Prayer

Meekness and Majesty

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As Christians around the world remember Jesus’ last supper, we are printing a reflection by Selina Stone (who co-ordinates our Buxton Leadership Programme and our work with Pentecostal churches). It was delivered yesterday at the International HQ of the Salvation Army, as one of a series of Holy Week addresses on the “Meekness and Majesty” of Jesus. Selina’s theme was “Lord of Humanity, dwells in Eternity” – and she reflected on John 13.21-32

On reading the words ‘Lord of Eternity, Dwells in Humanity’ we can very easily be persuaded to engage in deep theological reflection. We could spend long moments studying biblical passages in hebrew or koine greek or delving into the writings of many forefathers and foremothers in the faith. Many have tried to understand how Jesus could be both fully God and fully man and few have settled on a clear explanation. Was Jesus mainly a spiritual force, or may just a good teacher, or maybe he switched between his two natures? In simpler terms, we could speculate about if Jesus knew in advance what his mother would make him for breakfast through some sort of divine knowledge, whether he was ever cheeky to his parents, or if he ever made another child cry…

Cleansing the Temple

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On Tuesday of Holy Week, our Director Angus Ritchie reflects on a pivotal event which we often overlook…

The Cleansing of the Temple is a pivotal event in all four Gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke it occurs in the days between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) and the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday), whereas in John it is placed very near the beginning of his public ministry.

A weekend of hearts

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Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48This weekend, Roman Catholics have been celebrating two important feasts of the heart. Our Director Angus Ritchie blogs on their meaning, and what they can teach all Christians…

For Roman Catholics, and indeed for some Anglicans, this is a weekend of hearts. On Friday, they celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and on Saturday the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Growing up in a Highland Manse, neither feast loomed large in my childhood. I only began to ponder them when I was a Curate in East London. My parish was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Catholic church across the road was dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. What, I wondered, were these feasts about? What did they have to teach me?

Into the desert… How Jesus’ example can transform us this Lent

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IMG_6892Our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA, helps to guide us into Lent with a brief reflection on Jesus’ time in the desert…

“Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil.” (Luke 4:1)

We sometimes speak about “going into the desert” as if it were some sort of “time out” or form of escapism in order to enjoy our spiritual life in a different way… and hopefully it becomes just that. But we need to remember that the desert is where Jesus encountered the “devil!”

When the spirit leads us into the desert: a Lenten reflection

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IMG_6892We begin Lent with another brief but profound Lenten reflection from our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA…

To live Lent is to allow ourselves be led by the Spirit into the desert – a place of passage rich with potential if, like Christ, we consent to be who we are: children who receive their life from the Father, marked with a certain void but aspiring towards fullness.

When God addresses Moses “Speak to the whole assembly of the sons of Israel and say to them, “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy,” the invitation might frighten us were it not for the fact that it is followed by a list of things we should avoid in order not to hurt our neighbour and thereby arrive at holiness (Lev.19, 1-2, 11-18).

Advent: How long, oh Lord, must we wait?

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Revd Alexandra Lilley is Assistant Curate at St Paul’s, Shadwell – close by to our office in east London. Here she offers us a reflection on the waiting and anticipation at the heart of Advent…

Advent is a season in the church’s life when we deliberately turn our thoughts and attention to what it means to be a people-in-waiting. A waiting community.

We may imagine ourselves as the people of Israel, waiting for a Messiah to fulfill long-held promises; waiting for a Saviour to free them from the captivity of the Empire. But of course, it’s hard to hold that tension for long in our imagination, as we know the end of that story so well. There’s a stable and a manger waiting to be occupied with baby doll Jesus, in just a handful more of carefully counted down days.

Living counter-culturally: An Advent reflection…

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IMG_6892Following on from her very popular Lentern reflection, our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA, brings us a short reflection for the start of Advent…

If ever the liturgy invited us to live counter-culturally, it must surely be during the season of Advent. In an age of speed-reading, texting and immediate response, we are encouraged to re-read Scripture texts reminding us of our ancestors in the faith who really knew how to wait in hope.

Staff pilgrimage leaves us inspired…

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profile-SusanneSusanne Mitchell, the Co-Ordinator of our Presence and Engagement Network, blogs about a recent staff away day – to a place with a long spiritual history…

On a Saturday midway through Lent, CTC staff boarded the 9.00 from Liverpool Street station bound for Norwich: home of Julian, Anchoress, writer and mystic.

Led by our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny, we sat in a cell-like chapel and learned about this remarkable 14th century plague survivor famous for her “Revelations of Divine Love.” This is indeed a prayerful, peaceful, ‘thin’ place. Unlike Nuns, Anchoresses remained in the world – their cells were designed with a window into the main church, where Mass was said, another window to communicate with a maid who saw to their practical needs and, most importantly, a window to the outside world. It was here that people came with their anxieties and requests for prayer.

Lent – the way of the Cross

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IMG_6892In a blog marking the start of Lent, our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA, offers a reflection on the way of the Cross…

Christian awareness is shaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  From the early centuries Christians wished to trace his footsteps from the Praetorium to the house of Caiphas and then to Calvary – a reminder to them that they had “died with Him” in Baptism.

When it became difficult to travel to the Holy Land, they created ‘replicas’ of Jesus’ last journey in their own countries. Usually these were outdoors. Much later they were brought inside the Churches to form what we recognise today as the Stations of the Cross. This tradition is often attributed to St. Francis and provides a simple form of meditation on the Passion.

It is a form of meditation which has become popular during Lent – based essentially on the Gospels and some passages handed down through tradition.

The following is best read and meditated upon slowly (I have taken it from an Assumptionist publication (the Religious Order to which I belong).

Introducing our new Lent book

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profile-AngusCentre Director Angus Ritchie blogs on his new Lent book, written with Paul Hackwood.  Just Love: Personal and Social Transformation in Christ costs £8.99 – or £5.15 on Kindle.  You can view the cover here and a sample chapter here.

The Kindle version is online now, and hard copies can be ordered from manoj@instantapostle.com or Amazon.  There are discounts for bulk purchases (20% off for 20+ copies, 25% off for 50+ and 30% off for 100+).

The last year has seen two exciting developments for Christians committed to social justice.  They make it an excellent time to launch a book on the personal and social aspects of transformation in Christ.

Director preaches 2013 Jellicoe Sermon

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profile-AngusEvery year, Magdalen College, Oxford hosts a Jellicoe Sermon, in honour of Fr Basil Jellicoe.  Fr Basil studied at the College, and went on transform the rat-infested slums of London’s Somers Town as part of the Magdalen College Mission.

The sermon is given by someone connected with CTC and our Jellicoe Community.  This year’s sermon was delivered by our Director, Canon Dr Angus Ritchie.  The Gospel reading was Luke 18.9-14.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Most people remember Rosa Parks for a single, iconic act in the summer of 1955.  On her bus home from work, she sat down as usual in the area reserved for black people.  As the front (which was reserved for whites) filled up, the bus driver moved the “colored” sign behind Parks, and told her to move to the back to accommodate the extra white passengers.

Just Love: Personal and Social Transformation in Christ

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profile-AngusCentre Director Angus Ritchie blogs about an exciting upcoming publication which will be published by CTC in association with Church Urban Fund…


For those who plan early, it’s worth knowing that a new resource is being prepared for Lent 2014.  Along with Paul Hackwood (Chair of the Church Urban Fund) I’m currently writing a book. Just Love: Personal and Social Transformation in Christ will use the Gospel readings for each Sunday Lent to explore how Jesus loved, and why this love led him to the cross.

Director preaches at Hong Kong Cathedral

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The Centre’s Director, Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, is currently writing and researching while on sabbatical in Hong Kong.

While there he was invited to preach at St John’s Cathedral. The text of this morning’s sermon is below…

As many of you know, Cantonese is a very difficult language to learn.  Two years ago, I married into a Cantonese family.  On honeymoon, my wife and I came to Hong Kong, and there was a celebration banquet.  I wanted to say a few words of Cantonese, but this was a dangerous idea. When I tried to say doh tze dai ga (which is ‘thank you everyone’) what I actually said was doh tze dai ha (which is apparently ‘thank you big prawn’).
Even when you get the words right, it is impossible to make a complete translation between English and Cantonese.  For example, no English word quite captures the Cantonese yee(t)-naow – it really means “a joyous, noisy gathering, which might be in the home or outside, might be a party or a parade.”  This is an example of a more general problem of translating between tongues – words in different languages often have slightly different meanings.  So we face this  same problem when we the Bible is translated into English or Cantonese, Mandarin or Tagalog.  The translation never quite captures the meaning and nuance of the original Hebrew or the Greek.

Director preaches at St Paul’s Cathedral

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profile-AngusFounder and Director of CTC, Canon Dr Angus Ritchie preached the sermon at Evensong on Sunday 16th June at St Paul’s Cathedral. Mentioning Pope Francis, the Wesley Brothers and the funniest joke in the world, you can read the text below…

 

Back in 2002, Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire did some research to discover the funniest jokes in the world.  He set up LaughLab, a website where people could submit and vote on different jokes, in order to establish which ones had the broadest appeal across ages and cultures.

Alas, many of these jokes aren’t exactly suitable for a sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral.  But, whether they are dodgy double-entendres, or rather more innocent puns, the best jokes exploit the fact that many of our words are ambiguous.  (Apparently, one of the most popular jokes goes like this. Two fish are in a tank, and one says to the other: How on earth do you drive this thing?)

Prayers for Palm Sunday

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This is the fortieth and last of our daily Lenten blogs, with prayers for projects connected with the Contextual Theology Centre and the Church Urban Fund.  Do take a look back at them all, to get some sense of the extraordinary breadth and depth of Christian engagement with local communities on issues of social justice.

As CTC and CUF’s partner churches enter into Holy Week, pray that for us all, this work of social transformation may be rooted in the extraordinary and transformative work done by Jesus Christ.

Prayers for Day 39 of Lent

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Pray for ‘Spruce’, a gardening and landscaping training project to help long term unemployed people in Durham to get work experience and be helped into work.  It has been set up by Handcrafted Projects with support from the Church Urban Fund.

Pray also for the growing links between ARC (one of CTC’s Pentecostal partner churches) and churches and College chapels in Oxford University – which are deepening understanding across very different parts of the Body of Christ.  Young people from ARC visited Oxford last term, and will be singing at a special Eucharist in one of Oxford’s city centre churches in May.  In addition, three students  from Oxford have served as CTC interns at ARC, with one going on to work there as a Church-based Community Organiser.

Prayers for Day 38 of Lent

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Pray for ‘The Changing Room’ – a project based at a Methodist Church near Penzance which is being supported by the Church Urban Fund.  It has been piloted for the last 18 months and is addressing long term issues of poverty in West Penwith such as child poverty, homelesness, unemployment and domestic abuse, by running activities such as a carers and children drop in, sessions for teenagers, a Food bank, and women’s clothes swaps. Many women who attend these activities are unemployed, on benefits or have suffered domestic abuse, and there are links with Penzance Women’s Refuge. With support from the Church Urban Fund, it is now increasing its activities to include homeless work, and ‘back to work’ sessions (requested by MIND & Addaction).

Pray also for the Catholic Parish of Manor Park, as Contextual Theology Centre staff assist the parish priest and congregation (the church has around 1200 regular attendees) in discerning how to use their building more effectively for ministry and mission.  Pray for the discussions and prayer going on within the church, and for God’s guidance on the process – in one of London’s most diverse and economically deprived neighbourhoods.

Prayers for Day 37 of Lent

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Pray for Rubies in the Rubble – a project in one of CTC’s partner churches which is being supported by the Church Urban Fund.  Rubies in the Rubble makes preserves out of surplus fruit and vegetables from London’s wholesale markets – providing work for vulnerable long-term unemployed women in the community. This is a safe supportive environment where the women can work and build their pride and  confidence. St Peter’s Bethnal Green is involved through providing low-rent storage space, promotion and prayer in services, produce stalls at parish events, and volunteering by church members.

 

Prayers for Day 36 of Lent

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Pray for the  Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) , whose work has a particular focus on refugees and asylum seekers. The Church Urban Fund is supporting a pilot project in London, which will enable Jewish doctors to provide mentoring to 15 refugee doctors to help them overcome the hurdles to finding employment. This project builds on mentoring they already provide to young asylum seekers.

Pray also for the New Citizens Legal Service (NCLS), an initiative of Citizens UK which has been supported by CTC staff and interns.  NCLS aims to address the lack of information available and access to high quality affordable legal advice that is experienced by some members of communities. Often leaders within diaspora communities lack the confidence and knowledge to assist members who are in need of immigration advice.  Citizens UK been training up immigration ‘sign posters’ in its diaspora communities, who will not be giving advice, but will help people navigate the immigration system and obtain the services of an accredited adviser.

Prayers for Day 35 of Lent

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The Church Urban Fund is pioneering a programme of Joint Ventures – working in partnership with Dioceses throughout England to provide long-term sustainable support for Christians working in the country’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Pray for these joint ventures, and in particular for the Joint Ventures developing in Southwark and London Dioceses, and for the partner parishes of CTC involved in this work.

Prayers for Day 34 of Lent

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Pray for the Parish of St James’ Gloucester – one of the poorest in the Diocese.  The Church Urban Fund is supporting St James in delivering a pilot project of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes for refugees and those seeking sanctuary in the UK.

Pray also for churches in Liverpool which are exploring involvement in broad-based community organising.  CTC Director Angus Ritchie spent time training church leaders in the city last week, and discussing the theology which undergirds Christian engagement in the movement.  Pray that these conversations will bear fruit, and in enable churches to take effective action with their neighbours for social justice.

Prayers for Day 33 of Lent

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Please pray for ‘Seeing Change’,  the programme of Bible study, prayer and training developed by CTC and the Church Urban Fund to equip churches to engage their neighbours in ‘Money Talks’ – exploring the impact of the financial crisis on their lives. and identifying practical action that can be taken together to respond to the needs and injustices it is creating.

Around 16 churches have done Money Talks this Lent, with many more coming in the months ahead.  Tonight, they will be holding this work in prayer at St Paul’s Cathedral’s 6pm Eucharist.  Whether or not you can join them in persin, please do uphold this work in prayer.

Prayers for Day 32 of Lent

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Pray for St Philip’s Centre, which is administering the Near Neighbours programme in Leicester, and also offers training to churches and civic bodies throughout England in inter-faith engagement and dialogue.

St Philip’s also works with CTC to deliver the Catalyst training programme for young people in east London.  Pray for young people who met recently at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine (home of CTC), and for the relationships and activities which are flowing from that encounter.

Pray also for the other training partners involved in Near Neighbours – the Christian Muslim Forum, Hindu Forum, Council for Christians and Jews, The Feast, and the Nehemiah Foundation, which employs and trains community workers as part of the programme.  Pray in particular for Beti and Rukshana, the Nehemiah workers in eastern London.

Prayers for Day 31 of Lent

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Please pray for Bradford Churches for Dialogue and Diversity, which is administering the Near Neighbours programme in Bradford and another of neighbouring towns – and in particular for Carlo Schroder, the centre’s Near Neighbours Co-ordinator.

In East London, pray for Waltham Forest Asian Seniors.  For many years, this organisation has provided lunch and fellowship to elders in the Asian community in the area.  With support from Near Neighbours, the lunch club has reached out to neighbours at Shern Hall Methodist Church – a simple development which is now building long-term friendships.

Prayers for Day 30 of Lent

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As we continue to pray for Near Neighbours, please remember the work of the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre in Birmingham, and in particular Jessica Foster’s work as Near Neighbours Co-ordinator for Birmingham.  Pray also for The Feast, a Birmingham- based project which is supported by Near Neighbours, and is bringing together young Christians and Muslims to build friendship and to share with one another something of what their faith means to them.

Pray also for the East End Trades Guild, a project supported by  Near Neighbours in eastern London which is bringing together shops and businesses run by people of diverse cultures and faiths, and for Guild Organiser Krissie Nicholson.

Some facts about the Trades Guild…

  • Its 200 members employ 1200 people
  • In total we have a turnover of £77 million
  • Members put £17 million people’s pockets through wages last year, and £26 million of our supply chain supports other businesses in London
  • Members pay £1.3 million in business rates, and £5 million in VAT and £2.3 million in National Insurance contributions, every year.

Of particular significance for Near Neighbours…

  • We are the “face of the community” for international visitors and locals, serving 520,000 people per month. Our businesses know an average of 80 customers by name.
  • We have intimate local knowledge – we guide people to resources and other businesses, supporting each other.
  • Our relationships with local people help address social isolation and child safety, and our relationships with the police supports greater public safety and crime prevention.
  • We offer a quality of service based on in-depth product knowledge, and we build a loyal customer following.

Prayers for Day 29 of Lent

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This week, one of the focuses of our prayers is the Near Neighbours programme – working to build and deepen relationships across religions and cultures.  The overall programme is run by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England.  Pray for its Director, Liz Carnelley and Grants Officer Andy Mathews.

