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Rowan LeCompte dies at 88; stained-glass artist designed National Cathedral windows
Peter Swanson - Rowan LeCompte, who designed more than 40 stained glass windows for the Washington National Cathedral, died Feb. 11 at age 88.
By Matt Schudel
But within the cathedral’s walls, Mr. LeCompte found a world of wonder. The darkness was brightened only by flickering candles that gave off the scent of wax; an organist was playing Handel; and the north rose window, Mr. LeCompte recalled, appeared to be “floating in the dark.”
“It was a magic, marvelous, dim, ravishingly beautiful place, and I was stunned,” he said in a 2009 NPR interview.
The cathedral became nothing short of an obsession. Mr. LeCompte began to study its stained-glass windows, then went home to Baltimore to read everything he could find on the subject. In October 1939, he made a watercolor study for his first window.
A little more than two years later, he approached the cathedral’s architect, Philip Hubert Frohman, with a design for a small window in an out-of-the-way chapel. The design was approved on the spot, and Mr. LeCompte was paid $100. He recalled the meeting with Frohman during a 2001 lecture at the cathedral:
“He said, ‘By the way, Mr. LeCompte, how old are you?’ And I said, ‘I’m 16, Mr. Frohman.’ And he just said, ‘Good God! I thought you were older.’ ”
From that day, Mr. LeCompte devoted his life to stained glass in general, and to Washington National Cathedral in particular. It was the only job he would ever have.
He went on to design more than 40 of the cathedral’s windows, including its largest and most spectacular, the “Creation” rose window above the western entrance facing Wisconsin Avenue NW. When the circular window was dedicated in 1976, Washington Post architecture critic Wolf Von Eckardt hailed it as “surely one of the masterpieces of Christendom.”
Mr. LeCompte, who lived in recent years in Waynesboro, Va., died Feb. 11 at a hospital in Fishersville, Va. He was 88. He had pneumonia, his stepdaughter Susan Arritt said.
As a child, Mr. LeCompte had hopes of being either an artist or an architect. A life devoted to stained glass allowed him to be both.
There was no school to study an art that was more medieval than modern, so he learned on his own, with occasional tutorials from other masters. He lived in New York for several years and, early in his career, designed windows for churches in Baltimore and Hartford. His windows are in the New York governor’s office, churches across the country, medical facilities and the Princeton University campus.
But from the time of his first, fateful visit to Washington National Cathedral, Mr. LeCompte knew that is where he belonged. He designed more of the cathedral’s 231 windows than any other artist, including the 16 clerestory, or upper-level, windows lining the full length of the nave.
Stained glass may have been an ancient art, but Mr. LeCompte saw his windows as an expression of his time. In one window he included small images of ballistic missiles as a quiet protest against military proliferation.
In a depiction of the childhood of Jesus, Mr. LeCompte slyly included a self-portrait, modeling the face of Joseph after his own.
Rowan Keith LeCompte was born March 17, 1925, in Baltimore. His father was a baker, and as he began his career, Mr. LeCompte heated some of his early glass designs in an oven.
He served in the Army during World War II and participated in the Normandy invasion and the liberation of Paris. He received the Purple Heart.
His first wife, the former Irene Matz, helped with some of his designs before her death in 1970. She is buried in a crypt at Washington National Cathedral.
Mr. LeCompte lived in Waterford, Va., for many years before settling in the Shenandoah Valley town of Waynesboro. A documentary about his life, “Let There Be Light,” was completed by filmmaker Peter Swanson in 2012.
Survivors include his wife of 39 years, Peggy Money LeCompte of Waynesboro, Va.; four stepchildren, Susan Arritt of Fishersville, Deborah Arritt of Kearneysville, W.Va., Jennifer Groh of Stuarts Draft, Va., and Daniel Arritt of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and five grandchildren.
Mr. LeCompte was not simply trying to re-create a lost art. As early as 1955, he said, he wanted to have stained glass “assert itself as a great modern art.”
He aimed for three qualities in every window: clarity, richness and sparkle.
In 1972, he received the commission for his greatest work, the west rose window. His theme was nothing less than creation, based on the passage from Genesis: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep . . . And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ ”
Mr. LeCompte chose an abstract design, using colored glass to refract light in all the hues of the spectrum. It took more than three years to complete the project. The cathedral’s glass fabricator, Dieter Goldkuhle, who died in 2011, inserted more than 10,500 pieces of colored glass in the window, which is 26 feet in diameter.
At its unveiling in 1976, viewers were astonished at how the eye was drawn from one cluster of light to the next, as if viewing a painting by Helen Frankenthaler or Jackson Pollock. The colors sparkled, faded and glowed, changing by the hour and imparting a sense of mystery and, in the eyes of many, the divine. Von Eckardt, the Post critic, called it “a glorious hallejujah in colored light.”
“It just sings, Rowan, sings a ‘Te Deum,’ ” the cathedral’s dean, Francis Sayre Jr., told Mr. LeCompte. “Oh, ye little pieces of glass, praise ye the Lord!”
