Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Finding hope that
‘All Things are Possible’
through the Beatitudes

Towers and turrets, bells and chimney pots … the High Leigh Conference Centre in the summer sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the feast day of Saint Thomas the Apostle, and the USPG Conference in High Leigh was marked today [3 July 2018] with a number of reminders of the mission of Saint Thomas.

At our opening Eucharist this morning, we heard the story in Saint John’s Gospel of Saint Thomas falling to his knows before the Risen and Christ and proclaiming, ‘My Lord and God’ (John 20: 28).

Our main speaker this morning was Jessica Richard from Tamil Nadu, who spoke of her work as Co-ordinator of Campaign and Advocacy in the Church of South India.

The conference theme is ‘All Things are Possible,’ and we are looking at the place in mission of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Jessica spoke on the theme of ‘People’ and looked at a number of issues she confronts in South India, where the girl child’s right to live is still not a given and infanticide is still a fact of life.

Other issues include gender equality, the marginalisation of people with disabilities, bonded labour, pastoral management, and teaching children about the environment and pollution.

A former USPG trustee and council member, Archdeacon John Perumbalath, is being consecrated today in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, as Bishop of Bradwell in the Diocese of Chelmsford.

Bishop John has been Archdeacon of Barking in the Diocese of Chelmsford since 2013. He was born and brought up in the ancient Syrian Christian community in Kerala, South India, and was ordained in the Church of North India in 1994. He has been a Lecturer in New Testament at Serampore College in India, and since moving to England he has been a hearty supporter of USPG.

Our Bible study this morning was led by the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills, who brought us through the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 1-12) with reflections on her own experiences in international peace work and interfaith dialogue.

‘When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit … those who mourn … the meek … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … the merciful … the pure in heart … the peacemakers … those who are persecuted for righteousness … you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account …’

She described the Beatitudes as blessings that do not lay down a legalistic code, rather they are the antithesis, picking out the people the world sees and losers and lifting them up. She illustrated the Beatitudes with photographs and stories from her own experiences.

She spoke of people she met in Srebrenica whose families had been murdered and dismembered. She read from Elie Wiesel’s description in Night of his experiences after being liberated from Buchenwald.

She recalled asking three teenage girls who are at school together in Jerusalem – an Israeli Jew, Israeli Muslim and a Palestinian Christian – what hopes they have for the future, and what they fear the most. None of them could say had any hope for the future, and all three for different reasons feared the army or conscription.

She told of two neighbours from Rwanda who had shown mercy to each other after horrific experiences as perpetrators and victims of the recent genocide.

Bonnie spoke movingly of meeting an eight-year-old girl in a refugee camp in southern Iraq whose family had fled Isis in Nineveh. ‘I don’t know whether I was Jesus holding her little hand, or she was Jesus holding mine.’ But she reminded us that we are in the presence of Jesus every day when we are present with those who are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

Ruth Scott, who has worked with women have suffered violence from Northern Ireland to Africa, points to our potential to be both the victim and perpetrator, and that no peace is possible without the consent and engagement of the people who create violence. It is a paradox that the perpetrator of violence becomes the peacemaker and is blessed.

She spoke too of Coptic Christians from Egypt who have been beheaded by Isis on the beaches of Libya but maintained their faith to the end, and Iranians seeking refuge in England, including a couple who have been waiting 15 years, not able to work, unable to find a home, and seeing no end to their plight.

As Canon Chris Chivers, the outgoing chair of USPG trustees, said, it was challenging to process. But as Jessica Richard reminded us in her presentation, ‘The Journey continues.’

The conference continues this afternoon when Dr James Corah, Head of Ethical and Responsible Investment at CCLA Investment Management Ltd, speaks on ‘The Planet’ and the Revd Dr Pervaiz Sultan, Principal of Saint Thomas’s Theological College, Karachi, speaks on ‘Peace’ … another link with Saint Thomas on Saint Thomas’s Day.

Summer sunshine at the High Leigh Conference Centre during a break at the USPG conference this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A discreet Cambridge plaque
recalls the best-known
student at Sidney Sussex

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, always look beautiful, especially in the summer sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sidney Sussex College always look beautiful, and especially so in the summer sunshine in Cambridge.

While I was on my way to this week’s USPG conference in High Leigh, I called back in to Sidney Sussex yesterday morning [2 July 2018]. When I arrived after breakfast, the college was closed to the public and was noticeably quiet after the busyness of last week, including graduation day. I wanted to photograph the wisteria, although they reminded me at the porters’ lodge that it is now past its most beautiful phase.

Nearby in Market Passage off Sidney Street, I noticed for the first time the blue plaque to remember Oliver Cromwell’s times in Cambridge, which was unveiled about a year and half ago at the site in Cambridge site where he discussed his local war efforts during the English Civil War.

I missed this plaque when I was back here last year, and obviously its discreet if not tardy location did nothing to attract my attention. I might never have noticed this week except I was making my way from Great Saint Mary’s Church to Sidney Sussex College.

The plaque remembering Oliver Cromwell in Cambridge was unveiled in December 2016 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Cromwell was born about 30 km from Cambridge in 1599 and for a year he was a student at Sidney Sussex College. Although he is, perhaps, the best-known undergraduate at Sidney Sussex, he left after a year in 1617 without a degree and returned home following the death of his father.

