Church of Sanctuary

The Church of Sanctuary webinar which took place on Wednesday 24th March. 

Inspired to find out more on how to become a Church of Sanctuary in your area?

What is a Church of Sanctuary?

Churches should be welcoming places of safety for all and proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution. St Nicholas, Bristol, and Six Ways Erdington Baptist Church are Churches of Sanctuary, and Derby Cathedral is a Cathedral of Sanctuary.

https://churchofsanctuary.org/church-of-sanctuary/

Hospitality and Sanctuary for All

If you would like to order ‘Hospitality and Sanctuary for All’ by Inderjit Bhogal, published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), as discussed in the webinar, please find further details on the flyer here.   

Watch and Listen Again

The recording of the Church of Sanctuary webinar is now available to watch again on the CTBI website.

More information

Visit Hospitality and Sanctuary for All (ctbi.org.uk)

If you have any questions, or would like any other information, please do not hesitate to contact communications@ctbi.org.uk 

Inderjit’s Pause for Thought(s) on BBC Radio 2

Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2

Listen to Inderjit’s 4-part series on Pause for Thought that aired throughout the first quarter of 2021

My Biggest Temptation…

Pause For Thought: ‘Temptation is about going against rules.’

The Real Me…

Pause For Thought: “Who I am is more than where I come from.”

World Book Day…

Pause For Thought: “Books take me to places I cannot visit, and to people I cannot see.”

The Most Amazing Invention…

Pause For Thought: “Sharing bread is an act of love and inclusion, a sign of respect for the people around you.”

SATA BHOGAL: Father, Brother, Son, Uncle, Friend

FUNERAL @ SANDWELL CREMATORIUM – 30 JANUARY 2021

Greetings.

We are all here because Satnam, our dear Sata has died.

I want to start by expressing the sorrow of all the wider family to Aunty Ji, Supriya, Simran, Rai, Daniel, Purdy, Bally, Bindri, Nimba and all the family.

We are with you in your sorrow and pain.

Here we are 30 in this room, but many more online.

Thank you joining in today.

Your company is a great strength.

Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is special.

When someone dies, we are left with their story, and our memories of them.

It is important to tell the story and share our memories.

First hold out your arms like this, now do this (wrap around your shoulders), this is how Sata always greeted us, with a big hug.

Dekh lawo, chori, choric chale geya. He stole away from us quietly.

Koi bimari nahi si. He had no illness.

Galan karda, pishle door thani chup kar ke chale geya, khisk geya. Talking and conversing, he slipped away out of the back door.

Apni maa nu, apni patni, bachea nu, bhena-bhrava nu, andi-quandi nu nahi tung karna chohnda si. He did not wish you give any trouble to his family, friends and neighbours.

Koi smaj nahi ae rahi, ke ho ki geya. It is difficult to find meaning in what has happened.

Dukh de vich apa sare bethe ha. In pain we are seated.

Duur, duur bethe ha. We are seated in distance from  each other.

Mode laga ke ro nahi sakde. We cannot weep with each other, on each other’s shoulders.

Par dil apne nal-nal he, sath sada tuhade nal hae. But our hearts are one with each other, we give each other our company.

Ek batti apni bhug gaye hae, par odi Roshni nahi ghate ghi, naal rahe ghi. A bulb may have gone out, but nothing will remove the light of Sata.

Honsla rakhna, dil bhada kar ke rehna te ek duge di seva karni hae. Let us keep heart, and keep strong, and continue to serve each other.

Bhogla de vich pyar bohut hae, te aida hi pyar rave apna. There is a lot of love among the Bhogals, lets keep this love alive.

Sata dekhal ke geya sanu, pyar ki hunda, and kidan karida. Sata has shown us how to love, and what love is.

I have been asking family members for their special and best memories of Sata.

Sata siga sada shota Bhogal, sub ton vade dil wala, pyar wala. Sata was a young Bhogal, but he had a big heart, and lots of love.

I am old enough to remember Sata being born, I was 20 at the time.

I held him in my arms, I played with him.

Many of my memories of Sata are of him running around in 4 Park Hill Street, in the living room, in the landing, in the garden.

He ruled the stairs, here all the younger members of the family talked and played, with Sata at the centre of all his mates, Purdy, Nimba, Jita, Dala, Pappu, Pinx, Daniel, Jasdeep, Gian, Karam, Prem, Jivan, Liamarjit, Sunny, Aman, Kirthpal, Roopi, all the lads.

Sata was a kind of mentor for those a little younger than him.

He was their footie friend, shared his Megadrive with them.

I’ve just mentioned the lads.

The girls loved him too, Pommy, Goody, Pritpal, Moni, Sandeep, Poonam, Bibby, Michelle, Anjuli, Amber, Jassy. There are more girls who loved him than I can name.

Everyone loved Sata, young and old. Maa, Baap, behn, Bhra, Chaache, Chaachia, Maame, Maamiya, Masr, Masiya

Whether anyone thought of him and a dost or as a dushman, he only gave love.

He was the young Bhogal, but he was a man with a big heart, big love, for everyone.

He never looked at anyone as Dushman or Varry, he treated everyone well and with love and respect.

Sata loved his children above all, Simran, Rai and Daniel, and we know you loved him very much. He was very proud of you. He was a good father.

Sata also had a special bond with Kirthpal, and his dad Kal.

Sata worked with Kal fixing houses, boilers, cars.

Gian and Karam remember him fixing and decorating their room.

For a while he played dholaki like his dad in the Gurdwara.

At Langar, he served others before he ate.

The same at Sheddon Street.

He was a shota Shabba. He was like his dad.

Ao Ji. Come in.

Sat Siri Kal Ji.

Big smile.

Betho ji. Have a seat.

Cha pivo ji. Have some tea.

Happy days, happy memories.

So, of course, Sata was also a delivery man.

He managed drivers and deliveries with Hermes.

I still buy fish and chips from Five Ways Chilly in Rotherham where he delivered fish!

Sata greeted us all with rib breaking hugs.

We have all received regular WhatsApp messages from Sata, with greetings, photos, funny videos.

He regularly sent me photos from years ago, all special memories.

He had a fabulous, infectious laughter.

He cheered us up in every situation, made us laugh.

We can all learn this from Sata.

He was the heart and life and soul of every family gathering, viah-shadi (wedding), birthday party.

Drink in one hand, food in the other, music centre in front of him, blasting out from his room sized speakers, then he would take to the dance floor, and we would all dance with him.

I remember him at Pinx and Kiran’s wedding, at Sunny and all the younger members with him, dancing to “Yeh dosti, hum nahin toran ge” (this friendship we will not break).

There is a memory of him with the younger lads, Sata poured them all a Bacardi drink, knocked it back, gave out a great belch, and said, “right then, where’s the masala fish?”

We loved having Sata at our table at parties.

He went to every table to ask how everyone was.

He took time to check in with everyone.

He treated us with respect.

He had our respect.

He had a very distinctive voice, beautiful smile, awful jokes.

You knew where Sata was from the sound of his voice.

He was a brilliant mimic.

He was the king of the dance floor, bangra.

He created a special atmosphere around him wherever he was.

Sata was very loving and important to all of us, and to so many others.

Sata had much more life to live and love to give.

