Filed under: Uncategorized
I have been reflecting on where I belong a bit today. It has been wonderful to be back at St Bede’s today, presiding and preaching at the Eucharist this morning, preaching at our annual Memorial Service this evening. My feet have been back on ground.
On Friday I went for a Day Off walk with Mike. We try to keep a discipline of this once a month. There is the goodness of fresh air and exercise, but we can also let off steam, ask each other hard questions, be accountable. And drink beer.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Advent, advent calendar, Advent journey, cistercian way, estate churches, genesee diary, henri nouwen, pilgrimage
I owe you another two or three parts of the article on walking The Cistercian Way. I promise to post these over the next week or two.
I am also aware that we are now a week into Advent. Finishing the Sabbatical and starting work again has meant life has been a bit full. But let’s begin a journey through Advent together – some posts that might help us to navigate through life, perhaps some arrows on the way. Things that might cast some indirect light upon the big things that matter. Some fun as well. Are you up for it?
Here’s our Advent Calendar at home. The pieces are gradually added until, at the end of Christmas Eve, the picture is complete and things are clear.
Are you managing to give anything up for Advent, making space, helping others, reading or reflecting in particular ways.
I’ve picked up Henri Nouwen’s Genesee Diary – this account of a seven month sabbatical with the Cistercians in Upstate New York seems the right thing for me as I try not to lose myself and what I have gained these past months in the busyness of Advent and Christmas:
In the dark I found the chapel and prayed. How much reason to say thanks, how much reason to pray that God will turn my heart to him and set me free by his love.
I keep all of you who read this blog, known to me and unknown, in my prayers. If you pray, could you remember me in the time ahead – there is a lot of hard but creative ministry ahead as the task ahead with estate churches in my parish, my diocese and more widely unfolds.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: hafiz, pilgrimage, suffering, the cistercian way, wales, walking
A (More) Broken Pilgrim
This part of the article is, much more than the other parts, work in progress. I will either revise this or write it in another form after a period of time.
And so began a pilgrimage I hadn’t expected – an armchair pilgrimage as I sat in my chair with my foot up, a spiritual journey as I explored what this all meant, a journey towards healing. It is obviously possible to be on a journey, on a pilgrimage, even if you are forced to be still. This quote from the Sufi Mystic Hafiz brought me some comfort.
There is also a saying from the Desert Fathers, “You need a spiritual pilgrimage. Begin by closing your mouth.”
It was obviously a tough time. In practical terms, I got home and went straight to the doctor. An X-Ray was clear, so I was told to rest and elevate my leg. If the pain eased after a couple of weeks, I could very gently start short walks and build them up. If there was no adverse reaction, I might be able to start the walking pilgrimage again in a month. As it happened, everything worked out and I did start walking after a month. But until a few days before that, I really did not know if I would be able to do any more walking this year.
As well as the pain, there was a coming to terms with not being able to do something I had been really looking forward to. There were some dark times, but within all this there was a feeling of being on a journey, of some movement going on, although not knowing at the moment exactly what this is.
There is something important, and not necessarily easy, in saying ‘Yes’ to God in whatever experiences come to us, of bringing the basic pilgrim attitudes of thankfulness and gratefulness to bear when we have a pile of something nasty set before us. Again, there is that thing of such importance, that it is much easier to talk about than to do – learning to trust, not to worry. Fr Gildas on Caldey gave me a little card that said, “If we are on a Pilgrimage, God too is on a Pilgrimage to us.” A wise Carmelite Nun, sent me a message including the words, “The Lord is hard at work on you.” The support and love of others was of vital importance to me at this time. As if I didn’t know it already, it is impossible to do something like this on your own.
This pilgrimage time has allowed space for me to be present to God in a special way. I am sure I will learn what the benefits of this will be as time unfolds (seven years ago, as I was approaching Santiago, someone from St Bede’s, my Church, sent me a wonderful message – “You will learn the benefits of this over the next decades” – patience!).
I have been made to explore deeply some places I would choose not to go, but honest exploration of stuff around weakness, vulnerability, humility, brokenness, smallness and fragility can never be wasted. It is of vital importance for ministry and life and it is right at the heart of the Gospel. This is at the heart of the human pilgrimage.
While I was on Caldey, a lot of the Office Readings were from Corinthians with Paul’s reflecting on dying and rising in and with Christ. This has spoken to me a lot while I have plodded and then sat. Lots of connections between this, discipleship, life and my ministry to tease out. I want to spend some time reading St Elizabeth of the Trinity and her teaching, from the heart of the crucible, about suffering and self-forgetfulness.
to be continued ….
