“Ain’t I a woman?”

Sojourner Truth, 1870 (cropped, restored).jpg

Until I was tasked with producing prayers for November 26th I had never heard of Sojourner Truth. (c. 1797 – 26th November 1883). Yet, she is listed in the top 100 most influential Americans of all time.

I realise that this list in reality applies to the most influential members of the USA and not all America but, even so, my ignorance is a sad reflection of my own backstory and conditioning as a white British male.

Sojourner was the first Black Woman to win a court battle against a White man.  She was born into slavery from which she escaped.  For forty years she spoke out against the evil of slavery, she campaigned for social justice and is inspirational to everyone who seeks to reform unjust structures in church and society.

She was a traveling preacher, an advocate of woman’s rights, and an abolitionist. She was a leading suffrage speaker, and her brief classic speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” criticizes men and white women for neglect of the plight of African American women. She was also known as “Miriam of the Last Exodus.”

I love this Sojourner Truth speech (poem). I enjoy performing it in public  as well. | History quotes, Sojourner truth, Women in history

Which leads me to ask why we don’t know more about her.  I know about other white influential Americans on the nineteenth century.  The answer is – I fear – quite simply a matter of racism.

Sojourner spoke and acted out for good of all – and she was a black woman.  It’s a hard pill for me to swallow but I am a product of a system which by its nature was precisely what Sojourner challenged.

This year, because of the death of George Floyd, has seen a realisation and acknowledgement of inequality and injustice which Racism, and the other “isms”, which persist in our Society.

We, at St Chrysostom’s, pride ourselves in being inclusive…and had it not been for the intention of our Church Calendar to be more inclusive this remarkable woman would have not been noticed by me – that is a sad indictment.

The evils that Sojourner challenged in her day persist two centuries later, and that is not progress. Nor is it fair! Nor is it Christ like!

Fr Chris

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Remedies for… accidie

Melancolie, a sculpture by the Romanian sculptor Albert Gyorgy,
by the side of Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

In our previous blog entry we considered accidie – spiritual sloth and heaviness.

Francis Paget, after he had looked at how Christians through the ages had felt and described accidie, went on to suggest four helpful steps to move us away from the experience it in our lives.

First of all, Paget suggests, we should quite simply think about someone whom we know or whom we have heard of who has great problems at this time. This is to help us see our lives in context. Paget writes ‘remember and consider more the real plain sufferings that others have to bear,’ and goes on to quote the Psalm 41:

Blessed are those who consider the poor and the needy; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. The Lord protects them and keeps them alive 

Look around, Paget encourages, and see the suffering and needy – look beyond yourself.

Secondly, when we are flagging and can’t do the things we would like to, aim to do small tasks we can achieve, sorting out a cupboard, sweeping leaves, cleaning a window… The great pastoral priest, John Keble, wisely said: When you find yourself overpowered as it were by melancholy, the best way is to go out and do a small act of kindness to somebody… Now we may not be able to ‘go out’ so often as before but we can, for example, make a phone call or send an e mail.

Thirdly, Francis Paget suggests, we pause and look at a crucifix or imagine of Our Lord crucified. Consider how even at that time when all was in darkness and gloom love was there, waiting in the silence, longing in hope. By looking to Christ crucified we train our selves to have deep within us hope, even in bleak times. Hope that in the darkness love does not let us go.

And fourthly, Paget encourages us to look at our leisure time, how we occupy our minds. Our leisure thinking and being comes through in our personalities. Gently we should look to what is beautiful and good around us and allow good thoughts to enrich our minds, and our lives. Paget encourages us to take the words of St Paul to heart:

whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippans 4.8)

The point is made that whilst these four points can help to overcome accedie they are also spiritual disciplines which will strengthen our spiritual lives if practised regularly.

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Is having a day off enough?

‘Make sure you have a day off’ – we often hear those words. People, and clergy are not alone in this, are often encouraged to ensure they have their rest day.

Talking in a group of clergy recently we questioned the aptness of the advice, especially in these days of the Coronavirus pandemic. The advice can rather glib, too simple and too easily said. There is so often nowadays a much deeper issue, a deeper ‘ailment,’ which cannot simply be addressed by having a day off. Indeed we wondered just how far we can rest and relax in these days when once supportive connections are weakened, movement is restricted, and work is home based.

Many are experiencing feelings which, while partly due to tiredness or exhaustion, also run deeper. There is a feeling of heaviness, lethargy, even collapse. This may be due to depression, and indeed many more cases of mental health illness are being found in current days. With this, or sometimes apart from it, can go a spiritual heaviness, a feeling of discontent, a lack of care, and a lack of energy. It is as if, one spiritual author wrote ‘a high wall blocks out the light of God.’

