Author Archives: Chris Webb

New Warden and Chaplain for Launde Abbey

davidhelen02We’re delighted to announce that the next Warden of Launde Abbey will be the Venerable David Newman, currently Archdeacon of Loughborough. The Rev’d Canon Helen Newman will also be joining the staff of Launde in a new role of Chaplain.

Before his appointment as Archdeacon of Loughborough, David was Rector of Emmanuel Loughborough and Area Dean of Akeley East. He was also chair of the House of Clergy from 2007-2009. Helen has been the Chaplain of LOROS since 2009 and previously worked with David at Emmanuel. Helen was made an Honorary Canon of Leicester Cathedral earlier this year. They have both led numerous retreats and courses at Launde in recent years and have a deep love of the place and people.

davidhelen03The announcement of their appointment was made to staff at Launde Abbey this morning. David and Helen said:  “Launde Abbey has always been a special place for us during our twenty years in Leicester Diocese and we are very excited at this opportunity to lead the community forward in its ministry of hospitality, prayer and equipping for discipleship. Our vision is for Launde to be a prophetic and sustaining resource, enabling the people of God to negotiate challenging times with courage, wisdom and hope.

Tim Stratford, Chair of Trustees, added, “I am delighted that David Newman is to take on the role of Warden at Launde Abbey and will be joined in ministry there by his wife, Helen.  Together they bring deep spiritual maturity and a breadth of experience that it is rare to find.”

The Revd Alison Christian continues to serve as Warden until her retirement at the end of 2016, and David and Helen will take up their new duties in the spring of 2017.

Trusting tomorrow

It is interesting how we can say the same thing over and over again – as we do in the repetition of The Lord’ Prayer and even read commentaries about it, but not ‘get’ for ourselves what the passage is offering.  It is also interesting to go back and see how a biblical passage gives and gives in different ways according to where you, the receiver, are at any given time.

This week I was reading and praying through Luke’s Lord’s Prayer (11: 1-6) and reading the notes at the bottom of my bible.  Not for the first time I came across the note that goes alongside, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Another way of interpreting this line was, “Give us this day our bread for tomorrow.”  For some reason, known I am sure to scholars, the first interpretation has become the one we all use.

But the second is very powerful and it got me thinking about a book called “Sleeping with Bread.” This book has this title because after the war when orphan children were collected together who had lived wild amongst the bombed out buildings of many major cities, it was found the children could not go to sleep at night unless they had a hunk of bread to clutch in their hands.  They had so often gone hungry, so often been really afraid of starving that despite now being in a safe place, they were unable to trust that they would be looked after when they woke up: that there would be food on the table.  As soon as they were given a hunk of bread they went to sleep, comfortable and confident.

Asking God for the bread we will need tomorrow is not about greed or wanting to rush things. It is about asking Him to give us today the trust that we need to face tomorrow: the trust in Him.  At certain times this need is more powerful as we face life-changing experiences – illness and its treatment, bereavement, redundancy, retirement, the birth of a first baby, the children leaving home – and many other things.

So sometimes I will use, “Give us this day our bread for tomorrow,” because sometimes I need God to give me more trust in the future – the future I am walking with him – than I can find in myself.  I need that bit of bread to clutch in my hand.

The Blazing Bush

The Americans have a phrase that they sometimes use when saying “Goodbye” and it is “Missing you already.” This is a bit how I feel as I slowly watch the seasons change in this beautiful place in which I have been so privileged to work for the last four years, and know that I will never again have the opportunities I now live with daily.

Ever since the late spring when I knew I was retiring, I have been very conscious of the passing of the days; the subtle movements through the seasons. I am aware that I am living through many of the things that give me so much delight at Launde for the last time.  For example, the house martins and swallows who come with such joie de vivre and energy to Launde in the spring have been practicing their breath taking aerial acrobatics for the last few days.  I know that this is a sign that they will soon be gone.  Sky bombing, wheeling and climbing, they give us such delight before leaving for their long pilgrimage south for the winter.  I don’t like it when they go.  The world seems a slightly less joyful place.  It is easy to get maudlin.

