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Crucible : The Journal of Christian Social Ethics April 2016

Editorial

What kind of Leadership?

 

The four articles that follow in this edition of Crucible all take leadership as a starting point to reflect upon the nature of the Church and its exercise of power and authority in changing and complex times. This area of discourse is hugely contested. Each of us will have a range of experiences of the way others exercise of leadership which may or may not feed into how we ourselves aspire to lead.

In the unchartered waters in which the Church finds itself a key responsibility of any leader is to be one who questions; a person who asks questions – of God, the Church and of the wider community.

Any leader at this time, but perhaps especially in the Church will be aware of the effects of a rapid pace of change. These are times of transition when the gift of wisdom is required to discern what should be taken into the future and what ought to be left behind. It may be that we have to let go of the shape of the Church as it was or is and allow it to be re-configured around the new realities God is presenting to us, rather than the realities to which we tried to be faithful in a previous age. There is both a sense of excitement and stress for many leaders, seeking to appropriately re-imagine the Church for tomorrow while still ministering in the ever-demanding Church of today.

A clergy leader is a liminal figure, living in the border­land between the church and the world, the present and the future, inherited church and emerging church. Speaking at a conference on church growth, Eddie Gibbs, an Anglican priest and teacher at Fuller theological seminary summed the situation up like this:

‘We now have a generation of leaders who do not know how to lead within a con text of rapid and chaotic change. We were trained to map read on well-marked roads, not navigate on stormy seas. I believe the changes are significant and irreversible – while tomorrow continues to arrive ahead of schedule, yesterday can never be revisited.’ (July 2001 my notes)

Reflecting on these articles there is one key element to a shared commitment to good leadership that I think is worth drawing out and reflecting upon. It is obvious but no less important despite significant difficulties in practicing this virtue. We need, perhaps, above all a leadership that can listen. This will take time. This is a radical commitment to context, communities and individuals.

In 1982 I spent a year as a nursing auxiliary at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, Kent, fortunate enough to work alongside Dame Cicely Saunders who was the medical director and an inspiration to many others in what is now the world-wide Hospice Movement. She was a leader of rare skill and in a letter sent to me before my ordination reminded me of the key relationship between leadership and listening. She wrote: ‘If someone is in a climate of listening, he or she will say things they wouldn’t have said before’.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, to listen is ‘to hear attentively, to give ear, to make an effort to hear something’. This is a gift that frees itself from frenetic activity, obsessive and controlling master plans and strategic approaches to growth and success. Cicely showed me how listening requires constant practice and indeed communicates mystery and truth at a deeper level than words.

We should also note that it is significant that our English word for ‘obedience’ is derived from two Latin words -ob and audire- which mean to ‘listen keenly’. As Bill Kirkpatrick observes in his book The Creativity of Listening, listening has three meanings: The first is to hear; the second is like the meaning of the French ‘connaitre’ – to understand; and the third is the command to pay attention. In the religious life, obedi­ence is listening.

If it is true therefore that we are living at a time when the church is being pushed to the edges there is a danger that all leaders need to be aware of: that of being so preoccupied with survival, its people are unable to step outside of themselves and their own concerns to rethink, or re describe a larger reality. Self obsession does not usually produce energy courage or freedom. If these are exile times then let us be aware of the unhealthy mixture of fear and nostalgia because that will sap us of energy to re imagine a robust and different future. Leadership must call people to yearn to live dangerously and tenaciously in a world where faith is misunderstood or pushed to the edges.

 

Leadership therefore must listen and nurture a way of life that is devoted to the practiced art of listening. . This is why Benedict says: ‘Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart’. In the immediate context in which he is speaking, Benedict is referring to the words of the Lord as they are expressed in the Rule, and for the benefit of and ministry of a particular community. Listening leadership can teach us that we can listen for the sounds of God anywhere and everywhere – there is nowhere God is not, and no one or no means by which he cannot speak. Once that barrier is recognised, and down, more listening is bound to be possible.

 

Thomas Merton may well offer a word in season as through his writings he demonstrates a radical commitment to a kind of ‘seeing’ and listening that under­pins all effective leadership, not simply because of what is ‘seen’, but the way it is seen.

 

We hope that this edition will stimulate further thought and action about what kind of leadership might be exercised in these changing, challenging and creative times.

 

James Woodward

Sarum College

 

2016SarumLectures1[1]The Sarum lectures have a long and distinguished history in the life of the Cathedral Close. They are a partnership between Sarum College and the Cathedral and this year we are looking forward to four lectures from our Diocesan Bishop, the Right Rev Nicholas Holtham. Here is an outline of the lectures.

 

Renewing Hope – Pray, Serve, Grow.

