Finding common ground: opening up a channel for new hope in Brexit

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Window in north aisle by the organ, Peterborough Parish Church, depicting John 21:1-14

This has been an historic week in this city. On Wednesday Fiona Onasanya had the dubious honour of becoming the first MP to be removed from office by a recall petition. This followed her conviction for perverting the course of justice and for an MP, whose job is to make law that made her position untenable. Truth matters and that such a large number of people signed the petition, 27% of the electorate, implies that people want MPs they can trust and respect. With all of the cynicism around about politics it is strangely encouraging that the expectations remain high, and by and large MPs are decent people. No doubt there was political opportunism going on too, but the conversations I’ve had showed just how disappointed people were in her actions.

We now face a by-election. And there is a great danger that we become a playground for national politicking and for others who are not really interested in this community and its challenges. Our politics is volatile and deeply divided. And our nation needs leadership which recognizes this. It is clear that Parliament does not have a consensus about how to go forward at the moment. And if anything shows the lie to the phrase ‘the people have decided’ it is this deadlock. When you have a vote that is so close – 48% to 52%, which ever way round it fell, as we did three years ago – we have to ask how we go forward when so many don’t share the commitment to the direction. It is not a good basis for a major constitutional change or indeed any change. But then again it also shows that the status quo is not stable either. The job of political leadership in this situation is not to tell half the population that they have to be quiet because that will not work and is not working. Ridiculous phrases like “Brexit means Brexit” are seriously misguided.

We actually have a very long history of handling division and disagreements in the Christian Church. From its foundations it has been set in a context of deep disagreement. Throughout its history there have been deep tensions over conflicting convictions and visions that have needed to be navigated, not least during the Reformation, and the best leaders have been those who have been able to find a course through these, to shine light rather than just create more heat. We face them today over sexuality, what form evangelism should take, how we read the Bible, and on Friday another erupted over pacifism, Just War theory and the place of nuclear weapons. There was a service in Westminster Abbey to mark the dedication of navy personnel in peacekeeping for the last 50 years, but the contentious part was it also marking the ‘continuous at sea deterrent’, which is code of Trident and nuclear capability. Placing these in the same sentence as peacekeeping pressed buttons in quite a number of people who just saw it as grotesque. There were others who took another view that these weapons exist and we have to learn to live with them, even if we don’t like them.

Our readings this morning contain a thread that places before us the call to build bridges and find ways through, to give people another chance. Saul breathes threats of murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1-20). On his way, on the road to Damascus, he has a profound religious experience, one that changes him, quite dramatically. He has to find that there is another option. His is not exactly a live and let live conversion, he goes from persecutor to champion passionately advocating the position he had opposed, but it is one that aims to keep doors open. He goes into synagogues to persuade, to convince. He argues and tries to expand horizons. We see both his openness to finding a way to include rather than to write-off and the way he is embraced by Ananias who, though wary of a renowned passionate persecutor, is prepared to risk giving him a chance. Both find they are called out of their trenches and both are surprised.

In the Gospel reading we are presented with the risen Jesus meeting the disciples on the beach, with a barbecue breakfast prepared. Towards the end of this Peter is forgiven and restored (John 21:1-19). Having denied Jesus three times outside in the courtyard as he faced trial inside, on the night before Jesus was crucified, so three times Peter is asked if he loves Jesus and will therefore take up the task of shepherding the people. It is a moment of restitution, of being re-admitted as a disciple, as an apostle. Peter is commissioned with a clear message that is the key to life, so no mere optional extra. In being given this, it is the openness to restore, to embrace and bring on board which is pertinent to us right now. We can see in these passages an approach which can helps us as we struggle with deep divisions.

Whatever view we personally take on Brexit, there really has to be a decision to either stay inside the European Union or leave it. We can’t do both, even if there are halfway houses of whatever deal there may be, we are either voting members at the table or in some other kind of relationship where we are not at that decision making table. And what is also clear is we cannot just think that those we disagree with most here on the central point – in or out – can be brushed aside and shouted down. That is a recipe for deep conflict; it’s the kind of mindset that leads to civil wars because it has stopped seeing the other as being one of us, so they can be disposed of. We have to live together and we belong together, so we have to find a way through this. My disappointment is that there has been precious little attempt at the level of leadership over the last few years to recognize that these differences are real and need addressing. If they are not addressed, they will not go away not least because we have a generation coming through who by and large have a different vision of the future to the older generation. They are angry and they are seeing that they have real power if they chose to take it – they are seeing this on environmental matters and those are transferable skills.

