement age has given the elderly a right to their jobs just when the young have so few opportunities. I’m not so naive as to think there is a simple number swap between young and old, but if these questions are asked long enough to enough people, someone might start shifting the ground until we start focussing on what really makes sense for us all rather than on what sets generations against each other.</p> <p>Part of the problem is that we are constantly encouraged to find significance, self-worth and justification for our lives by being economically productive and wealthy and it’s a bit of a con. Much research shows that, beyond basic needs of food and shelter, you can multiply an income 10 times over and people don’t get happier; we just consume more which wrecks the environment. Investing so much of ourselves in what we do rather than in who we are disables our emotional prospects of yielding that security and status. Learning that our true worth and security lie in ‘the peace of God which passes understanding’ and rejoicing in His grace can and does transform our perspectives. In turn, this opens up all kinds of new opportunities to involve ourselves in really worthwhile and beneficial projects: new life, new lifestyle and new work to be done internally on our spirit as well as out there in the world.</p> Fri, 01 Jun 2012 15:34:15 +0200 Archbishop Faces Challenging Final Year in Office <p>Some months ago, there were rumours that the Archbishop of Canterbury would step down earlier than might ordinarily have been expected, but the announcement of his decision has already set the Church alight with speculation about who his successor might be. We must, however, not neglect to do justice to his ten years in the highest office in the Anglican Communion – a responsibility which he assumed at a remarkably young age, and one for which many people believed he had long been destined. Rowan Williams has brought to the Archbishopric a remarkable combination of theological and pastoral gifts, along with a deep humility and a great determination to hold the worldwide Anglican Church together at a time of increasingly deep divisions. It will be a pity to see him depart, and it will be hard to find a successor who is so widely respected among the different factions within Anglicanism.</p> <p>It is highly likely that Archbishop Rowan’s final year in office will be an eventful one. The General Synod is close to agreeing the details as to how women can become bishops in the Church of England, subject to making whatever provision is finally deemed appropriate for those who object to this. There will no doubt continue to be headlines about this, along with the risk that the massive support in the Church at all levels for women bishops is overshadowed by the small but vocal minority of opponents.</p> <p>Another issue, however, in some ways even more fundamental to the future of the worldwide Anglican Church, is now becoming increasingly significant. This is the proposed Anglican Covenant, which is currently being debated by all Diocesan Synods in the Church of England, and being voted upon by all provinces of the Anglican Communion around the world. It is crucially important for us not to ignore or neglect the importance of this debate, as the outcome could have profound implications for the nature of the Anglican Church for years to come.</p> <p>The proposed Anglican Covenant is the result of much painstaking work by an international group of senior Anglicans, arising from a growing sense that recent strains and divisions within the Anglican Church around the world could not be ignored, and that a framework for keeping the Anglican Church together was necessary. The divisions are centred on (i) proposals in some provinces for services of blessing of same-sex partnerships; (ii) decisions taken in the United States to consecrate non-celibate gay bishops; and (iii) the establishment by some conservative churches, notably from Africa, of partnerships with similar churches in otherwise ‘liberal’ provinces.</p> <p>Much of the draft Covenant text is uncontroversial, in particular those paragraphs which set out the main characteristics of Anglicanism as the Church has inherited it. It is the final section, however, concerning the resolution of differences with the Anglican Communion, which is beginning to arouse increasingly heated debate. Each province of the Anglican Communion is being asked to sign the Covenant, which will commit it to ‘common commitments and mutual accountability’. Participating provinces will need to ensure that actions they take within the Church in their area are compatible with the covenant, and ‘to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission’. The Church in each province that signs the Covenant will also ‘undertake to put into place such mechanisms, agencies or institutions … as can undertake to oversee the maintenance of the affirmations and commitments of the Covenant in the life of that Church’. If disagreements arise between Churches who are signatory members of the Anglican Communion, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council will endeavour to resolve these. It will also be able to declare whether an ‘… action or decision (by a particular Church) is or would be incompatible with the Covenant’. If a Church within the Covenant persists in pursuing a path which is not acceptable to the Standing Committee, it will be increasingly barred from participation in the decision making structures of the Anglican Communion (socalled ‘relational consequences’).