July 2009


Today the Church gives thanks for the life and work of Wilberforce

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William Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833) was a British politician, a philanthropist and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. A native of Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, he began his political career in 1780 and became the independent Member of Parliament for Yorkshire (1784–1812). In 1785, he underwent a conversion experience and became an evangelical Christian, resulting in major changes to his lifestyle and a lifelong concern for reform. In 1787, he came into contact with Thomas Clarkson and a group of anti-slave-trade activists, including Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Lord Middleton. They persuaded Wilberforce to take on the cause of abolition, and he soon became one of the leading English abolitionists. He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807.

Wilberforce was convinced of the importance of religion, morality, and education. He championed causes and campaigns such as the Society for Suppression of Vice, British missionary work in India, the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone, the foundation of the Church Mission Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. His underlying conservatism led him to support politically and socially repressive legislation, and resulted in criticism that he was ignoring injustices at home while campaigning for the enslaved abroad.

In later years, Wilberforce supported the campaign for the complete abolition of slavery, and continued his involvement after 1826, when he resigned from Parliament because of his failing health. That campaign led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire; Wilberforce died just three days after hearing that the passage of the Act through Parliament was assured. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to his friend William Pitt.

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Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your Church the never-failing gift of love, that, following the example of your servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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John 11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 

38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 

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This shocking news report should move us all into some action:

 

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Reform of the pensions and benefits system is urgently needed to tackle pensioner poverty in the UK, which is among the worst in Europe, campaigners said today.

The call for action came after European commission statistics showed that 30% of over-65s in the UK were living on incomes far below the national average. That was the fourth highest level in Europe, according to the figures, with pensioners in Romania, where 19% fell below the poverty threshold, among those faring better than in the UK.

Only pensioners in Cyprus (51%), Latvia (33%), and Estonia (33%) came out worse. The EU average was 19%.

The figures came ahead of the work and pensions committee’s review of government efforts to tackle pensioner poverty, which is due to be published on Thursday.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director for Age Concern and Help the Aged, said the report demonstrated that even in the years of growth before the recession, many older people were being left behind.

“In a country where the richest have incomes five times higher than the poorest, older people are disproportionately bearing the burden of this inequality,” she said.

“To lift millions of pensioners out of poverty and prevent this situation from getting worse in the future, this government and the next must find a more effective system to ensure benefits reach those who need them and meet the existing commitment to reform the pension system by 2012.”

Recent research by the charity showed that one in five people aged 60 and over were skipping meals to save money on food, while two-fifths were struggling to afford essential items.

The EU study found pensioners in the Czech Republic were least likely to be living in poverty, with 5% below the threshold of an income of 60% of the national median.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “It’s absolute nonsense to suggest this government is not committed to pensioners.

“Measures such as pension credit and winter fuel payments mean that even the poorest pensioners in the UK are still better off than the poorest pensioners in other countries.

“In 1997 our pensioners’ income was well below the European average. Today their income is nearly 10% higher than the EU average.

“Even the poorest pensioners in the UK are better off than the poorest pensioners in France or Germany.”

Today the Church commemorates Westcott. Here is a summary of some of the hihglights  of his remarkably high achieving life and ministry. His work covers many of my own interests and places of significance ( The Delhi Brotherhood, Westcott House Cambridge where I was trained and, of course, Durham).

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He was born in Birmingham. His father, Frederick Brooke Westcott, was a botanist. Westcott was educated at King Edward VI School, Birmingham, under James Prince Lee, where he became friends with Joseph Barber Lightfoot.

The period of Westcott’s childhood was one of political ferment in Birmingham and amongst his earliest recollections was one of Thomas Attwood leading a large procession of men to a meeting of the Birmingham Political Union in 1831. A few years after this Chartism led to serious disturbances in Birmingham and many years later Westcott would refer to the deep impression the experiences of that time had made upon him.

In 1844 Westcott entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was invited to join the Cambridge Apostles. He became a scholar in 1846,  and took  his BA degree in January 1848, obtaining double-first honours.