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: caldey, caldey island, cistercian spirituality, cistercian way, photography, photos, pilgrimage, the cistercian way, wales, walking
I am an Anglican priest in Birmingham and have been lucky enough to have had a period of Sabbatical. I planned to spend two months of this walking The Cistercian Way a 700 mile route around Wales that links the old (and current) Cistercian Monasteries that played such a part in Welsh Christian history. The pilgrimage, as you will read, did not go entirely to plan, but I really enjoyed it. This article tells the story of the journey and gives some reflections on it. You can read ‘live’ blog posts of the pilgrimage, see more photos, and read other reflections on this blog.
Why the Cistercian Way? I love walking and I love pilgrimage. I am very lucky to get the opportunity to take Sabbaticals. Last time I had one I walked across Spain from Valencia to Santiago de Compostela. This time when I was planning and dreaming dreams I decided to walk something closer to home. A bit of internet research threw up the Cistercian Way which fitted the bill for me of a long religious pilgrimage, a chance to go deep into a country, the chance for some solitude. I started and finished at Penrhys, which was also very attractive – a very good friend had introduced me to it a little while before, and for me the combination of an ancient and important pilgrimage site – as David Williams says, “made a holy place rather by the footsteps of the many who have so sincerely thronged there with genuine devotion” – along with a council estate and the wonderful Llanfair Uniting Church. And a chance to get to grips with Cistercian spirituality in a deeper way.
The rough route of the Cistercian Way. I walked further west to visit St Davids.
The First Day
I travelled to South Wales and spent a couple of days with friends before setting off. They took me to Caerleon to the probable site of the martyrdom of St Julius, one of the first Welsh Martyrs. This is the corner of the carpark of the St Julian Inn. Of course, this being a serious Christian pilgrimage, we stepped inside to jazz and beer. The music of Thelonius Monk and Ray Charles pushed me up some hills over the next weeks.
On the first day I travelled to Penrhys and began with prayers at Llanfair Church on the estate. Twelve or fifteen of us turned up with a fifteen mile day in prospect for me and options for others to drop out on the way. The weather was Welcome to Wales awful. As we trudged up to the top of the first hill, I was glad to be accompanied by others. The waterproofing on my boots lasted about an hour. That on my jacket maybe another hour.
Photo by my good friend Joy. The weather got worse than this as the day went on.
Unsurprisingly everyone else except Maddy Gray, who had designed the Cistercian Way, decided to drop out at the first opportunity. If we hadn’t planned a group walk, I would have started from Llangwynwyd the next day instead. We climbed another hill. I concluded that it would not be a good idea to camp that night and accepted Maddy’s offer of a night in her house. The rain kept on, visibility closed in. Walking on the tops would need slow, careful map and compass work. Probably more sensible to walk along the roads into Maesteg, except the drivers wouldn’t be able to see much. When we arrived at the car that was going to transport Maddy to the end, I packed it in for the day too; I was glad of this late in the evening, sitting in the warm as the rain kept on.
I was back on the way early the next morning, in good weather, and walked up over medieval trackways to see the sea. I love this photo. It expresses for me so much of what a pilgrimage is. There’s the beauty of the hills and the sea, but there is also Port Talbot. Pilgrim Ways don’t shy away from the world (in older times, you needed to go through the towns and cities for safety); there is something important about this, of staying connected to the world and it’s needs – pilgrimage is not an escape; rather it is a walking into the world. Even when walking quietly through remote and beautiful areas, I would be praying for those who had asked for my prayers and what I knew from the news.
I arrived at Margam Abbey in time for Mass and had the honour of preaching there. Praying and worshipping with others has been an important part of the pilgrimage – it is a deep way of stitching me into the places I walk through. I look back with gratitude at all the people and places I prayed in: ancient Churches, people’s living rooms, council flats, and the prayer for others as I plodded the paths with my pack and sticks.
I walked west, staying and walking with good friends, through Carmarthenshire, the mist hiding the landscape from me for a couple of days before gloriously lifting on the most beautiful deep afternoon of solitary country. There are not many footpaths in Carmarthenshire, but there are plenty of extremely quiet roads with grass growing up the middle of the tarmac.
I stopped in a small parish where the Vicar is a relation of someone from my Church. This was a lovely short stay, with a real insight into old fashioned rural pastoral ministry. In fact, we took such a long time visiting the churches and the schools and drinking cups of tea with parishioners that there was no time to walk to Tenby to get the boat to Caldey, so I was given a lift (I was walking 15, 18, 20 mile days in between, honest!). This was just as well. We were going to have a meal but I thought I’d better get a boat ticket first. The booth was shut due to bad weather. Fortunately they were still taking people off, so I was put straight on a boat and whisked across.
I was fortunate to be able to spend a couple of nights at the monasteries at both Caldey and Whitland, the two ‘living’ Cistercian foundations in Wales. It was good to have some stillness amidst the constant journeying of pilgrimage and to be able to experience something of the Cistercian charism.