CTC administers the programme in eastern London.  Pray for Basic Sports and Fitness, a Near Neighbours supported project in Manor Park run by Olympic boxer John Bosco, which is bringing together young people of different faiths to get to know each other, develop healthier lifestyles, and work on other local projects together (including the CitySafe campaign, to reduce street crime and create ‘havens’ for young people in immediate fear of violence).

Prayers for Day 28 of Lent

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Pray for St Aubyn’s Church, Devonport, which is being supported by the Church Urban Fund to establish a pilot work club in the local library for one day a week, working with local community organisations. The parish is the most deprived in Exeter and there is a history of long-term unemployment. Volunteers will be recruited to help, and the aim is to set up other work clubs nearby. 

Pray also for the Near Neighbours programme in East London, which will be the focus of this week’s prayer requests for the Contextual Theology Centre.  Today, please remember its Co-ordinator, Tim Clapton, who works across nine boroughs in London, Southwark and Chelmsford Diocese to encourage projects which bring people of different faiths and cultures into relationship for the first time – or which deepen those relationships.

Prayers for Day 27 of Lent

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Pray for Gateway Church in Barnsley, which has set up a Debt Counselling service in Barnsley.  They have been approached by another local church in Kendray to see if they could run a one-day a week initiative in their premises. The Church Urban Fund is supporting this 12-month pilot.

Pray also for CTC’s work in Manor Park and Forest Gate – and for discussions with local leaders on how to build on the exciting range of existing projects which churches are involved in which seek both to tackle gang violence and poverty, and to deepen relationships with other faiths in one of the world’s most religiously and ethnically diverse neighbourhoods.  Pray especially for CTC’s Assistant Director Fr Sean Connolly, Parish Priest at the Catholic Parish of Manor Park, and Daniel Stone (Church Based Community Organiser in the Parish and in ARC Pentecostal Church, Forest Gate)

Prayers for Day 26 of Lent

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Today is Mothering Sunday.  Pray for the Contextual Theology Centre’s partnership with the Children’s Society – which is both generating materials for use in preparing Sunday liturgies (on Epiphany on the issue of refugees, and today on the issue of family life) and other forms of theological reflection.

Pray also for the wide range of Church Urban Fund projects which support children and families.  For more specific information, click on this link.

Action and Passion

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Continuing our Lenten series on Contemplation and Action, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney, commends the writings of Henri Nouwen – as an antidote to the temptations of an activism which relies solely on human power and human initiative:

I’ve just finished re-reading Henri Nouwen’s classic ‘Compassion’.  It was first published in 1982, but is still every bit as relevant today.  Towards the end of the book, in a section on the ‘temptation of activism’, he talks about the importance of remaining critical of our activist tendencies, which can too often be driven by our own needs rather than the needs of others.  As a brief Lenten reflection I thought I would reproduce what he says at this point.  I take it as a corrective to my own implicit tendencies; only you will know whether or not it applies to you as well:

The most important resource for counteracting the constant temptation to slip into activism is the knowledge that in Christ everything has been accomplished.  This knowledge should be understood not as an intellectual insight, but as an understanding in faith.  As long as we continue to act as if the salvation of the world depends on us, we lack the faith by which mountains can be moved.  In Christ, human suffering and pain have already been accepted and suffered; in him our broken humanity has been reconciled and led into the intimacy of the relationship within the Trinity.  Our action, therefore, must be understood as a discipline by which we make visible what has already been accomplished.  Such action is based on the faith that we walk on solid ground even when we are surrounded by chaos, confusion, violence and hatred.

A phrase from this passage has stayed with me: Our action must be understood as a discipline by which we make visible what has already been accomplishedAll around us there is so much to be done to make the world a better, fairer place – it’s easy to swing between desperation at how much there is to be put right, and demoralisation at how little ever seems to change.  I value the reminder that we are called to join in with what God is already doing, and to make visible what he has already done.

Let me conclude with some more of Nouwen’s words, which underline this message – that our action is a response to, and a participation in, the victory of our crucified and risen Lord.  They seem particularly fitting, as we journey towards Holy Week and Easter:

In the new city, God will live among us, but each time two or three gather in the name of Jesus he is already in our midst.  In the new city, all tears will be wiped away, but each time people eat bread and drink wine in his memory, smiles appear on strained faces.  In the new city, the whole creation will be made new, but each time prison walls are broken down, poverty is dispelled, and wounds are carefully attended, the old earth is already giving way to the new.  Through compassionate action, the old is not just old any more and pain not just pain any longer.  Although we are still waiting in expectation, the first signs of the new earth and new heaven, which have been promised to us and for which we hope, are already visible in the community of faith where the compassionate God is revealed to us.  This is the foundation of our faith, the basis of our hope, and the source of our love.

Amen to that!

Prayers for Day 25 of Lent

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Pray for St Martin’s Church in Nottingham – whom the Church Urban Fund is supporting in setting up a Debt Counselling Scheme on the Sherwood Council Estate  for families in severe debt and related problems. St Martin’s found this need through coming into contact through its families worker who has been working with vulnerable families for 2 1/2 years. The scheme is being developed in association which Christians Against Poverty.

Pray also for the Contextual Theology Centre, as it develops plans with partner organisations to engage churches more deeply in the Credit Union movement.  CTC is hoping to launch a significant new initiative on this issue after Easter – pray for God’s guidance on the conversations and planning currently going on between the staff team, our local congregations, and other strategic partners.

Prayers for Day 24 of Lent

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Pray for MaxLife (the Maximum Life Project) in Hull.  The Church Urban Fund is supporting it in holding to a youth assembly to raise awareness of issues faced by local young people and to encourage them to get involved in community life. MaxLife plans to tackle this issue of youth unemployment by recording the stories of local young people through the youth assembly. The wider community will also record intergenerational experiences of unemployment, which will encourage cohesion and dispel sterotypes. This work will help the young people develop communication, planning and negotiation skills, and will highlight gaps in provision for MaxLife’s future work. It will link up to Hull Young Advisors and Youth Parliament, University of Hull and other agencies to publicise the work.

Pray also for Bob Barstow, working on a joint project between the Contextual Theology Centre and St Peter’s Church Bethnal Green called ‘Church of Today’.  With support from the Church and Communities Fund and a local charity, Bob is helping the church to consider how all of its activities might better to reflect that children and young people are the church of today and not simply of tomorrow.  As well as increasing investment of time and energy in children’s church and youth groups at St Peter’s, this process involves developments in the Sunday liturgy, a more intensive focus on developing children’s spirituality (in church and at home) – and a review of the way children and young people’s voices are reflected in the governance in the church.  The project is seeking to learn from, and in due course share good practice with, the wider Body of Christ.  Pray for all members of St Peter’s involved in this work, including Heather Atkinson.

Prayers for Day 23 of Lent

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Pray for The Ark – a community centre in Bodmin, Cornwall which offers help to people with a range of economic and social needs.  Supported from the Church Urban Fund is enabling the Ark to provide personalised support to 15 people who are regular users of the centre – tailored to the specific needs of each individual and addressing the root causes of issues as varied as homelessness, substance misuse and repeat offending.

Pray also for St Josephine Canny (Chaplain) and the Revd Adam Atkinson (Senior Tutor) who are leading the discernment process with those interested in serving on CTC’s Jellicoe Internship Programme this summer – working with churches to help them engage with their context, through practices such as broad-based community organising

Prayers for Day 22 of Lent

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Pray for Ten Ten Theatre, which is working with young offenders from HMYOI Feltham over six weeks to stage a passion play. The Church Urban Fund is supporting this production, which will also involve members of local churches in acting roles, and the play will be performed on Palm Sunday inside Feltham. Young offenders will gain skills in managing conflict, decision making, communication and social skills with the aim of helping them settle in their communities on release. Church goers will gain a deeper understanding of young people at risk of offending.

Pray also for the work of Tom Daggett – the Contextual Theology Centre’s community organiser with Stepney Salvation Army.  As his recent blog explains, Tom is helping build capacity and confidence on one of England’s most deprived estates through community music and drama.

Silence: The Contemplative Way

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The Centre’s Lent programme seeks to connect the often fragmented areas of prayer, doctrine and action – with a number of opportunities for corporate silence, and a Lent course with the Church Urban Fund on faith and social action.  The programme began with an afternoon on Silence: The Contemplative Way at St Peter’s Bethnal Green.

We have already posted the text of Fr Peter Farrington’s talk From Silence to True Stillness of Heart and Revd Fiona Green’s talk Lord, Teach us how to pray is now available as a podcast, with an accompanying handout.

Church Times subscribers can also read this article by Centre Director Angus Ritchie on  the importance of silence – and its relationship to authentically Christian social action

Prayers for Day 21 of Lent

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Pray for the Contextual Theology Centre’s growing international partnerships – for churches in Vancouver seeking resources on theology and organising; links with the nascent community organising movement in Hong Kong and a number of African countries, and discussions about how to share learning and good practice with churches in the European Union.  Pray for wisdom as staff seek to ensure such relationships are genuinely beneficial to grassroots Christian engagement.

Pray also for Ace of Clubs – an outreach project in Clapham, London, which the Church Urban Fund is enabling to employ an outreach and engagement worker who will help ex-homeless people to maintain their tenancies and stay healthy. 

Prayers for Day 20 of Lent

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Pray for the Vine Community Centre in Nottingham, and for the  new sessional worker being supported by the Church Urban Fund to renew the regular gathering it holds for women of different faiths. 

Pray also for churches involved in Nottingham Citizens – the town’s recently-launched broad-based community organising movement.  Pray for the work CTC is doing to help Christians’ participation in community organising to be faithful and effective, rooted in their wider life of prayer and discipleship.

Prayers for Day 19 of Lent

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On this day of worship and of rest, give thanks for the work the Contextual Theology Centre is doing to ground Christian social action more deeply in stillness and prayer.  Materials from our recent afternoon Silence: The Contemplative Way are now online.  Pray that they will be useful to many.  Pray also for our home at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine (a Christian Conference & Retreat Centre), and for its new Master, the Revd Mark Aitken, as he develops its ministries of worship, hospitality and service.

Pray also for SixtyEightFive, a project in Middlesborough which aims to promote and support the role of fathers while providing positive male role models to men and boys who have been raised in a fatherless environment. The Church Urban Fund is helping those involved in the project to befriend and mentor young offenders prior to their release from prison – so that they can have a support network and opportunities to aid their resettlement.

Prayers for Day 18 of Lent

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Give thanks for Matthew 25 Mission, a Christian Charity based at Christ Church in Eastbourne. The Church Urban Fund is helping it to begin a job club for ex offenders after discussions with the local council, job centre and CAB. Volunteers from the church will be encouraged to be involved and trained, and together with a trained careers advisor, will give advice on writing CVs, completing forms, writing letters to employers, interview techniques, careers guidance, retraining and education, and setting up businesses.

Pray for the Shoreditch Group, (a project of CTC) as its seeks to build congregational capacity to engage with the Caring for Ex Offenders programme.

Prayers for Day 17 of Lent

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Pray for WORD – a project in  Norwich set up by an orphan and widow to tackle the causes of poverty for widows, single parents, and orphans in deprived communities. The Church Urban Fund is helping it to set up a parenting course with 50 parents, which will also provide IT training to disadvantaged asylum seekers and refugee parents.

Pray also for the Contextual Theology Centre’s partnership with The Children’s Society – to help churches reflect theologically, and act effectively, to support children and families in deprived communities across the UK.   Some of these resources are online now – pray for Angus Ritchie and Caitlin Burbridge as they work on further materials.

Prayers for Day 16 of Lent

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Pray for SPACE Project – which works with young vulnerable women as part of Soul Survivor Harrow’s outreach. It provides one to one listening, mentoring and signposting, and True2U (an 8 week programme that improves the self esteem of girls at risk of disengagement with education, risky sexual behaviour, and mental health problems).  The Church Urban Fund is supporting an expansion in the programme.

Pray also for the staff and the partner churches of the Contextual Theology Centre, as they discuss how their community organising work can engage with and support vulnerable women in east London – especially those who are commercially exploited.

Prayers for Day 15 of Lent

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Pray for the Pilgrims Heart Trust, a new partnership between churches and charities in Slough and Reading which is being supported by the Church Urban Fund.  It will enable more effective support of homeless people in the towns, including arts training and mentoring workshops, to help people move towards work.

Pray also for the work CTC is doing with churches in Shoreditch and Forest Gate, to explore the ways in which social enterprises can support young people seeking work.  Last Friday, CTC co-ordinated a ‘Tech Jam’ training young people in web development and social media. Pray for those who participated, and for Helen Moules and Daniel Stone as they evaluate this and explore future work with Freeformers (the social enterprise which delivered the event).

Prayers for Day 14 of Lent

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Pray for Tim Thorlby, Development Director of the Contextual Theology Centre.  Pray that work he has been doing with Affordable Christian Housing, the Eden Network and the Diocese of London to develop a Missional Housing Bond may bear fruit – generating more affordable accommodation for missional workers in London’s poorest neighbourhoods.  It was launched yesterday evening at an event with the Bishop of London, who stressed the distinctive  and transformative role played by workers who live, work and pray in inner-city neighbourhoods, rather than ‘intervening from outside’.

The projects supported by the Church Urban Fund’s Mustard Seed Grants exemplify this point – growing out of the ongoing presence and engagement of the local church.  Today, please pray for About Time, a project in Plymouth which is working with Stoke Damerel Parish Church to provide a Time Bank and English Language Classes to refugees and asylum seekers.

Prayers for Day 13 of Lent

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Pray for West Cumbria Money Advice (WCMA), who are responding to need idenitified by Allerdale Borough Council and deliver financial and budget training to local vulnerable groups. Support from the Church Urban Fund is enabling WCMA to purchase materials to deliver the training sessions.

Pray also for the Community Bible Studies CTC is organising in different parts of London this year – taking the Word of God into the wider community, and enabling a deeper engagement between Scripture and the inner-city contexts of its partner churches.

Prayers for Day 12 of Lent

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One of the outcomes of the Contending Modernities project (see yesterday’s prayer post) is a deeper understanding of the experience of diaspora communities, and ways in which they can be more deeply engaged in action with other groups for the common good.  Pray for the work of the New Citizens Organising Team in London Citizens, and especially for the churches and chaplaincies involved in its work

Pray also for the parish of St Benet Fink, which is employing a Community Mission Apprentice (CMA) to form community partnerships to expand, establish and run projects for disadvantaged young people, the elderly, and establish involvement in Haringey Churches Winter Night Shelter. The CMA will build on partnerships that are being established with YMCA and Age UK to begin this work, doing the background preparation and work with volunteers necessary in setting up these projects. The youth and elderly work is particularly important in an area that has recently seen the loss of a local authority youth centre and has been affected by the 2011 riots, and has lost 7 elderly day centres.

Prayers for Day 11 of Lent

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Pray for CTC’s Research Director Caitlin Burbridge, and for all involved in the Contending Modernities project, which explores how Christians, Muslims and people of no faith discern and promote a truly ‘common good’.  Pray that the research and publications of the east London project will enable good practice to be shared – and myths and fears to be dispelled.

Pray also for ‘About Time’ – a project in Plymouth supported by the Church Urban Fund, which is working with Stoke Damerel Parish Church to provide a Time Bank and English Language Classes to refugees and asylum seekers.

Prayers for Day 10 of Lent

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Pray for Churches Together in the Launceston, who are working with the Church Urban Fund to set up a Money Advice Centre building on the work of the local food bank, to address longer term issues.

Pray also for CTC’s partner churches in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, who are involved each borough’s Foodbank – CTC’s Shoreditch Group playing a vital role in establishing the latter.  Pray for the work of the Centre, as it seeks to help churches relate this work of mercy to the Gospel call to act for justice – and challenge the root causes of food poverty.

Prayers for Day 9 of Lent

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Pray for churches in Hastings and St Leonards who are setting up a Christians Against Poverty Centre, based at St Leonards Baptist Church.  From May 2013, with support from the Church Urban Fund, they will employ a centre manager for 2 days a week and train volunteer debt coaches. Other volunteers will befriend and support clients. They aim to support 40 clients in the first year. Partner churches are giving financial support to the project. They expect a proportion of their clients to be refugee/asylum seekers and people coping with substance misuse.

Pray for the Parish of St Peter’s Bethnal Green, and CTC’s Church-based Community Organiser Andy Walton who is based there.  Pray for the Community Meal taking place at St Peter’s this Sunday, after the all-age Eucharist.  The Community Meal will be a regular event, and is inspired and shaped by the Communion liturgy.  It will ensure local people have a square meal – and enable those who live in food poverty to take surplus food home.

