21 July 2015

Asking tough questions and sharing
experiences of inter-religious living

The bell tower at the High Leigh Conference Centre, the venue for the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency, Us (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

This morning we were asking the tough question: “How is the Gospel good news for women?” Tough questions continued to be asked this afternoon in the workshops at the annual conference of Us (formerly USPG, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) in High Leigh.

I was at a workshop on “Inter-Religious Living,” with Ms Anjum Anwar MBE, Exchange and Dialogue Development Officer, Blackburn Cathedral; Canon Chris Chivers, Us Chair of Trustees; and Ms Sheba Sultan of the Church of Pakistan.

Canon Chivers explained the different perceptions in Britain of Inter-Faith dialogue and Inter-Religious living.

For hundreds of years, Muslims and Christians have lived together peacefully in Zanzibar. Similar dynamics are found in parts of South Africa and other places.

He spoke of how contexts allow different conversations to take place in different countries, and safe places are found in different ways.

We heard stories and experiences from Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Bosnia, Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt and other places, as well as Britain, and we were reminded of the need to listen to the problems of each community.

In Pakistan, for example, 80% of the people facing charges under the blasphemy laws are Muslims. In many African countries, Muslims are being alienated from their families, neighbours and surrounding cultures by the way it Islam is being Arabised.

Where does divisiveness come from, and who sows the seeds? How do we honour difference? These are difficult questions. But then, as Chris Chivers said this afternoon, Christians are not very good at honouring differences among ourselves, and Anglicans and the Anglican Communion are a prime example of this.

The other workshops this afternoon looked at:

• Journey with Us, Us Global Relations Programme Manager Habib Nader with volunteers from the Us world church placement programme.

• Us together – mission, memories and stories. This is a time to share and explore experiences of the world church and look at how this can help shape future work.

• Asking nicely – an opportunity to critique the promotion of the Us Connect scheme for churches, the Bray Circle membership scheme, and our legacy materials.

• Stronger together – learning how Us and the Anglican Alliance are working in partnership.

The journey continued later this afternoon with a second session to reflect on how we communicate ‘Us’, and the Us Council meets after dinner.

The Council of Us meets this evening, with reports and the election of new trustees. We conclude looking at “Our Journey” tomorrow morning at two sessions, asking about the next steps and exploring new ways to communicate ‘Us’, asking what excites us about the work of Us.

The conference comes to an end with the Rev Dr Monodeep Daniel of the Delhi Brotherhood presiding at the Closing Eucharist, when the preacher is Deaconess Dr Rachele Evie Vernon, Us Global Relations Theological Adviser.

High Leigh, the venue for the Us annual conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Tough questions that ask: ‘How is
the Gospel good news for women?’

High Leigh in the sunshine this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

“How is the Gospel good news for women?” We were asked this question this morning in the light of “The Transforming Gospel,” the theme of the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency Us (previously USPG).

The question was introduced by Canon Delene Mark from the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, who is Chief Executive of Hope Africa, and Ms Sheba Rose Sultan from the Church of Pakistan. The conference is taking place in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire.

Delene Mark recalled the story of Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot dead by Oskar Pretorius. But she reminded us too of the daily occurrence of women and girls being murdered and the victims of rape and violence in South Africa.

News reports about these cases are often dominated by expressions of fear of responses through vigilante violence or xenophobic violence. But actual justice for these women and girls is very limited, and most of their families and communities live in silence.

What does the Church do before they become these women and girls become victims, rather than merely responding afterwards?

Blame is common throughout South African culture, with people regularly blaming the president and the government, or the legacy of apartheid and colonialism in the past. When it comes to violence against women, the all-time favourite blame is to ask: “It was her fault?”

She told harrowing stories of child murder, people trafficking and forced prostitution. But how is the Gospel good news for women? It is only Good News if we read it and accept its consequences for us.

There are plenty of stories that are good news for women, men and creation, but when we read them we need to respond in the Church with action. We need to join together to stop these atrocities, and to stand up and say this violence is not being done in my name.

Sheba Sultan spoke of Pakistan, women and the Gospel, describing the varied lives of women in Pakistan, from tribal people with few resources and many restrictions, such as the Kalash people who believe they are descended from the Greeks who came this far with Alexander the Great, to the elite women who have lives of luxury, but who find cultural values also stop them living life to the full.

She reminded us of the assassinated prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who had said women in Pakistan cannot achieve anything without tackling bigotry and intolerance, and of the story of Malala Yousafzai, the activist for women’s education and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace laureate.

Women in Pakistan are tired, she said. But Christ says: “Come to me and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11: 28).

Appropriately, we began this session with a reading of the story about the woman said to have been caught in adultery (John 8: 2-11).

