Monthly Archives: February 2011

"Meekness isn’t weakness"

It’s been a week of action for the Jellicoe Community.  At our home, the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, a packed chapel heard Pastor Peter Nembhard’s powerful sermon on Action, Power Justice.  Pastor Peter (above) is Senior Pastor at ARC (A Radical Church) in Forest Gate, Newham – host to three of our Jellicoe interns.  He preached on the story of Moses, drawing out the ways in which God called him to channel and discipline his anger at injustice – turning him from a violent and impetuous young man, to the leader of the Hebrew slaves in their journey of liberation.

Drawing on later examples of Biblical leaders, and in particular the leadership exercised by Jesus, Pastor Peter told us that “Meekness isn’t weakness.  It is power which is obedient to love”.

Also this week…

the first dozen Jellicoe interns for this summer were selected after interviews in Oxford.  We also hope to have interns from the Universities of East London, London and Cambridge
…Mgr John Armitage describing the roots of Catholic social teaching in historic struggles for justice in East London – and its more recent application in London Citizens’ Living Wage Campaign – at this term’s Jellicoe Seminar at St Stephen’s House, Oxford
…Contextual Theology Centre staff teaching on Citizens UK’s five-day training
…the launch of the Centre’s new booklet on Effective Organising and Congregational Development and a new four-week course on faith and organising – details online at

An eventful week…

We’re in the midst of an exciting week of activity at the Centre:

  • We’ve just joined with community organisers and Pentecostal pastors in Citizens UK to plan the Nehemiah 5 Challenge – bringing Biblical teaching on usury to bear on today’s complex economic realities. This builds on Bishop Doug Miles’ visit to East London last November – and on our earlier publication of Crunch Time: A Call to Action
  • Today, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced a £5 million programme called Near Neighbours, which will bring diverse communities together for association and social action.  The Centre is one of four hubs for this work.
  • Tomorrow (Monday 21st) we welcome Pastor Peter Nembhard from ARC (A Radical Church) in Forest Gate to preach at a new termly service for Christians engaged in community organising – with members of our wider Jellicoe Community.
  • On Tuesday Centre Director Angus Ritchie is teaching on Citizens UK’s National Residential Training, and launching Effective Organising for Congregational Renewal – a new guide for our partner congregations, with stories from both sides of the Atlantic.  Later in the week, Assistant Director Sean Connolly will also teach on the course.
  • On Wednesday, Senior Tutor Adam Atkinson and Community Chaplain Sr Josephine Canny will interview around fifteen potential Jellicoe Interns from the University of Oxford – and Centre Fellow Mgr John Armitage will lead a Jellicoe Seminar on Catholic Social Teaching and the Living Wage Campaign at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

Praying for a change

At the start of each month, we will be posting some prayer requests for the work of our Jellicoe Interns, and the wider life of the Contextual Theology Centre

Please pray for…
– all whose lives are affected by the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse and the work of congregations in and around the Ocean Estate who are seeking to tackle these issues.  In particular, please pray for Nick and Kerry Coke at Stepney Salvation Army, and for the work of Jellicoe interns Liliana Worth and Katy Theobald
– deepening relationships between faiths and cultures – for the forthcoming Tower Hamlets Leaders’ meal at the London Muslim Centre, and for and Ruhana Ali (Community Organiser) and Ian Bhullar (CTC Manager) as they engage local congregations in this work
– all whose lives are affected by the challenging times for our economy, and those who depend on public services at a time of austerity.  Pray for churches involved in the Living Wage campaign, and in applying Biblical teaching on economics (and in particular on exploitative lending) to today’s context
Power, Action, Justice, a service of praise and thanksgiving for Christians engaged in community organising on 21 February.  This is part of the growing work of the Jellicoe Community in London and Oxford, deepening the connection between prayer, reflection and action.  Pray for Pastor Peter Nembhard as he preaches, and for all who will attend.
– the churches’ response to the ‘Big Society’ agenda.  Pray for the research being done by Angus Ritchie and Josh Harris at the Centre and by Helen Moules, Adam Atkinson and Chris Sparrow in its ‘Shoreditch Group’, and, as they seek to equip churches to respond faithfully and effectively
students applying for Jellicoe internships in community organising this summer; for Angus Ritchie, Laurence Mills and Sr Josephine Canny as they manage the application and discernment process

