Project Paddington shows that we care. And that matters.

Posted September 18, 2015 by Elwin Cockett
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As a child, I loved Paddington Bear. With his floppy hat, his duffle coat and his liking for marmalade, he was a very appealing character, and the stories about his life with an everyday London family were great fun.
In arriving from (apparently) ‘darkest Peru’ with just a suitcase and a label saying ‘Please look after this bear’, he was also a reminder that a generation of London’s children had done a similar journey during the war. As Paddington’s Great Aunt Lucy tells him in the first of the stories, “Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the countryside where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.”
Of course, East London has a long tradition of welcoming strangers. As I keep reminding myself, my ancestors include one who came here as a 15-year-old refugee, having escaped religious persecution in France in the 18th century. He found a welcome in Spitalfields, got a job, and raised a family here. They continued speaking their native language, so it took them a while to integrate. But Londoners they became, like countless other refugees and migrants over the centuries.
Today, we face a new refugee crisis in Europe, largely caused by war in the Middle East. When we see pictures of the children involved, our hearts go out to them, and yet most of us feel powerless to do anything. That’s why I was really pleased to read about Project Paddington.
Project Paddington was started only a couple of weeks ago by kind people in Sheffield. Now, children across the country are being invited to send a teddy bear, with a message and a few pounds, to a refugee child somewhere in the world. (If you want to know more, do a search on Facebook for ‘Project Paddington’.) It’s not much, and it’s going to solve the refugee problem, but it will show a lot of children who need a bit of love that we still care. And that matters.

This article was first published in this week’s Newham Recorder and appears with their kind permission.

What do West Ham’s manager and East Ham’s MP have in common?

Posted August 18, 2015 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








Here’s a confession: I am a big fan of West Ham United’s manager, Slaven Bilic.

Many years ago, when he was playing for West Ham and I was the club chaplain, I found myself in the same hospitality lounge as him, both of us having arrived early before a game. Knowing where he was from, and that he had a reputation for being an articulate, thoughtful person, I asked him about the war in Bosnia that was raging at the time.

To my surprise, Slaven then spent the best part of an hour with me, explaining in depth the complexities underlying that conflict, and putting forward his ideas for a peaceful future for the Balkans. He showed a remarkable knowledge of the relevant history, law and politics, and I came away hugely impressed.

Now, I would be the first to say that you don’t need a university degree in international law to be a footballer, but I am very glad that my football club has a new manager of such intelligence, wit and learning. It can only help.

I’m also a big fan of our local MPs in Newham. Whatever our politics (and no, I am not a member of the Labour party or any other party, for that matter), it seems to me that we are particularly well-served by our Members of Parliament.  It was no surprise to me that Stephen Timms was elected with the biggest majority in the country. Like the best of his colleagues, Stephen is a dedicated and able MP, respected by colleagues of all political hues.

What do Slaven Bilic and Stephen Timms have in common?  You don’t have to be a West Ham fan or a Labour party supporter to recognise that they are both bright, dedicated people at the top of their professions. What they also are is men of faith. Both of them have a faith in God, and neither of them is ashamed to say so.

It doesn’t stop them being competitive, nor does it require them to leave their intellect behind. But at a time when the new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron is under fire for admitting that he prays, it affirms that it is perfectly possible to excel at things and believe in God.  I, for one, thank God for that.

Why I am not standing for General Synod

Posted August 7, 2015 by Elwin Cockett
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General Synod. Whether we like it or not, it is arguably the most important decision-making body in the Church of England. Anyone who cares about the mission of the church in this country will want to see Synod working well. As someone who has been around the C-of-E for a few years, I think I could be a good Synod member. Nevertheless, I have decided not to stand as a candidate in the next election, and would like to take this opportunity to explain why.

Make no mistake, I would have loved to be on General Synod. I would have enjoyed being part of things at a national level and contributing to what is still a significant forum.  As an experienced archdeacon, I could have been expected to be able to deal in an informed manner with the complexities of the legislation that will be coming before Synod, and I think I could have represented my diocese well.

Nevertheless, there is a serious problem in the Church of England that my candidature would not have solved: Synod doesn’t reflect the range of people in our churches. As I look around the congregations in East London, I see a ‘rainbow church’ of people whose roots lie all around the world. It is truly a taste of Heaven, as described in the Bible, in Revelation 7:9 – ‘…there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.’