In 1990, construction of the cathedral was finally completed after 83 years. But Mr. LeCompte kept going, creating new windows and replacing others. He designed his final window about four years ago, but it has yet to take its place in the cathedral’s firmament.
Quiet and modest, Mr. LeCompte seldom spoke of his religious beliefs, except to say, “I believe in kindness and love, and there are those who say that those are God.”
He seemed more content to consider the movement of light as it filtered through his windows. He recalled that when his rose window was unveiled, a young girl danced in the colored light that poured onto the floor within the cathedral.
When asked what she was doing, she said, “I’m dancing because I found the end of the rainbow.”
Per the 1962 Missal, today’s Feast is that of St. Ignatius of Antioch, but St. Brigid, though not celebrated liturgically by those using the 1962 Missal, is still honored today, especially among the Irish.
St. Brigid — her name is correctly pronounced “Brigg-id” or “Bree-id” but almost never is — was born in A.D. 451 or 452 to a pagan father (Dubthach) and Christian slave mother (Broicsech) just after the time that St. Patrick was preaching (St. Patrick died in A.D. 493). It is said a Bishop — a follower of St. Patrick — met the pregnant slave woman and predicted that the child she was carrying would do great things. It is said, too, that a Druid of Dubthach’s household had predicted that there would soon be born one who “shall be called from her great virtues the truly pious brigid; she will be another Mary, mother of the great Lord.”
Brigid’s mother was sent away at the insistence of her father’s wife — sold to a Druidic poet in Connacht — but Brigid was to be returned to her father after she was raised (it was undoubtedly he who gave her her name — most likely in honor of the false goddess, Brigid, whose name means “Fiery Arrow” and who was akin to the Roman goddess Minerva, who concerned herself with fertility, prosperity, and poetry, and who was symbolized by a spear, crown, and globe). Her impoverished, enslaved mother did her best to raise her well, and a white red-eared cow is said to have provided all the food St. Brigid needed to grow, indicating that she was special indeed as white red-eared cows are rare in Ireland.
When she was around 10 or so, she did move back to be with her father at Faughart Hill. She was given charge of the dairy — but gave much of the produce away. This enraged her father, but she was strong-willed and continued in her charity.
While still young, Brigid went to visit a Christian mission. The Bishop there was recounting a dream he had in which he saw Our Lady, and as he spoke, Brigid entered the room. He stopped and said that she was the one he’d seen in his vision — another sign of the special graces she’d been given.
Not too long later, Brigid returned to her mother and found her working hard in a dairy. Brigid stayed on to help her mother, leaving the relative luxury of her father’s house out of love for her mother. She continued her charity, of course, churning butter in 13 portions in honor of Christ and the Apostles — one portion larger than the rest which she’d give to the poor. Despite her giving away much of the produce, her pantry was always full — miraculously so. This miracle and Brigid’s charity changed the hearts of the Druid who’d bought her mother, and he and his wife converted to the Faith and gave Brigid’s mother her freedom, whereupon she and Brigid returned to the land of Brigid’s pagan father.
Brigid was hated by her father’s wife, and her charity wasn’t pleasing to her father, either, as she gave away some of his wealth, so her father took her to live as a bond maid with Dunlang, King of Leinster, a Christian. When they arrived, Dubthach went in to speak with the King, leaving Brigid in the chariot. A leper came to her, and she gave him her father’s sword so he’d have something of value — even as Dubthach was complaining to the King about how Brigid was always giving away his things. King Dunlang, after meeting and speaking with Brigid herself and seeing Christian greatness in her, convinced her father to give her her freedom, and then gave him his own sword to compensate for the one Brigid had given away.
As a freewoman, she became a part of her father’s clan, and being a part of the clan made her marriageable to the clansmen. They began to seek her out as she was beautiful, but she consecrated herself to Christ and wanted no part of marriage. It is said that she, like St. Rose of Lima was to do later, disfigured her face so that no man would even want to marry her. Her resolve convinced her father to allow her to take the veil, and she became the first nun in Ireland.
Now, women consecrated themselves to Christ before then, but lived in private homes; Brigid formed the first religious community for women in Ireland. She and 7 companions met with St. Mel, Bishop, in Mag Teloch. On meeting the women, St. Mel “recognized” Brigid, saying that he was the one who’d made the prediction about her when she was still in her mother’s womb. He gladly consecrated the women, and when he did, it is said that Brigid’s self-disfigurement was healed and her beauty restored.
Brigid and her sisters first set up a convent in Ardagh, but then moved to what is now known as Kildare, “The Church of the Oak,” on land given to them by the good King of Leinster who’d convinced Brigid’s father to grant her her freedom. The fantastical Irish legend told to children is that she was refused the land near the oak tree that she loved, so told the King she’d be happy to accept whatever land her mantle could cover. The King assented, but her mantle miraculously covered all of Curragh!
Her convent grew, and she travelled to set up others all over Ireland and also a school of illumination and metallurgy. In those travels, she became known for her Christ-given ability to heal and wisdom. Bishops, priests, and chieftans sought her counsel, and she was so beloved that she became known as “The Mary of the Gaels.” A common blessing became “Brigid and Mary be with you.”