After obtaining his degree, Westcott remained in residence at Trinity. In 1849 he obtained his fellowship; and in the same year he was ordained deacon and priest by his old headmaster, Prince Lee  later Bishop of Manchester.

As well as studying, Westcott took pupils at Cambridge; fellow readers included his school friend Lightfoot and two other men who became his attached and lifelong friends, E.W. Benson and F.J.A. Hort. The inspiring influence of Westcott’s intense enthusiasm left its mark upon these three distinguished men; they regarded him not only as their friend and counsellor, but as in an especial degree their teacher and oracle.

He devoted much attention to philosophical, patristic and historical studies, but his main interest was in New Testament work. In 1851 he published his Norrisian prize essay with the title Elements of the Gospel Harmony.

In 1852 he became an assistant master at Harrow School, and soon afterwards he married a Miss Whithard. He succeeded in combining with his school duties an enormous amount both of theological research and of literary activity. He worked at Harrow for nearly twenty years under Dr C.J. Vaughan and Dr Montagu Butler, but he was never good at maintaining discipline among large numbers.

The writings which he produced at this period created a new epoch in the history of modern English theological scholarship. In 1855 he published the first edition of his History of the New Testament Canon, which, frequently revised and expanded, became the standard English work on the subject. In 1859 there appeared his Characteristics of the Gospel Miracles.

In 1860 he expanded his Norrisian essay into an Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, a work remarkable for insight and minuteness of study, as well as for reverential treatment combined with considerable freedom from traditional lines. Westcott’s work for Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, notably his articles on “Canon,” “Maccabees,” “Vulgate,” entailed most careful and thorough preparation, and led to the composition of his subsequent popular books, The Bible in the Church (1864) and a History of the English Bible (1869). To the same period belongs The Gospel of the Resurrection (1866). As a piece of consecutive reasoning upon a fundamental Christian doctrine it attracted great attention. Its width of view and its recognition of the claims of historical science and pure reason were thoroughly characteristic of Westcott’s mode of discussing a theological question. At the time when the book appeared his method of apologetic showed both courage and originality, but the excellence of the work is impaired by the difficulty of the style.

In 1865 he took his B.D., and in 1870 his D.D. Later he received honorary degrees of DC.L. from Oxford (1881) and of D.D. from Edinburgh (1883). In 1868 Westcott was appointed examining chaplain by Bishop Connor Magee (of Peterborough); and in the following year he accepted a canonry at Peterborough, which forced him to leave Harrow.

For a time he was enthusiastic about a cathedral life, devoted to the pursuit of learning and to the development of opportunities for the religious and intellectual benefit of the diocese. But the Regius Professorship of Divinity at Cambridge fell vacant, and J. B. Lightfoot, who was then Hulsean professor, refused it in favour of Westcott. It was due to Lightfoot’s support almost as much as to his own great merits that Westcott was elected to the chair on November 1, 1870.

He now occupied a position for which he was supremely fitted, at a point in the reform of university studies when a theologian of liberal views, but universally respected for his massive learning and his devout and single-minded character, had a unique opportunity to contribute. Supported by his friends Lightfoot and Hort, he threw himself into the new work with extraordinary energy, sacrificing many of the privileges of a university career in order that his studies might be more continuous and that he might see more of the younger men.

His lectures were generally on Biblical subjects. His Commentaries on St John’s Gospel (1881), on the Epistle to the Hebrews (1889) and the Epistles of St John (1883) resulted from his public lectures.

One of his most valuable works, The Gospel of Life (1892), a study of Christian doctrine, incorporated the materials upon which he was delivered a series of more private and esoteric lectures on week-day evenings. Lecturing was an intense strain to him, but his influence was immense: to attend one of Westcott’s lectures was an experience which encouraged those to whom the references to Origen or Rupert of Deutz were unintelligible.

Between 1870 and 1881 Westcott was also continually engaged in text critical work for an edition of the New Testament, and, simultaneously, in the preparation of a new text in conjunction with Hort. The years in which Westcott, Lightfoot and Hort could thus meet frequently and naturally for the discussion of the work in which they were all three so deeply engrossed formed a happy and privileged period in their lives.

