As part of their Week of Retreat in Daily Life the L’Arche Kent Community asked me to read a Hans Christian Andersen story: I chose the Darning Needle which you can read by following the link. It’s a story with a few morals to it which we talked about afterwards, including the dangers of pride and the fact that we all need each other.
We also talked about darning and mending rather than throwing away. I had with me a coat that was coming apart at the seams. G and E suggested in Makaton that I could sew it, which I did when the story was told, but the needle had been threaded and passed around during the telling. J showed his tailoring skills and awoke a memory, which I shared, of my mother doing as he did, measuring the working length of thread from nose to extended fingertips.
G suggested using a machine, which led to my telling about my wife’s machine – hand turned, not treadle as he signed. This had been given to her 40 years ago from the community’s surplus. It had belonged to a friend of L’Arche in those early days, who was glad to see it in a good home. She could never use it; it was all that remained of her own home, which was destroyed in the Blitz, her family within it.
When I got home I realised another story could have been told. The yarn J threaded was branded ‘winfield’ – in lower case. It had come from Woolworth’s, via my wife’s mother’s mending basket, purchased perhaps in the 1970s. But thereby would hang yet another tale.
No man, or woman, is an island!
I was surprised to be welcomed at the North Door into the Crypt at Canterbury Cathedral and to have a leaflet thrust into my hand. I barely glanced at it – ‘a place to reflect’ sums up Agnellus’ Mirror’s feelings about this ancient part of the Cathedral – and put it safely in my bag. Reflection is our business in the Mirror, so I promised myself to read it later.
As always, the silence of the Crypt needed to be filtered out of the background noises. Hear each one, Will, then set it aside. Bangings, sawing noises, crane engines and hydraulic lifts: the army of masons, paviours and other tradesmen were about their work, as they always are. Have I ever seen the building without scaffolding somewhere?
Young voices behind me, coming from the nave. School children? Do they whoop and yell? I remembered that at least two little Turnstone chicks, when babes in arms, discovered the acoustics of the nave, and allowed their happy screams to roll around the space, but they were a choir leader’s nightmare. Worth a smile and a prayer for all the younger Turnstones. At least I’d put aside the whoopers, and found silence, undisturbed by comings and goings around me.
When I got up to climb the stairs to the nave, a solid oak door barred the way. I heard an amplified voice speaking, and remembered seeing a young man in academic dress in the street: I realised it must have been a degree ceremony occupying the nave. Whoops and yells are fair enough under the circumstances.
Let’s pray that the graduands enjoyed their day, and always have room in their lives for reflection and silence.
Oh, the leaflet: it is an excellent guide to the crypt. I learnt that there is a Baptismal Font down there in the Holy Innocents’ Chapel which is encouraging: the main font in the Nave has the Royal Coat of Arms over it, which has always seemed inappropriate to me.
This is taken from a news release by Stella Maris, the International Catholic Apostolate to seafarers. It tells not only of the regular day-to-day work of port chaplains, but also of the grave dangers faced by sailors in the course of their duties. I was struck by the picture of crew members not being allowed to land because of visa restrictions. As if they were less than human; yet they endure long months away from their loved ones in order to keep bread on the family table and to educate their children.
Deacon John Archer, Stella Maris port chaplain in Mobile, USA, has spoken of meeting the crew of the cargo ship that was attacked near the port of Douala with eight crew kidnapped.
West African pirates attacked the general cargo ship MarMalaita in the dead of night at anchor near the port of Douala, Cameroon. “It’s shocking to hear that the crew of the MarMalaita are still being held captive after the ship had been attacked.’ said Deacon Archer. ‘The vessel was in Mobile for a few months running between Mexico and Mobile and I got to know the Chief Cook during their short visits to Mobile and I knew they were heading to the coast of Africa. I’d been on board the ship a number of times. On my last visit I did what I usually do, such as asking the crew if they wanted to visit the town, go shopping, or offer to shop for those unable to go ashore due to visa restrictions.’
The International Maritime Bureau recently noted that of the 75 seafarers around the world who were kidnapped and taken hostage for ransom in the first six months of 2019, 62 were kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea.
Paul Rosenblum, Stella Maris North America regional coordinator said ‘this kidnapping highlights the high price that can be paid by seafarers when things go wrong. This tragedy is a reminder of the dangers seafarers face each day to bring us the various goods and food we rely on’
The abducted crew are from Russia, the Philippines and Ukraine.
John Green, Stella Maris director of development said ‘Today our thoughts and prayers are very much with those who are still being held captive and their families’.
Planting out a young coffee bush in Peru.
Another story from USPG, demonstrating once again that we are vessels of clay, and depend on the health of our planet to survive and thrive, as one people around the world.
The Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills has worked with USPG promoting the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN in the UK and beyond.
The nature of crises in the world has changed significantly in recent generations. We have reached a point where natural disasters and violent conflict present long-term concerns. Those currently displaced from their homes remain so for an average of 17 years or longer.
Environmental disaster demands longer term solutions in which the whole world must engage. We cannot clean our oceans of plastic unless nations work together. This affects fishing and other industries on which whole populations depend. When these livelihoods disappear, they won’t easily return.
The breadth of challenge facing us is unprecedented, and the choices we make today affect not only our present but generations to come. The Sustainable Development Goals seek to bring together a range of expertise working in collaboration. But while solutions to much of our environmental and social challenges are developed, it will come to nothing if we haven’t the will to implement them, which is why each nation is asked to commit to taking action.
Self-giving God, who in Christ gave yourself for our salvation, thank you that you call us into your mission for the world.
