If we claim to be right….

Posted March 7, 2017 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

Justin with Christie and Dave 2

No-one is perfect. Everyone gets it wrong sometimes. Admitting that is a foundation for building tolerance and understanding.

When asked whether he had ever asked God for forgiveness, Donald Trump replied that he had not, saying in an interview with CNN that he does not regret never asking God for forgiveness, because he doesn’t have much to apologise for.

For Christians marking the start of Lent, those words will sound a little odd. The Bible says clearly “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Even more importantly, it says that if we claim to be perfect we make God out to be a liar!

So, whatever he says, Donald Trump is a sinner in need of God’s help. But here’s the thing: I can’t claim to be any better; I’m a sinner, too, as much in need of God’s forgiveness as anyone else, in fact. So, too, are you – and I am not saying that in order to make you feel bad about yourself, but to make this important point: When we recognise that we are not perfect it helps us to accept other people, with all their faults. And that is the start of being tolerant and generous towards others.

All faiths have times of penitence and reflection, of course. For Christians, Lent started on 1 March this year. This year, it might be a good thing if we used Lent to reflect on how we might show a bit of humility and patience in our dealings with each other.  Instead of decrying how the other side voted in the referendum, how about trying to understand why they felt that way?  Instead of worrying about your own community, how about finding out what life is like for others?  And instead of claiming always to be right, how about accepting that you might just have got things wrong occasionally?

None of us is perfect, but looking for the best in each other is worth the effort. So let’s give it a go. God knows, the world could do with some tolerance and understanding right now.



At the gate of the year…

Posted December 29, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized


Back in the dark days of December 1939, when our country was facing war with Germany, the young Princess Elizabeth, aged just 13, gave her father, the King, a copy of a poem. He was so moved by it that he quoted it in his Christmas Broadcast to the Empire. Known now as The Gate of Year, it originally had the title God knows, and has inspired countless people in the years since then.
The poem challenges the reader to ‘go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God’ which ‘shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way’.
As 1939 rolled into 1940, people were fearful of what the new year would bring. Memories were still strong of the carnage of ‘the Great War’ little more than twenty years earlier. The Spanish Civil War had given a taste of what a modern conflict could be like, and many people expected devastation if Hitler were to launch a ‘Blitzkrieg’ against us. Britain really was going ‘out into the darkness’. When better to put your hand into the hand of God?
As 2016 rolls into 2017, many people are again fearful of what the new year will bring. Whatever we feel about Brexit and Donald Trump, some very ugly emotions have come to the surface in our society in the past year and in many ways we have become polarised and divided as a nation. Too often, we have labelled and derided each other rather that seeing each other as fellow human beings, loved by God, whatever our differences.
No doubt there will be bad days in 2017, and times when it feels that evil has the upper hand but the message of the poem is that there is always hope. Whatever the challenges of the new year, whatever your fears, I would invite you to put your hand into the hand of God and to live your life in the light of his love for all people – including you and yours.

Happy Christmas, West Ham fans…

Posted December 24, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

Slaven Bilic hopes his popularity when he was a West Ham player will help him seal the manager's job

Whether or not you’re a fan of Brexit, Donald Trump, or the move to the Olympic Park, it feels like 2016 has been a year of disagreement and discontent.  For West Ham fans trying, like our team, to find our bearings in the new ground, it has been doubly difficult. Some us find ourselves sitting among strangers who don’t watch football in the way we’re used to doing. And the players are struggling to recreate the sparkling form they showed last season at the Boleyn. We seem to be grinding out results against teams we should be beating easily, and losing to teams who we’ve beaten in recent years. All that, and the BBC lost GBBO, England the series in India, and most of us have a family member who supports a different team. We could be forgiven for feeling pretty sorry for ourselves.

Or could we? Our team is playing in the richest league in the world in a ground that seats twice as many as we were getting at Upton Park until a few years ago. We’ve got some world-class players, and we support a great club with a proud place in the world of football.  And most of us are not being bombed out of our homes, or having to flee in terror from insurgents, or wondering where the next meal is coming from.  The old adage to ‘count your blessings’ is a good one. For many who don’t have the advantages that we enjoy, the world is a pretty dark place at the moment.

As someone who has lived in east London for quite a lot of my life, I’m proud of it.  It has always been a melting-pot where different communities have been welcomed and allowed to work alongside each other happily for the most part, from the Huguenots, Irish and Jews of earlier times to those who have come more recently from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.  At West Ham, players from overseas, like Clyde Best, Slaven Bilic and Diafra Sakho have contributed much to that tradition, just as have home-grown players like Ronnie Boyce, Joe Cole and Mark Noble.  And, through the power of the internet, that old-style East-End West Ham family has become more of a world-wide tribe than ever before.  That, at a time when some are determined to set one community against another, is an important strength.

As Prince Charles said recently, “Normally, at Christmas, we think of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  I wonder, though, if this year we might remember how the story of the Nativity unfolds – with the fleeing of the Holy Family to escape violent persecution.”