Give thanks for…
– the growing community organising teams in ARC, Forest Gate and SS Stephen and Nicholas, Manor Park, the fruit of work by our Assistant Director Sean Connolly, Newham Community Organiser Emmanuel Gotora and our Jellicoe Interns (currently Amma, Nitasha and Luke) – with twenty shops and offices signed up as ‘CitySafe Havens’ for young people in danger of gun crime
– two successful events in the Presence and Engagement Network (the Seek the Welfare of the City conference in November and a conference for Curates in Chelmsford Diocese last month) – with increasing understanding and discussion among Christians in different traditions and contexts as they reflect on the challenges and opportunities of a multi-faith society. Pray for the Network Co-ordinator, Susanne Mitchell, and all the members of the growing PEN team
– the continuing fruit of Bishop Doug Miles’ visit last November, with increased engagement by Pentecostal and Baptist churches in our Congregational Development process.  Pray for our next workshop for church leaders on 7th March, and for plans for a Lent Course on Equipping Churches to Transform Communities

Celebrating Fr Basil & the Jellicoe Community

Sermon preached at Magdalen College, Oxford on 6th February 2011, to mark the anniversary of Fr Basil Jellicoe’s birth, by The Revd Dr Angus Ritchie  (Fr Angus is the College’s Jellicoe Chaplain, and the Director of the Contextual Theology Centre in East London, which runs the Jellicoe Internship programme)

Many of you will have seen this week’s Chapel posters. Fr Michael has chosen a wonderfully retro photograph (above) – with a becassocked cleric, standing behind a bar. The priest in question is Fr Basil Jellicoe, Magdalen’s Missioner to Somers Town – back in the 1920s, one of the most wretched slums in London. (Our College Trust, which disburses funds to charities each term, is the successor to the Mission.)

Among his many distinctions, Jellicoe – slum priest, retreat conductor, social reformer – is the only Anglican priest to have inspired an entire musical. Jellicoe: The Musical had its brief moment of glory eight years ago, treating the residents of Somers Town to such hits as ‘St Pancras House Improvement Society’ and ‘A Parson Running A Pub’. While it has yet to hit the West End or Broadway, the musical is indicative of Jellicoe’s larger-than-life character, and the affection his memory continues to inspire in his old parish.

Jellicoe exemplified the best characteristics of that generation of Anglo-Catholic clergy. He had passion and prayerfulness, humour and charisma. Above all, he was inspired by the conviction that the life of God could and should become flesh in every earthly community.

Born on 5th February 1899, Fr Basil studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, before training for the priesthood at St Stephen’s House. Upon ordination, he was appointed Magdalen’s missioner to Somers Town. Jellicoe regarded the state of his parishioners’ housing as a scandal. As a good Anglo-Catholic, he knew the Eucharist to be “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spriritual grace” – a sign of the way God in Christ enters and redeems the material world. His sermons attacked the slums were a theological as well as a social outrage – they were, he said “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace.”

Jellicoe had been born into privilege and used his many connections to assemble a powerful alliance for change – enlisting the support of the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Housing Minister in his St Pancras House Improvement Society. He understood the importance of dramatic flourish – erecting vast papier mache effigies of the rats and bugs that infested the slums, and ceremonially torching them as the first slums were demolished. And he used the ‘new media’ of his age: making an early film of the conditions in which his parishioners lived, and making a mobile cinema in a trailer, so that those who lived in prosperity up and down the land could see what life in the slums was really like. After each showing he told them: “Now you know what life is like. You have no excuse for inaction.”

The Times’ obituary gives some flavour of Jellicoe’s extraordinary energy and enterprise: telling its readers that Fr Jellicoe “resolved that he would not rest till his people had homes fit to live in, and the rehousing schemes started by his society have already provided many excellent flats with gardens, trees, ponds, swings for the children, and other amenities. Although the rents charged are not more than what the tenants paid for the old slums, the loan stock receives 2 per cent and the ordinary shares 3 per cent.”

Jellicoe asked local people what they wanted (not a common practice at the time), and ensured the housing was beautiful as well as functional, with space for socialising and creativity. Not surprisingly, the beauty and layout of this college was also an important inspiration. Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch has observed: “Half a century before the development of London’s docklands, Fr Basil Jellicoe had pioneered an economically viable and morally inspiring form of ‘regeneration’. More recent initiatives have all too often alienated and displaced the original residents. Jellicoe’s version of neighbourhood renewal took local people seriously, and ensured their needs were given pride of place.”

Jellicoe’s vision transcended the narrower tendencies of Anglo-Catholicism. Archbishop Rowan Williams recounts a characteristic incident: “Father Basil was challenged by some of his more narrow-minded High Church friends about why he would come to celebrate and preach in a parish church like [St Martin-in-the-Fields] where the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved. Jellicoe said he had no problem at all in coming to preach in a church part of which was reserved for the service of Christ in the form of his poor.” The sacrament we celebrate today was, for Jellicoe, about a deep and generous engagement with the world – not a pious retreat from it.

