Taking Ash Wednesday to the streets

1 March is Ash Wednesday when churchgoers up and down the country will have their foreheads marked with ash in the shape of a cross. But Church of England members will also be taking to the streets to reach out to the public, with shops, stations and markets as the backdrop to this centuries-old tradition.

Commuters heading to work around Croydon tram station will be offered a moment of calm from members of Croydon Minster, which they’ve tagged ‘Ash n’ Dash’. Those commuting in Bristol will have the opportunity throughout Lent to tap into ‘Bristol Time’ each morning, which is a 10-minute reflection repeated every 15 minutes for an hour in Bristol Cathedral.

Meanwhile shoppers and office workers on their lunch break will be offered ashes and prayer cards in Derby, Guildford and Cambridge city centres, with church members promoting their activity on Twitter using #AshesToGo. This hashtag has inspired High Wycombe C of E school to provide ashing to parents and pupils at the end of the school day. Members of St Mary Abbots Kensington are offering ashing on the street corner at the three busiest times of day, while St James Piccadilly are manning a 7 hour drop-in session.

For the Revd Tiffany-Alice Ewins, offering ashing outside the local library in Battersea is the perfect start to her ministry, having been licensed two days earlier. She said “the opportunity to take to the streets in a public act of witness and worship seems too good a gift to pass up! The idea is to offer a moment of connection to the many parents, carers and children on foot in the parish.”

Building on past success, a group of clergy from varying traditions in the deanery of Hadleigh are working together to offer ashing outside Benfleet Station and Tesco Southend, using #AshMob. The Revd Edward Stock said it’s a great opportunity to reach out to those who might not be able to get to church and also offer them prayer. Similarly, in Halesowen the Bishop of Dudley, alongside the Archdeacon and Diocesan Secretary, will be asking if there’s anything people would like the clergy to pray about for them.

Thomas Thorpe, Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council

Providing a network of support for mothers and babies

A pioneering project at St John the Evangelist Church in Angell Town, Brixton, makes use of the community links of a church congregation to promote nurturing, bonding and breastfeeding rates in a deprived area of south London. Rosemarie Cordwell and Angela Sherridan explain more.

Providing a network of support for mothers and babies

Research has shown there is overwhelming evidence that the bond between parent and child from birth to the age of three becomes even more crucial to a child’s development when added to poverty and other disadvantages. A pioneering project at St John the Evangelist Church in Angell, Town, Brixton, makes use of the community links of a church congregation to promote nurturing, bonding and breastfeeding rates in a deprived area of south London. In the blog below, we read about how the Babytalk project could be used as a template for other projects in churches across the country.

At St John’s, Angell Town, in Brixton, south London, parish priest Rosemarie Mallett dreams of buying a camper van to tour the local area to help bring a pioneering project promoting the well being of new mothers and babies to a bigger audience. Babytalk, based at the church, has reached more than 300 families since it was founded in 2015, running sessions at the church and within the local community and primary school on baby health, breastfeeding and bottle feeding and nurturing and bonding for mothers and babies. A survey by the National Childbirth Trust last year showed as many as a third of new mothers experience difficulty bonding with their baby. The parish, already well known in the capital for its community work on a deprived inner city estate, has drawn up its own ‘baby friendly’ policy adapted from Unicef guidelines and the policy could become a national template for work in this area for the charity Parish Nursing Ministries UK . The project whose funders include Southwark Diocese, has trained a team of volunteers to provide support to mothers and babies and has links to a Muslim women’s group. One of the pioneering aspects of the work has been ‘story telling’ workshops where mothers are encouraged to talk about their own experiences. Angela Sherridan, chaplaincy parish midwife for the church, and co-founder of the project, who works on Babytalk in a voluntary capacity, said: “On the Parochial Church Council we talked about the importance of breastfeeding and supporting mothers and finding an area if a mother wants to feed away from people. If a mum is bottle feeding, that means getting a bottle warmer in place. We are trying to help complement the NHS services and we work with the local infant feeding services including local ‘milk spots’ in Lambeth children’s centres where mothers can seek help with breastfeeding. The project is about helping women to bond with their babies and give them a network of support. It is in its early days but has already generated a lot of goodwill and support, with other community groups taking an interest, including a Latin American group asking for a package in Spanish. One of our plans in the future is to recruit a health visitor. We also hope to set up a conference to highlight some of the challenges that new mothers can face, particularly if they feel isolated. ”

Martha Linden, Archbishops’ Council senior media officer

Listen to an interview with volunteer Rosemarie Cordwell and midwife Angela Sherridan

The Babytalk project was co-founded by Canon Rosemarie Mallett, Terry Drummond, former policy adviser to the Bishop of Southwark, midwives Jess Gordon and Angela Sherridan and Mia Hilborn and the chaplaincy team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. It was inspired by work to foster links between health care and faith groups promoted by the Chaplaincy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Its funders include Southwark Diocese, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Chaplaincy and the Lillian Nash fund.