‘Come to me and I will give you rest’ … the bridge at the lake at High Leigh this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford (2015)

Later in the morning we were asked: “What does a world reconciled in Christ mean for men and women?” This session was a conversation with the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes and Dr Paulo Ueti, a theologian and New Testament scholar from Brazil, facilitated by Canon Chris Chivers, Chair of Us Trustees.

Dr Threlfall-Holmes is the vicar of a parish in Durham and the Vice-Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church). She is a writer, blogger and historian. Her doctoral research was on the economic and social history of Durham Cathedral Priory (1464-1520).

As a member of General Synod of the Church of England (2007-2012), she was heavily involved in the campaign to open the episcopate to women and men on equal terms.

She talked about gender justice, which is much wider than ending gender-based violence.

She shared a vision of equality for men and women who are created equally in the image and likeness of God, who are made one in Christ, who are called and equipped by the Holy Spirit, and who live with the promise of abundant life for all.

She linked “theologies” such as “complementarianism” with gender-based and domestic violence.

Dr Paulo Ueti, who works for the Anglican Alliance and Christian Aid in Brazil, asked us to consider what sort of theology we are doing to make or bring about reconciliation and equal relationships.

Community is a sign or sacrament of Christ’s presence, he said. Building community is important for being reconciled in Christ. The family is the basic cell of society, but 70% of sexual violence takes place in families. What happens to safe community in these situations?

Miranda suggested there is a similar figure in England, and said there is a reluctance to grasp the nettle that is the patriarchal structure of society. Turning to inclusive language, she said the male language in Bible translations and theology today has been imported, when the original language in the Bible and Creeds is inclusive.

After breakfast, the Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel, head brother of the Delhi Brotherhood Society and Dean of Saint Stephen’s College, Delhi, lead a Bible study (2 Samuel 13), the story of Amnon raping his sister Tamar.

Father Daniel spoke of the “silent scream.” What happened to Tamar happens to women all over the world, but while the offender is protected, women are forced into silence.

He looked at the story of Amnon and Tamar in the light of experiences of Dalit women in India who are raped and silenced. They already suffer as women who are rejected by the so-called “clean castes,” forced to live outside city walls and treated as “untouchables.”

They know God through their pain. With few exceptions, their plight has not changed since Indian independence, and their suffering is not reported in newspapers and their scream is unheard.

This morning began with the Eucharist celebrated by Canon Nicholas Wheeler, the former Priest Missioner based in Cidade de Deus, the City of God, in Rio de Janeiro. He is now the Rector of the Parish of Holy Trinity and Saint Saviour, Upper Chelsea. The daily offices are being led by Canon Andi Hofbauer, who has been the Precentor of Wakefield Cathedral since 2009.

The conference began yesterday [20 July 2015] with a welcome and introductions with Canon Chris Chivers, Jeanette O’Neill, Us General Secretary, and the staff of Us who invited us to review the past year with Us.

The lake at High Leigh this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Lost in time and place on
a walk by rivers and canals

Enjoying the boats and barges at the moorings by the Rye House in the Lee Valley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015; click image to enlarge)

Patrick Comerford

Between the meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency Us (USPG, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) on Monday morning [20 July 2015] and the opening of the annual conference late in the afternoon, I decided to go for a walk in the countryside and in the Lee Valley.

I thought I was going to walk along the banks of canals and rivers and end up at Dobb’s Weir, where the Fish and Eels is a country pub in the Vintage Inn chain, with views out onto the river, the weir and the canal locks.

However, I forgot to take my map with me, took a wrong turn, and ended up on a smaller canal bank that eventually led to me to Rye House on the northern edges of Hoddesdon.

The gatehouse is all that survives of the 15th century Rye House, on the edges of Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I knew of the story of the Rye House plot, but had never visited Rye House until I took the wrong turn, at the wrong journey on my afternoon walk.

Rye House was once an extensive building that stood for about 450 years, but all that stands today is the a gatehouse, which is a Grade I listed building.

Rye House was first built by Andres Pedersen, a Danish soldier who took part in the Hundred Years’ War. He moved to England in 1433, and eventually became Sir Andrew Ogard.

In 1443, he was allowed to impark part of the Manor of Rye, the area then called the Isle of Rye, in the parish of Stanstead Abbots, and was given a licence to crenellate what became Rye House. Over 50 types of moulded brick were used in building Rye House.

In 1517 William Parr was living at Rye House. After the death of their father, Rye House became the main family home of the Parr family, including Catherine Parr, who later married Henry VIII, and her sister, Anne Parr, until 1531. By 1577, it belonged to Frankland family, who sold it to the Baeshe family in 1619.

The house was bought by the Feilde family in 1676, when Edmund Feilde was MP for Hertford MP.

In 1683, Richard Rumbold was the tenant of Rye House when it became the setting of the Rye House Plot to murder King Charles II, and he was one of the accused conspirators.