Fr Basil was a realist – living in the world as it is, and inspired with a vision of the world as it should be. We see this realism in the economics of the St Pancras House Improvement Society, and in Jellicoe’s willingness to move beyond the confines of one church tradition. We also see it in his attitude to alcohol. Jellicoe himself was teetotal, and yet one of his most controversial schemes was the establishment of a College for Publicans. His reasoning was pragmatic not judgmental. He wanted the drinkers of Somers Town to get good service and good beer – and to save them from the kind of pub that made its money by encouraging alcoholism and so devouring the whole of a family’s much-needed income.

Seven decades on, the Jellicoe Community was founded here at Magdalen. Its aim was to enable another generation of students to live Jellicoe’s convictions, on residential placements in East London. More recently, interns have been drawn from a much wider range of institutions – last year, Magdalen’s Antonia Adebambo and Ellen Lynch were joined by around 20 other students.

Today’s interns are placed in Christian congregations from a wide variety of traditions. Within the Church of England, these vary from charismatic evangelical right through to the smells and bells of Jellicoe’s own church, St Mary’s Somers Town. Jellicoe interns are also placed in Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal and Salvation Army congregations.

These churches are all members of London Citizens, the capital’s broad-based alliance. It contains over 160 dues-paying organisations – alongside churches there are mosques, temples, schools, student and trade unions. Their common action has achieved some striking results. London Citizens has won over £60 million pounds for low-paid workers, and secured the world’s first Living Wage Olympics. The Citizens UK Assembly in May secured commitments from David Cameron and Nick Clegg to the end of child detention in the asylum process, and to Community Land Trusts as a way of achieving decent, affordable housing in our own generation.

In organising, the action grows out of the relationships – relationships based on an attentive listening to people’s circumstances, passions and values. Community organising is not unique because of the things it campaigns for. What’s distinctive is the process. The action is not merely for the poorest and most marginalised in society – it is taken by them. People used to being passive recipients of whatever the political process deals out become agents of change. The process matters every bit as much as the results.

The work of community organising is very much in the spirit of Jellicoe: in its commitment to valuing and listening to local people; in its invitation and its challenge to those with wealth and status and in its realism – its willingness to engage with the world as it is and not simply to dream of the world as it should be. I hope community organising can also learn from the less positive aspects of Jellicoe’s story – focusing not on a charismatic individual (with the attendant dangers of burn-out – Fr Basil died of exhaustion, aged just 36) but participating in a process which is actually led by local people.

At a time when young people are supposed to be apathetic, the growth of Jellicoe Community shows there is a real appetite for engagement with social and economic justice – engagement driven by the very people who are supposed to be hardest to involve. At a time when they are supposed to have given up on institutional religion, we find students increasingly drawn to a form of social action built on the life of local congregations. And at a time when the media is full of stories of church disunity, we find Christians working together across a wider and wider range of denominations and traditions. The approach of community organising is to build relationships around the issues on which we can agree. This is not to evade the serious issues of disagreement. Rather, the hope is through organising on the areas where passion and vision are shared, we can come to more contentious issues with deeper bonds of trust and solidarity.

In denouncing slum housing as “an outward sign of an inward disgrace” Jellicoe’s words and deeds proclaimed the intimate connection between spirituality and social justice. Fr Basil knew that when the Spirit of God warmed and transformed human hearts there would be evidence of this in the public sphere as well as the personal, in the transformation of slums as well as the celebration of sacraments. Of course, the Jellicoe internship is just one of many different ways in which you might rise to that challenge.

Last term, Bishop Doug Miles preached the Chapel’s annual Jellicoe sermon – choosing as his theme ‘A Life That Counts Beyond The Self’. Basil Jellicoe lived such a life; a life that counted for something, a life that is still having an impact, many decades on.

Like Bishop Miles’ sermon, today’s readings [Isaiah 58:7-10; Matthew 5:13-16] both challenge us. They ask what kind of life we want to live, what kind of church we want to be. Will we follow the stale path of maximising earnings and minimising engagement beyond the circles of the prosperous and fortunate – a life that may be outwardly religious but which is hardly salt or light? Or will we allow Jesus Christ to call us out beyond our self-absorption – into a life that is richer, fresher, fuller – a life that changes, and is changed by, the poverty and injustice of our own age?