About two weeks ago, I realised that a beautiful bush which I can see from my office window and which slowly turns red and gold and then into a dazzling fire; this had already begun its seasonal change. What with this and the swallows, I had to admit that:-

Autumn is coming and I am missing Launde already.

But then, I woke up. As I “turned aside” to look at my burning bush, I realised that of course that turning aside is the moment when we stop what we are doing and in the present moment see what is in front of us.  The phrase, turning aside, means just that.  We stand aside from out busyness, from our routine, from our driven-ness and hurry; we pause and wait and see now.  My melancholic wrapping everything around with a future sense of loss means that I am not able to be very simply here in the present.  The invitation, to paraphrase the words of poet, Mary Oliver, is mostly to stand still, learning to be astonished.  So I need to learn to stand still.  I need to learn astonishment at all the beauty I see because, at present, I take it all so much for granted.  I need to stop thinking about what I have to say goodbye to and trust that God has other wonders to show me and other experiences I need to learn for, in the words of another poet, Robert Frost there are “miles to go before I sleep.”

Keep knocking

‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11: 9,10

These words were part of our gospel reading a couple of weeks ago and as I first read them I had the usual feeling of comfort, security and hope. But this was not a casual reading, so I asked myself the spiritual director’s question, “What do you really want deep down; what do you want to ask for?”  If asked what are you really searching for what would be your response?  What door are you knocking at?  Who is to open it?

At first glance these three questions can be taken as saying much the same thing but all ask subtly different questions. If we take the last one, for example, believing that God is a loving father who made us for relationship with Him, then the question arises, “Why is the door not open?  Is it me who is actually keeping the door closed against God?”  There are visual memories here of Holman Hunt’s painting, “The light of the world,” in which Jesus is shown as being on the outside of a door (supposedly of the human heart and soul) on which there is no handle (so he cannot force an entry) and knocking on the door to be let in.

The other two statements of invitations of Jesus feed into this last question of the door. Suppose what I ask for, is to have a heart full of love and gratitude for God and my neighbour?  Suppose I am seeking simply for God – although I know that I have found Him or He me, there is still so much hunger and desire for a closer relationship.  If these two desires are explored I come up against my own habitual response of selfishness and meanness of heart, my own lukewarm commitment to my discipleship, my own lack of care for others.  So I realise that it my door that remains closed to God and the qualities of compassion, gratitude and the desire for justice that at one level I so dearly want.

C.S. Lewis was once asked why he prayed because he could change God’s mind. His response was that he didn’t pray to change God but to change himself.

So the invitation is to keep on knocking, like the woman claiming justice from the unjust judge or the friend at midnight asking for the loan of bread from his neighbour; but to realise I am the unjust judge and the woman who wants justice.  I am the friend who wakes his neighbour because he needs bread and the neighbour who wants to ignore him.  When I realise this I know that what Jesus is inviting me to do is to go on knocking against my own hardness of heart.  I ask, seek, knock – in other words I pray, not to change God’s mind but to change mine; to be more in line with what God wants for me.  God is already there for me one hundred percent.  He doesn’t have to change.

Christ-like hospitality

Two of the readings today (the eighth Sunday after Trinity) are about hospitality. The Old Testament reading is the story of Abraham welcoming the three strangers who come to him when he is encamped at the oaks of Mamre, and who tell him that Sarah, his wife, will bear a son.  The New Testament lesson is the famous one of Jesus being welcomed into the home of Mary and Martha and then Martha getting very cross because she is doing all the work whilst her younger sister sits at Jesus’ feet.

Hospitality was very important in the world of the Middle East, not just for Jews and later, in the Christian tradition, but for all cultures. It might have had something to do with the distances people had to travel or, if you were someone like a Bedouin, how seldom you actually saw people other than your family.

In the story of Abraham and the three visitors, the feeling we receive from Abraham is almost one of entreaty. As soon as Abraham sees the men he runs to them (it was not dignified for an old man to run – and Abraham is old at this stage.)  Abraham bows to the ground, which I presume means he gets on his knees and bends his forehead to touch the earth in front of them.  He offers food and water modestly and humbly but the actual meal, which is produced with as much speed and care as possible, is as good and as generous a feast as could be created in the circumstances.  And then Abraham stands by waiting on his guests whilst they eat.  In all this Abraham is only doing what would have been expected in the culture of the time.