Inspire us, who are partners in the gospel, to follow in your steps, in the way that leads to fullness of life in you. Amen.
L’Arche is a worldwide federation of people, with and without learning disabilities, working together for a world where all belong.
This photo was taken in Canterbury Cathedral when L’Arche Kent was celebrating 40 years of life, and L’Arche itself was marking its half century. Making enough space for everyone is vital and the process is on-going. A world where all belong is a challenge: L’Arche lives that challenge, and in doing so witnesses that it is possible.
To remain faithful to the mission the structures of each community, and the federations which link them, are reviewed regularly to give a new mandate for community life. Here are some points from L’Arche UK’s new mandate.
L’ARCHE UK MANDATE July 2019 – July 2025
Partners in Mission, building a more human society
1. Building unity around our Mission
The greatest insight that L’Arche has to offer arises from our emphasis on community and mutually transforming relationships. Therefore we will:
Create and celebrate new ways to live out our Mission in response to a 21st century call for L’Arche in the UK.
Partner other organisations to impact on the social and political concerns of wider society and be a beacon for the learning disability sector.
Deepen our connection to our founding Christian tradition and live out the spirituality of L’Arche more confidently. This spirituality embraces people of all faiths and none and all who are aligned with our Mission.
Vigorously pursue the four dimensions of community, spirituality, service and outreach through our service to society and through service provision.
2. Partners in the Mission
People with and without learning disabilities are together partners in the Mission. A vital
element in this partnership on the national level is the National Speaking Council. Therefore we will:
Strengthen the purpose and voice of the National Speaking Council with proper
Offer people with learning disabilities opportunities to impact more powerfully on our society through employment and quality day services.
Become experts in accessible communication, both locally within our communities and nationally.
Ensure that people with and without learning disabilities engage in outreach together.
3. Resourcing the Mission
We need to be well resourced for the journey. Therefore we will:
Agree and implement a model of effective governance that truly serves our Mission by ensuring business and financial viability.
Work towards greater Mission sustainability by increasing our fundraising capability and reviewing our financial management.
Develop our culture so that all our communities are competent and effective in the four dimensions.
Find out more about L’Arche and its mission here:
When the future Pope John XXIII was Apostolic Delegate in Istanbul, he and other priests and religious were restricted in the ministries they could live out. This reflection from his retreat in 1939 shows that he was undeterred; a missionary witnessing by his life rather than by preaching to the local people.
Every evening from the window of my room, here in the residence of the Jesuit Fathers, I see an assemblage of boats on the Bosphorus; they come round from the Golden Horn in tens and hundreds; they gather at a given rendezvous and then they light up, some more brilliantly than others, offering a most impressive spectacle of colours and lights. I thought it was a festival on the sea for Bairam which occurs just about now. But it is the organised fleet fishing for bonito, large fish which are said to come from far away in the Black Sea. These lights glow all night and one can hear the cheerful voices of the fishermen.
I find the sight very moving. The other night, towards one o’clock, it was pouring with rain but the fishermen were still there, undeterred from their heavy toil.
Oh how ashamed we should feel, we priests, ‘fishers of men’, before such an example! To pass from the illustration to the lesson illustrated, what a vision of work, zeal and labour for the souls of men to set before our eyes! Very little is left in this land of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Debris, sand, seeds… We must do as the fishermen of the Bosphorus do, work night and day with our torches lit, each in his own little boat, at the orders of our spiritual leaders: that is our grave and solemn duty.
A city that was badly bombed during World War II, that has lost its town centre shipping, though the quays are in demand for filming; a beautiful old cathedral, the river inviting you to follow it down to the sea at Exmouth; the beautiful and fertile Devon countryside … all this you can find in the guide books.
My brother and sister-in-law’s allotment garden is not in the guide books, but you can find it … if you know where to look.
Here they grow their fruit and vegetables. When we visited we were invited to join the harvest, and a couple of hours later to sit down and enjoy the results. Which we gladly did. It helps that both of them are professional chefs, but they are also generous hosts. We don’t see enough of them.
I’m afraid the photograph of their allotment and shed disappeared between computers and memory sticks, so here is a harvest breakfast with Kentish rather than Devon fare. And here below a harvest loaf. Not as good as my brother’s efforts in past years, but I’ve already been asked to make one for this autumn.
A reminder to pray for the farmers in these uncertain times, to thank God for our families and friends, and to share our blessings.
I’ve just been scrubbing my hands after a spot of bicycle maintenance; that and the story of the classic car enthusiast removing every speck of grime from his hands to attend an ordination reminded me of another tale that I heard on the radio a few years ago, before the days of ubiquitous thin rubber gloves.
An Anglican priest, non-stipendiary, meaning he earned his living at another job, as Saint Paul did, was the speaker. I don’t know what his other job was, but it involved getting his hands dirty, the sort of dirt that lodges in the fingerprint whorls and cracks and resists the scrubbing brush. Printer’s ink maybe?
Every Saturday evening this good man would hold his hands in a strong solution of bleach until the residual grime disappeared, ready for Sunday Eucharist. However the result was not good news for his skin.
As I recall the story, his wife intervened, concerned for his health. His hands, she told him, were clean enough to eat with, despite the last ingrained stains, and he was preparing to celebrate the Lord’s Last Supper, a meal with God’s people in his parish; people who knew about his work. They would not be put off by unwashoffable dirt, nor would they expect their priest to contract dermatitis in order to lead them in worship.
He stopped using the bleach. The congregation did not stop coming to Sunday Eucharist. Surely Jesus chose fishermen and a tentmaker as his ministers, but he also chose a man with very dirty hands, the extortionate tax-collector, the future Saint Matthew.