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.
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?
I’m very sad to have heard the news today that Grace Manieson-Annancy has passed away, at home, in Akosombo, Ghana. After retiring as Principal of Akosombo International School, where she nurtured hundreds of grateful pupils, she devoted herself to serving the poorer local children by teaching them to read.
She started with just a few books but her readers flocked to her and she turned no-one away. With the help of friends in both Ghana and the UK, she set about building a permanent reading centre where children could learn in safety. We know it as ‘Grace’s Place’, of course, and it will stand for many years to come as testimony to a teacher whose love for children drove her to greater and greater efforts on their behalf.
We’re thinking tonight of Grace’s husband, Archdeacon Felix Annancy, her sisters and her wider family, as well as the many, many former students of AIS who will be in mourning at her passing.
Thank God for Grace. May she rest in peace and rise in Glory.
A South London woman has unearthed a tragic story of a Leytonstone chaplain killed in World War Two after discovering his name on an antique suitcase. As the local paper, the News Shopper, reported, ‘Jenni Crane, 35, bought the suitcase last year when shopping in Crystal Palace with the intention of using it as decoration and storage for her shoe collection. But when she discovered the name Rev GEM Parry and E11 postcode written on it, she started a journey of discovery about the life of the military chaplain.
George Edward Maule Parry was briefly the curate at John’s Church, in Church Lane, Leytonstone, in the early 1940s before he was killed on June 6, 1944. Parry was serving with the 6th airborne division and was killed aged 29 while defending wounded men during a German raid on a medical aid post.’
The Argus, Melbourne, reported on July 12, 1944: “Parry was killed with a knife or bayonet while defending helpless wounded men during a German raid on a medical aid post. The Germans set upon the wounded in a frenzied state, shooting and bayoneting them, Rev. Parry threw himself between the Nazis and the wounded troops.”
Military chaplains are unarmed.
Writing in the Times shortly after Parry’s death, the Bishop of Barking described his local links: “The Rev.George Edward Maule Parry, C.F., was one of four sons of Canon Allen James Parry, till recently Vicar of St. Peter’ s, Upton Cross, and Rural Dean of West Ham. All four were on service, two in the Regular Army. Two have now given their lives for their country, Peter in North Africa in November, 1942, and now George in France. George was educated at Farnfields Preparatory School, Bickley; Weymouth College; King’ s College, London; and he was trained for Holy Orders at Bishop’ s College, Cheshunt. I have watched his career from childhood. At every turn he had amply fulfilled expectations, and I entertained high hopes of him when he began his ministry under Canon Brown, Vicar of St. John’ s, Leytonstone, a masterhand, in 1938.His vicar died on the day that war began and George was severely tested in having to take charge of an important parish while still scarcely fledged. He won the love of the people, as he did some months later when he took charge of a Forest Gate parish, whose vicar was a chaplain to the forces. In 1941 he joined up as a chaplain himself and served for 19 months in West Africa. In 1942 he was transferred to the Parachute Regiment with which he preceeded to the invasion. Already several fine chaplains have lost their lives in France. George Parry adds lustre to their number.”
Jenni Crane is making BBC Radio 4 programme about the forgotten soldier, speaking to antiques experts while searching for family members. Alongside the radio documentary, Ms Crane has started a campaign to get recognition for Padre Parry and for him to be awarded a medal.
This is the gist of an address given at a Remembrance service at Forest School on the Sunday after more that 120 people were killed in Paris by ISIS terrorists.
How should we respond in the face of Evil? To answer that question, I would like to offer the examples of a member of staff here at Forest who was awarded the Victoria Cross and of a nurse who was executed by firing squad. I might just include Martin Luther King and Doctor Who as well.
The first of those, Benjamin Geary, we can learn about from Forest School’s superb on-line database of school magazines. He was a teacher in what was then called the junior school, and the School Magazine of Christmas 1914 shows most importantly that he was a regular in the Old Foresters cricket team, but also mentions that in September he and two colleagues had left to serve their King and Country. The magazine makes light of this with a dreadful pun about him eating cold chicken in ‘fowl’ weather, and looks forward to him being ‘back with us next year’.
The tone a year later, in the Christmas 1915 edition was only slightly less up-beat. It offers ‘our heartiest congratulations to Lieutenant Geary on his being awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry during the battle for ‘Hill 60’ near Ypres’, and gives an account of his conspicuous bravery and determination in the face of the enemy. His Corps Commander, addressing the Battalion the next day said ‘it was the most magnificent thing yet in the whole war’. Those words that will have disturbing echoes for anyone familiar with Blackadder goes forth or Oh what a lovely war.
Of course, at that point, only a year into the conflict, they could not have known of the horrors that were to come – of the Battle of the Somme, in which the British Army suffered 57,000 casualties on the first day alone (more than a million men were to die in that battle) or of Passchendaele, where 400,000 further died.
Three years later, in the Christmas 1918 edition, the school magazine would record that 98 former pupils of Forest School had died in the Forces – and that from a school which, at any one time, only had about 100 on its roll.
We can only imagine what Benjamin Geary saw or went through in the latter stages of the war. We do know that when it was all over he went to train for the priesthood and later returned to the Army as a Chaplain, bringing comfort to the soldiers and officers who might have to fight again. Was this, perhaps, a response to the evil and suffering he had seen?
1915 also saw the execution by firing squad of Edith Cavell by the German occupying forces in Belgium. Her response to the evil and suffering she observed was to care for the injured, regardless of which side they’d been fighting for. She was arrested for helping wounded Allied soldiers and sentenced to death.
Receiving communion on the night before she was to be shot, she said to the chaplain: “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”
Both Geary and Cavell had seen what we are seeing now in Syria and Iraq – that war is rarely glorious and that most of the time the wrong people are its victims.
If you watched last week’s ‘Dr Who’ you will have heard him say “When we fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die.
You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn, How many hearts will be broken, How many lives shattered.”
So what is our response in the face of Evil? How are we to react to the events in Paris? To the killing of more than 120 innocent people by young men representing a perverse distortion of Islam?
Martin Luther King, who paid with his own life for opposing evil, said this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I think those words are in tune with both Benjamin Geary – the VC hero who became a chaplain – and Edith Cavell – the nurse who was determined not to have hatred or bitterness towards anyone.
They’re also in tune with the members of our armed forces who risked their lives this year in the battle against the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. There are thousands of people who owe their lives to British Army engineers, medics and squaddies who built and ran field hospitals to combat a disease that was decimating the population. The people of West Africa will remember that when Boko Haram is long gone.
Finally, let me quote the Archbishop of Canterbury:
“The sorrow in Paris is heart breaking and the evil of those who planned and perpetrated the Paris atrocities is beyond measure or words. We weep with the victims and with the bereaved. France is deeply wounded but will prevail with that courage and strength she has always shown. Wherever there is such wickedness Christians believe that Christ suffers afresh in the suffering of every human being. In solidarity let us be the source of consolation.”
“The violence of this evil group brings terror to all, including in the Muslim world where its cowardly acts are opposed by many. This is a global and generational struggle against an evil cult that chooses death and fear. We must choose life and hope, to overcome their hate with the power of God’s love. It is in solidarity across all faiths and none, and with all human beings, rather than in the victimisation of any, that we will find the way to defeat the demonic curse of terrorism. Christians are called (and whether you’re a Christian or not, I would urge you to do the same) to stand, like Jesus, with the suffering and broken and to oppose evil and fear with all their strength.”
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.
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.
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.
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 didn’t 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.
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.