Saturday, 2 June 2012

Sermon at the funeral of Gertrude Anna Stranz

Sermon for the funeral of Gertrude Anna Stranz
preached on Maundy Thursday April 5th 2012, at St Oswald's Church Croxley Green, just a day before Gertie's 90th birthday. She had spent the last decade of her life in bed and in a lot of pain in a care home.

As I left Paris last night, I slipped a book into my bag by quite a famous art historian, writer and poet called John Berger. The title reads “Hold everything dear” and I just thought, yes that seems right, the subtitle reads – “dispatches on survival and resistance”. That seemed right too.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was love

Back in the old days in Berlin there were three of them, cousins the same age. Gertie the oldest, her brother Walter the youngest, and in between Greta their cousin. In the trams they got odd looks because together they spoke a strange language, German spoken backwards, a secret tongue only they knew the special grammatical rules to. Then tragically one day Greta an only child fell ill and died within 36 hours. Her parents emigrated to London and her mother Tante Helene moved heaven and earth to make sure the rest of the family, got visas for the UK. Sitting in Sir Stafford Cripps office and insisting he being a lawyer sign the papers for her brother who was also a lawyer.

Ten years ago when we cleared out 49 Frankland Road we found photo albums about Greta and her life which her parents had made – a rose bud on the cover and the inscription “Auch die Knospe ist vollendetes Leben” - Even the bud is life in its fullness, even the bud is life in wholeness.

Without the death of that much loved only daughter perhaps Gertie would not have found herself 73 years ago eating oysters for the very first time on her birthday as the family sailed into exile and in the end safety. My grandfather decided to buy a first class cruise into exile as they were only allowed to take the equivalent of 37 pence each with them.

A dispatch on survival and resistance made from fate and feistiness.

Family history recounts that within less than a year Walter and Gertie were not only speaking fluent English but speaking fluent English backwards …

In the beginning was the Word and Word was faith

Keukchilein, Ta, Gertie was a person of great faithfulness, which could sometimes be expressed in terms of stubbornness and even seemingly wanting to refuse change at times – woe betide the BBC if they changed the times of a favourite radio or TV programme.

She was faithful in her belief in education
Knowing that learning could be fun but also challenging – just like the teaching she loved so much and faithfully gave her life to
She was faithful in remembering birthdays faultlessly – right down to Stephen’s just three days before she died
Faithful in friendship and in family
always  carefully asking “and how are you” with that shrewd look in her eyes waiting for an answer
and coping for the most part admirably when her beloved niece and nephew were rather more slipshod in replying or remembering
faithful too to a vision of society, which embodies in its statutes care for the most vulnerable, equal access as the way to forge excellence
faithful too in generosity, not just of money but of time, of letters and thoughts
faithful to her faith in God

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was hope
There is a crazy, wonderful and essential hope amongst all of us
We can make a difference
Millions and even billions of human beings doing small things
Saving stamps, selling garden produce, keeping records – I don’t think even now that I have tasted more delicious cucumbers than the ones I ate as a child from Gert’s greenhouse
Forging new friendships at the swimming club in your 70s
Campaigning and collecting money
Motivated perhaps by the knowledge that it was other peoples’ gratuitous charity that saved your own life
Behind all this a sense that, good as this world may be, to continue making it a better and hopeful place needs our commitment and creativity now.

In the beginning was the Word
And just before the end
He stripped off his clothes and wrapped in a towel, washed his disciples feet
An extraordinarily intimate, gentle, caring, political, sensual act
“I have done this for you
Will you go on doing it for one another?
Can you follow?”

And he knows what is likely to happen,
this is not a story with a happy end
But if they follow his example it might just be …

One disciple will use his freshly washed feet to walk the path of betrayal, selling out his master for some pieces of silver
The others will try, imperfectly, to follow
They will try to hold dear to the vision, the message, the master
To hold dear to hope, faith and love

We too wonder, can we follow, can we take up the towel and the bowl?

The three cousins who played together and formed such a strong bond back in the old days in Berlin are now finally reunited. Of course whatever language they may speak together now, even backwards, the angels will probably understand.

Of their child who died far too young my great aunt and uncle said “even the bud is fulfilled life”

Of our aunt who has died, perhaps many years later than she herself would have wished
I would like to say “the rosehip too, even the whithered rosehip is fulfilled and good and meaningful life”

We are called not to have perfect lives but to follow the path of the foot washer in intimacy, in faith, in hope, holding dear to the towel and the bowl, daring to believe in resurrection

All of our lives are dispatches on survival and resistance
Let us learn to hold one another and all creation dear

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was love.

Let us pray in words written for Maundy Thursday by former archbishop Michael Ramsey

Jesus Lord and Master who served your disciples in washing their feet: serve us daily in washing our motives, our ambitions our actions; that we may share with you in your mission to the world and serve others gladly for  your sake; to whom be glory for ever.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Printemps et oecuménisme at the DEFAP's "Le Monde est chez toi!"