I meet plenty of people who have come to east London to get away from wars, persecution or hardship. We have a tradition of welcoming and assimilating refugees that goes back at least 250 years. The story of Joseph and Mary fleeing with their new baby to safety in another country is one that has special resonances for them.

If Christmas is a time for families, let the West Ham family be one where we remember those who are not as well-off as we are, or who are different to us. Let’s have a heart for the homeless, the displaced, and those who are far from their loved-ones. And let’s remember to cherish those who are close to us, both young and old, even if they support the wrong team.  Happy Christmas, everybody!

Education, Education, Education…

Posted August 3, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

Are we the product of our education? Or are the schools and even university that we attended irrelevant?  For thousands of parents in this country who pay huge school fees to send their children to the right place, the answer is obvious. For others it can be said that they have succeeded – or failed – in life despite the education they received. And for some of us the answer is ‘it’s complicated’.

I’ve been mulling over this in recent months, partly because I am a school governor and the chair of a body that oversees, in some way, a hundred and forty church schools in East London and Essex. The work of those schools is hugely important to the children and families they serve, and yet we seem unsure, as a country, about just what we’re trying to achieve in our schools.

For me, schooling was a very mixed affair, and yet I am sure that I reflect many aspects of my education in my life now. The first school I attended was in Ghana, where my father – a doctor – was working. The Akosombo International School is now a huge boarding establishment of some repute, but in 1964 it was much smaller and mostly attended by the children of the white westerners who were supervising the building of the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River. I learned to swim in a fabulous tropical open-air pool, but forgot completely when faced with the cold water of Mile End Municipal Baths when taken there by my next school, in London.

Malmesbury Primary School, in east London, was a very different place. Looking back, I can see that we were taught by some deeply dedicated teachers, including the brilliant infants head, Ruth Fisher. Compared to the drab greyness of the East End in the mid-1960s, it was a bright, colourful place and the sort of progressive school that is too often derided now as ‘trendy’. True, we never learned our ‘times tables’ but, as East End kids even then of a range of backgrounds and ethnicities, we learned about the world and how to get on with each other. I’m grateful for Malmesbury School.

I made a big leap in moving, at the age of eight, to St Paul’s Cathedral Choir School. Everyone spoke ‘posh’, so I soon became bilingual as I moved between the streets of Bow E3 and the choir stalls of St Paul’s. They’d all done their times tables and learned things that I hadn’t, so I appeared stupid to them. It was only when we all did the ‘eleven plus’ tests that the teachers discovered that I had a brain. I remember them talking about the results in hushed tones and treating me with a respect that had been lacking until then.

Of course, the life of a chorister at St Paul’s offered a superb musical education. Singing for at least two hours a day to the highest standards for five years, and being treated as a fellow professional musician by adult singers, is an astonishing training. It is no wonder that many of my contemporaries have gone on to musical careers, among them the composer Mark Russell, the keyboardist and hugely-successful producer Marius de Vries, the organist Simon Lawford, the oboeist Simon Emes, the organist, choirmaster and tv personality Simon Lole and a number of others who still play or produce music. For myself, opportunities to play in public are not as frequent as they were, but I can still be found leading ‘the Dry Bones Band’ at events in Chelmsford Cathedral and elsewhere from time to time.

Not only does the life of a cathedral chorister produce able musicians but the discipline involved in leading daily cathedral worship results in the ability to concentrate for long periods that another former St Paul’s chorister, England cricket captain Alastair Cook has credited in enabling him to grind out long innings in the face of intense pressure. One of my contemporaries, Simon Russell Beale, has used it in a different way to produce some of the most remarkable performances in British theatre in recent years.
To move from a 38-pupil choir school to any other school is difficult. For me, Forest School, set in Epping Forest on the border between Walthamstow and Redbridge, seemed vast and frightening. It wasn’t really, but for me it still took some getting used to. As a music scholar, I had to earn my fees by participating in the musical life of the school. Whereas a cathedral chorister will often not see the music to be sung at Evensong until that morning’s rehearsal, at Forest I was expected to note-bash through weeks of dull choir practices before participating in a performance of (to me) embarrassing ineptitude. I must have been a pain to the music staff. Unsurprisingly, I rebelled and got involved in unofficial music-making and drama on my own terms. Thus it was on the stage at Forest, while acting in a play, that I met the girl who was to become my wife, Sue Jones.

For family reasons, I didn’t go to university when I left school. Instead, I joined the Inland Revenue and, in retrospect, got a good training in finance, managing people, and how to investigate things, but my heart wasn’t in it and it was never going be my life’s work. After five years, I became the Practice Manager for the doctors at Bethnal Green Medical Mission, which was as stimulating and demanding as I’d found the tax office not to be, and it was while I was there that I was encouraged to consider whether God was calling me to ordained ministry.

