Presenting to the Faith in Research Conference, Birmingham, June 2019

I was delighted to have the chance to present an outline of the project to a room-full of acutely discerning researchers and users of research into church practice, in a session chaired by the Bishop of Manchester.

I was very grateful for the searching discussion we had, and also for the number of colleagues who contacted me afterwards to ask for further presentations, or if the project team could deliver a training day. And yes, we are still taking bookings, up to the end of February 2020. So do please contact me on c.c.b.southgate@ex.ac.uk if you would be interested to hear more.

Christopher Southgate

June 2019 Blog Crying the beloved country

For the last few months I have been bumping into references to the importance of feeling the sadness caused by climate change. First Hannah Malcolm’s winning Theology Slam sermon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GknXxsvqToU) grieved the loss of our familiar landscapes and the deaths and extinctions we are experiencing. Then Extinction Rebellion posted about ecological grief on FaceBook, and the Guardian published Rob Lowe’s article“I have felt hopelessness over climate change. Here is how we move past the immense grief” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/09/i-have-felt-hopelessness-over-climate-change-here-is-how-we-move-past-the-immense-grief). Most recently I listened to an On Being interview with long-time environmental activist Joanna Macey (https://onbeing.org/programs/joanna-macy-a-wild-love-for-the-world/#transcript) on my morning run, who spoke of the power of grieving ecological disaster.

Having discovered the power of lamentation in our research on congregational trauma, these encouragements to cry the beloved country come as no surprise. Yet I was surprised. I was surprised that a tool so ancient and, in my mind, spiritually rooted has emerged so quickly. Then I remembered that lamentation has been a human activity from the beginning of recorded time. Over four thousand years ago ancient Sumerian cuneiform texts of lament were engraved on clay tablets and stored for safekeeping. The Sumerian poets lamented cities laid waste and the devastations of warfare.

Joanna Macy told how it was grief that got her into activism. She says: 

… we are called to not run from the discomfort and not run from the grief or the feelings of outrage or even fear — and […] if we can be fearless, to be with our pain, it turns. It doesn’t stay static. It only doesn’t change if we refuse to look at it. But when we look at it, when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.

Grief and hope are two sides of the same coin. We can only hold one as we embrace the other. Lamentation is rooted in love and opens the floodgates of possibility. We’ve seen this time after time in our teaching, as participants work with the lamentation form and uncover its power to clarify and to move. (John Swinton, Raging with Compassion, Eerdmans 2007, p. 128).

Cry, then, the beloved country. Lament death, destruction and fear. Then rise to the new day, with the power to do what needs to be done.

Carla A. Grosch-Miller

Seedcorn grant awarded

We are delighted to announce that our advertised ‘seedcorn’ grant to enable a training institution to develop teaching resources in the area of trauma has gone to Lincoln School of Theology. They will deliver a programme in the autumn of 2019, and hope to make this a regular part of their provision.

Well done to Rhona Knight the lead investigator, Sally Myers the Principal, and their team. We look forward to sharing insights with them and learning a lot from their experience.

Red-letter day for project – book to publisher!

Delighted to report that, thanks to the huge efforts of Meg Warner, our lead editor, the project’s edited book went off to Routledge by the April 30 deadline. We thank all the contributors for their efforts, and particularly Bishop James Jones for a powerful and moving Foreword to the book.

Nov 12 2018 – a really generative day

Today the team, plus others writing chapters in the forthcoming book from the project, met with Professor R. Ruard Ganzevoort of the Free University, Amsterdam, to draw on his experience of both understanding and teaching in the area of trauma. We were joined in the morning by the Revd Dr Isabelle Hamley, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The conversation was of the finest and will hugely assist the coming book. 

Working with archdeacons

It was a privilege to work with a group of Anglican archdeacons in London on Oct 8 2018. As they are the ones likely to get the crisis phone call from a parish priest after a shock-event, their reflections were of particular value. We hope to do further work with senior staff in this and other denominations.

