Pilgrimpace's Blog

advent journey – oriens

My friend Carrie has reminded me that I asked her to write a reflection on the Antiphon O Oriens which is recited at Evening Prayer today.  It’s been weighing on her for ten or fifteen years, but today she has written and I think it is worth sharing.  I’m also really glad to have found the excuse for a good conversation about poetry with my friend Sammy this afternoon – a real antidote to nearly-Christmas tiredness.


I should be doing useful things,
Like putting up the tree.
Or ironing linens, polishing pews,
Braving the bloody battle lines
So we can actually eat on the 25th.

Instead, I am reading old Christmas card greetings
From someone I’ve never met;
Wandering, haphazard, tear-stained,
Into starlight and sheepdogs and poetry.

This is no time for verse –
At least not for prevenient Parsons like me,
Who have Strepsils to suck,
And no schedule for sentimentality

(or the Gospel).

And yet, just occasionally, the morning star rises,
Unexpectantly, improbably, through everyday things,
To make us stop and feel.

It happened today, that brightness dawning
Through the pages of a little book
By a middle-aged dropout called U.

And the Kingdom was born anew.


reflecting the tough stuff

Yesterday at St Bede’s, we spent the sermon reflecting together on how we respond to horrors like the terrorist attacks in Paris.

It has been quite a week – as well as the attacks in Nigeria and Mali and Cameroon (and I am sure others which go unreported in western media) we have had significant anniversaries here:  The Coventry Blitz, a big air raid on Birmingham the same week that killed more people, the Birmingham Pub Bombings 40 years ago.

People brought bits of reflection with them.  Margaret brought a wooden fruit bowl that her cousin had made.  It was the only thing to survive when her mother’s house in the Jewellery Quarter was bombed (fortunately, the family were in a shelter).

I brought a postcard of the Ravenna Mosaics which a Jewish family had bought on holiday from Vienna in 1924.  They were refugees here in 1937, are connected with St Bede’s, and gave me the card.


photo from wikipedia commons

We reflect on how things change or don’t change, how we can welcome those in great need, what we can do.  We remembered that St Bede’s was seen as a safe place for Irish people after the IRA bombings.

We reflected on a question Barbara asked a while ago – Why did God harden Pharoah’s heart in the Book of Exodus before the people of Israel were allowed to flee Egypt?  We couldn’t come up with a good answer to this, but it made us think about out own hearts, about trying, with God’s grace, to ensure that they do not become hardened.

We remembered Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies.  This is all tough stuff; easier to say than to do.

Ann told about eating her lunch next to an old dry stone wall while she waited for her friend’s funeral to start.  It spoke to her of permanence, of each of the stones being different, of the short beauty if human life.

As we thought about our city not being torn apart, about not seeking revenge, we reflected on God’s Kingdom, it being the Festival of Christ the King.  That this points to a new reality, a place where things are turned upside down, where love is in charge.


Our hearts are broken this week by the massacres in Paris over the weekend – and of course those in other parts of the world we hear less about in the western media.

I am thinking and praying hard about this at the moment as I will have to preach about it on Sunday.

I know I will want to be saying things about the need to carry on living; to overcome fear; to live together with our neighbours in this city and world; for solidarity; and something about the very hard things Jesus says about the need to forgive and the duty to pray for and love our enemies.


As I pause and pray and light candles and wrestle with darkness, I go back to this remarkable document written nearly twenty years by Dom Christian de Cherge, Abbot of the Cistercian Monastery in Tibhirine in Algeria, as he lived in the face of martyrdom there.

My brothers and sisters, let’s pray for this world and let’s work to make it a place worth living for everyone.

Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé

                                                                    (opened on Pentecost Sunday, May 26, 1996)

Facing a GOODBYE…. 
If it should happen one day – and it could be today –
that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf
all the foreigners living in Algeria,
I would like my community, my Church and my family
to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life
was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.
In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.
I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil
which seems to prevail so terribly in the world,
even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death.
It seems to me important to state this.
I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice
if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay
for what will perhaps be called, the “grace of martyrdom”
to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be,
especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.
I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience
by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel
which I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church,
precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm
those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:
“Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!”
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:
immerse my gaze in that of the Father
to contemplate with him His children of Islam
just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ,
the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit
whose secret joy will always be to establish communion
and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,
I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely
for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.
In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on,
I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,
and you, my friends of this place,
along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,
You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too,
because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.


Algiers, 1st December 1993 
Tibhirine, 1st January 1994 


santa teresa

We celebrated St Teresa’s Feast a couple of days ago.


Here – slightly late – are links to a couple of talks linking Teresa with life today from the excellent Conference in London in the summer.

Firstly, Gillian Ahlgren (who will be leading an evening at St Bede’s in November – details here) on Wise Action in a World of Suffering and Injustice: Teresa’s Vision for Today

and Sisters Jo, Philomena and Mary of Joseph from the Association of British Carmels on Living the Teresian Tradition: Thoughts from Praxis.