So we need political leadership which will look to bring these deeply divided positions to hear one another and find a way forward together. I have no doubt that Brexit will be a major issue in the by-election here. We have a chance to say to the country we want an MP who will not just be partisan over this, but will recognize and honour those who profoundly disagree with them on the central issue. How will they aim to carry them with them, to build bridges rather than be divisive and potentially inflammatory?

To my mind the Brexit vote was reckless in 2016 – ill prepared, ill thought through, with no consideration of ‘what if’. It was more about party politics than a real decision being made. The time since has been squandered in shouting from trenches. As it stands this mess is irreconcilable and that is not a pleasant place to be, certainly not one we can be in any sense content with. The leadership we need is one which can be grown up and face this, to bring it together, not drive it apart. I’m not convinced this can be done without pressing pause on Brexit; an intentional pause to give time to find a consensus, not just aimless, floundering delay after delay, that serves to do nothing but wind everyone up. I am still waiting to hear a politician who has the statesmanship to hold this. This is a time that needs political giants to emerge. And the by-election is a chance to call for them.

So on this third Sunday of Easter, as we think of new life, of new hope where there was hatred, division, despair and deep guilt, the risen Christ opens up fresh possibilities. Hope is restored. In our political turmoil in this city, in the nation and the deadlock that is Brexit a new approach is needed, one which is concerned to find a common ground rather than the perpetuation of division and conflict. That will require space to be given for new life to be breathed into our political discourse. Then we may well find ourselves surprised by the new hope that emerges, as Saul was on the road to Damascus and Peter found in the forgiveness, restoration and new commissioning on the beach.

Sermon for Easter 3, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 5th May 2019

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Celebrating Easter, confronting ecological emergency

IMG_2711There was a succinct and brilliant affirmation of the heart of the Christian faith in a leader article in The Guardian on Wednesday. It was a thoughtful piece on the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I have become so used to seeing swipes at faith that it took me by surprise, so much so that I found myself reading the first sentence over and over again, not quite sure if I’d read it correctly. It said,

“To be a Christian is to be attentive to signs of God’s action in the world, and this is especially true in Holy Week and at Easter, when – the faithful believe – Jesus by his death and resurrection revealed the nature of God’s relationship with humanity.”

It went on a little further down to refer to cathedrals and churches pointing to truths that “are larger and more important than anything that can be fitted into a political struggle”. Wow, amen to all of that. Signs of God’s action in the world, Jesus’ death and resurrection revealing the nature of God’s relationship with humanity, churches pointing to values and truths far bigger than our parochial and political concerns. Welcome to Easter Day!

Today is the most important day of the Christian year. It is the day on which our hope and aspirations pivot on a scale and stage far bigger than anything else. We are put in our place and that place is within the heart of God. God relates to us his people with love. Passion and pain become hope and glory. What has been lost is found, what has been destroyed is collected together and restored in grace. God brings life into being and the end of that life is life beyond measure. Death has no dominion here; it does not have the final word. In Easter God reveals the purpose of his love as the gift of life.

When we look for signs of God’s love and those bigger values and concerns we need to find places where they become apparent to us. And we see them when we see them being lived out.

As that leader article pointed out, these structures, our buildings, with their soaring pillars of stone, provide one of the places where our vision can be helped to see, to reflect on those higher values and that love. They are not the only places but it is one of the gifts they bring, standing as representations, sermons in stone. They are built on a scale to lift our imaginations to begin to wonder and in that wondering to ask what response we are to make. As we sit here we connect with values that transcend our daily concerns and preoccupations, which undergird everything about us but also confront us with the inconsistencies and places where we fall short. A number of people have pointed out the inconsistency of being able to raise a billion Euros in a matter of days to restore a building when we can’t raise the same money or effort to end poverty, build peace and relieve those in need, even tackle climate change. And so what can point to God, point to higher values can also be a massive distraction, even displacement activity from the heart of who we are and what we are called to be, from what the building is meant to confront us with. At their best, though, these building stand as reminders of the soul of life, of the hope we have in Christ and of the values that stand above us and before us, calling us on and challenging us with the awkward questions. What is money for? Who is our neighbour? What do we really own and therefore how are we relate to our planet which we are damaging on an insane scale? The young who protest are being prophetic.

