Fr Edward Core – RIP

11 January 2010

The sermon I preached at the Requiem Mass for Fr Edward Core

9th January 2010 at St Lawrence Frodingham

John 6: 35-40

When Edward asked me to preside and preach at his requiem, I had not really thought about the rich diversity of people who would be gathered to this service. Yet as I thought about this sermon over the past couple of days I realised that this congregation would gather together the rich diversity of Edward’s life and ministry – the family who loved him deeply, the friends who treasured him, colleagues and congregation who shared his ministry, those who had received his ministry and those who had just got to know Edward in the everyday of life.  I also realised that, because of the way Edward related to people, there would be gathered in this church to share in the bitter sweetness of sadness and celebration, both those who hold Edward’s faith, as well as those for whom faith has not been part of their life story. But Edward had said to me “give them the Gospel” and that is what I intend to do.

We are indebted to William Mounsey for the moving tribute to Edward which he has just offered us and for capturing the essence of the friend whom we celebrate today. In his tribute, William left us with a precious thought developed from the words of TS Eliot – “Edward, you have made a new beginning”.

It is a bold claim, yet it is a deeply Christian claim which takes us right to the heart of our faith and to the heart of what Edward was all about as a priest. It takes us to the heart of why Edward was such a good and effective priest in the church of God – for he was about ‘new beginnings’ and ‘new beginnings’ are the stuff of relationships. As the numbers gathered in this church today witnessed so eloquently, Edward was good at relationships and bringing quality to relationships is a very Godly activity.

Fr Edward Core

But the thing about good, healthy relationships is that they shape the future. Building and sustaining relationships asks us to reach out into the unknown and the unknowable with others to bring shape and texture into the way in which we create and craft the future. An essential feature to relationships therefore has to be faith — a belief in the other, a two-way process of engagement which lays claim to the future.

One of the things which we discover through the wisdom of the Bible is that good relationships are more concerned with what we are going to do, than with what we have done. We discover that good relationships are more concerned with who we are becoming, than with who we have been. Through Scripture we understand that good relationships celebrate our potential and cherish our love – they lay claim to the future for, each and every time we form a new relationship, or renew an existing one, it is a new beginning.

I find that we make the Christian faith very complicated by wrapping it in formulas and practice, yet in truth the Christian faith is very simple – it is about a God who wants to make and sustain relationships with us – with you and me. It is about a God who wants his relationship with us to shape the future. We heard about it in the Gospel reading from St John which Edward chose for this service, as we hear Jesus say “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away”.  As a priest Edward lived this out, he was an agent of a God who will never drive us away because he believes in us and in our potential to be fully human. A God who, in the midst of all our frailty and vulnerability, has faith in us – because faith is the stuff of good relationships.

In this sense, faith really isn’t about religion – it is about being human. It is about our ability to reach outside of ourselves to discover value in other people. And when we use this ‘faithful ability’ to reach outside of the limitations of our experience and of our imagination, then we can find value in a relationship with God — the God we know in Jesus Christ. The God who, in Jesus Christ, reaches out to each of us offering new beginnings and a claim on the future, for, as we believe Edward is discovering, our relationship with God lays claim on the future and that’s what we call resurrection. To lay claim to the future, that’s Easter. Again we heard in today’s Gospel passage Jesus saying, “all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up upon the last day.”

Today we celebrate a dear friend, a faithful priest, a fellow pilgrim in life who, amidst all the complexity of life and amidst all the complexity of being human, reached out to build a relationship with God in Jesus Christ and so claimed the future.

We celebrate that future as we share in the simple things of bread and wine – a sign of the presence of God in Jesus Christ and foretaste of the banquet of heaven. The Christ who invites us into a relationship and invites us to claim our future – this is the stuff of faith, of Edward’s faith.

Amidst all the sadness which we have in losing our friend Edward, we come together with a confidence that God “will wipe away every tear from our eyes” because our friend Edward had reached out to build a relationship with God and in so doing had claimed the future – resurrection.


Christmas thoughts

24 December 2009

The past week has seen much of the country held in the grip of freezing weather which has brought in its wake not just inconvenience and travel disruption, but the tragic loss of life on the roads. It has also deepened the plight of those who live on the streets and for those who cannot afford to heat their homes.

“When the snow lay round about Deep and crisp and even” really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, yet in the spirit of Good King Wenceslas there have been countless acts of generosity and hospitality in the face of such extreme weather – not lease the reaction of the John Lewis store in High Wycombe, which gave overnight shelter to around 100 staff and customers trapped in the store by a blizzard – a wonderful example of responding to what really matters.  Perhaps inevitably it is only when the ‘chips are really down’ that we ask the question “What really matters?”

Yet as we prepare to celebrate the gift of a new birth in that stable of Bethlehem we need to remind ourselves that the story of Bethlehem – the story of shepherds, wise men, of angels and of the baby Jesus – isn’t a story which gives answers, rather it’s a story which asks a question and down the ages the Christmas story repeats that question afresh in each generation – what really matters?  The story of the birth of Jesus invites us to discover God in that child; to discover God in all the vulnerability of love; to discover God in all the risks and danger which that child encountered.

‘What really matters?’  is a demanding question, yet in answering it, our inner self, our values and our spirit is revealed.   As we look back on the story of this past year, that same question has woven its way through the events of 2009 – what really matters?  In the devastating floods in the Lake District; during the funerals of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan; as our economy has continued to flounder; as we have been disappointed by what has been revealed about some of our politicians; as we respond to the issues of climate change – we have to ask ourselves ‘what really matters?.  It is a question which challenges us to make sense of life and our response to that question gives shape, purpose and value to us and to our communities.

In the coming year there will be a general election.  The question from Bethlehem, the question to be found in the Christmas story – ‘What really matters?’ – needs to be addressed by those who will be seeking power.  For politicians who fail to address this fundamental  question will have little to offer the complexities of our world and of our society.

In that child Jesus we glimpse something of God’s answer to this question as we find value in the love and vulnerability of a baby.  It is in the story of Christmas that we being to discover what really matters as we glimpse God’s commitment to life and it is in the message of the angels that we glimpse the cost and value of peace in bringing joy to this world.

As we celebrate Christmas this year may the baby of Bethlehem ask you the question “What really matters to you?” and I pray that you will find your answer in the love and vulnerability of that child whom we celebrate at this time and through whom we can come to know God.


Address at Matthew Telford’s Funeral

26 November 2009

Today I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of Sergent Matthew Telford:

Once again this historic church embraces a family and a community drawn together by the loss of a treasured loved one.  Drawn together in sadness and sorrow in a place that even on days like this dares to speak of hope. Drawn together to mingle words of remembrance with words of faith and of the possibility that there is more to life than we can possibly imagine.

The crowds gathered around the church today, as they gathered on Saturday when Matthew’s and Jimmy’s coffins arrived in Grimsby, speak powerfully of the deep respect that this community has for those who have lost their lives in the service of our country.

Yet there was far more to Matthew than his military service – he was a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and part of a family and of friends who treasured the life he shared with them.  Family and friends who loved and cherished Matthew, and the pain and emptiness they are living with now is a symptom of the deep love they have for Matthew – a love that will not let them go and which Matthew’s death does not in any way diminish.

As we share this moment with Matthew’s family – with Kerry, Harry, Callum, Ron, Cheryl and Eleanor  – giving thanks with them for Matthew’s life, love and service – we need to be wary of the armchair strategists who, informed only through the press,  pontificate on the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Afghanistan.  Matthew and his brave comrades died as they were sharing their skills with the Afghani people so as to bring stability, law and order to a troubled land, and such stability, law and order are fundamental elements for peace.  In the three weeks since we heard the tragic news of their deaths, Jesus’ words have been much in my prayers for Matthew and his comrades “How blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called Sons of God”.

Bringing peace, working for peace is a costly thing and the cross of Jesus is a symbol of that cost.  Today as we give thanks for Matthew’s life and love, as we stand alongside his family in their grief, as we pay our respects to a brave man – we commit and commend Matthew to all the rich possibilities of the God we have discovered in Jesus Christ – a God who yearns for peace in all the complexity of this world.

This church, like all churches, is full of the symbol of the cross on which Jesus died, because it is the cross of Jesus which points us to hope – a hope that there is more to each of us than our biology, a hope that amidst all the darkness of the conflicts in this world, a hope that amidst  all the evil that drives people to murderous deeds and callous indifference –  amidst all this, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, a love which is eternal and which will not let us go.  It is into this love which we commend and commit Matthew today – a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend and a comrade – a peacemaker among those whom Jesus calls “sons of God”.


Beware the simplicty of extremists

26 October 2009

Article in the Cleethorpes Chronicle  – 29.10.2009

There was a stark contrast between some of the views being aired on last Thursday’s BBC Question Time and the gathering of the Normandy Veterans Association in Westminster Abbey last weekend.  During Question Time we glimpsed the sort of extremism which feeds on demonising a particular group of people and, in contrast, on Sunday the veterans remembered the enormous human cost of combating extremism once it takes hold of power.  Extremism, whether it is political, economic or social, brings in its wake human suffering and misery – how little we learn from history.

The essential feature of the extremist is simplicity.  Simplistic answers to the problems of the age.  In a democracy it is seductive stuff because the simplicity of the extremist offers quick and easy remedies.  In Germany in the 1930’s it was the Jews who were blamed for all the problems and finding a final solution to the Jews would ensure that all would be well.  Tragically there is a long list in modern history where the simplistic answers of the extremists have led to appalling violence, genocide and ethnic cleansing.  In fact I cannot think of any situation where extremism has led to human happiness and flourishing.

The problem with extremist views is that they are cloaked in sounding plausible. Yet they have to distort the truth because they actually have no ability to answer the deep problems of society.    So for the extremist, all asylum seekers are ‘bogus’, people living on benefits are ‘scroungers’,  unemployment  is cause by immigrants and if only we could get back to the purity of the indigenous English people, then all would be well.

D-day vetsWhat utter nonsense it is, yet it is seductive because at elections we want to give power to those who are going to sort things out.  If only life was like that.  Yet as those D-day veterans know only too well – give power to an extremist and it has to be wrestled from them at great cost.

The Normandy Veterans gathering begins this season of remembrance leading up to 11th November.  Once again I will be thanking God for the sacrifice of so many in wresting power from the extremists, whilst praying that we will never again be seduced by their simplicity – for it masks the dark side of human nature which is crucifyingly costly to defeat.


A healthy society defends the vulnerable

18 August 2009

Article in the Cleethorpes Chronicle  – 14.08.09

The name and memory of Peter Connelly, known for so long as Baby P, joins a sad and far too long list of children who have died at the hands of those whom they could have expected to give them the love, protection and security which is surely the right of every child.  This week the release of Peter’s name, along with the names of those who were responsible for his wicked injuries and death has brought Peter’s short and tragic life back to public attention.

There can be no excuses for Tracy Connelly, Stephen Barker or Jason Owen whose actions and inactions caused and allowed Peter to suffer so much.   Once again we are reminded that the vulnerable – whether they be young or old – are at the mercy of those who have them in their care.  Yet vulnerability is at the heart of being human for it is the stuff of our early years, of our old age and, for some, it is their experience throughout life.

A symptom of a healthy family is the care and attention it gives to its most vulnerable members and the same is surely true for a community.  It is how we invest in and support the most vulnerable in society which reveals the quality of our communities.  As we reprioritise our public spending in the wake of the current recession, we must be wary of those politicians who would look for savings in our support for the vulnerable, the sick and the casualties of modern life.  As I see it, their care, through the work of the social services and other agencies, is a good gauge of the health of our nation.

Jesus said “By their fruits you shall know them” and that remains a good measure for many things, not least in our attitude to the vulnerable.   Baby Peter is a sad reminder that when the strong take advantage of the vulnerable – then pain, suffering, misery, death and wickedness are ever present.  The only remedy is for the strong and capable to be vigilant and to demand that the vulnerable are supported and protected.  Another phrase of Jesus comes to mind: “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.


Ordinands – quality not quantity

6 July 2009

The ordination at St James Grimsby yesterday morning was full of excitement, anticipation and celebration.  The four new deacons ordained in the north of the Diocese of Lincoln yesterday bring to the church a depth of gifts and competencies which bode well for the future.

Frequently I find that conversations with congregations seem to suggest that the quantity of those coming into and available for stipendiary ministry is the important issue.  I think, however, that it is the quality of those coming forward which will resource the church most effectively in God’s mission and ministry.

As the cost of employing priests increasingly depends on the generosity of congregations, we need to ensure that those in stipendiary ministry bring a quality and competancy  which supports such generosity.  At the same time, the church needs to ensure that it is using all vocations to ministry in such a way as to honour the gifts and talents of those call by God not only into the ordained ministry but also into Reader and other lay ministeries.  Justin Lewis-Anthony recent book – “If you meet George Herbert on the road, Kill Him” challenges the Church of England to rethink how we unfold the practice of priestly ministry.  As the resource of stipendiary ministry reduces, it is time for us to understand how best to use the gifts and talents of those who respond to the call of God.

Just repeating pattens of ministry from the past by stretching the resourse of the stipendiary ordained ever further is a questionabe strategy for mission and ministry.  Lewis-Anthony asks pertinent questions and it is down to us  in the local church, in deaneries and in parishes to respond creatively – if we are to use the gifts and talents of those ordained yeasterday effectively in the cause of the Gospel.

Grimsby Ordination


Fewer Suffragan Bishops?

7 June 2009

Writing in the Church Times in May, Bishop John Bickersteth raises the question of the number of Suffragan Bishops in a Church with few clergy.  He argues that their function could be carried out by archdeacons and cost saving achieved.  His approach is based on the ASB service for consecrating Bishops which puts the emphasis on the main responsibility of a Bishop being the care of the clergy.

I scribbled the following reply to the Church Times:

“The Rt Revd John Bickersteth raises an interesting issue when he asks “Why not cut some Bishops”?  Yet his argument focuses on cost and function, rather than leadership and mission.

In the introduction to the Ordination of Bishops we are reminded that “Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles, proclaiming the gospel of God’s kingdom and leading his people in mission.”

A reduction in the number of suffragan bishops would inevitably result in the remaining bishops becoming increasingly inaccessible both to the Church and also to the wider community.  In an age of connectivity, networks and subsiduarity we need to ask how encouraging such rarity would assist in leading people in mission.

The fundamental question raised by Bishop John Bickersteth, but not addressed, concerns the nature of leadership needed for a Church committed to mission in the twenty-first century.  Resolving this question applies as much to incumbents, as it does to bishops   Models of oversight and leadership from the past may not always be helpful in determining what is right for the present.  Yet the relationship between leadership and mission is well established.

Quoting clergy numbers and ratios of bishops to clergy is to ignore the changing nature of the church.  In my area we have over 350 laity who have undergone training to equip them to unfold various aspects of ministry and to become part of the public face of the church’s ministry.  Relating to them, maintaining a mission mindset and ensuring that their gifts of ministry are well used, requires a different approach both from their priests and also from their bishops.

In the same way, parish priests are taking on significant complexity as their ‘cure’ encompasses increasingly diverse communities.   Supporting, encouraging and pastoring the clergy requires a far more informed understanding and involvement than may have been needed in the past.

Cost and function are pertinent, but the nature of leadership and appropriate shapes for that leadership are perhaps prior questions.”


Incumbents and Extended Oversight

7 June 2009

With more and more Vicars/Rectors being asked to take on more parishes or even another multi-parish benefice into their ‘cure of souls’, I have written a paper about how the model for being an incumbent needs to be revisited.  It is a discussion paper to stimulate thinking and it can be found on this site at:  Incumbents and Extended Oversight


Trust and Power

24 May 2009

I have been trying to put my finger on why I feel so outraged at what we’ve learnt about those MP’s who appear to have abused their expenses. Set against so much wickedness in the world, their behaviour is certainly wrong and needs to be addressed, but it needs to kept in proportion when we live in a world where daily there are stories of abuse, violence and criminality which destroys people. Why is it that so many of us feel outraged as this story about the MPs unfolds?

