How nations deliver justice (or not)

This article was first published on Rev David’s personal blog and is reproduced here with permission. While the views expressed represent David’s personal opinions, Alison Patterson is a dear friend to all at St Mary’s Church and we want to help publicise this situation.


In recent days our nation has been reacting with horror and disgust after 26 year old backpacker Grace Millane went missing in New Zealand. In writing about this today, I am very conscious that this is an ongoing investigation in which events may still move fast. But as things stand today, a body (believed to be Grace) has been found but not yet formally identified and a man has appeared in court charged with murder.

Grace was on a year-long round-the-world trip when she arrived in New Zealand on the 20th of November this year. On Saturday 1 December, she was seen in the city centre of Auckland visiting Sky City, a complex of hotels, restaurants, bars and a casino. Later that evening, she was seen in the company of a male and, by the following day – her birthday, she was missing.

Grace Millane graduation photographNo question that this is a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to her family especially. But one of the things that has been very noticeable to me is the reaction of the New Zealand government and people. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, issued a heartfelt apology to Grace’s family and called the murder a source of “national shame”.

“From the Kiwis I have spoken to, there is this overwhelming sense of hurt and shame that this has happened in our country, a place that prides itself on our hospitality.”

Recognising that, ordinarily, the Prime Minister would not get involved in apologising for individual acts of violence, she said she felt compelled to do so because many New Zealanders were taking the case personally. They felt this abduction and, it seems, murder reflected on them somehow.

The reason that this struck such a particular chord with me is because of a different case which involved another young British woman in another country; a situation with which I have a great deal of personal familiarity.

A photo of Lauren

Lauren

In October 2013, I was asked to visit the home of Alison Patterson, a lady who lived in my parish. When I sat down with Alison, I discovered that she was mother to three children in their teens and twenties, and she had sadly lost her husband, the children’s father, in a tragic accident five years previous. The reason for our meeting was that Alison was in the awful position of needing to arrange a funeral for her daughter Lauren, who had died on the 12th of October that year in Doha, Qatar. She was 24 years old.

Lauren was studying to become a teacher when, in 2012, she took an opportunity to visit Qatar and take a job teaching a Reception class in a school in Doha. Things went well and Lauren was very happy living and working in the country, making friends in the ex-pat community and in the May of 2013, she decided to extend her contract for a second year.

Not long after term had begun in that second academic year, on Saturday the 12th of October, Lauren went for a night out with friends. At the end of the evening, she left the La Cigale nightclub with one of her female friends and two Qatari men. The men dropped the friend home first with Lauren to be taken home second.

It gives me no pleasure to describe to you how Lauren died. However, I believe it is important to rehearse it here so that you understand the severity of what took place. I have, at least, made this text white so that you have to highlight over it to read it. It gives you the choice as to whether you want to read the details of what happened next or not. It’s not pleasant, so I understand if you choose not to highlight the text and you choose to skip over to the following paragraph.

Lauren was not returned home that night. The two men abducted her. One of them raped her and then he stabbed her to death. To try to conceal their crime, the two of them took her body out into the desert where they dug a fire pit and set Lauren’s corpse on fire. When Alison flew out to Qatar to identify Lauren’s body, there was considerable difficulty in doing so because what was left of Lauren weighed only 7.5 kilos. All that was left was part of her head and neck, her upper jaw teeth with her brace still intact, and part of her chest where the knife was still embedded. Her feet were the only part of her body clearly untouched because they had hung over the edge of the fire pit when she was burnt. The red nail polish she loved was still visible on her toes.

A photo of LaurenOn the 21st of November at St Mary’s Church in West Malling; one of the churches I lead and the parish where the Patterson family lived, we conducted Lauren’s funeral. It was a day I will never forget. The church was packed with people; most of them teenagers and adults – Lauren’s friends. In my remarks on the day, I decided to say that Lauren did not die with love surrounding her, but we would make sure that on that day of her funeral she would be buried with love. As we laid her to rest in the churchyard, hundreds of people filed past the open grave, each holding a flower. Each flower was thrown into the grave until, by the time everyone had taken part, you could not see the coffin for the sea of flowers that her friends and family gave to her in one last act of love.