The programme was runner up in the Ecclesiastical Insurance Churches Helping Community Competition. Read more and watch a video

Hospital chaplains valued more and more

At this time of year Hospitals come under greater pressure. Supporting the work of medical staff, chaplains and their teams are working round the clock. Some argue there’s no space for faith in public services. But according to Canon Peter Wells and Revd Mia Hilborn, patients and staff are turning to them more and more.

Enabling ministers to flourish

Living Ministry is a new ten year research project aimed at asking the key question, ‘what enables ministers to flourish in ministry?’. The project will explore clergy wellbeing and effectiveness and, in particular, how these relate to ministerial training and development. Liz Graveling, Research Officer at the Ministry Division explains more. www.ministrydevelopment.org.uk/living-mi…-research

An education where no passports are required

Around one million children in England – a quarter of primary pupils and one in 16 secondary students – attend Church of England schools, which welcome those from all backgrounds. At a time when racial and cultural tensions appear to be on the rise, Church schools are valued more than ever by people of all faiths and none, according to the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer Nigel Genders.

Millions of people living in England today attended a Church of England school and millions more will have a child or close relative who has benefitted from the experience of a church school education. Each one of them will have been shaped by the education they received and will remember the dedicated teachers and leaders in 4,700 schools across the length and breadth of the country – schools that offer an education which seeks to form children and young people as they themselves help shape the world in which we all live.

The Church of England’s commitment to education remains as strong as it has always been and we have recently offered a fresh vision for education. At a time when many are looking for a vision of education to enthuse and inspire them, this deeply Christian vision of education is one that is generous and seeks to allow the riches of Christian life to overflow to those of other faiths or no faith, but who share the bigger vision of what we think education is for.

But some still seem surprised when they hear of Church of England schools serving people of other faiths. One commentator recently suggested that if, in a majority Muslim area, parents are sending their children to Church of England schools, then the natural step would be to turn those schools into secular schools instead of church schools. But not only is that illogical, it is to miss the point entirely.

“We are proud that our Church of England schools are modelling an education where no passports are required and the doors are wide open to the communities they serve.”

We constantly hear from Muslim parents who tell us that they choose our schools precisely because we take faith seriously and offer an approach to education that gives attention to spiritual as well as academic development. They welcome the opportunity to send their children to a school which will ensure mutual understanding of faiths whilst being clear about the Christian heritage and underpinning narrative on which its ethos and values are based. Like the millions of others who have attended such a school, they know that we prepare children for life in modern Britain and a world that is increasingly connected.

The last year has seen a worrying rise in the numbers of registered hate crimes and racial or cultural tensions. The increasingly nationalistic tendencies in countries around Europe and across the Atlantic lead some to conclude that we should build walls of division and implement policies that keep ‘others’ out. But we are proud that our Church of England schools are modelling an education where no passports are required and the doors are wide open to the communities they serve. At heart we are offering an education that is deeply Christian, serving the common good, and the millions of people who have had their lives enriched by such an education will be pleased to know that we continue to do so.

Exploring a calling to ordination in the CofE

Renewal and Reform has an ambitious aim to increase substantially the number of people in training for the priesthood. The Rev Dr Sharon Prentis is at Tutor at St Mellitus College in London and associate priest at St John’s Seven Kings in Illford.

St Mellitus is a learning community dedicated to helping Christians study theology and explore their faith more deeply, with a focus on missional leadership and the flexibility to fit around busy lifestyles. We spoke to Rev Prentis, who spoke at a recent conference on growing vocations, about discipleship and calling.

‘Let’s treat water as sacred’ – Archbishop of Cape Town

The Archbishop of Cape Town has appealed to people in industrialised countries to fight climate change through changing their lifestyles, in the wake of drought and flooding in southern Africa. The Most Rev Dr Thabo Makgoba called for people in developed countries to eat less red meat and recycle more to reduce the amount of plastic dumped in the seas. His remarks were made in an interview given in the UK to promote the JustWater campaign by churches worldwide to raise awareness of drought and floods and the need for access to safe water supplies and sanitation across the world. To read an address given in full by Archbishop Thabo at St Mary le Bow Church in the City of London see http://archbishop.anglicanchurchsa.org/

Setting God’s People Free – Steven Croft

The Renewal and Reform report, Setting God’s People Free, comes to General Synod on 16 February. It calls for major culture shifts across the church in the way we equip people to live out their faith seven days a week. The Rt Revd Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, explains why the report and its recommendations are important levers for change.
More details of the report are here – www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/…d-papers.aspx