Sunday, 7 July 2013

A glimpse of glory

Reflecting on Ruth Gee's Presidential Address, I was reminded of this poem from 'The Weaver, The Word and Wisdom. It may be of help to those attending Conference who find London a challenging place to be!

A Colour Catches My Eye

Lost in the hot crush of a heaving crowd,
I find myself frustrated by the tourist pace of casual, slow enquiry.
I am in a hurry.

I want to walk faster than this,
but the busy streets close around me.
I have a train to catch.

In the hustle of the holiday throng,
with a dozen different languages
rough on my ears,
I stand still.

Between the buildings a colour catches my eye.
A banner of flaming red,
scorched with yellow,
burns for a split second.

Brought to my ears
on an impudent breeze,
the sound of a samba band
beating to a rhythm of thunder and power.

From deep within my closed and worried throat
comes laughter,
uncalled for and unexpected,
bubbling up, brilliant with giggling joy.

I see myself lifted from sombre sobriety
to a state of intoxicated glee
that gives me a voice
and opens my eyes
to the reality of a city that is carnival chaos,
Mardi Gras magic and festival frenzied.

In a moment of grace
I know a new spirit,
moving my feet to a different rhythm
and my heart to a fuller way of loving.

Michaela Youngson

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

If only

A crowd of some hundreds gathered in the icy cold of the quad at Somerset House tonight to mark the possibility of changing the world.
Before the crowds arrived.
Charities, NGOs, faith groups and committed individuals shivered, texted, tweeted in solidarity as the new multi-agency campaign IF was launched by celebrities from business, screen, sport and entertainment. There's something almost uniquely British about the sound of mittens and gloves clapping in muffled appreciation of people preaching to the converted!

As Enough Food for Everyone - If was being launched in Parliament, it was also being live streamed from the more public event at Somerset House, the place we used to get our passports from. Passports are about identity and crossing borders - we need to be part of a new human identity with the ability to cross borders of the causes of hunger and that is what the IF campaign is all about.

These agencies, including MRDF, The Methodist Church, Christian Aid and Traidcraft (and almost 100 others) are working together to bring an end to hunger. In the hour we watched classy graphics and listened to guests remind us why this all matters, 200 children died of malnutrition. That hour and every hour and what is so heartbreaking is that it doesn't have to be this way.... if

... we work together in this campaign on FOUR BIG IFS...

IF we stop big companies dodging taxes in poor countries, so that millions of people can free themselves from hunger.

IF we make the right investments to stop people dying from hunger, and help the poorest people feed themselves.

IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land, and use crops to feed people, not fuel cars.  

IF we force governments and big corporations to be honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food.

This new campaign is going to be on the scale of Make Poverty History, if we get behind it. There are key dates and events throughout the year when together our voices can convince Governments to make real commitments to save the lives of millions.

Here's Bill Gates, who sent a message to the launch:

Another Bill spoke at the launch - Actor Bill Nighy, who reminded us that many gathered there would never have believed that apartheid would end in South Africa, yet Mandela is free and that regime is long gone and that Nelson Mandela made a point of thanking the millions who marched, wrote letters, campaigned and got together to end that injustice. It worked then, why can't such action work now? In fact what else will?

Bonnie Wright (who played Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter films) spoke about getting young people involved. She pointed out that her generation were born after apartheid, they don't have the experience of those marches and movements of mass concern. But they care and they have social networking and if they catch a vision and are helped to believe that working together changes things, they will get behind this.

What next? Sign up at to get news. I'm going to be looking for London Methodists who want to get behind this campaign, so contact me if you can help. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Waiting - A Reflection

Advent shines with anticipation as amidst the gloom of short days and drab skies a day of glorious winter sunshine breaks through. A forerunner to the light breaking into darkness, absolution announced by gracious creation shattering a penitential season.

In this pause, as heaven holds its breath, filling her lungs with the air needed to rent the skies apart with hallelujahs, earth waits, troubled, scarred and distracted.

Waiting, those whose hearts are breaking, relationships strained or shattered, left wondering what it was all about.
Waiting, those holding on to hear what the doctors might say, wondering how long before pain gives way to health or death.
Waiting, those whose jobs are at risk, wondering if they will be one of the lucky ones or if their world is going to become smaller and a struggle.
Waiting, those sleeping in sheds, doorways, shelters, refugee camps, wondering just how cold it will be tonight.
Waiting, those who lie awake listening to the sounds of unrest and rioting outside, wondering when peace will settle more deeply into their community.

Break into the waiting, Wonderful Counsellor
Break into the waiting, Prince of Peace
Hold those who are wondering,
Inspire hope in the hopeless
and disturb the comfortable.

Enter our longing, as we look for the glimpses of Immanuel, God with us.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Captain John Gravill

A brief account of the life of my ancestor, Captain John Gravill. He commanded the Diana, the last whaling ship to sail from Hull. He died 99 years before my birth, bar one day. He was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church and some sources suggest was a lay preacher. 15,000 people attended his funeral.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Reposted - a parable for the new Boss @ the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street

Matthew 18 a new perspective

The realm of heaven may not be compared to a Government that wished to settle accounts with it's financial institutions. One such institution had used the funds entrusted to it to lend to others who were unable to pay it back. The institution's account books looked at first glance to be very healthy but this was not true, the value on the books bore no relation to the capital supporting the institution's debts. Many who were owed money by the institution found that their account balances were worth less or worthless.

