St Matthew's Thorpe Hamlet is home to some amazing, tragic and inspiring history. If you enter the parish across Bishop's Bridge you follow the footsteps of the Martyrs, Lollards and early reformers executed at Lollard's Pit. From the Lollards Pit you can look up the hill to Kett's heights where you will see a beacon. Here the Kett brothers led a rebellion n that took over Norwich. It was triggered by the rich trying to fence common land for their sheep to graze on. Robert Kett made a list of demands and one intrigues me:
"We pray thatt all bonde men may be made ffre for God made all ffre w' his precious blode shedding".
In the Twentieth century Liberation theologians were coming to similar conclusions, but in Norwich a Yoeman farmer was making the connection between the death of Christ and Gods concern for the poor way back in 1549. He was doing what good theologians always do, he was making sense of the Gospel in his own context. He was arguing in opposition to what the Church was teaching and he was right.
You can stop in at Lollards Pit, which is now a Gay Pub, one group who have been persecuted and victimised by the Church look after the ashes of another, and perhaps ask yourself what does it mean here in this context to pray that all may be free for God made all free with his precious blood shedding.
The sexual harassment controversies of the last few weeks have ended careers, caused enormous suffering on one hand and finally given a voice to those who have suffered for so long on the other. There are no doubt many men concerned bout their actions from the past, hoping that their story does not come out.
I am reluctant to post about this because a knee jerk reaction is unhelpful and because I do not want to go along with the narrative that what we are dealing with here is a scandal. I am saddened by the abuse people have suffered, but I could only be scandalised if I was in some way surprised by it. I have spoken to too many young women, who have been leered at in the street by men, when they were walking home from school to be shocked by men behaving appallingly. I have also had too many conversations with women, whose mental health issues began with sexual abuse, to believe anything other than a huge number of women and many men have suffered sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of men and the suffering this has caused has been huge with a significant impact on many people's mental health.
My reluctance to tackle the subject in a blog, is that I do not wish to talk about the actions of a few people, as if they are extraordinarily different to everyone else around them. Not everyone uses their power to sexually harass others. Not every man is guilty of appalling behaviour. But those of us who are not shocked, have often been silent when others behaved badly. Our culture is steeped in the objectification of women and the accommodation of male power. It would be wonderful if recent events are about to bring a change to that. I suspect however that once a few men have lost their jobs and reputations, the press will move on and things will return to normal. For meaningful progress to happen our institutions and our culture need to change. The way men and women relate to each other, especially in the work place, but as importantly in schools, the way we police those who catcall from their cars, and the way men police themselves all need to change. Jesus suggested that the way men look at women and what goes on in their heads needed to change. The objectification of women, "looking upon a women with lust" was in itself the problem, 2000 years later we still need to see the person in front of us rather than an object that can meet our needs, especially when we are in positions of power.
This is not political correctness, but behaving in a way that treats every person with the respect they deserve. I suspect this blog adds little to the conversation that is taking place, and whatever valid points I may have made have been made more eloquently by others. But recent events have shown that we all need to speak out as best we can and so with reluctance I have added my thoughts.
When I was 5 years old and had been in care for nearly all my life I met my new foster parents. I was given a plate of biscuits and had to offer them to my new parents as they had a cup of tea. I carefully organised the biscuits with the chocolate ones near me and plain digestives to the front. As my Dad reached to the back of the plate I simply leaned further back as well. In front of me was my new family and a chance for a different life, but a Chocolate biscuit is a chocolate biscuit. Fortunately my new family saw this as funny rather than as a character flaw!
We may have started coming to Church because we wanted to be part of a loving community, or because we wanted to encounter God. We can end up settling for something that feels familiar and safe. The “Chocolate Biscuit” we settle for is a faith which does not challenge us or ask us to change, but becomes a set of stories we know and a way of worshiping we have grown used to. We were offered something far richer; a mysterious encounter with the living God, a new family and a place to discover our healing. We were asked to become the person God created us to be and chose something less difficult, the routine of religion.