The one thing the bishop cannot delegate is the ethos and culture of the diocese. My concern in the Diocese of Salisbury is to Renew Hope through the core activities of prayer and service so that people grow as individuals and communities in the way of Jesus Christ. These 4 Sarum Lectures draw on my experience as a parish priest as well as a bishop and explore aspects of this central concern: ‘Renewing Hope – Pray, Serve, Grow’.

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Lecture One : Being Human: The Renewal of Pastoral Theology

 

The Church of England is seeking to re-imagine Christian ministry for the 21st Century. A hundred years ago during the First World War, Dick Sheppard was the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields and “the most influential parish priest the Church of England has ever known”. He could be said to have re-imagined Christian ministry for a substantial part of the Church in the 20th Century. His concern was for the love of Christ and his care was of people, not statistics. His approach to ministry and mission gives insight into the task facing the contemporary Church.

 Lecture Two: Engaging Arts and Minds: A Sort of Christian Apologetics

 

There has been a renaissance in the relationship between Christianity and the arts. There is an enormous willingness on the part of artists to explore meaning and faith creatively and with imagination. Whilst there might be safety for the Church in accepting only the work of Christian artists, the more important engagement is with good art that respects its Christian context. It makes us bigger people and deepens both our cultural life and the life of faith.

Lecture Three: A Changing Climate: On Care For Our Common Home

Among Christians there has been an ecumenical convergence about the environment and what Pope Francis called ‘the care for our common home’. This is an urgent task that all people need to address. It is so critical an existential problem as to overwhelm our traditional divisions and relativize them almost to the point of extinction. Following the Paris Climate Change agreement, how are we to respond to the care of God’s creation?

Lecture Four: Renewing Hope: The Profligate Generosity of God

The Church mis-describes itself when we focus too much on statistics. God’s ‘Easter people’ live with the hope of the resurrection in which life and love are of eternal significance. This matters for the world, not just for the Church. A message chalked on the ground in the Place de la Bourse in Brussels after the recent terrorism said, ‘Hope is our resistance’. We Christians are a people alive to the hope of heaven. We are called to live as we pray, that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. God renews our hope.

We much look forward to the opening up of all of these areas of our imagination and practice and I hope that you will join us in this adventure.

 

Southampton_from_Aurora_01[1]Ministry in an Urban Context.

The photograph above is one of the many aerial views of the city of Southampton available via Google images. A large group of our ministry students have just left the College after a weekend exploring the context and challenge of urban ministry. We gathered on Friday and looked at city from a biblical perspective and then spent much of Saturday in Southampton with some trusted and enlightening guides.

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We first made our way to Southampton Central Baptist Church where we were hosted by David Masters, the Minister there. He offered us a warm welcome, put some of our work into the context of prayer and worship before handing over to the Southampton city Missioner Chris Davis who told us some of the story of Southampton and the work of the Churches there. I think that we were all struck by the commitment to this city made by the city Mission and their readiness and openness to meet people in a range of places and situations. The struggle with a secular and a post Christian world , as David and Chris described, poses particular challenges for presence and engagement in the city.

Andy Edmeads , stepping in at the last minute shared his own costly and vulnerable making experience of work on estates. Presently a hospice chaplain he was full of profound wisdom about the importance to individuals of managing appropriate boundaries, ensuring self-care and dealing with some of our internal life as a basis for authentic human encounter.

There is one particular phrase that I picked up as a theme for ministry which I managed to capture in this photograph later in the day:

Christian vocation is always to keep open the door of love

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Lunch followed and  we were then taken on a fascinating tour of the city centre parish of St Mary and St Michael’s by the vicar, Julian Davies. Over the next hour and a half or so we were able to have a sense of some of the physical geography of that city centre parish and learn first-hand some of the challenges and opportunities that face the work of the church. What emerged was a diverse multicultural city with a strong business and retail sector. Julian showed us what it was like to be present in a place under know its strengths and weaknesses; which highways and byways; its areas of need and the places where strength, joy and hope might be discovered. I think we were all struck by how much development is going on in the city centre and how the hospitals, universities and the port dominate the horizon. This is a city constantly on the move and reflects in every way modern Britain: young, vibrant, multicultural and multifaith and seemingly always on the move. Here are some images from the afternoon

we glimpsed the importance of sacred space for peoples of all faith and the sheer diversity of housing across the city which reflected the perhaps inevitable inequality which shapes much of modern Britain.

We returned for plenary and then back to college for worship, supper and some much needed time to relax and recover. After an 8 o’clock communion in the cathedral we gathered for a morning of theological reflection and what impressed me (as always) the parent must of the student body to dig deeply and to interrogate with a wide range of questions and personal experiences.