Acedia, a 16th century engraving

To describe this feeling spiritual writers have used the word accidie. (Pronounced ak-sidee). The great priest John Keble described his experience of accidie:

I find very often at hand a feeling forbidding me to enjoy the good things… a certain perverse pleasure … in which I turn over a huge heap of blessings to find one or two fancied evils…

Over one hundred years ago the great theologian and bishop Francis Paget published an influential essay, Concerning Accidie. Paget explored how people have understood accidie through the centuries.

In his essay Paget quotes Dante’s Inferno to describe the feeling:

Sullen were we in the sweet air that is gladdened by the sun. We carried lazy smoke in our hearts; now lie we sullen here in a black mire.

Paget commented that while some authors described accidie as a sin, it was also seen as an ailment. If a person deliberately choses the darkness of spirit and chooses negativity then there was something of the sinful about it, however, Paget maintained circumstances could lead the mind and spirit to it and so it had the nature of an ailment – akin to melancholy or depression.

Paget was very surprised at the reception his work gained. Many people wrote to him telling him how they experienced spiritually what he described. To this day his essay is considered to be authoritative on the subject.

Paget went on to suggest four ways which could help the Christian remedy the situation. Our next blog post looks at Paget’s suggestions and how we could use them today.

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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

We’re posting a series of blog posts on a variety of Black Anglicans who have influenced us personally, or the church, as a whole. Kenson’s choice is a musician.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (some call him SCT as an affectionate nickname) was born in Holborn in 1875 to an English mother and a father originally from Sierra Leone. His mother named him after Coleridge, the poet.

As a young man SCT sang in the choir of St Mary Magdalene at Addiscombe in Croydon. Here he was exposed to the substantial inheritance of choral music possessed by the Anglican Church. This was an important experience in the young composer’s education.

My history hero: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor - HistoryExtra

Conscious of his African descent, some of Taylor’s compositions were influenced by traditional African music. Yet his music was popular because their style is obviously late-Victorian/Edwardian. He learned the art of composition under Charles Villier Stanford (known for his settings of Anglican services), and when SCT’s career took off, he was known to, and indeed befriended by many prominent English musicians—Elgar, Sullivan, Parry, to name a few.

We can get a sense of SCT’s fame and status as a Black composer he was received by President Roosevelt at the White House in 1904. In the then racially segregated America, this no doubt would have caused a sensation.

London papers hailed SCT’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast” as a masterpiece, but he gave up the copyright of his magnum opus for 15 guineas (roughly £6,000.00 in today’s money), even though thousands of copies of the score were later sold. SCT had to work so hard for so little, on top of composing, he also needed to conduct, write and teach in order to earn enough to support his family. Unfortunately, this is still the case for many musicians in our time.

He died in 1912, a few days after collapsing on the platform of West Croydon Station. He was only 37. His music, which once caught the English public’s imagination in the most extraordinary ways, is now mostly forgotten. SCT’s early death may be a major factor as to why his music, like so many other worthy musicians and composers, never made it to the canon of western classical music.

Here’s a recording of the overture to “The Song of Hiawatha”

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Steve Biko (1946-1977), anti-apartheid activist

Steve Biko - Quotes, Movie & Death - Biography

I was 21, when the film ‘Cry Freedom’ came out in 1987 –writes Mtr Kate in our series on black people who have inspired us.  I’d heard of Nelson Mandela, but not Steve Biko.  ‘Cry Freedom’ covered his friendship with the white South African journalist Donald Woods.  He was portrayed in the film as charismatic, principled, loyal family man, and very persuasive in his arguments.  As with many other biopics, there is a tendency to deify and whitewash the uncomfortable parts of the lives of our heroes, and Steve Biko’s life was treated in the same way, more’s the pity.  

Like many of us, Steve Biko was not a saint, and if we placed his personal relationships under the microscope….well, let’s just say, he wasn’t a saint!

Steve was raised in a poor Xhosa family, and excelled academically.  He won scholarships which aided his education.  1966 entered the “non-European” section of the University of Natal Medical School in Durban. Whilst at university, he became an outspoken advocate for civil rights.  His political activism was his real passion, at the expense of his studies.  He left university in 1972 without completing his course.

Steve Biko was heavily involved in the Black People’s Convention, raising awareness of Black Consciousness and setting up local community projects to encourage education and welfare.  The government placed him under a banning order in 1973, preventing him from speaking in public, or being quoted in the press, and was also unable to leave King William’s Town.  Steve was not a naïve man and was well aware of the risks of continuing to speak out, yet that did not stop him.