The burning of a cathedral in Paris could be seen as a sign and symbol of what we are doing to our planet. We are burning the very place where hope should abound and we see in it our vulnerability reflected back at us. This planet is burning in rising temperatures from carbon emissions and deforestation, and the climate is changing leading to the loss of species. If Notre Dame is a sign of the higher values, then these are on fire if we don’t adhere to them. I had to look up what Extinction Rebellion, the group behind the protesters in London and other cities, actually want because this wasn’t coming over in the press reports. Whatever you think of their methods, they are raising important challenges.

Their first and major ‘demand’ is for the truth to be told about the climate crisis, the ecological emergency that we face. So many people over so many years have been saying this, and it has to be faced. Concern for the integrity of creation is one of the Five Marks of Mission in the Anglican Church. So this is not just the preserve of a wacky group of eccentrics, it is the concern of all of us who proclaim Easter as the foundation of our faith. God gives us life and we are very ungrateful if we abuse it and treat it with the cynical contempt that we are doing as a species or are allowing to be done. Few of us can claim to be squeaky clean here – we all use and benefit from technology and other developments that pollute or use up non-renewable resources, so are by definition finite and will therefore run out one day. There are challenges for us all to face on the small scale and on the larger scale.

The second demand is about how quickly we can effect change. This one is less clear. Extinction Rebellion want it done by 2025 – within 6 years. Some working in this area think 2050 is more likely. Others have said we may well be beyond the tipping point now. Whatever timescale is picked, time is tight and the urgency critical.

Their third demand is for a political consensus which can transcend short-term party political interests. They express this in terms of a Citizens’ Assembly. The method may well be open to debate, but the need to make this a political issue beyond the short-termism of party popularity is equally urgent if it is going to stand a chance of being taken seriously and enacted.

So one burning issue, which reflecting on the higher values of God who gives life and treasures life, is the ecological emergency we face. As we sit in these buildings and reflect on creation, on redemption, on the hope of God, a challenge comes back to live the risen life in ways that are thankful. We don’t live thankfully in squandering what we have been given and in damaging it for short-term gain. Easter faith means that the values of heaven have touched earth. So it would be a mistake to think this new life is only about what happens when we die. The whole of our existence is under the lordship of Christ. So when St Paul says that ‘if it is only for this life that we hope in Christ then we are of all most to be pitied’ he doesn’t mean that the world is of no concern (1 Corinthians 15:19). For Paul Christ brought about a new world order, where the values of eternity join with the values of the earth, change the values of earth. We have been raised up and blessing comes to us for we have been redeemed.

On this Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the heart of our faith in Christ rising from the dead, when ‘Alleluia’ is our song, our imagination is to be lifted and with it the challenge to live in tune with the hope of heaven. Easter reveals to us how God relates to humanity: created, loved and brought into the embrace of his kingdom. He gives life and treasures life. Among the many practical and direct ways this can be seen is in confronting the ecological emergency we face, which is a spiritual challenge in how we honour the gift that is life. Easter celebrates the life at the heart and purposes of God and calls on us to show that celebration in every area of our living. Then we can join together in the Easter acclamation in word and deed, for Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Sermon for Easter Day, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 21st April 2019

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Cross shining through the gloom

Notre Dame CrossOn Monday evening, as I suspect so many of us did, I watched the pictures coming live from Paris in a mixture of shock and disbelief as Notre Dame Cathedral blazed. The more I watched, the worse it looked and when an aerial shot was shown of what looked like an empty shell only filled with burning timbers, it looked like total destruction. What we couldn’t see was the stone vaulting was holding out. It was the total destruction of the roof timbers, but not of the whole building. A hole was punched through that vaulting when the central spire came crashing down, but that is minor in comparison to what might have been and we now know that they were within only half an hour of losing the whole cathedral. Of course the smoke and water damage will be significant, and Peterborough knows this all too well from the fire in the Cathedral two decades ago now. Five years to restore it seems an ambitious target to me.

