Monthly Archives: April 2012

Easter 5: Gospel reflections & prayer requests

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 15.1-8

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

It’s common today for people to say religion is a personal, ‘private’ thing. In one way that’s true – our relationship with God is intimate. Like the closest human relationships, it involves tenderness and vulnerability.   But religion is also about community. Jesus tells us in this Gospel that we must abide in the ‘true vine’ – and as we are grafted closer to him, we are necessarily drawn into a closer fellowship with our fellow human beings.

We live in a world which is increasingly individualistic. In the weeks ahead, our Sunday Gospels repeatedly make clear that our relationship with the people we can see is vital to our relationship with the God we cannot see.  We do not deepen our relationship with God by turning our backs on one another – it is in the depth of our love for one another that we touch the heart of the divine.

Prayer Intentions

An increasing number of Christians feel called to live in community in urban contexts – a movement of ‘new urban monasticism’ which has much to learn from the faithful ministry of religious orders such as the Society of Saint Francis.  Please pray for those called to the religious life in our inner-cities, and for those exploring a call to live in new intentional communities. 

Pray for the Church Urban Fund and Contextual Theology Centre in their work with both expressions of Christian service and mission – and for Mike Buckley, conducting research for CTC on these issues in Tower Hamlets.

Like no other event: last night’s Mayoral Assembly

Andy Walton – a Jellicoe Intern at St Peter’s Bethnal Green, and the Contextual Theology Centre’s Communications officer – blogs on a unique piece of political action:

 Three of the candidates have done this all before. In fact, as Ken Livingstone reminded us, some of them have been doing London politics for more than 30 years. During the run-up to the Mayoral election they spend most nights of the week sparring with each other and fielding questions from experienced interviewers, broadcast to millions of viewers and have their every move analysed by the newspapers.
So why, exactly, were the candidates on edge? Why was this far from the usual experience for them? And why did many of us come away from the evening feeling that the race for Mayor had been injected with a whole new energy and impetus?
Well, simply put, because a London Citizens Mayoral Accountability Assembly is like no other event on the campaign calendar.
For a start, it’s the biggest audience the candidates have addressed. 2,000 people from across London’s diverse communities packed out the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. Young and not-so-young sat alongside each other. Londoners old and new were represented – those who’ve lived and worked in the city their whole lives and those who’ve arrived very recently. Delegations from churches, mosques, temples and synagogues formed a part of the audience, but non-faith groups were well represented too – charities, social enterprises, students unions and school groups.

This diverse audience made for a carnival atmosphere, a choir sang and we saw amazing football skills on the stage. But that’s only the beginning of what made this a unique experience.

The real difference between this and all the other Mayoral hustings was that this was an ‘accountability assembly.’ We were there to assess how Boris Johnson had performed as Mayor over the last four years and examine his record, based on the agenda London Citizens had produced in 2008. He was praised for the effort he’d put in and the achievements made, but also told where he’d fallen short.

And then, the evening’s main event: the Citizens Agenda 2012. We asked all four main candidates to respond to our agenda, and heard amazing testimony from those whose real life experiences had helped to form it. The agenda began a year ago. London Citizens has 243 member institutions across 24 boroughs of London, gathered in five chapters (North, South, East, West and Shoreditch).
Thousands of one-to-one conversations took place. Members of our churches, parents at the school gate and students at our universities were asked what their main concerns and problems were. These conversations were collated, the answers tallied up and a series of policy areas were identified on which many of our members felt very strongly. Then, our five chapters met in huge assemblies to vote on which of these priority areas would make the final agenda.
Once this democratic process had been completed, the agenda was honed and refined. We were asking for five things from the candidates: safer streets, better wages, more opportunities for young people, housing improvements, and a better governed city. These aims may sound vague, but the agenda was carefully crafted, with specific policies we were requesting the Mayor to carry out, and the commitments we, as London Citizens, would carry out.
Throughout the course of the evening, we heard stories from ordinary Londoners about why these areas were so important to focus on. Barbara, who’s a cleaner for a top hotel chain, broke down as she told us she could barely afford to live on the wage she was paid. Lorriane gave her story – as a mother whose son was cruelly taken away in a violent attack in North London. We heard about young people struggling to get jobs, damp housing conditions and Londoners who can’t afford to pay their exorbitant rent. If this all sounds heartbreaking, it was. In a room of 2,000 people, we could have heard a pin drop at times.
But the testimonies didn’t stop there. We heard about the amazing improvements which have been brought about through London Citizens. Huge corporations have begun paying a Living Wage. Housing Associations have begun to improve accommodation after pressure from local residents working together. We heard wonderful stories of teamwork among different groups who’ve come together to make their streets safer through the CitySafe programme.
The candidates had a tough act to follow. But they rose to the occasion. Jenny Jones, Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick were called forward to respond to our agenda. They were given the chance to say how they would enact our policy ideas and then questioned by ordinary people from our member institutions. We were impressed at how many of our ideas were praised by the candidates. Our Community Land Trust programme won universal support from them. The City Safe scheme was held up as a beacon by all candidates. This was politics at its most raw – ideas formulated on the streets of London, being adopted in the corridors of power.