Prayers for Day 8 of Lent

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Please pray for The Church of the Good Shepherd in the Diocese of Leeds and Ripon.  The Church Urban Fund is supporting its work with 9 local churches, each of which has congregations of African origin,  to assess the level of poverty among Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) families in local deprived areas, and to plan how to address that deprivation

Pray also for the work of the Contextual Theology Centre with a growing network of black-led Pentecostal churches in London – building on their involvement in London Citizens’ ‘Nehemiah 5 Challenge’ campaign for an interest rate cap.  Pray for Jellicoe interns who will be working in some of these congregations this summer, and for Emmanuel Gotora, a community organiser with London Citizens who is supporting us in this work.

From silence to true stillness of heart

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The Centre’s Lent programme began with an event last Sunday (17th) on Silence: The Contemplative Way, held at St Peter’s Bethnal Green, in Tower Hamlets.  We are posting materials from this event  on the blog, beginning with this talk by Fr Peter Farrington, of the British Orthodox Church.  Fr Peter oversees a congregation at St George in the East, also in Tower Hamlets.

Church Times subscribers can also read this article by Centre Director Angus Ritchie on  the importance of silence – and its relationship to authentically Christian social action

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is a good thing to learn to control the desire to speak and always be heard. St Arsenius, one of the fathers of the Egyptian desert, is famous for saying ‘Many times I spoke, and as a result felt sorry, but I never regretted my silence’. The spiritual life requires this exterior silence as a necessary means of turning the attention towards God. It was Mary who sat quietly at Jesus’ feet, while her busy sister Martha heard the words, ‘And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her’. (Luke 10:41-42)

But it is the experience of us all that the presence of an external silence is not always or often the sign of that interior silence which is described by the psalmist in his words, ‘Be still and know that I am God’. On the contrary, our exterior silence, though necessary for the fruitful growth of interior stillness, can often be the mask which imperfectly conceals all manner of disturbances. We may be silent, and yet our minds can be running wild with anxieties, with recollections of past sins committed by us and against us, with thoughts of activities we must be engaged in or have just completed.

To be silent in our speech is the necessary beginning of that interior silence which is described as stillness, but it is not the guarantor of it. Just as scattering the seed is not the guarantee of a harvest. Nor putting the hand to the plough the guarantee of completing the work. So we must begin with being silent in our speech, but must continue the spiritual effort or ascesis so that we become still in our inner being.

In the Orthodox Tradition, but certainly not exclusive to it, since it is the fruit of the monastic movement of the early centuries which we all consider part of our spiritual heritage, those spiritual tools were forged which had as their end the development in grace of that inner stillness which allowed the heart of the faithful Christian to be found always sitting as it were at Jesus’ feet. In those in whom this life of Christ takes root as the foundational principle, there is that experience to which St Paul calls us when he says ‘pray at all times’. To be in prayer at all times is not to be always busy in our mind. On the contrary, the experience of prayer, and of the Holy Trinity as the end of our prayer, leads always to an increasing stillness.  And that interior stillness is then manifest in the exterior stillness and silence of those who have found it in their heart, in that place were God is found, Emmanuel, ‘God in us’.

We perhaps begin by keeping exterior silence with the gritting of our teeth. It is the silence which we force upon ourselves so that we might begin to hear God. But as we discover interior stillness as the gift of God, so this transforms our silence in the world so that it is not an act of violence against our weak and sinful self, but a generous extension of our heart towards the world. When there is a stillness in our hearts then we are able to properly hear the needs and hurts of those around us, and offer that stillness we have experienced to others. Our silence becomes fruitful and a means of healing as God wills to use us in His service.

But we must not be mistaken in our thinking. The inner stillness which is found only in the presence of God within the heart is not something which we might experience in passing and then return to the business of the world. It is a stillness in which we must dwell always and even our service in the world must be rooted in this inner quality of being. There are many things which must be done in our lives, but we must always be Mary and always be found at Jesus’ feet even in the most difficult of circumstamces.  Martha was careful about many things, and it is in this that she is criticised. Of course these things needed to be done, but she was full of care and anxiety about them. Indeed she was unable to hear the word of God because she was so full of care within herself. This was the foundation of her own experience. Mary, had found the right place to be, and everything else would find its order around and after the experience of being in the presence of God.

In the Orthodox Tradition the spiritual practices of fasting and the Daily Office, of the reading of the Scriptures and attendance at the services and sacraments of the Church, remain central and necessary to the lives of all faithful Christians. They are the means of grace, and grace is required to bear fruit in inner stillness. But it is especially in the concentrated and extensive use of prayer with few words that it has been found that inner stillness, not simply an inner silence, may be acquired as God wills.

In the beginning the phrase from the psalms, ‘O God make speed to save me, O Lord make haste to help me’ was used, especially in the Egyptian deserts. But the prayer we now know as the Jesus Prayer also became well known, and especially loved. It is that short prayer which says, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’. It has a variety of forms but its essential value is that it is prayer, it is not a mantra, and it contains within it the intense expression of that which the faithful heart most longs for.

Many of the spiritual disciplines are intended to prepare us for prayer, but in the Jesus Prayer we experience prayer itself, which is not asking God for things, but is turning our whole attention and focus on the one to whom we pray. In the Jesus Prayer that for which we pray and the one to whom we pray are united in one expression of the heart. It is especially through the use of the Jesus Prayer that the spiritual writers of the East consider that we are able to have some experience of the words of the psalmist, ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

We cannot easily experience the presence of God if we are not still, and this means much more than being exteriorally silent. But equally the end of our seeking an inner stillness is not for the sake of this stillness alone but is for the experience and knowledge of God. Therefore we are taught to make our own the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’.

At first our minds and hearts are filled with a great noise, even when we are able to hold our tongues and we take up this prayer as one among the many others we offer. But if we allow it to become habitual, and make the effort to use it every day, repeating it with care and attention many times, then we will discover that offering such a limited diet of words to our mind begins to quieten it. The prayer contains no great poetry, it does not range over many subjects that might lead our mind to wander. It is nothing more than the expression of the heart standing in the presence of God. And with attention and effort, and by the grace of God, this simple prayer grants us that which we ask for. In his mercy we discover an interior stillness where God is found.

Driving in the countryside this morning there was a frost on the fields and the sun was bright in a cloudless sky. It was almost impossible to see the road because the sun shone with such intensity its light was reflected in the frost and ice. I thought for a moment that this was in a small sense the experience of those who stand before God in the stillness within the heart. The whole world is transformed for them, and reflects the presence of God. The grey clouds of worldly cares are dispersed for such a one who has chosen that better part which shall not be taken away. Not because the responsibilities and duties of life cease to exist, but because when we are still we may discover God, and discovering God, and sitting in his presence, hearing his word, the whole world is changed.

Prayers for Day 7 of Lent

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Pray for Hope Alive Church in Warrington, which has partnered with Christians Against Poverty to set up a debt advice centre . There is no other debt advice centre in the area, the nearest being 10 miles away in Widnes.  The new centre is partnering with ‘Stronger Together’ (a group involving council, police, agencies and churches), and is also supported financially by the church congregation. Users of the centre are also supported by other services the church provides, including individual counselling, ex-offenders support groups, addiction recovery courses, parenting courses.

Pray also for CTC’s partner churches in East London – for their debt advice ministries, and for the work they are doing to tackle some of the root causes of debt (such as low pay, high rents and exploitative lending) through their membership of London Citizens – and involvement in its Living Wage, Community Land Trust and Just Money campaigns.

Prayers for day 6 of Lent

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Pray for the parishes of St Paul, Monk Bretton and St Mary Magdalene, Lundwood, as the develop a drop-in project in partnership with the Church Urban Fund.  They are hosting a weekly drop in centre at their community hall to provide face to face help for marginalised and disadvantaged people – along similar lines the project at St John the Baptist Barnsley for which we prayed on Saturday.

Pray also for churches which are holding Money Talks this Lent, as part of CTC’s Seeing Change Lent course – for the people who will be engaged in conversation about the impact of the recession on their lives and their neighbourhood.  Pray that these discussions will yield imaginative and fruitful common action.

Prayers for day 5 of Lent

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Pray for Ahaba Cafe – a project the Church Urban Fund is helping All Hallows Church, Bow to connect with young mums, local Bengalis and teenagers of the Lincoln Estate. The Cafe gives young mums a place to go and find support during the day, a meeting place for teenagers, and a place where Muslim Bengali men and church members can come together to cook food for the cafe. It provides opportunities for people to volunteer and gain skills – and is becoming  a community hub to connect people to other services at All Hallows and for different community groups to use.

Pray also for Near Neighbours (East London) – a project run by CTC as part of the wider national programme, administered by the Church of England and the Church Urban Fund).  Pray for its Co-ordinator, Tim Clapton, and for all he does to encourage local people to develop projects which bring people together across faiths and cultures in their neighbourhood.

 

Prayers for day 4 of Lent

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Pray for the advice and guidance drop-in at St John the Baptist, Barnsley – which the Church Urban Fund is helping the church develop.  St John  plans to host a one day a week drop in centre at its church to provide face to face help for marginalised and disadvantaged people. This contact point will offer listening from a trained  project worker along with volunteers from the church, and further referral to other advice and support services. Issues addressed by this drop in will include unemployment, poor health, poor mental health, isolation and family breakdown.

Pray also for Daniel Stone. CTC’s Church-based Community Organiser at two Pentecostal and Roman Catholic congregations in east London – and for the work he is helping those churches develop to tackle gang violence, and mentor young people.

Prayers for day 3 of Lent

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Pray for Sunday’s event in Bethnal Green – Silence: The Contemplative Way.  This is one of a number of ways in which the Contextual Theology Centre helps churches to root social action in Christian doctrine and spirituality.  Pray for this wider work – that for all Christians, social action may flow from the heart of their relationship with Jesus their Lord.

Pray for the Education Achievement Academy, a project the Church Urban Fund is supporting in Leeds.  The Academy provides adult literacy classes for reluctant learners, recruiting from homelessness projects, refugee centres and the probation service.

Prayers for day 2 of Lent

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Please pray for Ascension Community Trust – a project the Church Urban Fund is supporting in London.

The Trust provides local services to cover the gaps in mainstream provision particularly for the young, the elderly and those hard to reach. Following a survey of needs in May 2011, they plan to run constructive activities for young people, based in their Community Garden Cafe. The activites include a film club and discussion group, anger management mentoring, a homework club and guitar lessons. These activities will help young people to develop skills and play an active role in the community.

Pray also for the Shoreditch Group – a project of the Contextual Theology Centre which aims to

  • contribute to the social transformation of Shoreditch, and in particular the reduction of child poverty
  • demonstrate and build up the capacity of churches as agents of social transformation
  • engage churches with a broader cross-section of Shoreditch residents – in particular young people (14-20) experiencing economic and social exclusion and young urban professionals (20-35) with a concern for social justice (both of these being groups the church usually struggles to reach)

 

Praying with CTC and CUF this Lent

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Last Lent, the Contextual Theology Centre and Church Urban Fund launched Call to Change – with a daily blog of prayer requests for our work in some of England’s poorest neighbourhoods.  This year, we’ve built on that partnership, by working together on two Lent coursesBlinded? and Seeing Change (a version of the second course is available for use at other times of year) – and we will be blogging each day on projects to pray for.

A reflection on the Ash Wednesday Gospel is already on our blog (and we warmly commend this excellent post by Sr Catherine Wybourne (@digitalnun).

Today, pray for all Christians beginning their Lenten observance, and in particular for those participating in the courses mentioned above.

Reflections for the start of Lent

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Many Christians, have imagined Lent to be about placating or impressing God – winning a better seat in heaven, by fleeing the corruption of sinful human life. But in Christ we see a love that needs no placating. His is a love that persists even as we do our very worst to him.

God’s answer to human sin is not to demand retribution. Instead, in Christ he takes upon himself all the violence, all the retribution, that the world can offer. He does not stand over us; rather he shows the depth of his love by standing among us. In Christ, we find God’s presence most of all with those our world isolates and scapegoats. The purpose of Lent is to clear away the clutter – our pride, our sin, our desire to blame and scapegoat others – so that we might recognize God’s presence, and allow his grace to refine and to renew us.

The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday is Matthew 6.1-6, 16-18 (or 6.1-6, 16-21)

Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is Luke 4.1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

Pride seems like the hardest sin to root out. The moment you think you’ve conquered your pride…and you begin to feel smug about it…that’s when you’re proudest of all.

The sin of pride comes when we rely on our own power, and see the world only in terms of our importance and achievements. Pride stops us seeing other human beings as equals. They become our rivals.

The temptation to pride often comes when our relationship with God seems to be going well. We congratulate ourselves on our success, rather than giving glory to God.

It’s at the point when Jesus is ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ that we read of the devil tempting him .  The temptation is for Jesus to use his power to impress and dominate the crowds.

Jesus recognises and rejects this temptation because he is rooted in prayer.  Because he is focused on the things that really do matter, he can identify and reject the temptations of pride and self-seeking.

As the forty days in the wilderness helped Jesus to clarify and refine his calling, so in these forty days of Lent we can be refined: so that our pride does not crowd out the love and grace with which God longs to fill us.

Resources for  prayer this Lent

The Contextual Theology Centre is organising a Quiet Afternoon on Silence: The Contemplative Way to help Christians deepen their prayer lives this Lent.  Details are on our events page.

The Centre and the Church Urban Fund have also developed a Lent course called Seeing Change which includes practical action for social justice – and roots it in prayer and Bible study.  You can download it here.

Reflections and Prayers for Sun 10 Feb

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This Sunday is the Sunday next before Lent – and the Church of England lectionary gives us the story of Jesus’  Transfiguration (Luke 9.28-36) to inform our preparations for this penitential season.  The lectionary followed by Roman Catholic churches is different – continuing to read through the Gospel of Luke, and reading the Transfiguration story on the Second Sunday of Lent.

There is something very fitting about reading the story of the Transfiguration as we prepare for Lent (or in its early stages).  To the disciples – and to us each Lent – it is a glimpse of the destination as we prepare to walk the way of the cross.

So what does the Transfiguration tell us about the direction of the Christian pilgrimage.  And what light does this cast on how we might best spend Lent?

– First, and most obviously, it is about the glory of Jesus Christ.  Like his Baptism, the Transfiguration is a statement of whom Jesus is – and therefore shows him to be the one on whom our hearts and our sights must focus:

“from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.”

– Secondly, the Transfiguration is about the destiny of the whole creation.  This is a point stressed by Orthodox theologians in particular: in the glorification of the earthly Jesus, we see a foretaste of a creation transfigured by God’s glory.  This is something we see, in a different way, at every celebration of the Eucharist.  As bread and wine become for us the body of Christ, we see the vocation of each Christian, and indeed of the whole created order – to show forth the glory of God.

What does that mean in practice?  It involves a recognition that we are stewards not consumers of the world God has given us: which in turn implies a care for, and delight in, the physical environment, and a commitment to sharing its fruits in a way that enables all to experience God’s generosity, compassion and justice.

– Thirdly, the Transfiguration speaks of the indivisibility of prayer and action  in the Christian life.  Jesus’ glory is revealed as he prays: as his attention is focused on his heavenly Father.  It is the fruit of contemplation – but this contemplation moves us to action.  Moses and Elijah speak of the cross (” his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem”) and Jesus’ rejects the temptation to remain in the safety and tranquility of the mountain-top vision.  For disciples of Jesus Christ, prayer and practice are inextricably linked. 

Prayer Intentions

Pray for your own church and for its Lent programme, and for God’s guidance on your own journey through this holy season.  Pray that it may be rooted in prayer, and bear fruit in a clearer vision of who Jesus Christ is; better stewardship of the world he has given us, and a deeper attention to his presence in all people.

 

Gospel reflections for Sun 3 February

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This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Candlemas .  The Gospel reading (Luke 2.22-40) recounts Jesus’ presentation in the temple, forty days after his birth. Simeon and Anna have been watching and waiting in the temple, it having been revealed to Simeon that ‘he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah’.  As Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the temple, Simeon takes him in his arms and recites a prayer used in countless churches every evening down the centuries which have followed (at Evensong or Night Prayer):

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

Simeon then goes on to warn Mary:

This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Candlemas is a sort of ‘hinge’  in the Christian year – as we turn from the cycle of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany (focusing on the birth of Christ, and his light dawning upon a broken world) towards the cycle of Lent, Easter and Pentecost (focusing on the cross and resurrection – and the birth of the Church as an ongoing witness to that saving work).  Simeon’s prophecy looks back and forward – hailing the Christ-child as a ‘light for revelation’ and warning Mary that he will grow up to be ‘a sign that will be opposed’.

The prayers in Common Worship reflect this:

Father, here we bring to an end our celebration
of the Saviour’s birth.
Help us, in whom he has been born,
to live his life that has no end.
Here we have rejoiced with faithful Simeon and Anna.
Help us, who have found the Lord in his temple,
to trust in your eternal promises.
Here we turn from Christ’s birth to his passion.
Help us, for whom Lent is near,
to enter deeply into the Easter mystery.