He was overcome by Covid-19.

Without Covid-19 he would still be here.

And if it had not been Covid-19 there would have been hundreds here today, with many lining up outside.

So we say a fond fare well to Sata.

Fare Well Satya.

All your family and friends bid you fare well.

Our prayer today: Apne charna de vich niwas. Give to Sata, O God, a place in your being and memory.

We take strength from the knowledge that you are with God and in the company of those who went before you.

You and your story have a special place in our memory.

Go well.

I want to say in a big thank you, in closing, to those who have created and contributed to the Crowdfund Page for Sata’s family. The fund stands at almost £10k.

Thank you.

Inderjit Bhogal

30 January 2021

RECONCILIATION: Nigerian Remembrance Day Service

09/01/2021

Sisters and Brothers, I greet you all in the Name of Christ and wish upon you the peace and blessings of God.

It is an honour to worship and pray with you today.

I want to thank those who have arranged and managed this very powerful act of witness.

The peace of God on us, and the peace of God on all those who have died in war.

We acknowledge the pain and suffering.

We recognise that war diminishes us all, it reveals the horrors to which human beings can descend, and war is an assault on the Image of God in which we are all created, and therefore a sacrilege.

We commit ourselves again to play our part and contribute to the work of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and healing.

I oppose war, and support non-violent resolution of all conflict.

We meet close to Epiphany Day, which honours the wisdom of all nations.

The message of the Gospel writers, and the early church, is that the helpless refugee child, not Caesar armed to the teeth, reveals the path to salvation.

We look here for the light of grace that enlightens everyone, as we seek to address the challenges that face us.

We have confidence, as our reading says, that old ways can pass away, there is “new creation”, for it is always the work of God to make all things new.

This is the hope of a ministry of peace and reconcile;iation.

I offer you a short meditation on reconciliation.

In the reading from Scripture, we heard that we are called to be “ambassadors for Christ”, to make God’s appeal through us.

What does this mean?

What wisdom do we draw from Christ and the Gospel of Christ?

In the very first instance, before we challenging anyone else, we ourselves are to be “reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20), to be people who have made peace with God, and are at peace in ourselves.

If you carry peace in your own being you are better equipped to bring peace to others.

Love yourself, so that you can love God, and your neighbour, as yourself.

Being reconciled to God means we are one with God.

Being one with God means to embody God, and to reflect God’s way.

God’s way, as revealed in Christ, is to be in solidarity with humanity, without discrimination, to be inclusive of all people, to feel the hurts and pain of humanity, to hold out the spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and healing, and always, to keep the possibilities of new beginnings, and hope alive.

 What then is the distinctive contribution of the followers of Jesus, and of the Gospel of Christ to the work of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and healing?

There are four key elements and movements of the Gospel of Christ, namely:

  • Incarnation: affirming that God is with us
  • Ministry of Christ: a ministry of hospitality and healing
  • Crucifixion: recognising the passion, pain and cost of reconciliation
  • Resurrection: embracing hope, new life and direction, always

First then, Incarnation: God is with us

This is the good news.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

God is One, and is one with people, with all our immense diversity, without discrimination.

In love, forgiveness, grace and generosity God reaches out to a fallen, failing, selfish humanity.

God honours all people, for all are made in the Image of God.

In Christ, God has done the work of “reconciling the world to himself”; God reflects the humility of taking the first step in reconciliation, “without counting human trespasses against them” and “entrusting the message of reconciliation” to us (2 Corinthians 5:19).

In the birth of Christ, God embraces the powerlessness and vulnerability of a new born child.

A child is born with empty hands.

The first requirement in a movement of reconciliation is that weapons are put away, we come to each with empty hands.

I’m sure you have your favourite Christmas Hymns or Carols.

I like Charles Wesley’s Hymn “Let earth and heaven combine”, and especially the lines: “He deigns in flesh to appear, widest extremes to join” (StF 208).

Focus on the words “widest extremes to join”.

It is possible for God and humanity to be joined, to be one.

Widest extremes can join.

When Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa, he made his former enemy F. W. De Klerk of the National Party his Deputy.

Some of you may recall the handshake between two extreme enemies, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness at the beginning of the Good Friday Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland.

People of widest extremes apart can be friends, can be reconciled, and work together.

We, as people of any nation, church denomination, or congregation are a rich mixture of people, and of many ethnicities and tribes.

We have all the range of diversities, not least the widest extremes in terms of theology.

With our diversity, we are called and committed to a ministry of constructive dialogue and reconciliation.

We want to enable each other to grow and flourish in our relationships.

We do so in the confidence and strength of the good news, God is with us, and when we take the path off reconciliation, of bringing people together, we are taking God’s path. It is a path of holiness.

Secondly, we emulate the Ministry of Christ: it is a ministry of hospitality and healing, not hatred or hurt.

The ministry and practice of Christ was characterised by being a hospitable and healing presence. Jesus had a ministry of hospitality and healing, not harming or hostility.

Jesus’ ministry is revealed as a ministry of

  • Mending hurts
  • Doing good
  • Including the outsider
  • Welcoming the stranger
  • Clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, sharing food with the hungry and water with the thirsty

Jesus was born empty handed and we never hear of him carrying anything in his hands. He was certainly free of weapons.

Jesus kept an open table, he welcomed all to eat with him, he especially welcomed those who felt most excluded by social, religious or political discrimination.

In ministries of reconciliation, It is essential to build shared, safe spaces where people of different backgrounds can meet, listen to each other in dialogue, share our brokenness and hurts, and feel each other’s points of hurt and grief.

This is relevant in our world characterised by increased military budgets.

Currently the world is spending almost $2,000 billion on military.

This cost cannot be justified in our world of hunger and harm.

We need hospitals, homes, schools.

War as a strategy has failed and is an out-of-date approach to conflict resolution.

We call for commitments and actions consistent with the hospitable and healing ministry and practice of Jesus.

Hospitality offers a better way to respond to difference, transcending social borders, and expressing respect especially for people excluded from the benefits of belonging.

Hospitality offers bread, not bullets and bombs.

Hospitality is a way of non-violence, seeking to bring all participants in any conflict to the table of hospitality and shared dialogue.

The Latin root for reconciliation (CONCILIUM) points to a deliberate process in which conflicting parties meet “in council”, in conversation. Reconciliation is rooted in community, and is the work of communities.

It is important to foster reconciliation in communities, in congregations.

This is the experience of communities of reconciliation such as Corrymeela Community ion Northern Ireland, which has spent 50 years bringing people of opposing backgrounds together for dialogue.

The founder of Corrymeela, the Rev Ray Davey, was fond of saying that if we Christians do not speak of reconciliation, we have nothing to say.

Let me take some of you to Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland soon to learn from their experience.

The third focus of Gospel witness is Crucifixion: reflecting the passion and cost of the cross

The message of the cross is that nothing worth doing is without cost.

There is a cost involved in exercising the ministry of reconciliation.

Jesus was tortured and persecuted and rejected.

Jesus died denied, betrayed and abandoned even by his closest friends.

Being peacemakers and people of reconciliation will not bring you necessarily to a peaceful and tranquil life.

Peace building and reconciliation is hard work and a long road.