Over the next few years, Alison became a friend and a regular at St Mary’s alongside other members of her family and friends, including her remaining son and daughter. It has been my privilege as her parish priest to accompany them all. I do so still, and I do what I can to walk with the family as they rebuild their lives.

It hasn’t all been misery and tragedy in my pastoral support of the family. Alison found love with her second husband, Kevin, and it was my privilege to marry them at St Mary’s in a day full of joy and celebration. But it was also a day when Lauren was not forgotten. We included a little act of remembrance in the marriage service with Lauren’s photo given pride of place in our Lady Chapel, candles were lit and prayers said. Immediately after the marriage service had concluded, Kevin and Alison took a few moments with me to be at Lauren’s grave and, once again, to pray.

But, unfortunately, as part of that journey since Lauren’s death, Alison and her family have also been involved in what has seemed like a never-ending fight for justice. It is here that the contrast between New Zealand’s reaction for Grace Millane and Qatar’s response to Lauren could not be more different – to New Zealand’s credit and to Qatar’s great shame.

A photo of Badr Hashim Al-JabarThe murderer was quickly identified as Badr Hashim Khamis Abdallah Al Jabr – a Qatari national (pictured left). He was found guilty the following March and sentenced to death. Qatar still has the death penalty. Mohamed Abdallah Hassan Abdul Aziz, Al Jabr’s accomplice, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for helping to dispose of Lauren’s body and tampering with evidence. One might wonder about why Abdul Aziz only got three years. It is indicative of the wider situation I want to write about today, but that’s not the focus of my attention.

Where I want to focus is that, in the five years since Lauren died, Alison has had to fly to Qatar over thirty times in the hunt for justice. Think for a moment of the financial implications of more than thirty round-trip flights to Qatar.

After the harrowing trial and the initial conviction of Al Jabr, Qatar’s Court of Appeal upheld the conviction a year later. Then, in 2016, Qatar’s highest court threw out that verdict and ordered a new re-trial for Al Jabr.

At this point, when you have the benefit of the British legal system, it’s quite difficult to fathom exactly how Qatar’s judiciary operates. The re-trial was ordered after Al Jabar’s lawyer argued that the Court of Appeal’s decision was “erroneous and not based on a sound legal foundation.” At the re-trial, there was no new evidence introduced. The panel were instead given leave to evaluate what was previously entered into the record to see if any errors were made. The mind boggles as to why such checking and double checking was required, other than in search of some kind of loophole so that Al Jabr could get off.

The retrial took place in 2017 and, thankfully, Al Jabr was found guilty once again. The original sentence, which was to be carried out by firing squad or hanging, was reimposed. The courts dismissed Al Jabr’s defence, admonishing his lawyers in the process who had, at various points over the various trials, claimed that he had acted in self-defence, he was mentally incapable, and even that Lauren had killed herself. Clearly, Al Jabr didn’t have a legal leg to stand on.

And yet, despite this incredible litany of legal activity and re-trial after re-trial after hearing after trial, a further hearing came about this Autumn (2018) because of a technicality in which Al Jabr’s lawyers claimed he had not received the paperwork inviting him to attend the 2017 sentencing hearing.

So Al Jabr had to be sentenced again. It gives me no pleasure to tell you that this apparent ‘re-sentencing’ took place on the 26th of November this year and Lauren’s murderer’s sentence was reduced much to the family’s great surprise, shock and anger. Al Jabr’s sentence was set at ten years. Given time already served since 2013, he will be out in five.

Where New Zealand has, as a nation, effectively covered themselves in sackcloth and ashes and expressed a profound sense of regret and shame that a vibrant, travelling young British woman should ever have come to harm on their shores, Qatar does not. While New Zealand promises justice for a family hurting deeply and grieving for the loss of a young woman who had her whole life ahead of her, Qatar instead continues to prolong the suffering of Alison and her family.