As we read the Candlemas Gospel, we find a great richness of themes to reflect upon – themes which are not simply of theoretical interest, but which should shape our life as Christ’s Body today. These include…

– The remarkable way in which wisdom and patience of old age (embodied in Simeon and Anna) encounters the potential of new life – How do we celebrate all ages, and their contributions to the Body of Christ in the life of our local churches?  

– The central place of waiting in the life of Christian discipleship – What is the place in our church’s life for silence and stillness – not as an escape from life, but as an essential precondition of faithful and courageous action?

…The combination in the Christian life of delight and of sacrifice  How do we combine the joyful celebration of the light of Christ with a recognition of the swords that continue to pierce the disciple’s heart?

Prayer Intentions

Pray for all Christians planning their individual and corporate observance of Lent – that it may include space the genuine, attentive waiting on God which we see in Simeon and Anna.  Pray for all who will take part in the Contextual Theology Centre’s Lenten Quiet Afternoon on the theme of silence.

Gospel reflections for Sun 27 January

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the last in a series which have run from  the Feast of the Epiphany about the different ways in which Jesus’ glory is manifest in the world.  We have read of the visit of the Magi (Jan 6), the Baptism of Christ (Jan 13), the turning of the water into wine at Cana (Jan 20) and today we read of Jesus’ sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4.14-21) – when he reveals himself as the one in whom Isaiah’s prophecy of ‘Good News to the poor…release to the captives… [and] the year of the Lord’s favour’ [that is, the year of Jubilee] is fulfilled.

The Eucharistic Prayer used in the Church of England at this time of year draws these different Gospel readings together into a single thread of Jesus’ self-revelation:

In the coming of the Magi
the King of all the world was revealed to the nations.
In the waters of baptism
Jesus was revealed as the Christ,
the Saviour sent to redeem us.
In the water made wine
the new creation was revealed at the wedding feast.
Poverty was turned to riches, sorrow into joy.

In thinking about Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel, it is important to see it as part of this wider series.  The ‘Good News for the poor’ is both a promise of personal redemption – as we recognise Jesus Christ as the one through whom our sins are washed away, and we are reconciled to God – and a promise of social transformation – as the whole creation is called to reveal God’s love and his justice.

The image we were given last Sunday, of the water used for purification under the law being turned into the wine of celebration, draws these two aspects of the ‘Good News’ together.  It has both a personal component (I don’t need to earn my salvation – it comes as a free gift of grace) and a social one (the foretaste of the Kingdom is of a common feast, at which all can enjoy God’s abundant generosity).

These two aspects of the Gospel are also brought together each time we gather to share the Eucharist. Here we experience salvation as a gift, not an achievement – and also see a model of Kingdom relationships and Kingdom sharing, of the good things of creation distributed in a way that ensures all are welcomed and all are fed.  As we hear Jesus proclaim ‘Good News to the poor’ and the year of Jubilee – how are we called to experience that reality in our personal walk with Jesus, and in our common witness as his Body in a world with so much injustice and need?

Prayer Intentions

The Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre have now launched their Lent materials – which help churches address these questions in relation to their local contexts.  (These courses can also be used at other times in the year.)  Pray for churches who will be using these and other resources to consider how to receive and embody that Good News with fresh passion and power this Lent.

 

Reflections & Prayers for Sun 13 Jan

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This Sunday, the Church celebrates the Baptism of Christ – and the Gospel reading is from Luke 3 (verses 15-17 and 21-22)

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’

The Holy Spirit is often pictured as fire – not least when he descends upon the disciples at Pentecost.

What happens when we are baptised ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’?  One thing we can be sure of – a life which is open to the Spirit, open to his ‘fire’, will never be shallow.   It is to both patience and passion that the Gospel summons us.

In the early years of the church, many Christians felt called to live as monks in the desert – imitating the ministry of John the Baptist and also Jesus’ time in the wilderness.  They went to wait, to clear their hearts and minds of distractions.

Their calling needed patience –   but, as their writings show, patience alone was not enough:

A young monk approached Father Anthony: “I have fasted and prayed and studied, as you have taught me. What else should I do?” And Father Anthony replied, “Why don’t you become all fire?”  (From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

It’s a good question each for us to ask ourselves at the start of the year – “Why don’t you become all fire?”  What would it mean to move to a new level, of depth and passion, in my discipleship in 2013?  How can I become more committed in my following of Jesus, without simply ‘burning myself out’?

We need to make sure we don’t confuse more commitment with more running around.  The fire needs to be from God, not from our own resources, if it is to go on blazing.

And if there are new things which God is calling you to do, are there also old things you need to stop doing – space you need to clear in your life, distractions to remove, in order to focus on this vocation?

Prayer intentions

Pray for the staff at the Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre as they complete work on two exciting new Lent Courses for 2013.  Pray that these may help churches to be clearer about God’s calling for them in the year ahead – and help them to draw on his resources, not simply their own, in working for social transformation.

Resources for Epiphany Sunday

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CTC has produced a short film and sermon notes for The Childrens’ Society to help churches celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on Sunday 6th January – and to connect the story of Jesus and his family as they flee to Egypt with that of refugee children and families today.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-NAHbl82cQ?feature=player_detailpage]

For Christians, Christmas Day is only the beginning.  ‘Twelfth Night’, the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrates the revelation of Jesus Christ to the whole world.  We follow the journey of the eastern kings as they find their way to Jesus – and in doing so, we come together to see his glory, and to offer our gifts in praise and homage.

This revelation is set in the context of danger and violence.  Herod seeks to kill the Christ-child.  Frustrated by the eastern kings, he kills all the firstborn Hebrew males under the age of two – forcing Mary, Joseph and Jesus to flee as refugees to Egypt, where they would have been forced to depend upon the kindness and support of people who they did not know.

What are the stories of those who seek refuge in the UK today? How are we as Christians called to respond?

Use the film and sermon notes to explore these issues – and visit the Children’s Society website for suggestions on how to respond in thought, prayer and action.

Prayer

For those fleeing danger and looking for safety; for those on the run looking for a new home; for children left destitute in a strange country; Lord, may we offer a welcome as warm as the one we would offer the Child who once fled to Egypt.  Amen

From The Children’s Society

 

Beyond the sentimental

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Reflections and Prayers for Christmas Day and Sunday 30 December

The Gospel readings for Christmas Day are Luke 2.1-14 and John 1.1-14

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Luke 2.41-52

The Christmas story leaves us with no room to believe our religion is an “other-worldly” faith!  The world-to-come is born in the mess of the world-as-it-is: the story tells us of the decrees of a hated occupying power (as the Romans force all their subject people to register for a poll tax); of displaced peoples (who soon have to flee to Egypt as refugees); and of homelessness.  It is a story of upheaval, powerlessness and insecurity.  And its in the midst of all of this that heaven comes to earth.

After Christmas, the church celebrates the Feast of St Stephen (the first martyr) on 26th, remembers the Holy Innocents (the Hebrew children slaughtered by Herod, because he fears the Christ-child will be a rival King) on 28th and celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family on Sunday 30th.

Each of these days reinforces the un-sentimental nature of the Christmas story.  Christmas joy, Christian joy, is not about a turning away from the pain of the world into an escapist fantasy.  The joy of the Christmas story is that nowhere in creation is beyond God’s concern, and God’s redeeming work.

Prayer intentions

Pray for all Christian social projects which offer shelter, food and companionship to those in greatest need this Christmastide.

Resources

CTC has produced short film and sermon notes for the Feast of the Epiphany – connecting the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt with the experience of refugee children in the UK today – for The Children’s Society.

Mary: Prayer and Action

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Reflections and Prayers for Sunday 23 December

This Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1.39-44) focuses on Mary and her faithful and passionate response to God’s call.

In preparation for this, CTC held a Quiet Afternoon at St Peter’s Bethnal Green – with speakers from four Christian traditions (Anglo-Catholic, evangelical Anglican, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic) offering reflections on Mary as a model of both prayer.

As the speakers recognised, Mary’s “yes” to Jesus comes at a considerable personal cost.  She is an unmarried woman, and so her acceptance of God’s call may affect her reputation – and jeopardise her marriage to Joseph.  She faces the very real possibility of being left with a child, and without a husband, in an age where that would have meant disgrace and isolation.

The speakers also meditated on the significance of God’s choice of Mary.   Mary came from the social and economic margins – a poor young woman living under an occupying power, in a family forced to flee to Egypt as refugees.

So Mary’s humility and obedience provide us with an example – but so do her strength of will, her disregard for the judgements others may form about her.  Mary shows us that meekness is not weakness: her obedience is passionate, committed and courageous.  These qualities shine forth in the Magnificat­ – her great song of praise which follows after today’s reading – and in her constancy in faith – from the events at the start of Luke’s Gospel through to the foot of the cross and the birth of the church at Pentecost.

Finally, Heather Atkinson reflected on the integration of prayer and action in Mary’s life – the way she embodies the contemplative and loving, courageous service, and teaches us not to see these as competing aspects of the Christian life. In Mary we see that the most powerful, transformative action happens when we begin by waiting on God – discerning and treasuring the signs of his action in our daily lives. Then we, like Mary, become ‘God-bearers’ – because the work is His, not ours.

Father, all-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming.

Prayer intentions

Pray for those whose witness to the Kingdom requires great courage and commitment today – all who face persecution or disadvantage for speaking of their faith, or acting for social justice.

Reflections and Prayers for Sun 16 Dec

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Luke 3.7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance…

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

There are two kinds of sin which John preaches about here.  One is hardness of heart; the willingness to pass by with more than enough possessions while our neighbour has too little.  The other is the abuse of power.  The soldiers have more money than those around them, and are not to abuse their power by seeking more.  Do those same sins affect our lives, perhaps in more subtle ways?

Advent is a time to ask how John’s words speak to us.  Are we indifferent to our neighbour, or when they experience injustice, will we stand with them to resist it?  And what about the power we wield in home and neighbourhood?  Do we use it to build justice or injustice?

Prayer intentions

Pray for the Community Heroes celebrated on the Church Urban Fund website – and for the countless uncelebrated figures here and around the world who are inspired by the Gospel to work for social justice.

Looking forward

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News of materials for Epiphany and Lent… and reflections on this Sunday’s readings

The second day of Advent may seem a little early to be looking forward to Lent, but many churches will now be deciding on their Lenten courses and activities!  So we thought it was a good time to highlight the fact that CTC is working with the Church Urban Fund on a Lent course on how churches can make sense of – and respond faithfully to – the continuing economic crisis.

We’re also producing some materials for the Feast of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night), a feast often overshadowed by Christmas holidays, but an important reminder of the cost as well as the joy of the Incarnation.  The visit of the Wise Men led on to Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, and the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.  CTC and The Children’s Society will be releasing some materials to help churches reflect on issues of asylum and migration around that feast, and the associated Lectionary readings.

Reflections on the readings for Sunday 9 December

More immediately, though – here are our regular reflections on this Sunday’s Gospel – Luke 3.1-6

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…56 All flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

The Gospel readings in these three Sundays before Christmas show us the impact of God on three lives – John the Baptist, Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary.   Their hearts and lives are well-prepared for Christ, and in different ways they show us how we can use this as a season of preparation.

John’s message is deeply challenging ,  but it begins with a word of hope.  God is active, and has power to deliver.  His salvation will be seen in the flesh, and those who groan under the weight of injustice and sin will find their freedom.

John’s ministry emerges out of time set aside for prayer – an encounter with God in the wilderness.  That’s what makes him so sensitive to God’s will.

John’s example is a challenge to us – a challenge facing anyone involved in Christian social action.  When we work together for change, we need to have John’s courage – discovering our potential to speak and act in public, in ways that move us beyond our comfort zones!  But we also need to be humble; to realize that true leadership involves helping others to grow, not dominating them and keeping them in the shade.

Getting that balance right requires time for reflection, repentance and learning.   And above all it requires us to focus on Christ and not on our own ego – so that, like John the Baptist, we recognise the time to speak out and the time to stand back and let others take the centre stage.

Prayer Intentions

Pray for all those preparing devotional materials for use in the year ahead – that they may help Christians to ground social action – as John the Baptist did – in the grace revealed to us in Jesus Christ, not in our own energies and ideas.

Reflections and Prayers for Sunday 2 December

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Introducing Advent

One of the hardest things for us to do – especially in today’s busy and anxious culture – is to wait.  Our meals are microwaved to cut the preparation time.  Often, they are eaten in front of the TV so we can ‘keep up’ with the 24-hour news.  People live in a perpetual state of motion: despite the huge number of ‘labour saving’ inventions in the last century, our lives seem more crammed full of activity than ever.  For what…?

Advent is a time of waiting.  It reminds us that in the Christian life, it is God’s action not ours that comes first.  Before we can do anything useful, we need to watch and wait, to see where his Spirit is at work.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading

This Sunday’s Gospel is Luke 21.25-36. The reading introduces key themes for Advent –  of being alert and awake for God in the midst of the turmoils and distractions of the world around us.

Have you ever watched an angler standing by the river? It looks a very restful pastime, but as any angler will tell you, it involves a lot of concentration. You’ve got to be patient… willing to wait hours while little or nothing at all happens. But if you don’t also keep alert, you’ll miss the opportunity to catch anything.

Too often in today’s world we’re either rushing around or we’re slumped on the sofa! Neither of these are states of alertness and watchfulness. That state of mind – peaceful, patient and yet wide awake– is one we have to make a determined effort to cultivate.

For most of us, December is a very busy time, with lots of
preparations for Christmas.  Will we make an extra space this Advent to listen to God: a little extra time each day to watch and wait?  We might spend it reading the Bible – slowly and reflectively, letting the words sink in, and picturing the situations they describe.  We might listen to a piece of music, or sit before an icon or a candle (as sign of Christ’s light).  If our extra time of quiet is at the end of the day, we might recall each of the people we have met  in the day…their needs and concerns… the way we interacted with them…the things for which we need to say ‘thank you’ and for which we need to say ‘sorry’.

Advent is meant to be a time of preparation for the God who takes flesh and lives among us.  So we can expect to meet Christ in the flesh-and-blood encounters of our daily lives. Keeping Advent prayerfully helps us recognise him when he moves among us – here and now.

Prayer intentions

Pray for all involved in the social action projects of the Church Urban Fund and the community engagement in churches supported by the Contextual Theology Centre – that the demanding work they are doing may draw them closer to the God who became flesh in Jesus.  Pray that Advent may be a time when they can attend more deeply to God’s presence among them, and find in him the strength and grace to minister.

Reflections and Prayers for Sunday 25 November

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This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, and the Gospel reading is John 18.33-37

The month of November has had a particular focus on the Kingdom of God.  On All Saints’ Sunday and Remembrance Sunday, we have been reminded that the earthly, visible church is part of a far greater Body: that we are united not only with Christians across the earth, but across all ages, in one fellowship with Jesus Christ as our Head and King.  Last Sunday, the Gospel reading spoke of the turmoil of earthly empires and kingdoms, and reminded us that our security is found in God’s rule, not in human authorities.

The very first line of each Gospel marks out the tension between Christ’s kingship and earthly empires.  The Greek word for ‘Gospel’ (evangelion) meant the proclamation of good news concerning the Emperor.  An evangelion would be issued to his subjects know that an Emperor had come to power, had a son, or occupied new territory.  In calling their works ‘Gospels’, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are each making an extraordinary claim: that true sovereignty lies in the hands, not of Casear, but of one born in a manger and crucified by the religious and imperial powers of his age as a common criminal.

Jesus’ Kingdom is not ‘of this world,’ not one among many political forces jostling for power.  But it has implications for this world, and for the way it is to be ordered.  The truth proclaimed by Christ the King challenges this world’s idolatries – the things we place our trust in, and build our lives around.

As Jesus himself tells us (Luke 4.18-19), this means “Good news for the poor” release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for those who are oppressed and ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ (that is, a year of Jubilee).  In the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55), the song used by many Christians in their evening prayers, we are told more about the new Kingdom dawning in Christ, the Son of Mary:

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

The Feast of Christ the King is an opportunity for both rejoicing and challenge.  Rejoicing, because if Christ is the King of the Universe, the task of transformation does not fall on our shoulders alone.  Christian ministry is a participation in God’s work of transformation, and the final triumph of Christ’s Kingdom is secure.

For all that, this feast should challenge us – and shake us out of complacency or purely other-worldly piety.  There are dramatic implications for our lives and our society if the one who was born of Mary and crucified under Pilate is not simply a remarkable human being but (to use the full title of this Feast) ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe’.

Almighty, ever-living God, it is your will to unite the entire universe
under your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the King of heaven and earth.
Grant freedom to the whole of creation,
and let it praise and serve your majesty for ever,
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.

(Prayer for the Feast of Christ the King, Roman Catholic Daily Office)

Prayer intentions

Pray for the Joint Ventures which the Church Urban Fund is setting up with Dioceses across England – and the very practical work they will generate to enable some of the country’s poorest neighbourhoods to experience something of the generosity and justice of God’s Kingdom.

