Polygamy, Reincarnation, Traditional African Religions and…Lambeth

People of many different nationalities and cultures make up our wonderful congregation at St C’s. This was especially emphasised at Easter when congregation members publicly gave Easter greetings in over twenty languages! Not surprisingly among us we find different outlooks to life.

 La lutte, portrait de famille, 2017 by the Cameroon artist Enfant Précoce

Chatting after Mass recently with someone from East Africa I was a little puzzled at the structure of his family he was describing. I mentioned this to him and received the, to me, arresting reply, ‘It’s because my father is polygamous.‘ His father is also a leading person in his Anglican congregation. I was reminded of an earlier conversation with one of the Roman Catholic SMA fathers who told me when he worked in West Africa a prominent member of the congregation often attended church social gatherings with his wives…

It has always intrigued me that some Anglicans believe in reincarnation, the founder of the Samaritans, Fr Chad Varah, being one. I was talking about this to a Nigerian member of our church who told me that, following common Nigerian understandings, his family believed him to be the reincarnation of his grandfather, and so he carried some of his grandfather’s names. The family are staunchly Christian and mainly Anglican.

I discussed this with Fr Admos who often helps me to understand African ways of looking at things. He talked of how Shona traditional views and practices relating to life and death coexist with Anglicanism in Zimbabwe. He gave an example, cited in the PhD thesis of the Zimbabwean Bishop Wilson Sitshebo, of a funeral of an Anglican priest. Before the funeral Shona traditional customs were carried out relating to visiting and preparing for the funeral, then the Bishop attended and took the funeral according to Anglican rites and after he had withdrawn, but with his full knowledge, a local practitioner carried out traditional pre-Christian rites and ceremonies.

This openness, by local bishops and others, to local indigenous beliefs alongside what is often quite traditional Anglicanism is a witness to a breadth and generosity in Anglicanism. A generosity and openness which sadly appears to be diminishing. Indeed in some circumstances quite the reverse happens – the ‘off the Christian centre’ views and traditions are sometimes tacitly accepted but ignored, or in some cases they are sharply condemned.

Modern research, of the kind of Bishop Sitshebo’s, is revealing what he describes as ‘a confrontational and condemnatory approach by some Christians’, behind which is often a feeling of racial superiority. On the other hand the Bishop points to a willingness, especially on the side of traditional African religions practitioners to a mutual dialogue through sympathetic interaction with Christianity, with a view to each enriching the other. Bishops like Bishop Sitshebo encourage such open and generous dialogue.

It would be lovely if there could be a safe space for sharing on such matters by bishops at the current Lambeth Conference. Views, practices, and insights on, for example, the different Anglican approaches to polygamy, reincarnation, and traditional African religions, could help inform sympathetic discussion on Anglican generosity and inclusion. This would help in appreciating and learning from those who are different, and welcoming variety. Insights from different parts of the Anglican Communion on such matters would enrich and inform. Hopefully the sensitive and accommodating pastoral insights gained could also inform other discussions for example on LGBTQ+ matters …

Fr Ian

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The Kingdom is among us

The Car Boot Sale, by Trevor Mitchell, 2014 copyright:  Trevor Mitchell Artist

For several weeks we’ve been sorting things out at home, prior to moving. Its a long task as you can imagine. I’ve been at the Rectory for over twenty years and accumulated ‘a lot of stuff.’ And at church we have been sorting – sorting books donated for our bookroom and sorting items given for our Bakhita Project.

In among it all one suddenly finds a treasure – not of great worth so much as something which brings back memories, or something which is strikingly beautiful or different.

Jesus said to the crowds: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field. (Matthew 13.14)

Unexpectedly we come across treasure. Going about our day to day tasks we get a glimpse of something special, something which interests us, or inspires us. The Gospel calls us to hold on to those moments and value them.

Of course it may not be something physical we encounter. It may be an act of kindness, words which mean a lot to us, or a glimpse of beauty.