Monastic Church, Caldey Island
The bad weather meant Caldey was quiet; there were no tourist boats. I lived in silence, praying in those utterly simple churches, looking out of the window at the dawn. Eating simple meals, laughing over the washing up. Dipping my toes into what Andre Louf calls “the evangelical experience of renunciation, prayer and a humble life of love in devotion to Christ.”
Louf sums up the Cistercian Way “A body of doctrine has come down to us from the twelfth century which remains the basis of Cistercian life as it has developed over the centuries. Its characteristic traits are always found at any era of the Order’s history. These include a love of the word of God, the mirror in which the monk tries to decipher the meaning of his daily life; a tender devotion to the person of Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate; an effort by the monk to reproduce in his own life the mysteries of Christ’s earthly life, through which will be revealed the invisible Word living in the glory of the Father.”
One thing I have been doing over the last few years is looking deeply at how the Carmelite Mystics, particularly Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross can speak to ministry today on housing estates; I have an opportunity now to see how those who built and lived in places like Tintern, and their daughters and sons today, can do the same. The Cistercian Way has certainly been a spiritual journey as much as a physical one.
After a rest day at a friend’s cottage near Milford Haven, I set out for St Davids – off the Cistercian Way, but as every one of my Welsh friends told me, if you are on pilgrimage in Wales, you must go to St Davids. The forecast was good. I planned to take a couple of days, camping near the sea at Newgale, and then making my way back to the route. I wasn’t going to walk much of the Coastal Path as this takes forever, and as the inland paths were underwater, I took the quietest roads I could find.
I walked along a particularly long and straight one I sat and ate my lunch, sheltering from an increasingly strong and cold wind next to a hedge in a field full of windmills, reminding me of Don Quixote and the giants; certainly this one was menacingly noisy.
When I got near the coast, the wind was buffeting me as it caught my rucksack. It was actually becoming dangerous. There wasn’t much traffic, but I didn’t want to be pushed into a car. I looked at the weather forecast (there’s an ongoing pilgrim debate about technology – in my opinion smart phones have their uses) and the forecast had got very bad. Winds overnight of over 50mph. I decided to turn round and walk back to where I had started from and have a sheltered night. I could get the bus to St Davids in the morning.
St Davids Cathedral
A few days later I arrived at Whitland Abbey. I mentioned the storm at St Davids to the sisters as it hadn’t seemed to have impacted far inland. They had found a manx shearwater – it had been blown inland and, exhausted, had burrowed into their vegetable store. It was checked by the vet and then taken off to be released where it would find its way back.
I needed that shelter too. My knee began to hurt badly. When I do a long pilgrimage, I know it will be hard and that there will be times I will be tempted to go home (as well as the times of the deepest joy). To ensure I keep going, I promise myself that I will only stop walking if either a medic tells me I have to stop or if there is an emergency at home.
My knee was very painful. I wasn’t sure what to do. Ahead of me were a succession of long stages often in solitary places. I sent a message to my friend Roland to ask his advice on treatment. He happened to be nearby and arrived with painkillers, icepacks, and a bottle of wine. This alerted the sisters and a couple who are nurses examined me. I was told firmly, “Fr Andy, you need to stop walking now.” This was a blow but was the obvious and sensible thing. I took the train home.
to be continued …
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: estate ministry, estates, estates ministry, necn, urban ministry
I’m reprinting this update from the National Estate Churches Network here – if you are involved in an Estate Church, let me know and I will put you on the mailing list. It would be good to work together.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am writing to you to update you on a few things following our Conferences, and to let you know our news.
1. Conferences: Practical Spirituality with Gillian Ahlgren.
The two Conferences were excellent. Thank you to everyone who managed to attend.
Gillian’s Powerpoint Slides are available to view here: http://gillianahlgren.com/practicalspirituality/
At the Conferences, there was a lot of good discussion about practical ways of transforming our lives and communities. Please could you email me any ideas you have on this (email@example.com)
We will start to assemble a toolbox of things that we have found that have worked that can go on our website.
2. Looking Forward
As you will know, there has been quite a bit of change with NECN. Bishop Laurie and Jane Winter have decided that the time is right for them to step back after many years of steering the Network. There will be time to pay tribute to this in due course.
Andy Delmege will become our Chair and Lynne Cullens our Vice-Chair.
This comes at a time of considerable change in respect of the attitude to the Churches in regards to estates. The Church of England is responding to the needs of Estate Churches with energy; there is now a Reform and Renewal Committee headed up by Bishop Philip North on Estates and Evangelism. This has come up with a considerable and good programme of work, which you can see on p.3 of Netlink here: http://www.nationalestatechurches.org/NetLink%20Autumn%202016.pdf
NECN will be working closely with the CofE Group, offering our experience and presence. Bishop Philip has become part of our Exec and Andy Delmege will be part of the CofE Group. NECN, of course, brings a lot to this, not least our ecumenical character and our independence.