</p> <p>As the debate on the proposed Covenant grows in intensity in the Church of England, as well as around the world, positions are becoming polarised. Those who are in favour of the Covenant stress the need for doctrinal boundaries which define Anglicanism. Opponents argue that the Covenant would be centralising, punitive and represent a profound shift from the historic ethos of the Anglican Communion, which has always embraced a degree of diversity and allows for developments in doctrine which reflect new understandings of the world and of human nature.</p> <p>At the time of writing this article, more diocesan synods in the Church of England had voted against the Covenant than for it. A serious crisis could, therefore, be looming, especially if the General Synod votes the same way. I suspect that a healthy resistance to a concept which, I believe, is very different from the Anglicanism to which most of us are accustomed, will prove very difficult to overturn, at least in this country. The character of the Church of England as espoused by most of its members and sympathisers is strongly anti-centralist, with a large element of pluralism, and this is very much the ethos which this parish has in recent years supported.</p> <p>I am sure we will all want to wish Archbishop Rowan a peaceful and rewarding final year in office, but the prospects are, sadly, not encouraging.</p> Mon, 02 Apr 2012 11:14:02 +0200 From Gold medal to Gold standard <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Sermon given by Reverend Christopher Harrison at Evensong<br/>on Palm Sunday at St Mary’s church, Nottingham<br/>1st April 2012</strong></p> <p><strong>From Gold medal to Gold standard</strong></p> <p>The title of this sermon is “From gold medal to gold standard”. What, you may well ask, does this have to do with Palm Sunday? I thought I might as well join in with the flavour of the year by reminding you that in Jesus’ time, palm branches were associated with victory, in particular sporting victory. The Romans used to reward champions at the games with palm branches, which was rather like winning a gold medal at the Olympics. Palm branches, incidentally, also became a general symbol of victory amongst the early Christians – the victory of the spirit over the flesh, of good over evil, and the victory of martyrs over death. But when the crowds greeted Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, with the waving of palm branches, it was rather like welcoming a gold medallist into his or her home town. The triumph, they were saying, was his; the victory was his.</p> <p>But that’s not quite correct, is it. For Jesus hadn’t at that point won any victory, or achieved any triumph – it’s rather that the crowds wanted and expected him to do so. They were greeting him as the Messiah, descended from King David, and saw him as the one who could rally the people, throw off Roman rule, and restore the fortunes of the nation of Israel. Their exuberance and enthusiasm were more to do with the victory they were willing him to win for them than something already in the bag. All the same, Jesus was no doubt already something of a celebrity, through his miracles and his readiness to take on the scribes and the Pharisees when they oppressed the poor and twisted the laws of God to their own ends.</p> <p>But what does that first century gold medallist do? Does he take a well-deserved rest or start preparing for the next competition? No – because Jesus, following his victorious arrival in Jerusalem, plunges straight into another controversy – and indeed into perhaps the deepest water he’s been in hitherto. He goes to the Temple, the heart of the religious establishment – rather like St Paul’s cathedral, or the Vatican, we could say, today – and evicts the money changers and the traders. Quoting the prophet Jeremiah, he says that they have turned the house of God into a den of thieves – not so much for the commerce itself in which they were engaged, because worshippers had to buy birds and animals for their sacrifices, and had to change their money in order to pay the Temple tax, but because they were profiteering and putting money before God. So what Jesus did with his whip of cords and table turning alienated even more people than before, both among the traders themselves and those behind the scenes who were also no doubt doing quite well out of it. This action of his may well have been the tipping point, after which his opponents finally decided that enough was enough.</p> <p>But how do we get from gold medals to the Gold standard? Well, at least the incident in the temple brings us onto economics. To jump forward several centuries - in the second part of the 1800s, and the first part of the 1900s, several countries, including our own, attempted to maintain both stable prices and a stable framework for international trade by linking the value of their currencies to the price of gold. If a certain number of pounds could buy an ounce of gold, and a certain number of dollars could buy an ounce of gold, this would give you the exchange rate between pounds and dollars. This meant, in crude terms, that business people, traders and financiers knew where they stood, since stability and predictability are usually good things for those making long-term economic decisions. You could indeed say that this arrangement, called the gold standard, helped to create a golden age of economic growth and international trade over quite a large part of the late Victorian period.