I remember walking past St Peter’s Eton Square in London 30 years ago, walking from Victoria Station towards the office where I worked just the other side of the wall from Buckingham Palace tennis courts. The church was ablaze. An arsonist had set fire to it first thing in the morning. When I got to work many were in shock and it affected even those with little or no church connection. Churches stand as symbols of stability, security and the soul of life; they stand and represent spirituality in its widest sense. Many more associate with them and connect with them than ascribe to the narrative of the faith they represent. To see one on fire shakes more of us to the core than we might expect.

Tonight we pause to reflect on the events of the day. A service in the evening on Good Friday is a moment after the events. In our real time journey, this is a moment when the shock begins to hit home. The body has been buried and the first disciples were left with grief, may be numbness. Tonight reminds us of our mortality, where we come from dust and ashes and return to dust and ashes. We do this reflecting not in despair but in the hope of the resurrection that comes through Christ. And so our Good Friday is different to how it seemed to those at the first Good Friday. We know what is coming; they did not.

One of the most remarkable images of Notre Dame in the smoky gloom is that of the cross at the East end shining through, shining out this message of hope and presence. That cross is a symbol of stability and hope while all around it is in turmoil. The cross, in its life through death, in its hope in the darkness and calamity, is a reminder that God has this and whatever ashes come, new life, new hope, new possibilities will come.

Good Friday holds our sorrow and real grief. Some will feel that particularly acutely at the moment, not least those connected with those killed on our roads in recent days. And grief has to be held, not covered up or brushed aside as we rush to Easter. We mourn because things, people matter to us and we have to adjust to their loss. Good Friday holds the loss and pain. But Good Friday is held by the life-giving, life-restoring power of Easter: we can’t celebrate it without that, indeed wouldn’t call it Good Friday without it.

For all who mourn and grieve, may this be a journey from death to new life, in the hope and love of God in Jesus Christ. May that cross, shining in the gloom and destruction, shine for us a new.

Sermon for Good Friday, Peterborough Parish Church, 19th April 2019

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All are Jesus, all are disciples…

IMG_0330This service is packed with symbolism and poignant moments, so much so that we could be forgiven for feeling sensory overload. It began with the oils to be used in the church’s sacramental ministry being received having been blessed by the bishop earlier today. This links their pastoral use – anointing at baptism, confirmation and when in need of God’s healing grace – with the wider family of the church. We are not alone, we are joined together with all who bear the name of Christ and carry that light together. In a moment a few of us will symbolically reenact Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. More of that in a moment. After the meal, the Eucharist, in which on this night of all nights we remember that it was on the night before he died that he gave bread and wine to be symbols and instruments of his presence, his grace and his feeding in word and sacrament. And then we end as he did, by going to the garden to watch with him for just one hour, in our case to the Lady Chapel. And to remind us of what followed the church is stripped of all ornamentation, representing his humiliation before the court, before Pilate, before the crowd, on his way to the cross.

So back to the feet. Who washes feet tells its own story. It was Jesus who did it and his act astounded his disciples who thought this an unusual moment. Washing feet was no one’s job, not even that of the lowest slave. Water was provided for guests to wash their own feet, as we are reminded when the woman bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and Jesus told his outraged hosts that they had not even provided him with water to wash his own feet. So who represents Jesus in this act? Is it the highest-ranking cleric – the vicar, or bishop or whoever? Well that misses the crucial point. All of us are called to be like Jesus so when he says ‘do you know what I have done, do likewise’, that is a commission to all of us to live this life, this action of service, of care, of humility. All of us are to be like Jesus.

All of us are also called to be his disciples, so all of us need to have our feet washed, at least in spirit. It can be ticklish, it can be soothing, it can feel odd and deeply personal, it can feel a little weird padding around at the front of the church without shoes and socks on, not least when the fear strikes – have I got holes in my socks? But all of us need to receive ministry and care from one another, to allow others in the church community to care for us and these are the moments when a church is seen to really be a church, when it cares for one another. And we do, and you do. So we are all Christ’s disciples who receive his blessing of this gift just as we are all called to be the ones who emulate him and give it.

The Queen doesn’t wash feet; instead she gives out money, the royal Maundy Money, to deserving pensioners of limited means nominated by churches in their dioceses. Again though, the same question arises. Who gives the money? Is this a small act of benevolence and patronage from the local lord and monarch? Is this act restricted to patronage, or are all of us called to join together in generosity, recognition of our duty to the common purse? If we recognize the importance of taxation, where each pays according to their relative wealth into the common fund which is then spent according to democratically accountable procedures, then it becomes more about mutual support than private philanthropy. Tax justice challenges the status quo and rich retaining control, placing the money under the control of the common will. Giving money to the common decision-making requires a letting go of the control, of power to share it and commit to the common endeavour and good. Gifting with strings is not really gift at all.