Constant appeals and re-trials only convey to Lauren’s family and watching friends that Qatar’s over-riding priority in this case is not to see justice served, but rather to preserve their national reputation. It seems there is a pervading reluctance to accept that a Qatari could ever act so heinously. Entertaining the repeated legal shenanigans of Al Jabr’s lawyers convey a sense that they would rather expunge the record of such a crime ever having taken place instead of have to admit that a Qatari man actually did this.

One wonders what sort of justice would have been served if the man who violated Lauren had not been Qatari? Amongst the ex-pat community, the Qatari legal system is reputed to often have one rule for nationals and another for those who come from overseas. If Al Jabr had come from the Yemen or Oman, and had done this in Qatar, I very much doubt Al Jabr would still be breathing.

Don’t get me wrong. I am no fan of the death penalty. I am glad to live in a country that long ago ended such cruelty. But I am a fan of justice being served. In anyone’s book, ten years in prison for such a brutal murder is no justice at all. Lauren never got to explore her teaching career. She never got to marry or have children, or grow old in the company of family and friends and with grandchildren to make her smile. A lifetime was stolen by Al Jabr that night. Is ten years the right price for such a theft?

And what prospect is there that this dangerous man, whose misogyny and violent sexual hatred apparently knows no bounds, will be safe if he is released from prison sometime around 2023? What message does it send to other Qatari men with a similar appetite for sexual violence? What message does it send to Al Jabr? Will he have other victims in the future?

For Lauren’s family, for me, for her many family and friends, the fight for justice continues, and there is hope. I think that Qatar’s concern for its own national reputation is something that can be used as we all seek true justice for Lauren.

Let me explain what I mean.

Qatar, if you are reading, do you not see that your reputation as a nation, as a country, is damaged far more by your collective unwillingness to let justice be done and your obfuscation of the clear facts of this case, than any damage done to your reputation by the actions of this one man?

A photo of Lauren and Alison

Lauren and her mum, Alison.

We understand that all Qataris are not wicked, evil rapists and murderers like Al Jabr. We like to trust and believe in your neighbourliness and we see your desire to be seen as a respectable nation on a world stage. With the FIFA World Cup on its way in 2022, we recognise also that you are becoming a player at international level with a passion to be taken seriously as a global force for good.

We can understand that one person can be guilty of unimaginable cruelty, and while such things are lamentable, we also understand that such actions do not need to define a whole country. We do not think of New Zealand as a nation of misogynists and murderers because of what happened to Grace Millane. Their reaction to the death of Grace Millane proves it. It gives us hope that the people of that nation, like the people of Britain, truly want to see justice done for that young woman.

But every time you deny the Patterson family justice, every time you prolong their agony, every time Alison has to get on another plane to Doha… and now when you have given a risible sentence to a man guilty of truly awful crimes, it becomes that much harder for us to see you in the same light as the people of New Zealand.

The choice is yours really. You can either reassure us all, and the international community, that this case was just one man acting from his own evil intent. You can punish him properly for his crime of unimaginable barbarism.

Or you can continue on your current path where, day-by-day, it gets easier and easier to see your nation as a place that one should not visit, let alone allow our sons or daughters to visit. Why would we come when it seems racism and misogyny are alive and well in your legal system, Qataris are protected simply because of their race and place of birth, and violent, predatory men do not face proper justice.

So, your choice. Who are you really? Which nation will you choose to be?

Rev David Green

Stir-up for Advent

Does it feel like Advent has truly begun?

I know it’s technically the last Sunday of the year, rather than the first Sunday of Advent, but I always find my attention starting to get diverted towards Advent when we get to ‘Stir-up Sunday’ in November. The prayer for that day in the Book of Common Prayer begins “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”.

But because of that opening line “Stir up”, many people know that Sunday as the day to be making Christmas puddings! Families held “Stir Up” to be a reminder to mix and steam their Christmas Pudding ready to be consumed on Christmas Day.

Parents would teach their children how to mix, everyone would take a turn to stir and each person involved would think upon their year ahead and make a wish or say a prayer. In some households, a silver sixpence was added. I certainly remember hunting for the coin with my great-grandmother when I was a boy. Perhaps that’s why ‘Stir-up Sunday’ feels like the start of Advent for me. Now the preparations are beginning.

