Pilgrimage Prayer

There was an invitation to write prayers of support for those joining the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) Pilgrimage Relay to COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow from the 1st-12th November 2021.

As some of our Woolwich Episcopal Area Youth Forum in Southwark Diocese are involved in the Canterbury Tributary in August, I wrote a prayer to be included amongst the contributions:

Creator God, we treasure the awesome wonder and intricate beauty of the world you have given us stewardship over.

We marvel at the diversity of the creatures and plants you have made, regretting that we have not taken better care of your world, of our world.

Jesus observed the farmer sowing, and walked with his disciples through harvest-ready wheatfields; he valued the fruit of the fig tree and the vine. He knew where the foxes had holes and the birds of the air their nests – he had an eye and heart for your world, for its plants and creatures and people.

As we walk in the footsteps of Jesus’ disciples on our own pilgrimage of faith, Lord teach us to value your gifts of creation and salvation, that we may be transformed and transforming. 

May the sovereignty of your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven, and give us the courage and strength to help bring it about; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Alastair Cutting :: August 2021

Friends of the Church in India Day 2019

4 Lushington Friends

Friends of the Church in India Day Service – 5 Oct 2019
Theme of the day: Christian relationships with other faiths

Sermon by The Venerable Alastair Cutting, Archdeacon of Lewisham & Greenwich
Acts 17:16-34; John 14:15-21;
Beauty for Brokenness: Graham Kendrick

FCI day programme image
Friends of the Church in India 2019 programme

All of my earliest childhood memories are Indian. 
My parents had been doing their missionary training at one of the Selly Oak colleges in Birmingham when I was born, and the three of us arrive together in India when I was aged about 18 months old. 

We lived most of the next 12 years in a small rural town called Jammalamadugu, in the Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh, in the Rayalaseema Diocese of the CSI. 

A few years later, my sister was born in India, in the CMC hospital in Vellore, even sharing the initial of her name CMC with the hospital she was born in.

If you wanted to understand some of our Indian heritage as a family, you might share the confusion that the Registrar of Births had when my father went to register my sister Catriona’s birth.

“So, your daughter was born in India, so her nationality is Indian!” 
“Well, no, said my father, she has the same nationality as me, and I am British.” 

“Ok, said the birth Registrar, so where were you born?” 
My father explained that as his parents had previously also been medical missionaries in India, in Chik Ballapur, near Bangalore, so he William Cutting had in fact been born in India.

“Then she is Indian! replied the Registrar!” 
Well, no, explained my father patiently, he was British because his father was British.

“So where was your father born?” 
Well, said my father, his father Cecil Cutting’s parents had actually also been missionaries in India, as teachers, since 1893, so his father had also been born in Ranikhet, then later lived in Benares/Varanasi in India.

“So she IS Indian!” exclaimed the Registrar, triumphantly!

There was the a scurry to provide birth certificates and marriage certificates for my father William Cutting, my grand father Cecil Cutting, and my great-grandfather also William Cutting, before my sister could have her nationality confirmed as British. Which was complicated, as there were no Birth certificates in the 1850s when my great grandfather William was born…
A Baptism Certificate fortunately sufficed.

Continue reading “Friends of the Church in India Day 2019”

Armistice Centenary – and an Eltham soldier

Cecil Cutting cropped image

(From a sermon preached on the Centenary of the World War 1 Armistice) 

Around the church are a number of pictures of a young First World War soldier.

Lieutenant Cecil George Cutting
Lieutenant Cecil George cutting a dashing figure

Let’s hear a bit of his story.

He was the son of a missionary teacher family who were living and working in India, as he approached secondary school age, Cecil George was sent to boarding school.

The young scholar was at a school just over a mile from here, at Eltham College.

He was a lively student, who particularly loved his sport.
Athletics; and cricket mainly.

Cricket.

The school regularly played other teams, and had several matches against the world famous local cricketer, WG Grace.

There’s a record of a match where the great WG was bowling against the young Cecil George.

Cecil George was one of the best all rounders in the team.

But not on this occasion.

Cecil George, bowled out by WG, for a duck!

He left school in July 1915 age 18. He was not called up at once, and the Academic year 1915-16 he spent at Imperial College reading Chemistry.

Then he was called up at the end of the Summer term of 1916. Cecil George was Gazetted as of the 27 Nov 1916 and recorded in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

He did his basic training in the Infantry.
At the end of this they asked:

“Who has Matric Maths?”
“I do!”  Says Cecil George.
“Right, if you can count more than two legs, you are going to be in the Cavalry!”

Off he goes and does the basic training for the Cavalry in Exeter.

At the end of that basic cavalry training they said

“Who has Higher Maths?”
“I do !” says Cecil George.
“Right, if you can plot graphs and trajectories, you are going to be in the Artillery!”

