Monthly Archives: May 2012

Archbishop and Minister to visit Near Neighbours projects


Archbishop Rowan at the launch of the Greater London Presence and Engagement network in 2008. PEN represetitives will meet with him on 7th June along with Near Neighbours volunteers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will show his support for Near Neighbours on Thursday 7th June. Along with Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Archbishop will visit a Hindu temple and an Anglican church.

The visit will begin with Morning Prayer at St Andrew’s Parish Church (Colworth Road, E11 1JD). The guests will then walk to Shri Nathji Sanatan Hindu Mandir (Hindu Temple – 159-161 Whipps Cross Road, E11 1NP). Local people will explain their projects to the Archbishop and the Minister and give a flavour of the fantastic work being done with Near Neighbours grants.

The Hindu Temple in Leytonstone will welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury to celebrate the work of Near Neighbours.

We’re very excited to be able to showcase the work of some of our projects. Young people, volunteers, staff and those benefitting from some of the programmes supported by Near Neighbours will get the chance to show the difference being made by their work across eastern London.

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Reflections and prayers for Trinity Sunday

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  We start the month focusing on the mysterious claim that God is ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’.  This isn’t just a puzzle for theologians.  This doctrine tells us love and relationship are at the heart of the divine.  We share God’s life together.

The Gospel reading at the Eucharist isJohn 3.1-17 (Church of England) or Matthew 28.16-29 (Roman Catholic)

From John 3:

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

From Matthew 28:
Jesus came to the disciples and said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We are baptised ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.  Baptism is the sign that we have joined the church.  Our fellowship in the visible church is part of our fellowship with the invisible God.  And because we believe in God the Trinity, we believe that relationship is at the heart of God. 

Christians share with Islam and Judaism the central belief that God is One.    But Christians believe that at the heart of the One God is relationship and fellowship.  God is a mystery, far beyond our understanding.  Just as a central picture of God is that of a loving parent, so another side of God’s nature is expressed in the picture of a loving community or a loving family.  No one picture gives us the whole truth.

Inscribed in one of our East London churches are these words from the the First Letter of John: “No-one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made perfect in us.” That’s why the doctrine of the Trinity matters – and why we celebrate it in churches across the world today

Our calling as children of God, baptised into the church, is to make sure that our lives make visible this love which stands at the heart of the invisible God Just as Baptism is a sacrament (an outward sign of the grace of the invisible God) so our whole lives can be sacramental.  All our human roles and relationships – husband and wife; parent and child; employer and worker; neighbour and friend – can be more or less filled with God’s love. 

This is why many of our churches are involved in movements such as Citizens UK and Near Neighbours, reaching out to neighbours of other faiths and worldviewsThis vital work – strengthing relationships between churches, temples and mosques, and building a more just society – makes us ‘co-workers with God,’ as his love and justice become more visible on earth. 

Prayer requests

In this weekend of celebration for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, give thanks for her example of love and dedicated service, and her role as a focus of unity in our diverse nation.  

Pray for the many community events our partner churches are involved in this weekend – that this work will strengthen relationships with other faith and community groups, enabling long-term action for the common good.

Reflections and prayers for Pentecost

Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 15.26-7 &16.12-15

Jesus said: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
The earliest name for Christianity was “the Way.”  To be a follower of Jesus is not simply to have a particular set of beliefs.  It is to embark upon journey into the infinite, loving mystery of God.
It is because our faith is relational and not simply propositional that we need the Holy Spirit: whom the Father sends to us, both to enter our individual hearts and to make us into one Body in Christ.
As the Nicene Creed reminds us week by week, God’s Word became flesh in Jesus ‘by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary’.  The Holy Spirit continues to make God’s word become flesh today: being ‘spiritual’ isn’t about turning our backs on the material world, and on the questions of how wealth is used and shared to build a more just and merciful community.
In the Book of Acts, we see that the fruits of Pentecost were a change in both how the disciples preached the Gospel (with power – and in a way their hearers could understand, whatever their culture or language) but in the way they lived the Gospel (sharing their homes and possessions, so that none was in want).  Those are the same fruits we are called to bear today.