I shall be forever grateful that I was required to undertake a two-year part-time course first. The Aston Training Scheme was led by a charismatic and inspirational priest, Laurie Green, later to be Bishop of Bradwell. He encouraged his students to think, to question and to challenge what we were being told, and to look for God in surprising places, and certainly outside the theological traditions and presuppositions that we’d arrived with .

That probably meant that when I arrived at Oak Hill College, an establishment with a Conservative Evangelical flavour, I was never going to be an easy student to teach. With the confidence that Aston had given me, I made no secret that I wasn’t going to take everything that the college stood for without giving it a rigourous going-over. To my surprise, the student body elected me as their Student President, even though I was a long way from being most people’s idea of an Oak Hill student. I would still never claim to be a ‘Conservative Evangelical’ – I’m probably an Open Evangelical if that label means anything to you – even though I have a lot of time for the more gracious members of that tradition.

So, did all those places of education make me who I am today?  Certainly, I have something of the multi-cultural perspective of Akosombo, in Ghana, and of Malmesbury, in the East End of the 1960s. My musical skills, such as they are, came from my five years in St Paul’s Cathedral choir, and maybe Forest gave me a confidence and can-do attitude that has enabled me to get to places that I wouldn’t have reached otherwise. Aston gave me to ability and the tools to question and Oak Hill gave me theological skills.

I’m grateful for them all, and yet I’m more than all that. I’m also the product of my family, of a whole range of life experiences and, I would suggest, of the love of God who has been close to me through thick and thin. Am I a motorbike enthusiast, like all my maternal grandmother’s grandsons, because she rode a bike when it was almost unheard-of for a woman to do so?  Am I an ‘East Ender’ because my father’s family lived in East London for generations? Do I have a heart for refugees because my earliest-known ancestors came to Spitalfields from France as Huguenot refugees in 1750?
Maybe so, but the past can only tell us so much. I’m at least as interested in the future. I’m proud of my children – Sarah, Thomas and Rachel, all of whom are lovely and creative people. I’d like to think that I’ve played a part in their education and in making them the people they are. Will they be able to trace the influences of my education in their lives?  Only time – and God – knows.

Things fall apart…

Posted June 24, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized



Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.


Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.


The darkness drops again but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W B Yeats

Getting things into perspective…

Posted February 16, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

Things like this Yew tree help us to get things into perspective.  It was planted just after the Black Death, in the 1350s, and was already two hundrd years old when Queen Elizabeth 1 came to the throne. It was over four hundred years old at the time of the signing of US Declaration of Independence. Now, more than six hundred and fifty years since it was planted, it is still quietly growing where it has always stood, in the churchyard of All Saints’ Church, Wootton Courtenay, in Somerset, beside the path where, throughout that time, generations of parishioners have walked to worship each Sunday.

The Barnabas factor: The secret behind England’s 1966 World Cup triumph?

Posted February 14, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

As every football fan knows, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were at the heart of England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup. All three came up through West Ham’s renowned youth system and were nurtured by Ron Greenwood, still West Ham’s greatest manager ever.
When, as a star-struck fan, I met Ron Greenwood back in the 1990s, I asked him what his secret was. To my surprise, he gave me one word: ‘Encouragement. It’s encouragement’. ‘My job’, he explained, ‘was to encourage young players to give the best of their God-given talents. Encouragement is what it’s all about.’

I remembered that recently when I heard of the death – at the age of 99 – of a teacher from my school days, John Scott. Back when I was a rebellious 16-year-old, my school report reflected the frustration of most who taught me. The first entry was ‘He has done no work at all and will certainly fail’, and it got worse after that. Scott was the one teacher who saw past the adolescent angst to give me some hope for the future. ‘In his own way, and in his own time,’ Scott wrote, ‘Elwin will be very successful’. Those words of encouragement were to be important to me in making it through those difficult teenage years and on to life as a reasonably well-balanced adult.

Both Ron Greenwood and John Scott were practitioners of a skill that we see in Barnabas, a character in the book of the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible. ‘Barnabas’ was a nickname that meant ‘son of encouragement’, and the man with that name in the Bible demonstrated encouragement in a number of ways. He was generous with his own resources. He was welcoming and hospitable. And he wasn’t jealous of other people’s abilities, but helped draw out those gifts to everyone’s benefit. You can read about Barnabas in chapters 4-11 of Acts.

Encouragement isn’t a difficult skill. It’s not something that we need to do a three-year course in to be good at. It’s something that every one of us can practise. And it can make the world of difference to the people around us. We can choose to criticise, and to knock each other down at every opportunity, and the result will be failure. But when we choose to be the sort of people who encourage each other, to build each other up, to praise successes and to see beyond setbacks, remarkable things can happen. Encouragement can help all of us to give the very best of our God-given talents, with positive results for everyone. It’s the Barnabas factor.

Ron Greenwood encouraged West Ham’s World Cup heroes to achieve greatness. John Scott encouraged me to make the best of who I am. What could a bit of encouragement do for the people YOU know and love?