Some notes on class, relevance and the Church

Lynne Cullens

The following has been adapted from a series of speaker’s notes I’ve put together and delivered in various forms.  It is not meant to be any form of expert view or academic piece, merely a collection of thoughts from my own experience which some have apparently found helpful. 

Ordsall 1960s

Ordsall, in the late 1960’s during slum clearance (Manchester Evening News)

I’m a parish priest in the Anglican Church and I’m going to dive straight in with a story showing why, I believe, class is such an issue for us in terms of Church of England culture.

A couple of years ago I was in a women’s regional church leadership meeting.  One of the female clergy there relayed the true account of a phone call she had recently received from a young woman who’d called her to ask if she could discuss a strong call to ordination she was feeling.   When she…

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Four Quartets

I first read T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets when I was studying English Literature A Level at secondary school in Lymm in Cheshire. Perhaps its my age but I can only now remember our lessons being on hot sunny afternoons in a tiny upstairs classroom where (despite all the normal distractions for a 17 year old) I remember being struck by the beauty of the sound of the words and of the images created in my mind: ‘In my beginning is my end. In succession houses rise and fall, crumble are extended, are removed, destroyed, restored or in their place is an open field , or a factory or a by-pass’.

At the same time I was challenged by Eliot’s Christian faith one of the major themes in the poem and at a time when I was wrestling with my own faith I felt that here was God once again not letting me off the hook or letting me escape, because even at school I was reading about Christ.

The Four Quartets refer to four places: Burnt Norton a house south of Stratford-upon-Avon, East Coker a village in Somerset , Little Gidding a small chapel and former religious community north of Cambridge and The Dry Salvages a group of rocks off the coast of Massachusetts in the USA.

I went to East Coker some years ago and saw ‘…the deep lane shuttered with branches , dark in the afternoon, where you lean against a bank while a van passes’. Strangely though when I read this line I still picture in my mind the lane at the back of my secondary school leading down into Lymm village which was dark in the afternoon, shuttered with branches.

In November 2018 I finally made the journey to Little Gidding and was made welcome at a short service in the chapel and at a simple lunch afterwards. It was so strange after forty years to visit the place I had read about in the hot cramped classroom in Lymm where Little Gidding sounded so fascinating and yet so remote, almost dream like.

I did ‘…turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade and the tombstone’. And found as Eliot said; ‘ You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity or carry report. You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid’.

A further major theme in the Four Quartets is of timelessness and it did feel as Eliot said that:

‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’.

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Wesley

We recently visited Cornwall for the first time and I was amazed how different it felt to the rest of the west country which I had visited before. We stayed just outside Redruth the former centre of the tin mining industry and all around us were the atmospheric remains of old Tin Mines many abandoned after the WW1 following the discovery of cheaper sources of tin overseas. I was also surprised by how near the north coast of Cornwall was to the south coast Newquay

to Falmouth is no distance at all. I think though that one of the strongest impressions left to me about Cornwall were the number of Wesleyan Chapels. There was an enormous Chapel in Redruth and it seemed if every small hamlet had a chapel with a whole variety of churches (mostly non conformist) in larger towns. John Wesley first went to Cornwall in 1743 and returned a further 32 times before his death in 1791. Wesley often preached outside and at

Gwennap Pit ( a large natural amphitheatre in the ground) he preached to crowds of 20,000. The people of Cornwall really took to Wesley’s loud and clear message that salvation and the growth in personal holiness was available to everyone rich and poor alike. Also remaining in Cornwall are many Miners Institutes, Schools and Free Libraries signs that people wanted not just holy lives but also education and self improvement which dovetailed closely with Methodism’s Bible Study Groups and lay preaching. Perhaps the challenge for the church today is to know how to communicate the offer Wesley made in the 17th century to the people of the 21st century.

Learning with the public sector – what does it mean to be a 21st century public servant

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Since I have felt called to the diaconate I have become a bit of a servant-geek. (Possibly because the word deacon comes from the Greek word Diakonia which is often translated as servant.) So when I heard today that the Birmingham University and Birmingham City Council where thinking about the values and attributes of a 21st Century Public servant my geeky heart just skipped a beat.

