Mission Reflection, of Prison Chapliancy

19 Aug

A short reflection I wrote a while ago based upon my time experiencing prison chaplaincy:

Clinging onto God has included refining my skills in discernment. Discernment over the words to say, who to say them to and awareness of the situation(s) I find myself in. It is the realisation that this ministry cannot be done under one’s own strength or even in conjunction with God; rather it is a complete reliance upon God. I used the analogy of walking around with my eyes metaphorically closed; because within Horfield Prison, it is God who has to be my eyes. God is our guide.

I also have learnt about giving the message of the Gospel. Not in a long pre-planned course or the long-term relational style; rather it is giving the Good News in 30 seconds or so. It is taking the opportunities as they are placed before me by God. And if they are placed by God, then trusting in Him for the words to say.

On a practical level, I have worked through what parts of ecclesiology are important, and what can be discarded to further ‘mission’. With this is tied in the sense of urgency and real need I felt at the prison. Being a remand prison, you encounter men who could be moved or leaving the prison before you ever get tospeak to them again. This could be the type of community the prison is, but is still very different style. There is a sense of real urgency to the work, that it is a battle. Rather than being something we ‘do’ because we are Christians, the mission in the prison is done because it makes a real difference and that was really refreshing to experience.  It is a serious spiritual battle for the souls of the prisoners.

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Lectionary Principle Feast (15/08) – The Blessed Virgin Mary

15 Aug

The Gospel reading in today’s Principal Service is Luke 1:46-55, known as the Magnificat.

For Roman Catholics, Mary is a Co-Redeemer with Christ whose job description is to act as a go-between with us sinners on earth and God in heaven.

For during the Middle Ages, as the church’s leadership became more and more distant from the people, Mary became important in the prayer lives of the common folk, as one who could empathize with their plight and mediate forgiveness. In the councils of the Church through the centuries, she gradually gained supernatural qualities. She was declared absolutely free from personal sin (the Immaculate Conception, a doctrine formally proclaimed in 1854). She remained perpetually a virgin (a doctrine affirmed by several church councils by the 7th century), and she was taken directly from earth to heaven (Assumption).

We Protestants accuse Roman Catholics of overemphasizing Mary’s role to the point that she is venerated almost on par with her son. But we may go too far the other direction. For many Protestants, Mary is just a peasant woman chosen to bring the Son of God into the world. Roman Catholics accuse us Protestants of putting Mary on a shelf to gather dust, ignoring her role in salvation history.

Learning from Mary about Preparing for Jesus’ Arrival

Both the worship of Mary and reducing Mary to her biological role miss out on something very important: Mary’s example as a person of faith, called by God, struggling with the daily demands of her life. It is this Mary who can help us prepare spiritually for the coming of her son.

Where do we go to find such a Mary? Not Mark, who never mentions her. Not Matthew or John really, who don’t do her justice.

It is the gospel of Luke that best portrays the fullness of Mary’s human life as an example of faith for us. Luke’s portrait of Mary cracks open the snow dome and lets Mary out to stand flesh and blood, life-size, before us and invite us to participate with her in giving birth to, raising, mourning, and—eventually—following Jesus Christ our Lord. Luke portrays her in a startling role: one that shakes up the way we’ve been brought up to think of her and invites us to stop observing her and start imitating her.

For Luke, Mary is first a prophet. We think of Mary, not as outspoken and bold for justice, but as quiet and passive. Yet here in Luke we get a different picture of Mary. Mary sings a song of praise to God who shakes up the status quo, who lifts up the humble like her, and chooses her, rather than a queen or princess, to be bearer of God’s Son. She foreshadows her son’s prophetic ministry that will do the same thing.

To end, the collect for the day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who stooped to raise fallen humanity through the child-bearing of blessed Mary;
grant that we, who have seen your glory revealed in our human nature and your love made perfect in our weakness,
may daily be renewed in your image and conformed to the pattern of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Nine questions church visitors aren’t asking (…but churches are still trying to answer)

14 Aug
  1. So how soon can I get involved with your committees?

  2. Can I get a longer bulletin—maybe something with more detail?

  3. Will you please single me out in front of all the people during worship this morning?

  4. Will you please send some “callers” by my house later and interrupt me while I fix dinner?

  5. Can you please seat us in those uncomfortable pews with our fidgety kids and aging parents?

  6. How quickly can I fill out a pledge card?

  7. Does this church have weekly meetings, rehearsals and other activities that will consume most of our family’s free time?

