Bishop Anne Hollinghurst’s Eucharist Address at the WATCH AGM 2019

It was very special to have Bishop Anne Hollinghurst with us at our AGM to lead our Eucharist and offer her reflections on the lectionary readings for the Festival of Saint Francis.

Francis of Assisi, 1226

Francis was born in Assisi in central Italy either in 1181 or the following year. He was baptized Giovanni but given the name Francesco by his father, a cloth merchant who traded in France and had married a French wife. There was an expectation that he would eventually take over his father’s business but Francis had a rebellious youth and a difficult relationship with his father. After suffering the ignominy of imprisonment following capture whilst at war with the local city of Perugia, he returned a changed man. He took to caring for disused churches and for the poor, particularly those suffering from leprosy. Whilst praying in the semi-derelict church of St Damian, he distinctly heard the words: ‘Go and repair my church, which you see is falling down.’ Others joined him and he prepared a simple, gospel-based Rule for them all to live by. As the Order grew, it witnessed to Christ through preaching the gospel of repentance and emphasizing the poverty of Christ as an example for his followers. Two years before his death, his life being so closely linked with that of his crucified Saviour, he received the Stigmata, the marks of the wounds of Christ, on his body. At his death, on the evening of 3 October 1226, his Order had spread throughout western Christendom.

Galatians 6.14-end

May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Luke 12.22-34

He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

How is it for you? Laywomen’s Day, Exeter. Jenny Humphreys’ story.

London WATCH Day for Laywomen

Jenny Humphreys, Reader from Bath & Wells Diocese.

I grew up in a small mill town in West Yorkshire where I attended the local church occasionally and was a regular member, with my two sisters, of the afternoon Sunday School held in a local hall. This was probably more to give our parents a quiet couple of hours than through any great religious zeal! However we went along happily enough, learned our Bible stories, acquired several books for being regular attenders, enjoyed the Christmas parties, and looked forward to the bars of chocolate from Grandad when he collected us at the end of each session! (more…)

How is it for you? Exeter Laywomen’s Day: One woman’s story.

London WATCH Day for Laywomen

Women and church – lay women and the church – Jean Hope.

Well I am definitely a lay woman with a sense of God’s calling on my life and no desire to be ordained I actually love church, all different sizes and colours and denominations and although I have been attending a little village Anglican Church for the last 15 years, I am really not an Anglican just someone who loves God. (more…)

Mary Magdalene: A sermon for the consecration of Rachel Treweek and Sarah Mullally

WATCH celebrates the consecration of Bishops Rachel Treweek and Sarah Mullally at Canterbury on 22 July 2015.

Read the full text of the Bishop of Stepney’s sermon for the consecration below:

Mary Magdalene
A sermon for the consecration of Rachel Treweek and Sarah Mullally – 22 July 2015

When Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code, he was not the first writer to be attracted to the scent of Mary Magdalene, and he won’t be the last. She is one of the most iconic and enigmatic figures in the Gospels, providing down the years a rich seam of speculative material for creative minds to adorn and exaggerate.

And exaggerate they surely have. It is shameful, and deeply ironic, that the witness of Christian history – written and formulated by men – so often projects on to Mary little more than the deepest insecurities of the male psyche.

For, on any straightforward reading, the Gospels consistently witness to Mary as one of the foremost leaders in the group that surrounded Jesus. And by appearing first to her in the garden of resurrection, the early church was offered a quite extraordinary ‘join-up-the-dots’ moment, an opportunity to connect the radical inclusion of Jesus with the shape of the church that was to bear his name. That the church failed to do so was hardly surprising. It has, after all, taken us until very recently to join up some of these dots ourselves.

I have been given the delicious task of trying to draw something from Mary Magdalene’s story that speaks in to Rachel and Sarah’s ordination to the episcopate today. So I want to offer two simple thoughts about the distinctive contribution of female bishops to the question of leadership in the Church of England, as you both begin to influence the way in which bishops lead the church.

Socialise us, and subvert us.

  1. Socialise us

I have some of my most profound thoughts on rush-hour tube trains. Crammed like a vertical sardine in to a Central Line tin can, nose to nose with my fellow commuters, each of us desperately trying to avert our gaze from the eyes only inches from our own, jealously guarding the smallest bit of personal space, that’s when the biggest metaphysical challenge to Christian faith rears its ugly head.