Small Christian communities in Panjab, on the borders of India and Pakistan, constantly face threats to their existence, but remain constant under trying circumstances. They bear witness to Christ in environments where the majorities are Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.

No doubt this can be said of small Christian communities in border lands in Nigeria. Their witness is courageous, and costly.

The ministry of reconciliation is costly and you will have your opponents.

Think about the people best remembered for their non-violence teaching (Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero).

They were killed by opponents.

In a speech in Belfast in 2013 President Barak Obama said it is harder work to make peace.

This is the experience of peace and reconciliation workers in Northern Ireland. They all knew what Mr Obama was saying. All peace activists know and have known this.

So peace-making is hard work. It is not a soft option.

It is a long and winding road, a long term, and difficult task.

It requires hard listening and conversation.

The road is not smooth, it is lumpy, uneven, crooked. This is the uneven ground on which strangers and friends, families and familiar faces cross over to meet each other to address matters of justice and mercy and humility.

It is Gospel wisdom that we have to bear the cross. It is the pathway to resurrection and hope.

With the cross at the centre of our existence, we are called to model leadership that handles power with redemptive love, with a capacity to share and give up power, always seeking to empower others.

The ministry of forgiveness and healing and reconciliation carries what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the cost of discipleship”.

Fourthly, Resurrection: and the hope held and proclaimed in the resurrection

The resurrection stories in the Gospels insist that there is always a good way ahead.

There is always more. Resurrection calls us never to give up hope.

Always remain hopeful, even in the worst of circumstances.

We acknowledge that the wounds of the past can never be covered up and hidden.

The resurrection narrative recognises this as the risen Christ invites Thomas to reach out and touch the scars of his wounds in his hands and side.

Wounds can heal, but the scars and marks of the hurt remain. These have to be acknowledged.

In the depths of the scandal of apartheid Archbishop Desmond Tutu insisted that good will overcome evil, that truth will not be suppressed by falsehood.

I recall him and his colleagues challenging the might of South African military with Bibles in their hands.

He used to say to the Apartheid Government: “You may have the guns. You may have all this power. But you have already lost. Come, join the winning side”.

But he never lifted a weapon.

Reflect on your life and all the situations in which you feel you are at your wits end, at a dead end, stuck, and not sure of which way to turn next.

The Gospel insists, do not despair or give in.

Always remain hopeful.

Resurrection proclaims that there is a way out of the impasse.

According to John’s Gospel, the disciples had been fishing and had nothing to show for all their efforts, they were ready to give up, but in the wisdom of Christ they were shown a way forward.

The ministry of reconciliation brings the confidence that new beginnings are possible, it is a ministry that never ends, never gives up and always keeps hope alive.

Reconciliation brings us to be new creation, and give new life (2 Corinthians 5:5-21).

These four moments of the Gospel encapsulate the distinctive mission and ministry expressed and exercised in the Name of Christ.

It is a ministry strengthened and sustained by the Holy Spirit of God. 

Concluding remarks on reconciliation

Reconciliation is rooted in the stories of faith, and the gift of faith communities is to place greater value on reconciliation, and to uphold and proclaim a vision of reconciliation in our world.

From beginning to its conclusion, the Bible records and reflects Gods continuing reconciling work in the history of a people on a journey, constantly desiring nothing less than a restoration and renewal of the relationship with God, within their own being and relationships, and ultimately the renewal of all creation.

There is a claim in the New Testament that this journey reaches a climax in the decisive revelation of God in Jesus Christ, following which God’s work of reconciliation moves to a new level towards renewing and building a “new heaven and a new earth” realising the fullest potential of all creation.

There is an inseparable link between reconciliation and the stories of creation, crucifixion and the consummation of all creation. 

God never gives up on the work of reconciliation and calls us to share in this work [2 Corinthians 5:18-19].

The ministry of reconciliation includes set-backs, frustrations and enormous costs, and sacrifices involved.

Reconciliation is built on repentance, forgiveness, the willingness to change, to restore and renew relationships, and to live with more grace and generosity without giving up.

Reconciliation is not simply a matter of achieving integration by assimilation and erosion of differences.

Reconciliation requires holding and healing each other through remembering, sharing stories of hurt, arriving at repentance, forgiveness, and a commitment to living with more grace and generosity. It embraces economic, ecumenical and environmental justice.

Within this breadth of reconciliation, we are all called to make a modest contribution and play our part, and to value the contribution others make however small.

We dare to hope for and dream of a different society, a decent society where all people can be safe, flourish and have equal opportunity, and enjoy the fullness of life; where different parties agree to be in an open and honest relationship in which they can share openly and honestly in what are undoubtedly difficult conversations.

A reconciled society will not be one without differences and disagreements but it will be one where division is not destructive because there is a shared commitment to the enhancement of life for all.

We will not give up on reconciliation.

The Dalai Lama said during a visit to Northern Ireland:

“Reconciliation. We have no alternative or option. Violence is suicide.”

The Gospel of Christ expresses confidence in God who is revealed in Christ’s birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.

So live your life as “ambassadors” of this Gospel ministry of reconciliation, and encourage this lifestyle in all life and conflict at local and wider level. And you will help to build a better world.

Inderjit Bhogal

9 January 2021

Stories of Delight to honour

In Mark 1:11 we read the words of God to Jesus: “You are my beloved. I take great delight in you”.

These words are written just after Jesus’ crucifixion.

Jesus had friends who loved him. There were also those who detested him.

A bit like us all.

But in the midst of all this there is one constant fact. In God’s eyes Jesus always remained a delight.

The words of God to Jesus are also God’s words to you. Hear God saying these words to you:

“You are my beloved. I take great delight in you”.

Let these words be your life mantra, words you live by.

Every morning, when you wake up, and look in the mirror as you get ready, you could look in the mirror and say, “who are you?”

But say to yourself everyday even if no one else says this to you, “you are a delight, you are God’s beloved”.

God takes great delight in you.

We are living in difficult days, with now the second lockdown.

It would be easy to be very down hearted.

It is important to remain positive and to keep hope alive.

Here are three simple ways to do this:

  1. Everyday, count your blessings and be thankful. Give thanks especially for people who are a blessing and a great delight to you
  2. Live in the present and pay attention to now. Don’t be too focussed on the future. Focus on things that give you delight now, good company, good cuisine
  3. Meditate and pray. Do this by finding five to ten minutes each day to just listen to what God is saying to you. To pray is not to tell God what to do. To pray is to listen to what God is saying to you. Begin by listening to God saying to you, you are my beloved and I take great delight in you

As Chapel Community it is important to remember that this Chapel established in 1841 has been here for 180 years, and has a great history.

We can make this a special year by celebrating and taking delight in this amazing achievement, a witness kept alive, a candle kept lit, by small groups of people over the years.

It is a tremendous achievement, a great delight, we have much to give thanks for.

Along with the story of Mary Anne Rawson, there are subsequent stories of successive small bands of people who have sustained the Chapel and the House for almost 200 years. They have played an important role in the neighbourhood.

They have held the story of Mary Anne Rawson and the effect of her vision in the neighbourhood. In telling the story of Mary Anne Rawson, it is important also to gather, and honour and tell the stories of many others who have been part of the history. Their stories are also of great value. They are part of a small Christian community that has always been in the centre of the Chapel and the House.