However, a recent survey of British children suggested two-thirds of them today have never experienced stirring the pudding mix. Parents now tend to buy a ready-made Christmas pudding rather than make their own.

The phrase “Stir up” comes from a translation of the latin prayer “Excita, quæsumus” – excita – “Stir up”, also being the word from which we get excited, or excitable. So what are you ‘excitable’ or ‘stirred up’ about?

We may get stirred up by the latest Twitterstorm, or who will win Strictly, or whether we will get that Christmas toy for the children before the store runs out of stock. But are they the things that really matter in Advent?

When Mary and Martha met Jesus, Martha tore around the kitchen while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening. When Martha got upset about her sister’s lack of assistance, Jesus told the harassed Martha that Mary had chosen the better part. Hurry and rush are not often a friend to a sense of God’s presence.

Stir-up Sunday, in the final analysis, simply brought everyone in a family face-to-face around the kitchen table talking about their hopes for the future and doing something together and that sounds to me like a good way to enter into Advent.

I feel like I say this every year in a world that only ever seems to get faster. But I do know some are listening. Some are slowing down. Some are taking time; often because they’ve seen the perils of running too fast, too hard for too long.

If we were to slow down a little and make space for some old traditions like ‘Stir-up Sunday’ or the waiting and reflecting of Advent, we might find a better form of stirring taking place in our hearts this coming Christmas.

When it comes, and not before (!), have a lovely, merry Christmas!

Rev David Green
based on David’s ‘Thought for the Day’
first broadcast on Sunday 25 November
Radio Kent’s Sunday Programme

Was the Royal Wedding that different to other weddings?

A photograph of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their wedding day.Did you watch the Royal Wedding?

My family and I were grateful for an invitation from a member of our congregation to join their Royal Wedding party and watch with friends and family around a big screen.

It was noticeable for many reasons but it was certainly the first Royal Wedding I experienced with my phone in my hand and social media literally exploding. Clearly, we were not the only ones tuning in.

As the watching people of the UK had their chance to comment and ask questions via social media in a way that has not been possible with previous such events, I noticed that, broadly, they were saying three things.

  1. They were surprised by enthusiasm and happiness in church.
  2. Christianity was talking about quite nice, good, useful stuff like love.
  3. The secular world did not have a monopoly on good ideas to bring about positive change to the world.

The watching audience seemed to be divided into those who had little experience of church and did not expect it to be interesting, intimate, joyful and moving, and the churchgoing audience who were looking at their non-church friends with incredulity saying “Well, duh! What? Do you think I go to church for the cold, hard pews and to fall asleep out of boredom?”

What pleased me most was that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex used the Church of England’s Common Worship liturgy to get married. It is the form of the service that is used hundreds, if not thousands of times, every week around the country in hundreds, if not thousands of churches, when other couples get married.

Unlike William and Kate (who opted for the more traditional Book of Common Prayer), the service was contemporary, intelligible and clear, but also celebratory, joyful and full of grace.

I’m not sure who is at fault when such obvious ignorance of church is made clear. Is it my fault, the church’s fault, that the watching world don’t know that this is what we do, this is who we are? Clearly some of the blame is ours.

Or is it the wider public’s fault? They’ve bought into a stereotype seen in the media, on soap operas, and novels, and failed to actually bother to check out God and church for themselves. Should they not be responsible for the decision to make their own minds up about what it is Christians do, say and believe?

I can’t offer you a top-notch Gospel Choir, or a genius teenage Cellist, or even an enthusiastic African-American Bishop! I can’t offer you that.

But if you want to find a community where we worship and make music, celebrate all that is good in life, consider ancient wisdom and traditions and how they might help our lives, support and help one another in community, honour the best of modern life, and seek a life and world beyond what we see, seeking life in all its fulness and God as God is to be found, then I can definitely offer you that.

Rev David Green

Greater love has no-one than this…

On Friday 23 March in France, a terrorist hijacked a car, killing one of the occupants, shot at a group of policemen who were out jogging and then stormed a supermarket. He killed two people before seizing others as hostages. He went on to injure a further sixteen people. During the siege, police officers managed to get some hostages out of the supermarket but the terrorist held one woman back as a human shield. It was at this point that Col Arnaud Beltrame of the Gendarmerie offered himself in exchange for the woman.