Fast forward to Mary and Martha and Martha’s frustration with Mary for not helping prepare the meal for Jesus. When the men came to Abraham it took Abraham, Sarah and a servant to produce the repast.  Martha is not then being unfair when she wants one other person, her own sister, to help her and complains to Jesus.  But very gently and compassionately (this is the meaning of Martha’s name being repeated twice by Jesus) Jesus tells Martha that “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”  Jesus is not telling Martha off.  He is not trying to make her feel small.  He is trying to open her eyes to a new way of looking that is a break with her cultural norms.  In this case, Jesus is saying, in this one unique and particular case, Mary has chosen to do the right thing and that is to sit at the feet of Jesus, like a disciple, and lap up the food of everlasting life, the Word of God, the presence of the Christ.

This story reminds us that our actions need to flow from our interior relationship with God. It is extraordinarily important that we should practice hospitality but if we want to grow truly hospitable hearts they will need to be nourished beforehand by the hospitality God first showed us, in his gift of Jesus Christ.  We need to feed on and be refreshed by his presence deep in our hearts.  Then we will learn to look on all people, of all faiths and none, as precious, honoured and loved by God, and we will be able to welcome them in our hearts.

He turned aside to look

The gospel reading for today, 10th July, 2016, is perhaps the most famous of all Jesus’s parables, “The Good Samaritan.”  We have heard the story so many times that the surprise ending is no surprise to us anymore.  We know that the supposed enemy (The Samaritan) turns out to be the true neighbour: the real friend to the (presumably) Jewish man, left near death at the side of the dangerous road.  It is easy to sit back and say, I know this one so I don’t really have to listen.  But as always, Jesus’ parables has something more to say to us.

In the story we read that a passing priest and then a Levite seeing the beaten up man, scurry by on the other side of the road. But according to your translation, the Samaritan “turns aside” or “comes near” and he really sees the wounded man.  In some versions he “looks with compassion” on the man.  Whatever version of the Bible you use it is all boils down to the Samaritan’s willingness to see.  This seeing goes beyond viewing the situation.  It is a seeing with the heart and the mind and the will.  Just like the priest and the Levite, we imagine the Samaritan is afraid – afraid that the robbers may be close by, afraid of getting involved.  Unlike to other two the Samaritan “feels the fear but does it anyway.”  By looking deeply at the dire predicament of the other, the Samaritan’s heart is moved beyond his own fears and anxieties to the needs of the other.

What pre-empts the story of the Samaritan, is a question from a lawyer asking what he must do to win eternal life. Jesus’ initial response is to quote the two great commandments – to love God with all your heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself.  “Who is my neighbour?” the lawyer responds trying to be clever.  And thus we get the fuller illumination of what it means to be a disciple and to be in relationship with Jesus (which is to gain eternal life).  The disciple must be prepared to look and to see.  Unlike the quick glance at what is unpleasant and the hasty turning away in self-protection, we must look with the eyes of the heart and mind.  Out of the seeing will come response.

Remember the Somme, Pray for Turkey, Pray for us all

Today (July 1st, 2016) is the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.  As I write this various services and acts of remembrance are going on in many different places and attended by people from many different cultures.  At Morning Prayer today we remembered those who died at the Somme and those who have died or been wounded by the latest bombings by so called “Islamic State” in Istanbul.  We have also remembered in our prayers this week the present state of our nation after the Brexit vote.  This has shown up the deep divisions in our society: the deep fear and anxiety about “the foreigner” – an anxiety that is as old as the hills.  At its worse it has given rise to a sharp increase in crimes of hate.  We don’t know for sure but it appears we have been lied to in the EU referendum campaign about certain things by those who were voted in to be our representatives.  Who do we trust?  Where do we turn to when we are cynically manipulated by our leaders and certain parts of our media?

