Musings of a Cathedral Mouse- A Place of Hope

My second week in Chester Cathedral has been exciting and varied. It has included a whole variety of roles and opportunities but two of the most difficult challenges have been planning two large services. This may not come as a surprise as I am mostly spending the month shadowing the Canon Precentor.

The first service was a large funeral for a member of the Cathedral community, and in this act I have found a thread of Cathedral life which could be overlooked, the Cathedral as a place of Hope.

In the funeral liturgy we read of our certain hope in the resurrection. We acknowledge that death is not the end of our Christian journey and we speak of hope.

One of the prominent theme’s of Cathedral life is the mingling of different strands of business and worship. Dean Tim talks about creating a culture which is focused on Christ. A culture which has Christ at it’s heart. A culture founded on hope and this was something found both in the funeral but also in the second service I took part in: The Licensing of Pastoral Workers and Readers.

This second service spoke of hope in a different way. It spoke of the hope of the Christian faith continuing. Of faithful disciples witnessing to the Good News of Jesus in their communities. Over 600 people came to celebrate with them and cheer them on as they began their new ministries and it was wonderful to be a part of.

But one of the most striking moments for me was when we stood outside the West Doors and finished the final hymn and said the grace. In this moment Bishop Keith reminded us that this was what it was about. Stood outside the Cathedral on lookers filming this rather peculiar spectacle we were demonstrating the hope of our faith. It was a very powerful moment for me to reflect on!

I think at the heart of Cathedral life is hope. Hope that there is a different way to live. Whether it be through saying the offices, or celebrating the ministry of the diocese, there is hope found in the worshiping life of this Cathedral.

But, there is hope in other places as well. There is hope in lighting a candle with the mourning parent. There is hope in listening to the honorary chaplain telling stories about people’s differing needs. There is hope in listening to how the vergers care for people who have nowhere else to turn. There is hope in encouraging one person to remember that God can is with them in their daily life.

Many people enter the cathedral, some are explicitly looking for God but many are not. I am filled with hope that all encounter God in their own way, and fully believe that without spaces like this they may never encounter God at all.

Hope lingers,

Hope dwells,

Hope hovers and broods.

Hope does not demand,

Or expect.

Hope for the hopeless,

Hope for the hopeful,

Hope for those who regret.

A flickering candle,

The music of Handel,

Prayers fumbled

Silence which humbles

All

fill this cathedral with hope.

Musings of a Cathedral Mouse: A place of Welcome

This week I began to experience my first taste of Cathedral life at Chester Cathedral and I thought I would keep a sporadic blog to reflect on some of the experiences and to look back at later and ponder what God was up to at the time.

The first thing I want to reflect upon, sat drinking a steaming cup of coffee having completed my first full week of Cathedral life is how welcome I have been made to feel. The welcome has been wonderful, people have spent time with me (answering no end of questions), let me follow them and watch what they do and make me cups of tea when I have needed.

But I am not the only one. Every pilgrim who ventured through the doors seemed to be welcomed with a smile. Whether they be a tourist looking for an “experience”, I thoroughly recommend climbing the 246 steps to the top of the tower, or the person who wants to come and light a candle and pray. Everyone was welcomed with sensitivity and a smile. Chester Cathedral tries to go out of its way to welcome you, whether you be HRH Princess Ann to the person who refused to give his name but wanted to talk, we try to be a place of Welcome.

This may not sound like much but in the midst of a busy city I think it is important to be a place of warmth and welcome. Each morning the day begins with morning prayer. Gathered in a small chapel, around a single candle flame, we welcome the day with its unpredictability and thank God for those who we will encounter. But I will cover prayer later!

For now I end with this..

Whiskers twitching,

Nose sniffing,

There’s something in the air.

Not bread, not cheese,

Nor incensed steam,

But some form of deeper joy.

As the doors creak open,

Something is awoken,

A welcome beyond word or prayer,

A smile,

A nod,

A welcome that offers care,

A welcome that needs to be shared.

Journey of Hope in Neston

Lent may be past us but in Muthuraj Swamy’s Reconciliation which was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2019 lent book, the author writes: ‘Reconciliation begins with God, because it is God who initiated – and continues in – relationship with the world.’ The word reconciliation can be scary for so many reasons. It requires us to be willing to offer ourselves, to acknowledge our mistakes and be willing to listen to the other. It is however, ultimately about relationship. 