Summer Holidays and a Teaser

Even over the summer break the trauma team is hard at work! In August the whole team will contribute a day at Sarum College’s Summer School. Last week Meg Warner ran workshops on Lament Psalms at the 2018 Modern Church Conference. If you are interested especially in Bible and Trauma look out for the 2019 programme for the Christ Church Summer School, held at Christ Church College, Oxford. Meg Warner will lead a week’s workshop on Bible, Trauma and Resilience.

Churches in Crises – A National Necessity?

This blog was first published by Via Media (https://viamedia.news) on 11 May 2018. The photo appeared with a re-publication in Christian Today.

Here in the UK we are currently marking a string of disturbing first anniversaries. The anniversary of the Westminster Bridge attack was 22 March, and the anniversaries of the Manchester Arena bombing (22 May), London Bridge Attack (3 June), Grenfell Tower fire (14 June) and Finsbury Park Mosque attack (19 June) are fast approaching. The cavalcade of disasters in the Spring and Summer of 2017 shocked and appalled us, even if we were fortunate enough not to have had friends or family numbered among the dead or injured. There is little doubt that the first anniversaries, as we reach them, will be similarly affecting.

For the nation’s churches, the experience was a little more complicated. Many congregations, of course, were situated near the disaster sites and lost members or suffered as a result of these events in a whole range of ways. But something very positive for the churches happened over that period also. The nation suddenly discovered that churches were there, and that they had some quite valuable things to offer.

This was nowhere more apparent than in the devastating aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. The difference between the responses of the local council and the churches (together with synagogues and mosques) could hardly have been more marked. Those things that residents immediately looked to the secular authorities to provide – places to congregate, cups of tea, food, emergency supplies, venues for meetings and media conferences, collection and distribution points for donations, a caring word or a hug – were provided instead by the churches. Here was a network of buildings with on-site staff, catering facilities and willing armies of volunteers that could be mobilised at a moment’s notice, even in the middle of the night. Black and purple shirts became familiar, prominent, sights on the news reports in the days that followed – immediately recognisable.

That is not to suggest that the experience was different elsewhere. Following each one of these events churches played a significant role – sometimes observable and sometimes behind the scenes – and this was not lost on the secular authorities in each place. Most cities, towns or areas have disaster-response plans that are made by local authorities, together with policing, fire-fighting and other civic and community organisations. In the past churches have been sometimes consulted and sometimes not. That has changed. Religious leaders are now typically central partners in the making of such plans and religious buildings are being marked for key roles. And now when disasters occur, for the first time, clergy are being invited inside disaster cordons, to counsel and support victims and responders.

None of this comes without a cost for the churches involved, of course. A church that finds itself nearby a major disaster of this type, and which opens its doors to it, can expect to be overwhelmed by the demands made upon it, both in the immediate days after the disaster, and in the following months or even years. Especially if few of the victims of the disaster had been members of the church (which was the case for a number of the churches near Grenfell Tower) this can lead to real tensions over time. Congregations can find themselves quite literally knocked-off their ordinary course. One church, for example, was so overwhelmed by unsolicited donations following the Grenfell Tower fire that when its clergy and PCC decided they needed to do some ‘de-cluttering’ in order to make the church available again for the conduct of liturgy they dispatched three articulated-lorries full of donations to storage.

The role of churches following these disasters was not limited to the provision of post-disaster relief and care. Churches and clergy have also played important civic roles in marking, mourning and moving back to normality. Clergy from Southwark Cathedral, for example, following the London Bridge attack (in which it had itself been significantly affected) held an informal liturgy among the stalls of Borough Market, sprinkling holy water, saying prayers, and ‘re-claiming’ the area for local people, attracting enthusiastic participation on the part of those who happened to be there. Subsequently, local authorities asked the Dean to lead an observance to ease the dismantling of the impromptu memorial to the victims of the attacks – huge piles of flowers, teddy-bears and written messages – that had become, over time, a public hazard. An unplanned, and extremely moving, ritual ensued in which members of the gathered crowd moved forward one-by-one, unbidden, to carry individual items from the memorial into the trucks that that would take them away for burning. A similar ‘re-claiming’ ritual was welcomed in recent days by the people of Salisbury, following the Skripal poisoning, and although it is still very early days, it can probably already be said that the national service commemorating the six-month anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, held at St Paul’s Cathedral, will be looked back to as a very significant point in the community’s recovery from that tragedy.

