Celebrating Fr Basil & the Jellicoe Community

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Sermon preached at Magdalen College, Oxford on 6th February 2011, to mark the anniversary of Fr Basil Jellicoe’s birth, by The Revd Dr Angus Ritchie  (Fr Angus is the College’s Jellicoe Chaplain, and the Director of the Contextual Theology Centre in East London, which runs the Jellicoe Internship programme)

Many of you will have seen this week’s Chapel posters. Fr Michael has chosen a wonderfully retro photograph (above) – with a becassocked cleric, standing behind a bar. The priest in question is Fr Basil Jellicoe, Magdalen’s Missioner to Somers Town – back in the 1920s, one of the most wretched slums in London. (Our College Trust, which disburses funds to charities each term, is the successor to the Mission.)

Among his many distinctions, Jellicoe – slum priest, retreat conductor, social reformer – is the only Anglican priest to have inspired an entire musical. Jellicoe: The Musical had its brief moment of glory eight years ago, treating the residents of Somers Town to such hits as ‘St Pancras House Improvement Society’ and ‘A Parson Running A Pub’. While it has yet to hit the West End or Broadway, the musical is indicative of Jellicoe’s larger-than-life character, and the affection his memory continues to inspire in his old parish.

Jellicoe exemplified the best characteristics of that generation of Anglo-Catholic clergy. He had passion and prayerfulness, humour and charisma. Above all, he was inspired by the conviction that the life of God could and should become flesh in every earthly community.

Born on 5th February 1899, Fr Basil studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, before training for the priesthood at St Stephen’s House. Upon ordination, he was appointed Magdalen’s missioner to Somers Town. Jellicoe regarded the state of his parishioners’ housing as a scandal. As a good Anglo-Catholic, he knew the Eucharist to be “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spriritual grace” – a sign of the way God in Christ enters and redeems the material world. His sermons attacked the slums were a theological as well as a social outrage – they were, he said “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace.”

Jellicoe had been born into privilege and used his many connections to assemble a powerful alliance for change – enlisting the support of the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Housing Minister in his St Pancras House Improvement Society. He understood the importance of dramatic flourish – erecting vast papier mache effigies of the rats and bugs that infested the slums, and ceremonially torching them as the first slums were demolished. And he used the ‘new media’ of his age: making an early film of the conditions in which his parishioners lived, and making a mobile cinema in a trailer, so that those who lived in prosperity up and down the land could see what life in the slums was really like. After each showing he told them: “Now you know what life is like. You have no excuse for inaction.”

The Times’ obituary gives some flavour of Jellicoe’s extraordinary energy and enterprise: telling its readers that Fr Jellicoe “resolved that he would not rest till his people had homes fit to live in, and the rehousing schemes started by his society have already provided many excellent flats with gardens, trees, ponds, swings for the children, and other amenities. Although the rents charged are not more than what the tenants paid for the old slums, the loan stock receives 2 per cent and the ordinary shares 3 per cent.”

Jellicoe asked local people what they wanted (not a common practice at the time), and ensured the housing was beautiful as well as functional, with space for socialising and creativity. Not surprisingly, the beauty and layout of this college was also an important inspiration. Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch has observed: “Half a century before the development of London’s docklands, Fr Basil Jellicoe had pioneered an economically viable and morally inspiring form of ‘regeneration’. More recent initiatives have all too often alienated and displaced the original residents. Jellicoe’s version of neighbourhood renewal took local people seriously, and ensured their needs were given pride of place.”

Jellicoe’s vision transcended the narrower tendencies of Anglo-Catholicism. Archbishop Rowan Williams recounts a characteristic incident: “Father Basil was challenged by some of his more narrow-minded High Church friends about why he would come to celebrate and preach in a parish church like [St Martin-in-the-Fields] where the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved. Jellicoe said he had no problem at all in coming to preach in a church part of which was reserved for the service of Christ in the form of his poor.” The sacrament we celebrate today was, for Jellicoe, about a deep and generous engagement with the world – not a pious retreat from it.