The whole event was organised, presented, chaired and staffed by volunteer leaders from across our City, ably assisted by the team of London Citizens staff. The 2,000 people in the room, the 12,000 people we signed up to promise to vote, the 250,000 people who have some contact with our member institutions and the many who watched the event online are now better informed. They’ll make a more-informed decision when they go into the polling booth.
This, of course, isn’t the end. In fact, it’s just the beginning of another cycle of working to improve London alongside our politicians. Whoever is elected and becomes the next Mayor of London knows that London Citizens will be watching for the next four years and will hold that person to account in 2016. London will be a better place because of it.

Reflections & Prayers for Easter 4

Today’s Gospel reading is John 10.11-18

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd is powerful even to people who have never seen a farm.  It addresses some of our deepest needs, for security and for guidance.  On of the Roman Catholic prayers for this Sunday expresses this well:
Attune our minds to the sound of [Christ’s] voice, lead our steps in the path he has shown, that we may know the strength of his outstretched arm and enjoy the light of your presence for ever.
Our ability to take risks, and to move beyond our comfort zones, can only be based on a depth of inner security.  It is precisely when we find our refuge and strength in God that we are able to me more courageous in journeying out in mission: working for God’s Kingdom in challenging places, and glimpsing God at work in surprising people.
Christianity is sometimes dismissed as wish-fulfilment – as a consoling fantasy.  But the truth is very different. When people place their trust in Christ the Good Shepherd, he often calls them to take risks they’d  never have dreamed of taking on their own.  
Just looking at the range of projects we have been praying for in Lent and Eastertide makes this point: Christians are present and engaged in challenging situations that it would be much easier to avoid.  And yet the mysterious reality of the Gospel is that it is in these most challenging of situations that the love and power of God is often experienced most deeply.  Those who minister in these situations find themselves receiving as well as giving – blessed by the very people they feel called to serve.

Prayer requests

Give thanks for all who attended this month’s Church Urban Fund Tackling Poverty conference in Leeds, that the prayer, discussion and planning will bear rich fruit in the wide range of communities and projects represented there.
Give thanks also for the staff of the Contextual Theology Centre and its partner churches in east London as they meet to plan the development and expansion of their existing internship and placement programmes for 2012/13.

Why Religion Really Matters

One of the most exciting projects Near Neighbours has funded so far is called RE Matters. It’s based in the London Borough of Newham and works with children from schools across the area.

With so many stereotypes about religious people in the media the young people involved decided they wanted to investigate how much truth was behind the speculation and rumour.

Faith leaders came to talk and to listen.

RE Matters put on an exciting, interactive day conference for them to have the chance to meet faith leaders and other young people from diverse communities and faiths. They worked together to find out more about each other and challenge the assumptions they were making.

Journalist Ruth Gledhill from The Times has endorsed the project and spent some time with the young people herself.

Young people practice their mock TV advertising campaigns.

The hope is that the young people will now go back to each of their schools, families and communities and help to increase the knowledge and understanding of other faiths.