Over the past five months I have journeyed with twenty other Christian leaders as we have explored the work of reconciliation and peace in the U.K. and Ireland. We have visited several sights of pilgrimage, we have been taught lessons by those who are further along the road than us and we have supported each other as we have quickly learnt what it means to invest deeply in relationships.  

This journey has been a real privilege, it has opened my eyes to the breadth and diversity of the wonderful work that the church is involved in: the supporting of prisoners, working with divided communities, walking alongside people who have been abandoned by those who swore to protect them and it is a journey which I hope to share with you. 

For those of you who have accepted the offer we will journey together over the next month, we will share stories together as we come to appreciate the work of God in each of us, and hopefully we will end the month more enthused to listen to what God is up to here in Neston. 

The call to reconciliation is for all of us however and I encourage you, whoever you are, to think about the part you play. I encourage you to think about the ways you can help to be a part of our community, and to that end I leave you with this reminder from Swamy: ‘In reality reconciliation is greater. . . it is a long process of building relationships.’ 

I pray then for your relationships, I pray that you may begin to find words of peace and hope this month and remember that we are called to the work of reconciliation by the one who formed us, loves us and is one-in-three, the beautiful dance that is, the Trinity.

Amen. 

Reconciliation and Relationship: A reading of Genesis 2

In Genesis 2 God created Adam and Eve out of nothingness. On Ash Wednesday Christians around the world with gather in churches and receive the sign of the cross on their forehead, and will hear these words:

“Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return, repent and turn to Christ.” 

These words remind us that we were created by God, whether man or woman we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are not God, we do not have all the answers and that is okay because our God is a God of mystery. We believe in the mystery because we were created within that mystery. Whether man or woman we were created in unity and in mutuality to help creation flourish, we have strayed from that call and I think God is calling us back into relationship with creation. 

Genesis 2 tells us the story of Man and Woman being created in unity. In unity with each other and in unity with the world. It tells of a vision which we should strive for, a perfect unity in which all can live and move and have our being. Yet, we only have to go to Genesis 3 to hear of human’s response to that very vision. To read the story of Adam and Eve becoming creatures of oppression, trapped in a cycle of abuse. We read about them being tainted, of Sinentering the world. However, throughout the ensuing story one thing remains: God’s desire to be in relationship with us. Throughout the story there is always the possibility for change, for reconciliation back to God. 

         God is calling us back into relationship, trying to reconcile our relationship with the planet as well. That doesn’t mean that we are being called back into relationship with a church denomination, or a specific set of belief, but we are being called back into relationship with the God who made us and the God who loves us. In Genesis 2 we read of God wanting us to be in partnership. Not just union as Man and Woman, but for us to live in union with the whole of creation. Israel’s faith reflected this. The story of Israel demonstrated a people who understood their call to live in a world where solidarity, fidelity and responsibility are essential. Israel had a word for this, and that word is Shalom. Shalom, which has been mistreated and misinterpreted, means much more than peace. Shalom is about wholeness, about mutuality and about unity. Shalom is the kind of peace which can only come from the true flourishing of all. Shalom is not the kind of unity which we can pay lip service to, it is the unity which is found in God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

On the surface the word reconciliation can seem daunting. I know it was for me when I sat in a room with 20 other Christian leaders who appeared to have far more experience than I did. It also seems like big dream stuff, the desire of reconciling waring nations, divided communities or a fractured church. Yet at the heart of reconciliation is relationship. This is what Genesis 2 reminds us of. It reminds us that we are not just called into relationship with each other. We are called into relationship with God and with the planet. How often do we perceive Christian faith in terms of mission and evangelism? In terms of oppression and belief systems. We want to reconcile our fellow society to God, and yet we fail to think about our own journey. We fail to think about how our life reflects and demonstrates God’s desire to be in relationship with us.

Genesis 2 tells us a story of relationship. It reminds us of our calling into relationship and unity; relationship with each other, relationship with the planet and relationship with God. All our life decisions should reflect that desire for God to be in relationship with ALL of creation. Relationship is key to our reading of the Bible, our living out our Christian faith and our striving for reconciliation and peace.

The Eucharist: Unity and Reconciliation

Every Friday, after the Litany of Reconciliation, those who wish process into  Coventry Cathedral and gather in the Chapel of Unity to take part in the Eucharist. They gather not as Protestant or Catholics; Anglican or Methodist, but as Christian brothers and sisters stood around the alter facing each other. There is something very powerful about facing somebody, to see somebody over the alter. I am always reminded, as I come to preside at the Eucharist that we are all gathered as individuals who are, in those moments, united by our faith. We are all unique, diverse, created by God in God’s likeness but in communion we are reminded of our common body. The body of Christ gathered, facing each other, ready to receive Christ’s body afresh.

