Friday, 25 June 2010

It was just a tweet ... but it made me think

So far I've written over 600 tweets for this Uniting General Council but one from near the beginning still sticks with me - as I don't know how to search the tweets so I can't actually find the tweet any longer - but it went something like this:
"Zimbabwe: theology faculty meeting 15 minutes spent on theology; the rest of the time is spent on survival issues."

Then I heard later in the week about a student from Zimbabwe whose visa to the USA was refused for the Global Institute of theology, supposedly because he didn't have enough money in his bank account.

I realised how privileged I am. It is so easy as an (albeit humble) church bureaucrat to get blasé about international meetings, to not always realize what a fabulous and unique opportunity each one of them represents, to get worn out by work, to sometimes even get cynical. Then typing 140 keystrokes for a twitter update brings me back down to earth with a bump and that bumpy feeling has remained much of the week as we look in the plenary hall at the "remember the 73" poster at the front.

Earlier in the week I put on my personal blog a sentence from John O'Donohue
"The duty of privilege is absolute intregity"

I know that I bear the duty of privilege yet I am very aware that I am a long way away from that absolute integrity ...
All that remains is to pray and ask for God's grace, it's not the answer to everything but it might be the beginning.

It was just a tweet ... but it made me think is a cross post from World Communion of Reformed Churches blog where I've been writing some bits and pieces over the past week.
Photo by Erick Coll from Cuba - more to be found here.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Dr B's book in German can be pre-ordered here!

Dr B's book is already in pre-production you can pre-order here.
Of course it is in German ... here's the blurb. Publication is due in October and it's a snip at just 28 euros.

And I forgot to metion that the foreword is written by a certain Rev. Dr Margot Kässmann

Well done Dr B! Now we just need to get an English version prepared!

Von der Unzufriedenheit zum Widerspruch

Der Konziliare Prozess für Gerechtigkeit, Frieden und Bewahrung der Schöpfung als Wegbereiter der friedlichen Revolution in der DDR

2010, 352 Seiten, kartoniert
€ 28,–
ISBN 978-3-87476-619-7

Im Mittelpunkt dieser Arbeit steht der vom Ökumenischen Rat der Kirchen (ÖRK) ins Leben gerufene »Konziliare Prozess für Gerechtigkeit, Frieden und Bewahrung der Schöpfung« und seine Bedeutung für die politische Entwicklung in der DDR in den Jahren vor 1989. Den Höhepunkt dieses Prozesses bildete in der DDR die »Ökumenische Versammlung der Christen und Kirchen«, die zwischen 1988 und 1989 im Vorfeld der friedlichen Revolution zusammentrat. Die Teilnehmenden kamen nicht nur aus etablierten kirchlichen Strukturen, sondern auch aus Friedens-, Umwelt-, und Bürgerrechtsgruppen der gesamten DDR. Die Versammlung bereitete den Weg für die Konstituierung von Bürgerbewegungen und neuen politischen Parteien im Herbst 1989, deren Programme die Texte der Versammlung aufnahmen und in denen viele der Teilnehmenden führende Rollen übernahmen.

Ausgehend von der Entstehung des Konziliaren Prozesses bei der ÖRK-Vollversammlung in Vancouver 1983 und vor dem Hintergrund des Kirche-Staat-Verhältnisses in der DDR zeigt der Autor, wie die Ökumenische Versammlung die drei thematischen Schwerpunkte des »Konziliaren Prozesses« aufgriff und diese in Forderungen nach tiefgreifenden politischen Veränderungen verwandelte, wie zum Beispiel dem Verlangen nach einer Trennung von Staat und Partei, nach geheimen Wahlen, nach Freiheit für Kunst und Kultur und dem Recht, unabhängige Vereinigungen zu gründen. Die Studie geht auch auf die wichtige Rolle der Basisgruppen im Konziliaren Prozess in der DDR ein. Die Verknüpfung von »Gerechtigkeit, Frieden und Bewahrung der Schöpfung« im Konziliaren Prozess gab den vielfältigen Forderungen der Basisgruppen Kohärenz. Vor allem bot sich so die von den Kirchen legitimierte Möglichkeit, den Diskurs über Fragen der Gerechtigkeit auf die Gesellschaft der DDR zu übertragen. Ausgehend von Originalquellen stellt der Autor auch die wichtige Rolle des Erfurter evangelischen Propstes Heino Falcke in diesem Geschehen dar, der bereits 1972 die Kirche aufforderte, ein Forum für eine »kritische Öffentlichkeit« in der DDR anzubieten.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