Prayer intentions

Please pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and in particular for the Spirit’s energy and wisdom – both in the churches of which you are a part, and the staff teams at the Contextual Theology Centre and Church Urban Fund.  On Friday 1 June, CTC’s staff are on a morning of prayer and reflection to plan their work in the year ahead: ask the Spirit’s blessing and guidance on this time.

Sex, God and the difficult questions….

Young people addressing the launch of

It may be a topic that young people find difficult to talk about with their parents, teachers or faith leaders, but it’s one which isn’t going away anytime soon: sex.

That’s why Near Neighbours has helped to fund an exciting new website which will enable young people to talk about sex, relationships and their faith. is an attempt to create a safe space for conversations, learning and openness around issues of sex, contraception, pregnancy and a whole host of other areas.

It’s been developed by the Newham Interfaith Sexual Health Forum – NewISH in a bid to fill a need felt across the diverse London Borough of Newham for good quality sex education in a faith-sensitive context.

It’s received the backing of local MP Stephen Timms, among others, and is already going down well with young people in the area.

Stephen Timms MP gives his support to the launch

You can visit the website here: and provide feedback, as well as find out much more about the project.

Andy Walton from Near neighbours visited the launch of Listen to his report here:

From Ascension to Pentecost: A Reflection

This sermon was preached yesterday by Angus Ritchie (founder of the Jellicoe Community) at Magdalen College, Oxford.  The readings were 1 John 4.11-16 and John 17.11-19

There are very few statues or sculptures of our Lord’s Ascension.  It’s always difficult to convey movement in a statue.  How on earth do you depict Jesus going up into the heavens?  Painters certainly show it as a stately and seemly movement – so the sculptor cannot show hair or clothes being ruffled by high speed, upward travel.  How, then is movement to be expressed?

A number of churches have tried to rise to this artistic challenge. One congregation has commissioned a vast helium balloon of Jesus in a cloud.  The Shrine Church at Walsingham adopts a different approach.  Its Chapel of the Ascension has a cloud sculpted into its roof, with two feet sticking out.

I must confess, when I first saw the Chapel roof, my reaction was to collapse in fits of giggles.   Because sculpture cannot easily convey movement, there is an unfortunate ambiguity.  It isn’t entirely clear whether the feet are on their way up or down.  It rather looks as if the ceiling has fallen in, and someone’s feet are now dangling through the roof.

But once you’ve got over its unintended comedy, the sculpture conveys some fundamental truths about the nature of the Ascension.

For it shows us who and what has gone, without telling us precisely where he has gone.  We know who has gone: Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord.  In the Walsingham sculpture, the feet ear the wounds of the cross.  We know what has gone: Christ’s physical body.  In the Easter season the Gospels have been emphasising over and over again the physicality of Christ’s resurrection.  Our risen Lord is not simply some spirit who has shuffled off his mortal coil.  In the resurrection God not abandon our physicality – he rescues it from death.

So we know who and what has gone – but where exactly has our ascended Lord gone?  Christians disagree on whether the story of the Ascension should be taken literally.  But even if we take it completely literally, we cannot imagine that Jesus’ body continued to ascend on the other side of the cloud.   Today’s Gospel reading makes that clear: Jesus tells his disciples he is going back to the Father, not on an extended voyage into outer space.

That’s what I like most about the Chapel of the Ascension at Walsingham.  We only see the feet.  When we think about what lies on the other side of the cloud, words and images begin to fail, and so they should.

The Christian faith is that human beings have a physical and spiritual future.  Our story does not end with death, and its continuation is not merely about some kind of half-life in a world of ghostly shadows.  Our story – our whole being – is taken into God; the God who holds the world in being, but whose presence in this world is obscured by sin and death.  

The Bible is somewhat reticent about what this future will be like.  It is of necessity a mystery, because our future with God is beyond human understanding.