As he did so, he left his mobile phone on the table with an open line so that police outside could monitor the situation. It seems that when this subterfuge was discovered, the terrorist shot and mortally wounded Col Beltrame. The police stormed the supermarket shooting and killing the terrorist in response. Sadly, within 24 hours, Col Beltrame died of his injuries.

Arnaud Beltrame was a practising Catholic Christian who had recently made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Although he and his bride-to-be had been legally married in France, they were due to be married in church this June (the system in France is different to England). Instead, he and his wife were married in a Catholic ceremony as Arnaud lay dying in hospital.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15.13

Arnaud Beltrame stands in a long line of men and women down the ages who have imitated Jesus Christ’s example and shown bravery, courage and faith beyond description; willing to consider their own selves of little worth should such a gift bring life and peace to others.

When I open the Scriptures and start reading, even in the first chapters of Genesis, I see an honest attempt from ancient people trying to understand, if God exists, why is the world so deeply broken and hurting?

They draw the conclusion that we are the problem. Selfish desires, small and large, rebellious and hurtful choices lie at the root of the world’s problems. In short, God is not the problem. We are.

Into such a world comes the man Jesus who claims to represent both sides of this cosmic divide; a human being who claims to be God.

In the events of Easter, we see him confront unarmed all the forces of evil that this world can muster. When they nail him to a cross, it looks as if evil has won.

But on Easter Sunday, we celebrate God’s triumph over evil. We declare God’s rescue plan for our deeply broken world. A plan that invites everyone to come to a cross, to humble themselves, to ask forgiveness, to put their faith in Christ, and not in the many attractions this world has to offer and will try to sell.

As people do that, they discover (as I have) a Greater Love that gives life. Love borne out of sacrifice and a courage to consider oneself as nothing, if it means life for others.

Rev David Green

What do I bring to my community?

My wife and I are having a debate today. We are looking out the window at around 10cm of snow in the churchyard. She says “it’s beautiful”. I say “it’s a pain”.

I know I’m being a grump. I always am when it comes to snow. Maybe it’s because of that sledging accident as a kid which broke my nose. But my concerns are more pragmatic. As a Vicar, I’m very conscious that there were three funerals to do this week, one of which was a burial. I need to get to the Crematorium for the others and it really won’t do if I’m late or, perish the thought, can’t make it at all.

But I’m also very conscious in this role of those who are housebound or fragile. For them, the snow and the perils it may introduce into their weekly procurement of supplies is no laughing matter. It is why our church pastoral team, along with me, have been making a whole bunch of phone calls today and yesterday – checking in on the elderly members of our church community (and those who are not ‘elderly’ but may have other challenges) and ensuring that they have bread, milk, water food, toilet roll or whatever essentials of life they might need. What we want to avoid is an unnecessary and treacherous walk on ice for someone who can ill-afford to slip and fall.

It’s all got me thinking about volunteering. The strength of a real “community” lies in its ability to think about others and look beyond your own interests to the needs of others. What a place it would be to live when any potential ‘weak link’ in the chain is helped and strengthened and enabled.

It leaves me wondering whether I can challenge all of us this Lent to ponder “what is it that I can do for my local community”?

There’s certainly opportunities in our churches – pastoral care, visiting the sick or elderly, prayer support, children, the buildings, our churchyard wall volunteer project in Offham, the churchyard maintenance crew in West Malling.

But there are plenty of opportunities for those of us who feel we have a loose or even no affiliation with the Christian faith. Even in the pages of this month’s magazine, West Malling is looking to raise money to repair the War Memorial and our friends in Ryarsh are rising up to fight proposals for a new quarry in the village.

Some of us might not feel we have much to offer, but I would want to challenge that wholeheartedly. I look at young mums and then see the wisdom and experience of elderly women and I’m thinking “how can I help this group of people to learn from and be supported by this other group of people”? Just because you are old (or young) shouldn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.