The Chapel of Unity is dedicated to this mission, to unite ‘the Anglican Church and the Free Church together for Christian service in Coventry.’ Born out of pain and suffering this mission was dreamt of in 1945 and eventually took shape in the chapel that is present today. It is a constant reminder of the unity which we seek and the risk it involves. The room is not perfect, in fact the floor slopes down to where to alter sits. But then the work of reconciliation isn’t perfect either; it is always messy, always difficult and never fully complete. Yet, in the Eucharist we get a sense of its completion. We begin to glimpse what we, as Christians, are striving towards and we begin to hope for a better world. 

The Eucharist is one of the most significant acts of worship in the Church; whether you call it Mass or the Lord’s Supper, what we are doing is remembering what Christ did for us and what Christ calls us to do. The word Eucharist, which is what most people call this shared meal means “thanksgiving” and you truly get a sense of giving thanks when you are gathered inside the new Cathedral having come in from the old. 

Gathered

This is the one of first things to take place in any Eucharist service. There should always be time for preparation for the Eucharist and in Coventry it is the Litany of Reconciliation which acts as the preparation. But, after the preparation comes the Gathering. The Gathering transforms the gathered individuals, however many are present, into a gathered community ready for worship. It reminds them why they are there and points them on their journey towards Christ.

The idea of journeying is very prominent in the work of reconciliation. It may not come as a surprise that those who want to achieve reconciliation are often journeying towards it. As pilgrims we gather together and begin our collective journey. But journey’s are no good without a destination, you can wander aimlessly for hours, getting lost, unsure of where you are going if you don’t have a destination to speak of. In the Eucharist the destination is Christ, at the very heart of the Eucharist is Christ. It is the same for the journey of reconciliation, as Christians, at the heart of reconciliation is Christ. We are being called to be reconciled to God through Christ. 

Reminded

Next comes the liturgy of the word. However short this is, it is an important part of the Eucharist and therefore shouldn’t be rushed or skipped over. It reminds us of our story, of where we have come from and of who we are. By reading and interpreting the word of God we are constantly reminded of the journey that faith involves. Whether it be through the eyes of Israel, or the disciples, or the Early Church we are told stories that remind us of our past. 

Stories hold a key role in reconciliation. Time and again I have been surprised by people’s stories. As people tell you their story they open up and connect to you. Stories connect people, they help people to begin to understand the journey and they turn acquaintances into friends. Dare I suggest that stories can even turn enemies into friends. At the heart of the ministry of Coventry Cathedral is a story, it is a story full of pain and loss, but it is also a story which united people. It united people around a common cause. It turned enemies into friends and it helped them to discern what their story was. 

At the heart of the Eucharist is the story of a God who loves us and wants to be reconciled to us. We should put this story at the heart of any reconciliation work we do, for without it we are simply speaking empty words. It is only through Christ that we can truly be reconciled to ourselves, to our neighbours and to God. 

Reconciled

It is in the liturgy of the sacrament that reconciliation truly begins to take shape. This liturgy usually begins with the peace, although there is option to include it elsewhere in the service, it acts as the bridge between the liturgy of the word and that of the sacrament. The peace is a glimpse of reconciliation within itself. Although announced by the priest, the priest is not the one who brings peace. In fact, we are all ministers of Christ’s peace. Just as we are all in need of it as well. It is this peace, sometimes given reluctantly, other times with hesitation, that is perfected within community. This peace will roll on, it will continue as we gather and talk after communion, it will continue as the priest begins to prepare the elements. But more than this, it is a gift from Christ which is perfected as we strive to become more Christ like in our day to day lives. 

Broken 

Once the elements have been taken and blessed, two of the most important aspects of the Eucharist, they are then broken. These words, see below, can be used as a priest fractures the host, which for me, signify the brokenness that unites us all:

We break this bread 

To share in the body of Christ

Though we are many, we are one body, 

Because we all share in one bread. 

Although this is not something that scholars have agreed upon, it has been a prominent idea since the second century. The idea of the broken bread reflecting the broken body of Christ on the cross is a powerful tool for reconciliation and peace. We, as reconciler’s, bring our brokenness to the table and offer it to God. Just as Christ offers us his brokenness. From this broken state wonderful things can come to light. From broken bread and wine outpoured can come abundant blessings and promises of hope. 

