Monthly Archives: January 2013

Two exciting upcoming CTC events

The Greater London Presence and Engagement Network (PEN) which is based at the Contextual Theology Centre, is offering a dynamic programme of information and debate via two events on Monday 18th February in the London Bridge area. They have been deliberately designed to work together as one seamless garment or as two stand alone items.


Making Sense of the Census

2.30 – 4.00pm at Trinity House, 4 Chapel Court, Borough High Street, London SE1 1HW

The afternoon will look at:

– The big picture from the 2011 Census figures nationally and for (Greater) London

– The key headlines

– What the stats tell us (and what don’t they tell us)

– How to avoid the traps of misinterpretation and respond to tabloid oversimplification

– How the data will be accessible on a parish by parish basis

We will offer tools for working with the data and other sources to read alongside. There will also be opportunity for theological reflection and to think through using the data in a mission action plan. Building partnerships is built in to the afternoon. As well as a question slot there will be chance to discuss how to repeat the session at a Deanery, Churches Together or PCC event.

There is then opportunity to grab a bite to eat (many local venues providing a variety of fare) and attend evensong (choral) at Southwark Cathedral (5.30)

 Jesus Green Bethnal Green

Guardian or Gatekeeper, Faith in the Public Space and the role of the Church – The PEN lecture
6.30 for 7.00pm

St George the Martyr, Borough High Street, London SE1 1JA

The Dean of St Paul’s, The Very Revd Dr David Ison draws on his experiences as Dean of Bradford and his sabbatical travels (in early 2012) to reflect on Christian-Muslim (and other inter faith) relations in very different contexts and how that might inform his work in London. There will be opportunity to respond as part of the evening. Previous PEN lectures have been ‘Sharing the Gospel of Salvation’ by Dr John Azumah and ‘What do we bring to the Party; The Mission of the Church in a multi faith neighbourhood’ by The Revd Dr Toby Howarth.

These events are open to all (lay or ordained) interested in ministry and mission in our great world city. To ensure we have sufficient spaces and tea cups please do register  for either or both by emailing

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Gospel reflections for Sun 3 February

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Candlemas .  The Gospel reading (Luke 2.22-40) recounts Jesus’ presentation in the temple, forty days after his birth. Simeon and Anna have been watching and waiting in the temple, it having been revealed to Simeon that ‘he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah’.  As Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the temple, Simeon takes him in his arms and recites a prayer used in countless churches every evening down the centuries which have followed (at Evensong or Night Prayer):

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

Simeon then goes on to warn Mary:

This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Candlemas is a sort of ‘hinge’  in the Christian year – as we turn from the cycle of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany (focusing on the birth of Christ, and his light dawning upon a broken world) towards the cycle of Lent, Easter and Pentecost (focusing on the cross and resurrection – and the birth of the Church as an ongoing witness to that saving work).  Simeon’s prophecy looks back and forward – hailing the Christ-child as a ‘light for revelation’ and warning Mary that he will grow up to be ‘a sign that will be opposed’.

The prayers in Common Worship reflect this:

Father, here we bring to an end our celebration
of the Saviour’s birth.
Help us, in whom he has been born,
to live his life that has no end.
Here we have rejoiced with faithful Simeon and Anna.
Help us, who have found the Lord in his temple,
to trust in your eternal promises.
Here we turn from Christ’s birth to his passion.
Help us, for whom Lent is near,
to enter deeply into the Easter mystery.

As we read the Candlemas Gospel, we find a great richness of themes to reflect upon – themes which are not simply of theoretical interest, but which should shape our life as Christ’s Body today. These include…

– The remarkable way in which wisdom and patience of old age (embodied in Simeon and Anna) encounters the potential of new life – How do we celebrate all ages, and their contributions to the Body of Christ in the life of our local churches?  

– The central place of waiting in the life of Christian discipleship – What is the place in our church’s life for silence and stillness – not as an escape from life, but as an essential precondition of faithful and courageous action?

…The combination in the Christian life of delight and of sacrifice  How do we combine the joyful celebration of the light of Christ with a recognition of the swords that continue to pierce the disciple’s heart?