They, and we, have been held together by the story of Jesus, shared in regular worship. The heart of worship has been reading the Bible, telling and singing the story of Jesus, lighting a candle of prayer, and sharing holy communion. Lighting a candle is a central part of worship. 

In addition to worship, this band of people has held and facilitated countless expressions of community activities including toddler groups, youth groups, craft groups, coffee mornings, open days, walks, and parties. They have maintained a beautiful garden. They have helped to maintain the buildings.

Around thirty years ago, the Chapel was at the heart of an increasingly neglected and deteriorating housing estate and neighbourhood. The Chapel itself was in a poor condition. Some internal refurbishment was carried out, but the external structure was in serious need of attention. Like the neighbouring estate, the Chapel was in a broken condition.

It would have been easy to allow the Chapel to decay and be demolished. This was what some members of the Chapel community said to me constantly.

However, fifteen years ago, with support from English Heritage, and Historical Churches Preservation Trust, grants totalling £260,000 ensured a completely new roof, external wall pointing, new windows throughout, internal replastering and painting, new toilets and kitchen, and a new heating system. Two thirds of the floor in the Chapel required replacement.

Fifteen years on the Chapel is still here, but now requires further repairs and repainting. It is important to keep this building of historic and architectural importance in good condition and protected. 

We can learn from our history, from excellence, and do what we do better, not least in honour of those who have gone before us, and as part of our Christian witness here.

We recognise the value of the Chapel. By staying here, the Chapel community have kept the vision and story alive here.

This legacy of the Chapel and the worshipping community here is an integral part of our vision. We are a small community working hard to maintain witness and worship, and manage the property.

We will ensure we mark the legacy and memory and stories of what the Chapel community has done, and celebrate Mary Anne Rawson, and all our stories, past and present.

The Chapel community is committed to building wider links with the neighbouring community, and work as partners.

Added to this the vision for the Chapel House may attract new people who may also want to engage in activities in the Chapel, and help to keep the candle lit for many years ahead.

Inderjit Bhogal

10 January 2020

THE LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS

Reading: John 1:1-9

I have been thinking about the new mantra: “light at the end of the tunnel” along with Christmas and New Year hopes. There is promising news of vaccines that may help to prevent covid infections. We all welcome this good news and hope they will be effective and available to everyone. We give thanks for all those who work so hard to keep us all safe.

We are mindful of all those who are not well and need support, and those who have died.

2020 has been a difficult year for us all. Many, including people very close to me, have had very painful experiences in matters of illness and of grief.

Then there are all the politics around Brexit.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

The Christmas message insists “the light shines IN the darkness” (John 1:5). These words express the vision and hope of a small band of Jesus’ earliest followers. They were in a kind of lockdown (John 20:19). They were few, lived in fear, and wondered what the future held.

The Christmas story calls us to re-examine the way we speak of darkness. It insists that the greatest illuminations are found in situations that may be described in terms of darkness, and where darkness is profound.

Here we discern the light that enlightens everyone and everything, and learn that darkness and light are both alike in God (Psalm 139:12). 

We are living in extraordinary times of illumination in the midst of our personal situations, local realities and global events. The key lesson being learned is that decisions are more likely to be correct if you start by focussing on, and asking, where the hurt is deep, and who is the most vulnerable?

Not Caesar on a throne, armed to the teeth, but the helpless baby in the manger, soon a child refugee in Egypt and in danger, reveals the path to salvation.

Look here for the light that shines in the darkness, and enlightens everyone.

We are called to point to this light, wherever we are.

A Prayer:

Holy God,

You are with us at all times and in all places,

even when we cry with Jesus and the Psalmist, and others,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.

To you are known all our hurts and all our hopes.

To you our hearts are open, and all our desires are known.

Uphold us in our brokenness by your grace and love.

Illuminate us, our place and our pathway, in the light and in the dark.

Strengthen us that we may reflect your light,

And reveal your presence and love.

Amen

Inderjit Bhogal

Christmas 2020/ New Year 2021

Sanctuary For All – Study Guide for Churches and Individuals

Revision Date: January 2021

The latest version of Sanctuary for All is now available here. I have updated some figures and information. There is also more detailed reflections on being a Church of Sanctuary in Appendix 3. This resource is also available on the Churches Together in Britain & Ireland website. You are encouraged to mark the annual Sanctuary Sunday which is the Sunday at the end of Refugee Week.

This is a resource that can be used by Churches, small groups or individuals to reflect on the theme of Welcome, Hospitality and Sanctuary.

It can also be used as material for house groups or study groups during Lent or Advent.

Click the link below to access, view and download the document:

Hospitality and Sanctuary for All 2020 – CTBI Version

BLACK AND WHITE

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections

Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

In my contribution I want to question and reject the idea that white is the colour of purity, and black is the colour of profanity; that white is the ideal colour, and black is bleakness; that white is good, and black is bad; that white represents law, and black represents criminality.

The association of white with good and clean and privilege, and black with bad and dirty and subjugation is deep set in so many ways.

All faiths have to engage with this theme. Does religion associate white with purity, and black with profanity? I am raising this question to provoke.

It is essential that theology, in all faiths, and in interfaith dialogue, addresses the colour-based discrimination, especially the association of blackness or darkness with badness, and whiteness with holiness. This will contribute to health and healthy and healing relationships. Black Lives Matter includes the challenge that theology cannot remain silent while black and dark-skinned people suffer the denial of their humanity and life.

Theology has to address the association of whiteness with purity and power, and blackness with profanity and powerlessness.

What is termed “racism” is the exercise of prejudice plus power. We all have our prejudices. But the way the world is ordered concentrates power in white and lighter skinned people. Black people live in a world in which blackness is identified with criminality.

A BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION OF WHITE

Christians have traditionally upheld white as the colour of holiness, and black as the colour of sin. Holy things, such as sacraments and scriptures are held and wrapped in white cloths. 

However, it is not as straightforward, or as black and white as that. There are complexities and contradictions.  

Faith based practice does not always reflect scriptural witness.

Let me illustrate by considering words that should be familiar to readers of the Bible.

Isaiah 1:18 where we read, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (KJV).

These words are traditionally taken to mean, though your sins are dirty they will be made clean, as white as snow.

I want to offer an interpretation that turns these words on their head.

It is illuminating always to consider the context in which scriptural words are said or written.

Biblical scholarship is broadly agreed that the Book of Isaiah can be divided into three sections.

In section one (Chapters 1-39), there is a warning and prophecy about exile; section two (Chapters 40-54) reflects the time in exile and promises a return from exile; section three (55-66) follows exile.

In section one then there is a focus on things getting worse because people have again turned away from God. They will be taken into exile.

Things are going to get worse.

In this context the words of Isaiah 1:18, though your sins are as scarlet, they will become white as snow may be taken to mean, you are going to go from scarlet to white. Things are going to get worse.

White as snow does not mean better and good and clean, it means quite the opposite. Let me illustrate this briefly.

Let us look at the use of the term “white as snow” in the Bible, by examining the first appearance of this phrase in some English translations of Numbers 12 where we read in verse 10 that “Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow”. What led to this?