In the year 1881 there appeared the famous Westcott and Hort text of the New Testament, upon which had been expended nearly thirty years of incessant labour.

The reforms in the regulations for degrees in divinity, the formation and first revision of the new theological tripos, the inauguration of the Cambridge mission to Delhi and the subsequent founding of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, the institution of the Church Society (for the discussion of theological and ecclesiastical questions by the younger men), the meetings for the divinity faculty, the organization of the new Divinity School and Library and, later, the institution of the Cambridge Clergy Training School (renamed Westcott House in 1901 in his honour), were all, in a very real degree, the result of Westcott’s energy and influence as regius professor. To this list should also be added the Oxford and Cambridge preliminary examination for candidates for holy orders, with which he was from the first most closely identified.

The departure of Lightfoot to become Bishop of Durham in 1879 was a great blow to Westcott. Nevertheless, it resulted in bringing him into still greater prominence. He was compelled to take the lead in matters where Lightfoot’s more practical nature had previously been predominant. Westcott was himself to become Bishop of Durham in 1890.

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When John Rae became headmaster of Westminster School in the early Seventies the IRA was regularly setting off devices around Parliament, 200 yards from the school. Neither he nor his 479 pupils seemed unduly concerned: “A housemaster tells me that a boarder returned to his house carrying a piece of exploded car,” he wrote on March 8, 1973, “and was sent round to Scotland Yard to hand it in.” The boy wouldn’t have been gone long. With Scotland Yard also a stroll away, each school day beginning in a service at Westminster Abbey, and Rae a guest at 10 Downing Street and the US embassy, there is throughout these diaries of his 16-year reign a vivid sense of proximity to the heart of British establishment life.

 It’s a mark of his gifts as an observer of human behaviour, an analyst of power politics, and an urbane prose stylist that the memoir merits the attention of any reader. Although it may be set in a rarefied world, its central theme is universal – the transition from childhood to adulthood. Rae’s overwhelming interest is his pupils (despite the book’s rather crass and misleading title) who he finds absorbing: “Westminster’s boys and girls were no angels,” as he puts it, “but they were always good company.”

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As we follow his campaign to turn a single-sex establishment with a reputation for arrogance, slackness and drug-taking into the best school in the country, the same holds true of the author.

Rae died in 2006, aged 75, but the energy he displays here is prodigious. He teaches history to pupils of all ages, navigates tricky meetings with staff and governors, soothes a truly bizarre array of parents, courts new teaching talent and new sources of bright students, chairs the Headmasters’ Conference, passes judgment on thieves and pyromaniacs, pounds the pool at the RAC club, raises six children.

All the while he has an appetite for controversy and debate, writing books, a column in the Times Educational Supplement and frequent articles for the nationals. Even as the cyclical patterns of academic life repeat themselves, his writing remains fresh, droll and often poignant.

Some incidents are shocking. A housemaster asks to see him about a 16-year-old who is increasingly disaffected. They discuss the child’s home life. His father committed suicide when he was six, it emerges. He asked the boy to come into his room, took out a revolver and shot himself in front of him.

Some are farcical: a colleague drops dead en route to his own farewell party; Rae leads the decision among the hungry guests not to waste a perfectly good dinner. He then finds himself sitting next to the historian A J P Taylor, whose son was at the school. “You can always tell a Westminster,” says Taylor, “because his handwriting is illegible and he can’t walk properly.”

In key areas Rae is shown to be ahead of his time. Long before most headmasters had understood the value – indeed necessity – of nurturing a profile, Rae was courting the media. It made him enemies inside the school and in the wider world of education, but how astute and prescient he seems now.

To the accompaniment of howling and lamentation from his fellow headmasters, he allowed the first ever reality television broadcast about a public school to be shot at Westminster, inviting BBC cameras in to make a fly-on-the-wall documentary in 1979. The film that emerges is, he feels, a true one, catching “the lively, articulate flavour of the place, as well as the worries about success and failure, and about parental sacrifice”. The press are almost universally enthusiastic about both the film and the school. Rae is quietly jubilant.