The Government was under pressure from the media and the public to support those who had lost their shirts as a result of the actions of the institution. The institution pleaded with the Government to be let off and to continue, arguing that to be punished for its actions would be disastrous as its creditors would loose out and the world would come to an end.

The Government rescued the institution giving it lots and lots of public money, letting it go and continue to trade in a similar way to that which had led to the trouble. The institution and its shareholders were happy.

A person who had borrowed money from the institution to buy a home was unable to pay. How did the institution (so recently in receipt of grace and oodles of tax=payer's money) act? It turned the borrower from their home along with the family.

How did the generous Government respond to this graceless and cruel action by the institution? It declared that this was not its problem, cut housing benefit, made it harder for the borrower to find work and continued to offer the institution all the support it needed, giving it until 2019 to change its working habits.

And the place of forgiveness in this story....?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

In Praise of Tuneful Dissent

"To speak the glories of God in a religious song, or to breath out the joys of our own spirits to God with the melody of our voice is an exalted part of Divine Worship. But so many are the imperfections in the practice of this duty that the greatest part of Christians find but little edification or comfort in it. There are some churches that utterly disallow singing, and I'm persuaded that the poor performance of it in the best societies, with the mistaken rules to which it is confined, is one great reason of their entire neglect. For we are left at a loss (say they) what is the matter and manner of this duty, and therefore they utterly refuse. Whereas if this glorious piece of worship were but seen in its original beauty, and one that believes not this ordinance, or is unlearned in this part of Christianity should come into such an assembly, he would be convinced of all, he would be judged of all, he would fall down on his face, and report that God was in the midst of it of a truth."
From a short Essay towards the improvement of psalmody, Isaac Watts.

Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748) is celebrated today by the Anglican Church (on the anniversary of his death). This is quite a reversal for the son of a Dissenter who was one of those exiled from the Church of England in the 'Great Ejection'. Isaac was at home in the dissenting tradition of his parents and was ordained as a non-conformist minister in 1703 (the year of John Wesley's birth). 

He is also known as the 'father of hymnody', able to write and speak in verse from a very early age his parents encouraged him to use the skill in relation to holy scripture.

I went today (somewhat unwillingly...) to Westminster Abbey for evening worship, where Watts was remembered. Three of his hymns formed the structure of the service, which was low church in its liturgical simplicity. Sadly, with no choir and most of the congregation being tourists who clearly never sing in church, the singing did no justice at all to his remarkable poetry nor to the great tunes Nativity, St Anne and the tremendous Truro.

It was strange being in the Abbey, just a few days after Synod and its institutional and systematic stumbling over its own feet. To hear the officiant talk about the 'Great Ejection' a few hundred yards from the site of this week's great rejection of women as bishops in the Church of England. Strange because of all the British cathedrals this feels the most over-stuffed with objects, like a Victorian parlour - busts to the great, the good, the deadly, the poetic - statues of dead men everywhere, accompanied by little naked cherubs in various states of joy, boredom or despair. How odd that Watt's memorial is there in a place that represents so much that the dissenters resented and wished to be free from.

Earlier in the week I attended Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral - in fact it was on Tuesday night, two hours before Synod heard the result of its debate and vote. Whilst some of the glories of that building leave me bewildered, it has a grace and beauty that stand as a tribute to Wren's genius to this day. It, in contrast to the Abbey, has a wonderful sense of airiness and space and the sight-lines are considerably better. The worship was gracious and the choir more than competent - I found myself lost in the Magnificat, holding all those women who bear Christ to the world today, in prayer. It was as if I (and others) were holding our breath during that service, waiting for a new birth, a fulfilling of a God inspired possibility and yet... no, the gestation is going to be longer and the labour more painful than is desirable or necessary.

Just in case you think that I've spent all week with my Covenant partners, I've done a lot of Methodist mingling too. More meetings than you can shake a stick at but also a visit to the ArtServe Conference where I spoke about my love of glass and my playing at being a glass-fusing artist.

ArtServe is formed in some ways by those who dissent and those who historically have held the tradition of hymnody precious within the life of the church. It is formed of the remnants of Creative Arts in Methodism and the Methodist Church Music Society. Artists, pushing the edges of articulating truth and beauty; musicians, contemporary and traditional - moving to the rhythms of God's creative Spirit and rich inheritors of the gifts of Watts, Wesley, Farrell, Bell, Pratt-Green....

Perhaps the wider church and, in this moment, the Church of England, might learn from such as Artserve, where those who move to very different tunes have stopped saying 'but we don't do it like that' and have begun to embrace and celebrate diversity as a gift and an imperative from the God who created us (male, female and in God's image).

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Made in the image of God?

World wide: women continue to be the majority of farmers, water fetchers, child bearers and carers in the world - the providers of food and education. 

Women continue to be raped, tortured, forced into marriage, trafficked for sex. 

Girl children continue to be killed, prevented from education, treated as chattels. 

Women continue to be paid less, to not have the vote in many countries, to not be allowed to drive in some. 

So just what message has the CofE sent to the daughters, granddaughters, mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces of the world? 

And what does it say to the sons, grandsons, fathers, brothers,uncles and nephews about how the church values women?