What does the phrase “white as snow” mean here? Does the original Hebrew text even use the term “as snow”? My understanding is that it just refers to “white”.

Whatever the gloss, clearly it is pointing to something bad rather than something good, it is referring to impurity rather than purity.

Let us take a closer look.

The context is criticism of the leadership of the great Moses.

To criticise him Aaron and Miriam pick on the choice of his wife.

Moses had two wives.

A Midianite, who is not mentioned at all by Miriam and Aaron.

But his second wife is mentioned.

All we know about her is that she is a Cushite.

We know nothing else about her.

Cush is the southern-most territory mentioned in the Bible.

Cush is the ancient designation of territory on the Upper Nile, south of Egypt.

It can be reasonably assumed that the Cushite woman is of black African appearance.

Aaron and Miriam object to Moses being married to a black woman, and see this as the greatest weakness of Moses’ leadership to exploit.

What results from this colour-based prejudice in the community?

It leads to God actually making an appearance.

God “heard” the racist slurs (verse 2), and challenges it.

God effectively says to Aaron and Miriam, and Moses, I want a word with you. There is something we need to talk about (verse 4).

The discriminatory reasoning of Aaron and Miriam is challenged in the meeting with God.

Then we read, “and the anger of the Lord was kindled against” Aaron and Miriam (verse 9), and there are consequences.

God departs.

Miriam becomes white as snow.

Aaron now has to be with someone who has a different skin colour and tone, something he found an anathema in Moses.

The progress of the community is halted (verse 15).

Moses prays for the healing in the situation (verse 13).

There are lessons for us to learn about God, people, prejudice, prayer and progress.

From here on, where ever the term “white as snow” appears in the Hebrew Scriptures, we have to read it in the light of the Numbers 12 story.

It is a negative term. White as snow is a reference to impurity.

Miriam being “white as snow” does not define her appearance as angelic.

That your sins are as scarlet and they shall become white as snow means things are going to get worse for you.

When Black theologians point this out they are challenging bible-based communities to examine how we use colours in our language and liturgy and hymnody. It is important to note that people of the “ancient world regard black people favourably” on account of their high esteem and status (see for example Randall Bailey in Felder, 1991, pages 135, 179-180). Moses’ black wife may have faced prejudice for her class as much as her colour.

There is evidence that black Africans, of Cushite or Ethiopian backgrounds were people held in high esteem. For example, we read in Amos 9:7 the words where Israel is compared to Cushites/Ethiopians, “are you not like the Ethiopians/the Cushites to me, O people of Israel, says the Lord”.

What intrigues me is that in the Biblical texts like the ones I have referred to, white is a negative colour.

The association of white only with holiness has to be questioned in Bible based practice.

So, how would churches feel if in a service of Holy Communion a black cloth was used on the table, and to cover the holy elements, rather than with a white cloth as is the current practice?

As a Minister, I like to use a multi-coloured cloth.

All kinds of questions begin to emerge for church life, and for theology, and for ethics and morality when you examine the way colour is applied and used.

Just look at the portrayal of Jesus as a white skinned, blond haired, blue eyed Jesus in Christian art, in stained glass windows in churches.

What is being portrayed about the acceptable colour and image of humanity in such portrayals?

TACKLING COLOUR BASED HATRED AND DISCRIMINATION

One of the issues that the current pandemic has clarified further for me is that discrimination based on skin colour is a deep reality.

Black people live in a world in which blackness is negatively identified with criminality and profanity. In such conditions there is a negative impact on the mental health of black people and people with darker skin colours. This is seen, for example, in the disproportionate numbers of black people in prisons and mental health centres.

George Floyd’s murder has named the endemic inequalities faced by black and minority ethnic communities daily in health and housing, education and employment, as racism. This is what racism looks like.      

The Covid-19 pandemic has uncovered the deep sickness of hatred and resulting inequalities of racism and the harm it does.

For me tackling racism at its worst begins with tackling hatred deeply rooted in concepts of “racial differences” and in which religious belief is so often co-opted to sanction hatred.

I delight in human diversity.

Human DNA shows an incredible mixing and intermingling among human beings throughout history (Rutherford, 2020).

Consequently, there is an incredible variety in skin colours, and deep visual beauty in them all. The skin colour referred to as white is incredibly variable, and so is the skin colour of people of Asian or African or Aboriginal people of any nation.

We reduce the variables to the simplicities of black and white.

This remarkable diversity of people rooted in the “global south” is reduced to BAME, black and minority ethnic.

It is like labelling all the immense variety of Indian cuisine as “curry”, which is as ludicrous as calling all British food “gravy”. 

Genetically, all people in the world are about 12th or 13th cousins to each other.

This scientific assertion means there is no basis to the argument that there are different races with one group superior to another.

Human beings are not people of different races.

We should stop using terms like multi-racial, and mixed race.

Of course, we all carry the capacity for selfishness and have our biases, and prejudices (Agarwal, 2020), but with our immense differences we are one race, the human race, and incredibly alike, all made in the image of God.

Life is precious to us all.

We all require breath and blood in our bodies.

Whoever you are your wellbeing will be checked against the same rate of heart beat and pulse.

How did skin colour come to be so embedded in discrimination?

SKIN COLOUR, RACE AND SLAVERY AND RACISM

Of significance for our reflections is the fact that, to quote a scholar in genetics, “the emergence of scientific approach to human taxonomy coincided with the growth of European empires. Characterisation of different populations before the expansion of Europeans around the globe was more likely to be based on religion or language than skin colour, but with the birth and growth of the era of scientific revolution, pigmentation became essential to the character of humans” (Rutherford, 2020, pg 39).

Skin colour came to be used to exercise power and prejudice, to “other” human beings of a different and particularly darker skin tone, and to sanction subjugation of people.

This development was integral to the development of trans-Atlantic slavery 400 years ago, and the history of racism.

“It is far easier to sell the case for occupation and enslavement if you are persuaded that the indigenous people are different, have different origins, and are qualitatively inferior to colonists” (Rutherford, 2020, pg 39).

Scholars in the so-called Enlightenment period of history, the period of empire building and colonial expansion, helped to formulate the idea of fixed differences in human beings, primarily based on skin colour, linking skin colour to character, and ranking of human beings. Those with the lighter skin were said to be more superior to those with darker skin.

Here lie the roots of the supremacy of the colour white, the idea of different races based on skin colour was developed.

Contemporary science has rejected these classifications, though they persist in many people’s mind sets, views and opinions.

Where we are now is that sciences refuse to show linear, discreet categorisation of human beings. Rather it reveals complexity in human history and life. Complexity which increases with the movement, meandering and migration of people across the globe from about 70,000 years ago.

The baseline of the most recent science of human genetics is that “all humans share all of their DNA (and) of all the attempts over the centuries to place humans in distinct races, none succeeds. Genetics refuses to comply with these artificial and superficial categories.” (Rutherford, 2020, pg 55).

While theology insists that we are all made in the image of God, it is a sacrilege that religion has introduced the idea of clean and dirty, holy and profane, into the mix.

People who are like us are clean, others are dirty, whiteness is good and pure, blackness is seen negatively. I reject this reasoning.

White has come to be associated with power, privilege and goodness, black with subjugation, denial and badness.

This is why it is important to stand by Black Lives Matter.