As a surreal cast of characters float past (Thatcher, Wilson, Tommy Trinder) he oversees the arrival of girls in the sixth form. He places as much emphasis on pastoral care as on academic excellence, and has long since abolished corporal punishment.

He goads his fellow headmasters about their lack of transparency, insisting that it is in the interest of all schools to publish their exam results. It helps, of course, that his are so good.

Others mutter about his ‘‘Gadarene pursuit of A-level results’’, but towards the end of his time in charge he places 79 pupils from a single year at Oxbridge colleges. Whether Oxbridge matters a damn is a moot point, but in Rae’s world admissions are, and indeed remain, the measure by which many schools judge themselves.

When he finally leaves Westminster, there are 566 boys and 78 girls in the school. To them, as well as many of his staff, Rae sees himself as a father figure, and it is moving when he writes about the death of his own father, a radiologist. He stood for simplicity, reliability and loyalty to the family: “His outlook on life was balanced, humane and unsentimental.”

He did not espouse that sense of entitlement that so often blights public school education, but instead a sense of possibility.

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If this exceptional man betrays one fault it is that air of assumed omniscience to which all headmasters ( and indeed some priests!)are prone.

 

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amazement is the thing

 

The point is the seeing, the grace
beyond recognition, the ways
of the bird rising, unnamed, unknown,
beyond the range of language, beyond its noun.
Eyes open on growing, flying, happening,
and go on opening. Manifold, the world
dawns on unrecognizing, realizing eyes.
Amazement is the thing.
Not love, but the astonishment of loving.

 

From Alastair Reid, Growing, flying, happening

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Mary Magdalene or Mary of Magdala is described, both in the canonical New Testament and in the New Testament apocrypha, as a devoted disciple of Jesus. She is considered by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches to be Saint Mary Magdalene, with a feast day of July 22. She is also commemorated by the Lutheran Church with a festival on the same day. The Orthodox Church also commemorates her on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers which is the second Sunday after Pascha (Easter).

In the New Testament, Mary Magdalene is distinguished from other women named Mary as “Mary of Magdala”, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The life of the historical Mary Magdalene is the subject of ongoing debate. The less-obscure development of the “penitent Magdalene” as the most beloved medieval female saint after Mary, both as an exemplar for the theological discussion of penitence and as a social parable for the position of women, provides matter for the social historian and the history of ideas.

 

Prayer to St Mary Magdalene

by Saint Anselm

 

St Mary Magdalene, you came with springing tears to the spring of mercy, Christ; from him your burning thirst was abundantly refreshed through him your sins were forgiven; by him your bitter sorrow was consoled.

My dearest lady, well you know by your own life how a sinful soul can be reconciled with its creator, what counsel a soul in misery needs, what medicine will restore the sick to health.

It is enough for us to understand, dear friend of God, to whom were many sins forgiven, because she loved much.

Most blessed lady, I who am the most evil and sinful of men do not recall your sins as a reproach, but call upon the boundless mercy by which they were blotted out.

This is my reassurance, so that I do not despair; this is my longing, so that I shall not perish.

I say this of myself, miserably cast down into the depths of vice, bowed down with the weight of crimes, thrust down by my own hand into a dark prison of sins, wrapped round with the shadows of darkness.

Therefore, since you are now with the chosen because you are beloved and are beloved because you are chosen of God, 1, in my misery, pray to you, in bliss; in my darkness, I ask for light; in my sins, redemption; impure, I ask for purity.

Recall in loving kindness what you used to be, how much you needed mercy, and seek for me that same forgiving love that you received when you were wanting it. Ask urgently that I may have the love that pierces the heart; tears that are humble; desire for the homeland of heaven; impatience with this earthly exile; searing repentance; and a dread of torments in eternity.

Turn to my good that ready access that you once had and still have to the spring of mercy.

Draw me to him where I may wash away my sins; bring me to him who can slake my thirst; pour over me those waters that will make my dry places fresh. You will not find it hard to gain all you desire from so loving and so kind a Lord, who is alive and reigns and is your friend.

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