These are all people who have given me a great deal of generous encouragement and wisdom as I have tried to make my way.  I encourage you to spend some time with these films.

ken leech


My good friend Ken Leech has died after a long period of ill health.  I want to pay tribute to him and the important influence he has had on my pilgrimage.

There are good reflections on Ken’s life by Savi Hensman here, and Jon Kuhrt here.  There are a couple of good newspaper obituaries here and here.

Details of Ken’s Funeral at St Chrysostom’s, Manchester are here.

I am slightly ambivalent about writing this – there is a tendency towards hero worship in socialist catholic circles.  Ken was a real person.  He needed to be with people yet was shy and private.  His best writing on life and prayer is rooted in authentic and deep spiritual struggle.

I am extremely grateful to have known Ken.  As an undergraduate, my university chaplain put my in touch with the Jubilee Group and I was welcomed into the exciting chaos of that period of Ango-Catholic Socialism.  My first job was working with homeless people in the Crypt at St Botolph’s, Aldgate, on the staff was Ken who had a desk downstairs.  Ken was extremely generous in encouraging and supporting me as I worked out my way forward and struggled spiritually as to what it meant to be working in a very raw place with people on the sharpest end of structural sin.  There was a lot of beer and laughter and funny stories to leaven it all – life was about Kingdom living as well as struggle.

Ken’s clear vision of the inseparability of prayer, effective social action and prophetic witness are vital here.  I have carried them with me since.  Ken introduced me to the Sisters of the Love of God and to the Carmelite tradition.  He was wonderful at connecting people as well as traditions.  I have a clear memory of an afternoon sitting on the floor of Ken’s sitting room in that Whitechapel attic as a crowd of us listened to Dorothee Soelle.  His vision is needed today as we fight the current repackaged brand of Thatcherism and its assault on those who have least in Britain.

His books are such an important legacy.  He had a rare ability to write engaged and engaging theology in a way that was utterly clear and readable (although he would roll his eyes when people thought there were two Ken Leeches – the one that wrote about prayer, and the one that wrote about politics).  The books I turn to the most are Spirituality and Pastoral Care and the small Jubilee Pamphlet The Anglo Catholic Social Conscience.  These pull together Ken’s passion and anger, his humour, his subversive orthodoxy, and his nurture of others, especially young priests.

He spent a weekend with us at St Bede’s, when I was fairly new in post, helping us to discern a vision and way forward as we tried to find a model of social engagement for a Church that was not about delivering projects.  He helped us come up with something that was sustainable and which went with our culture and energies.

He was an exceptional preacher.  I remember his sermon at my First Mass where he spoke of Jesus and brokeness.  Jesus broke bread, broke the rules and boundaries, broke Mary’s heart, lived with broken people, and was profoundly broken himself.  This was the heart of priestly ministry; it was to be the heart of my ministry; it was at the heart of much of Ken and his life.

I was really glad I managed to visit him and Julie, his wife, a few weeks before he died.

Thank you Ken.  Love and prayers.

blessed are the poor?

You will see below my review of Laurie Green’s excellent new book, Blessed are the Poor? which I want to share here.  I really do recommend it to everyone who is engaged in urban ministry and especially estate ministry.

Bishop Laurie is coming to do an afternoon with urban clergy here in Birmingham in October.  If anyone else is interested in coming along, please let me know.


Blessed are the Poor? Urban Poverty and the Church

By Laurie Green, SCM 2015

Laurie Green has long been at the forefront of urban ministry in Britain as parish priest, bishop, theologian and practitioner. I was really looking forward to reading Blessed are the Poor? and can wholeheartedly recommend it as a resource for anyone engaged in urban ministry, and particularly for those involved in outer housing estates.

It is the fruit of several years Bishop Laurie had spent visiting, being in and listening to estate people and their churches since his retirement and is a practical working out of the method he describes in Let’s Do Theology. The first part of the book explores what poverty is and the context of British housing estates. This is not just theoretical, it is interwoven with the stories and words of the people who live on them; something that those who minister in them know to be of vital importance.

The book then looks at two of Jesus’ key teachings, The Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes through the lens of people living in urban poverty and estate churches. This breaks open the Gospel, allowing us to understand deeply some of Jesus’ key insights. It then returns to the stories of estate people to reflect on what this all means for the Church. This section contains a wealth of imaginative, hopeful and sensible ideas and reflection for estate churches. It is also profoundly challenging for the wider Church which is often in a suburban captivity.