From tweeting to blogging and back again ...

So as well as tweeting and interpreting over thenext few days I'm also going to try and get folk to blog on the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace blog. My boss for these days Kristine Greenaway has written a late night post from the press room last night and we've both got other folk we're trying to encourage to write. We'll see what we manage between now and the end of next week ... if you're at the Council and reading this and would like to write a post, drop by the press room and leave us your name.
Meanwhile the official writers have been working hard. Charles Honey who's in charge of the newsletter and newsroom has written a great piece about a discussion of the Accra confession and it comes with a great picture by of the wonderful Ofelia Ortega. Esther Suter from Switzerland has been writing reports from the women's pre-Council meeting

Encouragement ...

"One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own."

"The duty of privilege is absolute intregity"

John O'Donohue

more inspiring quotes from John O'Donohue here.

A blessing by John O'Donohue

A Blessing
May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do teh beauty of your own soul.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

John O'Donohue

More from my new For Lovers of God book of poetry. I give thanks for the luminous writing and being of John O'Donohue. As I read this the first time I sensed a deep sadness in myself as I realised how far I am from this ideal ... yet I also recognised how much I want to offer myself and others this blessing. It also helped me to preceive just how very deep the resources of grace are within me and within those around me.
Be blessed, be a blessing ...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Lovers of God - desire and spirituality

For reasons a little too complex to go in to here I ended up trying to buy poetry books online when I arrived in the USA and of course got waylaid into buying books I hadn't originally intended to even look at!
Poetry is the perfect companion for interpreters who are on call - it's brief, pithy and lifts your spirit with the joy of language even when your brain is heavy with the burden of interpreting constitutions, standing orders and political exchanges. There is no long narrative to get lost in but something more finished and more dense than passing language.

One of the ongoing conversations I've been having with a friend here in Grand Rapids has been quite a racy exchange about desire and spirituality, about sexuality, prayer and belief. So it's not surprising that while buying the other books I needed my eye should light on "For Lovers of God Everywhere". Roger Housden has put together a great anthology of Christian mystical poetry, some ancient some modern. I'm particularly enjoying reading the extraordinary short poetry of Hadewijch II about whom almost nothing is known and only a very few poems survive. How very moving that we at least have these few remains of her thoughts, faith and creatvity : a lover of God from over 700 years ago.

"You who want ..."

You who want
see the Oneness

There you
will find
the clear mirror
already waiting.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield

Can Islam be republican? Open Source Ecumenism reads a new book in French.

While I'm away Dr B has been busy taking some time out with his newspaper and at our local bookshop where he's bought"L'Islam Republicain: Ankara, Teheran, Dakar" by Jean-Francois Bayart.
You can read more about the book over on Open Source Ecumenism. Here's a taster:

In one sense the book is a investigation of the relationship between religion and the state in three majority-Muslim countries.In another, it's a polemic, sparked off by the discussion on a burka ban, with a prevailing intellectual atmosphere in France that asserts a fundamental incompatibility between Islam and Republican values, such as the equality of women, and according to which "Republican Islam" is an oxymoron.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The generosity of tweeting and does this change the way I see the people of God?