We know that white lives matter. We also have to recognise that Black Lives Matter.

Proclaiming that we are all members of one race is a rebuke to the non-sense, violence and destruction of “racism”.

Racism is an obscenity, a negation of our humanity.

It is a painful form of violence which is dehumanising, degrading.

We all have to stand and work together, all of us with all our skin variables to resist and stop racism.

Stop stereotyping people on the basis of skin colour.

Promote respectful relationships.

Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.

Inderjit Bhogal

21 November 2020

Citations:

Agarwal, P. 2020. Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias. Bloomsbury Sigma, London

Felder, C. H. 1991. Stony the Road we Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation. Fortress Press, Menneapolis

Reddie, A. G. 2005. Acting in Solidarity: Reflections in Critical Christianity. Darton, Longman and Todd, London

Rutherford, A. 2020. How to Argue with a Racist: History, Science, Race and Reality. Weidenfield & Nicolson, London

SHEFFIELD CIRCUIT SERVICE

13 DECEMBER 2020 (ONLINE)

THEME: “THE LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS”

JOHN 1:5

INTRODUCTION

I greet you all in the Name of Christ, and wish upon you the peace and blessings of God.

It is a pleasure to share with you.

I want to say to you that I am offering this sermon at the request of James Morley, who is now one of my Superintendent Ministers.

This is very special for me, because I held James in my arms just a few days after he was born in Manchester, when I went to visit him, and his mum and dad.

At that time James’ dad Barrie and I were training for the Methodist Ministry in Hartley Victoria College in Manchester.

Now James is my boss.

James, I wish you and Sally Coleman, and Lisa Quarmby, and all our colleagues in the Circuit well.

I want to thank you and all your team for all you do to keep hope alive, and keep everyone connected

The other person in the Circuit I would like to mention. One is John Peacock, he was my Superintendent Minister in Dudley when I was a candidate for the Ministry in 1974.

I kept failing my theology exam as a local preacher in training.

In the end John said to me, “don’t answer question with your theological reasoning, give them what they are looking for, let’s get you through this exam”.

I followed his advice, got through the exam, have since continued with my own open, questioning, enquiring, learning, humble, inclusive approach to theology.

This is all by way of introduction.

Now let us turn to our theme.

Imagine a small band of people meeting in the name of Jesus for reflection and prayer, and to worship God. They are few. And they are afraid of what is happening in the world around them. There is turmoil. They feel like an insignificant minority, in a world where others seem to have greater numbers and more power, and they are uncertain of their future. It feels to them that they are sitting in the darkness. In fact, fear is the word that sums up their world. They long for some good news. They hold on to God, and centre their lives on Jesus Christ.

Is that us?

Do our Bible readings this morning offer us any illumination in this reality?

I want to focus on the words read from the Gospel according to John.

They centre on light that shines undimmed, a symbol of hope in the context of despair. With these words the Gospel according to John introduces Jesus Christ.

JOHNANINE ASSERTION: AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH

There are Scholars who believe that the reflections we call the Gospel according to John are based on the experiences of a small congregation in Jerusalem. The congregation is centred on exclusive loyalty to Jesus Christ, and who are working out what it means to be a community of Christ when you are small in number, just a handful, surrounded by a powerful larger community. Some of them, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are secret followers of Jesus and still adhere to worship in the Synagogue. They are wrestling with where their worship home is, and many have been expelled from other local worship centres (John 9:34). In some ways they feel they are in the dark, not completely sure of their identity, and are fearful of the future.

They meet as a small group, behind locked doors (20:19) for fear of what is going on around them.

They are committed to God, and are deeply loyal to Jesus.

They also believe they are at the beginning of something new, a new creation, that God is among them in a new way, they are discerning new insights in to who God is and how God is with them. They are writing down their insights to share them with others.

Where does their vision and hope lie?

The opening words of John Chapter 1 hold up a key idea, and that is light, light that is not overwhelmed or put out, light that “enlightens everyone”.

The light that enlightens everyone is the concept John Wesley used to form his doctrine of Prevenient Grace, the grace, “that of God”, that is in everyone.

There is One light, the One central principle of all creation, the source of all life and light, the Light that “enlightens everyone”. 

All around the world people awaken and respond to this One Light, and what we call different religions grow around these responses.

Throughout my ministry I have been held together by my theology which is centred on the opening words of the Gospel according to St John which hold up and points to the logos, the Word, and declares that this “Word became flesh”, and is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, who is the core, and essence, the logo of the Christian faith.

The reflections in the Gospel according to John assert that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…all thing came into being through him” (John 1:1-3)

The Word is identified with God. Later in the words of the Gospel we read words attributed to Jesus who declares, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” (John 14:10, 11). His deepest prayer is that his followers “may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11).

What this says is that the Word is God and is Incarnated, took on frail flesh, and the face of a human being, with a name, the name is Jesus Christ.

“And the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), in Jesus of Nazareth.

There are no nativity stories in the Gospel according to John. No Stable, no Manger, no Shepherds and Wise Men, no Choirs of Angels. But a bold claim summed up in five words:

And the Word became flesh.

I love this sentence. My theology sanctuary is rooted in these words. What they mean is that God chooses to pitch a tent, a sanctuary, with flesh and blood, among people.

This is the Johannine way of saying that Jesus symbolises the good news that God is with us. 

No one has to find or go to God.

There are not many paths to God.

There is indeed only one way revealed in Jesus, and that is that God comes to us, always.

From here comes another bold claim that Jesus “has made him known” (John 1:18).

The Gospel according to John begins with this bold assertion.

The rest of the reflections in John give us a picture of Jesus, what is revealed of God in him, what God calls us to, and offer reflections on this.

What we must bear in mind when we say God is revealed in Jesus is that the Gospel according to John gives us one clue, just one insight into who Jesus is. There are at least three other clues and we have them in Matthew, Mark and John. In John we have a humble admission that there are “other signs”, clues to God’s revelation in Jesus “which are not written in this book” (John 20:30), and also that sometimes what Jesus said was interpreted differently by his followers (John 21:20-23). With this humility let us take a brief look at God as revealed in Jesus.

WHAT IS REVEALED IN CHRIST: GOD IS WITH US

What does it mean to say that the light shines in the world?

It means, God is with us.

What is the picture of God that emerges in John? How is God with us?

We see this picture in revelatory windows into God who blesses people with “grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16), grace that is never in short supply. The God revealed in Jesus is seen for example in:

  • God is seen in abundance. God is in everyday events like the wedding in Cana. The new world God is creating is envisaged in the wedding feast, a banquet where all are served the very best. At this banquet God is the host, and God desires the best for all (2:1-11; 6:5-14; 21:4-19). God’s hospitality knows no bounds
  • God is seen in action for justice. God the host welcomes all and turns no one away (6:37). The overturning of tables in the Temple, challenging excluding and exploitative structures affirm that God’s house is a house of prayer for all. God hears the prayers of all people (2:13-22). God’s house called heaven is no less, it is a house with many room (14:1-7)
  • God is seen in surprising ways and places. God is not worshipped in a place but “in spirit and truth”, and the Spirit of God is seen as “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life”, flowing like grace upon grace (4:7-42)
  • God’s will and hand is seen in healing and wholesome life, not harm or hurt (4:46-54; 5:1-15; 9:1-7; 11:1-45)
  • God is seen in the humility of service like washing dirty feet (John 13)
  • God is seen as a companion in the turbulent waters of life, and the agonies of experiences of pain and crucifixion (6:16-24; 18 and 19)
  • God is seen in the promise of new life and hope, always (20:1-30)

These are signs of God’s presence and action. They reveal God who is like the light that shines and is not overwhelmed. All this had to be stated before the words of Jesus’ “follow me” are spoken right at the end, at Chapter 21:19. Following Jesus is along a pathway of abundance, justice, prayer, healing, service, suffering and hope. It is a pathway of sacrifice, not security.