And all of this public-spirited assistance is good for your career too. The World Economic Forum recently wrote about the importance of ‘skills-based volunteering’ or SBV.

In a world where nearly half of jobs could be potentially automated, either now or in the future, it’s important to stand out from the crowd and keep gaining skills that may be useful in the labour market.

All this is nothing new. Whether you call these activities ‘pro-bono’, ‘skill-sharing’ or ‘civic entrepreneurship’, the challenge before us is to give of our time and our talents to improve society on a voluntary basis, and with no financial gain.

It’s about more than just signing a petition or making a donation. Sometimes you may well contribute your skills and your time to something already going on. I’ve already mentioned a few things going on locally that you could take part in.

But I would love to think I live in and serve two communities where there is such a groundswell for this kind of thing that people are empowered to team up with other neighbours, share their talents and entrepreneurially find their own new ways to benefit ‘the common good’.

It might be public health, climate change, education, accountability of local government, the church, local services, care of the elderly, mental health, the local ecology and wildlife.

And don’t tell me you don’t have the time. If you have time to sit in front of the telly for more than four hours a week, you have time to take an hour or a couple of hours each week to make a difference!

So instead of giving something up for Lent this year, could you take something on? Make West Malling, Offham or Kings Hill an even better place to live, and gain some useful experience and skills in the process?

Rev David Green

Advent: trust the process

A photo of Nick Saban in action coaching.Nick Saban is recognized as one of the best coaches in university American Football. He has won five national championships. In his career, his teams have won nearly 80% of the games he has coached; a great record.

His defining and highly successful philosophy is what he calls “The Process”. Instead of asking his players to focus on winning the next game, he asks them to focus on what the next action is. The next drill. The next play. To Saban, it’s not the outcome that’s important, it’s the “process”.

In his own words:

“We try to define the standard that we want everybody to work toward, adhere to, and do on a consistent basis… being responsible for your own self-determination, having a positive attitude, having great work ethic, having discipline to be able to execute on a consistent basis, whatever it is you’re trying to do, those are the things that we try to focus on, and we don’t try to focus as much on outcomes as we do on being all you can be.”

Saban has recovered something that I think our nation has sadly lost, and that loss is never more apparent in the UK than in the run-up to Christmas. To our considerable detriment, we have become all about the end goal.

We all have goals. We want to write a novel, go on a diet and lose a stone, become an entrepreneur, retire early, have children. Sometimes the goals are easier to realise – we want to celebrate a lovely Christmas with family and friends, sparkly lights, turkey and trimmings, fizz and maybe a Carol or two.

But if we live life from goal to goal, we can fall into the trap of only being happy when we reach that desired end. If all you want is a wife, it feels ‘less than’ until you get what you want. Romance, getting to know one another, enjoying the friendship? Love is cheapened and we treat it cheaply.

Sometimes our goals aren’t within our control. I can’t make someone publish my book. If the outcome doesn’t meet my expectation, if I’m all about the goal, I will feel disappointed. I end up either aiming for things I know I can guarantee (so I am never disappointed) or I don’t try at all.

Sometimes we aim arbitrarily. We want to lose a stone, and then get disappointed when we only lose 9 pounds. We are robbed of the joy which should have been ours.

But if we focus instead on the “Process”, we get to enjoy the journey. Furthermore, if and when the goal is reached, there isn’t an enormous anti-climax because it was never entirely about the goal anyway.

So ignore Christmas Lights in November, John Lewis TV adverts and Black Friday deals. Eliminate the clutter! Embrace Advent! Welcome the “Process”! Prepare in that traditional and ancient sense that our forebears understood and we have lost.

Christmas will come. It starts on the 25th of December. But the message of Advent and one that will serve you well with your New Year Resolutions too, is that it is the journey that matters. Don’t fret for end results. Enjoy your Advent and, when it comes, may “the Process” bring you greater blessing this Christmas!

Rev David Green

We grieve by remembering, not forgetting

A photo of the candle tributes at the Memorial Service 2012As the Christian year moves to its conclusion, we mark the festivals of All Saints and All Souls and start to turn our gaze heavenward.