So off he goes and does the basic training for the gunners.

He ended up a with the Royal Garrison Artillery on the Selonica Front, not far from the Greek border across into Turkey.

The RGA was often supported by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) who had devised a system where pilots could use wireless telegraphy to help the artillery hit specific targets. Years later it became clear that Cecil George was involved going up in these ‘string bag’ aeroplanes of that era, as a “spotter” for targets! This was very early in the history of flight, and must have been some adventure for the young soldier!

Continue reading “Armistice Centenary – and an Eltham soldier”

Bright field of dreams

I was introduced to The Bright Field by a friend, Robin, whilst we were on a course a few years back.

The Bright field
The Bright Field [Buttermere, Cumbria ©AlastairCutting]
Curiously, it is Hillsborough that has brought the poem very much back to mind. Let’s have a reminder of the poem first, and there is an audio/file of RS Thomas reading it himself linked below:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

The Bright Field
by R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Audio file via PoeticTouch.

But why Hillsborough bring this poem to mind?

I’ve blogged before that I was a local curate at the time, and involved in some of the immediate aftermath. One of my strong memories, as I walked back down ‘the tunnel’ a couple of times afterwards, was the contrast of the bright green playing field in the sun seen from the shadows of the tunnel.

Tunnel 1989

Tunnel 2016

The field is so inviting. You can see it. You can almost touch it. There’s ramp, a slope down to it. It’s just … there.

There is an American sports movie called the Field of Dreams, encapsulating the draw – particularly but not exclusively  – for some men to sports, to team games, and to the playing field, or pitch, or ground, since many sports are popular, like soccer or golf, which you can play indoors or outdoors if you have the right equipment for this.

Hymns don’t often make good theology – though they may be better at theology than movies are. But even here we may get glimpsesof heaven, as Ray Kinsella found in the film.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
      [starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
      [Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.
            The Field of Dreams – 1989 Phil Alden Robinson Universal/TriStar

Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven to treasure in a field, and to a pearl of unfathomable value, of great price; in Matt 13:44-46. Both are images that R.S.Thomas specifically references in the poem. Not a great surprise, perhaps, for the Welsh priest/poet that he was.

That field. Seen it. Forgotten it. But now having seen it again, illuminated, incandescent, Thomas goes on: I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it.

These sports grounds, these football fields are often a focus for hurrying on to a receding future, [or] hankering after an imagined past. Many memories of matches remembered; of dreams and hopes for the future. The rise and fall of emotion; the tears wept, the joy unconfined. They hold a sense of the numinous about them – the singing, swaying, the shared liturgy and language – even prayers (!) – they are almost religious in their fervour. No wonder some talk of sport as their faith, of the great venues as their cathedrals, temples. Bill Shankly, powerfully linked to Liverpool, is famously quoted as saying “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.

I was recently reading back some of the witness stories of a number of Hillsborough survivors, and the camaraderie, the shared experience was a powerful memory; some saying the ‘we all came last year and we wanted to all come back again this year’ before the full portent of this particular pilgrimage unfurled before them.

Even after the catastrophe, faith remains a part of the story. I recalled in the previous blog post how 4 fans came in to our local church on the Sunday morning, just hours later. To another one of those ‘thin places‘ where heaven comes closer to touching earth. To come to seek, to pray, to place a loved one lost in to the hands of God. Nearly every anniversary since the first, there has been significant input of hymns & prayers, along with speeches & memories, at each of the ceremonies.

In the poem, Thomas looks: to the miracle … to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Looking back to the 15 April 1989, though much remains sharp in the mind of each of those most closely affected by Hillsborough, inevitable some of the memories become a little faded, a bit more transitory each year; the images of the ever-youthful 96 remain unchanged, even as ‘those who are left grow old‘. Perhaps that is why there is still such a strong sense of hope around Hillsborough – a very Liverpool – characteristic, the city with two cathedrals linked by a street called Hope.

For RS Thomas, the brightness that has shone on this field leads at last to the eternity that awaits you. May it lead to eternity for you too.

The BBC has a Profile of each of the Hillsborough 96, and the Liverpool Echo has created an image grid that links to each of the 96 too.

Holy Isle

A few years ago, with members of two local parishes, I joined a pilgrimage to Holy Island, Lindisfarne. It is a significant place of pilgrimage still, as it has been for nearly a millennium and a half, when St Aidan came from that other famous holy island Iona, to found the new monastery in AD634.

Click to download the 17Mb pdf photobook
Holy Island Pilgrimage 2008 – click to download the book

A chance to re-visit recently reminded me of my previous experience, and I looked out some old photos, and a book of the journey, which some may be interested in glancing at.

St Aidan and St Cuthbert have been important characters on my northern horizon, particularly since my ordaining bishop David Lunn was a great fan of ‘our long established British christian saints, here spreading the gospel long before Augustine or any of those other johnny-come-lately Romans’.