Who pays and how they pay then, says a lot about how we see our common life being organized. Support for the poor and weak is not just about random acts of kindness but carefully thought through policies, restoring and bringing about justice.

So on this Maundy Thursday, we gather called to be like Jesus and to follow him. We are Jesus to one another as we represent him to one another and to the world, and we are his disciples receiving his healing touch, his blessing of gifts shared, mediated through one another. We wash feet, we contribute to the common fund. All share and bear the responsibility and solution to the need. Maundy Thursday is named after the Latin ‘mandatum’, after the new commandment to love. And love is the key to seeing and understanding the mystery of these coming days.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Peterborough Parish Church, 18th April 2019

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Power of love overcoming the love of power

Love over powerThis last week we welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury to the city and diocese. Many have commented on his humanity and humour, his easy manner with faith and civic leaders as well as homeless guests at Garden House. When he left us on Wednesday he caught a plane and flew to Rome to be with the political leaders of South Sudan at the Vatican. A stark contrast to touring Peterborough and Northamptonshire seeing projects, but actually another example of how the Christian church can bring the light of love into human lives and in the case of Sudanese leaders, seeking to bring a peaceful resolution to a bitter conflict. What happened during that meeting in Rome has been widely reported in the press, when Pope Francis got down on the floor and kissed the feet of three Sudanese politicians, each in conflict with the others. It was dramatic, powerful and poignant.

When someone with a major role, beit religious or otherwise, stoops down and humbles themselves before others it has a powerful effect of stripping away the power dynamic in the room. No longer is everyone playing the same game, or indeed accepting the ground rules for how it is to be played. Suddenly one has removed themselves from this and that vulnerability is actually a profoundly powerful moment. It says I am not bound by your recognition of my status, but am appealing, bowing down, before something much greater, in this case the power of the love of God which calls us, holds us and brings us together. It is an appeal to those on the receiving end to connect with that divine power and grace, and stop their warring.

If this sounds familiar, well we’ve just heard it retold in the Passion story of Jesus. On Thursday we will see Jesus break the power dynamic of his disciples, and by extension our own, as he takes a towel to wash their feet. The Lord of lords and King of kings makes himself a humble servant, demonstrating and begging that we live differently. We are encouraged to do the same, but there is so much more to this command than to clean shoes or even expand it to whatever acts of loving service we may come up with – from care for the vulnerable to feeding the hungry. It is also a call to break the power dynamic that looks for our own status and power, position and ranking. I learnt a long time ago that the most powerful hand you can hold is the one that is prepared to leave the game, not as some kind of brinkmanship but really walk away. It is the powerful hand that says this game does not define me or control me. That power of powerlessness, that strong vulnerability, can silence and overwhelm.

The whole of Holy Week is a slow-motion exercise in Jesus refusing to play power politics, but rather calling people to a higher command. His riding in on a donkey – a humble beast, his agony in the garden, his arrest and trial – trumped up and facing false accusations, his being abused before the crowd who become a mob baying for his blood, his humiliation on the cross, dying and burial. It is sacrificial and self-giving, it is to place trust in the higher purpose and power. The story of Holy Week, the most important week of the Christian year, overturns our priorities in so many ways. Here losing life becomes the gateway to truly finding it. The ultimate defiance is to refuse to acknowledge the power of the one who threatens and abuses, and to refuse to give them the status of controlling, of defining the moment.

Through this week we see Christ’s power displayed through what looks like powerlessness, but is actually the complete opposite. In emptying himself of the way the world sees power, in terms of coercion and zero sum wins, he subverts it and redefines the purpose of the whole venture. It is in serving and giving that we find the purpose of life more clearly revealed. It is the power of love overcoming the love of power.