It’s always struck me as entirely appropriate, therefore, that the signing of the armistice on the 11th of November 1918 happens to fall in this season of the year when our spiritual focus is on what lies beyond this world we know.

For soldiers who fell and for the friends who did not, the chance to remember in the context of a focus on heaven means we again are compelled to remember that this world is deeply broken, and that war is simply one symptom of a more fundamental human malaise. But it also means we look forward with hope. The notion of Heaven is to us who believe a chance to say that what we see is not all there is to know, and a brighter day will dawn.

For those who have served, that is a message that applies to our current world too. When you face hell on earth in war, it’s important to know that you’re fighting for something good and true and better than what you are knowing in that present moment. Otherwise, what’s the point?

But this season of the year, for a Christian, is not just about the 11th of November and Remembrance Sunday; important and vital to our nation as those acts of remembering may be.

Because of that heavenly focus in what some people call “Kingdom Season”, it also tends to be the time each year in which Annual Memorial services are held and those who have suffered grief or loss of any kind are given space and time to remember.

Those who live with grief know that it’s not a case of trying to ‘get over’ or ‘forget’ the pain of loss. Time is no healer either. When someone dies, you can’t deal with grief in a healthy way by forgetting. Paradoxically, we get through our grief by remembering.

It’s for exactly those reasons that it is such a privilege to be involved in the annual hosting of two special services at this time of year.

In Loving Memory offers a particular opportunity for parents who have suffered a miscarriage, still-birth or lost a child early in life. The service is relatively short and relatively quiet compared to some. But what it offers is an incredible, valuable, hallowed space for men and women to take the top off their feelings and give them over prayerfully to God.

Meanwhile, the Annual Memorial Service has a wider focus. For families who have recently suffered a bereavement of any kind – whether husband or wife, mother, father, son, daughter, grandparent, cousin, friend – we come together as one to read their names and light candles in their memory.

It sounds simple but in such acts of remembering, space is given to grief and mourning, the love we hold for those people is cherished once more, and with hope we turn our focus to a day when we may well see them once again.

Rev David Green

From those given much, much is expected

In West Malling and in Offham this month, we will be marking the traditional celebration of the Harvest.

While most of us may not have the task of literally gathering in the year’s wheat and grain, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, turnips, cabbages and all the rest, I believe it is still a festival with great meaning because it gives us all a chance to reflect and give thanks for the many, many good things in our lives.

It’s easy to look around us, especially in relatively affluent communities like ours, and compare ourselves and feel a sense of poverty. Their car is newer than mine, their house is bigger than mine, their clothes are more fashionable than mine, the meal on their table looks tastier than mine.

But if you want to truly play a game of comparisons, let me remind you of these facts.

If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death… you are blessed, you are better off than three billion people in the world.

If you are able to read this, you are better off than some two billion people in the world who cannot read at all.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the fear and loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pain of starvation … you are better off than 500 million people in the world.

If you can go to a tap and get clean, safe drinking water, you are better off than 9% of the world’s population. If you have a place to shelter from the wind and the rain, you are better off than 22% of the world’s population who have no such luxury today.

If you have an Internet connection, you’re better off than 60% of the world’s population.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep… you are richer than 75% of the people in this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and some spare change in a dish somewhere in your house… you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

So before you go green with envy over the latest Maserati or Mitsubishi, or jealously covet your neighbour’s Versace, Chanel or Prada, just be reminded that you have many, many blessings and it is a good thing to be grateful for all that we have received.

But here’s the kicker, Jesus also taught that to those who have received much, much will be expected. In other words, there’s a second thought which is as important as the first. If you can be genuinely thankful for all that you have received, you ought not to be satisfied with just that knowledge. Instead, Jesus taught that we should respond by sharing what we have with others.

In God’s Kingdom, the promise is that everyone will have plenty. When we are generous, we pull God’s Kingdom into the world we know. As Jesus prayed “let your Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven”.

Rev David Green

Going back to school

To be entirely honest and truthful, I was something of a tearaway in my teenage years. My mum was a teacher and the influence strong, but I seemed to swing between dutiful and studious son and rebellious, gobby and wayward oik.