At lunchtime today I got back from the DEFAP Forum which has been taking place in Rouen over the weekend. It was a splendid, fun and well organised event with a great ambiance and took place in Rouen's Halle aux Toiles which is a great venue. Several of my FPF colleagues were also there including Marianne Guéroult of the Mosaic project, she had a great stand with loads of activity and interest in the different projects that the migration churches are involved in. Apart from going round and drinking up the great music, atmosphere and exhibitions I met up with lots of people and had useful discussions with lots of folk about ecumenism and much more besides.
Officially though I was there to lead two sessions at the afternoon workshops "Un printemps oecuménique est-il possible et avec quel language aujourd'hui?" It was great to do two busy sessions with motivated and very talkative people. Of course our time was limited so it was important to try and give everyone the possibility to say something simple about the theme without full scale discussion. So I spent time on the train to Rouen cutting out flower petals ... twas ever thus with the crazy Stranz woman. Everyone in the groups received 4 or 5 petals and then after some introduction from me on the theme I encouraged people to write words on their petals in response to my saying the word "springtime". We got a wonderful series of words and phrases in response - I'll copy them up tomorrow (oh no do I sense procrastination ...). Everyone of course got to say their words and phrases about springtime out loud. Those petals were gathered up while the second word was given to the group, that word was of course "ecumenism" - I do wonder if I had given the words in reverse order whether the results would have been diffierent ... generally there were very positive responses to the ecumenism question - that surprised me. I think the two that really struck me were "le projet originel" and "river with many tributaries which has problems finding its estuary".
Discussion was so intense that we didn't have time for the final phase which was to make flowers out of our ecumenical sprintime petals so I have done that this afternoon on the wonderful parquet floor of my Paris appartment. they look better than I thought they would and I think they're quite fun. A bit of artwork for the ecumenism of the people I've been talking about on and off in my new job. the theme of the even also helped to frame ecumenism in terms not only of the "other" who is the world "chez moi" but also to think of ourselves as the world "chez les autres". Being a Protestant in France is still quite exotic for lots of people.
It was important to be at this mission event which only takes place once every four years and it helped encourage me to think about the work of the FPF in terms of missional theology.
Anyway the other great thing about these ecumenical sunflowers is that at the opening worship everyone received a packet of sunflower seeds. I suspect those will not have quite such variegated petals as these paper ones.
Here's the packet of seeds with the wonderful verse from Mark's gospel about the seed growing the harvest on its own. better get planting!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Doing one track ecumenism, two track ecumenism or one and half track ecumenism ...

Dr B and I have escaped Ferney Voltaire and Paris and we are in the glorious city of Assisi. Of course we travelled by train - wonderful! Difficult to even begin to describe how lovely and fascinating it is. Photos to follow I promise - I took so many today and last night as we wandered from church to Basilica to cafe and from one stunning sun-drenched view to another - yes I admit some wine may have been involved. I always say I only have three words of Italian "Pizza, pasta and prosecco".
We are here on holiday but attending an international ecumenical conference "Where we dwell in common, pathways for dialogue in the 21st century". And yes finally, despite many promises to the contrary, it seems to be galvanising me back into blogging. Let's see if it lasts. We are staying at the Domus Pacis which is right next door to the amazing Porziuncola basilica - I even made it there at 6.30am for lauds this morning. This afternoon we returned there for the conference's opening prayers which included a stirring sing of "All creatures of our God and King" one of the best loved English versions of St Francis' wonderful Canticle of creatures or Canticle of the sun.
At the introductory session late this afternoon, Gerard Manion, who together with Ecclesiological Investigations, is the very lively emminence grise behind the event, gave us a useful introduction to what he referred to as one and a half track ecumenism. Now if like me you haven't been keeping up to date on the latest diplomatic and international terminology (not really something a translator should admit to) you may not quite know what this is about (there are some good definitions here). The idea is to think about two sets of railway tracks which run parallel to one another, track one might be the high level diplomats or heads of states (in church or ecumenical terms perhaps heads of churches, institutions, training facilities, universities etc), track two might be civil society actors, or warring factions in a conflict (in ecumenical terms this might be your grassroots, those teaching young people say, practioners, campaigners, organisers, the young peoplethemselves, you can make your own list depending on different contexts). One and a half track is where we try to get the parallel tracks to cross over. I always love seeing that on railway lines when one line joins another or crosses over it - the lines make such lovely patterns and I've always been fascinated by points and getting trains to go in particular tracks. Anyway, one and a half track is about the transformational act and possibilities which open up when you dare to try and get crossover between the different tracks.
What I really like about the image is that it is essentially very simple and that it comes from a strong conflict resolution background. It is also based on the idea that ecumenism is not just for the specialists, it needs the contributions of all involved to renew the pathways to dialogue for the century ahead.
What was really great about this introduction is that I can now also see that in a small way Gerard Mannion also put this into practice by asking each of the people on the organising committee to share a hope for the conference with the plenary. It's a model which sees real interplay between people, theologians and leaders. You'll gather I quite like it, certainly gave me food for thought, but there's more to come. Yes, that's right. no blog posts for months and then just like the 38 bus, three come along all at once! Meanwhile hope you like the graphic which comes from the Ecclesiological Investigations website.