Many of the churches in East London that were in decline twenty years ago are now thriving because of Christians from ethnic minorities who are confident in their faith and passionate in their worship. Among our candidates for ordination in recent years, some of the very best have been (to quote Nina Simone) ‘young, gifted and black’, which is a huge blessing. And yet, in contrast, General Synod is still largely middle-aged (at best) and very, very white.

Others have written and spoken about this more eloquently than I have been able to do, including Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford. And it’s not as if there has been no progress in recent years: In this diocese, two of our seven archdeacons are members of ethnic minorities, as are at least one-third of the clergy in my own archdeaconry. And yet, those two archdeacons outnumber all the BME archdeacons currently in post in the rest of the Church of England put together.

Years ago, there were a great many archdeacons on General Synod. That’s not surprising. Archdeacons know how the church works and are good at the kind of detailed legal stuff that Synod has to be concerned with. But Synod needs a range of voices, and so the rule was passed that restricts the number of archdeacons who can be elected to one per diocese. So, if I were to be elected as a member, I would be the only archdeacon from my own diocese on Synod.

Now, whatever my own strengths, it is clear to me that my friend and colleague, John Perumbalath, should be a member of General Synod, such is the range of experiences and knowledge that he would bring. As an ethnic minority priest, he would be able to say things that I could not with any credibility, and would personify all that is good about the church in East London and Essex. John is, of course, the Archdeacon of Barking and, since the rules say that it is only possible for one archdeacon from this diocese to be elected, that must mean that I should not stand.

I am not going to pretend that this was a comfortable conclusion for me to arrive at, but it is the right one.  I wish the rules were different, but they are as they are.  John has kindly agreed to allow me to nominate him and he will have my full support in the coming election.

Never give up on yourself…

Posted June 3, 2015 by Elwin Cockett
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I’ve been remembering my old schoolmate, Malcolm. You probably won’t have known him, and you never will now, because he died recently, in France, after a long illness. He was 56, which is no age these days. And he was a remarkable musician and an international authority on Early Music.

Such achievements would have surprised anyone he was at school with, though. Malcolm was popular and creative – he always had a remarkable ability to make people laugh and he certainly loved life – but he was no academic. We sat next to each other in French language lessons and laughed a lot at his appalling accent. We did a lot of music together, but he seemed always ready to admire others’ skills more than his own. In the end, he left school with a relatively modest tally of exams, if truth be told, without any great expectations.

And then something happened. Someone at a local college spotted a spark of something in him and encouraged him to study at an institute where that spark was fanned into flame, enabling him to go on to university. Within a few years, he had a Music degree. And a few years after that, having gained a second degree – a Masters, from Manchester – he set off on his travels to see where his talents would take him.

He didn’t have to go far. He was in Paris when playwright Steven Berkoff heard him playing the piano and, as a result, invited him to direct the music for his latest play, which Malcolm did to critical acclaim. He blossomed in France, turning down the invitation to transfer with the play to Broadway, staying, instead, in the country that would be his home for the rest of his life.

Working with some great musicians he’d met there, he became known as a superb interpreter of medieval music. He performed on numerous CDs and recordings for French radio. Between such engagements, he also became a lecturer on Early Music and a composer in his own right, with great success.

Malcolm never forgot who he was. He continued to make people laugh, but also amazed them with his musical creativity. His French got better as mine got worse. And he was always modest about his achievements, great though they were. Above all, together, he and his French wife were wonderfully generous hosts at their home in a rural village south of Orleans, entertaining a surprisingly large and eclectic range of friends, including several from his schooldays who will miss him enormously.

It would have been so easy for Malcolm’s life to be defined by what he did or rather didnt achieve at school. Happily, someone saw beyond that and helped him to realise the potential that others hadn’t seen. Even amidst the greatest failure – far worse than a few failed exams – there is hope.

Sunday’s coming…

Posted April 2, 2015 by Elwin Cockett
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Anyone who has been a fan of our beloved football team, West Ham United, for as long as I have knows that optimism can be dangerous. Fans of most clubs learn to be cynical about success, knowing that an injury or two or a few dodgy decisions can soon spoil a run of good results. Only one team can win a league, whether it’s the Premiership or a local Sunday league on Wanstead Flats, and for all the other teams there’s the pain of unrealised optimism; ‘It’s the hope I can’t stand’, as someone once put it. It’s better to be cynical from the start, most would say.