Fr Basil was a realist – living in the world as it is, and inspired with a vision of the world as it should be. We see this realism in the economics of the St Pancras House Improvement Society, and in Jellicoe’s willingness to move beyond the confines of one church tradition. We also see it in his attitude to alcohol. Jellicoe himself was teetotal, and yet one of his most controversial schemes was the establishment of a College for Publicans. His reasoning was pragmatic not judgmental. He wanted the drinkers of Somers Town to get good service and good beer – and to save them from the kind of pub that made its money by encouraging alcoholism and so devouring the whole of a family’s much-needed income.

Seven decades on, the Jellicoe Community was founded here at Magdalen. Its aim was to enable another generation of students to live Jellicoe’s convictions, on residential placements in East London. More recently, interns have been drawn from a much wider range of institutions – last year, Magdalen’s Antonia Adebambo and Ellen Lynch were joined by around 20 other students.

Today’s interns are placed in Christian congregations from a wide variety of traditions. Within the Church of England, these vary from charismatic evangelical right through to the smells and bells of Jellicoe’s own church, St Mary’s Somers Town. Jellicoe interns are also placed in Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal and Salvation Army congregations.

These churches are all members of London Citizens, the capital’s broad-based alliance. It contains over 160 dues-paying organisations – alongside churches there are mosques, temples, schools, student and trade unions. Their common action has achieved some striking results. London Citizens has won over £60 million pounds for low-paid workers, and secured the world’s first Living Wage Olympics. The Citizens UK Assembly in May secured commitments from David Cameron and Nick Clegg to the end of child detention in the asylum process, and to Community Land Trusts as a way of achieving decent, affordable housing in our own generation.

In organising, the action grows out of the relationships – relationships based on an attentive listening to people’s circumstances, passions and values. Community organising is not unique because of the things it campaigns for. What’s distinctive is the process. The action is not merely for the poorest and most marginalised in society – it is taken by them. People used to being passive recipients of whatever the political process deals out become agents of change. The process matters every bit as much as the results.

The work of community organising is very much in the spirit of Jellicoe: in its commitment to valuing and listening to local people; in its invitation and its challenge to those with wealth and status and in its realism – its willingness to engage with the world as it is and not simply to dream of the world as it should be. I hope community organising can also learn from the less positive aspects of Jellicoe’s story – focusing not on a charismatic individual (with the attendant dangers of burn-out – Fr Basil died of exhaustion, aged just 36) but participating in a process which is actually led by local people.

At a time when young people are supposed to be apathetic, the growth of Jellicoe Community shows there is a real appetite for engagement with social and economic justice – engagement driven by the very people who are supposed to be hardest to involve. At a time when they are supposed to have given up on institutional religion, we find students increasingly drawn to a form of social action built on the life of local congregations. And at a time when the media is full of stories of church disunity, we find Christians working together across a wider and wider range of denominations and traditions. The approach of community organising is to build relationships around the issues on which we can agree. This is not to evade the serious issues of disagreement. Rather, the hope is through organising on the areas where passion and vision are shared, we can come to more contentious issues with deeper bonds of trust and solidarity.

In denouncing slum housing as “an outward sign of an inward disgrace” Jellicoe’s words and deeds proclaimed the intimate connection between spirituality and social justice. Fr Basil knew that when the Spirit of God warmed and transformed human hearts there would be evidence of this in the public sphere as well as the personal, in the transformation of slums as well as the celebration of sacraments. Of course, the Jellicoe internship is just one of many different ways in which you might rise to that challenge.

Last term, Bishop Doug Miles preached the Chapel’s annual Jellicoe sermon – choosing as his theme ‘A Life That Counts Beyond The Self’. Basil Jellicoe lived such a life; a life that counted for something, a life that is still having an impact, many decades on.

Like Bishop Miles’ sermon, today’s readings [Isaiah 58:7-10; Matthew 5:13-16] both challenge us. They ask what kind of life we want to live, what kind of church we want to be. Will we follow the stale path of maximising earnings and minimising engagement beyond the circles of the prosperous and fortunate – a life that may be outwardly religious but which is hardly salt or light? Or will we allow Jesus Christ to call us out beyond our self-absorption – into a life that is richer, fresher, fuller – a life that changes, and is changed by, the poverty and injustice of our own age?