</p> <p>Serious problems arose, though, after the First World War. On the basis that a return to the Gold Standard – which had been suspended – would help our economy, the UK government made strong efforts to do this, and in fact succeeded in 1925, even though it proved to be very deflationary and costly in terms of economic output and employment. It also resulted in a pound which became overvalued, and we left the gold standard in 1931, never to return to it.</p> <p>Economic historians will no doubt keep debating the details, but it seems pretty clear that the theory and a principle of the gold standard were no longer adequate in the face of changed economic circumstances in the 1920s and 30s. You can also argue quite cogently, indeed, that all the efforts to get back to and stay on the gold standard amounted to putting the interests of finance above those of ordinary working people, who suffered the most from the deflationary economics of that period. Some of you may have family memories, or even personal ones, of the depression in the economy during that time. And turning to modern times, all this is a lesson in the perils and dangers for an economy and a society which arise from giving in too readily to the interests and demands of the financial sector, when these are not necessarily to the advantage of the majority of people, even though they may plead that these is no alternative.</p> <p>If we look back now to the overturning of the tables of the traders in the temple, we can similarly see those who had financial and political power benefitting at the expense of ordinary people. We can also observe a distortion of the basic principles of temple organisation and the worship of God so that a small number could profit excessively from it.</p> <p>But what about our gold medallist, who, let us recall, was greeted as a victor before he had won any victory? Was he, like the traders in the temple, or like those who pressed for the reinstatement of the gold standard after the First World War, engaged in something which would similarly prove to be misguided, or against the interests of ordinary people? Did he in fact let the ordinary people down by not leading a rebellion against the Romans?</p> <p>On the contrary; to paraphrase Einstein, who famously said ‘God does not play dice’, Jesus was not playing bingo with his destiny, or indeed the destiny of the world. He no doubt knew that earthly revolutions do not solve the underlying problem of human sinfulness. His path as Messiah, rather, was to take upon himself the sin of the world, suffering, in spite of being innocent, all that his opponents could inflict upon him, without resisting or fighting back. He knew what he was doing all along; indeed he had tried to show the disciples, a number of times, that the Messiah had to die for the people, like the suffering servant described in the book of the prophet Isaiah. His kingship was eternal and spiritual, not earthly or human. And so, both by setting the world a supreme example of compassion, forgiveness and sacrificial love, and by in some wondrous and mysterious way bridging the gulf between God and humanity, Jesus’ death and resurrection were to change the world for ever. That, then, is the pure gold of the crown that Jesus was to win; and that is the true gold standard to which all should aspire - but which only one person, Jesus the Son of God, could ever fully reach. Amen.</p> <p> </p> Mon, 02 Apr 2012 11:11:11 +0200 Lent 2011 <p>During Lent, a series of discussion sessions will be held on Thursday evenings, 7.30pm at St Peter's Church.  Based around the theme of prayer, each session will be led by a guest speaker. The sessions will run as follows:</p> <p><strong>17th March - Prayer and the Eucharist</strong><br/>Reverend Christopher Harrison, Vicar of the parish of All Saints, St Mary and St Peter, Nottingham.</p> <p><strong>24th March - Science and Prayer</strong><br/>Dr David Hay, zoologist and writer on science and spirituality.<br/><a href="">Information about David and his work can be found here.</a></p> <p><strong>31st March - Contemplative Prayer</strong><br/>Reverend Canon Dr Norman Todd, Spiritual guide, counsellor and teacher.</p> <p><strong>7th April - Weaving Prayer into Everyday Life</strong><br/>Canon Angela Ashwin, writer and speaker on spirituality, and retreat leader.<br/><a href="">More details about Angela Ashwin and her ministry can be found here.</a></p> <p><strong>14th April - Prayer and Pilgrimage</strong><br/>The Venerable Peter Hill, Archdeacon of Nottingham.</p> <p>There will also be discussion sessions on these five themes, using material provided by the speakers, after the 11.00 am communion service on each of the Thursdays listed above.  All are welcome to attend.<br/><br/>Each week, <a href="">the speaker will provide a summary of their talk, which can be found here</a>.</p> <p> </p> Tue, 29 Mar 2011 16:48:20 +0200 Christian Classics - The Book of Common Prayer <p>The BCP was published in 1662 to order Church of England services where many of the congregation could not read. It was also used by those who could read to form their private prayers. It is still used for both these purposes by people who are moved by the Elizabethan language with its intimate form of address, the ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s. If you are one of these then you probably need read no further.