The Christian festival of Easter is about the triumph of hope over cynicism, of light over darkness, and life over death. Throughout Holy Week, we remember the story of the events leading up to Jesus’s arrest, trial and execution by crucifixion, and so much seems to be about the victory of evil over good.  By the Friday – ‘Good’ Friday – we’ve reached what feels like the end: If being nailed to a cross and left to die is failure, it must have felt like Jesus had failed. Good Friday represents failure: The end of hope.

For many in our world, every day feels like Good Friday. Hope feels like a dangerous emotion. Disaster awaits around the corner. Better to be resigned to our fate than hopeful about the future.

And if you’re going through a tough time, whether because of illness or need or worry, you might well feel like that. But the message of this week is ‘It might be Good Friday, but Sunday’s coming’. it’s a message of hope that’s as relevant today as it ever was.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, there’s no doubting that something remarkable happened that Sunday to Jesus Christ to turn his followers’ despair into joy. People who had run away in terror on the night of Jesus’s arrest were, days later, living lives full of courage and expectation. That’s not to say that Friday hadn’t been bad; but Easter Sunday blew it away. Things changed forever.

It seems to me that we can all choose whether to live our lives in fear and darkness, or in hope and light. It’s not just positive thinking, it’s about declaring that we’re going to look for the best, hope for the best, and be the best that we can be. And it’s about telling ourselves, when everything feels as bad as it can be, that it might be Good Friday, but Sunday’s coming.  Happy Easter, everybody.

The Bishops were right…

Posted March 12, 2015 by Elwin Cockett
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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, probably isn’t going to suffer the fate of 12th-century Thomas a Becket, happily.  But the response of some to the bishops’ pre-election pastoral letter has been to echo Henry II’cry ‘Will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?’  It’s as if the Church of England has committed a cardinal sin by getting involved in politics.

Let me make it clear. The bishops’ letter isn’t party-political, but it does say important things about Britain today. One East London MP, Jon Cruddas, has called it ‘a profound, complex letter’ and ‘as conservative as it is radical’. It dares to say some important things, even though they’re not fashionable, and calls for people of all political beliefs to work for the common good.

Whether we’re from the Right or the Left, the letter says some challenging things. It argues that neither the post-war collectivism of nationalisation, the NHS and the Welfare State nor the free-market revolution of the 1980s give us all the answers to the problems of Britain in the 21st century. Both have failed. What we need, it argues, is an understanding that people aren’t just commodities or economic units but individuals capable of making decisions, exercising responsibility and living with others in positive relationships that bring peace and prosperity to communities – in short, that we need to build a consensus that we will work together for the common good.

Some will still question why the bishops are getting involved in politics at all. Dom Helder Camara, famously said ‘When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor they call me a communist.’  The Archbishop of Canterbury is no communist, but he is right to be asking difficult questions of our political parties.

As the general election draws near, the media will be full of people turning everything into party-political point-scoring. That’s inevitable. But we need to rise above that and have a long-term conversation about how we can make things better for the common good. That’s true whatever our politics – or our faith.  

‘We preach Christ crucified…’

Posted March 11, 2015 by Elwin Cockett
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Like all good archdeacons, I listen to my betters, so when the Archbishop of Canterbury revealed on Desert Island Discs that he is a fan of The West Wing, I bought the boxed set of all seven series and 156 episodes.

If you’ve ever watched the West Wing you will know that candidates for any senior post in American politics have to undergo a confirmation process in which just about everything they have ever said or done will be raked over. What it leads to, it seems to me, is a culture in which leaders are expected to appear to be omniscient and omni-competent, which means, I suspect, that they are out of touch with the rest of us.

There’s nothing new in that. People have always expected leaders to have done great things and/or to have all the answers. Thus, the Apostle Paul writes (in 1 Corinthians) ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom’ – action and answers – ‘but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’ – Foolishness, not least, because to be crucified was a failure, perhaps the ultimate failure.

It is tempting for church leaders, like leaders everywhere, to try to be people who have all the answers and who can do everything. But that’s not the Biblical model.