That shouldn’t surprise or trouble us.  I don’t know how many of you saw last term’s debate between Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins in the Sheldonian Theatre.  (If you didn’t, but are still interested, the footage remains online at   One thing that this debate made clear is that the difference between Williams and Dawkins lies in the ambition and scope as well as the content of their picture of reality.

Richard Dawkins longs for a day when an exhaustive and comprehensible explanation of everything is on offer – a scientific theory which will account for and describe reality without remainder.  Rowan Williams thinks the world is more mysterious than that. 

The position of Archbishop Rowan, and indeed of any thoughtful Christian, is that there is an inexpressible depth to the world.  As Christians, we’re not in the business of offering a comprehensive explanation of every detail of reality.  We recognise that many aspects of reality can be researched and understood, but others pass human understanding.  As one writer has put it, life is not simply puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be experienced, a gift to be lived.

This is not a plea for blind faith.  As the Archbishop’s dialogue with Dawkins made clear, Christians can give good reason for thinking the world has this kind of depth.  There is a genuine argument to be had between those who think science can one day explain everything, and those who think that the scientific account of the world leaves open some further question about the origin and destiny of our world.  This is the true boundary between faith and reason. If there is a God who passes all human understanding, our knowledge of that God will depend not only on our reasoning, but on his self-revelation.  And the Christian faith is that God’s self-revelation is centred on Jesus Christ, His Word made Flesh.

The Letter to the Hebrews talks of Jesus as the ‘pioneer of our salvation’.  A pioneer leads the way through uncharted territory.  Jesus, who lives the life we ought to have lived, and dies the death we ought to have died, shows us that there is a hope beyond the grave.  In his resurrection, we see that our personality and our physicality have a future.

In a moment, we will recite the Creed, which sketches out the shape of this future hope.  It speaks of Christ ascending into heaven, of him coming again in glory, establishing a kingdom which shall have no end.  But beyond this the Creeds, and the Bible, do not go into huge amounts of detail.  We are given an array of pictures of what lies beyond, but they are just that: images and metaphors, glimpses of a glorious future that is beyond our understanding.

These glimpses of the future are given so that we might have the confidence to live with love and courage here and now.  As St Luke recounts the Ascension, angelic figures ask the disciples “why do you stand looking at the clouds?”  And in today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of his disciples not being of the world, but being sent into the world – sent to proclaim and embody the love that flows within the heart of God.  As we heard in our Epistle, No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

How does God abide in us, now that our risen Lord no longer walks among us?  How are we to have the grace and power to embody the very love of God?  The answer is in the next verse of the Epistle: By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.

That is why these days between the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost have a special significance in the life of the church.  We rejoice that the pioneer of our salvation has borne our wounded humanity into the life of God – with the hope that gives us, both of the safe keeping of those who have gone before us, and of a day when the whole creation will be renewed in love, in beauty and in justice.  And we rejoice that God has sent his Holy Spirit, that the love, the beauty and the justice of Christ might take flesh in this world, here and now.

This year, Christian Aid Week overlaps with these days of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost.  This is a good reminder – that the hope of an eternal future with God does not leave us gazing fondly into the heavens.  Rather, God calls us to be inspired by that hope, and sends us the Holy Spirit, that Christ may be made present here and now.  As Christian Aid’s slogan puts it, we are called to believe in life before death as well as afterwards.

After we have said the Creed, offered our Intercessions and shared the Peace of Christ, Fr Michael will lead us in the Eucharistic Prayer: taking bread and wine, ordinary elements of the physical creation, and praying these words

grant that, by the power of thy Holy Spirit, we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood;

The Holy Spirit enables the Church – through the sacraments, through our common life, through acts of love, mercy and justice – to embody as well as proclaim her ascended Lord.  So as we gather at the altar, we another of today’s prayers has already been answered  For earlier in the service, Fr Michael sang today’s Collect:

we beseech thee, leave us not comfortless, but send to us thine Holy Spirit to comfort us and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before.