</p> <p>But like its progenitor the BCP our revision, Common Worship, is a golden treasury of “the prayers that poured out of the hearts of saintly men and women when, moved by the Holy Spirit, they expressed before God the desires of their heart. The spirit of prayer is contained in them so, if you read as you should, you too will be filled with this spirit”.</p> <p>So get yourself a copy of ‘Common Worship: Daily Payer’. At a time to suit yourself each day “read some of the prayers, paying attention to every word, thinking the thoughts expressed there and trying to reproduce in your hearts the same feelings as stir in the prayer you read”. Better to pray one sentence in this way than pages of words while your mind and heart are on what you will have for breakfast or supper!</p> <p>The General Introduction to the Daily Prayer volume of Common Worship will help you to get going. The headings are: Where to Start, What to Read, Choosing the Psalmody, Where to look in Daily Payer, Setting the Scene, Deciding How, How to Recite, Being Part of a Wider Community of Prayer.</p> <p>“I will add another small rule, namely, the necessity for this work of prayer to go on without interruption from the moment it is begun until some success is attained… But if today you pray well and keep the state of prayer in you, but tomorrow become slack, then acting thus you will never achieve any success in prayer. In the end, prayer may dry up altogether and the soul become incapable of it. Having once begun, one must patiently remain in prayer, never weakening and pandering to oneself by special dispensations and indulgences.” Or say sorry and start again.</p> <p>Quotations are from Unseen Warfare, the first in this series of Christian Classics. If you have any questions ask for help. Much more important, listen to the answer God is leading you towards by forming the question in your mind and heart in the first place.</p> Fri, 04 Feb 2011 14:17:43 +0100 Remembrance Sunday sermon <p>Last May, I was privileged to dedicate the Memorial Stone in the Castle grounds naming all the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire V.Cs. It was an event which meant a great deal to relatives and others as a reminder that these heroes deserve lasting public credit for their courage in the face of the enemy. At that ceremony it was fitting to remember the words of Jesus saying that “Greater love has no one than that they lay down their life for their friend” – in this case, their comrades and their country. The similar words which Col. Oldershaw read this morning, also from St John’s gospel, tell the followers of Jesus to love one another as He has loved us - which is a lot easier for all of us to say than to do. As I said, it’s good to honour the fallen as we do today. However, there are many issues about how we as a society protect those still serving, and how we pension the wounded and the widowed. I believe the Services have moved a very long way from recruiting those who only joined because there were no other jobs and treated them, to use that phrase from the First World War, as cannon fodder. But there is no room for complacency. It is we as society whom they serve and we as society have a heavy duty of responsibility.</p> <p>It is not a contradiction that armed soldiers, sailors and air-men and women are involved in battle, taking and losing lives, in the hope of building a better world in which there will be more love of neighbour - even, as Jesus taught, love of enemy. But it is a paradox and an irony. There are Christian pacifists who find it difficult to imagine warfare as having anything to do with what they would see as an outworking of their faith in the God of love and many such pacifists have faced persecution within their communities for refusing to fight. There are also many who think that Christianity and religious faiths in general are to blame for all the wars and much else which contributes to making the world so terrible for those who get caught up in them.</p> <p>I am not in either camp. The world has to be taken as we find it and although Christians are called not to belong to the world, we do find ourselves in it. Sometimes, defending those who are unable to defend themselves, including our family, friends and neighbours and even a way of life, does present a moral obligation to fight. To fight, that is, as long as we don’t turn it into a holy war where we imagine ourselves to be on God’s side and the enemy are all devils and with a divine right to treat the enemy as we like. However necessary it is to fight, there are moral imperatives to minimize damage and civilian casualties and to treat prisoners with proper dignity. As you know, that’s why we have things like the Geneva Convention: the demonising of the enemy and treating them as less than human is contrary to any faith which has stood the test of time.</p> <p>Inevitably, many battles and wars have been raged by peoples who find themselves on different sides of religious divides. There is undoubtedly much in Church history of which the Churches should be ashamed and are ashamed – because we are human we are not infallible. The same is likely to be true of other religions too who, like us, comprise the human frailties of violence, greed, ignorance and paranoia. But obviously even without religion, as in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Maoist China and some examples of Western Capitalism, you’re still left with violence, greed, ignorance and paranoia. That’s precisely the area of the human condition that religion’s here to deal with.