Andy Walton from Near Neighbours visited the project and spoke to faith leaders, tutors and young people. Listen to his report here:

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Music Migrations

An exciting initiative funded by Near Neighbours is about to kick off in the heart of the East End. Music Migrations is a series of concerts hosted by St Barnabus Church, Bethnal Green. The series features a concert in April, one in May and a finale in June.


The concerts will feature excellent music, with an explanation of the different styles by an expert at the start of the evening. It’s hoped that many different local communities will come together to learn about and experience the music of different cultures. Don’t miss out – book your ticket today!

More information is available at the  Music Migrations website.

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Reflections & Prayers for Easter 3

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke 24.35-48

The disciples began to relate their experiences on the [Emmaus] road and how Jesus was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. While they were telling these things, He himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of a broiled fish; and he took it and ate it before them. 

This reading begins and ends with food!  This underlines that the resurrection is of the body. Jesus is not simply a spirit.  Resurrection life involves a transformation of things material as well as things spiritual.  This is why our faith has a practical effect on the world around us.  Christian Aid has the slogan: We believe in life before death.  The Good News of Easter isn’t just something for the next life – it changes things here and now, in every part of our existence. 

The ‘spiritual’ is not something separate from our ‘material’ live.   Rather, we live spiritually when the material world becomes a gateway to a deeper communion with God and neighbour. That, of course, is what happens every time water is used at Baptism or bread and wine at Holy Communion.  In these sacraments, physical things become a means of spiritual union with God and with his Church.  They are part of a world that is sacramental; in which the way we treat one another can reveal God’s love, hospitality and justice.

Prayer Requests 

This week, please pray for The Waterfall Project, one of the Church Urban Fund’s partners in Winchester.  It is aiming to address the local shortage of women-only homes for drug rehab.  (This is also a national problem).  The Waterfall will be adopting a similar approach to that of successful models of Christian faith-based rehab programmes which have an 80% rate of clients remaining drug free after five years of completion.  
The Church Urban Fund’s support is enabling the project to employ an  Outreach Co-ordinator.  Pray for this work as it develops, and for the lives it will touch and help to transform.
Pray also for the Contextual Theology Centre’s partner churches, and the process they are involved in to hold the candidates for Mayor of London to account.  Along with other churches, mosques, synagogues and civic groups in London Citizens, they have developed a ‘People’s Agenda’ around the Living Wage, placements for unemployed young people, affordable housing and street safety.  Pray for the 2500 people at the London Citizens Mayoral Accountability Asssembly on 25 April – and for those standing for Mayor as they respond to these issues.

Reflections & Prayers for Easter 2

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 20.19-31

But Thomas, one of the twelve…  was not with [the other disciples] when Jesus came.  So they were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
After eight days his disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it into my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
We often talk about ‘doubting Thomas’, but perhaps we would be better calling him ‘honest Thomas,’  someone who says what he really thinks, rather than putting on a facade of holiness and right-thinking.
For Thomas’ confession is the most powerful in John’s Gospel, hailing Christ as his God.  Honest wrestling with reality – the reality of God, and the reality of our doubts and fears – is an essential part of our journey.  It’s important that it’s his wounds that identify Jesus.  Easter doesn’t wipe out the cross, and turn the clock back.  Jesus journey through the cross to resurrection takes us somewhere new.  That’s an important part of a Christian understanding of forgiveness: our reconciliation to God and neighbour doesn’t turn the clock back, as if the sin had not happened.  It can take us somewhere new, if we are all prepared to face our failings honestly, and learn from them. 

Prayer requests

In your prayers on Sunday, and in the week ahead, please remember the work the Church Urban Fund is doing on Growing Churches through Social Action – helping churches to embody and proclaim the transforming message of Easter.  Please also remember the work the Contextual Theology Centre is doing on Christian apologetics, including its developing partnerships with Theos think tank and St Mellitus College, London.

Neighbours in Shadwell meet and celebrate!

People from Shadwell came together to celebrate their community this week in a fun day organised by Near Neighbours and TELCO. Hundreds of people from different backgrounds gathered in Watney Market Piazza to show their love for this diverse part of East London.