Sermon for Palm Sunday, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 14th April 2019

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People of faith, hope and love: Address to Annual Meeting 2019

Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 15.31.57Our nation is going through a time of deep challenge and great uncertainty at the moment. Parliament is deeply divided over what to do about leaving the European Union. Passions are high among the wider population and all sorts of fault lines have been opened up in our identity, the directions we want to move in and how we are to be as a nation. In the thick of all of this there are nuanced positions and easy caricatures which of course don’t do justice to the position and make it harder to hear and honour the person we may disagree with. It is not surprising that there has been the national call to pray for our nation and we have the prayer card as well as a prayer station by the Lady Chapel themed around togetherness in our difference. This has set me thinking about the kinds of values we aim to live by and therefore the values that we seek to proclaim from our churches and by virtue of belonging to our churches. So I want to spend a few moments with a reworking some guidelines that came out 65 years ago.

A few years ago I came across a card from 1954 and it is signed by the then Archbishops of Canterbury and York. It was entitled ‘A short guide to the duties of Church Membership’. I shared it at the Annual Meeting in 2017, but it is worth bringing out again. I thought two years ago that it needed a bit of a refresh, so here’s my attempt at an update of the core principles for us today.

The church is called to proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ and to draw people to follow him. That is our core purpose. All who have been baptized and confirmed have agreed to shape their lives on this purpose and calling. And so to do this we will:Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 15.34.32

  1. Seek to grow in faith and trust, that every aspect of our lives will be shaped by and in the example of Christ.
  1. Commit to pray each day – waiting on God; for the needs of the world and the welfare of all people.
  1. Make time to read the Bible and deepen our understanding of and confidence in our faith.
  1. Make coming to Church each week a priority, so that we can support others and be supported in our common calling. If we are away we will do all we can to join with a local Church.
  1. Share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion faithfully and regularly – to feed on Christ in word and sacrament.
  1. Be gracious, showing and sharing the love of Christ to all.
  1. Be generous with our time, our gifts and our money – in thanksgiving to God we will give to support the mission and ministry of the Church.
  1. Strive for justice and transformation, to make a difference, living with integrity in all things.
  1. Honour and love all in the name of Christ, welcoming all who come as if they are Christ, sharing God’s hospitality.
  1. Share faith in word and action, to help others grow in faith and come to love and serve the Lord.

We will, in short, be people of hope, people of faith, people of love.

It is worth reflecting on these and see how they might influence how we are with one another, how we approach everyone we come into contact with. And when we fall short, be open to others giving a gentle reminder. I was involved in an interview recently for a role with the Light Project Peterborough and one of our questions was about how the candidates would foster and embed a Christian culture amongst the volunteers and staff, a number of whom do not come from a faith background and many who do. It was a good question and it is a reminder that there are ways of being which go with being a follower of Jesus Christ and by baptism and confirmation we have signed up for these. So I have produced these notes on a card for us all to take and reflect on.

St John’s Church has been at the heart of this city since AD 1407, a living heritage of faith and service. Today we aim to be:

  • Open for all,
  • Connecting with our location and the opportunities it brings.
  • A place of prayer, where faith is vibrant and relates to the issues of our day.
  • Hospitable, generous and gracious in all our encounters; a place where everyone is welcome
  • A community of transformation, which makes a difference for the common good.

One of the things we have struggled with has been setting this out in terms of an action plan. This is not least because these can easily become an unrealistic wish list and that does nothing but weigh us down. We have carried out an audit of what we do and mapped these under the 5 Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion. That was a helpful exercise because it reminds us that what we do serves a higher purpose. Over the next few years it would be worth looking at these and deciding one thing to develop or strengthen over the coming year. Not a massive hit list, something else to wear us out, but to help us keep on track with our core purpose, the 10 principles of Christian living and how we aim to be a living heritage of faith and service today.

St Luke’s shares in this purpose, with a particular focus on West Town and the community that live around it. There are things we could do there which would strengthen its visibility and connecting.

The primary boots on the ground in church mission are those who are baptized and confirmed, those who have committed in baptism and confirmation. It has been a privilege, as it always is, to spend time with our candidates this year as they have explored faith in readiness for the Confirmation Service in the Cathedral on Easter Eve.