</p> <p>Unfortunately, religion attracts those whose need is for the security of absolutes in order to justify their lifestyle, territory or tradition. This is often driven by entirely understandable fears but fear does not always motivate us to respond even to our own best advantage. However, Christian religion, and I suspect at heart most other religions, is about the absolute love of the God of creation and that’s a love which challenges and often undermines the assumptions we make about what constitutes a good life. Love is the enemy of fear and vice versa. The security of being loved and being of infinite value is extremely important in providing us with the confidence to address our fears and prejudices, to see things from a different point of view, to admit we may not be quite right about some things and to change our priorities accordingly - even when that risks unpopularity. It is for this reason that we need to associate with fellow believers to encourage and learn from one another; that’s why Church is still important and it’s also why the Church supplies the chaplains.</p> <p>If I asked you if you had faith in your parent, teacher or partner, I wouldn’t be asking if you believed in their existence, I’d be asking if they could be trusted and relied upon to do good for you; are they, as we say, ‘there for you’? If I asked if you had faith in your doctor, I wouldn’t be asking if they had all the relevant qualifications and experience - I ought to be able to take that for granted. I would mean, do you feel heard and understood and had you got the confidence that your doctor was doing her or his best for you? And the same is true about faith in God.</p> <p>There’s actually an etymological connection between the words ‘belief’ and ‘belove’. Religious belief in God is more of a heart thing than giving mental assent to creedal statements. Belief in God is often an existential response to experiences of love, forgiveness, a fresh start, answers to prayer etc., etc. Living in faith, or we might say ‘living faithfully’, is about living in response to that core belief. Living in such a way that we respond by living consistently with what we’ve experienced so that others may see a reflection of the God we’ve come to have faith in and whose love we have come to enjoy.</p> <p>Now, there is a similarity between the religious and the military life. On Remembrance Day itself, 11th November, the Church commemorates Martin of Tours, a 4th Century soldier who ended up becoming a Christian in Gaul (now France) and who set up one of the first monasteries in western Europe. He gathered like-minded men who applied the rigour of prayer, reading religious literature, personal reflection and penance and also began to work and to serve the poor in the rural community where they’d settled. They worked hard. From our own city, William Booth set up the Salvation Army which still has a formidable reputation for its work world-wide amongst mostly the urban poor – of whom there are still too many.</p> <p>The similarity is to do with self discipline and corporate discipline, with knowing where you are in a chain of command, of fighting battles against wickedness whether the battlefield be full of tanks, ignorance or material deprivation or within our own souls. And as the Gospels tell us, not only will there always be wars and rumours of wars, we will always have the poor among us and there will always be things of which we are likely to be guilty and, maybe, feel ashamed. Facing these truths is part of the discipline of faith. Failure to face such truths is what has given faith itself a poor reputation. But such self examination is an obligation to which every human being must face up, believer or not, and in that facing up we shall be fighting the good fight.</p> <p> </p> Tue, 16 Nov 2010 16:08:53 +0100 Boom, bust and bankruptcy or humility, patience and restraint? The role of spirituality in dealing with our economic crisis <p>What does a lecture by the economics editor of the Guardian have in common with a group of people sitting in silence in the chapel at All Saints’ church?  You may well wonder.  However …</p> <p>Larry Elliott has worked for the Guardian for over twenty years.  He has gained an international reputation for his incisive and insightful commentaries on a wide range of economic issues, and has recently been asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to edit a powerful new book about the recent global financial upheaval.  We were therefore very fortunate to be able to welcome him to St Peter’s church on October 14th, and to be treated to some valuable glimpses of his current thinking.  </p> <p>Mr Elliott described the similarities between the recent massive expansion of global debt and the financial ‘bubbles’ which have occurred several times over recent centuries.  He reminded us that ever since the modern economy began to take shape four or five hundred years ago, prices of assets have repeatedly risen far above sustainable levels.  This has on each occasion resulted in dramatic financial collapses as the bubbles have burst - leading in turn to major dislocation in the ‘real’ economy, with widespread bankruptcies, high unemployment, etc.