Look at the painting of the car boot sale. Where could treasure of God’s kingdom be there – in a random item discovered? In the friendly encounter with a stranger? In the smiles and encouragement? In the beauty of the scenery around?

To treasure such moments of discovery, to remember them, even to note them down, or to photograph them, is to build up God’s kingdom in our minds, hearts and lives.

The kingdom of God is among us.

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I never knew my grandfathers. My mother’s father died when she was only five years old, and my father’s father died before I was born. I knew my grandmothers. They were very different and both made a special impression on my life, my heart and my family life. But so too did my grandfathers. Though I never knew them I know of them. Stories were shared about them, memories of them were recalled, and photographs looked at.

12th century representation of the Birth of Mary (Joachim shown wearing a Jewish hat of the time)

On July 26th the Church celebrates St Joachim and St Anne, Our Lady’s parents. Neither are mentioned in the New Testament. We find their names in a few ancient sources. We honour, and celebrate and share stories about them. These are the parents who brought up Mary – who loved her and in their way prepared her to be me the Mother of God, the Mother of Our Lord.

Perhaps some of the stories about my grandfathers were not very accurate, but they carried memories in them. They carried truth about them even though some of the detail may not be quite right. I remember my mother telling me that one of the faint memories imprinted on her of her father was him playing the piano while his young wife, my grandmother, danced and sang – and a little girl looked on and never forgot the delightful moment, treasured it and passed it on.

Perhaps Our Lord didn’t know his grandparents, perhaps he did. Whatever their loving of their daughter Mary would have been told by Mary to Jesus, as a Jewish mother tells the stories of family life.

Today I thank God for grandparents and for the love and care they bring to families, for the wisdom they share and the stability they give.

Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, pray for us.

Fr Ian

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Christ in the beggar at the Church door

The king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25.34-40)

The Gospel challenges us to see Christ in the hungry, the imprisoned, the stranger, those in need of clothing …

How do we respond?

Well, many churches, St Chrysostom’s included, seek to welcome the stranger, collect food for the hungry, and clothing for those who need it. This is kind and Christian work. It is to be encouraged, and in part this is what our Bakhita project at St Chrysostom’s works to do in our local area. Without doubt such work must be a Christian priority.

Our own patron saint, John Chrysostom says:

More challenge to our way of looking at things! In posts that follow we’ll look a little more at this challenge. For now here is a question:

If Christ is ‘in the beggar at the Church door’ or in the stranger who comes to us, or in those in need of food or clothing – then what is Christ, in those people saying to us?

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Working together in mission – that’s Ecumenism!

Here at St Chrysostom’s we are developing our outreach work among the needy of our parish and beyond. This is a part all our church members can have a part in – it is our Bakhita Project. We collect clothing and food for the homeless, the trafficked, local hostels etc. We provide our conversation classes for trafficked people… And our work is ecumenical we are delighted that members of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches support us in this work too.

Here is an article from the RC Passionist family in England about the cooperation – and we are so grateful to them for a special icon in church to encourage us in our work together:

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Modern Slavery – the response of one Church of England Parish

On the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita, and on the eve of the day when the General Synod of the Church of England considers Human Slavery, Fr Ian sent this briefing note to some General Synod reps.

I’m emailing with a note on our experience here at St Chrysostom’s on Modern Slavery.

Since our project at St Chrysostom’s began to help those freed from slavery we have assisted between 400 and 500 people, the majority being men. (This is to do with hostel locations – the majority of those in slavery are, of course women). The men have been trafficked for labour or for the sex trade. They often come from such countries as Romania, Hungary, Baltic States, Vietnam, but also it should be noted a few are from within England and from Ireland.

We assist through conversation classes, providing clothing, helping with special events, and other help we can. We have organised walks, and with the help of the Whitworth Gallery art classes. One of the art classes was attended by Mary Robinson (former Irish President and UN Commissioner) who was very encouraging of the work and emphasised the need to be alert to the fact that men trafficked could be forgotten.