However, one thing at school where I always seemed to excel was languages. I enjoyed learning French and carried on my German through A Level (got a B) and did a year at University too. It proved very useful in borrowing theological books. I had the shelf of German theologians like Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar pretty much all to myself!

In September the children go ‘back to school’, but this year I think I need to make more of a commitment to my own life-long learning. God gave each of us a brain and I think he would expect us to use it and cherish its incredible potential to continue learning, even when we’re old and grey.

When I was training for the ministry, I always thought to myself that such an amazing place as Cambridge University was wasted on teenagers. Most of them had no idea how good they had it. What a gift and privilege it is to learn and to grow. Not every human being in this world has been blessed as we have.

We had a holiday in France this Summer and while I can sort of get by, it’s not long before I’m starting to plaintively whimper parlez-vouz Anglais? Each year, I come back promising myself that I really must get studying… learn and revise the vocabulary, put myself in the way of some French conversations, maybe take a class. It’s such an incredible gift to communicate with people in their own language and idiom and I love the thought of actually being fluent.

I’m not sure that I will be able to use it much for communication and conversation, but I’ve enrolled on one of the Biblical Languages classes that St Augustine’s College will be running in West Malling this Autumn. I did quite a bit of biblical Hebrew at University as my part of my undergraduate degree but my New Testament Greek has always been a bit sketchy so I’m going to start at the beginning and see how far I can get. My goal is to read John’s Gospel and be able to understand it, in Greek. There’s a big target!

I’ve also been asked to teach a course this year – helping the new Lay Ministry candidates in the Diocesan centre at West Malling Abbey to consider ‘God’s Word and the World’ – an ethics course of sorts. So I will be a teacher this year, as well as a student.
The ancient wisdom of the Book of Proverbs advises that:

“the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.”

Perhaps this September, it’s time for all of us to think about how we might go ‘back to school’?

Rev David Green

The wisdom of the Beatitudes for today

An image from a recent movie depicting Jesus giving the Sermon on the MountWestminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Grenfell Tower, Finsbury Park. An election in which the winners feel like they lost, and the losers feel like they won. Oh, and a weakened Government must not enter the most important international negotiation we’ve had since the Second World War.

“Keep calm and carry on” doesn’t quite seem enough to me at the moment. “A nice cup of tea” helps, but only goes so far.

In the Lectionary this Summer, our focus will be in Matthew’s Gospel and in chapter 5, perhaps the most famous of them all, I find Jesus’ blessings giving wisdom for the current age.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. This is a time to acknowledge dependence from the place of prayer, rather than make pompous pronouncements. There are issues here that are way beyond trite or simplistic solutions.

‘Blessed are those who mourn’: we need to mourn with those who mourn for no other reason than because we stand with those who suffer.

‘Blessed are the meek’: a crisis can bring out both the best or the worst. Meekness has no agenda: it listens, seeks wisdom and neither shouts nor screams.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’: There are so many crying for justice at the moment, but legitimate demand for justice must not be diverted into revolt and disorder. Anger and revenge will help no-one.

‘Blessed are the merciful’: as J John has put it “to be merciful is the authentic and caring desire to put others first and seek their welfare.” I’m encouraged by every story of human kindness amidst the tragedies, but there needs to be more and it needs to persist when the cameras have gone.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart’: our motives when there is call for change can be complex. We must be sure that in what we say and do, we are truly seeking the welfare of others and not serving ourselves.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers’: perhaps the most distressing element of these times is the sense of disunity; of factions, of communities talking in increasingly bitter terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’. Our world needs brave, humble, meek peacemakers.

And finally ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.’ The last and longest of the Beatitudes is the sting in the tail. To do these things, Jesus says, is no easy path to popularity and acclaim. Putting yourself on this path will cause enemies to rise up; those who trying to solve our problems in a very different way.

To be a peacemaker is to be assured of being mistrusted, hated and attacked by both sides. Jesus, lived out what he taught. He knew what he was talking about.

Rev David Green

Hat-tip to J John, whose words inspired and gave shape to this article. Read more of his work at canonjjohn.com

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