In September 1977, after breaking his banning order, Steve was arrested.  6 days later he died in police custody from unexplained severe brain injuries.  He was 30 years old.

Our approach to people’s lives can be very binary – are they good or bad?  We are all much more complex than that.  We all do things we shouldn’t, but should that define us?  Steve Biko was no saint, but he was a man of tremendous courage, who spoke truth to power, who loved his community.  He was a man willing to die for his belief that ‘Black is beautiful’.

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Unsung heroes of our Anglican faith in Africa

We are reflecting on the lives of black people of our faith that have provided inspiration and shaped our faith, writes Fr Admos. Its often the case we look further than our own when looking for heroes of our faith journey. Nothing surprising about this. Jesus in Mark 6:4 says: “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” Without equating my own mother to a prophet and saviour I have decided to write about the inspirational role she played in shaping my faith journey and that of all she interacted with.

Born Nelia on the 15th of March 1943 she led an unremarkable life but provided us her family with the warm blanket of faith that the Anglican Faith can be in Africa. Growing up in then Rhodesia she was described at her funeral as quiet, unassuming but extremely bright- always on top of her class. She grew up in then Enkeldoorn (now Chivhu) about 91 miles south of Harare.  and as a family attended a vibrant local Anglican Church rural parish- a part of a number established by Arthur Shearly Cripps an Oxford educated radical missionary from Tunbridge Wells (10 June 1869 – 1 August 1952).  

Although intellectually gifted, after completing part of her formative primary education (Sub A and Sub B) at the local missionary school (All Saints) she got a place at  Daramombe Mission to continue her studies but sadly had to drop out before she completed to make way for her younger brother. Zimbabwe remains very much a patriarchal society although things have changed very much for the better. During her time, it was common practice from families to prioritize educating male children over girls largely for cultural and economic reasons. My mother was never bitter about this early experience but years later she would say this shaped her views on prejudice and motivated her to ensure we all grew up with an understanding that God never intended for parents to prioritize boys over girls or one race over another.

In her own way she was quietly subversive against some cultural and other practices of the church but sought to cultivate in her family a deep-seated faith based on love and respect for all of God’s creations. Education was a passion of hers and as a 16 year old would be sent by missionaries to go and help open a new Church local school as the only teacher- an encounter she described as building a better society through education. Her passion for education never left her and even as a grandmother still helped at the parish church run children’s nursery.

Her form of Anglicanism (like many in Zimbabwe) was what we would describe as Anglo-Catholicism. She emphasized the centrality of sacraments to the faith and she led a very observant and spiritual life. As the family matriarch this is the environment she sought to engender- observing all rites of Christian passage, taking catechism seriously, ensuring we all got confirmed and never missed mass. She however remained very measured and practical in her lived faith. Although she took her Mother’s Union vows seriously, she always understood that God never intended this to be used to exclude others. As individuals she encouraged us to build a personal relationship with God.  She has been an inspiration to my Anglican faith, helping me to grow up knowing God, giving me a more tolerant world view to faith by stripping it of some cultural practices that negate the true gospel of love for one another!

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Barbara Clementine Harris – a woman of immense courage

Mtr Kate contributes to our series on inspirational Black people:

Barbara was born in Philadelphia in 1930 to Walter and Beatrice.  She was very musical and also developed an interest in writing and even had a weekly column in a local newspaper.  She went on to study journalism, and later she studied pastoral counselling.  Her theological studies brought her to Sheffield University to their Urban theology unit. 

Barbara’s first career was in Public Relations.  Her life’s passion was advocating for those she described as “the least, the lost, and the left out”.  As a civil rights activist she took many risks but held the view that “Everyone is in danger”.  

Bishop Barbara with her mother, Beatrice and her sister, Josephine

Barbara argued for gay rights and spoke out against racism and sexism within the Episcopal church.  She was ordained deacon in 1979 and then priest in 1980, then in 1989, she was elected as the first woman bishop in the Episcopal church, causing some controversy because she had not been to seminary, and she was divorced and a woman.  Despite the advice given she refused to wear a bullet proof vest at her ordination.

Bishop Barbara with a young friend

Bp Barbara speaking of her work as bishop said, “I certainly don’t want to be one of the boys. I want to offer my peculiar gifts as a black woman … a sensitivity and an awareness that comes out of more than a passing acquaintance with oppression.”  She served 13 years as a bishop, retiring in 2003.  Bp Barbara died in a hospice on 13th March 2020.