Pray too for the work the Contextual Theology Centre is doing to help Christians make a deeper connection between prayer and social action – so that our lives are neither other-worldly, nor simply full of human activism.  Pray especially for the Quiet Afternoon next Sunday (2nd December) on Mary: Prayer and Action – and for the team of speakers (from Pentecostal, Anglican and Roman Catholic partner churches).

Reflections and Prayers for Sunday 18 November

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Sunday’s Gospel reading is either Mark 13.1-8 (Church of England) or Mark 13.24-32 (Roman Catholic / Revised Common Lectionary).  In each case, the tone is apocalyptic.  Mark 13 begins with Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple and of ‘wars and rumours of wars’, and ends with another prophecy – of Jesus’ return in glory.

In the midst of these dramatic, disturbing prophecies, Jesus offers three significant pieces of advice to his disciples.

– they are not to be alarmed (v7) or led astray (v5): whatever happens, God is sovereign.  Disciples need to keep their focus on, and trust in, him;

– they are not to speculate as to what the future holds (v.32).  Trusting in God means not reading the Bible as if it offered us coded guidance about when the world will end, or detailed predictions about the future.  Human time, and its consummation, are in the hands of God alone.  The disciple’s task is to be faithful – not to second-guess providence;

– they are to to be prepared and to be watchful for signs of God’s activity.  Instead of trying to see into the future, they are attend to what the Holy Spirit is up to here and now.

Discipleship is not about running away from the world in which God has placed us.  God has placed us in present, not the future; on earth, not in heaven.  Our task is to be co-workers with God, embodying and proclaiming his justice, his peace and his love here and now.  We can do this, not because we know exactly what the future holds, but because we know the most important thing about it.  The future, like the present,  is in the hands of a God of justice, peace and – above all – love.

Prayer intentions

Pray for the General Synod meeting this week, and for the work Church Action on Poverty and Contextual Theology Centre are doing to engage Synod with the Living Wage Campaign.

Pray also for the Centre’s partner churches in The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO), as they prepare for their annual assembly this Wednesday.  Pray especially for the work being done to secure a long-term local legacy from the Olympic Park – including affordable, community-owned housing.

Reflections and Prayers for Sunday 11 November

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark 1.14-20 (Church of England) or Mark 12.38-44 (Roman Catholic).

In these weeks before Advent, the Church of England’s readings and liturgy focus on the coming Kingdom of God.  As the Eucharistic prayer for this season puts it:

you are the hope of the nations,
the builder of the city that is to come.
Your love made visible in Jesus Christ
brings home the lost,
restores the sinner
and gives dignity to the despised.
In his face your light shines out,
flooding lives with goodness and truth,
gathering into one in your kingdom
a divided and broken humanity.

The Gospel reading proclaims that this Kingdom is drawing near, and interrogates us as to our response to its reality.  As we read of the starkness of Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples, and the immediacy and simplicity of their response to him, the passage asks us: are we serious about this Kingdom?  Do our lives and our churches participate in it – and draw others to it?

The readings in the Roman Catholic lectionary are different at this point in the year.  They continue to read through Mark’s Gospel sequentially.  But in fact, Sunday’s passage poses the same question to us.  Do the relationships in our church – the hierarchies of authority and power, and the ways we treat our wealth – bear witness to that coming Kingdom?  (This is a good question to ask at the end of Living Wage Week…)

The juxtaposition of the stories of the self-important scribes and the humble, generous widow challenge us as to who the true teachers in our churches might be.  Are our eyes open to the true signs of the Kingdom – or dazzled by the pomp and power of Empire?

Prayer Intentions

Today is of course Remembrance Sunday.  Pray for all victims of violence and war, and for a society that embodies the justice and the peace of God’s Kingdom.

Give thanks for the witness of churches during Living Wage Week – and the progress being made by alliances such as Citizens UK and Church Action on Poverty as they persuade business leaders and politicians of the ethical and economic case for a just wage for all workers.  Pray for the General Synod as it prepares to debate the application of the Living Wage within the church.

Reflections and Prayers for Sunday 5 November

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Sunday 4th may either be kept as the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – or in some churches as All Saints’ Sunday (if the Feast is transferred from Thursday 1st).

The readings for 31st Sunday are Deuteronomy 6: 2-6, Hebrews 7:23-28 and Mark 12: 28-34 (Roman Catholic & Church of England lectionaries). In the Gospel reading, Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. He replies by weaving together verses from the first reading (Deuteronomy’s command to love God with all one’s heart, soul and strength) with verses from Leviticus 19 – about loving our neighbours as ourselves.

This passage expresses a central theme of Scripture – that love of God is inseparable from right treatment of our neighbours. Faith in God, and right worship of God, require practical works of justice and of mercy. This is not about winning our salvation by good deeds: but transformed relationships – including economic ones – are part of what happens when we allow God to be sovereign in our lives.

The Gospel reading for All Saints’ Sunday (Church of England lectionary) is John 11.32-44 – the raising of Lazarus from the dead. A starting-point for reflection might be the Christian Aid slogan We believe in life before death. The story of Lazarus, and the lives of holy men and women (such as S Francis of Assisi, S Margaret of Scotland and more recently Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day) speak to us of the way resurrection life dawns in this world. We are promised, not eternal life in heaven, but a new heaven and a new earth, and in Jesus and his Church, that new creation begins to dawn. The Bible is unambiguous in its teaching: this renewal has an economic and social dimension. It is ‘good news for the poor’ (Luke 4) with the hungry fed and the humble exalted (Luke 1).

Prayer intentions

This is Living Wage Week – pray for all who live on poverty pay; for churches who are reflecting and acting on this issue.  Fuller details in CTC’s Living Wage Resource Pack.

Reflections and prayers for Sunday 28 October

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Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark 10.46-52

When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and say, ‘Son of David, have pity upon me’.  And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ … Jesus asked, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’  ‘Rabbuni,’ the blind man said to him ‘Master, let me see again.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has saved you.’
In this month’s Gospel readings, a constant theme has been the very different way in which Jesus looks at the world – and the way he seeks to communicate this different value system to his disciples.  This has been true of Jesus’ conversation with the rich young man, and the welcome Jesus gives to children and the response Jesus gives to the disciples when they compete for status and position.  It is also true of the encounter in today’s passage.

In physical terms, Bartimaeus is the blind person.  But, at a deeper level, it is the people around him who lack vision. Bartimaeus sees who Jesus is, and his faith saves him.  But the crowd don’t see who Jesus is, or what he is about.  They imagine Jesus to be too important, too grand, to deal with someone who is a blind beggar.  They don’t yet view the world through God’s eyes – and so they cannot see that someone like Bartimaeus is in fact at the centre of His Kingdom. 

In all of October’s readings, the value-system of the Gospels is shown through practice – not simply through teaching.  Our response to these passages also needs to be practical.  
What light do these stories cast on our relationships – and in what ways do they call us to transform our attitudes and actions?

Prayer Intentions

Pray for Jeremy Aspinall (Director of Communications at the Church Urban Fund) and Andy Walton (Press officer at the Contextual Theology Centre) as they seek to communicate this different vision of human relationships – and the ways in which their organisations and partner churches are seeking to embody the values of the Gospel.

Reflections and prayers for Sunday 21 October

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark 10.35-45
                              
Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.
There is a big difference between being a servant and being servile.  Jesus tells his followers that becoming like him involves ‘drinking the cup that [he] must drink’.  Part of that ‘cup’ is bearing the cost of the fight against injustice.
Last week’s reflections were about economic injustice.  Challenging such wrongs can involve a heavy price.  Some of the cleaners involved in the Living Wage Campaign have faced pressure in their workplaces because of their courageous stance.  And most of us will have had to face the cost of standing for the truth in some part of our lives.  This teaches us that true servanthood can be anything but submissive. As Peter Nembhard (Senior Pastor of one of CTC’s partner churches) has put it ‘meekness isn’t weakness – it is power which is obedient to love’.   Biblical servanthood and meekness both involve courage; being willing to upset as well as to oblige.
Prayer Intentions

Pray for Christians discerning how best to confront injustice in our own day – and how to combine words of challenge with words of reconciliation.


Reflections and prayers for Sunday 14 October

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark 10.17-30 (or 17-27)
Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’  They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case,’ they said to one another, ‘who can be saved?’

The disciples have been taught that wealth is a sign of blessing from God.  So they think that rich people – like the young man in this encounter – are among the closest to Him.  If it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom, what hope is there for anyone else?  Jesus sees the world very differently.  While the good things of creation are a gift from God, the way they are shared out has more to do with our greed than God’s will.  Poverty is a sign of human injustice, not of God’s displeasure.  And so, as Jesus makes clear in many places, those whom the world neglects have a special place in God’s Kingdom.
The Living Wage Campaign brings people together from religious and civic groups, demanding that all workers receive a wage they can live on with dignity – not having to choose between having enough money and having enough time for their families.  Its one practical way we can live out the values of God’s Kingdom.  But low pay  is just one part of a much bigger picture of economic injustice  – including exploitative lending, and a lack of work and affordable housing.  If we pray ‘your Kingdom come’, we cannot let these wrongs go on unchallenged.
Prayer Intentions

Pray for churches in Citizens UK preparing to mark Living Wage week with prayer, thanksgiving and campaigning next month, and for the work being done by the Contextual Theology Centre to equip them.  Pray also for the work done by the Church Urban Fund and its partners to deepen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty wages.

Reflections and prayers for Sunday 7 October

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It’s easier to think about how the Gospel challenges others than to look hard at the way it challenges us.  Just as the Pharisee in one of Jesus’ famous parables prays ‘Lord, I thank you I am not like that publican,’ we can begin to think ‘Lord, I thank you I am not like that Pharisee’!
As we read this month’s Gospels, we need to ask what they say to us.  Just as Jesus challenged the religious and political powers of his age, his words should shake us up today.  As our final reading underlines, words of challenge are also words of love – God wants to transform us, not because he is angry or impatient with us, but because he longs to share more of himself with us.

Reflections on this Sunday’s Gospel
This Sunday’s Gospel is Mark 10.2-16 (or 2-12)
From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body.  They are no longer two, therefore, but one body.
What does it mean to call Holy Communion (or Mass) a sacrament?  It means that outward signs (bread and wine) enable us to taste and see a deeper reality – the reality of God’s Kingdom.  Through a physical act, Christ continues to nourish us.  His sacrifice makes us ‘one body’ – reconciled to the Father, and thereby to one another.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that marriage is also sacramental.  It can give the couple – and those whose lives they touch – an experience God’s reconciling love.
Not everyone is called to marriage, nor do all marriages flourish quite like this!  But it is through our relationships and friendships that God’s Kingdom can become visible.  Through them we embody God’s nurture, generosity and forgiveness.
The longer version of today’s Gospel ends with another saying of Jesus which reinforces this message:
People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.
The way we treat one another – and in particular those with the least power, those who depend most on the care and nurture of others – is a powerful sign of which King we follow, and to whose Kingdom we bear ultimate allegiance.

Prayer Intentions

Please pray for the Near Neighbours programme, administered nationally by the Church Urban Fund, and in East London by the Contextual Theology Centre.  Pray especially for former Jellicoe Intern Daniel Stone, beginning work with the Stop Da Violence project, which has recently been awarded a Near Neighbours grant to bring people of different faiths and cultures together to tackle gun and knife crime in Forest Gate.

Reflections and prayers for Sunday 26 August

Prayer l

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 6.56-69

Because of this [teaching], many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’

There is no such thing as a tension-free Gospel.  Jesus’ teaching challenges, and indeed scandalises, many of those who hear it.

Jeremiah condemns the false prophets who ‘preach peace when there is no peace’, and in Matthew 10, Jesus speaks of the way his teaching will even set members of families against one another.  He too rejects the false peace which is based on collusion with injustice and oppression.  True peace comes only through the cross – through a willingness to confront injustice and oppression, while never ceasing to love and pray for those being confronted.

Simon Peter recognises that, although this is a painful and demanding path, it is the only one worth walking.  As he finds out later in the Gospel, it is not a path he can follow in his own power – but one that requires strength and forgiveness which Christ alone can give.

Prayer intentions

Pray for all those who are attending, serving, volunteering and speaking at Greenbelt this weekend – that the prayer, fellowship and discussion may help their ministries in their local context in the year ahead.

Reflections and prayers for Sunday 19 August

Prayer l

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 6.51-58 

Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

Last Tuesday, many churches remembered St Maximilian Kolbe, who gave up his life in place of another prisoner about to be executed in Auschwitz.
Maximilian’s life and his death reveal to us shows us what it means to feed on, and abide in, Jesus Christ.  A Roman Catholic priest, he secretly celebrated the Eucharist when he was imprisoned in the concentration camp.  As he celebrated and fed upon Jesus in the Communion, so his own life was drawn into that movement of self-giving love.  Fed by Jesus, he was able to abide in Christ, and Christ in him.
Prayer intentions

Pray for all whose lives embody that self-offering in our own time – some in dramatic ways, and some in ways that go unnoticed by the outside world. 

Reflections and prayers for Sunday 12 August

Prayer l

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 6.35,41-51

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ …

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ 

This week the church has celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration – when the light of God shines through Christ, in the presence of Peter, James and John.  In the Transfiguration, Christ is revealed as the first-fruits of God’s new creation.  The disciples want to stay on the mountain-top, enjoying this vision, but Jesus bids them come with him back down to level ground.

Sunday’s Gospel reading reinforces this point.  God’s glory is not only found in the obviously spectacular, but in things which seem ordinary and unremarkable. The Word became flesh, not in a palace or a temple, but in a humble family.  Heaven comes down to earth in ‘the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know’.

The Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Mass – whatever we call it, this central act of Christian worship takes the ordinary things of daily life (bread and wine, which earth has given and human hands have made) and shows us that in these things, we encounter Jesus Christ.  The Eucharist is not, then, an act separate from the rest of our lives.  Rather, it shows us that daily life is something that can reveal the grace of God, if we have eyes to see it.

Prayer intentions

How can our common life – the way wealth and power is used and shared – reveal the grace and the justice of God?  The vision of a society that reveals God’s grace and justice stands at the heart of the Bible.  Pray for all Christians who grapple with these issues in their workplace and in their neighbourhoods.

The Olympics have been an occasion of real gathering and celebration together across cultures and communities.  Pray that this experience may give people a hunger for a deeper fellowship, and a more just and joyful common life – and give thanks for the role churches have already played in making the Olympics serve the needs of the boroughs of London in which it is set.

Reflections and Prayers for Sun 5 August

Prayer l

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 6.24-35
Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Throughout August, we continue to read from John 6.  Last week we heard about Jesus’ authority over the physical creation, and his meeting of the physical needs of the crowds.  In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus calls the crowds beyond to understand the meaning of those events – to see them as ‘signs’ which disclose who he is.  They are only truly understood when people recognise them as an invitation into relationship with him.
Christians are called to see the whole created order as a ‘sign’ – not simply as something to consume or possess, but as a gift. The world comes to us from the generosity of God, and is given that we might grow in fellowship and in delight.
This is the vision at the heart of George Herbert’s poetry, and hence of many of our best-loved hymns.  We see it in his poem Matins, and most famously in The Elixir:

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.

What would it mean to us to see the whole creation as a ‘sign’ – full of God-given opportunities to grow in communion with him and with one another?  
Prayer Intention

Pray for projects which help Christians to delight in and treasure God’s creation – such as A Rocha (featured on CTC’s Presence and Engagement website).  Pray also for the Church Urban Fund’s initiative on Greening Your Church Community Project

Reflections & prayers for Sun 29 July

Prayer l

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 6.1-21 (or 1-15)
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” …Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Earlier this month, we looked at the importance of taking people and their gifts seriously.  We see the same here: Peter is dismissive of the boy’s offering, while Jesus sees its potential (not least in the way it sets an example of sharing). 
Last week, we looked at the importance of the balance between material and spiritual feeding.  Jesus knows that the crowd need food as well as sermons.  We can’t witness to God’s love, if we don’t show that love in our day-to-day behaviour. 
As the Letter to James says: Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Ministering to people’s physical needs – whether feeding the hungry, or building a world where they aren’t hungry again – is one way we make the Gospel a reality, and open people’s lives to the power of the Spirit.
But we cannot live by bread alone.  The value of sharing goes beyond the purely material.  When we share of what God has given us, we are drawn into the communion – the love – that is at the very heart of God.  Today’s Gospel reading not only teaches us about the human generosity and sharing that draws us into the life of God.  It also points us to the feast of the Eucharist – where God’s self-giving in Jesus takes flesh for us in bread and wine.
Prayer Intentions
Pray for David Barclay, starting work on 1 August at the Contextual Theology Centre on its Call to Change initiative with the Church Urban Fund.  Pray that this work will help churches to engage with their neighbours to build generous and just communities. 

Pray also for all communities affected by the Olympics – and for local initiatives such as Highway Neighbours helping people support one another in living with its impact, and enjoying the historic events.