The Rye House Plot was a plan to assassinate King Charles II and his brother the Duke of York, later King James II. The plotters were tried in in a series of trials, and there was a brutal state response.

After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, some former republicans and MPs, feared Charles II’s links with Catholic France were too close. And anti-Catholic fears began to spread, stoked by the heir’s conversion in 1673, and rumours of plots and conspiracies abounded.

At the time, the tenant of Rye House was Richard Rumbold, a republican and Civil War veteran. The plan was to conceal a force of men in the grounds of Rye House and to ambush King Charles and the Duke of York on their way back to London from the horse races at Newmarket.

The royal party was expected to make the journey on 1 April 1683. However, a major fire on 22 March destroyed half the town of Newmarket, the races were cancelled, and the royal party returned early to London.

The gatehouse of Rye House … but did the plot ever exist? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Although the planned attack never took place, the plot was uncovered the suspected conspirators were rounded up. Twelve conspirators were executed – some were hanged, drawn and quartered, some were hanged, two were beheaded and one was burnt at the stake. Two were sentenced to death but later pardoned, 11 were imprisoned, nine were exiled or fled to the Netherlands or Holland, one escaped from the Tower of London, one cut his throat in the Tower, and many more were implicated. The final trial was that of Charles Bateman, who was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1685.

Many historians suggest the story of the plot may have been largely manufactured by King Charles or his supporters to allow the removal of most of his strongest political opponents. Popular reaction to the vengeful excesses in its suppression later contributed to Williamite Rebellion of 1688.

By the second half of 18th century, Rye House was falling into decay, and by 1795 some of this brickwork had gone. All that was left standing was the gatehouse.

By 1834, the gatehouse had become a workhouse. Later, Henry Teale (1806-1876) developed the site into a tourist attraction, after he bought the gatehouse and 50 acres in 1864, and the features he developed included a maze and a bowling green. But in 1885, an affray broke out between Catholics and Orangemen visiting Rye House, and it led to questions being raised in the House of Commons.

The site was cleared and the gatehouse restored in the 20th century for Lee Valley Park. The gatehouse has been used as a museum and is supposed to be open in summer days, although it was under lock and key when I arrived on Monday afternoon.

The 15th century brickwork on the gatehouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The gatehouse is a tall, two-storey rectangular block standing on the inner edge of the moat. It dates from the 15th century, is built in red brick in English-bond with some diaper ornament in the black headers, and has carved stonework to the string courses and the main entrance and a crenellated parapet to the roof.

A hollow moulded stone string course runs around the building at the base of the parapet and is decorated with grotesque heads at intervals. A similar string runs around the top of the stair-turret with a head at each corner.

The corbelled first floor chimney rises above the parapet in a tall composite barley-sugar shaft with a moulded cap and base.

The gatehouse has been described as “an example of mediaeval bling” – part of a structure designed to project power, prestige and wealth.

Rye House … the public house may date back to 1443 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Rye House has given its name to a local pub beside the gatehouse, at the Rye House Quay on the River Lee. It was a delightful spot to linger awhile with a glass of white wine in the afternoon sun in the large garden with adjacent mooring spaces, watching the boats pass by on the river.

A glass of wine by the river at Rye House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Rye House was recently refurbished but claims to date back to 1443. Certainly it was there in 1600, when it was known as the Kings Arms. It was still known as the King’s Arms in 1845, perhaps an allusion to Charles II and the Rye House plot.

The pub was renamed the Rye House by 1851, and in the 1850s and 1860s, it was known at times as the Rye House Tavern, and other times, until at least 1929, it was even called the Rye House Hotel.

From Rye House, I decided to find my original bearings and make my way back along the banks of the canal and the River Stort to see if I could find my way to Dobb’s Weir or to Broxbourne.

I followed the signposts and the footpaths, but still lost track of which side of the river I was on, whether I had crossed the Meridian, or whether I was in Essex or Hertfordshire.

Boats on the Lea Valley in the afternoon sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Pleasure boats and barges passed me by, and I passed moored barges at Feilde’s Weir and boats waiting to get though the lock before I eventually arrived at Dobb’s Weir.

The Fish and Eels at Dobb’s Weir … the innkeeper was once a former workhouse chaplain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Fish and Eels has decking and a balcony facing onto the waterfront. The pub, which is part of the Vintage Inn chain, claims to date back to at least the 17th century when it was known by Izaak Walton. In the 1800s, it was owned by the Christie family brewery who used it to sell Christy's Hoddesdon-brewed ales.

Landlords of this riverside inn in the past include the Revd Samuel Thackery who became an innkeeper in 1906 after he had been dismissed as the chaplain of a workhouse and sought and failed to convert it into a temperance house.

Time was moving on, however, and I resisted the temptation to spend another little while by the river. I had walked over 12 km by the time I got back at High Leigh in time for coffee before the conference opened.