New Jellicoe Study Group

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Arabella Milbank (Jellicoe Intern in Hackney, summer 2010) introduces this new group on theology and radical politics:

The Jellicoe Study Group is a reading group in political theology, which will meet in Oxford four times a term for evening discussion.  We will be asking a core question: what has the juncture of religion and radical politics meant for those who are called to practise both in this country?  Taking texts from Oxford movement priests to Fr Kenneth Leech, we will be seeking to understand their view of church, state and society and its relevancve to what has been called our ‘post-secular’ age.

The group welcomes all comers, whatever their background in faith or politics, and particularly hopes to provide context for past and future Jellicoe Interns to deepen their reflectoon. 

Meetings will be taking place on Wednesdays of 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th weeks (i.e. 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd February) at 8.15pm in the Red Room, New College

Praying with the Jellicoe Community

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For Christians, action for justice is always a response to the divine initiative – we love because he first loved us (1 John 4.19).  So prayer is at the heart of the Jellicoe Community. You are welcome to join us at any of the regular events below:

Daily prayer in East London, to which all are welcome, at the Centre
Weekly prayer in Oxford – on 8am every Thursday in Magdalen College Chapel (Full Term only)

You are also invited to a Contemplative Prayer Group which meets at 6.30pm on the following dates:
19 & 26 January; 9 & 16  February; 2, 9, 23 & 30 March; 13 & 20 April.  Meetings begin in the Director’s Flat at the Centre, and then move on to the Chapel.

Happy New Year!

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The ‘Fourth Debate’ with Cameron, Clegg and Brown held to account by our local leaders… a record number of Jellicoe interns… the 70th anniversary of Jellicoe’s death (with articles on Fr Basil, and the Community, in the Church Times – and the Bishop of London’s anniversary sermon )… Bishop Doug Miles’ launch of the Oxford Jellicoe Community…

…all these made 2010 a momentous year – with 2011 promising to be at least as full of action and of growth.

Events already in the diary include

– A new termly act of worship for Christians involved in citizen organising – on the evening of 21 February, with Pastor Peter Nembhard from ARC in Forest Gate

– The monthly Jellicoe Book Club in London – with our next meeting on 25 January (to discuss Phillip Blond’s Red Tory)

– a major national event on Bank Holiday Monday (2nd May) – details to follow

We will soon be blogging details of events in Oxford: our termly Jellicoe Seminar (this time on the Living Wage Campaign); a new Jellicoe Study Group; and a briefing for those interested in a Jellicoe Internship this summer or in the next academic year

Bouquets and brickbats…

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Last Wednesday was awards night at London Citizens, with CTC Assistant Director Fr Sean Connolly collecting ‘Congregation of the Year’ award on behalf of S Stephen and Nicholas Catholic Parish, Manor Park.  Key to the congregation’s development has been Fr Sean’s commitment to ‘one to ones’.  Interns from Notre Dame and Cambridge University have also played their part in this.

CTC Director Angus Ritchie was one of the Tower Hamlets team collecting the award for ‘Borough of the Year’ – and again, Jellicoe interns have had a significant role in the deepening of engagement in organising.

Congratulations also go to one of our Muslim friends and neighbours, Mahera Ruby of Muslimaat, recognised as ‘Leader of the Year’.

A number of employers, including KPMG, got awards for applying and promoting the Living Wage. If there has been a wooden spoon award, it might well have gone to The Disney Store – where this evening we took part in a carol service with a difference.  A blend of traditional carols and Living Wage songs were sung by not-entirely-welcome gathering in Disney’s Oxford Street branch. Follow the events, with pictures and (soon) video via the CTC and Citizens Twitter feeds (#DisneyLivingWage)

Jellicoe Sermon: ‘A life that counts beyond self’

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Bishop Doug Miles, from koinonia Baptist Church in Baltimore, is a leading figure in community organising in the US.  Last week, he preached the 2010 Jellicoe Sermon in Magdalen College Chapel:

As I prepare to preach this sermon, I am requesting those present who are 35 and older to help me preach. If you are in agreement with what I say, give affirmation by a nod of the head, the wink of an eye or by letting a smile play across your lips.