In this Eucharist, we are both comforted and exalted.  We are lifted to glimpse something of our glorious future in Christ.  It  a future in grow in communion with God and all his children  – those we see here, and those from whom we are now divided by distance or by death.  And this foretaste, this glimpse of glory, is not given not to distract us from our earthly pilgrimage.  Rather, it gives that pilgrimage its direction, its  confidence and its power.

Reflections for Ascension Day and Easter 7

This Thursday is Ascension Day – the Gospel is Mark 16.15-20 or Luke 24.44-53

Hebrews 12 describes Jesus as the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our salvation’.  On Ascension Day, we see where our ‘pioneer’ is leading us. His humanity, and through it ours, finds its destination in God.

As Charles Wesley wrote 

Soar we now where Christ has led
Following our exalted Head 
Made like him, like him we rise 
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies

 Like the disciples, we are called to be ‘witnesses’ (Luke 24.48) to this great hope – in our words, our deeds and our common life as Christ’s Church.

Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 17.11b-19 

The Gospel reading for Sunday  reminds us that this ‘witness’ has a cost. This is inevitable if our lives point to Jesus’ Kingdom, and to the values of the Gospel – for he, the ‘pioneer of our salvation,’ was both rejected and glorified.

To quote another Ascensiontide hymn

The head that once was crowned with thorns
is crowned with glory now;
a royal diadem adorns
the mighty Victor’s brow.

The lives of Christians will have the same pattern as his:

They suffer with their Lord below,
they reign with him above,
their profit and their joy to know
the mystery of his love.

As well as going before us, Jesus abides with us.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, he continues to accompany us upon our journey. The promise of that Spirit is at the heart of the readings and prayers in the ten days from Ascension to Pentecost:

O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

The Holy Spirit does not remove us from the world (v15)  but we aren’t to “belong to it” either (v16).  Following Jesus, we are called to inhabit the world in a way that transforms and renews it.

Prayer requests

Pray for church leaders involved in the Greater London Presence and Engagement Network as they meet for a residential training event this Tuesday and Wednesday – including an evening on Growing the Church Through Social Action with Church Urban Fund CEO Tim Bissett and Contextual Theology Centre Director Angus Ritchie

Politics of Faith leads to Politics of Action

Ruhana Ali is the Tower Hamlets Organiser for London Citizens, and part of the Contextual Theology Centre team of researchers on the Contending Modernities project in east London.  Here she blogs for us on how different faiths in London are holding the capital’s politicians to account:

On the eve of Wednesday 25 th April, I was reminded how faith is most powerful when in action. As I joined 2,500 other leaders from 240 different churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, universities, charities and unions gathered in Methodist Central Hall for the 4 th London Citizens Mayoral Election Assembly I could feel the electricity in the room.  The power brought from being part of a truly diverse community alliance of faith and civic organizations deeply committed to working for the common good. Working with energetic leaders who were confident in their own beliefs, and who understand the importance of relationship; with each other and their elected representatives.

The assembly organized by London Citizens and a team of leaders who had struck deals with all of the candidates for the next Mayor of London over a Citizens Agenda. An agenda concocted from thousands of conversations in our institutions and on streets and doorsteps about what really matters to ordinary Londoners.  Affordable housing, dignity for low paid workers through Living Wages, a brighter future for young Londoners with investment in jobs and work opportunities, a commitment to uphold peace on our streets through the City Safe campaign and more accountable relationships with the elected Mayor for Governance of the City.

The celebratory atmosphere on the night was hard to ignore. This was a night of testimony and sharing. We heard stories of triumph over adversity, progress after pain and daily realities of life in London. The message of hope, peace and change was clear. Critics may argue that it was faith overload as we heard choir music, traditions Jewish ram’s horn calling to action and announcements for Muslim sunset prayer.

Faith was not on the peripheries in this Assembly as it seems to have been in so much of the Mayoral campaign race. However is wouldn’t have been at the forefront either if it wasn’t for Politics. Politics of change, by people with a desire to make change for the better displayed best through their actions together than through their words alone.