As a priest and a woman, I admire Bp Barbara.  Her personal experiences of oppression did not crush her, but were used to help inform and enrich her ministry.  She was willing to be unpopular and to put herself at risk standing up for what is right, resisting the status quo.  Her empathy with the most vulnerable was the core of her life and ministry, and her immense courage in the face of opposition is truly inspirational.

Everliving God, in every generation you cause fresh winds to renew, refresh, and refine your people and in your Word summon us to live courageously as Easter people in an often Good Friday world. Defend us in our own day to make no peace with oppression; that boldly following the example of your servant Barbara Clementine Harris, chosen bishop in your church, we may strive not for ease or fame but gladly toil and walk with you all along our pilgrim journey; through Jesus our Saviour. Amen

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My Mother, My Role Model

Here’s a lovely little contribution for our series on black lives which influence us. Thank you so much to Alison George for helping is look to our own congregation and our own homes for inspiration!

The older I get, the more I realise how fortunate I am to have my Mother in my life. She wasn’t simply my role model when I was a child, but she continues to show me the way every day, with her energy, empathy, selflessness and kindness. 

My Mother does not only inspire me to reach for my goals and work hard. She has taught me to love, to be kind, to listen and to empathise with others. 

My Mother’s faith is strong and I admire how she starts and ends her day with prayers. By trusting and honouring God, Mum has raised me and my siblings to ensure we feel fulfilled and happy with life and above all, giving thanks daily to God. 

As we celebrate Black History Month, I celebrate my Mother, my role model and these traits I try to aspire each day. 

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Mpho Tutu van Furth: A call to equality and inclusiveness

“I do not know the words to describe my grief”.  This is the final line of Mpho Tutu van Furth’s essay ‘Speaking Love to Power’ in The Book Of Queer Prophets published this year. The grief of which she speaks is that caused by relinquishing her license to officiate as a priest in the diocese of Saldanha Bay, South Africa. A very gracious action that saved the Bishop having to withdraw it.

Why did she impose such heart break? Well because she fell in love with and married a woman. Not such a heinous crime in the twenty first century one may think but unfortunately it was a step too far for the Anglican Church.

Paul Pritchard continues: Recently, Father Ian invited me to write a blog focusing on an inspirational person of colour as part of our observance of Black History month. For me, there were two women I was keen to write about, both black, both ordained Anglicans and both members of the LGBTQ+ community. One, Pauli Murray, is dead and has already been written about (see  https://stchrysostoms.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/celebrating-pauli-murray-in-lgbt-history-month/), the other, Mpho is very much alive and well. Pauli Murray remained single and so did not face the jeopardy faced by Mpho but still bore the same cross.

When I read Mpho’s essay I wept; not tears of sentiment but tears of pain! The pain I feel I admit is not entirely ultraistic, it is a confusing business as my pain is not just about my empathy with a sister but about being a white middle class western man. You see there is a juxtaposition of being a member of the oppressed whilst having membership, through virtue of my gender and skin colour, of the oppressor’s club.

My pain is for me to deal with but I think it is important to call it out if we are ever going to be able to truly move on and deal with issues of inequality which corner a gifted priest like Mpho Tutu van Furth into surrendering her license in order to be with the woman she loves.

Patriarchal shackles are the backdrop for racism, sexism, homophobia, trans-phobia, snobbishness and many other actions and emotions that exclude. So, we have to search our souls in order to find our own truth, to understand when we have been responsible for perpetuating inequality whether explicitly or complicitly. It is a painful process, but only then can we address it.

At St C’s we are known for and proud of our “inclusiveness” which is laudable and certainly drew me into the fold when I was looking for a worshipping community to be part of. The question is, is this really enough? When I came out in my twenties it was generally accepted that if one encountered ‘tolerance’ that ought to be enough and I know I bought into that as well as buying into the notion in some circumstances of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. I am no longer satisfied with these notions of acceptance as they don’t go far enough. And so it is with inclusiveness.  

Mpho & Marceline Tutu van Furth on their wedding day

Inclusiveness is wonderful if it follows equality. In other words, we are all equal as human beings, children of God and included in this place. For Mpho, a black African woman born into a Christian family with parents who fought for equality on many fronts; racial, gender and LGBTQ+, she understood in her home that she was equal whilst at the same time knowing the staggering level of racial inequality born out of colonialism and cemented by apartheid. She also knew that as a woman called to priesthood she followed in the footsteps of the women and men (her Father being one of them) that had fought a long hard fight for the ordination of women in the Anglican church. So what a blow it must have been later on in her life to find herself the victim of inequality for being in love.