M. Craig Barnes, in his marvellous book ‘When God Interrupts’, makes the assertion that “God must save most of us from ‘the life of our dreams’”. That most of us do not end life, nor find ourselves at this junction of life doing what we thought as teenagers or even young adults doing what we had wished for or expected doing, most of us are not married to the heartthrob of our teen years. Many of us are not doing professionally what was our original life’s quest. Many of us are not living where we thought we would reside or are not travelling roads we thought we would travel.

Thanks be to God that in His omniscience, He has delivered us from the life of our dreams. Why does he do this? I venture to say that He does so for one of at least three reasons.

1. The life of our dreams may not have been what was best for us.

2. It may not be what God wants for us.

3. It may have ended in our destruction rather than our usefulness for the kingdom.

This was true of a shepherd boy king named David in his humanity; and probably true for Jesus in his ever dawning sense of his divinity.

David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, in the culture from which he comes, could not have dared dream that his life would carry him down the road its does nor to the dizzying heights he attains. In Jewish culture of that day the youngest son was last in line for inheritance, last in line for the patriarchal blessing last in line to secure a wife, last in line to leave the father’s house. Last, last, last. It did not matter how gifted he was, nor what spirit of ambition drove him or how willing he was to work – his destiny was to be last.

Yet David probably never dreamed of becoming a great psalmist and blessing family, friends and the kingdom with the gifts so richly bestowed upon him. Hear him:

“In your strength the king rejoices, O Lord
And in your help how greatly he exults.”

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
The world, and those who live in it.”

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.”

“The Lord is my light and salvation: whom shall I fear?”

A blessed musician with ability that far exceeded the ordinary, David probably dreamed of dazzling the ladies with the playing of the lute or mesmerizing a generation with the melodies produced at his hand.
He never imagined he would be King of all Israel and called a “Man after God’s own heart”.

And most assuredly our Lord – Jesus – made a similar journey to his place between two thieves on a cross on a hill called Calvary. In his humanity as a child, he could not have possibly the winding road of his life nor that one day, centuries later we today would be gathered in this place dedicated to His glory as we worship Him as “King of kings and Lord of lords”.

He had such an impossible beginning that we have glossed over with tradition and the hindsight of adulation. A bastard child of what seemed an illicit relationship between a young woman engaged to a man probably four times her age who on the eve of her marriage turns up pregnant by an unknown father.

Tradition said and literally required that she at worst be stoned to death for her seemingly shameful dalliance and at best be returned in shame to the house of her father as damaged goods.

So as a child – a middle child of a stepfather with sons and daughters both older and younger than Jesus, and Jesus as Mary’s eldest child who bore the chief responsibility for her welfare in old age – his horizons were severely limited by life’s circumstances.

Yet he probably dreamed of becoming a master carpenter in the king’s service who one day would be called upon to design and build the framework for some magnificent structure in Jerusalem – a structure that would dazzle men and be blessed by God. And as in the case of David, he too had to be rescued from the life of his dreams.

There are some seated here today who will be delivered from the life of your dreams and thanks be to God for that deliverance.

So how do we get from the life of our own dreams to a life that counts beyond itself? Allow me to suggest three quick points and I will be done.


To claim a life that counts beyond self one has to come to a day of decision for God.

Our faith is not a faith of osmosis whereby we can acquire a relationship with God simply by being around people who have such a relationship. Religious faith is like a tooth brush – each person should have his or her own and use it regularly. And life will lead you in some directions that will cause you to choose for or against God, especially if you seek to be open to His revelations.

David found this to be true early in life. As he kept his father’s sheep there was a time when a bear came to destroy the flock and he slew the bear with sling shot in hand. On another occasion a lion attempted to harm the flock and once again sling shot in hand he killed the lion. What some would have pointed to as either luck in human skill David saw as divine intervention for His sake.