We have to keep turning to Christ who shows us the way. We are reminded that the hated Samaritan turns out to be our neighbour, that in Christ there is no slave or freeman, no male or female, no black or white, no Jew or Gentile – perhaps no Christian or Muslim?  And as we look at the pictures of the Somme, perhaps we should also grieve more seriously for the people of Turkey who have been bombed more times in the last three years than either Brussels or Paris by the same enemy as bombed them.  Perhaps we need to think more clearly and truthfully.  We may not be guilty of hate crimes but we may be lazy in our thinking and mean in our compassion.  This is why I reproduce here a piece by an Irish American professor that came out this week after the bombing on Istanbul,

Once again, they strike. Against a Muslim country. And not just a Muslim country, but the most popular and beloved country by Muslims. And they strike in our holiest month, Ramadan. And not just the holiest month, but its last 10 holiest days.

What more proof does anyone need that ISIS/terrorism hate Muslims and Islam.

And YET we are consistently asked does ISIS/terrorism represent Islam and are asked to apologize for it, even as Muslims are consistently its biggest victims.

This is political, not religious. Political violence, not religious violence. That is, it is violence to serve narrow political interests, not violence ordered by religion – as the official story line is supposed to go. In fact, it hates Islam and Muslims, even as it cloaks itself in that name with the intent to fool only jumpy clueless observers in the West – because they know Muslims know better. And chumps like Trump who hate us too will soon be aiding and abetting their narrative against ours, because he is on their hate wavelength – not ours.

Dr Craig Constantine


Pray and keep calm

After the banking crisis the popular slogan became “Keep calm and carry on.” After what has happened in the last week or two (if you include the dreadful news of the massacre in Florida and the murder of Jo Cox, as well as the result of the EU Referendum) I found myself on Friday morning in the garden at 5.30am saying, “Keep calm and pray.”  But actually, of course, that is the wrong way round.  It should be, “Pray and keep calm.”  That is what I have been trying to do.

However, it has not been as simple as that. My head has tried to be reasonable.  I have looked at this incident within my limited knowledge and understanding of world history.  I have seen how like a pack of cards, one wrong decision, very often made at the time with the best of motives, has led to another and so on, to the state we are in now.  Most importantly, I have turned to the words of Jesus about not worrying.  I even wrote a long email to one of my sons on Friday, quoting scripture at him, which upon consideration was possibly not the most helpful thing to do.  But I was trying to reach out to comfort him – because I needed comforting.

I have used all of these methods to be reasonable and sensible – and I have had indigestion for two days. My head hasn’t the power to over-rule my emotions.  Using my faith to paper over the cracks of pain doesn’t work.  God wants me to face the truth of what I am feeling, what my “gut” is telling me; and my gut is telling me that I am bereaved.  I did not expect this reaction.

I do not feel anxious about money or “the future” for some reason. Probably because what will be will be and somehow we will survive.  What I feel is deeply sad, as if I have lost dear friends.  I am bereaved.  I realise now that when I went abroad in Europe I shared something with others – we were connected – we were family, even if distant cousins.  That will no longer be the case.  Now I will be a stranger when I go to France or Italy.  But worse, much worse than this, is that Scotland, the ancestral home of all my relations on my maternal grandmother’s side going back generations and many on my father’s side, too, may be lost to us.  It is faintly possible that even Ireland will become a place in which I need a passport.

So I come to this morning and owning this pain and, as I have been taught, I ask myself, “where is the gift in this experience?” What is God trying to give me?  First, I really need to see clearly how disenfranchised and powerless my brothers and sisters in this country have been feeling and how clearly these areas have been delineated: north as opposed to south (in England), town as opposed to rural, haves (those who feel they have some power) as opposed to have nots (those who feel not listened to, voiceless or marginalised).  Secondly, my feelings tell me that I am in relationship with those beyond our borders.  I see how much I have valued this even as it is taken away.  Lastly, and most importantly, this is as much about how we learn to be “we” and not “them and us.”  “We”, when we see that we are brother and sister to the streams of refugees who look to Europe; “we”, when we look at our shared financial problems; “we”, when it comes to care of our environment; “we”, when we celebrate the shared history of these islands we call home.  In Christ we never find our identity by being over and against other people – that is the false way.  We find our identity in our commonality with others.  But this means listening to their pain, there sense of being disenfranchised, and trying to do what we can to change things.

Natural prayer

Yesterday I led a day on prayer for thirty-five women. Today I am presiding at a baptism for a 10 month old little girl who goes by the delightful name of Tygr (pronounced tiger.)  I found myself thinking about Tygr when talking to the women about prayer and about Jesus’ saying that only those who receive the kingdom of God like a child can enter it.