It is not, I have to say, the problem of suffering that keeps me awake at night, nor the doctrine of the Trinity; not the difficulty of squaring substitutionary atonement with the love of God.

No, it is simply this. There are more than 7 billion people in our world. And the thought that God can be in intimate personal communion with each and every one of them, stretches my weak faith to its limits. Especially on the tube.

I don’t know what it’s like in the spacious fields of rural Gloucester or the rolling hills of rustic Devon, but you simply can’t live in London without being challenged by this on a daily basis. There are just so many people …

It’s why, in big cities, no-one even looks at anyone else, let alone talks to them. The scale of the human landscape is too vast, it overpowers you. People retreat in to screens or headphones, shutting out the insistent presence of those with whom we share immediate space. Little wonder someone coined this definition of a city: millions of people being lonely together.

The thing is this: it affects the way we understand leadership. It reduces it to function and structure and bureaucracy, instrument and agency.

But on my tube journey, thundering through subterranean tunnels, 30 seconds from Liverpool Street, I have a moment of revelation. In the garden of the resurrection, whatever outward form and physical appearance Jesus had in his resurrected body, it was not immediately recognisable to Mary. She thought he was the gardener. When she eventually recognises him, it is devastatingly simple. He speaks her name: Mary.

Despite the weakness of my faith, resurrection is and always will be personal. The risen Christ is known in and through relationship.

The heart of Christianity is a relationship. Not a campaign or a project or a structure or a debate or a review or a reorganisation, but a relationship, a knowing by name.

And this gift was entrusted to a woman.

Sarah, if you will permit me one small Stepney departure for a moment, I have been privileged beyond measure to work closely with Rachel for 4 years. She has taught me more about being a bishop than I could ever teach her. She has modelled relational leadership in a way that is a gift to those around her, and a gift to the church. Both of you will both bring huge gifts to your role as bishops, but I have a suspicion that at heart you will embody a relational approach that is truly distinctive.

I’m not talking here about the rather anodyne idea of a leader as a ‘people person’. I’m talking about leadership for social transformation. The real significance of a relational approach is not so much in the sometimes rather saccharin nature of individual personal relationships – ‘hide less, chat more’ as the graffiti on one of my running routes in East London puts it.

Important as this may be, I’m more interested in the dimension of relationship we might more dynamically define as ‘communion’ – that sacramental relationship between and within God and the created order which expresses itself in social transformation and lies behind Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God.

Eucharistic communion is radical and inclusive and utterly relational.

So when Florence Nightingale brought a revolutionary new approach to nursing, or Octavia Hill developed innovations in social housing, their insights were not so much about medicine or the structures of the housing market; these women placed human relationships back at the heart of medicine and housing management, humanising otherwise mechanistic systems and transforming them in the process.

The challenge to women, as we celebrate your full inclusion at every level of leadership in the Church of England, is to transform notions of sacramental communion beyond pastoral relationships and in to the very structures of society. That will be socially transformational leadership.

In the secular leadership world there is a fascinating trend towards CQ: Cultural Intelligence. Julia Middleton, Chief Executive of Common Purpose, has written a book exploring the significance of Cultural Intelligence for the next generation of leaders. CQ is just a fancy way of saying that in the emerging global world, characterised above all else by diversity and difference, the best leaders will be marked out by their ability to navigate the diversity of the cultural landscape in a relational way; as the Archbishop put it in his Roscoe lecture on Monday: facing each other.

It has taken a woman to point this out.

Socialise us. Be relational in your leadership, and help all of us to do the same.

Secondly, finally – and more briefly – subvert us.

  1. Subvert us

I was directed recently by a friend to an obscure short story by EM Forster (‘The Story of a Panic’). Set in the rather crusty, straight-laced world of Edwardian society, the story relates the delightfully agitational and alarmingly disruptive intervention of the unseen figure of ‘Pan’ to strip away the stifling effects of the dominant culture and liberate an altogether more vibrant expression of life.