There are many questions that are buzzing around as I write at the moment which probably deserve a more consistent and deeper theological reflection but here are a few of them which provide an opportunity for work in progress:

  1. What is a proper Christian worldview? Are we to love the world around us? Put another way in the light of a so-called secularism and a post-Christian society are we resident aliens in a strange land? Friend or foe? Love or hate? I talked a little this morning of the work of  gravity in our discipleship – are we prepared to move out of the natural movement inwards and downwards preoccupied as we are by church – to wards a commitment to move upwards and outwards towards the world?
  2. Linked with these questions lies a key question which the theologian Margaret Kane asked many years ago and is it is this:what kind of God? If we are to readdress some of the balance and attempt simply to get out a bit more and to seriously discover what the world is like might we find signs of the presence of God there beyond the narrowly religious? Do we believe in a God that is ever before us? What kind of limitations we put upon our hope and trust in the unpredictability of the movement of God’s love?
  3. What makes us angry and what is righteous anger? How might we work with others in changing what needs to be turned upside down and put right? How might we help the cause of justice and peace? Where is our restlessness and our desire to change and make a difference?

These are, as they say, interesting times. We can and should hold some measure of hope as we continue to explore faithful presence in our cities and in all places where we are called to serve. Work in progress.

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TO SEE THE FLOWERS

 

Don’t go outside your house to see flowers.

My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.

Inside your body there are flowers.

One flower has a thousand petals.

That will do for a place to sit.

Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty

inside the body and out of it,

before gardens and after gardens.

 

(Robert Bly, The Kabir Book)

 

 

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The best conversations are often the most unexpected

Sarum College is now almost empty with our third-year students from our Ministry programme having returned back to their homes and families. I have to say a rather wonderful silence has fallen over the building! This has been a busy and demanding weekend for all of us – but I’m glad of some space to think and reflect on what has emerged as we have engaged with formation and learning.

MA students have had some research seminars and are beginning to explore the shape of their dissertation. Ethics, ethical thinking and practice as shaped by Christian doctrine has been the framework within which we have connected with each other and reflected on a very wide range of questions and challenges that living and loving present to us.

We began the weekend with Evensong in Salisbury Cathedral. After a busy week it was good to pause and immerse ourselves into the prayer of the church – I was struck as we sat in the choir of the Cathedral how our own individual lives are properly placed within a tradition and a life that stretches back centuries. Formation in ministry means, in part, to open up ourselves to the Christian tradition and be shaped and reshaped by it. The music, the glory of this particular building, the prayers and attention to scripture remind us of the importance of nurturing humility and openness to the divine.

After 2 1/2 years here this third-year group have a strong sense of friendship and collegiality. There is a great deal of catching up to do over supper before we move into some facilitated theological reflection. I have the privilege of leading this and ask the students to consider the nature of prayer across faith and cultural traditions; how we are present in situations of distress and trauma and to reflect upon how we put our theology to use. The students listen carefully. Together we  unpick the elements of this particular experience and ask how we might be channels of God’s loving presence – how, quite simply, we might ensure that we do not get in the way of faithful, authentic and compassionate presence. In this session and in all that follows it’s good to see the energy that flows from asking how we might express and communicate our theology.

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A light to shine in the darkness

 

We are glad to relax a little as the session ends with a drink in the bar. It gives us all an opportunity to see how preparations continue for ordination this summer. The danger of too much activity, learning and teaching, is that we overlook the personal.

Saturday starts early for some of us with morning prayer in the Cathedral before moving into sessions on study skills, the nature of ethics, and we are joined by Nick Spencer, the director of research at Theos who reminds us quite properly of the context within which the church does its ethical thinking. In particular students are challenged by the thought that much of our theological language is alien and strange to the increasing number of people who have little or no contact with the Church. I am also conscious of the need for Sarum College always to look outwards and to resist the temptation of narrowing the lens through which we look and interpret and learn what it might mean to nourish the human spirit.

I am tasked to explore the nature of war and peace in the Christian tradition and together we look at the decision by the UK Parliament in December 2015 to support airstrikes on Syria. In the light of modern warfare how do we view the long and honourable just war tradition shaped as it is by Christian thinking and practice. After coffee we move into an ever increasing voice that demands we have more choice over how and when we die. The assisted suicide debate is a complicated one to grasp the students do so with versatility and reflectiveness. In the afternoon – if that wasn’t enough controversy and contestation – one of my colleagues Barnabas Palfrey looks at same-sex marriage and I listen carefully to the debates and respond theologically. Above all I am keen to make a passionate plea, whatever our position be it revisionist or conservative ( and the many shades of opinion and conviction in between)  to think through how our disagreement and conflict shapes the kind of community we are. Above all how do we embody respect and a radical love for all – meaning everybody?

