In London, as in many cities, extreme wealth co-exists alongside extreme poverty. How do we as Christian communities and people of faith respond to the reality on our doorsteps, and how do we make a difference? And when the path seems too difficult, where do we draw our strength from?
In this workshop, Winnie Varghese will share some of her experience of working for justice amongst homeless people, the elderly and people with mental illnesses as a part of her ministry in New York City. Using scripture, story-telling and poetry as well as drawing on our own lived experiences, she will help us together to frame a richly varied response for action in the world. And in doing so we will hope to unearth something of the beauty and power that lies within us, and which often emerges, surprisingly, through this counter-cultural struggle for justice.
The Revd Winnie Varghese is a priest on the Strategic Clergy Team at Trinity Church on Wall Street, New York City: a church located in a city of immense inequality, engaged in social justice with the poor and marginalised. She is a blogger and author of numerous articles on social justice and the church, and much in demand as a speaker about social justice all over the world.
Sometime around 56 AD, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome. The letter he sent was arguably his theological masterpiece, and has shaped Christianity ever since.
And he entrusted it to Phoebe, a deacon of the church. Paula Gooder’s new book imagines her journey to Rome and her encounter with the early church there, bringing their joyful, insecure, argumentative community vividly to life. In doing so she offers new insights into how we might engage afresh with Paul’s theology and in particular how it has affected the role of women in the church. She will explore why she thinks we’ve been wrong about Paul’s attitude to women, and how Phoebe might be a catalyst to new and liberating ways of engaging with the riches of his thought.
Dr Paula Gooder is Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, the first layperson to hold the role. One of the best-known New Testament scholars and teachers of our time, her latest book is Phoebe: A Story (Hodder 2018) and her previous books include Heaven and Body: Biblical Spirituality for the Whole Person (both SPCK).
The Canticle of the Creatures is St Francis’ great song of love, praise and thanksgiving to God. Written late in his life when he was blind and following a period of deep despair, it is both an outpouring of joy in creation and the distillation of a lifetime’s hard-won wisdom. In it he calls us to join with the sun, moon and stars in the praise of God, and also to praise God through our lives, forgiving each other and living together in peace.
Written in the 13th century, it is full of wisdom we urgently need today. In a time when we often experience a lack of connection between ourselves, other people and the world around us, the Canticle can teach us to ground ourselves both in the beauty of the natural world and our place as a part of the family of creation.
In this reflective day we will explore the Canticle’s beauty and wisdom, its origins in St Francis’ own life, including his sense of himself as a ‘Troubadour of the Lord’ proclaiming a love song in praise of his Beloved, and how its beauty and wisdom illuminate his own thinking, faith and relationship with God. We will also reflect on its profound ecological and psychological insights for us and our world today.
Br Sam SSF was until recently the Brother-in-Charge at Hilfield Friary in Dorset, and now lives in the Franciscan community in East London. He is much in demand as a retreat leader and speaker, and is co-authoring a book about St Francis’ wisdom for our own times for Canterbury Press.
The day includes reflective worship, lunch and other refreshments and takes place at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine in Limehouse, East London (www.rfsk.org.uk). We are very grateful to St Katharine’s for their hospitality in co-hosting our reflective days.
The Bible speaks of an impartial God, a diverse body of believers and justice for all people. Yet, historically, the words of the Bible have been used to justify slavery, segregation and racial discrimination. And despite advances in law and in society, white privilege persists in all areas of life, including our churches.
Ben Lindsay describes how ‘being black in a white majority church can be a bit like the first day of a new school on repeat. Your natural insecurities come to the surface. Will I be included? Will I be noticed? How do I connect with the popular people? How do I fit in? Will my contributions be valued?’ These feelings come from a lifetime of slights and indignities based on skin colour and highlighted differences; of isolation and exclusion; and from the hostility and defensiveness of white people. And yet, not wanting to be defined by these experiences or be portrayed as a victim, Ben invites us to talk about race.
Join us to listen with open hearts to the wise and honest insights of our panel of speakers: the joys and sorrows, the grace and the pain of their individual and collective experience, and to explore together how we respond to each other as people of faith, see each other as God sees us and build inclusive and empowered communities.
Ben Lindsay is a pastor at Emmanuel Church London, the Founder and CEO of Power the Fight, a charity working to end youth violence and knife crime, and the author of We Need To Talk About Race: Understanding the Black Experience in White Majority Churches (SPCK 2019).
He will be joined by Guvna B, the first rapper to top the Christian and Gospel charts, the Revd Rosemarie Mallett, Vicar of St John’s Church, Brixton, and Lead Public Policy Advisor in the Diocese of Southwark and Chine McDonald, Media Content & PR Lead at Christian Aid.
The evening will be chaired by Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor of St Paul’s Cathedral, and include plenty of time for questions and answers.
Why do so many people feel a spiritual connection with the sea? Edmund Newell’s research shows that throughout history, the sea has been associated with religious experience and that the sea is highly sacramental, speaking powerfully of God.
His new book explores the sea in Christian history, theology and spirituality. It moves from the Bible to the present day, via, among others, St Augustine, Christopher Columbus, William Shakespeare and John Donne, the scientists of the Enlightenment and the great hymn-writers of the 19th century. In this talk, he will explore some of what the sea has meant spiritually over the centuries, and challenge us to see the current dangerous rises in sea-levels worldwide as not only an environmental crisis, but a spiritual one as well.