In 2013, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said:“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. “I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.”

 You see, it makes no difference what the issue is. If it concerns inequality, it is wrong! The only way for us to achieve our potential as the people of God is equality. Yes it is important to be inclusive, it is good to be tolerant (of another’s annoying habits for instance) but unless all humans are treated equal, these other adjectives are superlative.

I don’t imagine that Mpho Tutu van Furth would ever consider herself to be better than anyone else, she seems too humble for that but far from being less than equal to others, she is truly awe inspiring. During her college years she raised funds to build schools in South Africa then after college she ran a scholarship fund for refugees from apartheid South-Africa and Namibia, a country racked with civil war. Later on, she ran an after-school programme and summer day camp for children in inner-city Massachusetts. She created and ran the Tutu institute for prayer and pilgrimage and was the inaugural Chief Executive of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, a post she held until 2016 when she moved to the Netherlands to be with her wife.

Of her mission now, Mpho says:-

“I am working to create a world that is good for girls.

For girls to flourish our world must be safe, our environment clean, our planet healthy.

For girls to flourish their voices must be heard, their choices honoured, and their right to bodily integrity affirmed.

When girls flourish the whole world flourishes.”

A hugely impressive CV and one that grows but one that as a result of inequality is tinged with the sadness of rejection. She says, “like every LGBTQIA+ child who has come out of the closet only to be thrown out of the house, I feel bereft. The South African church that was the mother of my faith has disowned me”.

 I thank God for The Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, for her inspiring work and faith and I pray for the alleviation of her pain, and ask that we all urgently search our souls to find own equality truth; we may then together be able to call it out and work for a brighter and more equal tomorrow. 

 The following article on the BBC news website gives a very insightful glimpse of Mpho. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-36462240  

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Music to raise the spirits – the clergy choose

The Roman Catholic Poor Clares sisters of Arundel in the south of England have produced a CD of spiritually uplifting music to share in the pandemic. What a lovely and kind thing to do.

I thought about this and thought it would be good to ask a variety of people what their choices of uplifting music were, and to share choices. I began by asking some of the clergy connected with St Chrysostom’s. I asked what would you nominate as uplifting to help us through the dark days of the coming winter? It could be high brow it could be low brow, it may or not be directly ‘religious’ but it would be something that raised spirits. If possible I hoped we could give a link so we can listen to the piece offered. Here is the first list – from St Chrysostom’s clergy.

First of all Mtr Hilary writes, suggesting a lovely variety: I love Josh Groban’s voice particularly ‘Bring him home‘ from Les Miserables,  ‘Over the rainbow‘ also by him.I’ve been discovering different classical music mostly through the Morse and Endeavour programmes. No surprise there! So Gabriel Faure ‘In paradisum’ ‘Sanctus’ and ‘Agnus Dei’ 
I have recently been listening to the yellow brick cinema on you tube, it’s meditative music of Tibetan style with images to match, very relaxing in these difficult times I find. 

Fr Chris takes us to a different place – looking back at familiar hymns and especially ones from our tradition. He writes: “I have very diverse musical tastes, and I listen to many different things.  In these days I use music to”lift” my mood and thoughts.  Time and again I turn to “Walsingham Way” which is a collection of hymns of our Lady sung by the choir of SS Peter and Paul Wantage.  They are hymns that I can sing or hum along to, and be reminded of the joy and peace of Walsingham and “loose” myself.”

Fr Admos moves us to a different culture, writing:  I find the inculturation of traditional hymns by the Blind South African musician Steve Kekana spiritually uplifting but also soothing.

Mtr Kate reminds us that the music of Glenn Miller helped many people through the difficult days of the Second World War. Her choice is: Moonlight Serenade.

And from the Rectory… Mtr Kim nominates “Handel’s stirring anthem Zadok the Priest, and Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell, the common feature being they are very loud!”

And my choice arises from student days when began my love of the romantic and passionate music of Ravel. His Piano Concerto in G Major continues to lift me to new places. Its a wonderful blend of experiment and different traditions, while remaining resolutely French in feel. I love the recording made at the Nobel Prize Concert in 2009 with the outstanding pianist Martha Argerich.

And finally Mtr Kim suggests to raise a smile we listen to this song – The Worship Song Song – making gentle fun of some worship songs of the modern evangelical tradition – it’s a gem!

Fr Ian

Do listen to the pieces chosen.

This is the first in a series in the coming weeks in which people share their choices of uplifting music.

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