  8. I need more paperwork! Can you give me a folder filled with glossy pamphlets, old newsletters and denominational statements of belief?

  9. During the worship service, can someone with a monotone voice speak (at length) about all the insider church happenings and people’s private health matters? I find this so inspiring.

The questions above come from this blog post, and as I prepare to enter ‘professional’ full time church ministry in under a year as a Anglican Priest these questions grab me.

They grab me as they challenge the normal way of doing church from my tradition, They question what I would do in leading a church (generally, they are a little Americanized like the cold-callers or doctrinal statement),

Number 3 particularly stands out as an introvert who hates this forced (and it is forced!) public engagement that can takes many forms (like introduce yourself to the person next to you…).

So this post will provide no answers to these question but more a point of reference for me to continue to think upon and allow me to share my puzzlement. Do let me know if you have any thoughts or answers in the comments.

Lectionary Commemoration (14/08) – Maximilian Kolbe

14 Aug

Saint (Fr.) Maximilian Maria Kolbe

Today in the Anglican church is the commemoration of Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, a saint in the Roman Catholic church who gave his life in a concentration camp that another might live. Maximilian was a characteristic figure of Polish religion: his energy, poverty and patriotism, culminating in his death as a martyr to charity, made him an example of unsung heroism among detainees in concentration camps and other prisons.

 

A Franciscan priest, he was born (1894) near Lodz to devout Catholic parents. In 1907 he joined a junior seminary and then in 1910 entered the Franciscan Order. Interestingly his parents separated at this point where each joined a religious order: his mother first a Benedictine and then a Felician lay sister, his father Franciscan. Though his father later left the movement and ended up fighting the Russians as a Polish freedom fighter but was wounded and later hanged in 1914 as a traitor.

After his ordination in 191 in Rome he contracted tuberculosis and returned to Poland to teach in a seminary.  Alongside this he developed a religious magazine focusing on apologetics which was a great success, founding various Franciscan communities both in Poland and Japan.

 

With the arrival of World War Two and the German invasion, Kolbe used the monastery as a refugee camp whilst continuing to publish his papers which now took on a more patriotic line, critical of the Third Reich. This naturally led to a clash with the occupying forces and in May 1941 Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz, then both a labour and death camp.

At this camp, names were exchange that tattooed numbers; the heavy work of moving loads of logs of double weight at double speed was enforced by kicks and lashes. Kolbe also removed the bodies of the tortured. He continued his priestly ministry, hearing confessions in unlikely places and smuggling in bread and wine for the Eucharist. He was conspicuous for sympathy and compassion towards those even more unfortunate than itself.

 

When a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected 10 others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape. On July 31, 1941, in reprisal for one prisoner’s escape, ten men were chosen to die. One of the 10 selected to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry: My wife! My children! I will never see them again! At this Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father. And he was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect. He was injected with phenol and died on 14th August, aged 47.

 

He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 197 and canonized by Pope Paul II in 1982. this ultimate self-sacrifice of his life as a result of heroic Christian charity. when canonized Pope Paul used Kolbe to make the point that the systematic hatred of (whole categories of) humanity propagated by the Nazi regime was in itself inherently an act of hatred of religious (Christian) faith, meaning Kolbe’s death equated to martyrdom.

 

The Roman Catholic collect for Maximilian Kolbe:

‘Most loving Father, whose Son Jesus Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many: Grant to us the grace, as thou didst grant to thy servant Maximilian Kolbe, to be always ready to come to the aid of those in need or distress, not counting the cost; that so we may follow in the footsteps of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. ‘

Lectionary Lesser Festival (13/08) – Jeremy Taylor

13 Aug
Bishop and teacher of the faith (1667).

Bishop and teacher of the faith (1667).