I didn’t grow up in this country. I’m Australian and have spent most of my life in a country that doesn’t have an established church. Perhaps that makes me especially sensitive to what I see as the rich gifts that establishment brings, both to church and to nation. In the churches’ response to these terrible events one year ago I think that the public began to develop a renewed awareness of exactly what the Church of England offers to the nation – both nationally and parish by parish.

I hope and pray that the Church of England is also being led to a renewed awareness – an awareness of what it can be and who it is for.

 

‘Don’t waste a crisis …’

March’s nerve agent attack on Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury sent shock waves around the world, but it has been in Salisbury itself that the most immediate effects have been felt. Visitor numbers to Salisbury have dropped, and business profits fallen, and this has served to intensify the general feelings of fear and vulnerability that the attack has created. None of the residents want the attack to be what people worldwide think of when they hear the name Salisbury. The Rev’d Kelvin Inglis, Rector of St. Thomas’ Church, together with the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, together decided to find a way to respond to these events and concerns and at the same time to do something to lift the community’s morale and rebuild its sense of identity.

Yesterday’s ‘celebration’ began with a service at St Thomas’ Church. Strikingly, one of the first elements of the service was a rendition of Russian composer, Rimsky-Korsakov’s, setting of The Lord’s Prayer. The music of fellow-Russian Sergei Rachmaninov was also sung, and the service ended with the whole congregation singing ‘Jerusalem’ together. After the service, which was billed as ‘A Celebration of the Community Life of the City of Salisbury’, the congregation joined other community members at the nearby Maltings, at a spot as near as possible to the place where the bench connected with the attack had previously stood, for a short ritual of ‘cleansing and reclaiming’. Ironically, it was raining at the time, but that didn’t deter the Rector from liberally dashing water across the site, symbolically ‘cleansing’ the area and ‘reclaiming’ it for the people of Salisbury.

This event has been the most recent of a series of liturgies following attacks in different parts of the UK. The St. Paul’s Cathedral service held six months after the Grenfell Tower fire was the most prominent of these. In light of the profile and magnitude of the disaster, the cathedral service served as a national memorial for those who died. Other events have been more local. After the London Borough Markets were re-opened after the London Bridge Attack, clergy from Southwark Cathedral, which had itself been inside the security cordon, went on a ‘walk’ through the markets, meeting locals, saying prayers and sprinkling water. Again, a public ritual was held in which the area was ‘reclaimed’, and during which the community both remembered the victims and looked ahead to the future life of the area. Movingly, an un-scripted element of the outdoor observance was the solemn removal, by members of the community, of flowers and mementos left at the makeshift shrine.

Reports following these post-disaster liturgies suggest that they have been meaningful and helpful, especially for those who live and work in places that had been blighted by violent attacks. Sometimes they have been surprisingly joyful events, as a whole community anticipates life returning to something approximating normal. People who don’t normally think of themselves as ‘church people’ have been particularly vocal in their appreciation. These sorts of observances are vehicles for local churches to serve their communities by providing space for public remembering and grieving, as well as offering a kind of permission and encouragement for life to continue and grow. As painful as such disasters can be, there is always the hope that through them new life will appear, and the church has a crucial role to play here. As Bishop Holtam said yesterday, ‘don’t waste a crisis …’

Following below is the text of the outdoor ritual at The Maltings:

We seek this day to reclaim our city for the common good.

That Salisbury may once more be a byword – around the world – for the values we cherish.

Here in the Maltings we name all that has been visited upon us

* violation of our peace and prosperity

* injury inflicted on individuals

* fear and anxiety

* disruption of normal lives

* economic and financial uncertainty

With this water of new life, I symbolically cleanse our city…

May it be vibrant, lively, alert, prosperous.

May our businesses prosper,

our visitors be welcomed,

our art and culture flourish,

our vulnerable be cared for,

our past valued,

our future embraced,

and may all be people be treated alike

            with dignity, respect and generosity.

May God bless this fine city of Salisbury

today and always.

Amen.