So for the next few days I shall be tweeting here
Since the cecassembly in Lyon last year I seem to have got into tweeting as a conference event, it's quite a fun way to leave some trace of what is going on at business and discussion meetings and make it more immediate.
As a general rule to know what I am up to, you should follow the problems of travelling with one of my husband's socks by becoming my friend on facebook (I can quite understand why you might want to avoid doing this!) If you're interested in what is going on in my professional life then you can try to read between the lines at
As a result of all of this my own personal twitter feed has become very neglected but I suppose I sense that it is just lying there in wait for me to take it up again at some point and it does get fed by an RSS feed from my blog here.
Setting up the twitter feed for the new Reformed Communion today I thought about what an extraoridnarily generous medium twitter is. People follow you and so you follow them. Trawling through potential people to follow I realised that one of the things about social networking like this is that you don't just want to follow "people like yourself". Of course any organisation such as the WCRC has a very diverse identity anyway so it's important to be generous with your friendship and followers, it pushes against the "holy huddle" idea of what church and being a follower of Jesus is all about.
Spending some time in the diversity of the Reformed family as opposed to the wider ecumenical family makes me realise how fuzzy the boundaries and limits between our supposed denominations and tradtions often are. More evangelical and Pentecostal ways of celebrating worship are influencing liberal and traditional churches, we are learning to live together, to be one in ways I would not have believed possible even of myself 25 years ago. Perhaps to "be one" generosity towards the other is a key virtue to practise. Generosity changes the giver and the receiver, it's a gift of the spirit. Now I suppose I'd better go and tweet that - but on which channel?

Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace

Well I have briefly held one of these lovely little books in my hands, but I don't have a copy yet - though I actually contributed one of the Bible studies. (You'll have to guess which one!)
Meanwhile if you're interested you can download the booklet in pdf format here.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Squirrels not rabits at the Uniting General Council

At the Lambeth conference rabbits turned up for the deliberations - according to Dave Walker for amusement of bishops. Here in Grand Rapids where we are Reformed there are relatively few bishops and no rabbits that I have seen. However at the very beautiful Calvin College campus it's squirrels that pop up everywhere for our amusement - in any case as a reminder of the natural world.

Beauty and the beast ... reflecting on Revelation 12 and the deeper meaning of baptism

Following the chaos that was air travel yesterday I had a great night's sleep followed this morning by a fairly unsuccessful attempt to find my way around Calvin College campus where I'm staying for the Uniting General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (soon to be called the World Communion of Reformed Churches). Having found my way at last to breakfast (late and rather lost) and got some tea I then went to church.
Here on campus there is a very lovely modern chapel built in the round which is the home to the Woodlawn congregation of the Christian Reformed Church. The music during the service was very lovely and it was interesting to sing words I didn't know to tunes I did - I think I realised that I never had sung "Torrents d'amour" in English before. The congregation were very welcoming particularly of the large group of young people from around the world who will be staffing the conference which begins tomorrow.
A father and daughter were baptised as part of the service today, both adult and infant baptism within one family. It had been the baptism of his earlier child that led the father to take this step in faith.
It was reflecting on the meaning of baptism that led the pastor to choose the text from Revelation of the slaying of the dragon of evil and the battle between the forces of good and evil. He preached well on how baptism is not a protection for our children or for ourselves, how this goes against the culture of security that reigns in society. So we contemplated St Michael slaying the dragon and thought about the temptation of safety in our lives and our churches.
Earlier in the service I had been a bit surprised to hear the pastor explaining baptism as a way of joining the institution that is the church, not as a response to Jesus' call to follow him - interesting. It was also a useful reality check for me to experience ordinary Sunday worship in the more traditional part of the Reformed family. It was a very structured service, very pedagogical and instructional but perhaps not quite liturgical enough for me ... very pastor led. I think I would have liked the adult getting baptised to say a little more about his journey with Christ himself rather than simply replying to formulaic questions.
Afterwards over coffee I had lots of interesting conversations and sensed amongst many a real openness and understanding to ecumenical and other ways of living life as a Reformed Christian, as well as a certain reticence amongst others - shouldn't the church concentrate on saving people rather than on social action?
I sense that the new Communion of Reformed Churches which will come into being here in Grand Rapids will have to work hard to try to hold together confessional and faith concerns with the deep desire for social justice. Many of the churches in the Global South do this naturally - it's part of being a Christian, as is praying and bearing witness. Somehow in parts of Global North some churches seem to have decided to say that they are either liberal or traditional and assume that those on the other side either don't pray or read the Bible or don't serve the world or speak out prophetically on social issues. Perhaps one day we will understand that the body of Christ is bigger, more diverse, more open and more challenging than any of us have dared to believe. A place of security from which we can find the courage to overcome the temptations of safety.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

'Losing a voice' - remembering Marlin VanElderen

A post from Dr B ...

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the unexpected, untimely and tragic death at the age of 54 of Marlin VanElderen, officially the executive editor of World Council of Churches publications, but in reality the force tranquille of the WCC, sought out for his careful advice and his ecumenical memory, the chief drafter of the WCC's Common Understanding and Vision document.

It was Whit Monday - Pentecost was late in 2000 - and I was spending the day off by sitting under a glorious sun on the terrace of the WCC restaurant correcting proofs for the ENI Bulletin. I smiled and waved to Jan Kok, head of publications, as he walked through the garden to the door at the back of the building. Jan, the former WCC communications director, was already living with the cancer that would lead to his own early death at the beginning of 2002. He walked over to where I was sitting; he could get only two words out. "Marlin's dead." It seemed like an age before I took in that Jan was saying that his colleague and best friend at the WCC had died.

Marlin was also a colleague and friend to me, someone who would always find the time to stop what he was doing to clarify some little known, but hotly disputed, facet of WCC or ecumenical history. "If that's what Marlin says, it's good enough to go with," was the response.

Since his arrival in Geneva at the beginning of the 1980s, Marlin had become an ecumenical institution in his own right, and one we had all taken for granted. In his office he would be seen in front of his computer, patiently editing the latest publication, or, as often, the latest draft of a WCC position paper; almost at the end of the corridor, opposite Jan, so people could just "drop in" as they were coming out of the cafeteria. He was also, as Konrad Raiser, noted in his tribute to Marlin, the "conscience of the WCC": "His particular gift to ask the necessary (and sometimes uncomfortable) questions at the right time allowed new answers to be formulated."

But Marlin was always great company, with a beer in one hand, and the source of many tales and anecdotes, and with his wife Meribeth, an unordained pastor for those who worked with him.

There's far more that could be said about Marlin than can be written in a blog post. As managing editor of The Ecumenical Review, Marlin made a lasting contribution to ecumenical study and reflection. Before becoming WCC executive editor, Marlin had been editor of the WCC's monthly magazine One World, seeking to encapsulate the ecumenical message in a way that it could be heard by a general audience, and as a source of up-to-date information and reflection about the ecumenical movement. And, as Konrad wrote in his tribute, "It pained him more than anybody else when, in 1995, One World went out of existence, an early casualty of the financial problems faced by the WCC."

By coincidence, on this 10th anniversary, many Reformed folk from around the world are gathering at Calvin College in Grand Rapids for the Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. A member of the Christian Reformed Church, Marlin had studied at the college and later worked for the Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing house, also based at in the city. A time to remember and recall the contribution of this Reformed Christian to the ecumenical movement.

A year after his death, the WCC published a selection of Marlin's editorials from One World under the title, "Finding a voice: Communicating the Ecumenical Movement". For those of us who knew him, Marlin's death meant "losing a voice". Maybe our best tribute to him would be to be inspired by his passion for "communicating the ecumenical movement" as a task and a mandate that still stands before us today.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Stop exhausting the earth - do summer differently

As the northern hemisphere prepares for summer and holiday time the French Protestant Federation has launched a "give the earth a holiday campaign". You can read more about it here.
This is the 10th campaign seeking to raise awareness of environmental and care for creation issues within the FPF member churches.
The campaign is taking palce with the "live differently" collective

Travelling again

The stranzblog is about to set out on another journey and not by train but by plane this time (boo hiss!). Tomorrow morning early I shall take the plane to Grand Rapids Michigan USA for the Uniting General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churche on its way to becoming the World Communion of Reformed Churches. I shall be interpreting and editing and no doubt doing other things at the assembly.
And guess what this will be the first time in my life I have travelled to the USA ... I can't exactly say I'm looking forward to it but I'm sure it's going to be interesting. By the end of the month of June I shall have spend 5 nights at home ...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

soul marks, palm wackiness and other profound arty insights

So here is a photo of the splendid Carol Marples who made the wacky palms I so admired at the Edinburgh 2010 conference. I was oddly moved at the closing ceremony to see the head of one palm simply lying on the ground, blessing the pathway people took up to the Assembly room on the Mound. I immediately understood the allusion to Palm Sunday and thought, yes we are waiting for Christ to join us, we are ready to welcome him. Because Carol's palms are so colourful you couldn't really call them understated, yet the way they were used did not overplay the art itself - a gentle and deep gospel evocation came through, even if only passingly.
It's given me much food for thought and simply great pleasure and delight - it's pushed me to once more realise that I do not do enough art work and must get back to some soon - otherwise my soul will not be well marked.
Anyway you can find out more about Carol's work and workshop at Soul Marks, another good reason to go back to Edinburgh, there's a charity based there which uses the visual arts as tools for prayer, worship and community. It looks great fun.
You can also see more of Carol's work on the site of her church
Sorry I didn't get to interview you Carol but maybe you'll make it to Geneva one day - or I'll make it back to Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Greed - "Havesycke" the sickness of having - do you mean me?

The WCC's general secretary preached an interesting homily on sharing at St Mary's Episcopalian Cathedral on Sunday morning, the full text is here.
Ever since I've been thinking about how easy it is to not feel personally challenged by what we hear from the pulpit, perhaps I should change that first person plural to a first person singular - how easy it is for me to not feel challenged by what I hear ...
Yet as a rich woman with a very a large waistline and even larger hips any sermon on greed and sharing ought surely to strike a note with me somewhere. Yet it's so easy to think it must be about someone else, but it is also about me, very much also about me. Because I simply take, eat, stock, buy, pile up, want, "need", have more and more - not only does my body expand, but sometimes I am also less and less able to see and name my own greed and what drives it. Interestingly I only began to have these thoughts as I reflected on the sermon while getting into a taxi outside the church to get back to the press room - and realised quite what I had managed to both eat and drink in the space since listening to words about sharing rather than accumulating. So much for the spirituality of resistance - only the mind and not the body Rev. Ms. Stranz? Hmmm ...

Olav Fykse Tveit was preaching on Luke 12: 13-21 - the landowner who decides to tear down all his barns because the harvest is so good he can then stockpile even more:

There is a saying in my country that you do not know your family until you have to divide the family inheritance with them. The sharp analysis in this saying corresponds very well to the parable of Jesus, told to people who were not able to divide their inheritance fairly. The deep need and desire to accumulate, to make the barns bigger, to acquire more and more, much more than you need, is in the end so very - human. We see it everywhere, in all places in the world. You have a good word for this in English: Greed. In Norwegian we have another word: “Havesyke” – literally: the sickness of having ever more. And we see more and more ugly examples of this, the more money and riches that we see.

As I reflected on my own personal participation in society's "sickness of having" - with my usual guilt around food and eating I realised that the first food I had eaten in response to the sermon had been the bread and wine of the eucharist - symbols and realities speaking of liberation, forgiveness, love and the transformed values of God's reign. So can the bread and wine of Christ's supper give me a taste for overcoming my guilt about food and teach me to go on sharing and do it better? Of course, of course communion should simply "be" and not be instrumentalised in this way, but any thinking about greed and food has to think about the ritual meal of the church too.
Towards the end of his sermon Tveit said this, which offers some succour to the greedy, yet reiterrates the challenge to share and to be rich towards God:

To witness to Christ is to preach the Gospel of forgiveness of sins, even of greed, and, therefore also to address greed as an obstacle to justice, to peace and therefore an obstacle to being one. There are differences in this world that God does not want. There are more and bigger barns – literally speaking – than are needed, and can ever be needed.

Spirits minds and souls filled at feminist theology

Last night we had our final session of this year's feminsit theology cycle on finding you way and finding your voice. Our final June meeting is always a festive occasion, there is wine and juice and always delicous food. Those present last night spanned the generations from late 30s to mid 80s, it was a gentle and fun time. The weather was mild, our sharing spoke of friendship and relaxation. A special time sitting round the table tasting the delicious things each person had brought.

We looked back and shared what we had enjoyed, learned and taken with us from the varied interventions we've had this year. How the theme had or had not spoken to us at the beginning of the year and how we are still journeying with our ways and finding our voices as our lives and paths progress. We began the food for thought part of our evening by reading a prayer/poem from Francine Carrillo - one of Geneva's mystical spiritual feminist writers. Towards the end we listened to some piano music by Bach which evoked pathways for the member of the group playing it. We spoke or kept silent about how the year had helped us find our way, find our voice and think. For many of us it had quite an inner journey through the different sessions and we found echos of the road we had taken in various places: - the letters page of Vie Protestante, in systemic approaches to psychological and organisational issues, in art, the way our group itself had evolved and found itself during the year ... and much more besides.
And while we were eating Anne Coïdan also told us about her discovery during a recent holiday to the USA of the author of the book featured here. Woman on the Cross by Pierre Delattre sounds like quite a read, something for the summer perhaps. Although the author was born in France he moved the US when just six years old - so far the book doesn't seem to exist in French translation. A shame. Here's an extract from a review:

A stirring and poignant tale about a man and a woman who serve their god and goddess in the most intimate, bodily ways. Lyric and haunting, fierce and tender, Woman on the Cross brings subtlety and depth and an unprecedented twist to the ancient tradition of the Passion Play.
Meanwhile our feminist theology group will meet again on September 12th, our theme for next year: "Entre le passé et l'avenir, vivre le présent". And our first speaker will be the splendid Jacqueline Barenstein-Wavre a local Genevan politician dnd campaigner for women's rights. She's agreed to speak on the verse she received for her confirmation "va avec la force que tu as". Many of us have a complex relationship with the institutions of the church and even with faith itself, yet the texts of faith still speak deeply to us and are often the impetus for our lives.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Prophets of a future not our own - a quote from Oscar Romero

“We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

Oscar Romero, Prophets of a Future Not Our Own

Circulated at work by a very hard working colleague on her retirement

Monday, 7 June 2010

Travelling ...

So today the stranzblog is travelling back to Geneva in order on Saturday to travel once more though this time by plane to the USA for the first time in my life.
More about that soon. For now my head is full of ideas about mission, evangelism, missionaires, clergy, the gospel and how to authentically witness to Christ today. As I come down to earth after a chaotic and tiring time of interpreting and communications work I might even get around to writing something, we'll see!

Meanwhile this post is being written from the champagne bar at London St Pancras - which may explain the dodgey typing!

An ecumenical incident on the way to church

This morning the WCC general secretary was preaching in St Mary's Episcopal cathedral in Edinburgh as part of the final day celebration of the Edinburgh 2010 event. Having misunderstood, my taxi driver drove me off to the Roman Catholic St Mary's Cathedral leading to a bit of a scramble to "get me to the church on time". I did make it on time, in the end. I can't really blame the cab driver, Edinburgh is a city of churches, every street corner seems to have several, each one more imposing and Victorian than the last. Anyway I'm glad I doubted the driver's first ecumenical choice and made him have another go!
Once I finally got there, it was fun to be in a cathedral church with all the ceremony of Anglican eucharist. I realised how well I know the words to the service still today, even though it was not the service I was brought up with, in some ways the words of the anglican service are the language of imperialism for some of us from a free church background in England. However north of the border in Scotland it is the Church of Scotland that is the majority church. I felt more at home after saying the Lord's Prayer in French, it helped my at least triple cognitive dissonance. It also helped that the final hymn was one I had for my ordination.