Before this planning and thinking begins to wear you out, or feel oppressive and more pressure, this week’s Church Times has a very helpful article on God’s speed. The writer, John Swinton, argues that God’s speed is actually 3 miles an hour. That is the average walking speed for human beings. Jesus, who is God, walked at three miles an hour. God who is love, walks at three miles an hour. Love has a speed, and that speed is slow. We do not have to fix everything in five minutes and we are in for the long haul, not just a sprint. That suits me well, because I can walk for miles but I can’t run for a bus. The long haul calls for resilience, stick-ability, commitment and endurance. A church which has been on this site since 1407, and St Luke’s which has been on its site for over a hundred years, is in it for the long haul. What is more we are here all the time. We belong to a community which has a presence here all the time, not just a pop up initiative.

I spoke a few weeks ago about 7 disciplines of evangelism –how we share our faith with others that they too many come to follow Jesus Christ and grow in his likeness. It began with prayer and was shot through with commitment to the long haul. The ten principles of Christian living are missionary and evangelistic. They proclaim the love of God and they seek to draw others, to inspire them in faith.

So please take this sheet away with you. It is through this that we will aim to connect with those around us and who come into contact with us in so many ways.

As I’ve said the major boots on the ground here are yourselves. And the life of this parish, which we are celebrating in this meeting, relies so heavily on those who are generous with their time, with their gifts and their money. Thank you for all you do and give. The booklet of reports sets out the spread of these activities and the commitments behind them.

  • Care of buildings
  • Care of accounts and our funds
  • Ambassadors in Deanery Synod, Churches Together
  • Hospitality – making the places open and serving cakes and coffee, welcoming and looking after those who come for services and events
  • Musicians and servers, flower arrangers and polishers
  • Events programming – from Alun with the CIC and Jonathan for other bookings
  • Social events – times we make and mark community
  • Home Communions and looking after one another – I frequently hear of those who naturally check up on one another and make sure all is well, or come to their aid when it is not
  • Groups and study programmes – one or two new initiatives in the pipeline
  • Ringing bells and looking after the tower
  • Cleaning and tidying up after those who don’t tidy up after themselves!

This is an active place – so many events hosted and our reach is far beyond what might be expected. When I talk with others in the city about their capacity, we achieve an incredible amount with the small band that we are. And this last year we have extended our hospitality to include the Mar Thomas Church, who have taken over the lease at St John’s Hall and along with others I was invited to take part in their service of dedication. A number of us were given tokens of thanks for making it happen.

This year we have said a sad farewell to a number of people:

  • Mike Lilliman, a longstanding friend of the parishimg_8037
  • Vera Savidge, a longstanding member of the congregation
  • Peter Boizot – a long time supporter of this church, as well as being Mr Peterborough. When I took his funeral in the Cathedral, it was one of those occasions when I was very much acting as Vicar of this Church as well as being a Cathedral Residentiary Canon.
  • And Joyce Lyon, who moved to Scotland to be near family.

So we celebrate today the life and witness of the churches in this parish – in the city centre as well as in West Town. There is a great deal of life in these churches. A few Sundays ago I stood at the front and looked out and it dawned on me that over half of the congregation were not attending 6 years ago. As the Bishop of Oxford reminded General Synod back in February, anyone who pretends that evangelism is easy is both deluding themselves and demoralizing those who are working hard. But it is not an impossible task. It starts with prayer and ends with it too. Throughout it all, we hold to the core purpose of the church which is to proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ and to draw others to follow him. And in doing that, I leave you with the 10 guiding principles: prayer, deepening faith, commitment to church and sacrament, being gracious and generous, striving for justice and transformation, honouring all people and seeking to inspire others to grow in faith.

It is actually not as difficult as we might think. It just requires each of us to commit to play our part in faith and hope and love.

Address to APCM at Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 7th April 2019

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‘Trip a little light fantastic’: light to shine the way

Mary-Poppins-Returns-Trip-a-Little-Light-Fantastic

Mary Poppins Returns, 2018, Walt Disney Pictures

Today is the last in our series of sermons for Lent drawn on themes from the film ‘Mary Poppins Returns’. This has taken us on a journey with the Banks family, the nanny who arrives flying under an open umbrella and who leaves the same way, when the wind changes. The first week brought us reflections on grief and loss, springing off the death of the children’s mother and how they miss her deeply. The second week bathtime fun in the bubbles gave us the place of imagination for faith. A chipped bowl, took us further into the fantastical with the Royal Daulton Music Hall and a song about the cover not being the same as the book. With this we thought about who we really are and our identity in Christ. Last week a trip to a woman who can fix anything, but for whom sometimes the world gets upside down and needs righting again, gave us hope in dark times, the presence of Christ and how this gives the world the flip it needs.