The event was supported by St Paul’s Church and the Daurul Ummah Mosque, among others. St Paul’s and Daural Ummah have already beeen working closely together on a number of projects including a Near Neighbours-funded gardening scheme.

Local resident Stephen, who attends St Paul’s told us it had been a wonderful day, “The day was only made possible due to the strength of local relationships. Shadwell is a small area but within it there happens to be an abundance of churches, mosques, and schools. The church and mosque enjoy a strong relationship built up over time by working together in the community. Working together has led to strong individual friendships between worshippers who share a heart for the neighbourhood, and together we wanted to do something to bless the community. The day was a great success, I spoke to an elderly gentleman who had lived in Shadwell for 36 years since moving from Bangladesh and said he’d never seen anything like this in Shadwell before. There was a really good mix of the community present, old and young, Christian and Muslim, and plenty of volunteers from different faith and community groups.  Plenty of people were asking when the next one would be, and it was heartening to hear that people were taking their ‘We ❤ Shadwell’ stickers home and sticking them up on their front doors around the local estates.

With balloons, face-painting, banners, stickers, henna, games, artwork and a tea party, there was plenty for everyone to do! There’s now demand for another event to take place in 2013 – watch this space…

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Easter Day: Reflections on the Gospel

The Gospel reading for Easter Day is John 20.1-9

It is the women who are the first to discover the empty tomb – as they faithfully keep vigil, even when all hope seems to be lost.  It seems as if they now face a double loss.  To lose his body as well as his life compounds their grief.

The stories of the resurrection do not represent a neat ‘happy ending’ – a reversal of all that has gone wrong.  They show that on the other side of the cross, God’s new life breaks in.  It breaks in in ways that disturb and surprise us.  When Mary Magdalen greets Jesus later in this chapter, she is told not to touch him.  Resurrection is not simply the return of what has been lost: it is the beginning of something very different.  Mary should not cling to the earthly Christ, for it is as he ascends to the Father that he can become present in a new way, in the Church which is born at Pentecost.

For us too, Easter is not so much a consolation as an invitation.  It is an opportunity to stop clinging on to whatever comforts us, and sheltering fearfully from the future.  For whatever the future holds, we face it with a Lord who has faced – and conquered – the forces of sin and of death.

Holy Week: Reflections on the Gospels

It is impossible for us to give, unless we have first received.  That is obvious from the moment we’re born.  It’s only because others have fed, clothed, nurtured and taught us that we can love others in turn.  Human parents can fail us.  But, as beings made by God, we also receive a love that is unceasing and unconditional. 
As Holy Week begins, much church life—the clubs and councils, the committees and campaigns–falls silent.    A space is created, so we can wait with Christ.  We wait together—as he prays and sweats blood in Gethsemane, at the foot of his cross, in the garden on that first Easter morning.  We wait, because our salvation is a divine gift, not a human achievement.

The Gospel Reading for Maundy Thursday is John 13.1-15 and for Good Friday is John 18 & 19

Powerlessness, suffering and injustice are experiences the human race knows very well.  And they lie at the heart of these stories.  Jesus is revealed, not as a far-off ruler, but as someone who is with us in the midst of these things.

He’s a human—and so bears these experiences alongside us.  But he’s also divine—and so his bearing of judgment, hatred and violence also vanquishes them.

Jesus becomes our sacrifice.  He’s scapegoated by humans unnerved and disappointed by his message.  Some are unnerved because his truth-telling challenges their lies and their manipulation.  Others are
disappointed, having expected Jesus to be a very different kind of Messiah.
They thought he would impose God’s Kingdom at the end of a sword.  But, as Jesus tells his disciples, those who live by the sword die by the sword.  A Kingdom imposed by violence and fear could not be God’s Kingdom. 
The Kingdom Jesus brings in is one where domination, violence and judgment are conquered by self-giving love.  This is his new creation, born in the water and the blood which flow from his side (John  19.34).  As we are reminded in the Maundy Thursday liturgy, we taste and see this new creation both in the sacramental life of the church (as we celebrate the gift of Holy Communion) and in practical acts of love (as we re-enact Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet).