About Bishop Jonathan Blake
Bishop Jonathan Blake was born in 1956 and survived an air flight emergency during his childhood. He taught for one year before gaining his degree at Durham university in 1978. During his undergraduate days he established a shop selling goods from the poorer countries which became a successful aid project trading to this day.
In the following year he smuggled Bibles and goods to Christians behind the 'Iron Curtain' before he embarked upon an epic hitchhiking journey that saw him tear-gassed in Teheran, seized by machine gun toting guards in Kabul on his way to work with Mother Theresa`s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. He escaped an attempt on his life and raised over £20,000, a quarter of which he used in direct relief work and the remaining £15,500, he invested through the Church of North India in a trust to fund a T.B. hospital for women in Howrah.
On his return he completed his training in Nottingham and was ordained a priest in 1982.
He served within the Church of England for over eleven years. For his six years as a Curate, he worked in Bradford and Rochester. In addition to his regular work, in 1985 he wrote the lyrics for and produced a musical on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi which was performed in the city of Bradford.
He slept on the streets during 'One World Week' to highlight the plight of the homeless and travelled to Kenya, Pakistan and Switzerland to promote peace and justice. In 1987 he organised and led an international group of fifty young people from twelve different faiths on a bus journey of reconciliation from London to Auschwitz and on to Moscow.
He provoked controversy as a Curate writing that the workers at armaments factories had 'blood on their hands'.
During the next five years he worked as a vicar in Bexleyheath and was responsible among other things for leading the parish in raising nearly £250,000 to complete a major building project to repair and extend the church, making it a multipurpose resource for the whole community. He took the Mass at times in rags as a mark of solidarity with the poor and ensured that the church gave away a minimum of 10 per cent of its parish income, a practice he followed personally.
In addition to the above, he developed wide experience in inter-faith work, serving on the International Executive of the World Conference on Religion and Peace and as the Director of the Week of Prayer for World Peace. He managed to secure NHS funding for one of the first inter-faith hospital chapels.
He has also worked voluntarily as a Samaritan for four years and for a further four years as a Relate Marriage Guidance Counsellor.
In 1990 he wrote a biblical quotation on the Houses of Parliament in a peaceful protest at the bombing of Iraqi conscripts during the first Gulf war. He was arrested, charged and appealed to the High Court.
In the autumn of 1994 he decided to relinquish his office as a minister within the Church of England. However, according to church law as well as his own understanding, he was still and would always remain a priest. As such he continued his work as a priest, working as a self-employed minister , independent of any denomination.
Since then he has baptised well over a thousand children and has provided ministry to hundreds of thousands. His ministry had taken him throughout the UK and overseas to Menorca, Morocco and Crete. He has conducted services in homes, gardens, chapels, churches, hotels, country estates, pubs, cruisers, marquees, castles; even in a circus ring, on top of Mount Snowdon, underwater and over the Internet!
He has also chaired the Holy Circle Trust.
In 1997 he published a book entitled `FOR GOD`S SAKE DON`T GO TO CHURCH ` as well as a little book of prayers. He also published his '95 Theses' that he nailed to the door of Canterbury Cathedral to highlight the corruption that had crept into church practices. He was arrested but later released without charge.
On the first day of January, 2000, at the rising of the sun, he co founded The Society for Independent Christian Ministry ( SICM ).
On March 30th, 2000, Jonathan`s ministry as a priest and minister was re-affirmed with the laying on of hands by the bishop, priests and ministers present at the first gathering of the Society for Independent Christian Ministry and he was incardinated into that Society.
On December 10th, 2000, Jonathan was Consecrated a Bishop.
Jonathan has thus received nearly every form of Ordination practised within the Christian church and thus embodies all the traditions within his ministry. He is happy to take services as a pastor/minister for those from a free church or non conformist tradition, or as a priest for those from an episcopal tradition, be they catholic or anglican. He is happy to take any christian service from any type of prayer book wearing any form of vestments with any form of ritual.
As a bishop of the Christian church, he is a symbol of unity, available for all within the church and all without it. He represents no one tradition ,but all. He works as a CHRISTIAN offering ministry to all, whether christian or from another faith, whether religious or atheist. He respects everyone.
In 2001 he was asked to conduct the first gay marriage on prime time television for Richard and Judy on their 'This Morning' TV show. It was termed one of the most controversial broadcasts on TV and the Daily Mail ran negative coverage. Jonathan sued Associated Newspapers in landmark litigation that upheld the integrity of his orders and his ministry.
In November 2001 Jonathan co-founded The Open Episcopal Church.
In 2002 Geffrey Duncan published his anthology of inclusive worship material, Courage to Love, which contained material from Jonathan’s writing.
On 10th April 2003, Jonathan co-consecrated the Revd Mother Canon Professor Elizabeth Bridget Augustine Stuart ssb.,M.A., D.Phil. Her consecration to the episcopate took place in the Chapel of Royal Holloway & Bedford New College, University of London, Egham, Surrey. Professor Stuart is the first woman bishop in this country. She is well known as a leading theologian, writer and spiritual guide and her work is well respected, bringing hope and light to all and especially those who have been disenfranchised by the denominational and majority traditions.
In 2001 Jonathan and his wife were approved as foster carers and during 2002 welcomed two foster boys as part of their family.
He founded Room at the Inn and as its Director worked to help the homeless. So far he has helped accommodate 3 homeless men and offers a rent scheme for the assistance of others, as well as providing relief over Christmas and Easter to those on the streets.
In 2005 The College of Bishops appointed Jonathan as the Bishop of Greater London for The Open Episcopal Church. Revd Dr M Graham Blyth published Beyond the Fringe, ‘a study of radicals who are remaking the Church’ which contained an interview with Jonathan.
In 2006 Jonathan was elected Presiding Archbishop of the Open Episcopal Church.
In 2008 The Open Episcopal Church launched the facility for members of the public to be able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ (Holy Communion/Mass) through the post, entitled Post the Host.
In 2009 Jonathan was asked to take the wedding blessing for Jade Goody and Jack Tweed and then, after Jade’s tragic death, to take the prayers at the family wake.
That same year he established the campaigning organisation When No One's Watching. to work to increase police accountability by implementing greater CCTV monitoring of their work. Now his campaign has been vindicated by a study carried out by the University of Cambridge, showing a 93% reduction in complaints against the police following the use of body cameras.
In the October he was invited to speak at the University Philosophical Society, Trinity College Dublin.
In 2011 Jonathan was appointed an an Independent Custody Visitor., a scheme overseen by the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime in London, which enables members of the local community to observe, comment and report on the conditions under which people are detained at police stations.
Jonathan's writings were included in Leanne Tigert & Maren Tirabassi book All Whom God Has Joined published in May 2010, with a foreword by Bishop Gene Robinson, and further published by The Pilgrim Press in Faith Practices: Worship, Learning, and Serving for Vital Congregations.
Since 2007, Jonathan has festooned his house with Christmas decorations and has raised thousands of pounds for Save the Children.
In 2012 and 2013 he was invited to Downing Street and met the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in recognition of his campaigning for equal marriage over the years.
In 2014, his book "That Old Devil Called God Again" was published by Christian Alternative Books, an imprint of the John Hunt publishing House.
He published further books ( see his book page ) and wrote extensively on his blog and his facebook page.
In 2015, his annual fundraising for Save The Children was featured on Channel 4, on Christmas Eve, in the programme "My Crazy Christmas Lights".
In 2015/17, he continued to publish, as well as travelling extensively, ordaining clergy and conducting ministry .
He was also campaigning to reform the inadequate and deeply flawed child protection structures. He was arrested for his writing, charged, convicted of harassment and imposed with a restraining order that constrained his campaign. He carried out 140 hours community service and then was cleared on appeal and had the restraining order lifted.
He was arrested a further three times, for his blogging, to stop a paedophile, was convicted and sentenced to 100 hours community service, and has now applied for permission to appeal. Reporting restrictions and a new restraining order restrict what can be known. He and his family have suffered much but are proud that through all the trauma they have helped to successfully stop a paedophile. His church and the public are also proud of his brave work.
Jesus was crucified a common criminal for his ministry and beliefs. A Christian must be willing to suffer for what is right. His passion and commitment remain undeterred, to continue to do all he can to protect children and to stop their abusers.
Jonathan continues to travel the country and world, ministering with love and compassion, ordaining clergy, conducting marriages and baptisms in every location imaginable and taking personal and sensitive funeral services. His ministry is highly acclaimed.
Jonathan adopts a broad minded and liberal approach to matters of faith and to life generally. He is a sensitive and caring man whose desire is to bring greater happiness and hope to people's lives.
His motto and central belief is that ` GOD IS LOVE ` and so he tries to live out, and to encourage others to live out the scripture ` Let us love one another for love comes from God. `
He will never turn away anyone. His love is for ALL.
He is married with five children.
A chapter Bishop Jonathan wrote for the book 'A strange Vocation'
I was born a natural idealist with an inherent sense of the Divine and a desire to champion the oppressed. My fledgling aspirations were nurtured in a mixed faith Christian Jewish home, although my parents' interfaith marriage meant the family was ostracised from the Jewish community. I was baptised when I was 8.
Cast into Public School education and longing for home, I found solace in the chapel and was confirmed.
An unexpected invitation to assist at a summer camp after A levels brought me into contact with evangelical Christianity for the first time. I surrendered my life to Christ and felt an immediate vocation to the priesthood.
I decided to read Theology instead of Law at University, and my life became consumed with the quest to understand how best to be a servant of God.
Durham University introduced me to the Charismatic movement and the sense of the immanently powerful intervening God. Miracles and the extraordinary were to be expected and brave ventures were met with unexpected resources.
My idealism found expression in a rigorously applied frugality: I believed that Christian solidarity with the poor required abstinence and simplicity of lifestyle. It was a path resonant of St Francis: eccentric and pugnacious.
In addition I smuggled Bibles, medicines and vital supplies to Christians behind the iron curtain, worked as a Samaritan, established a 'Third World Shop' in my college, which is still trading, supported Amnesty International's letter writing campaign and tried obsessively to fill every idle moment with Christian ministry.
Having attended a Boarding School with an Anglican foundation and having been baptised at the local parish church, it was inevitable I would explore my vocation through the Church of England.
I was accepted for postgraduate theological and pastoral training at St John's in Nottingham but delayed for a year to put my idealism to the test. I graduated, worked again in Eastern Europe, and then hitchhiked to Calcutta to work with Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity. My time in India matured me. I was confronted by a world of abject poverty and amoral desperation in which religion was used as a commodity.
It was a year of extremes. I waded through contaminated flood water chest-high to bring aid to the homeless, distributed relief supplies for Operation Mobilisation, helped Tear Fund with their rehabilitation centre project, nursed the sick in Mother Theresa's Home for the Dying, and rescued children from the streets.
Having arrived a frugal student in jeans and sandals, I adopted the attire of the poor and went about barefoot. I returned to England stripped of my Western pretensions, determined to try to reconstruct a more integrated view of the world and a relevant faith.
Life at theological college appeared trite after such a year. The dogmatism of the evangelical mind was claustrophobic and the extravagant claims of the charismatic seemed illusory. I arrived angry and left angrier, eager for ministry but unsettled as to my true Christian identity.
I was ordained deacon in 1980 and priest in 1981 and went on to serve in the Church of England for 12 years.
I relished the breadth of parochial ministry but grew to resent the autocratic rule of the Incumbents and the corruption and compromise inherent in institutionalism. I shuffled a pack of radical and controversial beliefs and approaches, pushing at the boundaries and challenging the status quo, in an attempt to disturb and to express my discontent with the complacency and self-righteousness of the church.
The fact I was no stranger to controversy reflected also an inner ambivalence to how I could best fulfil my vocation.
I was stimulated intellectually by my tutor, a university chaplain with liberal views and experientially, by my involvement with the World Conference on Religion and Peace, an interfaith peace and justice NGO attached to the United Nations. I was elected onto their international executive board and travelled widely, initiating projects and attending meetings. I organised a Peace Bus, taking fifty young people from different faiths, cultures, and countries, from London to Moscow through Eastern Europe before the fall of the iron curtain, offering prayers on the way at places of immense significance such as Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.
I was increasingly nudged towards the potential within Christianity to find a mandate to promote a universal and truly catholic worldview.
I helped build up a depleted congregation in South East London into a thriving church. We raised over a quarter of a million pounds to fund a vital remedial and expansion project providing additional facilities for the community while also supporting many charities. But I also used my position to challenge the status quo. I stood alongside the ambulance staff during their strike in 1992, was arrested during non-violent Gulf War protests for writing a biblical quotation on the external walls of the Houses of Parliament, and celebrated the mass in sackcloth and ashes. I preached that God was more likely to be encountered outside the church walls in the poor, lost and needy rather than at our comfortable weekly worship; that our receipt of the sacrament of true communion was fulfilled in everyday life, not through bread and wine alone. It wasn’t what many wanted to hear.
The limitations of working within the Church of England left me disillusioned. I felt I was servicing an elitist group within society at the behest of church authorities who demanded that I should bolster numbers to increase revenue and the Anglican profile.
The details of my departure from the Church of England and my launch as a priest working independently of denominational structures are included in my book 'For God's Sake Don't Go To Church' published in 1997.
It had become clear to me that the call to priesthood had nothing to do with being a part of a religious multinational, rather being called to incarnate God's Word in every way possible and every situation to which one was called. This required flexibility, ingenuity, minimal structures, few material responsibilities and a willingness to embrace the breadth of our Christian, religious, philosophical and cultural heritage.
I nailed my 100 Theses to the door of Canterbury Cathedral, setting out what I saw as the challenges facing the Church, for which I was arrested but not charged.
For the 5 years after 1994, I pioneered the provision of an apostolic itinerant and inclusive ministry in the United Kingdom, providing the sacraments of the church to individuals and families in their homes and centres of the community.
Decades of protectionist practices by Church of England parishes had denied many families access to the sacraments, so this new provision met with widespread interest and requests for ministry. The need was great and I co-launched The Society for Independent Christian Ministry (SICM) on January 1st 2000 to provide a structure to facilitate, ordain and oversee ministers working outside the traditional denominations.
In December 2000 I was ordained priest and consecrated a Bishop within the Old Catholic Succession. In 2003, with two other Bishops, I issued the Hazlewood Declaration inaugurating The Open Episcopal Church (OEC), an inclusive catholic church, governed by Bishops, following Canonical Rules, able to confer Holy Orders, drawing upon the theology of the Old Catholic mother church of the Netherlands rather than later developments, expressing a Trinitarian faith and working ecumenically, inter-denominationally, and inter-religiously.
The vision of the church was rooted in an understanding of the resurrection covenant requiring a manifestation of the life of God in community with no walls or divisions, but united in Christ.
The Canons of the church are orthodox and radical. They root the belief of the church in the Creeds and early Councils but they interpret the practice of the church in ways relevant to modern understanding and insight.
We practice an open altar, welcoming all to receive, be they babe, child or aged; Christian, other faith, or seeker, believer, agnostic or atheist. No one is excluded from those who gather at our Eucharistic celebrations. We see applicants for ordination not as men or women, gay or straight, able or differently abled, but simply as people. We regard all those who aspire after the good to be companion pilgrims on the divine path. We do not require obedience, stifle debate or enforce belief. We are hungry for God, passionate in service, devoted to ministry.
While observing form and liturgy in the transmission of Holy Orders, we are eclectic generally in worship and in church life. We are not a club carving out a specialised culture, rather the world in its totality is our resource to encounter God.
Since its inception, the Open Episcopal Church has experienced challenge and change but it is committed to high standards, integrity and sincerity. It has no interest in building its own empire nor in promoting any particular brand of Christianity, rather being a living organ within the body of Christ, infused within the Holy Spirit, and yearning to embrace and share, in true catholicity, the entire world as one family.
The media have shown an interest in my independent ministry from the outset. I have appeared on numerous documentary style and chat style TV shows including two appearances on Richard and Judy, have been featured both in the quality and tabloid press and have taken part in various radio broadcasts. Part of this interest has been generated by the social revolution that has been underway within and alongside my ministry.
The legislation for flexibility in the provision of secular weddings was emerging at the time I launched independently and what the law enabled at the state level, I began to offer within the world of religion, following what I entitled "The Continental method". Couples would carry out the legalities for marriage in a registry office with just a small number of witnesses and then I would provide the full sacramental marriage service wherever they wished.
Weddings have taken place all around the world in people's gardens, stately homes, forests, beaches, hill tops, aeroplane, castles, football grounds, theatres, an early Saxon settlement, speedboats, apple orchards, stone circles, pubs, clubs, and even underwater.
Such unusual settings for sacramental and other ministry compared to the traditional stereotypes have intrigued others. Whereas in the past it was only royalty or the wealthy who could arrange a Baptism suited to them, from the first "home baptism" I conducted, as reported in The Times in 1994, suddenly this facility was available for everyone.
Since then, tens of thousands of people have gathered in people's homes and other venues across the United Kingdom to celebrate the sacrament of baptism. Even on the summit of Mount Snowdon, in a circus ring, at a night club, and in a Wild West Bar.
Even in bereavement creative presentation can offer comfort; expressing the culture and needs of those involved. I have taken a funeral in a garden situated beside a lake and another in the intimacy of a front room. I have been present while mourners danced and sung in tears beside the coffin. I have seen ashes sifted through the mourners' fingers.
The celebration of the God who is everywhere must also find expression at the heart of our worship. The Mass has been celebrated in Trafalgar square with the breadth of communicants embracing commuters, tourists, the street homeless and the prostitutes of Soho.
The practical application of faith has also been a vital part of ministry We have taken the homeless and refugees and helped to rehabilitate addicts of drug and alcohol.
The media were also fascinated when I became the first cleric to advertise my willingness to conduct gay weddings in the gay media. The provision of legitimate religious ceremonies for the gay community across the country formed part of the groundswell that helped lead to the change in legislation introducing Civil Partnerships.
On February 14th 2001, I conducted a gay wedding on Richard and Judy's morning TV show. It proved groundbreaking television and inevitably controversial. The Daily Mail published critical articles about me and my Episcopal orders that the High Court agreed could have been regarded as defamatory.
It was not something I could ignore, as it called into question my status and integrity as a Bishop and the validity of my Orders. Over two years of litigation followed which concluded positively for me in that it upheld my integrity and my Episcopal status. Associated Newspapers International had to bear their costs, which amounted to well over £100,000 and a proportion of mine. It was a significant victory and an important one for the Church.
Much of my time now, as the presently elected Archbishop of the church, is devoted to archiepiscopal duties. However my personal ministry is considerable and, to give some idea of its scope, past and present, I will outline some statistics.
In the years since my launch as an independent minister, I have travelled across England and to 14 other countries. Over 150,000 people have attended my services, and I have nearly 10,000 people on my address files for whom I have provided ministry. I have welcomed nearly 2000 people into the life of the church through Holy Baptism.
It is thus clear that I am not interested nor involved in some "hole in the cupboard" style of ministry for its own sake. I received a call from Christ to give my life in service to God and, while recognising my faults and failings, that is what I have sought to do and continue to do. I know that the good news of God's love transforms people's lives, the redeeming work of Christ offers the grace of forgiveness and new life and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit empowers both individuals and communities to share in the Divine work of establishing God's order within our hearts and world. That is my calling.
The light that has guided me and maintained a buoyant and eager faith is my intolerance of insincerity. The multiple compromises required in denominational ministry lead often to inertia and disillusionment and yet the carefully constructed employment package makes it almost impossible for a free-thinking cleric to escape. I thank God that I did and to this day remain fulfilled and vibrant in my priesthood and episcopate. SICM and the OEC enabled me to ensure that the path to freedom that I had discovered would be available to others.
The main denominations have not reacted happily to these developments. As with all emergent churches we have been misreported, maligned and resisted. In the early days, Anglican Bishops campaigned to have our adverts removed from the Church Times.
Later Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops campaigned to try to prevent us being able to consecrate the first Catholic woman bishop in the Open Episcopal Church, the Revd Mother Professor Elizabeth Bridget Augustine Stuart ssb.,M.A., D.Phil, in the Chapel of Royal Holloway & Bedford New College, University of London, Egham, Surrey. Thankfully the Chaplaincy and the University held firm in permitting the service.
We are in negotiation with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to achieve membership, but have so far found that such organsiations can close ranks too easily to exclude applicant churhes without justification even by their own criteria.
We have so much to offer a tired and fragmenting church which must reinvent itself if it is to survive in our rapidly changing world. Stuart Murray in Church After Christendom, Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger in Emerging Churches and Pete Ward in Liquid Church have begun to research and write about present day experiments in christian community and church life. Our own contribution to this movement is similarly being researched.
We want to move away from the insularity and self seeking nature of what christendom has often become. We are the itinerant church encouraging spirituality within naturally formed communities of family and friends as well as others. We encourage home-based christian education and worship. We identify God's work and God's ministers without and within the denominations. We look to enable individuals to practice their priesthood formally throughout the everyday and the everywhere. We believe in the true church, without walls, which consists of hearts within which the Spirit of God is at work.
There is a loneliness to working in this manner, but only the loneliness known by our Lord, the apostles, missionaries and martys and all those who have sought to be true to the path of Christ, often encountering misunderstanding and ostracisation.
Within this, the spiritual wells from which I draw refreshment are the Mass, Daily Office, the Scriptures, the writings of the Saints, the untidy holiness of domesticity, my wife and my 5 children, and those to whom I have the privilege to minister and who minister to me.
Following the tradition of those such as Gregory of Nazianzus, I regard my home as a church, and have converted the top floor into a beautiful Chapel. There is also an altar in the kitchen.
As a family, we pray and worship together and regularly celebrate the Eucharist. I encourage the children to pray and even informally to consecrate the elements. The presence of God, the blessed sacrament, the sense of the numinous and the Divine is the foundation of everything in my life and home, yet not in a heavy handed way but with that deft touch that one hopes holds the balance of mystery and the familiarity of intimacy.
I celebrate the festivals of the Church publicly. At Christmas the house is so festooned with lights, at the heart of which gleams a lifesize Nativity, that hundreds come from miles around to see them and donations, amounting now to over £1000 a year, to charities working with the poor. At Easter, a life size crucifix hangs from the front of the house which is transformed into the risen Christ at Easter. We observe the ancient Holy Week and Easter liturgies to the full, kindling a blazing bonfire before dawn to herald the coming of the Light of the World. Coloured helium balloons bearing messages of love, faith and hope are released at Pentecost; fireworks ignited at Ascension.
Everyone around knows of "the Jesus house", including the hundreds of school children who file past each day on their way to the five local schools.
When I come across denominational Christianity in the many churches dotted around the area it reminds me of that which motivates my independent ministry. I want to ensure that the treasures of Christ and the inheritance of the saints are not stolen by professional religion to be cloistered away in church and chapel, where they end up working towards the opposite of their intention.
Our detractors look to criticise this apparently new way of operating. They say that no Christian can be independent and a church without laity is a mockery. My reply is that our church has a wider lay base pro rata than many of the denominational churches. I take services for over 200 people every week and they are not the same group repetitively attending, but new hearts encountering the gospel, new seeds being sown. I remain in contact with a credible proportion of those for whom I have provided ministry, being asked for further spiritual help as their lives unfold.
I offer a daily Mass and Divine Office for those who want to join in congregational worship and offer to link families to receiving local churches if we do not have a local congregation.
Independence, too, is a misnomer. No christian is independent. As part of the body of Christ we are organically connected. Personally and within the OEC we look for every opportunity of cooperating with other Christians. It is not we who create isolation, but those whose approach has created schism and hatred throughout history, who remain exclusive to this day as to which orders may be respected and who may receive Communion.
From an analytical perspective, the OEC is part of a cyclical and well observed tradition which involves grass root communities and smaller churches experimenting, pioneering and ultimately refreshing the mainstream denominations with their experience. Already, aspects of ministry which I and the OEC have practiced are being adopted by others, and I predict more will be adopted in the future, whether it takes decades or centuries.
Whether my ministry, the OEC, the independent Catholic movement or any earthly form of ministry survives matters little, as long as long as the Holy Spirit continues to confound every human attempt at entrapment with miscievous and extraordinary grace, and leads our stubborn hearts to God.
The main denominational churches are in freefall. Attendances are in terminal decline; calls for baptisms, marriages and funerals are plummeting. Only the church is surprised. It does not see that its image has suffered irreparably: on the one hand from division, sexism and homophobia; on the other from the peddling of outdated approaches to the fundamental spiritual needs of our age. Thousands of people long to find meaning in the Christian tradition, but are repelled by the empty sanctimony of a faith choked by its own prejudices, hypocrisy and conceit.
Secularism has denuded education of religious experience; mass media has satiated us recreationally and advances in electronic communication keep us always in touch. In this modern setting, congregational worship and church membership hold no obvious appeal to the general public.
There is an urgent need for comprehensive reform in religious provision. The Open Episcopal Church is at the vanguard of this change. Rooted in the apostolic tradition, it sets out to capture that which is best in our contemporary philosophical and spiritual understanding and to discard that which is worst.
Our vision is encapsulated in the scripture: 'There is no Jew or Greek, servant or free, male or female: because you are all one in Jesus Christ.' Unity, equality and diversity sit at the heart of the life of our church: Christ's message of universal love is interpreted in simple yet radical ways which have put us at the forefront of a religious revolution set to sweep the country.
The central act of 'Communion' and the sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ is made available to anyone and everyone, believers and non-believers, babies and children, Christians and those of other faiths.
This inclusive principle governs everything. While the established church tears itself apart in its inability to welcome diversity, our holy orders are open to all irrespective of gender or sexual identity. We were proud to consecrate the first woman bishop in this country, Professor Elizabeth Stuart, in 2003 at the Chapel of Royal Holloway & Bedford New College, University of London, Egham.
We bless alike the unions of straight couples and those of other sexual identities, and conducted the UK's first gay wedding on the Richard and Judy Show in 2001. Our demonstration of God's unconditional love for all in hundreds of similar ceremonies around the UK helped generate the groundswell of social support for gay union which gave birth to new laws in this country in 2005.
Most of us are itinerant after the apostolic model, liberating the gospel from the confines of parochial masonry, bringing the sacraments of Christian love into people's homes, gardens and community centres, baptising children and celebrating marriage in ways accessible to ordinary families who cannot abide the stuffiness of their parish church.
We do not require adherence to a particular interpretation of the Christian tradition. Religious language negotiates mystery and we acknowledge, as did the desert mystics, that no story, doctrine or culture can adequately encompass the divine. Freedom in thought, in worship and in ministry is encouraged.
Our social concern sees our church working with the homeless, supporting development projects, caring for addicts, helping rehabilitate offenders, running mental health projects, stopping as ‘Good Samaritans’ to help those with roadside troubles, taking the Mass to sex workers.
The church for us is not defined just as a local worshipping community or by an organisation, but as the life of God abroad throughout society and within all people. So all play their part in the quest towards God and for us those who work for good are welcome as members.
We are not interested in size, in power or in money, nor in becoming immersed in the traditional squabbles of Christendom. Ours is a more urgent mandate in Christ; to be open to the Holy Spirit's ingenuity to remodel form and structure so that the vital inheritance of Christianity is not lost for this generation.
THIS IS JONATHAN`S APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION
…… succeeding from the Medieval Church.
Cardinal Scipione Rebiba, Archbishop of Albano
who on 12th March 1566 Consecrated:
Cardinal Giulio Santor, Archbishop of Santa Severina
who on 7th September 1586 Consecrated:
Cardinal Girolami Berneri, Bishop of Albano
who on 4th April 1604 Consecrated:
Galeazzo Sanvitale, Archbishop of Bari
who on 2nd May 1621 Consecrated:
Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church
who on 12th June 1622 Consecrated:
Cardinal Luigi Caetani, Titular Patriarch of Antioch
who on 6th October 1630 Consecrated:
Giovanni-Battista Scanoroli, Titular Bishop of Tyre and Sidon
who on 24th October 1655 Consecrated:
Cardinal Antonio Barberini ( nephew of Pope Urban V111 ), Archbishop of Rheims who on 12th November 1668 Consecrated:
Duc Charles Maurice le Tellier, as his Perpetual Coadjutor cum jure successionis
who on 21st September 1670 Consecrated:
Jacques Benigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux
who on 1671 Consecrated:
Jacques Goyon de Matignon, Bishop of Condom
who on 19th February 1719 Consecrated:
Dominique Marie Varlet, Bishop of Ascalon (in partibus infidelium)
who on 18th October 1739 Consecrated:
(The See of Utrecht ceased to be under papal jurisdiction in 1724)
Peter Johann Meindaerts, Archbishop of Utrecht
who on 11th July 1745 Consecrated:
Johann van Stiphout, Bishop of Haarlem
who on 7th February 1768 Consecrated:
Walter Michael van Niewenhuizen, Archbishop of Utrecht
who on 21st June 1778 Consecrated:
Adrian Johann Broekman, Bishop of Haarlem
who on 5th July 1797 Consecrated:
Johann Jacob van Rhijn, Archbishop of Utrecht
who on 7th November 1805 Consecrated:
Gisbert de Jong, Bishop of Deventer
who on 24th April 1814 Consecrated:
Willibrord van Os, Archbishop of Utrecht
who on 25th April 1819 Consecrated:
Johann Bon, Bishop of Haarlem
who on 13th November 1825 Consecrated:
Johann van Santem, Archbishop of Utrecht
who on 17th July 1854 Consecrated:
Hermen Heykamp, Bishop of Deventer
who on 11th August 1873 Consecrated:
Gaspard Johann Rinkel, Bishop of Haarlem
who on 11th May 1892 Consecrated:
Gerardus Gul, Archbishop of Utrecht
who on 28th April 1908 Consecrated:
Arnold Harris Mathew, 4th Earl of Landaff: Regionary Old Catholic Bishop for Great Britain and Ireland ( afterwards Archbishop of London )
who on 28th October 1914 Consecrated:
Fredreick Samuel Willoughby, Bishop of St Pancras and Auxiliary
who on 13th February 1916 Consecrated:
James Ingall Wedgwood, 1st Presiding Bishop of The Liberal Catholic Church ( Consecrated as The Regionary Bishop of The Old Catholic in England )
who on 22nd July 1916 Consecrated:
Charles Webster Leadbeater, Regionary Bishop for Australia
who on 9th March 1924 Consecrated:
Frank Waters Pigott, Regionary Bishop for Gt Britain
who on 1st September 1946 Consecrated:
Charles Dunbar Tatham Shores, Auxiliary Bishop in India
who, on 14th April 1963 Consecrated:
Thomas Patrick Watson, Regionary Bishop for South Africa,
who on 6th January 1980 Consecrated:
Johannes Cornelis van Alphen, Auxiliary Bishop in South Africa who, As Presiding Bishop,On 20th September 1997 Consecrated:
Richard Arthur Palmer, Auxiliary Bishop in Gt Britain, resigned on 25th April 1999 and appointed Diocesan Bishop of The Reformed Liberal Catholic Church ( Old Catholic ) on 23rd May, 1999. Also, Bishop in The Province for Open Episcopal Ministry and Jurisdiction
who on 10th December, 2000 Consecrated:
Jonathan Clive Blake, Bishop in the Province for Open Episcopal
Ministry and Jurisdiction
in 2005 appointed Bishop of Greater London and in 2006 elected the Presiding Archbishop of The Open Episcopal Church:
who on November 20th, 2006 Consecrated
David Gilham, Bishop of Scotland.
and who on January 14th, 2007 Consecrated
Sheila Judith Wharmby, Bishop of the South Central Counties
and who on February 17th, 2007 Consecrated
Stewart William Harrison, Bishop of the South Western Counties
and who on March 19th, 2007 Consecrated
Shelley Kay Harstad-Smith, Bishop of Wales.
and who on June 7th, 2012 Consecrated
Helen Hamilton, Bishop of Scotland.
and who on June 16th 2013 Consecrated
Lesley Dennis, Bishop of Northumbria
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ROOM AT THE INN
Room at the Inn was born as a concept after the experience of the first Christmas homeless outreach. Rooted in the Christian Christmas Story of Mary and Joseph's plight at the time of the birth of Jesus, to secure safe accommodation, it seeks to reach out to all whoa are in states of homelessness.
The organisation of Room at the Inn is handled through the Parish of St Francis of the Open Episcopal Church, and its volunteer base draws upon the loyal help of parishioners. It runs with the minimum of infra structural cost relying upon donations of money and time as need arises.
I first went up to London to try and help the homeless at Christmas in 2001, hence the name under which all this work is carried out, 'Room at the Inn' and there are accounts of each Christmas and Easter since and the way my ministry with the homeless has developed on other pages in my web site as given in the index.
Of course it became apparent that help in the short term offered only limited solace to those involved, although eagerly sought by them at such times of year and also suiting those who were more clearly choosing to explore a life on the streets rather than being housed within the majority patterns of society.
Wanting to try and provide some more substantial help in helping to restore the overall situation of homeless people led to the decision to use our three flats specifically for the homeless. In liaison with St Martins Social Care Unit in Trafalgar Square and alongside my own outreach it has been possible to house successfully three homeless men.
However, once our flats were filled it seemed we had exhausted the possibilities of any further provision of long term help until another idea came to us.
My experience has showed me that there are some people who fall between the present charitable resources either because they do not fall within their criteria or because they are suspicious of any organisational involvement in their lives. There are also those as I have written who have made a decision to live a homeless existence. While ever that works for them they are content but there can come a time when they fall on harder times and by then their state of homelessness has worked an effect upon them which renders them unable to access any escape routes out. A pastoral as well as practical approach is needed.
Our present scheme is to offer any homeless person we meet the chance to become rehabilitated with our support and friendship and financial backing. We can offer them an interest free loan to secure the tenancy and support in establishing their benefits and achieving a stable and self maintaining lifestyle.
Such a provision provides to those I meet the opportunity should they wish it to change their present circumstances. I am also able to assist with any needs that there may be either drawing upon my own resources or connecting the person with other people or agencies. The accounts below were written some time ago. Each year since there have been similar experiences as we have experimented with different ways of bringing help to the street dwellers.
This year Heidi, my 18 year old daughter, taking a gap year before reading English and Politics at York had been employed as the Co-ordinator of the Quaker Homeless Action provision over Christmas called 'Open Christmas'. Their shelter is run from ChristChurch Southwark and caters for about 150 people during the day and about 80 at night.
Unlike Crisis it is a wet shelter accepting those who are under the influence of drugs or drink, to ensure they have somewhere to go, but it makes for a somewhat unpredictable environment which at times becomes threatening. However, volunteers staff it and the ethos is gentle, respectful, well meaning and sincere.
I had arranged to do two 8 hour shifts at the shelter, one before and one after Christmas Day. This proved very useful when on the streets on Christmas Eve as I had more knowledge about the shelter resources on offer.
This year I decided not to wear a cassock but my 'On call Clergy/Emergency yellow jacket' and clerical collar. This clearly identified me from the crowds and appeared to convey more effectively with the homeless.
It was the most 'successful' Christmas Outreach yet.
I met many people and was able to offer very relevant help. Were they planning to stay out over Christmas or were they interested in going to a shelter. If a shelter had they considered which one they would prefer. Having chosen did they need help in transportation, if so I arranged a taxi or accompanied them there myself.
Others didn't want the shelter option but wanted to talk instead and I had a number of long, in-depth chats sat on the pavement.
Some needed money, some advice some accommodation. Each person's situation inevitably different as was there attitude towards their predicament.
I met a number of clearly mentally ill or vulnerable people during the evening, whose chances of surviving safely were remote. One was soaked after repeatedly urinating, another wandered dangerously into the road, another covered in festering sores, another aggressive and threatening to kill.
The saddest part of the evening was meeting a young girl of approximately 17 who I had met last year. She had the same concocted story, trying to pull the same scam for money and lost, so lost. I implored her to reflect on what she was choosing for her life. A whole year wasted. She could choose a different life. I invited her home for Christmas, said we would help her back to a normal stable life. Tears ran down her face. I could feel the internal struggle and waited but she just couldn't break free, couldn't bring herself to let go.
At around 4.00 a.m. Christmas morning I was making my way along the Strand when I saw an elderly black lady tucked into a door way sheltering from the biting wind. She was propped up against the door of the shop surrounded by bags of various kinds. She spoke constantly and her words contained such a volume of information, relating to numerous present and past incidents, that it was hard to make sense of everything she said. It was clear she had no where to go, was absolutely not going to a shelter, and I asked if she wanted to spend Christmas with my family. She accepted. In fact we arrived home at around 5 a.m and she slept that first day until 9.30 p.m.
As I write this report with January turning to February she is still with us. Not wanting to break her confidence I cannot write more, save to say we are trying to secure her future safety but coming up against innumerable obstacles which means, for the moment at least, she has become a member of our family.
Christmas Eve had already been a very busy day and linked happily to the previous year.
In the morning I had visited the tenants of our three flats. Let me remind you that in December 2002 we had left one of the flats vacant to see if we could accommodate a homeless person; the other two flats being privately rented.
Last Christmas Eve I had met Malcolm ( I change all names for privacy purposes ). He had been on the streets for about 7 months, a man in his fifties who had worked all his life but had fallen on bad times. I spoke with him about the flat and a few days into January last year he phoned. He was delighted to move in a few days later. We supported him financially until all his benefits were sorted out but he remained adamant that he didn't want us to buy him a bed etc. He wanted to build his home slowly and carefully.
It has been a joy over this year during my weekly visits to watch him establish himself, put down roots and become a happy secure man.
On Christmas Eve when I saw him his flat was well furnished, decorated and cosy. Around were bowls of fruit and nuts and Christmas fare. He was preparing to cook Christmas lunch the next day for his neighbour and a friend he had made during the year. He was brimming full of contentment. His words were, ' I cannot thank you enough, from the bottom of my heart.' No words were needed though, the outcome was fulfilment enough.
Completing the picture, having safely accommodated Malcolm, the Lord had plans for the other flats. Both in turn became vacant and we withheld them from private tenancies which in one case proved something of a financial cliff hanger as it wasn't filled for about eight weeks.
Malcolm had contacts with a Housing Officer at St Martins Social Care Centre, Trafalgar Square, so when the other two flats became vacant I contacted him and we have worked well together in accommodating two further homeless people. This has been equally successful. Not only has it opened new chapters in the people's lives by housing them but it has provided them with a safe and settled community with support.
Another unexpected and wonderful gift out of all of this is that the first two tenants ( I refer to them because they have been accommodated the longest ) have been gems. Not only have they valued the opportunities provided and have worked well to make the best of the chance given them but in addition they have been very generous in offering practical help whenever they have been able, to me and their neighbours and quite beyond the call of anything that might have been anticipated.
So the morning of Christmas Eve I had called in to see each of them and take them Christmas gifts and cards. By evening time, a Mass, a wedding and other services later I managed to get to London by 10 p.m. It was a clement night and I was at first beguiled into thinking it would be quiet. Not many homeless around and Trafalgar Square having only a scattering of people.
For a moment I thought I might take a Mass in front of the St Martin's Crib Scene but security said I would have had to have applied beforehand. Anyway I knew I was trying to get away with a safe option. It had to be Leicester Square.
I made my way there.
Despite the previous years I wasn't expecting the chaos, noise, lights, swarming people and the shouting, drunken antics and smashing bottles which chilled me and intimidated me. Peaceful Bishop's Haven seemed a long way away.
During the next 90 minutes or so I wandered the streets talking to the homeless I found, offering them help, leaving them with money but always conscious that midnight was approaching and I had to celebrate Mass.
I kept circling the Square trying to decide upon a spot but none appealed to me. I found numerous reasons why this year was different from the ones previously and why I should not do it and go home instead. I saw some police and decided I would have to ask them if they would object. Three times I approached them, three times I chickened out. At least four times I left the square altogether walking back to my car having decided I couldn't do it. I wanted to crawl away inconspicuously. The thought that I would begin to prepare for the Mass and make myself a target of attention made me feel terrified.
Each time however I had to return. I became angry with myself. I thought of what Jesus had suffered, the early Christians, other Christians in other countries. I knew that my cowardice had no place before the immensity of Love and Grace available from God. I felt pathetic being called Christ's Bishop but unable to celebrate his birth. My arguments against were in vain. This was a totally unacceptable place to celebrate a Mass I told myself, amidst revellers and the brazen scenes of the secular celebrations which had lost touch with the cause of joy. But I knew that Christ was born in the stable, behind the pub, in the everyday out of touchness with the sacred and divine. Christ born for us, made real for us upon a pavement in Leicester Square seemed the most appropriate place, but could I?
Under divine command and in obedience I asked permission from the patrolling police who consented and then I knelt down under some lights and not daring to look up I began to set out my white cloth and the sacred vessels and the Mass book.
People began to gather.
A woman amidst a group of friends asked what was going on. 'Oh' she exclaimed, 'I must receive Midnight Mass.' Her friends groaned and barracked and urged her away but she was not for moving. A homeless man came near. Slowly a variety of people from different backgrounds, races, even faiths became the congregation and I began.
It was intensely moving. I consecrated many hosts so that I could distribute the Mass during the night to the street dwellers and others who I met for whom Christ was born.
I asked the homeless man who had sat throughout the ceremony whether I could help him in any other way, whether he needed some money or whether I could accommodate him that night. He met my eyes with his and said, 'No, no thank you. All I needed was this…'
The Mass became the watershed, the turning point. Grace began to flow. Suddenly I felt as though I were being led from person to person and the streets were filling up with the needy. I would no sooner turn from one to find another.
I can't record all of the encounters but here are a few.
There was a homeless man lying face down on top of a pile of refuse sacks on Charing Cross Road. The ultimate symbol of destruction. One of God's children thrown out with the garbage. I bent down and shook him. He rasped that he was a diabetic and needed an ambulance. I called one. He was taken off to hospital.
I met a young 16 year old girl who had been on the streets for 3 months. Her wrist was bandaged and her hand cut. She presented as quite rationale and together. She said that her step father had thrown her out but that she was getting by although it was dangerous at nights. I offered her help with becoming rehabilitated and gave her my numbers telling her to reverse the charges. I then arranged for her to be accommodated during the following week.
It wasn't long after that I found another 16 year old girl although she looked more like 14. She was slight and timid and, I feared, easy pickings for anyone so inclined. She had been on the streets for two weeks having finally had enough of her drug addict mother and the abuse which she suffered at home. I arranged her accommodation.
There was a young man who couldn't quite believe that I was going to sort out a hotel room for him; that he was going to be able to sleep unmolested and secure, have a shower and breakfast. He literally jumped up and down in the foyer.
So many different people and varying stories of human struggle. Men and women clutching at the straws of help, clinging onto each other, their pets, beer cans, cigarettes, whatever might offer the tiniest of comforts in a cold faceless world in which so much was rushing by. Somehow the backdrop of teeming depersonalised London only added greater poignancy to their words often charged with a breathtaking understanding. Wisdom from the dust and the gutter. God's Word hovering over the surface of the deep.
Working my way through the streets as the hours of night were spent, I was overwhelmed by the number of doorways providing bed space for the homeless. As I passed by, although I knew this would be criticised by traditionalists I felt compelled to leave the body of Jesus beside the sleepers. For to their hearts and lost lives the Christ was born; he was to lie beside them that holy night; they were to awaken to behold the babe of Bethlehem, the crucified saviour and resurrected Lord.
It was past 3.30 a.m. by the time I finished.
As I came back through the square, somewhat foot sore and weary worn I passed by the place where I had celebrated the Mass. I had not realised before. It was outside the Odeon Cinema and the gigantic hording above declared THE RETURN OF THE KING and the sub text THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
My eyes filled.
Yes the King of Kings and Lord of Lords had returned.
I had sung carols, read Christmas stories to the children and tucked them up in bed before heading up to London. It was a mild and calm night and the streets of the capital were eerily quiet.
The first homeless man I met was Dave, a man in his forties. He seemed in poor health with sores scattered across his arms and face. He told me of his life on the streets for the last 14 years, intermittently seeing his family, and accompanied by his beloved dog. While I was there, his brother came up who only recently had joined him on the streets having split up from his wife. Dave received the mass and I left him with £10.
During the evening that followed I saw about 30 people but I will only write about some of them.
Further on I stopped by two men, Malcolm and Ian. Both in their fifties, both of whom had been married and had children and one grandchildren and both of whom had ended up on the streets due to drink.
Ian had worked all of his life up to the last 8 months when he ended up on the streets. Malcolm had started work as a young man at the Strand Palace Hotel as a porter, then as a kitchen assistant and then as a chef. From that he had gone on to be publican of two public houses before domestic difficulties had robbed him of everything. He had been on the streets for about 7 months now and seemed quite wistful about his lot and positive about his desire to restore himself.
At this stage I should write about an idea that had come to me some weeks ago. Over the last few years I have managed to build three flats within the property that my wife had worked in as a beautician and which we had decided to buy on mortgage when it was offered to us. We rent out the three flats and have always been keen to offer them to people in need.
They are in a good area and are quickly rented out.
One of these became vacant just before Christmas and instead of advertising it in the local press we decided it might be a good idea to try and use the flats as a means by which those on the streets could get back on the first rung of the social ladder.
Many of the homeless find it hard to claim benefits because they have no address and even if they stay in one place and use the social as an address it is almost impossible for them to find work without an address.
What is more, private landlords will not usually entertain renting their properties to the homeless, mainly because there is a delay in sorting out their housing benefit. Council accommodation inevitably goes to the most vulnerable, like single mums, so there is a wide proportion of people who stay trapped incapable of finding housing.
The idea was to make our flats available, so that a homeless person could be accommodated and could either find work or sort out housing benefit and restore their lives to the point that they could move on to another property with references from us, thus freeing up the flat for someone else. This way the flats would be being used as a gateway back into a more traditional secure way of living for those who wanted that.
In addition another family member, Nicky, my brother in law, runs a well respected training and employment company for 18-25 year olds and he has agreed to help any young person get set up on a training course and with an employer, and any older person outside the 18-25 bracket, to try and help them get a job.
We intend either to find the homeless ourselves or to work with a charity already in the field of rehabilitating the homeless.
Anyway Malcolm was very interested in the possibility of being housed but also cautious. He said that he had been offered such things before and they were tricks or scams. He didn't want to be disappointed again.
He said he and Ian would think about it.
I then asked if they wanted to stay the night in a hotel. They were both shy of taking up the offer. Ian felt so untidy and Malcolm that he didn't want to impose upon me. I said that if they didn't want to because it would be too much of a shock or that it would be too hard to re enter the street life the next day, I quite understood, but if it was because of just not wanting to bother me etc, but inside they wanted to, then they should say yes.
It became clear that they really wanted to, but it was just adjusting to the idea. When they had made the decision to do it they were elated. It was deeply humbling watching Ian trying to tidy himself up, brushing his hair, expressing his sense of pride.
I decided to see if the Strand Palace had any rooms, as Malcolm had worked there for so long. Entering it both their eyes went wide, and Malcolm began a running commentary about how it had all changed and what used to be where and when we booked in he was enlightening the reception staff with his memories.
In the rooms, the heat was too much and they threw open the windows, but they collapsed hungrily onto their beds with eyes dancing, ' a clean bed, clean sheets, its been so long' entering the bathroom, ' this is incredible… a warm and clean shower'
I gave them some money to enjoy the evening and made sure that breakfast was included for them the next day. They were all thanks, and promised to be in touch.
(In fact I can now write that Ian went back up to his home town after Christmas and Malcolm did get in touch. It was very hard to begin with for him to actually catch me in, because of course he had no number I could call him back on, but then he thought of going into an internet café and sent me an email!
When we met, Christmas cold had taken its toll and he had contracted a virus and was gasping somewhat for breath. He had been into St Martins in the Fields and the social worker had told him he could get a resettlement grant if he managed to find a flat. He came and met Annette and the children, saw the flat and two days later moved in. On his first day he went to sleep at 4 p.m. and did not wake until the following morning at 10 a.m. He said that to know that you were safe was incredible. On the streets you have to sleep in snatches, always on your guard.
So, such joy, that he has emerged from all the difficulties and has created a new beginning for himself. The next few months will be critical. God be with him.)
Back on the street, I hadn't gone far when a young man came up asking for help. I asked if he wanted to receive the mass, but he didn't. I gave him £10 which made his eyes pop out of his head. He said good bye, but I hadn't gone far when he came running back, ' I will have the mass after all'.
Round the corner a man was hunched up in a sorry state. When he lifted his head he had a large gaping wound across his cheek. Tony was an articulate man, originally from Canada. He was on medication but said his tablets had been stolen and was wanting to get enough money to get back to the hospital. I set him up with accomodation and money to get to the hospital.
As I was talking to him another man came up, I gave him money and touched his arm as a gesture of friendship but he recoiled in pain at the touch. He then lifted up his sleeve and the whole of his arm was swollen, infected, with the stench of rotting flesh rising up. He too had been to the hospital, but I doubted whether he would see the New Year in and if he did, it would be without an arm. I was shaken.
Amidst the bedlam of London's crazy streets, no one would ever have imagined that the walking dying rubbed shoulders with the rest. That taking time to stop and turn moving shapes into people uncovers the dark secrets that gives a whole new perspective to our society.
I had often sat on the street with the homeless during the evening but on one such occasion, talking to a man called Stuart, a passer by came up to me making the sign of the cross and grabbing my hand, began to crush it violently. He spat out abuse about priests and the church and I feared worse but thankfully he moved on
Further on I met two men who had only recently met on the streets but who had forged a fierce street loyalty. They were trying to comfort each other, but one of the men broke down in tears when I arrived. He was desperate about being separated from his children at Christmas and was seriously contemplating suicide. I spoke with him at length and tried to bring whatever comfort I could.
I spoke also with a man who had been on the streets for 28 years. He was with a woman who had formerly worked as a librarian at the BBC who had had various stints of living on the streets over the past few years and who had was out again, having separated from her boyfriend. She was articulate and analytical about the lot of the street dwellers and should be on any government committee or charity panel considering homeless issues, but the likes of her are probably never asked!
While I was talking to them a man tried to steal from her bags and got a rude awakening when she produced a 6 inch screw and threatened to stab him with it. Later another drunk came by hurling abuse at them.
I finally arrived home at about 2.30 a.m. on Christmas morning. It had an evening of realising that we are all just a moment away from living on the streets ourselves, of tumbling out of the neat parameters within which we live into an unexpected and alternative existence. On the streets you meet every type of person, every type of situation. The resilience of the human spirit and the extremes of devastation which we and others can inflict upon ourselves is unnerving. Equally the qualities and life enhancing insights that can be found within street culture are there to inform us and inspire us.
No engagement with the street dwellers should ever arise from a patronising sense of doing charity or giving handouts. You enter a world where there is a mutual rewarding and immense amounts to be gained from both sides in a mutually uplifting set of relationships.
Not least, at Christmas I followed the stars and found upon the streets what no church and no Midnight Mass could ever offer, the birth of the Christ, in 2002, and I, the poorest of shepherds had come to worship.
I was sitting reflecting on the many who would attend church the following evening for Midnight Mass. The cosy homes, magnificent churches, choirs and the personal satisfaction of the worshippers seemed a long way from the homeless family, the refugee baby, and the dire circumstances of the first Christmas.
At my Consecration I had been commissioned to have a care for the homeless and those in need and the Holy Spirit convicted me that I had to celebrate the Mass not just for the select few but for all. A clear vision came to me. I knew what I had to do, but I was in no way prepared for what was to happen or the sense that I was visiting the people and places Christ had prepared.
The following afternoon, Christmas Eve, I travelled up to Leicester Square in London. People, sellers, beggars, carousel and fun fair, the atmosphere was overwhelming. I was daunted to say the least and circled the square three times trying to convince myself that I was mistaken about the vision.
On my third circuit I considered Trafalgar Square as an alternative venue. It was all but deserted, and I could have celebrated a discreet Mass alone or with a handful of others. I changed direction, but with each step came the conviction that my embarrassment came from myself. I had to forget self and be Christ, bring Christ, celebrate Christ, and see Christ.
I went back to Leicester Square and did two more circuits.
Finally summoning up the courage I asked a restaurant manager for the use of one of his tables.
There, among the throng, I set up a simple altar and proceeded to celebrate the Mass. Many came and went, some stayed. Among those who stayed was Clive. Released from prison 3 years before, he felt that God was on his trail, popping up repeatedly to win over his life and now tonight in the Square. His eyes filled with tears on receiving the Body of Christ. Another man, Ahmed, said that he had been struggling with issues of faith for many years and had reached a conviction that he wanted to give his life to Christ, how should he go about it?
Then, bearing the consecrated host, I went to distribute the Body of Christ to the people who hadn't attended the service, but for whom Christ died out of his great love.
Working my way around Leicester Square and along the Strand I met many homeless people, tucked in doorways and shop fronts. It was cold and wet, the rain drizzling down consistently throughout the evening.
Veronica, Gary, Phil, Phyllis, Ron, Ashad, were just some who had a story to tell. Broken homes, marriages, dreams; all with plans for the future, but some who had reached rock bottom emotionally and physically and who needed help.
One person I met came from Gillingham, where I live. She had been married for 26 years and had 5 children However, three years ago her husband had run off with a 17 year old. The whole experience had led her to the streets where now huddled, cut and black and blue, she lay, in the entrance to a theatre closed for Christmas. She had been beaten up badly the previous night. On passing the homeless one imagines from where they have come. It's hard to imagine that the people who live along your street today may be on the Strand tomorrow.
In spending time with them, listening to them and offering them the Body of Christ they were quite overcome.
I continued through Covent garden and along into Soho. I passed the sign for a Model. I passed by, but something tugged at me and I knew that Christ came for all. I climbed the stairs. The maid who opened the door looked astonished. `Leila` she called, `a priest has come`
I explained that I had come to offer them the Body of Christ on Christmas Eve because Christ came out of his love for them and for us all.
The maid said,
`Come in, come in. You don't understand. We desperately need a priest. We have been so anxious, so frightened. God has sent you to us. Thank you. Thank you`
She went on to explain that two nights before a young 28 year old man had died of a heart attack in the bedroom upstairs and they were ill at ease in the room, the flat and with themselves. They wanted a blessing.
In the bedroom I blessed the room and then gave a blessing and the body of Christ to the prostitute and the maid. As I was leaving the maid pushed a £10 note into my hands with a multitude of thanks.
I felt alight, as though Christ was walking and working within me and I was just moving through the motions as he willed. As I came back out onto the street I bumped into a beggar. He implored me for enough money for a cup of tea. I explained that I had nothing on me at all except that I was bringing the Body of Christ to the homeless.
I had decided at the start to carry no money, although as I will explain later I will do things differently in future.
We talked for a while but he didn't want to receive and we said goodbye, but having walked about 20 metres away, I suddenly remembered that the maid had given me the £10. I ran back, explained to him what had happened, and said the ten pounds was his. His eyes nearly popped out of his head.
Having talked awhile and said our goodbyes I had walked again about 20 metres when I heard a man calling me from behind. It was the same beggar, he had changed his mind, and he wanted to receive the Body of Christ. Both our eyes were full of tears.
As I made my way towards the heart of Soho I passed a number of homeless people who were in a dreadful condition with open cuts and sores, sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. They were all eager to receive.
A musician was singing gospel songs on the corner of one of the streets and I stopped to explain my ministry and hear of his. He asked me to pray for him, for healing of his depression and emotional problems and he gladly received the Body of Christ. On leaving him it seemed that his singing was fuller, richer and came from deeper within his heart.
I climbed the stairs of another prostitute's flat. The woman who answered was concerned.
`I am a sinner. I am too bad. I am not able to receive`
`Jesus was born tonight for the very people who feel just like you. His birth was a gift of love. I have come to bring that love for you` I replied.
The woman received. She then looked at me and said repeatedly, `Thank you`
Then she said,
`God sent you to me tonight`
`What do you mean?` I asked.
`I can't say` The woman replied, `but God sent you to me and thank you`
Further along the road a hunched old woman was carrying a blanket in a plastic bag. I called to her and asked her if she wanted to receive.
` But I am not worthy, I cannot, it's not for me
`It's specially for you,` I replied, ` This is the gift of Jesus, for you this Christmas. His, `I love You`
`Look` she said, ` See that girl by the stripper's club, if she will receive I will`
`That's fine; I was going to ask her as well`
Both received. The old woman's eyes were full of tears.
`I can't believe it, what a gift, what a gift` she muttered as she hobbled away.
One amusing moment came when I visited the last Model doorway. The prostitute who answered said,
`Oh thank you so much my love, how lovely that you came, but I'm just hurrying my last client because I'm trying to get to Midnight Mass myself!`
I made my way towards Piccadilly circus. In a doorway was a disabled man. His physical state was wretched and he explained that he was trying to beg for £6.50 more which would provide him with a ticket to spend Christmas with his grandfather. As I sat talking with him on the pavement a few people dropped coins beside him. He asked me to stay because people seemed to be giving more with me around. He continued to ask feebly if any would give him loose change. It seemed he had little strength and his voice grew weaker.
I felt I had to help and I began to join in,
`Please can any one spare some loose change for Andrew`
I was begging.
I begged for 50 minutes, watching the people pass by on the other side, watching them catch our eye and move on quickly, feeling the cold bite into my flesh, feeling a greater cold bite into my heart at people's indifference.
By this time, he needed just two pounds more. An Italian man had been watching for some time and in the end he came up to ask what I was doing and why. I explained.
He asked whether I thought the beggar was genuine or not. I said that I did not know, although I felt he was. However, his circumstances were so poor that my concern was to respect him and love him. I suggested to Andrea, the Italian, that for him that night the beggar was Christ and for the beggar he was Christ.
Andrea asked if I would hear his confession. So there on the busy London street, as the rain continued to fall I heard the confession, gave him absolution and the Body of Christ. Beside us Andrew the beggar, having been given his two pounds by Andrea, was painfully gathering his belongings and heading for the bus.
Andrea's eyes were shining as he left me.
` Its as though I am reborn` he said.
As I turned back onto the street, a young girl asked me if I was a priest. Francesca went on to explain that she was homeless and pregnant and could I put her up in a hostel for the night. She said she had come from Wales and friends with whom she had planned to stay had moved on and she needed help.
The nearest hotel, which was rather nice, was offering a special rate of 39 pounds a night for bed and breakfast, due to it being Christmas Eve. The problem was I had come out with no money and the car was parked about 20 minutes walk away. I asked the hotel if they would accept my credit card number without the card itself, that I could provide evidence as to my identity with a web site and phone calls and that in these unusual circumstances could they trust my word and I would send them a cheque later.
The front desk and after this the manager were adamant in saying no.
Having walked back to the car to get my credit card I asked to see the manager again and said that I thought it was regrettable that a large hotel, on Christmas Eve, could not trust the word of a bishop when guaranteeing payment for a homeless pregnant young girl, when our culture was based upon the story of Jesus.
The manager said he was interested in money and money alone. He did not believe and was not interested in beliefs only money.
I suggested to him that were it not for God who had given him life he could have no interest in money and that whether from a religious or humanitarian perspective, on this night all nights, an exception could have been made to show compassion.
He again said he was not interested in compassion only money.
I asked him to reflect as he went to sleep that night on his actions.
After all of this with the help of my credit card Francesca was duly booked in. As she entered the lift to go to her room she turned and expressed her gratitude in words that I felt could not have been her own, as though an angel was speaking.
`Thank you, thank you. May blessings come back upon you tenfold`
By this time it was past eleven and as I made my way back to Leicester square I came upon a beggar who I had first met that afternoon at the entrance to a tube station. He looked in a terrible state and the blanket wrapped around him was soaking wet from the rain.
I asked him where he was going to sleep. He mumbled something about trying to find somewhere dry, desperately needing a good night's sleep and being so cold. I asked if he would prefer to sleep out or whether if it were possible he would prefer to stay in a hotel that night. He wanted the hotel but said he couldn't come with me then because he still had to make about £5 for the next day.
I said I would give him £10 and arrange a room. We walked together but I was slightly uneasy for whereas Francesca had looked reasonably clean, Andy was very worse for wear and he trailed his wet blanket behind him. I feared the hotel would not accept him. The front desk saw me coming and when I made my request the man disappeared for about ten minutes obviously checking with the manager whether he should admit Andy. Thankfully they did and Andy tumbled into the same lift saying it was the best Christmas present he could ever have had.
My last two contacts that night were with Dave who seemed quite content to be on the streets and who sometimes stayed with relatives but came back to London for two or three months stretches, and Robbie who was very depressed and said that life sometimes hit the lowest. He was glad to receive the Body of Christ,
`Thanks` he said, `Life has to get better from here`
As I drove home midnight had passed. I had seen people queuing for Carol services earlier in the evening and now they were turning out from Midnight Mass. My mind was alive, my heart ablaze, my spirit convicted.
I knew that so many of the people I had met would always fall through the gaps in the present welfare and charity provision and that Christ was calling me to continue to help them.
As Mother Theresa said, `It is better to light a single candle, than to curse the darkness`
IF YOU FEEL YOU WOULD LIKE TO SUPPORT THIS WORK THEN PLEASE DO SEND ME ANY CONTRIBUTIONS.
ANY DONATIONS I RECEIVE TOWARDS THIS WORK WILL BE GIVEN TO THOSE I MEET NEXT TIME I WALK THE STREETS OF LONDON OFFERING THE LOVE OF GOD IN THIS WAY.
A number of the priests from sicm and Bishop Richard and myself celebrated a mass in Leicester square at 3 p.m. on Maundy Thursday.
On one side a street artist was entertaining the crowds. On the other two drummers were filling the square with rhythm.
Around, thousands of people were passing by, some stopping to observe the mass, some sharing in it, some receiving palm crosses.
As evening fell, most of the priests had begun their journey home and only bishop elect Michael and I were left.
Our task was to offer to the homeless and those we encountered the love of God. We offered the mass, anointing with oil, the washing of feet (as it was Maundy Thursday) and any appropriate practical help as well as giving £5 to each person.
As at Christmas the experience was extraordinary, as though we were walking with angels.
We met and helped many that night among them:
Ram who I had met at Christmas. He was hoping for a flat provided through a charity over the next few months and was in good spirits. He was delighted with the £5 I gave him.
Then Gary from up north. He wanted to receive the body of Christ and was glad to chat for a while.
Derek was overwhelmed that we stopped to talk and asked us to sit beside him. He spoke about his life and hopes, asked us for prayer and the body of Christ and was reticent to accept the £5. When we said goodbye he rose to his feet to embrace us both.
Martin was 25 and had been on the streets for 5 years already, wanting to escape an unhappy home. His sister Sophie had run away many times already but now had decided to accompany martin back down to the streets of London. She was 16. I felt so protective of her, in fact of them both, as they looked so young, so far from a 'home'. I gave them my address and told them to get in touch if I could be of help in the future.
Mark came up meanwhile. He looked very unhappy and lost and in need of love.
We spoke with Colin who asked for prayer and anointing.
Then Michael who sat with his dog looking somewhat forlorn as his normal work as a street entertainer had ground to a halt having lost his metal juggling diabola.
As we walked past one club in Soho a tall New Zealand bouncer stopped us to ask what we were doing. He was impressed, sad that all the churches were shut and people were separated from their priests, yet here we were bringing the love of God to the people.
By another club two scantily dressed ladies invited us with the promise of a good '- - - -'. We laughed with them, declined the offer, and offered them the body of Christ instead.
One of the women said "no thanks, I’ve had enough of that, my dad's a vicar!"
Then we were walking through Piccadilly Circus when I noticed an older man tucked into a corner of a shop front, sitting crossed leg and still.
I stopped and went over to him.
I said hello, but he remained silent.
I sat in front of him and asked him his name. He remained silent. I waited for a while before I asked again. Still silence.
His hair was right down his back to his waist, plaited, even matted together. He was perhaps late fifties. A long nicotine stained beard fell from his chin and his face was well lined.
His clothes were filthy, stiff with the grease of years and he wore no shoes, his feet rough and engrained with dirt. He said that he had not bathed for 12 years.
Conscious that I had no right to disturb him I asked him if he would prefer me to go.
It was then that he looked and said
"its up to you".
I asked again his name.
"God knows my name" he replied.
"where do you come from?"
I thought that he was either being funny or was slightly disturbed or was just taking the…
But then I noticed his eyes. Many of the eyes of the street people are yellowy, bloodshot, unclear but this man's eyes were crystal clear, shining, beautiful, two oceans of light.
I said somewhat nervously,
"if you don't mind me saying your eyes are so clear, so bright."
His answer stilled my heart. In fact for the next 40 minutes or so I just sat saying very little and not asking any questions but listening to the wisdom, the divine words that flowed from this enigmatic man. The words were what he chose to say...
"that's because I can see. Look, all these people they come up to London searching for light, fooled by the lights, but inside them is only darkness, in their hearts and their souls.
They cannot see the light. That's why they cannot see me. They pass me by, they look at me and see only filth, they can't see beyond that.
This world is full of words, churches are full of words, deafening and confusing, but no one understands them. They are distractions. Silence. There should be silence.
I sit here and I watch. People from every country. I have been to Africa and Jamaica. I was taken there. I was just lifted from here to there. I saw.
We are here to learn about love. We can only learn to love when we realise we are beasts. In knowing that we can aspire towards love.
If you are a part of an organisation it is so easy to lose your identity, that which you have been given. We are all unique. It is easy to be tempted by the things that an organisation can offer, the power, the prestige, but you must only say what you have been given to say and only do what you have been given to do. Just as you must not withhold what you have been given nor must you give what you have not been given.
Don't worry about the past. Don't worry about the future. Live in the present and whatever comes you will be able to cope with.
(I asked whether he wanted to receive the body of Christ. He continued…)
I am the body of Christ. You are the body of Christ. Remember that.
Who was the best friend of Jesus? Lazarus. Because Lazarus had nothing. Its when you have nothing that you can have everything, that you can see.
(without knowing that I came from Sheffield he then said)
I know Sheffield. I know it well.
(I asked why he had mentioned Sheffield. He just repeated)
I know Sheffield. I know it well.
(i asked again why he mentioned Sheffield. He just ignored my question and smiled at me, as he had done throughout, a warm, embracing, kind and gentle smile)
Do you know who Theophilus was?
Remember meek and lowly. They go with the words grace and truth.
I felt I had been in the presence of Jesus. That these words were for me, for sicm, for the world.
I left to walk towards the station in something of a daze.
I said goodbye to bishop elect Michael.
In Leicester square I passed by a young frail girl. Charlotte had just celebrated her 18th birthday the previous Monday and was happy because she could now apply for certain jobs and benefits. She had lived on the streets for the last two years. She said it was so hard because unless you had an address you couldn't apply for a job. I suggested she used my address. When I left her with £5 she exclaimed,
"oh you are such a diamond"
A little further on I met Anna Louise. She had been evicted and had had to give up her 4 year old into voluntary fostering, but now the council wouldn't rehouse her unless she had a child and social services wouldn't release the child unless she had a home.
So much need.
Not only from the homeless. People kept coming up to us asking for prayers for healing, anointing, advice. Two young advertising executives sitting drinking outside a bar, Alex and David, asked us over to talk and for Alex to receive communion.
One could minister full time just walking the streets.
If you feel you would like to support this work then please do send me any contributions.
Any donations I receive towards this work will be given to those I meet next time I walk the streets of London offering the love of God in this way.
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