Prayer Intentions

Pray for all Christians planning their individual and corporate observance of Lent – that it may include space the genuine, attentive waiting on God which we see in Simeon and Anna.  Pray for all who will take part in the Contextual Theology Centre’s Lenten Quiet Afternoon on the theme of silence.

From an east end pub to St Paul’s Cathedral…

Centre Director Angus Ritchie blogs on our spring programme, where we will be taking theology beyond the walls of the church:

Community Bible Studies

Over the last 4 months we have been studying the Bible together outside the usual ecclesiastical settings.  Andy Walton has blogged on these Community Bible Studies – in which we are finding that God is speaking to us in fresh ways because we are making the effort to read His word deep in the community.   We will be meeting next  at noon on Monday 4th February in the Hudson Bay pub, Forest Gate, with the Revd Chigor Chike (from the neighbouring Emmanuel Parish Church).  The Bible Study finishes at 1pm – and those who have time to stay are welcome to have lunch together.

Lent Programme

The Centre’s programme for Lent includes a mixture of contemplation and action – beginning with an afternoon on Silence: Practicing the Presence of God with speakers from the Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox and Anglican churches.

We have also launched Seeing Changea Lent course which includes an innovative mixture of Bible study and community engagement.  (A version of the course is also available for other times of year.)  Churches participating in the course will spend three weeks reflecting on the Biblical story of the prophet Nehemiah, before moving into action with a Money Talk held either in the church building or elsewhere in the neighourhood.

You are warmly invited to the Sunday evening (6pm) service St Paul’s Cathedral on 17th March, at which those involved in Seeing Change will be leading intercessions for all affected by the financial crisis, and all working for a more just and compassionate economic order.

February also sees the annual Presence & Engagement Lecture – which is this year given by the Dean of St Paul’s, who travels south of the river to St George the Martyr SE1.  At 7pm on  Monday 18th February, he will give a talk entitled Guardian or Gatekeeper? Faith in the Public Square and the role of the Church – and this public lecture is preceded by an afternoon workshop on Making Sense of the Census.  Full details of both events, and a Near Neighbours workshop later in the month, are on the CTC website.

Gospel reflections for Sun 27 January

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the last in a series which have run from  the Feast of the Epiphany about the different ways in which Jesus’ glory is manifest in the world.  We have read of the visit of the Magi (Jan 6), the Baptism of Christ (Jan 13), the turning of the water into wine at Cana (Jan 20) and today we read of Jesus’ sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4.14-21) – when he reveals himself as the one in whom Isaiah’s prophecy of ‘Good News to the poor…release to the captives… [and] the year of the Lord’s favour’ [that is, the year of Jubilee] is fulfilled.

The Eucharistic Prayer used in the Church of England at this time of year draws these different Gospel readings together into a single thread of Jesus’ self-revelation:

In the coming of the Magi
the King of all the world was revealed to the nations.
In the waters of baptism
Jesus was revealed as the Christ,
the Saviour sent to redeem us.
In the water made wine
the new creation was revealed at the wedding feast.
Poverty was turned to riches, sorrow into joy.

In thinking about Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel, it is important to see it as part of this wider series.  The ‘Good News for the poor’ is both a promise of personal redemption – as we recognise Jesus Christ as the one through whom our sins are washed away, and we are reconciled to God – and a promise of social transformation – as the whole creation is called to reveal God’s love and his justice.

The image we were given last Sunday, of the water used for purification under the law being turned into the wine of celebration, draws these two aspects of the ‘Good News’ together.  It has both a personal component (I don’t need to earn my salvation – it comes as a free gift of grace) and a social one (the foretaste of the Kingdom is of a common feast, at which all can enjoy God’s abundant generosity).

These two aspects of the Gospel are also brought together each time we gather to share the Eucharist. Here we experience salvation as a gift, not an achievement – and also see a model of Kingdom relationships and Kingdom sharing, of the good things of creation distributed in a way that ensures all are welcomed and all are fed.  As we hear Jesus proclaim ‘Good News to the poor’ and the year of Jubilee – how are we called to experience that reality in our personal walk with Jesus, and in our common witness as his Body in a world with so much injustice and need?