After the service there was a strange moment when I got a taste of my youth - that taste was the taste of post church instant coffee sipped from a plastic cup. I honestly haven't had any for years - yet this was the taste of meeting my husband to be (over post church coffee) and just the smell of it took me back to youth fellowship and many things I have left behind a long time ago. Episcopalian or Presbyterian the flavour of British post-church coffee seems to be unique in the world. I came out thankful that the coffee had been followed by a glass of wine and a sandwich at an ad hoc picnic in the resurrection chapel to meet the preacher. I was longing for an espresso by the time I set off for the press room though, real coffee ...

Friday, 4 June 2010

Spanish is the first mother tongue of Christians world wide

One of the things that happens to you in any job is that you pick up random facts and one of the great things about blogging is that you can bore other people with them!
In the session presenting the Atlas of global Christianity yesterday there was a fascinating slide on the languages of Christianity and the shifts in those languages since the 1910 Edinburgh conference. So in 2010 Spanish is the most spoken mother tongue of Christians worldwide.
It so happens that here in the press room at Edinburgh 2010 we have a great Spanish writer Manuel Lopez, who has just launched a really great newspaper for his church in Spain. It looks great - not churchy at all - and makes me wish I understood more Spanish and could really enjoy reading it.
To find out more go to Puert A bierta.

Terrible news from Congo

A few months ago I was asked rather at the last minute to interpret into French for a fascinating planning meeting for human rights campaigners. The person I interpreted for was the director of a human rights organisation in Congo called La Voix des sans Voix. His name Floribert Chebeya Bahizire. A delightful committed man who knew he was working in desperately difficult circumstances but who seemed calm in the face of the undoubted difficulties. I spent most of an afternoon and day whispering interpretation for him into French. He was very gracious.
Today I discovered he is dead.
Meanwhile I am attending a conference with the theme witnessing to Christ today.
The price of doing what is right can be very high.
So I ask what did I do for justice today? Where did I speak truth? How did I witness to the costly gospel?

Laying down stones which are younger than God

One of the things about the worship at Edinburgh 20110 I've particularly appreciated so far has been the blending of bagpipes and drums to call people to worship and to welcome people from around the world to the conference. It's been a great use of the external spaces and a wonderful way of blending cultures.
I've also appreciated the way that there has been sensitivity to language on the part of those leading worship and the way in which sermons have been allowed and talking and walking with the biblical themes has been encouraged. It's a blend of styles that may not work for everyone but which I've appreciated so far.
So yesterday morning stones which folk had brought from around the world were handed out to us and we held them and lay them down on the Celtic cross made out of cloth on the floor of the inside worship space. Blending the outside and inside spaces for teh worship has also worked well - mainly because the Scottish weather has been treating us with sunshine and mild weather.

Here's part of the opening liturgy, following bagpipes and the singing of Praise tot eh Lord the Almighty in four languages.

What I hold in my hand
is older than me ...
and older

What I hold in my hand is older than my name, my language, my culture ...
and older

It is as old a s the soil
as old as the sea ...
and older

It is as old as the earth
but younger than God

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Wacky palm fronds and powerful worship

Now some people might fear that this photo is part of my feminist plot to prove that the meeting here is overfilled with balding men but a) the Edinburgh 2010 meeting in more diverse than this picture shows b) your attention is supposed to be drawn to the totally wacky palm trees in the background - I'm hoping there will be some rather better photos of them on the Edinburgh 2010 site. I am not sure why but I really love these wacky cloth palm trees which looked blown by the wind. Standing up amongst them is the wonderful and equally colourful John Bell of the Iona community. This picture is from last night's welcoming songs and words, which was like the palm fronds a wonderfully joyful, colourful and tuneful time.
Scattered around the Pollock Halls conference venue the palm trees decorate special entrances and halls. But in colourful and yet discreet ways there are also coloured cloth leaves scattered in the gardens, often with the word peace, paz, pace embroidered on them.
Anyway I am already trying to work out if they will auction the palms off at the end of the meeting and whether I could carry one back on the eurostar. Wonder if I can convince a colleague to take the interpretation equipment for me so I can carry a wacky cloth palm home. More photos of them soon - they are lovely but somehow impossible to photo.