Here is a visual representation of the characteristics identified in the report:

main themeLooking at this postcard the overlaps were immediately obvious. Weaving and Storytelling are recognised as two key roles of a deacon as both lead to the linking, connecting and bridging which is central to the work of a deacon. Networking too – enabling non heirarchical groups of connected people – is another metaphor for diaconal ministry as is navigator – the deacon at the doorway and on boundaries helping people across thresholds…

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Wondering Wednesdays – what are our spiritual needs?

Marker Posts and Shelters

I am spending time at the moment reflecting on different elements of spirituality as I work on materials as part of what I want to offer in this next season, through training and coaching. This is a list of spiritual needs from Joyce Bellous and Dan Sheffield and they argue that these are universal needs in their book Conversations that change us (Clements Publishing 2007). I am dialoguing with people over what language and concepts work best to explore some of this so do feel free to offer your thoughts…

Every human being has a spiritual need to

Celebrate

Mark significant moments

Bear witness to truths learned about life

Tell their story

Grieve and mourn

Lament

Connect with the past

Make significant journeys

Express themselves symbolically

Seek purpose and meaning

Ask ultimate questions

Survive and flourish

Experience longing and enjoy satisfaction

Relax

Play

Cope with life circumstances

Be seen

Be…

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‘This is not who we are’ – a reflection for Holocaust Memorial Day

... because God is love

Reflection for Holocaust Memorial Day, delivered as part of online worship for students and staff of The Queen’s Foundation. Text: Luke 6.12-16.

Content note: includes references to genocide, anti-Semitism, white supremacist violence, and sexual abuse.

Today we mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

All of us, I imagine, will have read or heard the harrowing testimonies of holocaust survivors, or seen the shocking photos which emerged from the camps.

Most of us here at Queens, through the Jewish Christian Relations course, if not before, will be well aware of the role Christian theology played in creating the conditions in which the holocaust was possible, well aware of the complicity of Christian doctrine – and the church – in anti-Semitism and genocide.

So what do we do with that knowledge?

We could say: “never again.” As, indeed, we just have, as we do after every fresh atrocity, after every unveiling of the church’s…

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Wondering Wednesdays – cheerleaders

Marker Posts and Shelters

Yes I am using the word as a metaphor! I am so grateful to those who are acting as cheerleaders to me in this new phase of life. I got this through the post from a friend yesterday, I was wondering if one of the children coloured in the card.

I think we all need cheerleaders, to help us keep going when we are flagging or even when we are winning and might feel like we want to ease off rather than press on through. I watch enough sport to know the dangers of losing concentration at the wrong time!

I love the puffins are birds that get to eat by diving in the water which encourages me to take a plunge at various things that would not have been my comfort zone previously or which I need an additional shot of confidence to have a go at.

So who…

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Kingfisher and Covid

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An attitude of gratitude! Picking out the highlights from the last year, however awful it was. These things are always around at this time of year. So I thought I should give it a go myself. But I found that thinking of things to be grateful for in spite of the impact of Covid wasn’t very helpful. It didn’t make up in any way for the things that had been lost during lockdown and other Covid restrictions. I needed to find things to be grateful for because of lockdown. Something additional that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

So one thing I’m grateful for is the time I’ve had to notice and appreciate the natural world around me. With nowhere else to go but outside I’ve spent more time there. The permission for daily exercise in the first lockdown inspired a regular routine of walks. And with restrictions on travel, I’ve covered…

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It’s snowing!

act justly love mercy walk humbly

I always get a little giddy when it snows. There’s usually a flurry of text messages stating the obvious with snowflake emojis, and I’m restless until I can go out in it. The rest of the family rolls their eyes, but they’ll come out with me anyway.

So you can imagine I was very sad to read new Met Office data analysis published last month suggesting that snowy winters and sub zero temperatures in the UK could become a thing of the past.

Snow days and sledging look set to become another casualty of rising global temperatures. This increase causes different kinds of climate change in different parts of the world. And in the UK it looks like warmer, wetter winters, hotter, drier summers, and more intense periods of rainfall leading to flooding.

In the grand scheme of things, no more snowy days is clearly not the most devastating impact…

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Advent Honest Christianity: Your very flesh shall be a great poem

Marker Posts and Shelters

Not sure I have ever thought of the Incarnation, the birth and life of the human Jesus as a poem. The following poem encourages me to reflect in such a way.

Love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,
or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons,
and with the young, and with the mothers or families,
re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book,
and dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words ….

This not…

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