Prayer Intentions

The Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre have now launched their Lent materials – which help churches address these questions in relation to their local contexts.  (These courses can also be used at other times in the year.)  Pray for churches who will be using these and other resources to consider how to receive and embody that Good News with fresh passion and power this Lent.


Money’s too tight not to mention – ‘Seeing Change’ Lent course released

We live in tough times. As queues at Food Banks grow and benefits are cut, more and more people in Britain are finding that there’s ‘far too much month left at the end of their money’. At the same time gambling shops are sucking £5bn a year from poor communities, over a million Britons are without access to basic banking services, and payday lenders are raking in enormous profits by trapping people in spirals of debt. With Lent nearly upon us, CTC is calling on churches to become pro-active in combating these depressing signs of our unjust economic system.


If the Church wants to offer hope to those around, it needs to find ways to talk about these issues. That’s why the Contextual Theology Centre has partnered with the Church Urban Fund to produce a five-week Lent Course to help churches explore the deep Biblical tradition on money and connect it to the experiences of ordinary people today. The course is called Seeing Change and combines studies of the story of Nehemiah with an event called a Money Talk which is designed to help gather evidence of local people’s experiences of the economic situation and what they’d like to see the Church do about it.

Depford High St FMoS7.jpg

Go to to download the Leader’s Guide and a Guide to Holding a Money Talk. If you have any questions about the course and how your Church might use it, please get in touch with David Barclay, the Faith in Public Life Officer at the Contextual Theology Centre, at or on 07791633117.

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Reflections & Prayers for Sun 13 Jan

This Sunday, the Church celebrates the Baptism of Christ – and the Gospel reading is from Luke 3 (verses 15-17 and 21-22)

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’

The Holy Spirit is often pictured as fire – not least when he descends upon the disciples at Pentecost.

What happens when we are baptised ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’?  One thing we can be sure of – a life which is open to the Spirit, open to his ‘fire’, will never be shallow.   It is to both patience and passion that the Gospel summons us.

In the early years of the church, many Christians felt called to live as monks in the desert – imitating the ministry of John the Baptist and also Jesus’ time in the wilderness.  They went to wait, to clear their hearts and minds of distractions.

Their calling needed patience –   but, as their writings show, patience alone was not enough:

A young monk approached Father Anthony: “I have fasted and prayed and studied, as you have taught me. What else should I do?” And Father Anthony replied, “Why don’t you become all fire?”  (From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

It’s a good question each for us to ask ourselves at the start of the year – “Why don’t you become all fire?”  What would it mean to move to a new level, of depth and passion, in my discipleship in 2013?  How can I become more committed in my following of Jesus, without simply ‘burning myself out’?

We need to make sure we don’t confuse more commitment with more running around.  The fire needs to be from God, not from our own resources, if it is to go on blazing.

And if there are new things which God is calling you to do, are there also old things you need to stop doing – space you need to clear in your life, distractions to remove, in order to focus on this vocation?

Prayer intentions

Pray for the staff at the Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre as they complete work on two exciting new Lent Courses for 2013.  Pray that these may help churches to be clearer about God’s calling for them in the year ahead – and help them to draw on his resources, not simply their own, in working for social transformation.

More on the ‘New Atheism’

Centre Director Angus Ritchie begins 2013 with a blog on our work on Christian apologetics:

One old post on this blog that continues to generate interest is the Centre’s Response to Richard Dawkins 2011 Christmas Message.  In the intervening year, we’ve continued to engage with the ‘New Atheist’ critique of Christian faith in public life – both challenging its assertions about the impact of Christian practice and advancing a robust intellectual case for Christian belief.

I’ve written a piece in this week’s Church Times which sets out why the ‘New Atheism’ looks increasingly shaky – and why Christians should have no fear of a more robust but reasoned engagement between different worldviews.  This is an issue we’ll be returning to in the months ahead, as our research partnerships with the Universities of Notre Dame and Oxford generate further resources and debate.