Pan subverts the patterns of an ordered, controlled society where a powerful elite constrains and limits the cultural norms of belief and behaviour. E M Forster’s story is a fascinating reflection on the positive effects of challenging convention and unmasking the unconscious bias of an unexamined orthodoxy.

Years later the German psychologist Erich Fromm came up with the notion of ‘anonymous authority’ – that unseen influence within the modern world which affects the way that people believe and behave, which he says is “a cultural pressure all the more effective for being invisible and source-less”.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit frightened of Pan. Perhaps we all are. Perhaps that’s the point. But the ‘panic’ that EM Forster wrote about was not a wholly negative thing. He represented it as a catalyst for positive change, both for individuals and for society.

It’s hard to escape the fact that Jesus chose the outsiders of his world to share his life with, those whose very existence was disturbing and disruptive to the accepted norms of belief and behaviour. He lived and preached a gospel of radical inclusion, and it upset the apple-cart of conventional religion.

Was this why he chose Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection? Not so much to ‘disturb the comfortable’ as to disturb the conventional. For it is in the disturbance of people like Mary Magdalene that we may learn to see the world – and God – afresh.

I hope that women bishops will disturb us. I hope they will challenge the conventions of the C of E, which continues to be led and directed by too many people like me – white, male, middle-aged professionals.

I’ve always loved the notion of the court jester – the outsider who is nonetheless welcomed in to the court of power because they are the only one who can speak truth to the King. Every society, secular or religious, needs a way of allowing non-conformity. I hope that women in the college of bishops will raise non-conformity to new heights in the way they exercise leadership among us. I hope they will disturb our conventions, and unmask the unconscious bias which constrains our models of leadership within the dominant cultural norms that are so powerful that we hardly even notice or question them.

Rachel and Sarah, you did not choose to be ordained on the feast of Mary Magdalene. You did not choose her; perhaps she chose you. So look around at this packed cathedral. It is a sign of how much we love you, of how much we value you, of how much we trust you. So be bold and courageous in how you lead us. Filled with the Spirit of the radically inclusive Jesus, and touched with the spirit of the enigmatic Mary of Magdala, please be a little bit dangerous:

Socialise us, and subvert us.     Amen.


A letter to Florence Li Tim-Oi

Christopher Hall preached at the service on 24 January 2004 at St Martin in the Fields when an icon of Li Tim Oi made by Revd Dr Ellen Francis OSH was dedicated. Christopher directed his words to Florence Li Tim Oi in the form of a letter:

Dear Florence, or should I call you Tim-Oi ?

Tim-Oi was the name your father gave you to demonstrate that you were his Much Beloved Daughter – to demonstrate that he was not disappointed not to have a son. Florence was the name you chose at your baptism. Florence Nightingale was your role model. You later tended the wounded when Canton was bombed. Did you know that she too felt called to priesthood, but was denied it? May I call you Florence – the name we used when you stayed with us twenty years ago? Do you remember getting up before breakfast to write my father’s name in Chinese to go on the cover of his biography? I remember you being so anxious to get it right.

Florence, what are your reactions to what we are doing today? I imagine you showing the same child-like pleasure as when you were welcomed back with firecrackers on your Return to Hepu in 1987 – puzzled at first and then jigging up and down clapping with joy.

Sixty years ago you could never have imagined that the Episcopal Church in the United States would today be observing this Anniversary of your Priesting in its Calendar, or that the Anglican Cathedral in Seattle is marking today with a daylong event. You could not have imagined that I would have been in Minneapolis last year testifying on your behalf – nor certainly did I – and as a result here we are, and here is Sister Ellen Francis all the way from New York with the icon of you she has written – a commission she accepted with alacrity, because she had written about you in her doctorate on the ordination of women.

No saint claims to be a saint, and neither did you – except in so far as we are all called to be saints. In 1987 when Bob Browne was making the film Return to Hepu, you said to him: “I am just an earthen vessel with God’s treasure inside me.” No saint would claim more than that for herself. Yet here we have an icon of you with a halo. Just as I was writing this letter to you, by the grace of God, an Orthodox priest was explaining on Radio 4 his understanding of an icon. Every human being, he said, is made in the image of God. So when we look on an icon of a human being, we are to see, in it and through it, the image of God. So when we, and others after us, come and stand before this icon of you, we are to see the treasure of God in your earthen vessel. I hope you are happy with that.