The Programme of the CofE Group is developing and it is extremely helpful to have as much feedback as possible from people in Estate Churches. If you have any comments or ideas, please send them to Bishop Philip (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or Andy Delmege (email@example.com)
It has also been wonderful to see the Methodist Church responding to Estates through Michael Hirst’s Poverty, Place and Presence Report:
3. Consulting You
As well as asking your views on the CofE process, we are asking for your ideas and feedback on NECN as it moves forward. This questionnaire is in the current NetLink, and it would be helpful to us to hear from as many of you as possible.
We would very much welcome your response to the following questions (please circle the relevant response and add any comments you wish).
1. To what extent does NECN currently support your work, ministry or mission to those living and worshipping on estates? (1 being ‘not at all’, 10 being ‘fully’)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
2. If you have attended an NECN conference how helpful did you find it in supporting your mission and ministry to those involved in estate based Churches or in urban ministry generally? (1 being ‘not helpful at all’, 10 being ‘exceptionally helpful’)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
3. What form of support, resource or network activity might NECN develop or provide that would assist you in your work, mission and ministry to those facing issues of urban disadvantage, particularly on estates?
Please respond to Lynne Cullens, 14 Dane Bank Avenue, Crewe CW2 8AA or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For a chat about any of the issues raised above please call Lynne: 01270 569000 or 075 4435 0692.
Taunton Conference. Following on from the CofE Conference on Estates Evangelism in York last March, David Maggs is organizing a Conference aimed at people in the South and Wales in Taunton on February 22nd. More information from David (email@example.com)
If anyone has any other Conferences or publications which are relevant to NECN, please let us know.
Similarly, if you want to advertise any Estate Church jobs and vacancies. please let us know.
Finally, if you have any news and stories, issues and concerns about your estates work, we are always happy to consider these for publication in NetLink. Please send them to Judith.firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thank You once again for all your support of NECN and its progress.
With love and prayers
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: cistercian way, estate ministry, paul nash, pilgrimage, poetry
I sit with a soul full of Paul Nash today after a visit to London yesterday and the excellent show at The Tate. So much in my mind about landscape, beauty, war, suffering, seeing and perceiving, dreaming.
I sit with a soul warmed by the ambition and enthusiasm of the Church of England for Estates Ministry and Churches that I saw yesterday in the first meeting of the Reform and Renewal Group on Estates Evangelism. More on this soon.
I sit and reflect as deeply as I can on my Cistercian Way Pilgrimage. I’m writing an article about it which I’ll post here soon. Good to be retreading that journey.
In the meantime, here is a good pilgrimage poem:
con mi mochila
y mi sombrero
con mi silencio
y mi soledad .
Con mis pies
con mi cabeza
y con mi alma.
y mis pasos
I’m going with you
With my backpack
And my hat
With my silence
And my loneliness.
With my feet
With my head
And with my soul.
I’m going with me
And my footsteps
Freedom to me.
Benjamin Garcia Crisostomo
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: estate ministry, estates ministry, john morgans, our holy ground, peter noble, pilgrimage, urban spirituality, wales
I’m reading Our Holy Ground: the Welsh Christian Experience by John Morgans and Peter Noble. I really recommend this – it’s giving me great insight into Wales, building on the walking I have done and that which awaits me (and the book increases this – I read about Llantwit Major and think, I could work out a route to take in that too …)
This quote from Rhygyfarch lamenting the destruction wrought by the Normans speaks to me:
Nothing is of any use to me now but the power of giving: neither the law, nor learning, nor great fame, nor the deep-resounding glory of nobility, not honour formerly held, not riches, not wise teaching, not deeds nor arts, not reverence of God, not old age; none of these things retains its station, nor any power. Now the labours of earlier days are despised; the people and the priest are despised by the word, heart and work of the Normans.
I can think of so many places now where similar laments are being sung and it seems such a time of sunset rather than sunrise.
And yet I am struck by the first line: Nothing is of any use to me now but the power of giving
I am privileged from time to time to spend some time with a group of people who have been profoundly broken and who are engaged in the long process of rebuilding and transforming their identities. Recently a couple of them told me that everything happens for a reason. When I asked what this meant, they said that the evil and terror they had suffered had led them into a wonderful community and their new selves. We talked about the need, if it is possible, to make something positive of what we are given.
Nothing is of any use to me now but the power of giving
Again, I am drawn back to John of the Cross’s Saying:
Where there is no love
pour in love
and you will find love.