At Edinburgh 2010 and still learning more about global Christianity

The Stranzblog took the train from Geneva to Edinburgh - yes all my colleagues thought I was crazy - to attend the Edinburgh 2010 event. The journey was fabulous and easy - and took about 13 hours. Three capital cities - Paris, London, Edinburgh - and four countries - Switzerland, France, England and Scotland - in one day. It was fun, though I was carrying the interpretation equipment which is a bit bulky.
I'm here to interpret into French and until this morning I was not sure whether I would be needed but in the end, despite several participants from Western Africa having their visas refused, I will be needed for the plenary sessions. This morning's session was an interesting one with a keynote address from professor Dana Robert on the need to find an eschatological vision for mission in 2010. Her speech will be online in a few moments. Keep checking the Edinburgh 2010 website.

This afternoon I was in one of the "tracks" which received a very interesting presentation on the Atlas of Global Christianity pictured here.
It was fascinating to see visuals of changes between 1910 and 2010 in how religions and Christianity in particular in spread around the world. I'm off to another meeting now so that will have to do for now.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Communion ...

So here is a picture from communion on Sunday morning. Behind the altar three Roman Catholic priests and two Protestant pastors, including the two chaplains to the ecumenical community of disabled people. The group has been holding their confirmation servcice in the ecumenical chapel for 32 years.

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The flowering word of God and Rembrandt's prodigal son

More photos from the confirmation service on Sunday for the ecumenical community of disabled people and their families in Geneva. The chapel looked even more beautiful than usual with all of this care, decoration and energetic preparation.

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The prodigal son

This is one of the photos take at the confirmation service organised jointly by the ecumenical chaplaincy of the community of disabled people in Geneva. they decorated the chapel beautifully and moved the altar forwards to be more accessible. The focus of the service was the prodigal son and a large reproduction of Rembrandt's painting was place in the middle of the main altar. in front of it the jar of oil used to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the Roman Catholics confirming.

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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Celebration of the body and of bread in song, dance and word

I rarely attend worship that so lifts the spirit that I don't notice time passing - one of the problems of being a liturgist is that you can get hyper critical and miss that main point of the liturgy is not that it be perfect but that it allow for earth to be open to heaven and be touched by the things of heaven.

On Trinity Sunday the ecumenical chapel hosted the biannual confirmation service for the ecumenical community of disabled people and their families. The service was full of joy, of authenticity, of faith and reality. It was great, it was really well planned and it was messy. Two hours passed and we didn't even notice. Five clergy presided, from the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in Geneva. Certainly one highlight for me was experiencing Laurence Mottier, the female chaplain, standing behind the altar flanked by her male colleagues breaking the bread at the moment of fraction. Because of ecumenical sensitivities every sentence of the eucharist had obviously been very carefully thought through and planned, yet it simply flowed and was extremely natural and wonderful.
Focusing on the gospel of the prodigal son we had brilliant drama, readings in various langauges and one of the best sermons on ecumenism I've heard in a long time. It was of course all in French but I will post to the docs section in coming days. The Protestant pastor and the Roman Catholic priest each took it in turns to play the older or younger son in the parable of the Prodigal son, speaking about their respective churches. It was very thought provoking and inspiring.
Many of the confirmation candidates had communications problems but all clearly said "yes I want to be Jesus' friend". There was an extraordinary moment at the end of the service when those who were celebrating their confirmation danced with the clergy around the altar. Hard even for an old cynic like me not to shed tears.
I'll try to post some photos and further reflections on the service in coming days. It will remain one of the highlights of my year.