Reflections & prayers for Sun 22 July

Prayer l

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark 6.30-34 (or 30-34 and 53-56)

Because so many people were coming and going that the disciples did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

This passage shows the two sides of Jesus ministry to people – the feeding the crowds, and the disciples, require is spiritual (rest, quiet, teaching) as well as physical.

That’s the way God has made us – flesh and spirit. Jesus’ teaching and his actions show the importance of both. He has no time for religious leaders who use ‘spiritual’ language to justify material inequity. But he warns us that material food alone isn’t enough. This is a balance we need in our own lives – and in the kind of world for which we are striving to build for others.

Christian teaching on the ‘Sabbath’ is a case in point. Jesus’ example makes clear that we are not to make an idol of particular regulations – The Sabbath is made for human beings, not humans for the sabbath – but having times of ‘Sabbath’ is essential in the Christian life. Without such times, we lose perspective, and more and more rely on our own resources rather than God’s grace. As Pope John Paul II reminded his clergy, without a time of Sabbath, we become ensnared in the ‘idolatry of work’, forgetting that it takes its places in a wider life of wonder, love and praise.

Prayer Intentions

Pray for all involved in Christian ministry in demanding contexts, such as Britain’s inner-cities – among them the staff of the Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre (CTC) – that they may balance their work with times of rest and refreshment. Pray for Sr Josephine Canny, Chaplain to CTC’s Jellicoe Community as she helps the Centre’s interns find this balance in a context that is new to many of them.

Reflections & prayers for Sun 15 July

Prayer l

The Church of England lectionary gives Mark 6.14-29 as today’s Gospel – whilst the Roman Catholic lectionary gives Mark6.7-13
The Christian poet T.S. Eliot prayed “teach us to care and not to care”.  There is much wisdom in this prayer.  We need to care deeply about our faith, and our service of God – but also to remember that in the end, things depend on God not on us.  Christian ministry – something shared by all the baptised – is always offered in response to the divine initiative.  Our calling is to respond faithfully and passionately.  It is God who gives the increase.
In Mark 6.7-13, Jesus invites his disciples to place their lives in God’s hands – to take risks, and leave the consequences to their heavenly Father.  It’s difficult to get this balance right – we’re not meant to be careless and irresponsible, but at times we must step out in faith, and not let life’s baggage weigh us down.
Mark 6.14-29 tells the story of a saint who knew how to ‘care and not to care’.  No-one could doubt that John the Baptist has a passion for the Kingdom of God. It is the driving force in his life – leading him to a powerful preaching ministry in the desert, and a fearless speaking of truth to the powers of his day. But John also knows that his work is not the central thing.  He is willing to step back as well as forward: whether he is centre stage or out of sight is determined, neither by vanity nor his timidity, but by what will point to Jesus Christ.  As John lies in prison, and then faces his death, he has done what he can – and left the rest to God.  Little can he have known how, 2000 years on, his words would still be pointing people to Christ.
Prayer intentions
Last week’s General Synod discussed the church’s response to last year’s riots.  Pray for all who, out of the media glare, continue to minister in areas affected by the disturbances – and who seek to address its root causes.  Pray for the staff and partners of the Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre as they seek to support this work.

Reflections & prayers for Sun 8 July

Prayer l

This Sunday’s Gospel is Mark 6.1-6 (Roman Catholic) or Mark 6.1-12 (Church of England)

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him.

It’s sometimes hard to adjust when someone in the family moves from being a child to being a ‘grown-up’. We may trap others in stereotypes of how we’ve known them in the past – or how we thought we knew them. And most of us will have been on the other side of this, when we moved from childhood to adult life, and struggled at first to be taken seriously by those who knew us as a baby.
The people of Nazareth won’t let Jesus be himself – they trap him in their stereotype, not seeing his full humanity, let alone his divinity. We can make the same mistake in our churches today, confining those around us in our stereotypes, failing to see the full humanity of every member – judging some age groups, or classes, or races, before we get to know them.

One of the key practices of community organising is the ‘one-to-one’ relational meeting – encouraging people to get to know those they might otherwise just nod at in the next pew, so stories could be shared and gifts discovered. The face-to-face relationship, based on the reality of the other person, not our stereotype of them, is absolutely central to the life of a flourishing church – a church which can have a transformative impact on individuals and communities.

Pray for the team of summer Jellicoe interns at the Contextual Theology Centre – who will continue that process of building relationships and discovering unacknowledged potential. And pray for the Nehemiah Interns working for the Near Neighbours programme (in which the Church Urban Fund and the Centre are both key partners) as these much longer-term interns, drawn from and rooted in inner-city neighbourhoods, seek to deepen face-to-face relationships across the faiths.

Readings and prayers for Sun 25 June

Prayer l

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Mark 4.35-41


A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?

Last week we saw that God’s Kingdom is revealed in the things we often overlook.   The parable of the mustard seed also reminds us that God’s Kingdom takes time to develop.  You can’t hurry the harvest: it takes time for the seed to bear its fruit.  Today’s story makes the same point.  Jesus is patient.  He listens to God – and so knows when to act and when to rest.  We too need to learn to be still, to let go of the things that are beyond our control, and sense God’s presence in the storms of life.


As the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us:  “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…”  Jesus knew the time to rest – and the time to act.  We too need to listen to God in prayer, if we are to act at the right time, and also to enter into his rest.


Prayer intentions

Give thanks for 25 years of ministry of the Church Urban Fund – and ask God’s guidance on its staff and trustees as they plan for the future.  Pray for Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre as they plan together the next stage of the Call to Change – encouraging churches to pray, listen and act together for social justice. Pray for David Barclay, who will begin working at the Contextual Theology Centre in August, and will have a particular focus on developing Call to Change’s programme of Community Conversations.

Readings and prayers for Sun 17 June

Prayer l

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Mark 4.26-34 

Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of Godis like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.
 “Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” 
Earlier in the month we thought about the Trinity – one of the greatest mysteries in Christianity.  While we can’t fully understand what it means for one God to be three persons, we can learn something about God from the picture of a family, or a community.  In Jesus’ parables, he too offers us pictures  from daily life to tell us something about the mystery of God. 
The stories in the Gospels come from a society that is very different from ours – one where most people earn their living through farming or fishing.  In stories drawn from their everyday experience, Jesus helps them to see something of the Kingdom.  
In the stories of our lives we can also see something of God and of his Kingdom. Today’s parables show that the Kingdom of God starts in fragility and not in force – but that something which begins in an insignificant way can be life-changing.  What stories from our lives have helped us to discover this hidden power of God’s Kingdom?

Prayer intentions

Pray for all that the Church Urban Fund and Contextual Theology Centre do to help Christians share their stories of God’s transforming power – in particular the work being done through churches’ engagement in community organising, which begins with relationship-building and the sharing of stories.

Gospel Reflections for Corpus Christ & Sun 10 June

Prayer l

This week sees the Feast of Corpus Christi – which the Church of England marks on Thursday 7th, whilst the Roman Catholic Church marks it on Sunday 10th.  The Gospel reading set for this Sunday in the Church of England is Mark 3.20-35.  This blog includes a brief reflection on both themes.


Corpus Christi
The Feast of Corpus Christi enables the Church to give thanks for the institution of Holy Communion.  Every
Communion service, whatever its name, reminds us of the central fact of Christian life – that our lives flow from, and find their meaning in, the life of another.

We can only feed because we have been fed; we are sent out in the power of the Spirit because have first been called together as Christ’s Body.  For Christians, spiritual renewal and social action must go hand in hand.   It was amidst the cholera epidemic of the 1840s that the Sisters of Mercy in Plymouth asked their parish priest for daily Communion, to strengthen them for their work amongst the poorest in the city.  This was the first time since the Reformation that an Anglican church had a daily Eucharist.   Worship and action each inspired a deeper engagement with the other.

As we give thanks for Jesus’ passion and resurrection – and for the gift of Holy Communion as a memorial of that self-offering and a sacrament of that new creation which has dawned in him – let us pray for grace to hold worship and action more closely together.  May the new creation we celebrate in the Eucharist (a feast in which all can share, and all are fed) give us the grace and strength to work for transformation here and now.

Binding the Strong Man: Mark 3.20-35
This Sunday – after the special cycle of readings for Lent and Easter, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday – we return to Ordinary Time, in which we read through the Gospel of Mark.  One of St Mark’s favourite words is ‘immediately’.  The opening chapters of his Gospel are incredibly fast-paced.  Jesus’ ministry is shown to have a focus on those the world ignores or condemns (1.21-8, 40-5; 2.1-12, 15-17).  He reminds the religious leaders of  the purpose of the Law: not to be another burden on the vulnerable, but a means of protecting them from injustice (2.23-3.6).

These chapters have an insurgent feel – today’s Gospel most of all.  For here, Jesus compares himself to a thief, whose purpose is to ‘bind the strong man’ and ‘burgle his property’.

However, Jesus’ insurgency is utterly unique: his purpose is not to turn the world upside down, or to steal someone’s rightful goods. Rather, Jesus turns an upside-down world the right way up, restoring just stewardship to a creation which is being pillaged and misused.

Today’s reading reminds us that such transformation is not a comfortable thing.  It necessarily involves tension and conflict.  This is where today’s Gospel brings us back to Holy Communion, and the feast of Corpus Christi.  It is only by feeding on, and abiding in, Jesus Christ that we gain the needful courage and grace for this work.  Only then can ensure that it is inspired by him, and not reliant on our own energies and driven by our own agendas.

Prayer Intentions
Pray for the staff and supporters of the Church Urban Fund as they prepare for a service of rededication with Archbishop Rowan Williams – to be held at St Paul’s Cathedral on June 18th.  And pray for the growing co-operation between CUF and the Contextual Theology Centre, in helping the wider church both to see the urgency of social action, and to ensure it is rooted and grounded in Christ.

Reflections and prayers for Trinity Sunday

Prayer l

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  We start the month focusing on the mysterious claim that God is ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’.  This isn’t just a puzzle for theologians.  This doctrine tells us love and relationship are at the heart of the divine.  We share God’s life together.


The Gospel reading at the Eucharist isJohn 3.1-17 (Church of England) or Matthew 28.16-29 (Roman Catholic)

From John 3:

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

From Matthew 28:
Jesus came to the disciples and said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We are baptised ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.  Baptism is the sign that we have joined the church.  Our fellowship in the visible church is part of our fellowship with the invisible God.  And because we believe in God the Trinity, we believe that relationship is at the heart of God. 


Christians share with Islam and Judaism the central belief that God is One.    But Christians believe that at the heart of the One God is relationship and fellowship.  God is a mystery, far beyond our understanding.  Just as a central picture of God is that of a loving parent, so another side of God’s nature is expressed in the picture of a loving community or a loving family.  No one picture gives us the whole truth.

Inscribed in one of our East London churches are these words from the the First Letter of John: “No-one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made perfect in us.” That’s why the doctrine of the Trinity matters – and why we celebrate it in churches across the world today

Our calling as children of God, baptised into the church, is to make sure that our lives make visible this love which stands at the heart of the invisible God Just as Baptism is a sacrament (an outward sign of the grace of the invisible God) so our whole lives can be sacramental.  All our human roles and relationships – husband and wife; parent and child; employer and worker; neighbour and friend – can be more or less filled with God’s love. 

This is why many of our churches are involved in movements such as Citizens UK and Near Neighbours, reaching out to neighbours of other faiths and worldviewsThis vital work – strengthing relationships between churches, temples and mosques, and building a more just society – makes us ‘co-workers with God,’ as his love and justice become more visible on earth. 

Prayer requests

In this weekend of celebration for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, give thanks for her example of love and dedicated service, and her role as a focus of unity in our diverse nation.  


Pray for the many community events our partner churches are involved in this weekend – that this work will strengthen relationships with other faith and community groups, enabling long-term action for the common good.

Reflections and prayers for Pentecost

Prayer l

Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 15.26-7 &16.12-15



Jesus said: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
The earliest name for Christianity was “the Way.”  To be a follower of Jesus is not simply to have a particular set of beliefs.  It is to embark upon journey into the infinite, loving mystery of God.
It is because our faith is relational and not simply propositional that we need the Holy Spirit: whom the Father sends to us, both to enter our individual hearts and to make us into one Body in Christ.
As the Nicene Creed reminds us week by week, God’s Word became flesh in Jesus ‘by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary’.  The Holy Spirit continues to make God’s word become flesh today: being ‘spiritual’ isn’t about turning our backs on the material world, and on the questions of how wealth is used and shared to build a more just and merciful community.
In the Book of Acts, we see that the fruits of Pentecost were a change in both how the disciples preached the Gospel (with power – and in a way their hearers could understand, whatever their culture or language) but in the way they lived the Gospel (sharing their homes and possessions, so that none was in want).  Those are the same fruits we are called to bear today.

Prayer intentions

Please pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and in particular for the Spirit’s energy and wisdom – both in the churches of which you are a part, and the staff teams at the Contextual Theology Centre and Church Urban Fund.  On Friday 1 June, CTC’s staff are on a morning of prayer and reflection to plan their work in the year ahead: ask the Spirit’s blessing and guidance on this time.

Reflections for Ascension Day and Easter 7

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This Thursday is Ascension Day – the Gospel is Mark 16.15-20 or Luke 24.44-53

Hebrews 12 describes Jesus as the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our salvation’.  On Ascension Day, we see where our ‘pioneer’ is leading us. His humanity, and through it ours, finds its destination in God.

As Charles Wesley wrote 

Soar we now where Christ has led
Following our exalted Head 
Made like him, like him we rise 
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies

 Like the disciples, we are called to be ‘witnesses’ (Luke 24.48) to this great hope – in our words, our deeds and our common life as Christ’s Church.

Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 17.11b-19 

The Gospel reading for Sunday  reminds us that this ‘witness’ has a cost. This is inevitable if our lives point to Jesus’ Kingdom, and to the values of the Gospel – for he, the ‘pioneer of our salvation,’ was both rejected and glorified.

To quote another Ascensiontide hymn

The head that once was crowned with thorns
is crowned with glory now;
a royal diadem adorns
the mighty Victor’s brow.

The lives of Christians will have the same pattern as his:

They suffer with their Lord below,
they reign with him above,
their profit and their joy to know
the mystery of his love.

As well as going before us, Jesus abides with us.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, he continues to accompany us upon our journey. The promise of that Spirit is at the heart of the readings and prayers in the ten days from Ascension to Pentecost:

O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

The Holy Spirit does not remove us from the world (v15)  but we aren’t to “belong to it” either (v16).  Following Jesus, we are called to inhabit the world in a way that transforms and renews it.

Prayer requests

Pray for church leaders involved in the Greater London Presence and Engagement Network as they meet for a residential training event this Tuesday and Wednesday – including an evening on Growing the Church Through Social Action with Church Urban Fund CEO Tim Bissett and Contextual Theology Centre Director Angus Ritchie

Easter6: Gospel Reflections & Prayer Requests

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 15.9-17

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
In Genesis, we are told that Satan persuaded Adam and Eve to see God as a competitor.  Satan says that if they eat the forbidden fruit they will become like God – and that God doesn’t want that!
This is a complete distortion.  You can’tbecome like God by grasping after his power – by competing with him, or with each other.  For in Christ, we see that God is the very opposite of that.   As St Paul writes
Jesus, though in the form of God
did not cling to equality with God
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.
Jesus becomes human so we can share the divine nature.  Jesus becomes a servant, that we might be changed from servants into friends. 
This is extraordinary – it gives us some idea of the dignity God gives to human beings.  And this is a dignity we discover together, not by seeing each other as rivals.  

Prayers for Contextual Theology Centre and Church Urban Fund

The dignity of human beings is a central theme in Christian social teaching, inspiring campaigns such as those by Citizens UK and Church Action on Poverty for a Living Wage.  Pray for the work CTC and CUF are doing to promote Christian prayer, reflection and action on these issues – and plans for the next stage of the Call to Change initiative.

Easter 5: Gospel reflections & prayer requests

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 15.1-8

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

It’s common today for people to say religion is a personal, ‘private’ thing. In one way that’s true – our relationship with God is intimate. Like the closest human relationships, it involves tenderness and vulnerability.   But religion is also about community. Jesus tells us in this Gospel that we must abide in the ‘true vine’ – and as we are grafted closer to him, we are necessarily drawn into a closer fellowship with our fellow human beings.

We live in a world which is increasingly individualistic. In the weeks ahead, our Sunday Gospels repeatedly make clear that our relationship with the people we can see is vital to our relationship with the God we cannot see.  We do not deepen our relationship with God by turning our backs on one another – it is in the depth of our love for one another that we touch the heart of the divine.

Prayer Intentions

An increasing number of Christians feel called to live in community in urban contexts – a movement of ‘new urban monasticism’ which has much to learn from the faithful ministry of religious orders such as the Society of Saint Francis.  Please pray for those called to the religious life in our inner-cities, and for those exploring a call to live in new intentional communities. 