The power in the room came from action and history. A track record of working together and acting together in public life which lead to trust and relationship the foundation for common understanding. For three months before this night, institutions across the member network had worked hard to sign people up in the community over this agenda.  The energy in the room was an amalgamation of the hard work and organized people tasting the fruits of their efforts. The commitments from the candidates a sweet reward for the efforts put it.

In Tower Hamlets alone I saw how faith was being put into action. Our Lady of the Assumption (the Roman Catholic Church in Bethnal Green) had been inspired by their understanding of Catholic Social Teaching – and the teachings of sacrifice and love celebrated in Holy Week and Easter . A team of 6 young teenagers were trained as part of their confirmation to work with the Priest Father Tom, in spreading the word and encouraging the congregation to support the agenda during Sunday Mass and worship times. The social justice agenda, combined with working in the cause of others married beautifully for those taking confirmation.

Just a mile down the road, two mosques (The East London Mosque and Darul Ummah) were busy spreading the message at Friday prayers to the worshippers to be a part of the community and make their voices heard. Inspired by the teachings from the Quran to call to good and work with each other in righteous deeds, they signed hundreds up during prayer times with tables outside the mosque. A show of solidarity with their neighbours and an important understanding that through service in the community you can serve God.

Universities, unions and schools all taking part in signing people up to the London Citizens agenda. Parents, children and friends working together. Many other examples of joint action were being held across other London Borough and the London Citizens network. Thousands of new people were spoken to particularly in the neighbourhoods and on the streets where these faith institutions are located. This was a way for the leaders to reach the community, engage in politics and get to know their neighbours.

An excuse to talk and an opportunity to relate. An an agitation for many. How can you love your neighbour if you don’t know who they are? An important opportunity through politics, to show where faith leads to action.

Easter6: Gospel Reflections & Prayer Requests

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 15.9-17

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
In Genesis, we are told that Satan persuaded Adam and Eve to see God as a competitor.  Satan says that if they eat the forbidden fruit they will become like God – and that God doesn’t want that!
This is a complete distortion.  You can’tbecome like God by grasping after his power – by competing with him, or with each other.  For in Christ, we see that God is the very opposite of that.   As St Paul writes
Jesus, though in the form of God
did not cling to equality with God
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.
Jesus becomes human so we can share the divine nature.  Jesus becomes a servant, that we might be changed from servants into friends. 
This is extraordinary – it gives us some idea of the dignity God gives to human beings.  And this is a dignity we discover together, not by seeing each other as rivals.  

Prayers for Contextual Theology Centre and Church Urban Fund

The dignity of human beings is a central theme in Christian social teaching, inspiring campaigns such as those by Citizens UK and Church Action on Poverty for a Living Wage.  Pray for the work CTC and CUF are doing to promote Christian prayer, reflection and action on these issues – and plans for the next stage of the Call to Change initiative.

What Money Can’t Buy – an event with Michael Sandel

Nick Spencer at Theos has written an excellent review of Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel’s new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.  This book explores the difficult questions of how the marketisation of everything leads to a devaluing of those things which money shouldn’t buy.

Michael Sandel will be in London soon for an event entitled: ‘What money can’t buy – the moral limits of markets’ hosted by St Paul’s Cathedral in collaboration with the London School of Economics and Political Science, JustShare and Penguin UK. This event will take place on Wednesday 23rd May, 6.30 – 8pm.

Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? Do market values dominate too many spheres of life? What are the moral limits of markets? Professor Michael J. Sandel will explore some of these pressing questions and Bishop Peter Selby will respond. Copies of Michael Sandel’s new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets will be available on the evening and there will be plenty of time for questions from the audience.

This event is free but a ticket will be required. Reserve your ticket now by emailing with your name, postal address and phone number (please note: this information will be sent to the LSE events team so that they can mail out tickets on the 10th May). Tickets will also be available on the door. You can find out more at:

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