A key point we have discovered is the importance of being simply welcoming, and being friendly – this is crucial for those who so often are profoundly lacking in self esteem.

We have also run evenings to help those in agencies, and those living in the locality, to look for signs of trafficking. These have been attended by police officers, university staff, and NHS staff as well as local residents. These have been run by local agencies also working with the trafficked.

We have found that forming partnerships is essential. We particularly work closely with the Medaille Trust. We have a team of volunteers from our church, and sixth formers from Manchester Grammar School help in the conversation class, as well as other volunteers from the community. The ratio volunteer to ‘client’ has, understandably to be low – sometimes two volunteers or even three to a client to help general and supportive conversation.

We have found generous response in our local area to appeals for material help – especially clothing.

We all know this is a huge problem and so often unseen. For example, we had a regular worshipper at Church who when in hospital admitted to us that they had been trafficked for the sex trade and physically abused by a person they lived with. Because the person was in England ‘illegally’ they were afraid to go to the police. We were able to act as an advocate and friend, and fortunately months later the position was regularised and now they are building up a new life and continue to worship with us.

We have, then, found issues for individuals can be very complicated. Many who come here as trafficked people are afraid, or have no desire, to return to their home country and would rather go homeless here. Some have been trafficked by a family member, or key person in their home community. A significant number have little or no English, and suffer from mental health issues, and addiction problems.

Of course it is right that bodies like synods speak out and seek laws which address this blight on our society. Awareness of the magnitude and closeness of the issue is so important. In the Church of England the Clewer Trust does excellent work with limited resources. Locally the Mothers’ Union has helped us too. Significantly the MGS boys who help received first place in a national award from the Goldsmith’s Company for their work with us in helping the trafficked. This is work where the Church can and should work closely with other agencies.

I believe quite strongly that local churches can, with help, do more – not least in the area of a generous welcome, friendship and pastoral care for those who have been trafficked and those who work to ‘rehabilitate’ them. This is something not to be afraid of – complex issues of status and repatriation etc. are rightly dealt with by others, the church can be a place of welcome and friendly sanctuary. We have learned much from those who have come to us – especially lessons of hope and resilience in difficult circumstances. We would strongly maintain that our work is very much part of, and has enriched our inclusive agenda.

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77% of men suffer from anxiety, depression or stress at some point in their lives, Fr Chris writes, – an extremely large number, and a frightening statement . Men have to be known by their peers and by their families for their resilience to the pressures which we all have. For men to show emotion is for them to appear weak and vulnerable, and there is those much hackneyed phrases used to question the masculinity of men who do show emotion – exhortation to “man up” etc.

Our Facebook group emphasised the point this week.  Mental health issues – depression, anxiety, stress – can cause us all to stop in our tracks, and can show itself in many ways. (Changes in personality, someone’s diet, appearance, demeanour, mood and so on can indicate that someone is having problems).

As a church we can be a lifeline for someone suffering in this way.  We can facilitate the opening of church at set times where people can access a quiet space, a place to pray and be still, a place with a welcome smiling face, a place where all are welcome and can experience the unconditional acceptance that comes from God.

Routine is so important for good mental, and spiritual, health. A routine of prayer, of course, but for someone suffering with anxiety or depression it is important to know that at a specific time they can access our church.

Space, acceptance and routine can be a lifesaver.  We don’t need to have answers or expertise- that is for others -we need to provide the comfort of patience and stability, a harbour in the storm of life.

The last two years has seen us all facing exceptional challenges regardless of our gender, ethnicity etc. As a church we can offer the hand of friendship.

We all need extra help at times and here is a link to a booklet of useful contacts for our area of South Manchester published by Manchester Local Care Organisation:

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Giving Thanks for Alan

We gathered on Saturday 15th January to give thanks for the life and inspiring example of Alan Beck, our much loved churchwarden. Despite the Covid restrictions many people travelled to be there and there was a lovely atmosphere in Church.