The Celtic Cristian saints used to speak of ‘thin places’ where heaven comes very close to touching earth.

Lindisfarne, Holy Island, is one of those.

A glimpse of a castle
A glimpse of a castle – 2014

Is this ChristChurch’s Christopher Wren moment?

I’ve been visiting Christchurch for over 20 years, and love it’s iconic cathedral which dominates the horizon is such a prominent feature of the Cathedral Square. Or was. Until the first earthquake, a magnitude 7.1, on 4 September 2010; which caused enough superficial damage for the cathedral to close for three weeks; and then the supposedly smaller but much more devastating 6.3 one on 22 February 2011 which toppled the spire, and the 6.4 one on 13 June 2011, that took out the main Rose Window on the west wall, and made most of the rest of the building so unsafe.

Christchurch Cathedral - Before & After
Christchurch Cathedral – Before & After

This was not the first major earthquake damage the cathedral had suffered – quakes in 1881, 1888, 1901, and  1922 all resulted in damage – the spire falling twice. When I visited the area this week, there were only about 6 tall buildings left in the CBD, all unsafe, one due to come down this week. The shocks still continue. There was another one this week measuring a mere 5.2, but enough to get the whole restricted area completely evacuated again.

Part of the reason for our visit to the area was to see a number of friends, and be with them, and to see and feel at least a little of what they were going through. We met our former neighbours, with their 9-year-old who for 6 months only felt safe enough to sleep if he was under a table;  Continue reading “Is this ChristChurch’s Christopher Wren moment?”

Another View

Things are not always what they seem. Recently on a visit to Chartres, the cathedral, diocese and city twinned with our own Chichester, I was struck – as many are – by the history, the architecture and the culture of the place. On previous visits to France I had observed that even the utilities such as the bridges are crafted with an elegance and poise that we in the UK sometimes consider frivolous and superfluous on an object created for such a menial purpose.

Chartres en Lumières
Chartres en Lumières

However, on this visit, I was aware of a couple of rather uglier presences around Chartres city centre. About the size of Dr Who’s Tardis police telephone box, pressed steel structures painted battleship grey. They were probably useful or important in some way, but dull. Only once darkness fell did the surprising raison d’êtres of these otherwise boring boxes manifest itself.

They housed massive commercial projectors that in the evenings became the source of Chartres’ electronic fireworks, a festival of ‘Lumières’, light extravaganzas, a Continue reading “Another View”

Three Strikes, &…

So, the British Airways strike. In my current sphere of work, close to Gatwick airport, I know quite a few folks working in the various aspects of the airline industry.

BA strike
BA strike

The ongoing BA strike is a major issue around here, with people’s jobs and livelihoods at stake, and both the company’s and the Unite union’s reputations potentially in tatters.

It dawned on me that strikes in a major national industry had significantly coloured 3 of my last 4 jobs. I was appointed to Woodlands, Doncaster in the South Yorkshire coalfields, soon after the end of the 1980s miners strike.

Brodsworth Colliery
Brodsworth Colliery

Woodlands was the model village built to house the miners from the nearby Brodsworth Colliery. Photos from the time show the distinctive spire of All Saints church in the background of images of the pit. The strike was over by the time I arrived, and the miners were back to work – but the tensions that had ripped families apart between strikers and ‘scabs‘ were still Continue reading “Three Strikes, &…”

The Arundel Tomb

Chichester Cathedral is the ‘mother church’ of the diocese, and as a Sussex priest, I find myself there from time to time. I love wandering through the cathedral when I get a chance. It has so many superb features about it; but one of my favourites is ‘The Arundel Tomb’.

The Arundel Tomb - credit Tom Oates
The Arundel Tomb - credit Tom Oates

It is a fourteenth century table tomb on which lie the effigies of Richard Fitzalan Earl of Arundel, and his second wife Eleanor. One of the most charming features is the way that they are both holding hands, Richard’s hand having been removed from the gauntlet still held in his left hand.

Arundel Tomb hands - credit bmeabroad
Arundel Tomb hands - credit bmeabroad

Continue reading “The Arundel Tomb”

One small step…

In 1969 I had been at a boarding school in South India for some 6 months. A rather terrifying Australian dorm matron, Audrey Bateman, did have a very helpful habit. If there was anything significant on the BBC World Service, she made all of us in Middle Dorm sit and listen to the large wireless in her room.

Footprint on the Moon
Footprint on the Moon

That’s where I heard of the first moon landings, the crackly voice of Neil Armstrong, the apparently un-planned: “One small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind”. Powerful words then, iconic now.

What I hadn’t picked up until today was Ruth Gledhill’s Times posting of Bosco Peter’s article on the first lunar reception of the bread and wine of Holy Communion. There is something bizarrely wonderful about that.