Sent 

The final part of the Eucharist is the sending out. This is a crucial part of the service as it reminds us that just as we have been drawn into the mystery of God’s divine love, so are we sent out as messengers of God’s divine love. The Deacon’s proclamation: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” is a strong command. It shapes who we should be as Christ’s followers. We may be pilgrims gathered around the Lord’s table, but we are pilgrims who are sent out with an urgent and important task. As those gathered together in the Chapel of Unity you are reminded of the practicalities of such a task. You are reminded as you exit the Cathedral and see the Old Cathedral ruins, you are reminded when you think of those words “Father, Forgive.” But, we are not sent out alone but as part of a new community. A new community shaped by Christ. We are sent out as part of the body of Christ, challenged to live in love and peace with all. 

Reconciliation and The Eucharist

At the heart of the Eucharist is the telling of the story of God’s love for creation. It is a story which reflects not just the nature of reconciliation but God’s heart to be reconciled to us.  It reminds us of the gift which God has already offered us and challenges us to shape our lives in response to that gift. 

In the Eucharist we are gathered; gently collected by God so that we can be prompted on a journey. We are reminded; we hear of God’s love for us and desire to be reconciled to us. We are reconciled; we are told of God’s love and reconciled to each other, made into a fragile community which is shaped by God. We are broken; we are reminded of God’s brokenness and see it in our broken lives. We are sent; we are challenged to “Go” to be reconcilers in the world, to tell people of God’s love and to bring them to the table at which reconciliation can truly begin. 

This is not meant to be a detailed explanation of the Eucharist, it never intended to create a detailed theology of reconciliation in light of the Eucharist. But, I hope it offers pause for thought. For those who are privileged to preside of the Eucharist, I hope it challenges you to rethink how you preside over this sacred meal and what message you are giving to the people gathered. For those whose faith is sustained by the Eucharist I hope it offers a moment of reflection. And, for those who do not know, or are not close to it, I hope this reflection prompts you to see the Eucharist as one of the key tenants for reconciling your relationship with God. 

Bibliography 

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England

Castle, B, Reconciliation: The journey of a lifetime

Gordon-Taylor, B and Jones, S, Celebrating The Eucharist: A Practical Guide

Davidson, A and Milbank, C, For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions 

Dix, G, The Shape of the Liturgy 

Schuegraf, O, The Cross of Nails: Joining in God’s Mission of Reconciliation

Reconciler’s Together #JourneyofHope

Sat in Coventry Cathedral looking from the new out onto the old Cathedral ruins, darkness blotting out the path I began to comprehend that reconciliation is about more than bringing people or community groups back together. Reconciliation is about far more than restoring what used to be. Reconciliation is transformative, it is scary, and it is what God calls us all to do.

The action of sending Jesus to live amongst us was transformative, it changed the dynamic of things. Jesus demanded us to think about our neighbour, to not be self-centred or pious but to see our relationship with God through a different lens. 

One of the first exemplars of this was Anthony of Egypt.  Anthony entered the desert at a time when the Church was facing great persecution, he believed that the Church could do more to encourage people to live differently. This call was heard by others and soon people sought him out with the desire to deepen and reconcile their relationship with God. Anthony had a saying, he used to say: ‘Our life and death is with our neighbour.’ It is through seeingour neighbour, truly seeing them as reflections of God, that reconciliation can take place. Not just seeing them and moving on but seeing them and responding to their need, as well as letting them respond to ours. 

It would have been far easier for the community of Coventry Cathedral to have responded to the bombing which destroyed the cathedral by taking the upper hand; to focus on forgiving them and praying for them. To write the words “Father, forgive them”, would not have cost them a thing. This would not have led to transformation, it would not have bridged the divides between two waring nations. The words: “Father, forgive”, on the other hand acknowledge the part we all have to play in the perpetual messiness of life. These are the words written on the old Cathedral walls. Father, forgive.It is far more difficult for us to acknowledge the role we play in hurting others. Far harder to ask for forgiveness than to offer it out. Coventry Cathedral models a radical, and frankly messy, model for reconciliation. It is true reconciliation however because it acknowledges the role we all play.

As you stand, shoulder to shoulder, with friend and stranger and respond to the litany of reconciliation in the Old Cathedral ruins you become aware of the part you have played. But you also become aware of the part you could play. For where there is remorse there is hope. From the old Cathedral you can stare across the void into the new and you are reminded that God came to birth hope out of destruction. To offer reconciliation in the midst of all the messiness and pain. 