If you are engaged in estate ministry, this book will give you hope, comfort, energy and challenge; it will certainly make me a better estate priest. If you want to make deep sense of the heart of Jesus’ teaching, you will find much to live with. I pray it leads to estate churches being ever more alive and flourishing.

compassionate activism

“Spirituality anchors the activist in recognition that the divine spark animates all creation, making responsibility personal and wellbeing corporate.  A compassionate activist’s only authority is the One, referred to by St John as ‘Love’, who is discerned with humility and mutual aid.  Any other authority needs to be held in permanent suspicion relative to this Love.”

– Keith Hebden Seeking Justice

mapping bold paths

Occasionally I find a quote which speaks to me very deeply; which I can live out of for a while.  I have to stop and stay with it.  This is from Peter Tyler’s Teresa of Avila:

The world view of Teresa’s Life emerges from the Neo-Platonic and Dionysian scheme of Teresa’s ‘master’, Francesco de Osuna.  In contrast to this beautiful world shot through with eros and ecstasy, The Way and Foundations offer a darker, perhaps more threatening, view of the cosmos.  Teresa gives us an indication of this in the preface to The Way written in late 1565 / early 1566.  It was Teresa’s fiftieth year and she senses that ‘change is in the air’.  Whereas the earlier text had been largely retrospective these new texts will map bold paths – caminos – to be taken in the future.  The Way maps these paths through ethical desire, ascetic practice and, ultimately, the extended metaphor of the Lord’s Prayer.  The Foundations charts a more exoteric geography full, as we have seen, of the pitfalls of doubting companions, unreliable roads, the wiles of the devil, and the perpetually adverse Spanish climate.

ten commandments for the long haul
May 11, 2014, 4:13 pm
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Challenging wisdom here from the great Dan Berrigan SJ as he celebrates his 93rd birthday:

Berrigan, D. P0001
1) Call on Jesus when all else fails. Call on Him when all else succeeds (except that never happens).

2) Don’t be afraid to be afraid or appalled to be appalled. How do you think the trees feel these days, or the whales, or, for that matter, most humans?

3) Keep your soul to yourself. Soul is a possession worth paying for, they’re growing rarer. Learn from monks, they have secrets worth knowing.

4) About practically everything in the world, there’s nothing you can do. This is Socratic wisdom. However, about of few things you can do something. Do it, with a good heart.

5) On a long drive, there’s bound to be a dull stretch or two. Don’t go anywhere with someone who expects you to be interesting all the time. And don’t be hard on your fellow travellers. Try to smile after a coffee stop.

6) Practically no one has the stomach to love you, if you don’t love yourself. They just endure. So do you.

7) About healing: The gospels tell us that this was Jesus’ specialty and he was heard to say: “Take up your couch and walk!”

8) When traveling on an airplane, watch the movie, but don’t use the earphones. Then you’ll be able to see what’s going on, but not understand what’s happening, and so you’ll feel right at home, little different then you do on the ground.

9) Know that sometimes the only writing material you have is your own blood.

10) Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.

end hunger fast

As followers of this blog will be aware, I and members of my Churches have been deeply concerned about the increasing amount of food poverty people here are facing.  You will have seen the media coverage today of the Church Leaders’ letter to the Mirror criticising the Government’s Welfare Reforms which are causing hardship and hunger.  This is all part of End Hunger Fast, a national campaign for Lent 2014.  I am proud to support it and urge you to get behind it.


A national campaign for Lent 2014

End Hunger Fast is a national campaign for Lent (5th March – 18th April), inviting as many people as possible, of all faiths and none, to fast, pray, speak, give, and act, in solidarity with the half a million people who are going hungry in Britain each week. There’s lots of information and resources at: http://www.endhungerfast.co.uk and there will also be a ‘National Day of Fasting’ on Fri 4th April, and a vigil in Parliament Square on Wed 16th April.

We had a great start this week with 42 Christian leaders signing a letter published in the Daily Mirror, calling on Government to address the growing amount of hunger in our communities but we need your help if momentum is going to be kept up and our voices heard this Lent.

Here in Birmingham, there are a number of ways to get involved and we love to hear from groups considering one or all of these:

1. Come to the ‘launch’ in Cathedral Square on Ash Wednesday (8am), for an open air service of ashing, engaging passers-by in the action

2. Creating a ’40/40 prayer space’ in church for people to use throughout Lent (we can help you plan this)

3. Volunteer for a stint at ‘the Hunger Hut’ in Cathedral Square, from 10-2 on a day during Lent – where we’re offering a place for people to come and find out more, offer their prayers and make their pledges to act.

4. Commit to giving regularly (£10 a year) to SIFA Fireside, to provide breakfast for homeless people

5. Share your own stories of hunger in a Birmingham ‘Hunger Journal’, gathering stories from across the city

6. Come with us to the Houses of Parliament for the concluding ‘End Hunger Fast’ vigil on Wed 16th April

The best place to find out more and get local resources is our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/endhungerfastbirmingham

To order a set of postcards for your prayer space or church, or just for more information, please contact matthew.neville@endhungerfast.co.uk