Pray for the Church Urban Fund and Contextual Theology Centre in their work with both expressions of Christian service and mission – and for Mike Buckley, conducting research for CTC on these issues in Tower Hamlets.

Reflections & Prayers for Easter 4

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Today’s Gospel reading is John 10.11-18

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd is powerful even to people who have never seen a farm.  It addresses some of our deepest needs, for security and for guidance.  On of the Roman Catholic prayers for this Sunday expresses this well:
Attune our minds to the sound of [Christ’s] voice, lead our steps in the path he has shown, that we may know the strength of his outstretched arm and enjoy the light of your presence for ever.
Our ability to take risks, and to move beyond our comfort zones, can only be based on a depth of inner security.  It is precisely when we find our refuge and strength in God that we are able to me more courageous in journeying out in mission: working for God’s Kingdom in challenging places, and glimpsing God at work in surprising people.
Christianity is sometimes dismissed as wish-fulfilment – as a consoling fantasy.  But the truth is very different. When people place their trust in Christ the Good Shepherd, he often calls them to take risks they’d  never have dreamed of taking on their own.  
Just looking at the range of projects we have been praying for in Lent and Eastertide makes this point: Christians are present and engaged in challenging situations that it would be much easier to avoid.  And yet the mysterious reality of the Gospel is that it is in these most challenging of situations that the love and power of God is often experienced most deeply.  Those who minister in these situations find themselves receiving as well as giving – blessed by the very people they feel called to serve.

Prayer requests

Give thanks for all who attended this month’s Church Urban Fund Tackling Poverty conference in Leeds, that the prayer, discussion and planning will bear rich fruit in the wide range of communities and projects represented there.
Give thanks also for the staff of the Contextual Theology Centre and its partner churches in east London as they meet to plan the development and expansion of their existing internship and placement programmes for 2012/13.

Reflections & Prayers for Easter 3

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The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke 24.35-48

The disciples began to relate their experiences on the [Emmaus] road and how Jesus was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. While they were telling these things, He himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”


And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of a broiled fish; and he took it and ate it before them. 

This reading begins and ends with food!  This underlines that the resurrection is of the body. Jesus is not simply a spirit.  Resurrection life involves a transformation of things material as well as things spiritual.  This is why our faith has a practical effect on the world around us.  Christian Aid has the slogan: We believe in life before death.  The Good News of Easter isn’t just something for the next life – it changes things here and now, in every part of our existence. 

The ‘spiritual’ is not something separate from our ‘material’ live.   Rather, we live spiritually when the material world becomes a gateway to a deeper communion with God and neighbour. That, of course, is what happens every time water is used at Baptism or bread and wine at Holy Communion.  In these sacraments, physical things become a means of spiritual union with God and with his Church.  They are part of a world that is sacramental; in which the way we treat one another can reveal God’s love, hospitality and justice.

Prayer Requests 

This week, please pray for The Waterfall Project, one of the Church Urban Fund’s partners in Winchester.  It is aiming to address the local shortage of women-only homes for drug rehab.  (This is also a national problem).  The Waterfall will be adopting a similar approach to that of successful models of Christian faith-based rehab programmes which have an 80% rate of clients remaining drug free after five years of completion.  
The Church Urban Fund’s support is enabling the project to employ an  Outreach Co-ordinator.  Pray for this work as it develops, and for the lives it will touch and help to transform.
Pray also for the Contextual Theology Centre’s partner churches, and the process they are involved in to hold the candidates for Mayor of London to account.  Along with other churches, mosques, synagogues and civic groups in London Citizens, they have developed a ‘People’s Agenda’ around the Living Wage, placements for unemployed young people, affordable housing and street safety.  Pray for the 2500 people at the London Citizens Mayoral Accountability Asssembly on 25 April – and for those standing for Mayor as they respond to these issues.

Reflections & Prayers for Easter 2

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 20.19-31

But Thomas, one of the twelve…  was not with [the other disciples] when Jesus came.  So they were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
After eight days his disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it into my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
We often talk about ‘doubting Thomas’, but perhaps we would be better calling him ‘honest Thomas,’  someone who says what he really thinks, rather than putting on a facade of holiness and right-thinking.
For Thomas’ confession is the most powerful in John’s Gospel, hailing Christ as his God.  Honest wrestling with reality – the reality of God, and the reality of our doubts and fears – is an essential part of our journey.  It’s important that it’s his wounds that identify Jesus.  Easter doesn’t wipe out the cross, and turn the clock back.  Jesus journey through the cross to resurrection takes us somewhere new.  That’s an important part of a Christian understanding of forgiveness: our reconciliation to God and neighbour doesn’t turn the clock back, as if the sin had not happened.  It can take us somewhere new, if we are all prepared to face our failings honestly, and learn from them. 

Prayer requests

In your prayers on Sunday, and in the week ahead, please remember the work the Church Urban Fund is doing on Growing Churches through Social Action – helping churches to embody and proclaim the transforming message of Easter.  Please also remember the work the Contextual Theology Centre is doing on Christian apologetics, including its developing partnerships with Theos think tank and St Mellitus College, London.

Prayer Diary: Day 40 of Lent

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Today we come to the end of our forty daily prayers for the projects of the Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre.  In Eastertide, we will be continuing this prayer blog on a weekly basis (beginning on the Sunday after Easter).  We are also continuing our blog of reflections on the Gospel readings for Sundays and Major Feasts.

These prayer blogs grew out of a widespread and growing sense that something is wrong with our common life – that our political, social and economic order needs renewal; that its deficiencies speak of a spiritual as well as a structural malaise, and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides both a ‘Call to Change’ and the power and grace to make things different.

Today, we ask you to pray not only for our organisations and their projects, but for a new openness to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit – both in our local communities and in our national life.

Prayer Diary: Day 39 of Lent

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Pray for churches in London as they work to support people likely to be displaced by the new housing benefit cap.  The Contextual Theology Centre and Housing Justice are both involved in helping churches to reflect and act on this urgent issue.

Pray also for central Birmingham churches who have been piloting a winter night shelter – in a strongly ecumenical project which is bringing churches in the area together. Supported by the Church Urban Fund, it is using the Housing Justice ‘roving shelter’ model where 5 churches will offer their space for 5 different nights of the week, with volunteers from the churches helping.

Pray for churches across the country as they grapple with these issues – praying, offering practical care, and challenging structural injustice.

Prayer Diary: Day 38 of Lent

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Pray for the Parish of the Risen Lord, Preston as it discerns how best to use an old mission building to proclaim and embody the Gospel today.  St Matthew’s Mission is Victorian building from which various community groups currently operate (e.g. Street Pastors).  With support from the Church Urban Fund, it is carrying out a feasibility study to see how it can best renovate the building for new projects addressing the needs of young people, at a time of very high unemployment.  This phase of exploration and discernment will involve a practical pilot project involving a work club and a youth cafe.

In the 1920s and 1930s, St Mary’s Somers Town (now in the Parish of Old St Pancras) was home of Fr Basil Jellicoe’s ‘Magdalen College Mission’, which transformed the slums of the parish into affordable and decent housing.  Here as in Preston, Christians are discerning how a historic vision of mission applies to todays challenges.  The Contextual Theology Centre has founded the Jellicoe Community which seeks to embody Fr Jellicoe’s vision in a new generation of Christians, helping churches across north-east London engage in community organising.  Dominic Keech’s blogpost explains the work he did as a Jellicoe Intern in Somers Town last summer.  Pray for the Parish of Old St Pancras, and other churches which host Jellicoe Interns.

Prayer Diary: Day 37 of Lent

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Pray for St John’s, Bierley in Bradford Diocese which is working with existing youth bus provision to support at-risk young females in Bierley. They plan to employ a sessional worker to become part of the mobile bus outreach, hoping to reach vulnerable young girls who are at risk through ‘hanging out on the streets’. The sessions will begin by taking place once a week, but there are hopes to increase this to twice a week. e:merge, an experienced youth work charity, will be steering the project – with support from the Church Urban Fund

Pray also for Andy Walton, one of the staff of the Contextual Theology Centre, as he begins to co-ordinate the CitySafe initiative at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green.  With support from Centre interns, the church has been reaching out to other local organisations and residents to identify ways to make the streets safer, by reweaving the fabric of relationships, trust and mutual support within the parish – and particularly by involving young people in the process.

Prayer Diary: Day 36 of Lent

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Pray for St Philip’s Church, Bradford – ministering in an area with a great diversity of faiths.  The Church Urban Fund is supporting St Philip’s as it starts English classes for men who speak other languages, with the aim to build relationships between the church and local men of other faiths and ethnicities.  A pilot scheme has shown there is demand. The church aims to offer a 2 hour class each week, supported by church volunteers, and led by an ESOL qualified tutor. It will work with pre-ESOL learners who cannot access existing education provision, so that they can take first steps towards learning English.

Pray also for the work being done by London Citizens among the Chinese diaspora community: engaging churches and cultural associations in common action with other groups in civil society.  Pray also for the way this work has helped to inspire community organising in Hong Kong – and for the support the Contextual Theology Centre is giving to this process, with plans to launch ‘HK Citizens’ and engage a wide range of churches in this work.

Prayer Diary: Day 35 of Lent

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Before Christmas, the Contextual Theology Centre produced a resource pack on Christian Responses to the Financial Crisis – endorsed by St Paul’s Cathedral and the Occupy camp on its doorstep.  The Centre is continuing to work with the Cathedral and people involved in the camp – to explore how the Christian vision of justice and stewardship can transform our economic order.  Pray for this work, and especially today for the sharing of ideas with Christians from cross the Atlantic, as Centre staff meet leaders from Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.

Pray also for @the Bus Stop, a project in  East Bradford that will address the emotional and social needs of young people in six areas which rank within the 2% with the most economic deprivation in the UK.  The Church Urban Fund is supporting the project offering advice and support in an area with limited or non-existent provision for young people from any other agencies.  Pray for Wellsprings Bradford, the local Christian charity undertaking this and other vital pieces of work.

Prayer Diary: Day 34 of Lent

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Please pray for Op Shops – a network of 7 church charity shops in the Carlisle area. These social enterprises aim to serve local people by selling good quality second hand goods, and offering pastoral support and evangelistic ministry. They provide safe places where the community can meet, volunteer, and in the future community programmes for specific needs.

The story of how Op Shops started is inspiring and instructive: it shows the imaginative ways in which churches can move beyond their own internal concerns (in this case fundraising for building work) to engage the wider community in loving and practical service – building relationships and sharing faith.

The Church Urban Fund is supporting the expansion of Op Shops, and is working with the Contextual Theology Centre on the wider issue of how practical service, the challenging of social injustice and the sharing of faith are each given there proper place in the life of the church.  Please pray for this work – and give thanks for the many ways in which practical and imaginative social action is helping to renew local churches.

Prayer Diary: Day 33 of Lent

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We have already blogged about Urgent Patience – an essay on Christian spirituality and social action, which has been issued as part of the Call to Change by the Contextual Theology Centre and Church Urban Fund. 

The introduction to Urgent Patience is worth quoting:

We love because God first loved us (1 John 4.19). Every Communion service, whatever its name, reminds us of this central fact of Christian life. We can only feed because we have been fed; we are sent out in the power of the Spirit because have first been called together as Christ’s Body. Christian action flows from gratitude rather than from obligation or from guilt. ‘Deep calls unto deep’ (Ps 42.7). The love poured out for us in Christ calls forth a grace-filled echo in our hearts.

Pray especially for this afternoon’s event on Receiving and Becoming the Body of Christ which the Contextual Theology Centre is holding in Bethnal Green.  Pray that this time of adoration and reflection intercession may build up all who participate – and be a blessing to them in their work for God’s Kingdom.

Pray for those involved in the Church Urban Fund, the Contextual Theology Centre and their many partner churches and projects – that this work would be grounded in gratitude and nourished by prayer and worship.

Prayer diary: Day 32 of Lent

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In our prayers this week, we focus on Near Neighbours – a programme co-ordinated by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England to build relationships across faiths and cultures.

Last November, the Hindu Christian Forum was launched by Archbishop Rowan Williams and Sri Shruti Dharma Das Ji.  It is one of the partners in Near Neighbours, and is holding a series of workshops and events to help Christians and Hindus work together at local level.  One such event was held in east London last month, and very well received.

Pray for this ongoing work across the Near Neighbours localities – and in particular for the work being done by the Contextual Theology Centre to deepen relationships between one of our largest Roman Catholic churches (SS Stephen & Nicholas, Manor Park – whose parish priest, Fr Sean Connolly, is our Assistant Director) and the local Hindu community.

Prayer diary: Day 31 of Lent

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In our prayers this week, we focus on Near Neighbours – a programme co-ordinated by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England to build relationships across faiths and cultures

Through social programmes rooted in their values, faith groups make an enormous contribution to our society. Many thousands of men and women of faith regularly volunteer for projects that benefit those in need or improve our environment.

Please pray for A Year of Service – an initiative that will help highlight and link up these projects during 2012. Every month, each of the nine major faith communities in turn will host a day of volunteering in communities and businesses across the country and will invite people of other faiths, and those without religious beliefs, to join in. Each community’s day of service will be linked to one of its religious festivals, or to an existing volunteering day such as the Hindu-led ‘Sewa Day’ or the Jewish-led ‘Mitzvah Day’. Each day will have a theme, such as visiting the elderly, feeding the hungry or planting trees.

Pray for the Near Neighbours programme – in eastern London and across England – for the ways in which it is supporting this initiative, and for the generosity and trust which will be built through the process.

Prayer diary: Day 30 of Lent

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In our prayers this week, we focus on Near Neighbours – a programme co-ordinated by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England to build relationships across faiths and cultures.

Another partner in the Near Neighbours programme is the Council for Christians and Jews – the UK’s oldest national interfaith organisation for Christian-Jewish dialogue.  Pray for the work the Council is doing in the four Near Neighbours areas across England – and in particular for an event in east London today at which a local Rabbi and Vicar will lead a discussion of Jewish and Christian Understandings of Passover.

Prayer diary: Day 29 of Lent

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In our prayers this week, we focus on Near Neighbours – a programme co-ordinated by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England to build relationships across faiths and cultures



The Near Neighbours Grants Fund is a central part of the programme.  It helps very local initiatives that build cross-community relationships – where people of different faith groups and those of no faith work together  to form closer relationships.  Grants of £250 to £5,000 are available and these are administered through the Church Urban Fund via local parishes.

Pray for those staff who have to make decisions about which projects to fund – and for the wide range of grassroots initiatives being supported.  You can see some specific examples on the Contextual Theology Centre’s Near Neighbours blog.

Prayer diary: Day 28 of Lent

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In our prayers this week, we focus on Near Neighbours – a programme co-ordinated by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England to build relationships across faiths and cultures

The Near Neighbours programme includes around a dozen interns being trained and supported by the Nehemiah Foundation.  Drawn from the local community, their role is to help residents engage more effectively in neighbourhood regeneration and renewal – so that they have a more powerful voice in shaping their area’s future.

Pray for the interns – for the Nehemiah Foundation staff who support and train them, and for the way their work enriches the Near Neighbours programmes in its four areas of focus.  These areas are eastern London (where the programme co-ordinated by the Contextual Theology Centre), Leicester, Birmingham and Bradford, Burnley & Oldham.

Prayer Diary: Day 27 of Lent

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Please pray for Come to the Edge an event being run by the Christian-Muslim Forum for women committed to building community as part of the Near Neighbours programme (in which the Church Urban Fund and Contextual Theology Centre are both key partners).  Pray for those who will be there today and tomorrow from eastern London, Leicester, Birmingham and the north of England.

Pray also for West Cumbria Community Money Advice.  The Church Urban Fund is helping this local charity to expand its work, providing more budgeting and money management courses for the local community and training new volunteers to offer advice and support.

Prayer Diary: Day 26 of Lent

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This week, many of our prayer requests will involve Near Neighbours – a programme run by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England, with funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government to sustain and deepen relationships across faiths.

Near Neighbours works in four localities – parts of Birmingham; Leicester; Bradford, Burnley & Oldham, and eastern London.  The Contextual Theology Centre (CTC) is administering the eastern London programme.

Pray for Liz Carnelley who directs the national programme, and Tim Clapton, who co-ordinates Near Neighbours (Eastern London) for CTC.  You can find out more about the work on the national and local Near Neighbours blogs.

Prayer Diary: Day 25 of Lent

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Please pray for Women on the Frontline Ministries (WOFM), which

aims to share the love of Jesus with women working in street prostitution. It currently runs a day drop-in centre called Safe women’s project, to support these women through emotional and spiritual support, advice, hot food/ drink, shower facilities, and a 12 step programme of empowerment, as well as skills workshops. The Church Urban Fund is supporting WOFM in expanding its day centre provision, owing to the possible increase in women working in street prostitution in the London Borough of Newham during the Olympic games.