What would happen if we refused to settle for the Chocolate Biscuit, what might God have in store for us instead? Faith could be an adventure, relationship with God could change everything we take for granted. Let’s face it Chocolate biscuits are nice, but we were created for so much more.
Church communities have always been places where people find hope, healing, a community they can be part of, and places that enable them to make changes to their lives. These are qualities that make us really good partners in supporting people’s recovery. As I seek to engage in a life that is meaningful to me, having a community that cares about me and believes in me is incredibly important. For those of us who sometimes are challenged by our own mental health, Church can be a blessing and a lifeline.
Our PCC has made a commitment to being a Recovery Friendly Church and as part of this we asked ourselves five questions;
1 what gives people hope at St Matthews
2 what happens here that enables healing.
3 how do we enable people to engage with the things that matter to them?
4 how do we make our community accessible to everyone?
5 if someone walked into our Church, how would they know these things happen here?
This was not an excercise in finding fault but primarily about celebrating what is good. We can sometimes feel that being Recovery Friendly is a huge challenge, often it is about having confidence in what we already do and understanding the contribution we are making. I wonder if these are questions your Church might like to explore or already are? Do feel free to comment.
Recovery Friendly Church is a network of Churches committed to supporting good mental health and wellbeing in our Churches and Communities. It works with the Recovery model and recognises the unique contribution Churches can make to supporting people in their recovery. Recovery is seen as the process that enables someone struggling with mental health issues to engage with life on their terms. It may mean learning to live with symptoms or finding ways of managing them. For some people faith will be an important part of that Recovery. Here people might discover hope that things can be different, that tomorrow need not be like today. When we realise that we are more than our diagnosis and that we still have hopes and desires we are engaging with our healing. The Church can be part of enabling a person to engage with those hopes and dreams and provide a nurturing Community that supports that journey. We are not professionals and can not replace professional services, but we can offer something different. Places of friendship and support that value and empower everyone regardless of their mental health or well being issues. For more information please contact Rev Patrick Jordan or visit our facebook page. Recovery Friendly Church Norfolk.
I remember feeling incredibly uneasy at visiting a Church I was unfamiliar with, having a sense that there might be something here that I wanted but no knowledge of what it was or how to access it. Communities are great but if your on the outside of them, they can feel excluding. Churches are strange spaces as well, their buildings and artwork creating symbols that may not be immediately accessible. The services use language and ideas that are unfamiliar and may need explaining. All of these things can leave you feeling that this odd space is outside of your experience and yet point to a mystery you wish to engage with. The language the Church uses for this is mystery, we are not being odd on purpose, it’s just that we are trying to describe something incredibly surprising; you and I, indeed everything that exists was created by someone and continues to exist because that same someone loves us. The mystery of God’s love inspires art, music and worship. It all seems a little strange at first, but that stems from our belief that there is more going on in the world than we first percieve, that everything is somehow more mysterious and more wonderful than we realised.
Andrei Rublev’s Icon, the hospitality of Abraham is a good example of this. There are three figures (angels?) with identical faces are gathered around a table.What does it mean? The picture is taken from a story in the book of Genesis, three figures visit Abraham who are revealed to be God. Abraham shows lavish hospitality and they sit under the shade of an oak tree, where they are given a meal, and promise Abraham that he will be a father, which causes his now elderly wife Sarah to laugh. The idea that three figures could represent God seems to Christians to be a picture of the Trinity (God being Father, Son and Holy Spirit and yet one God) in the first book of the bible and was a scene painted a number of times. The Father wears Gold, the Son has a stripe on his shoulder which was worn by the emperor and the Spirit wears green, the colour of growth and renewal. The figures are gathered around a table and our view of them in unimpeeded, there is a space for us at the table to join the meal and the conversation. This is where the link with Church lies, there is a mystery here and an invitation. Some things are strange, three figures who turn out to be one God, some things are familiar, sitting ar a table to join a meal. The message seems to me to be, this is mysterious (mystical?) but don’t be alarmed you are welcome here, and the needs that have drawn you to consider this mystery will be met here.