However, his connections with Cambridge continued throughout his lifetime and beyond. Over the next two decades, Cromwell never lived more than a few miles away, at Huntingdon, St Ives and, from 1636, in Ely.

As the English Civil War unfolded, Cambridgeshire and neighbouring counties formed an ‘Eastern Counties’ Association’ at the end of 1642 to organise their own regional army and to oversee the local war effort, with Cambridge as the administrative base.

The Black Bear Inn once stood in what is now Market Passage, close to Sidney Sussex College. The inn provided committee rooms for meetings of the Grand Committee of the Eastern Counties’ Association in 1643 and for the Earl of Manchester’s Commissioners in 1644. Cromwell was appointed a colonel with the command of a cavalry regiment in the army of the Eastern Association.

Following the Restoration, Cromwell’s body was dug up in 1661 and he was executed posthumously. Now that the tables had been turned, the committee which purged the Corporation of Cambridge in 1662 probably met in the Black Bear Inn, opposite Trinity Church, whose yard survives today as Market Passage.

But Cromwell’s connections with the Black Bear continued to be remembered in the years after the Civil War. In 1662, the diarist Samuel Pepys stayed at the Inn during a visit to Cambridge, and he was shown the room where ‘Cromwell and his associated officers’ met during the war.

The Black Bear Inn was part of the estate of Edward Storey, a Cambridge bookseller who gave his name to Storey’s Way, where two colleges, Fitzwilliam College and Churchill College, have their main entrances. He died in 1692 and is remembered today for the charitable foundation set up after his son’s death, using rents and profits from his estate to provide almshouses for ten poor women of the parishes of Saint Giles and Holy Trinity in Cambridge.

The Black Bear Inn stood on the corner of Market Hill and Sidney Street, opposite Holy Trinity Church and what is now Market Passage marks its yard. On its first floor was a large assembly room which was used for meetings, auctions and other public gatherings as well as concerts of the Black Bear Music Club.

Throughout the 18th century and into the 19th century, the Black Bear Inn was one of the largest inns in Cambridge. It was a noted venue for concerts from 1773 to 1809 under the auspices of its Music Club, with a preference for Handel, although Mozart, Haydn and Purcell also figured on its programmes.

These programmes, organised and led by violinist John Scarborough, were a mixture of public nights to which ‘no gentleman can be admitted without applying to a member for a ticket, for which he pays half-a-crown’ and benefit nights for one or other of the principal players.

Words of a glee written for the club and performed at Scarborough’s Annual Benefit on 18 February 1816 declared:

To our Musical Club here’s long life and prosperity,
May it flourish with us, and so on to posterity…


Despite these hopes, the club did not flourish or continue into posterity. Instead, the Black Bear Inn was demolished in 1848. Its courtyard is today in part preserved in the footprint of Market Passage, a narrow lane formed from what was the yard of the Black Bear.

Today, Market Passage is a pedestrian cut-through that links two main shopping streets in Cambridge, Market Street and Sidney Street. There are shops, cafés, bars, restaurants, a nightclub, a recruitment agency and a travel agent. But it is mainly a secondary commercial frontage for businesses on both Market Street and Sidney Street.

Market Passage is lined with distinctive 19th century buildings. Many have attractive yellow and red polychrome or white glazed brickwork, while the sensitive designs of shopfronts tell of the 19th century origins of the buildings.

The former Arts Cinema – now Baroosh, a bar and restaurant – has an attractive frontage of engaged street view columns with classical capitals above a tall plinth. Efforts have been made in recent years to make this a more attractive street, with cobbles and paving, and cafés and bars encouraged to spill out onto the pavement with their furniture.

But the many ‘blind’ shopfronts take away from might be a lively street and make this a less appealing place. While the tunnel entrance from Market Street and the sharp bend that draws the eye to the attractive brick frontage of Montagu House, which is part of Sidney Sussex College, create an enclosed, intimate area, it can appear to be a threatening after dark, and often is covered in the morning with the evidence of late-night clubbing.

Meanwhile, Cromwell’s head passed through various private hands until it found its final resting place in Cambridge in 1960 in the ante-chapel of Sidney Sussex College.

Oliver Cromwell’s plaque is on the site of the Black Bear Inn in Market Passage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

On 5 December 2016, the Cromwell Association and Cambridge Blue Plaque placed the commemorative plaque in honour of Oliver Cromwell in Market Passage, to mark the site of the Black Bear Inn.

The plaque was officially unveiled at Sidney Sussex College on 3 December 2016 by the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, and was erected two days later close to Baroosh, over the door next to the side entrance of the office of Office Angels, recruitment consultants with their main address at 53/54 Sidney Street, opposite Sidney Sussex College.

But for many people in Cambridge, Cromwell was no angel. Until this plaque was placed in Market Passage, Cambridge had no public memorial to Cromwell.

His two private discreet memorials in Cambridge until then were a stained-glass window in Emmanuel United Reformed Church on Trumpington Street, in which he is dressed in his robes as the Chancellor of the University of Oxford, an appointment he received in 1651, and the oval plaque in the ante-chapel in Sidney Sussex declaring his head is buried there but without identifying the exact place.

The wisteria in Chapel Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, on Monday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)