Pray also for the work the Contextual Theology Centre has been doing with its partner churches in Newham and the other Olympic boroughs – using community organising to secure affordable housing, jobs and a Living Wage for local people as part of the London Citizens alliance.  Pray especially for the campaign for a Community Land Trust to be part of the legacy on the Olympic site.

Prayer Diary: Day 24 of Lent

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Offerton is in a highly deprived area with high levels of family breakdown, teenage pregnancy, anti-social behaviour, and child poverty. Please pray for the Glo Trust, which has already been organising activities for young people who do not usually go to church. The Church Urban Fund is supporting a part-time community youth worker who will oversee and develop Glo Church’s work with these 11-19 year olds. The youth worker would be able to develop new projects such as an Offerton ROC Cafe, youth football and a mentoring programme.

Pray also for a new project in Forest Gate, east London – where the Contextual Theology Centre has begun a new initiative – helping a former gang member who worships at ARC Pentecostal Church to developing a new mentoring programme to help other young people to leave gang violence behind.  This initiative grows out of the seminar we asked you to pray for last week – so it seems these prayers have been effective!  We hope to have more news on this, and more prayer requests, in the weeks ahead.

Prayer Diary: Day 23 of Lent

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Pray for Sussex Deaf Association which is being supported by the Church Urban Fund to provide assistance to deaf people who are deprived – including support with benefits, training on finances and health and wellbeing. These sessions mean that workers can simplify letters from benefit offices, banks, debt agencies, and health information, to improve deaf people’s welfare. There is an urgent need to support deaf people in understanding recent benefit changes.

Pray also for Money Mentors – part of Citizens UK’s response to the financial crisis.  Through Money Mentors, the local community is taking responsibility for educating its young people in the responsible management of money.

The Christian basis for Citizens UK’s campaigning on these issues is explored in Crunch Time: A Call to Action  a collection of essays produced by the Contextual Theology Centre for churches in the alliance.

Prayer Diary: Day 22 of Lent

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Pray for  Friends First . Based in the Diocese of Chichester,  it supports vulnerable and homeless people with a drop in service, supported house, and agricultural and workplace skills workshops. With support from the Church Urban Fund, it now plans to establish a work-based supported housing project for homeless and long-term unemployed people. This ‘Friends First Farmhouse’ will be a rural work-based traineeship and supported house. Five long-term unemployed people will live and re-train in the West Sussex countryside for up to 2 years. They will tackle issues associated with their homelessness, receive therapeutic input, and develop work and independent living skills. They and other volunteers will make products to support other parts of Friends First, such as a veg box scheme.

Pray also for the Contextual Theology Centre’s partner churches in The East London Communities Organisation – currently engaged in a process of listening and discernment about the most practical ways to help people trapped in long-term unemployment to find work at a Living Wage.

Prayer Diary: Day 21 of Lent

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Please pray for the Wirral Foodbank.  There’s a brief guide to how this and other Foodbanks work here.  As with the other Foodbanks we have been praying for, people of all faiths and none are involved in both the operation of the foodbank, and as users – but Christians have again played a key role in setting it up.  In conjunction with the Trussell Trust, The foodbank is supported by Wirral Churches Together and the Trussell Trust, using churches as local distribution centres and using volunteers from the congregations. The Church Urban Fund is supporting the Foodbank enabling it to employ a part-time warehouse manager/ co-ordinator for an initial period of 6 months to ensure the smooth running of the project in its initial stages.

Pray also for the work Tom Daggett is doing as an intern with Stepney Salvation Army on the Ocean Estate in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.  Tom is a ‘Jellicoe Intern’ with the Contextual Theology Centre, and one of his projects is to draw together people of different faiths to bring a local playground into community ownership.  The nearby E1 Community Church and St Mary’s Cable Street are involved in a similar project (the  Glamis Adventure Playground), which also involves people of all faiths and none – but in which local Christians have played a very significant role.

Give thanks for these and many other quiet and yet significant ways in which Christians help to build and sustain relationships for the common good.

Prayer Diary: Day 19 of Lent

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Today’s Gospel reading is John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple: in which we see Jesus being angry.  Pray for all those who are angry at injustice – that they may learn from the Gospels how to place anger at the service of love, mercy and justice.

As part of the Call to Change by The Contextual Theology Centre and Church Urban Fund, the Centre has produced Urgent Patience – a reflection on the spirituality of Christian social action, which includes a meditation on the positive role of anger.

Pray also for the High Cross URC Youth and Community Project.  The first phase of this award-winning project, on ‘Anger Management and Finding Peaceful Ways of Resolving Conflict’, helped young people to help with volatile situations and those dealing with anger issues.

Following the riots in August 2011, the young people have requested a new phase of workshops on ‘Dealing with Anger; out of control behaviour, resolving conflict in peaceful ways, and exploring new activities for young people in the community’. The Church Urban Fund is supporting this initiative – in which people from High Cross and other local churches will be part of an anger management workshop series, equipping them to become peacemakers, and giving them a chance to do research in the community and have a young leader’s weekend away. Their research may result in future activities being run for young people in August 2012.

Prayer Diary: Day 18 of Lent

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Please pray for U-Turn Women’s Project which works with vulnerable women who did not have positive childhoods and who therefore missed out on education. The Church Urban Fund is supporting its Second Chance Education Project. Having produced poetry books and a concert for local people, many of the women with whom U-Turn is working now feel they can take part in formal education. The Second Chance Education Project is working with Raines Secondary School to run a course with the women, where they will have up to 3 years to study for GCSEs.

Pray also for the work being done by the Contextual Theology Centre and schools in Citizens UK – developing a Schools Caucus, to take a more holistic view of the way schools, families and the wider community (including local churches) can work together to enable more children to have positive childhoods.

Prayer Diary: Day 17 of Lent

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Please pray for Seed of Hope Family Organisation in London.  Concerned about local family breakdown and its effect on anti-social behaviour and economic inactivity, it is working with the Church Urban Fund to deliver a a parenting workshop and training course.  ‘Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities’ includes 20 weeks of 3 hour workshops on bringing different cultures together to discuss improving their community; 20 two-hour weekly sessions on parent/ child practical workshops, 4 sports activity events, and 2 cultural events or trips.

Pray also for ‘Will the first be last?’ – a research partnership between the Contextual Theology Centre and The Children’s Society on (i) the impact of inequality and the related impact of poverty on children and young people; (ii) a Christian vision of the common good; and (iii) the practical contribution the Church can make to a more just social order.

Prayer diary: Day 16 of Lent

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Today’s prayer requests are for two projects working with refugees and migrants:

Please pray for the work being done by Caitlin Burbridge – one of the Contextual Theology Centre’s Jellicoe interns. Caitlin is working with London Citizens to engage the Congolese diaspora in community organising. She has blogged on this work (at http://jellicoecommunity.blogspot.com/2011/12/diaspora-democracy-and-citizenship.html)

Pray also for East Area Asylum Seekers’ Supporters Group, which works with local churches in Newcastle. The Church Urban Fund is helping it establish a new drop-in at a local church, following changes to where those seeking sanctuary are housed in the city.

Prayer diary: day 15 of Lent

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Please pray for all those participating in the Church Urban Fund Lent course, ‘Are we washing our hands of England’s poor?’ (Online at http://www.cuf.org.uk/resources-churches – Tim Bissett has blogged on his local course at http://www.cuf.org.uk/category/blog-content-tags/church-urban-fund-lent-course)

Pray also for those using the resources the Contextual Theology Centre has produced for Lent – the ‘Call to Change’ course on community organising and ‘Urgent Patience’ – a reflection on the spirituality of Christian social action (both online at http://calltochange.org).

Prayer diary: Day 14 of Lent

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Please pray for Art Beyond Belief (http://www.art-beyond-belief.com/)- an interfaith organisation in Slough which has Church of England and Church Urban Fund support. It aims to help marginalised people and those with mental health issues or disabilities through art.

Pray also for the Greater London Presence and Engagement Network (http://www.londonpen.org), a project of the Contextual Theology Centre for the Church of England – equipping parishes and chaplaincies for mission and ministry in multi-faith contexts.

Prayer diary: Day 13 of Lent

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Today, the Contextual Theology Centre is holding a unique seminar in Oxford: bringing a leading Catholic academic from the US together with two former gang members who now worship in one of our partner churches (one is its founding Pastor). The church, ARC in Forest Gate, East London, is involved in outreach to young people caught up in gangs, mentoring work with former gang members, and action with other London Citizens members to make the streets safer. Pray for this work; for today’s seminar, and for Nash, a Jellicoe intern working at ARC on deepening its engagement in community organising.

Pray also for CrossLinks – a community centre based on the Lakes Estate in South Bletchley. The Church Urban Fund is working with Spurgeon Baptist Church to enable the centre to extend its opening hours. This will enable a Parish Nursing Ministry and a formal Assisted Reading Scheme for local children.

Prayer diary: Day 12 of Lent

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Please pray for the work the Contextual Theology Centre is doing to root Christian social action in prayer.  As part of its Lenten ‘Call to Change’ (with the Church Urban Fund), the Centre has produced Urgent Patience – a booklet on Christian spirituality and social action.  Tomorrow, Christians in its partner churches will be meeting Br Paolo from the Taize Community for a morning of prayer and reflection.

Pray also for Daylight Centre Fellowship in Wellingborough.  With help from the Church Urban Fund, it is assessing the numbers of rough sleepers in the Borough, following anecdotal evidence suggesting that official figures do not reflect the true situation. It will use these figures as a basis for its plan to increase support for rough sleepers.

Prayer diary: Day 11 of Lent

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Please pray for those selected yesterday to serve as summer interns in the Jellicoe Community – the Contextual Theology Centre’s placement programme to support churches in east London engaged in community organising with Citizens UK.  They work across a wide range of churches – from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal – developing congregational involvement in campaigns for the Living Wage, affordable housing and safer streets.  They also root this work, for themselves and their placement churches, in Cristian teaching and prayer.

Pray also for Hope Debt Advice – an interdenominational charity that aims to create a debt ‘service’ that can be offered to small local churches, rather than being located at just one church. This means it will make it easier to provide a debt advice service in particularly rural areas with small local churches. At each local centre (or church), Christian volunteers will provide the support, and a team of volunteers will accompany the debt advisor on visits to clients’ homes. It is part of the umbrella organisation, Community Money Advice, and is supported by the Church Urban Fund.

Prayer diary: Day 10 of Lent

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Please pray for Highway Neighbours – a project of the Contextual Theology Centre with churches in Shadwell, east London   which seeks to use the Olympics as an opportunity to engage communities in meaningful relationship. Working in partnership with other faith communities in Shadwell and Wapping, Highway Neighbours seeks to help vulnerable local people during the Olympics. Having identified the following potential challenges; road closures, termination of bus routes, increased traffic, closure of crossings, challenges reaching local mosques for prayer during Ramadan, and a decrease in deliveries, the churches in this area are planning to draw the community together by replacing local practical services which will be withdrawn between July and September.

Pray also for St Luke’s CARES – a community charity in Leeds which the Church Urban Fund is assisting to open a shop, offering retail experience opportunities to a range of ages. NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) young people will be able to do work placements and older people volunteering opportunities. Products will be cheap and affordable for the a locality where there are high levels of poverty.  Surplusses will be reinvested into the local community.

Pray also for High

Prayer diary: Day 9 of Lent

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Please pray for Hope Church, Rotherham which has recently

set up a local foodbank. Supported by the Church Urban Fund, it is developing relationships with local supermarkets and customers to obtain food, and local agencies who will hold vouchers to refer people in need to the foodbank.

Pray also for the Shoreditch Group – a project of the Contextual Theology Centre to help churches in this part of east London to scale up their involvement in a range of social action ministries, including a Foodbanks, debt counselling services and involvement in community organising.

Prayer diary: Day 7 of Lent

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Please pray for St Mary’s Church, Battersea – whom the Church Urban Fund is supporting in a community-led response to last summer’s riots. St Mary’s is a member of London Citizens, and has launched a 6 month Community Listening Campaign. There are 8 institutions already involved, from which the listening campaign will be rolled out -listening to young people and adults across the borough. In May 2012, the results and proposed solutions will be presented. There will also be a Youth Leadership Programme, where young people from different congregations will be build relationships with others who are different to them.

The Contextual Theology Centre has also been working with London Citizens on a wider Citizens Inquiry into the riots.  This included an intensive process of listening in Tottenham, where the London riots began.  The community-led inquiry has now reported, and is taking concrete action to rebuild relationships and tackle the root causes of the violence.  Pray for this work, and for work CTC is doing on a London-wide report.

Prayer diary: Day 6 of Lent

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Pray for Christ Citadel International Church in Nottingham, and its plans to address a range of issues of deprivation through its Parish Nurse Project. This project will provide pastoral care, advice on health, reassurance, education, support groups, weekly healing services and fellowship, to support deprived groups and bring them into contact with health services. It will be led by a pastor in the church who is a registered nurse, as well as volunteers from the church and other churches who are registered nurses.

Pray also for George Gabriel, a community organiser with Citizens UK, who is working to set up a community organising alliance in the city.  The Contextual Theology Centre was involved in a recent study event for Christian leaders in Nottingham, on the theology and practice of organising.  The Centre has just launched a four-week course on Christianity and community organising, with Bible study and practical exercises for interested congregations.

Prayer diary: Day 5 of Lent

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Pray for the work of Host – a charity connected to the

 Nottingham Arimathea Trust, which offers accommodation and support for destitute asylum seekers by matching them up to host families who they can stay with. The Church Urban Fund is supporting the charity so that it can increase the number of hosts, and of volunteers who match hosts and guests.

Pray also for the work of Near Neighbours (Eastern London) – a project run by the Contextual Theology Centre as part of the wider programme to create and deepen relationships across faiths and cultures.  Today, a Near Neighbours Gathering will be held for people in Newham at ARC Pentecostal Church in Forest Gate. 

Prayer diary: Day 4 of Lent

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Please pray for Smart Savings Community Interest Company.  It is being partnered by the Church Urban Fund to work with churches in Camborne to deliver a money management course for deprived families. Phase 1 will train 15 volunteers in financial advice, and phase 2 will offer 15 parents the chance to learn about money, debt management, as well as a numeracy qualification.

Pray also for the work Citizens UK and the Contextual Theology Centre as they work together on the Nehemiah 5 Challenge – a campaign which complements the debt counselling work of so many churches up and down the country, by campaigning for an end to exploitative and irresponsible lending.

Prayer diary: Day 3 of Lent

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Please pray for Weston Church Youth Project in Southampton.  This has run at Holy Trinity Church for 19 years – and includes drop-ins, trips, one-to-one support for young people and work in small groups.  The Church Urban Fund is helping it discern the best ways to renew and develop its work for the future.

The Contextual Theology Centre was set up by Christians in London Citizens – the capital’s community organising alliance.  Over the last few months, the alliance’s London 2012 Jobs campaign has secured around 1300 Living Wage jobs for local people at the Olympics.  CTC’s Tom Daggett has blogged on the process before.  On Ash Wednesday, a team of people from our partner churches and other communities in London Citizens were at the Olympic site, both to celebrate this achievement and to explore other ways in which local people could take action to tackle joblessness.  Pray for them as this process moves forward – and for all who live with unemployment.

Prayer diary: Day 2 of Lent

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As part of Call to Change, we are inviting supporters to pray each day for the work of the Church Urban Fund, the Contextual Theology Centre and their partner churches and projects
Tonight, Call to Change and CTC are sponsoring a Workshop on the Living Wage in Oxford.  This builds on the work staff and students in the University have been doing to secure a Living Wage for all it’s domestic staff – something which builds the London Citizens campaign which has won £70 million for low-paid workers in the capital alone.  Please pray for the event, for all involved in the campaign, and all who struggle on low incomes.
The Church Urban Fund is supporting St Chad’s Church, Kidderminster, as it reaches out to the local deprived community to tackle issues of loneliness and social deprivation. Pray for its plans to establish a coffee shop – to act as a hub to start groups (e.g. parenting groups, friendship groups for elderly or lonely people, debt counselling and Christian enquirers’ groups).

Prayers for Ash Wednesday and Lent

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As part of the Call to Change, the Contextual Theology Centre has produced the following prayers for churches to incorporate in their intercessions on Ash Wednesday or later in Lent.

The prayers ask God’s blessing and protection on those affected most deeply by the financial crisis, and ask for God’s grace in using the season well for individual and corporate repentance:

Father,
we give you thanks for this holy season of repentance and renewal.
We ask you for the grace to use it well
– to recognise the wrong turnings in our personal and common life;
– to turn to you for forgiveness and renewal
– to enthrone your Son as Lord, and live as citizens of his Kingdom

Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer

Father,
we place into your hands those  who feel most keenly the effects of the financial crisis, 

in our own land and around the world,
and those who have lived in poverty for many years.
May they know Christ crucified as the One who suffers with them, and the one who comes with justice and with power.

Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer

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