Is it because this isn’t just another story of expenses being fiddled, but is far more about the trust which lies at the heart of the British democratic system being abused? When we go and vote, we trust an individual to represent our best interests. We give power through the ballot box and we trust those who represent us (even if we didn’t vote for them) to be worthy of the power which they have been given. I think that I am outraged because, in a healthy society, power and trust go hand-in-hand. When the trust is abused, then what about the power?

How people use power is a moral question. The Christian faith is founded on an individual whose power was to be found in vulnerability and service. Because of our history, the Christian story has shaped the British approach to politics – vulnerability to not being re-elected and election being to the service of all  people and not just your supporters. It is an approach to politics which is so different to those worst expressions of politics, where power is taken for self-interest and is used against one section or group.

I think this why I feel so outraged at the expenses fiasco – because floating duck nests, moat clearing and non-existent mortgages do not reflect vulnerability and service. They undermine the trust which is so central to British democracy. We have to be able to trust those we vote for to use their position for the good of each and every section of our society no matter who they are, who they voted for, where the come from, their colour or their creed. Essentially, we have to be able to trust those we vote for to be moral in what they do once elected, trust them to use their power in a moral way and to be worthy of our trust – then they can be described as ‘honourable’.

First published in the Cleethorpes Chronicle May 2009


Easter – features of the future

12 April 2009

Recently whilst visiting a school I was in a class which had been given the task of imagining and designing an island. In pairs they had been given a blank sheet of paper and asked to put in the features needed to shape the future of the people living on their imaginary island.   I was fascinated by the way in which all the islands ended up with similar features – mountains, rivers, fields, villages and towns.  All had roads and most had railways, some had an airport and most had docks, some had reservoirs and one had a rubbish dump – but none had wind farms, none had hydroelectric power stations and none had solar panels.  What was common to them all was that they imagined the future in terms of what they had already experienced – their future was a reflection of the past and I suspect that many of us, given the same exercise, would have done the same – imagining the future as a reflection of the past.

resurrection-spencer

To Christians, the Easter story is an invitation – an invitation to become involved in shaping the future – our own and for our society.   An invitation to glimpse what is possible when we allow our imagination to be fed by the possibilities of God and his transforming love; an invitation to re-imagine our future, not as a reflection of the past, but as a new landscape of life and love.

We celebrate Easter this year when the world is experiencing remarkable changes and uncertainties.  The global economy is undergoing a fundamental readjustment, the recession is teasing out the viability of businesses leaving in its wake the unemployment which makes the future so uncertain for millions of people.

We celebrate Easter with the growing spectre of climate change and the continued threat of terrorism contributing to a general texture of uncertainty and, as ever, we celebrate Easter against the backdrop of all the ongoing joys and sorrows of life, from the joys of new birth to the heart rending plight of the Italian earthquake victims.

It is a troubling picture and it is far too simplistic just to say that Easter and its message of hope is ‘the’ answer to all the problems of our times.  The key to understanding Easter is the image of Jesus dying on the cross. The pain and suffering of Jesus tortured to death on the cross is transformed not avoided.  The hope which Christians celebrate today is not about making everything all right again, but how we can re-imagine the future.

As we wrestle with the future, it is understandably tempting and attractive for politicians to offer a future which is a recovery of the past good times, but what’s the sense in that?  More of the same will bring us to exactly where we are now – I think that it is called boom and bust.

It is too easy to jump on a bandwagon of blaming the bankers for all the economic problems we are facing.  We need to remember that they were operating in a system of values which we endorsed as we enjoyed the benefits of a buoyant economy, but those values had no substance, for they were not about shaping the future but exploiting the present.  A target driven world can be a world that sacrifices wisdom for the short term gains and approval of meeting the targets.

So do we really want to go back to that?  Or, if given a blank sheet of paper and asked to re-imagine the world, what features, what values would we draw in to shape the future for our world. The message of Easter invites us to draw in life and love, peace and justice, hope and goodness as foundational features for shaping the future.  These features are not exclusive to Christians – life and love, peace and justice, hope and goodness are universal and a commitment to them would be future shaping.  The Easter story enables us to glimpse that when these things are lived out to the full, then there is a flourishing of life which even death cannot destroy.