Sixty years ago what did my father and you talk over before he made you a priest in the Church of God? You told Ted Harrison, your biographer, that my father talked to you about lifelong priesthood, not of the momentous step you both were taking. After his death Ursula Niebuhr wrote to my mother saying that in 1942 my father had visited her and Reinhold. They had agreed that, if women were to be ordained in the episcopal tradition, then someone needed to do it first. The bishop knew then that there you were in neutral Macau, in pastoral charge of the congregation, and you and they were cut off from priestly ministry following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. When he returned to the vast part of his diocese in South China early in 1943, you probably did not know that he wrote to his brother bishops in China saying that he would ordain you when it was possible for you two to meet.

Did my father tell you that he was tempted to give you a new name – Cornelia? He recognised, even if you did not, that to ordain a woman was equivalent to Peter baptising the gentile Cornelius – quite contrary to the then understanding of God’s will. Peter had been shown that, contrary to Jewish belief, gentiles were not unclean – and neither are women. What mattered to my father, as mattered to Peter, was that God had already given to you the gift of priesthood, which for three years you had been licensed to exercise, and your ministry had been manifestly blessed. Who was he to deny what God had already done?

You said to Bob Browne: “I know I’m not a diamond. Beautiful diamonds experience many cuttings and polishing.” Florence dear, that most certainly was what you experienced: first from the Purple Guards, the episcopal vigilantes, whose minion persuaded you to resign your licence to exercise your priesthood. What must that have cost you for the next 30 years or so? You were, however, still seen to be a priest. In 1993 I met a Sri Lankan in Colombo who told me he had been puzzled in the early ‘50s seeing a woman in Canton wearing her stole priestwise. I told him your story.

Soon after that the government in Beijing closed all churches and stopped ministers exercising their ministry. You told me you dare not then be seen with your Christian friends, lest you get them into trouble. I asked you how then could you worship. You said: “I just went up the mountain to pray. Nobody knew.” Did you remember what St Paul wrote to Christians at Rome: “Suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character. And character produces hope”? Your character gave us hope and does so still.

There was much more suffering in store for you. Re-education in Beijing nearly drove you to suicide, but knowledge of your priesthood carried you through. Later the Red Guards came knocking on your door – more than once. You surrendered not only what might have been of value to them, also what was of no value to them but precious to you. They made you cut up your priestly vestments with scissors. You certainly experienced many cuts, but you were polished by the grace of God into a beautiful diamond. Today we celebrate your diamond jubilee.

At my suggestion your sister Rita accompanied you in your 80th year on that trip back to China. Your pastoral antennae were as sharp as ever. Do you remember late one evening in Guangzhou you insisted on responding to some personal crisis ? Bob Browne overheard you arguing with Rita. She said: “Tim- Oi, you’re retired. It’s not your problem.” You responded: “Rita, you no tough guy like me !” and off you went to give your care. When we visited you in Toronto for what was to be the last time, there were five of us round your hospital bed, and you were ministering to us.

That reminds me of the text on which you chose to preach in Bolton 20 years ago: “Having loved his own, he loved them unto the end.” That was your own experience. It was also true of your priesthood: You loved your sisters and brothers to the end.

You know Rita’s so proud of you now, even if, when first you had heard your call to ministry in Hong Kong cathedral, she tried to dissuade you from becoming a ‘bible woman’ as she put it. Ten years ago she made the Li Tim-Oi Foundation possible, and now 130 women have been helped to fulfil their vocations just as you were helped. Edidah Mujinya was one of the first. She sent me a Christmas card from Uganda. In a note she described herself and her sisters as ‘daughters’ of Li Tim-Oi. Let me tell you: you now have 130 daughters in Brazil, Burundi, Fiji, Kenya, Lesotho, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Africa, the Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. What a family for you to mother! – and with God’s help and ours it will go on growing. Pray for us as we strive to make that happen.

In this eucharist we give God thanks for you and for all you mean to us. Words by Sydney Carter were adapted for my father’s epitaph. They are equally true of you: “She showed us how the Christ she talked about is living now.”