People from different times of Alan’s life were present with Vivienne, Alan’s twin sister, and members of their family from Dublin. There were a huge range of Alan’s friends present and of course many from our congregation. It was lovely to see several who had benefitted from Alan’s work through the language classes for trafficked people at Church.

It was certainly inspiring to hear how much Alan has done to stand up for injustice, to teach others, and to welcome and care for so many. It was clear that these threads were present through his life, and not least in his very active retirement when he based much of his life at St Chrysostom’s and made and encourage many friends there.

Vivienne and Stephen, a dear friend of Alan, placed a statue of St Philomena in Church during the service. The statue was a gift of Alan who had a great devotion to the saint.

Alan has given his friends and family much. He has given St Chrysostom’s a great deal and we will build on the goof work he encouraged – not least in our Bakhita Project of community care and outreach to trafficked and homeless people of our area.

People were invited to contribute memories of Alan and these were collated and distributed at the Thanksgiving Mass. They can be read below, and a copy of the order of service of the Thanksgiving Mass can be read there too. Further memories can be added through posting as a comment, below.

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Venerable Elizabeth Prout – Mother Mary Joseph CP

We are pleased that our ‘Bakhita Project’ from St C’s is developing. The project is the name we give to our community outreach work, and includes our work for the trafficked, the homeless etc. We call the project ‘Bakhita’ after St Joosephine Balhita, a Sudanese woman who was trafficked. Our Chi Rho group at Church is overseeing our Bakhita Project, and has nominated Venerable Elizabeth Prout as a ‘patron saint’ too along with Josephine Bakhita. Wayne, of our congregation, has kindly contributed this information about Elizabeth Prout (commemorated on January 11th):

Elizabeth Prout was born in Shrewsbury, England, in 1820. Her parents baptised her in the Anglican Church.  In her early twenties she became a Roman Catholic.

Elizabeth moved to Manchester in 1849.  There, touched by the misery and deprivation of the poor, she and a few companions came together to form a community to help the voiceless, downtrodden workers in the large industrial towns of nineteenth-century England. In Manchester Elizabeth worked self sacrificially in whatever way she could to assist the destitute of Manchester. In particular she visited the sick and poor in some of the most deprived areas, taught children and provided educational and training opportunities for women, especially mill workers.

The community was directed and helped by two Passionists, Father Gaudentius Rossi CP and Father Ignatius Spencer CP.  The rule was based on that of St Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists.  Elizabeth recognised that the Passion of Jesus is the great sign of God’s love reaching out to those in pain.

Now known as Mother Mary Joseph, Elizabeth continued to meet the challenges presented to her in her life of suffering, and to grow in solidarity with the crucified of the world.  She died on 11th January 1864 at Sutton, St Helens, Lancashire. In recent years a call has been made to canonise her and in 2021 the Vatican declared her to be ‘Venerable’ – a step towards canonisation.

Her body, together with that of Blessed Dominic Barberi CP. and Venerable Ignatius Spencer CP., lies in the shrine of St Anne’s Church, Sutton.  People gather around the shrine annually to commemorate their lives.

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Tutufication of the Church

Desmond Tutu in 1998.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has left a wonderful legacy to the Church. It’s a spirit of courage and joy, a boldness in proclaiming the Gospel especially in the face of injustice, and a tempering of this with good humour and love.

Canon Mark Oakley, Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge posted this challenging tweet on December 26th. A wonderful challenge for church leaders, and other christians too, for 2023. Fr Mark also wrote to The Times:

And here he coined the wonderful word ‘Tutufication’ This year, 2023, lets work on ‘Tutufication’ – by standing up ‘with grace and good humour’ for freedom, justice, rights of minorities and the overlooked. And we can do that in our parish situation here at St Chrysostom’s, as indeed we try to in our church work and worship, and we can do this beyond the parish too.

Let’s take up Fr Mark Oakley’s challenge, and lets encourage one another to do so. It would be a wonderful tribute to Desmond Tutu: #Tutufication

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