GOD’S INVITATION: ABIDE IN ME

This ministry is rooted in a relationship with God. John’s reflections reveal God who calls human beings to come and “abide in me”. This deep friendship with God is a relationship of intimacy and depth, an indwelling. Everything flows from there. This is what keeps the followers of Jesus renewed and refreshed, flowing and fruitful.

What we are told about the very first who responded to this invitation from Jesus is that they “remained with him” (John 1:39). That’s the key to being followers of Jesus.

What it means to “remain” is developed later (John 15: 1-11). Jesus says to his friends, “abide in me as I abide in you” (15:4).

What is it to abide in Christ?

In the reflections of John, Jesus’ followers abide or remain or dwell in him by:

  • By being in the community of his followers with all its difference and division, failures and faults (Jn 1:39)
  • By sharing bread and wine (Jn 6:56)
  • By dwelling on the word (Jn 8:31)
  • By keeping Jesus’ commandments (Jn 5:10). The commandments of Jesus are reduced in John 15:12 to three words: “love one another”, and the deepest expression of love is revealed when you “abide in my love” (Jn 15:9)

(There are other thoughts on this, for example in Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:44-47). John Wesley had his own thoughts on this under the title of the “Means of Grace”.)

GOD: THE LIGHT THAT SHINES AND ENLIGHTENS EVERYONE

Grace is a central word in Methodist tradition and theology.

I warm to the image of God as light, but I do not like to contrast this light with darkness.

Light and dark are not opposites, even if and when they appear to be. 

I like what the Psalmist wrote when reflecting on where one could go to get away from God. The answer is, nowhere. And surmises:

If I say surely darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you (Psalm 139: 12).

The readers of the opening words of the Gospel according to John, “in the beginning” are required to recall and reflect on the opening words of Genesis Chapter 1.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).

God, our great and true Guru, is present in and speaks and acts and creates everything out of the primordial deep and darkness [Genesis 1:1-2]. Everything flows from this in the Bible. In my view the two opening verses of the Bible summarise its whole content. All that follows these two opening verses illustrates the creative and life-giving God who is with people and accompanies them in all experiences. All life is dark and deep, chaotic and formless. God is always present in it creating, speaking wisdom and making all things new [Isaiah 43:19; 65:17; Revelations 21:5].

Our reading from Isaiah 61 asserts that the Spirit of God continues to inspire the work of God which is seen here as:

  • Good news to the oppressed
  • Binding the broken hearted
  • Release to those held in bondage
  • Comfort to the grief-striken
  • Justice and liberty
  • Environmental justice

Recalling this God is described elsewhere in the Bible as an eagle watching its nest, hovering over its young [Deuteronomy 32:11]. And the darkness and the deep is described as a trembling, a disturbance, a stirring or a storm [Jeremiah 23:9; Daniel 7:2; John 5:7]. In Sanskrit the word is “vritti” which signifies a whirlpool. This is what precedes and accompanies creation in Genesis 1. It does not speak of creation out of nothing [ex nihilo]. God dwells in and creates within and out of all that is represented by the darkness and the deep.

God calls on all people to then provide care for all created thing, and to do all things with wisdom [Genesis 1:26-28].

MINISTRY AND PASTORAL CARE: FINDING GOD, GRACE AND ILLUMINATION IN DARKNESS 

This is the work of any good minister and guru, to model exactly that. To be prepared to dwell in darkness, to accompany people in darkness, and to do all things with wisdom. Ministry is not to lead people from darkness to light. The word guru is composed of Gu and Ru. Gu refers to that which is bad. Ru refers to the ruach, the spirit of God.

A true guru, a good pastor will sit in the darkness with people and help them to find wisdom from the deep, and stillness within the stirring of life and the whirlpool of the mind, within the state that is called mental illness.

A true guru does not say there is a silver lining to every cloud, and does not speak of light at the end of the tunnel. A true guru is tuned in to the attendance and echo of God in the storm, points to God in the shadows, and helps people to see darkness as a place of sacredness, not scaredness. So a good minister or leader or mentor will not hurry people out of darkness, or speak negatively of emptiness but revel in its holiness.

A good minister will not speak of light inspite of darkness, but of light in the darkness.

John the Baptist is not the first New Testament person who normally comes to mind when we are thinking of a good role model in ministry.

Our reading however holds him up before us.

What is the first thing said about him?

He was a man of God. What makes him a man of God?

In the words of John 1:8 “He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”

Testify to the light, light that shines in the tunnel, because that’s where we find ourselves.

Many associate despair and difficulties with darkness. Some speak of their experiences of being enslaved in dungeons, without any kind of light, and also as refugees in camps without light.

Fear is real. It is related to the world around us, Covid-19, Climate Change, extreme weather, ethnic and religious diversity.

The Woolf Report How We Get Along, published on 16th November 2020 describes religion as the “final frontier” of fear and personal prejudice. The study says that attitudes to faith drive negative attitudes more than matters of ethnicity or nationality. The deepest prejudice relates to and is triggered by the word Muslim. This prejudice is strongest in people aged over seventy-five.

The Johannine community were fearful of the “Jewish authorities” (20:19).

We have to acknowledge that the fearful attitudes of the Johnannine community towards Jewish authorities has contributed to irrational Christian anti-semitism over the last two thousand years. 

Fear those who exercise power over us is real. Power so often is about majorities and minorities whether you are in USA or Ethiopia or Azerbaijan and Armenia, as we can see from conflicts in the world today.

There are places where Jews are in the minority.

There are places where Muslims are the minority.

There are places where Christians are the minority.

There are places where Sikhs are the minority.

There are places where black people are the minority.

There are places where white people are the minority.

Minorities lives in fear.

It is irrational to associate the things or people we fear with darkness, or blackness. Dark and black go together.

We have to re-examine the way darkness is related to anything to be feared, with hurtful things and realities, and light with good things and wholesome realities.

In her book, The Divine Heart of Darkness, Cathy Bird describes herself as a “friend of darkness” who is “turning the dark on” and making it “visible”. She does not want darkness to be eliminated by light but wants “darkness made visible by the light” and wants to draw us to “darkness which gives life to light itself”. Cathy reminds us that we need the dark to help us see the light. She insists that darkness is a holding place rather than a hiding place and that “all clear understanding is grounded in the darkness of God”. Darkness is a place and time of sacredness, not scaredness. 