Famously, Moses was a murderer, Jacob was a cheat, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran away from God, Paul was complicit in Stephen’s death, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sarah was impatient, Elijah was moody, Abraham was old (the ultimate sin) and Lazarus was, well, dead. And yet, God was able to work through such people for good.

Leaders in the church do well, in Lent, to acknowledge that we don’t know it all, and that we’re not omni-competent. We make mistakes, as leaders have done throughout history. We’re a bunch of sinners in need of a saviour.

In the Anglican church in East London and Essex, we’ve been encouraging people to use a ‘holding cross’ – the Chelmsford Holding Cross, no less – as a reminder of some deep truths about our relationship with God.

  • We hold onto the cross because time and time again it offers the chance of a new start with God.
  • We hold onto the cross because it reminds us that we do so as members of the body of Christ.
  • We hold onto the cross because it is at the centre of the great story of God and his creation of which we are part.
  • We hold onto the cross because we’re called to serve, to love God and to love our neighbours.
  • And we hold onto the cross because the love of God is as relevant to what we do out throughout the week as it is to what we’re doing in worship on a Sunday.

We’re human, and we fail. And yet…

And yet, as we know, by God’s amazing grace, when a motley crew of people open to God’s will gather in his name, anything can happen.

The Pope is a sinner!

Posted February 12, 2015 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized


Yes, you read that right: The Pope is a sinner. He said so himself. When asked once who he was, he said “I am a sinner. That is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

Lest you think that I am claiming any moral superiority over the Supreme Pontiff, I should say here and now that I, too, am a sinner. I have failed far too many times in my life to be able to claim to be better than anyone reading these words. That’s not the false humility of a Uriah Heap speaking. It’s the truth. It’s at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. “If we say that we are without sin we deceive ourselves…”

But that’s not the whole story. As that great letter-writer, Paul of Tarsus, wrote: “This saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.”

One of the oldest and greatest prayers used by Christians over the centuries, the Jesus prayer, puts it very well: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Christians believe in second chances. And second chances change us, and so those who seek to follow Jesus Christ and who really understand what it is to be forgiven, through the Grace of God, tend to become people who can act with forgiveness and understanding towards others who fail.

If we admit that we often get things wrong, we should surely be generous to others when they get things wrong – whether they’re our friends and neighbours or our politicians and leaders.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could approach the coming election in that way? Wouldn’t it be good if politicians could confess to having made mistakes without being pilloried, or change their mind without being accused of doing a U-turn? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear leaders in all walks of life admitting their fallibility and being generous when others fail?

After all, as Einstein said, the person who never made a mistake never did anything new.

A version of this article appeared first in the Newham Recorder

2014 in review

Posted December 29, 2014 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Look what you did!

Posted December 13, 2014 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

Last year, I told you about Grace, our friend in Akosombo, in Ghana, who was helping lots of children to learn to read. I told you that she had nowhere to keep the hundreds of books she has collected for the children, or for those children to read in safety. And I told you about the vision to build ‘Grace’s Place’, a base for Grace’s work and a centre to promote literacy.

As I knew you would, you responded in style. Individuals from all over the country found ways of raising funds, along with churches from across East London and Essex. They included Gary Stewart and his colleagues at Manchester-based CMC School Foods, my cousin Martin Cockett and his wife Maggie, and friends at All Saints’, Leyton, St Cedd’s, Barkingside, St Luke’s, Victoria Dock, St Luke’s, Walthamstow, St Peter’s, Aldborough Hatch, St Paul’s, Woodford Bridge, All Saints’ and St Giles’, Nazeing, and – most recently – the congregation at a confirmation service held by Bishop Peter at St John’s, Stratford.

The result of your fantastic generosity is that now, barely 18 months since the appeal was set up, Grace’s Place is a reality! As you can see from these photos, the local people are already flocking there, and the building is already in use, despite the fact that it isn’t finished yet.

All this was made possible by you. On behalf of the children of Akosombo, this is a huge ‘thank you’ for your generosity and kindness. ‘Grace’s Place’ couldn’t have happened without you. Thank you, and may God bless you.

Of course, there is more to do. Some walls are yet to be plastered, wiring needs to be installed and doors and windows remain as a costly challenge to be met. So, if you’re looking to make a donation to mark Christmas and the end of 2014 you can be sure that Grace would make very good use of it.