The picture to the left is that of the Right Reverend Jeremy Taylor, the focus of today’s lessor festival in the Church of England’s lectionary (along with commemorations for Florence Nightingale the nurse and social reformer (1910) and Octavia Hill the social reformer (1912)).

Taylor is sometimes known as the “Shakespeare of Divines” for his poetic style of expression and was often presented as a model of prose writing and it is for this that he is best known for.

Taylor  was born in Cambridge to a barber who educated him before school and then Caius College, Cambridge where he gained a B.A. and an M.A. Ordained in 1633 where his early ministry was as a lecturer at St Paul’s. This brought him to the notice of Archbishop William Laud and into Laud’s patronage. This patronage led to the transfer to All Souls, Oxford but little time was spent there with a preference for London with the Archbishop and as chaplain in ordinary to Charles I. This geographic gap was rectified by the appointment to  the rectory of Uppingham, in Rutland.

With a marriage and close connections to the King and the 2nd Earl of Northampton, it seemed Taylor was a rising star. National politics intervened in the form of the English Civil War in which Taylor became a royalist prisoner. Though it was during this time he published the majority of his writings, continuing on into his move to Ireland.

In Ustler, Ireland, Taylor was appointed to the see of Down and Connor, to which was shortly added the added responsibility for overview of the adjacent diocese of Dromore. As bishop he commissioned in 1661 the building of a new cathedral at Dromore for the Dromore diocese. He was also made a member of the Irish privy council and vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin. Though an important and effective bishop, it is for his sermons and devotional writings for which he is best know.

Many readers, including Charles Wesley a century later, have reported finding these books (particularly  the best known are The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living (1650) and The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying (1651), usually cited simply as Holy Living and Holy Dying) of great spiritual benefit. Among his other works, Liberty of Prophesying proved to be a seminal work in encouraging the development of religious toleration in the seventeenth century. The principles set forth in that book rank with those of Milton’s Areopagitica in its plea for freedom of thought.

As Bishop, he labored tirelessly to rebuild churches, restore the use of the Prayer Book, and overcome continuing Puritan opposition. As Vice-chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, he took a leading part in reviving the intellectual life of the Church of Ireland. He remained to the end a man of prayer and a pastor. A fine example and great writings of which we can use to dip into as part of the collective spiritual wisdom of the church’s saints.

To end, the collect for the day:

‘O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered: Make us, like your servant Jeremy Taylor, deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life; and let your Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.’

Hume & justice… Fair?

11 Aug

Chris Hume has found a job since leaving prison. A nice job reported at £100,000 per year for two days a week work (Telegraph). Whilst this job as an energy executive, it must be remembered that his political is over with no second chance according to almost all political commentators. So a new line of work was needed and Hume found one, in his area of expertise (being a former energy secretary).

Well done Mr Hume, who has succeeded in doing what many ex-prisoners struggle to do upon leaving prison: finding a job. In addition, considering his political background the job has been cleared by the Advisory Commission on Business Appointments, which advises the Prime Minister on new jobs for former ministers. So why are people in such uproar about this new job?

It is envy at the impressive salary for only two days work? Possibly but surely we should be both congratulating Mr Hume on finding work and not heading down the normal ex-con unemployment route. Also asking the question of why Hume is the exception rather than the norm.

When we, as a country, place our faith in restorative justice we should celebrate this success story of when restorative justice works. Are we envious that a man, out of prison, has found a good job? Hume has done his time, paid his dues to society and now in restoring himself as a valued member of society. A success story of restorative justice… If we want to complain, why not complain about why other ex-prisoners do not get jobs and thus hopefully seal their full returned back into society.

2 Apr

O God, why is your face hidden from me?

I search but only find traces of your presence;

You are around me, that I am sure, but never where I look;

I reach out to hold you and hold for a moment.

 

You are here O Lord, my God you are here.

I feel the words of your hands, your healing powers upon me;

You are at work in my life, my family, my concerns.

 

Surely you are my God but still I can not find your face;

Would you not look upon me?

Cleanse me?

Heal me spiritually and open my eyes, that I may filly worship you.