 It can only be through deepening our relationship with God though that we are able to begin to deepen our relationships with others. It is through being aware of our neighbour that we can see God Invisible become more visible, as the Message translation paraphrased:

‘The Word became flesh and blood, 

and moved into the neighbourhood. 

We saw the glory with our own eyes, 

the one-of-a-kind glory,

like Father, like Son, 

Generous inside and out, 

True from start to finish.

(John 1:14-18)

Anthony set an example which is hard to follow, to reject the world and be reconciled to God through Christ. Coventry Cathedral’s history and mission reminds us of the challenge of acknowledging the role we all play in causing pain. These may not be the easiest examples to follow but they are important reminders to those of us who wish to work towards reconciliation. They remind us that at the heart of reconciliation is God. That at the heart of everything is God. They tell us that it is only God who can transform and forgive, and they challenge us to see our neighbour through God’s eyes. It is only when we make the invisible visible and acknowledge God, present amongst us, can we work towards reconciliation. Reconciliation of other-to-other but also our own reconciliation, through Christ, to God. 

As you journey with me on my journey of reconciliation, whatever that may look like, I will be offering short blogs about reconciliation and about the #JourneyofHope that I am on. Some will be practical, others more theoretical, but at the heart of these blogs will be the desire, shown in the life of Anthony of Egypt, to deepen our relationship with God and to make the invisible God more visible in our communities and world. 

Advent Journey #3.. An Advent Poem

John foretold long ago,

of a man who was to come, 

the Saviour of the world was He, 

the Hope of non and some. 

This man was Christ

who is our light,

our Hope, our Joy, our Peace.

For one and all, 

he shows the way, 

of justice, peace and love.

He challenges us to care and watch,

with friend, and stranger now. 

He came to love one and all, 

no matter what the cost.

He is our Hope, our Light, Our Peace.

His is our King,

our Friend.

He is our hope of Kingdom Come.

So come seek him out this day,

Find him meek and mild,

all wrapped in cloth

and in a manger lay.

Be filled with Hope and Love and Peace.

And yet in return,

be challenged to journey to the edge.

To love the friend and stranger

who has no hope,

no love,

no care.

Show love to all

walk close to Christ

and ever hope and dream,

Praying earnestly like John

For God’s kingdom to come.

Advent Journey #2… Advent Cries

Advent cries for us…


Caught up in the busyness of this Christmas season advent cries for us. It longs for us to return, to make use of its deep hues of purple and flickering gold. 

This week we remembered the the prophets of old. Those men and women, who pointed Israel and us, towards God, who desire and year for us to repent and search for forgiveness and peace.

Repent seems like such a hard word, it is the word of the Street Preacher stood on his soap box telling us the kingdom is here: turn or burn! 

Yet we all repent. We all feel sincere regret when we do something wrong, it is just we often fail to acknowledge iy. We like to move on to the forgiveness without facing the pain we have caused. 

What have you done wrong this week? Who have you ignored or rejected, who have you argued with or hurt? 

If we are to strive for communities of peace and love then we need to repent with sincere hearts. We need to say sorry to those we have hurt, rejected, ignored. We do not journey alone, and if we journey with others we have to love others. As we pray for peace this advent let us remember those we have hurt and try to ask for forgiveness so that we may move towards Christ, who is our Prince of Peace.

In this second week of Advent, 

as the waiting and expectations heighten, 

deepen our desires for peace. 

Amen 

Christian Aid prayer for Advent 2

Advent Journey #1

Advent is the time of journeys.

It is the time when we think about Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem. It is the time of year when the Church begins it’s new year, where we begin the journey once again. A journey which will end with us triumphantly declaring Christ the king.

Often advent is a time of journeying for us. It is the frantic journey to Christmas, with all the demands that brings.

The frantic present buying, the hurried last minute dashed off work emails, the busy social calendars. December seems to bring a constant rush of stuff, which stops us from slowing down and taking stock. Advent should not be such a time – this week we have journeyed with the patriarchs, as we lit our first advent candle we journeyed with Abram and Sarai.

Their journey was one of unexpected joy, miraculous promises and future hope.

I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.

How easy it would have been to dismiss such a promise, how easy it is for us to forget what advent is all about. Our journey, like Abram and Sarai, is one filled with unexpected joy, miraculous promises and future hope. So wherever you find yourself this week remember that you do not journey alone.

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