Worship, Bible study, and joining a local congregation here in Salisbury form the substantial part of Sunday morning before lunch and departure. I am guessing as I write we are all glad that the returned back into our places of rest and work give us some much needed space to ask ourselves what we have discovered – and indeed perhaps – to make some connections with where our resistances might be to learning and change.

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We are joined by a Diocesan Director of Ordinands who will continue to support the students training and spiritual formation  after ordination

 

 

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‘Middle age starts much later than previously thought – at the age of 55, research suggests’ – this is the rather helpful advice sent to me by a friend on this my 55th birthday. Born on 23 February 1961 is no arguing any more with the realities of time and age and numbers. For the record I didn’t really see the point of some of the other milestones that I have (obviously) passed : 30 and 40 and even 50 seemed okay but somehow this feels to be more significant. Some of you will know that I have a particular interest in age and gerontology and 55 certainly is a key figure in all of the writing about the meaning and shape of middle-age and old age. So at one level what’s in a figure and does age really matter at all – probably not and anyway who cares?!

Facebook is clever in reminding its followers about landmarks and this image has kept popping up in recent days

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it’s sort of amusing and affirming though I have found this last decade an amazing period of restoration and rebuilding and maturing. Some of this has been through adversity – what better place for stronger learning about self and others? Some of it comes with a clearer sense of both the possibilities and limitations of living. Above all and glad to be a bit more relaxed about what I really want to do and what choices might face this next bit of the journey!

I think that there are a couple of things at this point – before I begin to eat cake to mark the day – that I’d like to highlight and celebrate. I might come back to one or two further themes as I reflect further and who knows what advice birthday cards might bring?

First – when I look back over my working life I’m conscious that I have worked with some pretty demanding and even difficult people. I have not always handled myself with the kind of emotional intelligence that has emerged in recent years. Age has given me some ability in learning how to deal with social conflicts more effectively.  I think I have grown in wisdom as one attempts to imagine different points of view and living with the inevitable compromises that come from a commitment to resolution. And in this – sensibly to acknowledge and accept one’s own limitations is key to maintaining humanity and a commitment to kindness and goodness.

Second. Scientists used to think that we lose a significant number of our brain cells as we age, but other researchers have debunked that theory. We now know that we hit our cognitive peak between the ages of 40 and 68. Through the years, our brains build up connections and recognize patterns—meaning we’re better problem-solvers and can more quickly get the gist of an argument. This matches my experience and reminds me why it’s often better to draw upon the experience of an older person as reservoirs of wisdom. I think therefore it’s not unrealistic to hope that the next decade might be one of creativity, integration and a deepening apprehension of truth.

Third. I’m pretty determined not to give way to grumpy old man syndrome – to be more myself – to be shaped by what I believe to be true and how I might work with others to make a difference.

“For older people,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote , “beauty doesn’t come free with the hormones, the way it does for the young… It has to do with who the person is.” But who is the person staring back at us from the mirror as the decades roll by? The mystery of what makes you and your childhood self the same person despite a lifetime of changes is, after all one of the most interesting questions of both philosophy and theology.

Perhaps the greatest perplexity of ageing is how to fill with gentleness the void between who we feel we are on the inside and who our culture tells us is staring back from that mirror.

So – happy birthday – happy 55th birthday and let’s see what happens. Expect anything and thanks to all those who shape, reshape and love me.

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REMEMBERING JIM BIRREN

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One of the towering figures in gerontology has died : James E. Birren, founding

Director of the Andrus Gerontology Center, at the University of Southern California,

died at the age of 97.  His achievements were extraordinary   Foremost among these,

is creation of the Andrus Gerontology Center at USC, as well as the Leonard Davis

School of Gerontology.  His books and other publications are extensive, and many

distinguished gerontologists have been  nurtured by Jim Birren.  To get just a glimpse of

these, visit:

http://gero.usc.edu/2016/01/15/remembering-james-e-birren/

 

Jim Birren, then in his late sixties, was only getting started. His 30-year

retirement would witness pioneering work in areas far removed from the behavioral

psychology in which he began his own academic work in the 1940s.  Like a small

number of distinguished psychologists (e.g., Jerome Bruner and Leon Festinger),

Birren would “go boldly where no one has gone before” toward the in-depth

exploration of wisdom, autobiography, and the search for meaning.  His generativity

didn’t stop with his retirement nor will it stop now that he has left our world.  Instead,

we are all inheritors of the vision of “positive aging” that he has left behind.

This is the book that has been hugely influential in my own thinking about old age

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For more on guided autobiography, visit:

http://www.guidedautobiography.com/

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