</p> <p>In some ways, then, the recent financial crisis was simply an example of history repeating itself. What was new was the exact nature of the collapse, based as it was in the first place on the bundling up of mortgages into assets whose riskiness no-one could adequately judge.  The effect of this was magnified by the expansion of both bank lending and borrowing by several major governments to levels which could not be sustained - hence the collapse of several banks and the need to bail out some governments.  </p> <p>We heard how, each time an economy experiences such a financial ‘bubble’, people have looked back into history and said ‘this time it’s different’. Mr Elliott pointed out that rarely, if ever, is it different – and that our inability to have total control over the economy is an example of one of the spiritual lessons we must learn from the recent crisis, which is that of humility. It was indeed refreshing to hear an economic commentator of such stature commending spiritual virtues! He went on to describe the need, in our economy, for the parallel virtues of patience and restraint. For far too long now, he said, more and more people have become accustomed to living far beyond their means, and forgetting the value of waiting before getting something you want. While of course lending and borrowing are an integral part of any modern economy, there has to be a way of keeping them within sustainable limits.</p> <p>So what is the connection between all this and the spirituality group at All Saints? It is that one can apply those three spiritual virtues – humility, patience and restraint – just as much to the spiritual life as to the economy. Over four Monday evenings in the early autumn, around twenty of us crammed ourselves into the little chapel to learn how to be silent. Or rather, to learn – or relearn - the value of inner and outer stillness. You may wonder what the spiritual value is of simply becoming calm, of allowing your breathing to deepen and slow down, and of finding an inner focus while ‘parking’ your normal thoughts and preoccupations for a short time. In fact, as Richard Evans and Norman Todd showed us so powerfully, one learns an inner attentiveness, a new openness to God and other people, and one can develop the sense of being ‘breathed’ by God, as we surrender ourselves to the divine spiritual reality which lies at the heart of all things.</p> <p>This is far from being just a spiritual exercise, valuable as it is for helping us to be physically reinvigorated and spiritually refreshed. As we try to still our inner chatter, we practise patience. As we calm our emotions, we learn restraint. And as we become more aware of the presence of God, we learn humility. In all of these ways we are inviting God to shape us and mould us, and thus to enable us to go out into the world with his imprint marked deep within us.</p> <p>Sadly, it is all too easy for the Church to lose sight of this ancient but timeless tradition of prayer and meditation. The response forms completed by those who came to the sessions show, however, that there is a strong thirst for more of this kind of spirituality, and a desire for it to have a central place in the life of our churches. This is something that Norman, Richard and I will be looking at and following up, and we encourage you all to take it seriously, along with other ways in which we strive to place prayer at the heart of our discipleship.</p> Sun, 07 Nov 2010 19:20:27 +0100 Inspired by diversity <h4>As the parish welcomes Sonia Barron, on placement during her ordination training, she explains her motivation to redress the ethnic balance in the Church of England</h4> <p>A warm welcome to Sonia Barron, who is training for ordination and is with our parish on a training placement over the next few weeks.  She will be mainly at St Mary's church, and is hoping to learn something about our traditions and worship.  Sonia lives in Nottingham but is based in London during the week, working on minority ethnic issues for the Archbishops' Council.  She writes...</p> <p>My name is Sonia Barron and I am the National Adviser to the Archbishops Council’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns (CMEAC). Although our offices are based at Church House, Westminster, you will often find me out and about in our dioceses or preparing to enthuse from home in Nottingham. I have been in the post for five and a half years and, as with my call to ordination, I was reluctantly drawn into the Church of England (coming from a black Pentecostal background), yet I am now passionate about the work I do. My main aim is getting people within the National Church Institutions and in dioceses to recognise that the issues around ethnicity are still very real.</p> <p>The role of CMEAC is to make recommendations and to identify, monitor and take forward concerns of minority ethnic Anglicans, particularly through the Boards, Councils and Divisions of the Archbishops Council and through the General Synod itself. CMEAC believes there should be a reflection of minority ethnic Anglicans at all levels within the church, acknowledging that we are all part of the body of Christ “made in the image of God, fully human”. In this way the contribution of every part of the body will be valued, recognised and supported.</p> <p>One way in which we do this, working in partnership with the Ministry Division, is by encouraging minority ethnic vocations through consultations which aim to find ways to encourage, and then support and sustain, vocations to the ordained ministry from people with a minority ethnic background, and to identify the factors that hinder those vocations.