The Bible informs us that age 12, Jesus is found by a frantic Mary searching for what she believed to be her lost son, finds him in the Temple in Jerusalem, and when chastised Jesus responded, “Did you not know I must be about my father’s business?”

We do not know what revelation led to that declaration but we do know that 18 years later he sits in a synagogue in Nazareth, quotes from the prophet Isaiah, and claims a place in the prophetic tradition of Israel: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”

If you want a life that counts beyond self – in the days of your youth choose for God.


To live a life that counts beyond self requires a willingness to take risks, we are challenged to dare to be different – to march to the beat of a distant drummer.

One day David took provisions to his older brothers who were engaged in battle against the Philistines – as he approached the battlefield he found a giant named Goliath daring the children of Israel to send down to the valley a man that would dare to stand up to him. David saw “teachers, scholars, pastors and preachers, captains and generals” on the mountain side afraid to go down to the valley. And this shepherd boy, this slight lad of shepherd status dared in the name of God to go forth and sly the giant.

Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, one day walked away from his carpentry shop, walked away from family and risked scorn, ridicule and pity because of what he believed to be God the Father’s claim in his life.

What are you willing to risk to be on the right side of justice, to be on the side of that arc of the universe that bends towards justice?

Are you willing to do as Jesus did and exchange the truth the moment for the fact of the matter?

The truth of the moment – Jesus gives up carpentry
The fact of the matter – He claims the Sonship of God

The truth of the moment – the lure of the prosperity of the healer
The fact of the matter – true treasures are found in heaven

The truth of the moment – the ridicule of men
The fact of the matter – The affirmation of the father: “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

What are you willing to risk to claim a life beyond self?


To claim a life beyond self requires a willingness to be available to God.

In all his shenanigans and moral mess David always made himself available to God when god wanted to use him.

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane made the conscious choice to make Himself available for a divine appointment on Cavalry.

God does not call us to be the best at anything – though some of you are and will be.

He does not challenge use to be the brightest – though some of you are.

He calls us to show up, available and willing to be used.

He calls up to show up, as Noah did to build the Ark.

To show up as Joseph did to save his family from famine.

Show up as Moses did to go back to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go.

Show up as Joshua did to fight the Battle of Jericho.

Show up as Daniel did to meet and slay a giant named Goliath

Show up as Nehemiah did to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Show up as Esther did proclaiming, “If I perish, I perish. I am gone to see the king.”

Show up as Jesus did for a date on Calvary.

And if we show up, God will show off in and through our lives.

Are you willing to live a life that counts beyond self?

Packed launch event

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Oxford saw two packed Jellicoe events this week, both with the inspirational Bishop Douglas I. Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church in inner-city Baltimore.  Bishop Miles has been at the heart of broad-based community organising, in the city which originated the Living Wage Campaign.  He preached the Jellicoe Sermon at Magdalen on Sunday, and addressed the launch of the Oxford Jellicoe Community on Monday.

His sermon will be online soon – and the Oxford Jellicoe Community is now on Facebook here

Pictured: Bishop Miles (centre) with Jellicoe Community Development Manager Laurence Mills and 2010 intern Antonia Adebambo

Living Wage @ UEL

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Jellicoe interns joined hundreds of other East Londoners to celebrate two stunning Living Wage victories at this year’s East London Communities Organisation (TELCO) Assembly in Walthamstow on Tuesday.
University of East London Vice-Chancellor Prof Patrick McGhee committed his institution to a Living Wage – speaking powerfully about his own experiences of poverty in Glasgow, and responding to testimony by Jhon (a cleaner at the University living on low pay). 

UEL’s Politics Department has now joined TELCO, and among those cheering these exciting developments was Amma Asante – the first Jellicoe intern at the University!  Summer interns Rebecca Fay, Daniel Stone and Antonia Adebambo also have much to celebrate, as their Pentecostal placement church, ARC (A Radical Church) also joined up.

Barts and the London NHS Trust has also gone for the Living Wage.  In this video clip, Pastor Davy Johnson – a key speaker at the assembly, and Pastor of Mile End New Testament Church of God – explains why the Living Wage matters so much:



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