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Disciples in the Modern City #3

The third Disciple in the Modern City is Madeleine Delbrêl (1904-1964). A French woman who having declared “God is dead … long live death” as a teenage philosophy student, then discovered God living with her through difficult moments. She founded a House of Hospitality in a communist suburb of Paris and spent her life there working as a Social worker. She wrote on Marxist-Catholic relations and in “We the Ordinary People of the Streets” the role of lay people as missionaries in daily life.  However, in his talk, Rowan Williams concentrated on a series of aphorisms collected together as “The Little Monk” in which Delbrêl imparts wisdom for belonging to a Christian community. For example:-

  • To shine is not the same as to enlighten. (On a day of great eloquence.)
  • Hold you tongue when you can, so that you can speak when you must. (When the little monk had some silly stories to tell.)
  • Not as a great saint, and not a great sinner –  simply be one part of the great community called church. (The little monk when reflecting on his flaws.)
  • Beware of how you judge those who do not appreciate you. (When he felt treated as a nobody.)
  • Put yourself in the shoes of others, don’t force them to wear yours. (When the little monk dictated rules of spiritual discipline.)
  • Know that it is very fortunate for a monastery to have an incompetent leader when, on confessing his incompetence, he leaves it up to God. (One disastrous day)
  • Let God take over. Then you take action – if there’s still anything to act upon. (When the little monk came up with new ideas for his monks.)
  • Prayer does not mean being intelligent – it means being present. (When paying heed to people chatting on the street.
  • When you can’t dance, let your soul tango. (The little monk after a days struggle with accounting.)

Be blessed, Craig

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Minister

Disciples in the Modern City #2

Our second Disciple in the Modern City was Dorothy Day (1897-1980). Another unlikely candidate; social activist, suffragist, socialist living a bohemian lifestyle who had always explored spiritual writings. The birth of her child brought a spiritual breakthrough in which she learnt that she could trust God. Day and her baby were baptised as Roman Catholic’s but that created a break with the baby’s father who did not support her spiritual explorations. She supported herself and daughter as a journalist, concentrating on social activism and the hardships of the Depression. 

With Peter Maurin, she created, Catholic Worker, for “those who think there is no hope for the future,… there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.” It accepted no advertising and did not pay its staff. Alongside the paper they created a House of Hospitality, a shelter that provided food and welcome. A network would soon follow around the United States. Key to her activity was the trust she had discovered in God, “If you are not acting as if God was to be trusted – what are you words worth?”

An uncompromising pacifist, this would come at a cost for her work in supporting the poor and vulnerable as supporters left and hierarchies despaired at her awkward, passionate faithful dedication to the call she knew God had placed upon her heart. Her’s was an “edgy angular witness,” Rowan Williams says, “prophets are … difficult people, … to say ‘we need prophets’ is to say that ‘we need people who ask us questions that we would rather not be asked’. That’s what Dorothy Day does and I thank God for her.” But he also points out her positive view of the church, “What are we here for, we are here to make communal, generous, forgiving, interdependent, just, equal, human life just a little bit less unlikely in the world. And if that sounds like a modest ambition for the church. Look around because it isn’t. The church is there … to say to a world of injustice, violence and conflict, it doesn’t have to be like this. … the gift of the gospel and the gift of the body of Christ is a restoration of what is natural.” So let us trust our own witness to God’s love and to creating a place where it is easier to be good.

be blessed, Craig

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Minister Walking the Way

Disciples in the Modern City #1

In May I had the privilege of listening to Rowan Williams, speak on Disciples in the Modern City. He told stories of three remarkable, awkward, rebellious, idealistic, radical women and the communities that emerged around them.

The first was Maria Skobtsova. From a wealthy Russian family she rebelled politically and religiously, espousing atheism and radical politics. However,  too radical and idealistic for the Bolsheviks she fled Russia for Paris in 1923. There, her second marriage collapsed and she dedicated herself to theological studies and social work.  She had been drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church by focusing on the humanity of Christ, “He also died. He sweated blood, Thy struck his face.” Living in extreme poverty she began a ministry of hospitality amongst a community of refugees. She would venture to the market to find surplus and rejected food for a rejected community. When she felt a vocation to be a Nun, she found a Bishop willing to accept the vows of a twice divorced woman who refused to go into contemplative seclusion.

In the 1930’s she welcomed the Jewish refugees that were arriving in Paris. During the Occupation protecting as many as she could, declaring “Every Christian should wear the yellow star.” At the heart of her community was interdependence and solidarity, she was never Lady Bountiful handing out gifts to the poor. Her work was the common work of all who stand in need, “We should not give away a single piece of bread unless someone means something to us.” Maria would eventually die in the gas chamber at Ravensbrück, maintaining solidarity with her community until the end.

Rowan Williams closed with a question about discipleship and I pass it to you. “What solidarity do you make with people on the margins of safe society?” Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” and I ask, “How does our discipleship express love and solidarity with our neighbour?”

be blessed

Craig

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Minister

Eco-Church?

I write on a strange day. The sun is shining, it’s warm, yet muggy – an autumn day that suggests summer is still in the air. Yet earlier, the clouds were grey blue, the sun peering through – red and eery, warm wind gusting. In the west, Storm Ophelia is hitting Ireland in a great Atlantic storm; here, sand and warm air from the Sahara leaves all still and calm. By the time you read this you will know the impact, but at the moment we seem a million miles from whatever storm is coming.