Canon Dr Edmund Newell is the Principal of Cumberland Lodge, and was formerly Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, Sub-Dean of Christ Church, Oxford and Research Fellow at Nuffield College Oxford. His latest book is The Sacramental Sea: A Spiritual Voyage though Christian History (DLT 2019).
Advent is the season when we prepare both for the birth of Jesus and for his return in glory. It invites us to journey with the people who prepared his way, from the Old Testament Prophets to Mary the mother of God, and also to contemplate the reality of our own ultimate meeting with God. It is both a joyful and a serious season which challenges us to ask ourselves what really lies at the heart of our lives.
Jane Williams’ book The Art of Advent sheds new light on the season’s themes through art from all over the world, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, El Greco and Blake, 15th century Ethiopian frescoes and contemporary works from China, Australia and the UK. Considering how art can illuminate familiar themes and stories, we will explore paintings and the insights they offer into the theology and spirituality of Advent.
Dr Jane Williams is the Assistant Dean of St Mellitus College. She is the author of academic and popular works of theology including The Art of Advent (SPCK 2018) and The Merciful Humility of God (Bloomsbury 2018).
The Christmas stories are some of the best-loved in the Bible but their familiarity can mask their real, mind-boggling message: God comes to the world in a human body, in obscurity and vulnerability, and nothing is ever the same again.
In this evening, Paula Gooder, the renowned New Testament scholar, will unravel some of what these revolutionary stories really tell us. What does it mean that the God who shaped the universe into existence was prepared to be born as a tiny, vulnerable baby in a dangerous time? Why did God chose this ludicrously risky way to redeem the world? And what does it mean that he trusted the whole plan to a young girl?
She will also explore what Jesus’ birth means for the powerful and the poor, then and now, and how we might come to these stories afresh, letting them reach our hearts and change our lives.
Dr Paula Gooder is one of the best-known New Testament scholars and teachers of our time, and Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, the first layperson to hold the role. She is the author of numerous academic and popular books of Biblical theology, including Journey to the Manger: Exploring the Birth of Jesus and The Meaning is in the Waiting: The Spirit of Advent (both Canterbury Press).
The evening will be chaired by Andrew Carwood, Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral, and include plenty of time for questions and answers.
In a recent poll, one in ten Britons claimed to have experienced the presence of an angel, and one in three believe they have a guardian angel: a surprising story in a sceptical age.
But what are angels? They make many appearances in the Bible, sometimes bringing comfort but more often arriving with challenging or mysterious messages from God. Are they part of the poetry of religion? Or are they real, a manifestation of divine concern?
In this talk, Peter Stanford will explore something of the history, theology and cultural significance of angels and how they might illuminate a deeper truth about human existence and the cosmos.
Peter Stanford is a features writer at the Telegraph and a contributor to The Tablet among many other publications. His books include What We Talk About When We Talk About Faith; Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident and Judas: The Troubling History of the Renegade Apostle. His latest book is Angels (Hodder Faith 2019).
We know that laughter is great for our wellbeing, builds relationships and helps us deal with failure, but does it have anything to teach us about God?
Christianity has had a very mixed relationship with it. The puritans and some saints condemned it outright but the writer of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to laugh, as well as a time to weep. And in the medieval church, the Easter service included uproarious jokes so that the people greeted the Resurrection with an outburst of joyful laughter.
Tricia Hillas says that joy and laughter are profound gifts which can lead us into a deeper understanding of God and what it means to be the children of God. She also says that if we want to change the world, especially in dark times, we must change it with radical joy.
In this afternoon, we will explore the place of delight, wonder, joy and laughter in the spiritual life and in becoming people of change and hope in the world.
Tricia Hillas is Canon Pastor at St Paul’s Cathedral. Before ordination, she was a social worker specialising in working with people with HIV/Aids and she has recently completed her MSc in conflict resolution and mediation.
As people made in the image of God, we are entrusted with the care of what God has made and also with sharing in the joy and creativity of making a difference for good.
In her new book, Saying Yes to Life, Ruth Valerio draws on the creation stories from the book of Genesis to illuminate the most vital issues of our times. She relates their themes, including light, water, the seasons, other creatures and Sabbath rest to matters of environmental, ethical and social concern. She will challenge us to do the same this Lent, asking ourselves foundational questions about what it means both to be human and to be a follower of Jesus.
Dr Ruth Valerio is Global Advocacy and Influencing Director at Tearfund, and an environmentalist, theologian and social activist. Her latest book, Saying Yes to Life (SPCK 2019) was commissioned by The Archbishop of Canterbury as his official Lent book for 2020.
Most people find prayer hard. But there can be ways in which, by grace, we can be in touch with our capacity to know and feel the presence of God in all things. St Ignatius was a rare and gifted teacher in helping people to discover how to do this. Both extraordinarily modern in his understanding of human psychology and breathtakingly free in his approach to prayer, his insights have offered countless people a way to be in touch with God’s limitless desire to break through and surprise us, and our own built-in ability to respond.
Just before Lent, we will spend an afternoon exploring his way of prayer, using silence, imagination and the everyday reality of our own lives.
Dr Gemma Simmonds is a Sister of the Congregation of Jesus who has taught Ignatian Spirituality at Heythrop College in the University of London, worked in prison chaplaincy and among women and street children in Brazil. She is a renowned international speaker, a regular broadcaster on religious programmes, and her latest book is The Way of Ignatius: A Prayer Journey through Lent (SPCK 2018).