Cathy’s reflections on death as entering darkness is so helpful. She writes of “the ultimate paradox of the Christian faith that love leads to grief” and of “darkness as a metaphor for what is surely the ultimate transfer of trust…from life to death”. In her words, “we think that light is the source of life – yet it is in darkness that all living things have their naissance, in the womb, in the earth, in the seed, in the tomb, the absence of light is necessary for life to take hold”. Entrance into darkness is not an entrance into disintegration and disappearance, it is an entrance into a place of recreation into new life.

Cathy’s book challenges us all to examine how we use and understand and speak of light and darkness. What do you normally associate with darkness and light? How do you use the concept of darkness and light in your prayers and worship and liturgy? Darkness is abundant and life giving as light is. Darkness and light are friends and both are gifts of God.

Many years ago I bought a copy of the book The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark [Jill Tomlinson, 1968, Methuen & Co Ltd, London] to help children overcome fear of dark. I would buy and give Cathy’s book to adults who are afraid of the dark.

On a clear, dark night I like to watch the stars slowly become visible, and quite bright, and sometimes a fleeting shooting star too. Often, I lie down on the ground and find myself in the sky. Just me and the stars with their myriad patterns and pathways. The star-studded Milky Way beats any red carpet laid out for celebrities. I merge with the stars. This is the revelation and gift of darkness. Light hides and covers this gift. I find it so hard to leave the aura and awe-inspiring company of these jewels of the sky. It is a sadness to part from this company. It is I who turns away, never the stars.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I am sorry to deliver this sermon by zoom.

The Word became flesh.

This is an important message in the context of Covid-19 restrictions and lockdown. We want physical presence. We’ve had enough of zoom and virtual reality. I’m sure we will be able to meet physically soon.

Keep holding up the light of God in Christ.

Inderjit Bhogal

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Remembrance Day 2020

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections

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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
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Meditation and Prayer for Wincobank Chapel members, Sheffield

Remembrance Day is an annual reminder of the horrors of war, the loss of millions of lives and homes through war.

There are stories of the “fallen heroes”, and we remember that in modern warfare, one in ten of those killed are members of the armed forces, the rest are civilians whose stories cannot be forgotten.

Remembrance Day is on 11 November because it is the day on which World War One ended. A two minutes silence is held to remember all those who have died in war.

11th November also marks St Martin of Tours Day. Martin was an officer in the Roman Army. He died on 8 November and was buried in Tours on 11th November in the year 397.

While stationed in Amiens, Gaul, Martin met a poor man, barely dressed, asking for alms. Martin tore his military cloak in half with his sword, and gave half of it to the man, and draped half of it over his shoulder.

For Martin, the poor man was a manifestation of Christ, he became a follower of Christ, and became a monk, then an abbot, and then in 371 he became Bishop of Tours.

He protected people from persecution and torture, and gave support to marginalised and excluded people of his day.

Martin’s cape became a relic which was kept in a tent. The tent came to be called capella. The priests who said prayers in the tent were called capellini.

The English words Chapel and Chaplain are said to derive from these terms. The words refer to compassion and protection from harm.

St Martin is central to the Christian commitment to compassion and non-violence.

Wincobank Chapel is draped with poppies, almost a cape made from poppies.

Poppies are an enduring symbol of remembrance. I have the traditional red poppies, white poppies, black poppies, and poppies remembering Sikhs.

In the world of 2020, we remember the huge number of people who have died and are dying from the menace of Covid-19.

We are called to remember and honour people who front the ministry of compassion and protection, NHS staff from cleaners to consultant surgeons, and all who offer care in so many ways.

Remember is an important word.

It appears almost 9,000 times in the Bible.

Frequently the one who is doing the remembering is God.

Human beings remember. Most importantly, God remembers. Everything and everyone, including you, is enfolded and held forever in the memory of God.

“Memory is a teacher. If we are wise, we learn from experience as we reflect on it, we grow in wisdom, and don’t repeat mistakes”.

Words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to me on Remembrance Day 2000, as we waited to join the service at the Cenotaph in London.

Jonathan Sacks died on 7th November 2020. I remember him and his wisdom with thanks.

Memory itself has to be used with wisdom, because it can conceal as well as reveal.

Memory can build mythology which enlarges some bits and forgets other bits.

Memories of battle do this.

It elevates and build up glorious moments. It belittles and buries inglorious details.

Stories of victorious battles don’t always tell of the misery of the scene.

We need to pay attention to what and who is remembered and how. 

There are the fallen “heroes”, and there are those who are massacred.

There are also those who refused to pick up weapons and kill.

Ninety percent of all refugees in the world had to leave their homes to seek sanctuary elsewhere because of the destruction of war and violence.

I asked two teenage refugees from Syria what their future hope is. They said they hope to return to Syria. I asked what would make that possible. Without hesitation they said, “when the killing stops”.

When I was a teenager I recall helping to carry to the top of Ben Nevis, a granite stone with a message of peace and forgiveness from people in Hiroshima. It was a stone representing the prayers of people still living with the memory of the Atomic Bomb that obliterated their City killing 80,000 and injuring 35,000 people.

When I was a young Minister in Wolverhampton in the early 80s the mothers of British Soldiers away in the Falkland War used to come daily to have a few minutes of prayer in the Church, to pray for an end of the war, and for the safe return of their sons.

We remember them and all who are in our mind.

Every life is precious.

People throughout the world pray for peace.

This is the prayer today in the USA, with the announcement of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the new Presidential team announced yesterday.

I want to conclude with a prayer written by the Rev Dr Ray Davey, founder of Corrymeela Community.

I wrote this down on 11/11/2010, 11am in the presence of Ray and Alison (his daughter) from Ray’s war diary. Ray wrote this while he was a prisoner of war. He was not released till May 1945.

It is an appropriate prayer for today also.

RAY DAVEY PRAYER DATED 10 JUNE 1944

O God of all ages, we know that we live in momentous days, days of destiny and change.

Today we look to the world, we think of all that happens there.

Humbly and in faith we commit our cause to thee.

We confess our wrongs and evils, as a nation and as individuals.

We admit our part, and we accept our blame for this disordered and shattered world.

Be with all who take part in the struggle, endue them with patience, courage and crown their efforts with success.

May all the nations learn the folly, uselessness and senselessness of war.

And in thine own good time may a just and lasting peace be born from the ashes and destruction of so many lands and lives.

Give us the determination to live in patience and faith until the day of our freedom.

Breathe in us anew the burning resolve to fashion a society that shall think more of the things that bind men together than those that keep them apart.

Give us the will to raise a new community, God centred and God controlled.

Give us the practical willingness to plan the remaking of our own homes and the rededication of our lives, so that our land may be built on the solid basis of love and trust.

O God of our captivity, whose hand has held and sustained us through this weary journey,

Be with us now in these days of suspense and waiting.

As thou hast been our guide and strength in the past strengthen us now.

Give us the quiet mind of patience and confidence.

We remember thou hast said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth thee”.

Father who hast created the nations as all members of the great human family, cause the terrible strife to cease.

And when it comes to an end may reason. Justice and foresight prevail.

Cleanse our hearts from the spirit of revenge and hatred and reprisal.

Give us the spirit of charity and forgiveness.

We would reaffirm our belief in love as the centre of life.

Give us the determination and faith so to live as individuals and nations that wars may be outlawed forever.

Amen.

Inderjit Bhogal

8 November 2020