Ophelia is the 16th Tropical storm of an hyperactive year in which there have been the greatest number of consecutive hurricanes in the satellite era. Ophelia is the easternmost major hurricane on record. Tropical cyclones form over large bodies of warm water, deriving energy from evaporation and forming into cyclones by the earths rotation. Whilst they are often devastating for human populations they also bring benefits by carrying heat energy away from the tropics and bringing it into our temperate latitudes.

Whilst some argue that there is little evidence that human activity has created the conditions that fuel such storms, as stewards of God’s creation, I believe that we need to act on the assumption that our lifestyle causes global warming and encourage ways in which alternative sources of energy are used. That will not always be easy or straight-forward. Sometimes it may seem to be more expensive in the short term but on the way we will create a cleaner, more sustainable space for future generations to thrive in. If the global-warming deniers are wrong and we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate then a catastrophe awaits.

So could we explore becoming an Eco-church? It would encourage us to examine our individual and collective lifestyle and discover ways in which together we can make a difference. And if we were to be an Eco-Church would someone be keen enough to take a lead on this for us and help all of us to have a concern for the integrity of creation?

be blessed

Craig

 

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Minister Walking the Way

Learning Habits

Last month I wrote about the Holy Habits of discipleship. This month I want to focus on the key habit of learning. At Ministers Summer School we looked at discipleship and were reminded that “A disciple is learning to live the way of Jesus in their context at this moment”

The first disciples of Jesus learnt at his feet – remember Jesus telling Martha that sister Mary had chosen the better part by choosing to learn from him (Lk 10:42). On another day she learnt of his compassion as she fell at his feet grieving her brother (Jn 11:32). Those disciples shared the stories and sayings of Jesus so that later generations could continue to learn and be identified as disciples.

Our learning takes the experience of first century Israel and translates that into our own context – sometimes we discover that human experience changes little across times and cultures, other times we discover that modern life creates its own questions to be explored in this moment. Thats why we continue to explore the bible on a Sunday, or in small groups and should be doing so in our individual lives – not as some strange add-on to church life but as a normal holy habit that is shared with those around us.

So what was the last thing your learnt about Jesus? How did that impact on your 21st Century life? How can we enable each other to learn? What help do you need with your own learning? Speak to you your Elders, let us know and help us to find ways to support your discipleship.

Another thing I learnt this week was the idea of TTT – it’s a question to be asked each Sunday – what will you de doing This Time Tomorrow (or Tuesday or Thursday)? In answering it, we hear about the challenges of being disciples Monday to Saturday and get an insight into the ways we can prayerfully support and encourage one another in our daily lives. So, be ready with a response when I ask, “What will you be doing TTT?” And receive the prayers we offer.

be blessed

Craig

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Minister

Encouraging Holy Habits

At the beginning of June we will celebrate Pentecost, the moment when the first disciples began to realise that inspired by the Holy Spirit they could create a God-shaped, Christ-centred, Spirit-led community. Amongst the ways they did, was to get into the habit of meeting together for teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer, as a result of which they experienced generous giving, kindly service, growing fellowships, shared meals and worshipful lives. These essentials of Christian Community have not changed over the years, but sometimes we think we can opt in and out of some habits and still feel like we belong. In doing so we do God a dis-service.

Over the summer months I intend exploring these Holy Habits and the way that belonging to the body of Christ has always involved  all these elements. Asking how we can help and encourage one another to continue this tradition and in doing so enhance our own discipleship creating God-shaped, Christ-centred, Spirit-led communities that serve God well and honour the inheritance we have been given.

Alongside these Holy Habits we will explore the story of biblical disciples; Barnabas who encouraged, Mary who learned, Hannah who prayed, Martha who welcomed, Mary Magdalene who witnessed – how can we be encouraged, learn, pray, welcome and witness? What are the habits we do well? What new habits must we form? What does it mean to be disciples in the 21st Century?

As a Collect for the feast of Barnabas says, “Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well­being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

Be blessed, Craig

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Minister

Easter Hope

I’ve just come home from an AGM that focused on hope, it told inspirational stories whilst knowing the harsh reality of human life, yet looked forward to the future; that spoke of hope as part of the human condition, as a partner that walks through life with us; that throws open its arms and welcomes; that transforms our lives and speaks our language.

This is the hope that we speak about at Easter with death overcome, love conquering hate, the opportunity to begin life afresh, to tell inspirational stories, to be overcome by God’s spirit bursting into tired, frightened lives – the language of transformation that creates a culture of hope even where we struggle to believe that such things can happen.

The inspirational AGM was hosted by Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, looking back at the work of the last year, listening to refugee stories that burst with emotion. That reminded us of human inhumanity, whether in the places they flee or within the bureaucracies to which they come. They spoke of communities torn apart and of people piecing life back together. They gave us hope and they looked to the future as a hope-filled journey. For CRMC that journey is going to take them into a new centre, this year they will move from Bishop Street to Norton House, renovating a tired building, creating modern office space and a community hub that will welcome those in need and encourage integration into this city which has such a long history of welcoming the stranger. To do that they will need financial help and have launched an appeal which can be found at http://covrefugee.org. The theme of the appeal and the years ahead is Hope.

In this Easter season it was good to remember that hope comes in many forms, to many people. That where we engender hope then we build new lives. As we tell this Easter story we do so in the love of Christ who transforms lives by opening our capacity to hope and calls us to speak the language of hope.

be blessed

Craig