Today then, we arrive at the grand finale. As they leave Topo-trepo-lovski’s house, the London fog rises and they have difficulty finding the right way to go. The lamplighters are out attending to the street lights and a song and dance about tripping the light fantastic, finding the light for the way brings us to reflect on where we find the light to shine the way. A very good place to end a Lenten journey.

The true light to lighten all people, in the words of John’s prologue to his deeply reflective gospel, is Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world, the one who brings light as well as shines light. He brings the light of hope, that creation is not the lonely, abandoned and isolated place some try to convince us it is. God our source and our goal, the one for whom we exist and without whom we would not exist, brings light into being. The beginning of creation is the explosion of light and energy, radiating across time and space, bringing time and space into being. It is an awe-inspiring concept.

Jesus is also the light because he shows us how to live, so that we can find purpose and in that our way out of wandering aimlessly and hopelessly in the fog of despair and lost ways. For some this can be more dramatic than for others. That comes through his teaching which shows us how to live with one another and with God. It is the way of loving service, where true living involves giving. The true leader is one who knows that they are really the servant, and will sacrifice themselves for their people. It is the way of love, not just an emotional feeling but a deep and profound love that connects, unites and binds together even those who disagree – and we are certainly living through some foggy days at the moment where that light is needed. It is the way of forgiveness – knowing we are forgiven for that is what God in Jesus Christ shows us, brings to us, and also that we are to forgive. Not being able to do this eats us up from the inside in bitterness and resentment and that is not a happy place to be.

It is the way of generosity, which honours the gift in knowing that it is best shared and put to good use. Money is not for hording but to enable things to happen, to serve God’s kingdom of justice and peace, blessing for all. It is the way of self-giving love, sacrificial living, and that can be costly but ultimately life-giving. And underneath and holding all of these is the way of prayer and sacrament, feeding on God in word and spirit, in bread and wine blessed and shared for us. The path is well laid out in front of us, we are invited to walk it in hope, placing our hand in the hand of Christ and so being able to find our way through any kind of fog.

If those areas sound familiar, they are of course because they are taken from the book I wrote a couple of years ago called ‘Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus’. They are also reflected in 10 Core Principles for Christian Living, which I am going to say more about in my address to the annual meeting a little later on. These are 10 ways to help us live the commitment made at baptism and confirmation. Through these we find the light for the path. That light shines when we:Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 15.34.32

  • seek to grow in faith, so that every aspect of our lives will be shaped by Christ.
  • Commit to pray each day, waiting on God; praying for the needs of the world and the welfare of all people.
  • Make time to read the bible and deepen our understanding of and confidence in our faith.
  • Make coming to Church each week a priority. If we are away we will do all we can to join in with a local Church.
  • Share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion faithfully and regularly, to feed on Christ in word and sacrament.
  • are gracious, showing and sharing the love of Christ to all.
  • are generous with our time, our gifts and our money – including in thanksgiving to the church.
  • Strive for justice and the transformation of the world, to make a difference, living with integrity in all things.
  • Honour and love all in the name of Christ, welcoming all who come as if they are Christ, sharing God’s hospitality.
  • Share faith in word and action, to help others grow in their faith and come to love and serve the Lord.

In short, we aim to be people of hope, people of faith, people of love.

There is a sheet with these set out on them on the table at the back. It is hard to take in a list all at once, so please do take it and read it and reflect on it.

These core principles are a reworking of something I found on the internet a couple of years ago, guidelines issued by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 1954. I have given them a reworking, updated them for today and their aim is to help us to fulfill the mission of the church as disciples of Jesus Christ: to proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ and to draw people to follow him, to find the light for the path. This church [has been / is] a living heritage of faith and service [in the heart of the city since 1407] and this is how we enable it to be that living presence today, in and through us as we live to serve God.

So we have come to the end of our Lenten journey with Mary Poppins. We end it with light to show the way, to show there is a way to go and a place to aim for; a place which draws us forward, already prepared for us. The light of Christ is the light of hope he brings and we live in that light in all we are and do. That light blesses us and sends us to be a blessing to others.

Fifth sermon in a series for Lent based on themes drawn from the film Mary Poppins Returns, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 7th April 2019

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