</p> <p>We also help dioceses to develop programmes which encourage young people to pursue ministerial and other vocations and help those who work with them to understand some of the key issues relating to minority ethnic young people.</p> <p>An important aspect of our work is promoting understanding of racism, racial issues and cultural and ethnic diversity by resourcing dioceses and producing training materials to assist churches in addressing institutional racism.</p> <p>“We need to be intentional about participation, it is so often tokenism.” I believe strongly that until the leadership of the Church more truly reflects the ethnicity of its membership (as of October 2010 there are only two bishops out of 113 who are from a minority ethnic background) – it will be hard to change its whole profile.</p> <p>CMEAC actively encourages minority ethnic Anglicans to be present and participating in the Church of England. For example a booklet Called to Participate setting out the election process for the new General Synod for the next quinquennium was produced to encourage minority ethnic candidates to stand for election and to help them through the process. The election results so far have not been as encouraging as we had hoped and it seems that only a very small number of the 475 General Synod members are likely to be minority ethnic people.</p> <p>However I believe that promoting diversity is the concern of ALL the Church because we are all children of God, and CMEAC produces a range of resources to help dioceses understand some of the key ideas that underpin issues of diversity across the board.</p> <p>When not at work I love keeping up with my two teenage sons, jamming on my bass guitar and chasing up and down the touchline of local rugby pitches.</p> Sun, 07 Nov 2010 19:18:01 +0100 Prayers for November <h4>Please remember to include the following in your prayers this month:</h4> <p>1st November is All Saints’ Day, please pray for that church and its surrounding community. Also, five people are being confirmed this evening from our parish at St Andrew’s Church. Please pray for them and for their welcome as full members of our parish.</p> <p>On this day, too, pray for Richard Davey, his wife Sam and daughter Caitlin. Remember not only Richard’s work in our parish, primarily at All Saints’, but also the changes in his other job co-ordinating the ecumenical chaplaincy at Trent University which is a very significant player in our parish.</p> <p>Following the Stewardship campaign, pray for the finance committee in choices it will be making according to the outcome.</p> <p>Pray for the timely completion of the installation of the new organ at St Peter’s, giving thanks for the hard work and generosity given so willingly.</p> <p>Prior to World AIDS Day on 1st December, Advent Sunday on 28th November will include the WAD service at St Peter’s. We pray for victims, relatives and those at risk around the world.</p> Sun, 07 Nov 2010 16:55:19 +0100 Christian Classics: Finding God within ourselves <p><em>Norman Todd continues his analysis of some of the Christian spiritual classics.</em></p> <p>In The Way of Perfection Saint Teresa of Avila wrote of Jesus.</p> <blockquote> <p>Remember how Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding Him within himself. Do you suppose it is of little importance that a soul which is often distracted should come to understand this truth and to find that, in order to speak to its Eternal Father and to take its delight in Him, it has no need to go to heaven or to speak in a loud voice? However quietly we speak, He is so near that He will hear us: we need no wings to go in search of Him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest; we must talk to him very humbly, as we should to our father, ask Him for things as we should ask our father, tell Him our troubles, beg Him to put them right, and yet realise that we are not worthy to be called His children.</p> </blockquote> <p>The passage of Saint Augustine that she refers to is found in <em>The Confessions of St. Augustine</em>, and says.</p> <blockquote> <p>For behold Thou wert with me and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee. I was kept from Thee by those things, yet had they not been in Thee, they would not have been at all. Thou didst call and cry to me and break open my deafness: and Thou send forth Thy beams and shine upon me and chase away my blindness: Thou didst breathe fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for Thee: I tasted Thee, and now hunger and thirst for Thee: Thou didst touch me, and I have burned for Thy peace.</p> </blockquote> <p>This, surely, is what Saint Paul prayed for in his readers in his Letter to the Ephesians.</p> <blockquote> <p>This then is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every fatherhood, in heaven or on earth, takes its name. In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, with all God's holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.</p> <p style="text-align: right;"><strong><em>Letter to the Ephesians Chapter 3, verses 14 to 19 in the Jerusalem Bible</em></strong></p> </blockquote> <h4>Read more</h4> <p>Saint Teresa of Avila The Way of Perfection<br/>Saint Augustine The Confessions of St. Augustine</p> Sun, 03 Oct 2010 08:07:02 +0200