At ten months Tygr is a delight: full of curiosity and energy. She was fascinated by the big iron pokers that we have by one of the fire places at Launde Abbey and by the fir cones in the unlit fire.  Her attention was grabbed by the coloured glass paperweights but even more attractive were the boxes of jigsaw puzzles, which had to be rescued.  Every now and then Tygr would go a little too far for her abilities and there would be a bump and the beginnings of a cry, but she was easily distracted and back into her world of endless curiosities and delight.

Some time ago I learnt two things about prayer from two different sources. The first thing I learnt is that prayer is the most natural thing in the world.  The second is that all prayer is praise.  Put these two things together and you have a child’s response to the world as a place of utter delight and interest.

We make prayer such a work. We screw ourselves up and shut ourselves down and forget that what prayer is in its simplest form is response to the love of the God who made us and saved us.  Children pray but we just don’t see it as prayer.  We don’t call it prayer.

I have written before of my father’s experience as a five year old of lying out beneath the sky in a field of bracken and feeling such love coming to him and such love flowing out of him that he remembered it all his life. Many of us have such memories – but we don’t tend to call them prayer.  We have all watched small children dancing with sheer delight and joy, revelling in the natural world around them, living utterly in the moment.  They don’t have to be speaking words of praise.  They are praise.  They are delight.  They are gladness.  They don’t have to comprehend who God is as a separate entity to themselves and pay lip service.  They are in God.  Nothing divides them. They are life.

What is more, of course, they trust. When Tygr sat down suddenly on her well-padded behind and was slightly shocked, she squealed and instantly her Mum was there and a second later Tygr had forgotten all about it.  Tygr could take on the world because her Mum was there.  As far as Tygr is concerned her Mum will always be there.  Mum won’t be but God will be.  That is the trust we need to practice.

Prayer is natural as a response to the gift of life and praise naturally follows. Children know this instinctively.  Adults forget.  Much of our maturing as Christians and as people is about learning to unlearn all that is false and unhelpful in our prayer life and about returning to that place where we can delight in all that has and is being given to us and simply say thank you.

“All Real Living is Meeting” Martin Buber

The Jewish philosopher and theologian, author of the celebrated book,  “I and Thou,” said “All real living is meeting.” At those moments when we feel fully alive, awake to and aware of the present moment, there is always a sense of meeting.  But what or who are we meeting and is there any way in which we can make these meetings happen?

Buber went on to say that these meetings take place with nature, with humans and animals, when we are being creative or receiving (truly meeting) someone else’s creation and of course, with God. But the main thing to take on board is that such meetings can only happen in the present moment. Just as we are only truly alive when we live in the present moment (not in memories of the past or dreams of the future) so the real meeting of one with another can only happen in the present.

This is why that sense of real meeting is so ephemeral. The most vivid experience once over can only be recalled in memory.  We know we have been there; we have a lingering taste of the experience; we may have been changed for ever by the meeting that took place, but we can no longer enter acutely and at will into that same emotional space.  It is past.

What does Buber mean by “meeting?” He is describing sacred space, a place where I am available to the Other.  I can only be available when I am aware of the sacredness of the Other; when my own self-centred agenda is held in check and I consciously open myself to receive.  If I walk out of my front door in the morning with a head full of stuff, my “to do” list, my desire to impress my will onto the world, I will not be available to receive God’s world, which is offering itself to me all around me.  If I am with another person and I do not make a real effort to give them space and time, to still my mouth and to listen, I simply will not see them.  Without realising it I will stereotype and judge them according to my will, experience and knowledge.

Even as I sit down to silent prayer I can be led astray if what I do within that prayer shuts out a sense of the Other. In prayer, in worship, in reading scripture there needs to be a concerted effort to be aware of the Other, whether you understand that Other as within or without yourself.

All real living is meeting which means all real living is relationship. This is what we find in Jesus’ description of his closeness to and dependence on the Father.  This is what we understand in the doctrine of the Trinity.  And this is what teaches us that we need to try to practice the sacredness of the present moment, to hold back on our own agendas so that we may meet whatever the day gives.