When St. Brigid died an old woman in A.D. 525 , her sisters kept a fire burning in an enclosure at her Kildare convent. This fire burned for centuries, tended by the Sisters and not burning out until A.D. 1220. It was re-lit and burned for 400 years, when the effects of the Protestant “Reformation” extinguished it again. St. Brigid’s association with fire and the proximity of her Feast to Candlemas tomorrow — a day celebrating Christ as the Light Unto the Nations, make the two Feasts entwined in the Irish imagination. On the day following Candlemas, the Feast of St. Blaise with its blessing of the throats with two crossed candles make for three days associated with light and fire.
St. Brigid (she is often affectionately known as “Bride,” “Bridey,” or “the Mary of the Gael”) is the patroness of dairy maids, infants, midwives, blacksmiths, poets, nuns, and students. Along with SS. Patrick and Columba (Columcille), she is the patroness of Ireland. St. Brigid is depicted in art as a nun with a Cross woven from rushes (see below), with a crozier, with fire (a candle, lamp, or bowl of fire), and/or with a cow.
And now for St. Brigid’s Day customs…
St. Brigid’s Crosses
During one of her travels, St. Brigid went to visit a dying pagan chieftan. As she sat near his bed, she picked up some rushes on the floor and began weaving a Cross. He asked her about what she was doing and, in explaining, she told him about Christ and the meaning of the Cross. He came to faith and was baptized.
It is customary on St. Brigid’s Day to make a Cross — known as a “St. Brigid’s Cross” — out of rushes or reeds (other materials may be used if no rushes or reeds are available). Once the Cross is woven, it is blessed with holy water and with the words
It is then hung on the front doors of homes and left in place all year, to be burned and replaced with a newly-woven Cross on the next St. Brigid’s Day. Click here for instructions on how to make a St. Brigid’s Cross.
It is said St. Brigid comes to visit on her Feast Day, blessing people and livestock, bringing her white, red-eared cow with her. To welcome her, families leave an oaten cake and butter on the windowsill — and corn for her cow.
Families also hang a ribbon or handkerchief out on trees or clotheslines, believing that if the Saint touched it it would have curative powers. These ribbons or handkerchiefs are called “St. Brigid’s Mantle.”
Because of St. Brigid’s association with fire, the building of bonfires would be fitting, too, if you live in a temperate zone. Fire and light are the perfect segue into Candlemas tomorrow, too, a day known as a “Feast of Light.”
And, yes, food is involved in the celebration of St. Brigid’s life. Colcannon, Boxty Cakes, and St. Brigid’s Oatcakes for the children are the thing:
Colcannon (serves 6)
1 1/4 lbs. Kale or green Cabbage
Simmer kale or cabbage in 2 cups water and oil for 10 minutes, then drain, and chop fine. Boil potatoes and water, and simmer ’til tender. Simmer the leeks in milk for ten minutes ’til tender. Drain and puree the potatoes. Add leeks and their milk and the cooked kale, and mix in. Add mace, salt and pepper. Mound on a plate and pour on the melted butter.Garnish with parsley.
When you pass through the fire, you pass through humble
You pass through a maze of self doubt
When you pass through humble, the lights can blind you
Some people never figure that out
You pass through arrogance, you pass through hurt
You pass through an ever present past
And it’s best not to wait for luck to save you
Pass through the fire to the light
Pass through the fire to the light
Pass through the fire to the light
It’s best not to wait for luck to save you
Pass through the fire to the light
As you pass through the fire, your right hand waving
There are things you have to throw out
That caustic dread inside your head
Will never help you out
You have to be very strong, ’cause you’ll start from zero
Over and over again
And as the smoke clears there’s an all consuming fire
Lyin’ straight ahead
Lyin’ straight ahead
Lyin’ straight ahead
As the smoke clears there’s an all consuming fire
Lyin’ straight ahead
They say no one person can do it all
But you want to in your head
But you can’t be Shakespeare and you can’t be Joyce
So what is left instead
You’re stuck with yourself and a rage that can hurt you
You have to start at the beginning again
And just this moment this wonderful fire
Started up again
When you pass through humble, when you pass through sickly
When you pass through I’m better than you all
When you pass through anger and self deprecation
And have the strength to acknowledge it all
When the past makes you laugh and you can savor the magic
That let you survive your own war
You find that that fire is passion
And there’s a door up ahead not a wall
As you pass through fire as you pass through fire
Tryin’ to remember it’s name
When you pass through fire lickin’ at your lips
You cannot remain the same
And if the building’s burning move towards that door
But don’t put the flames out
There’s a bit of magic in everything
And then some loss to even things out
Some loss to even things out
Some loss to even things out
There’s a bit of magic in everything
And then some loss to even things out
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev’d Justin Welby, has called for a renewal of prayer and the life of religious communities, saying “there has never been a renewal of the Church in Western Europe” without it.
In a major speech this week at a conference organised by the charismatic church organisation New Wine, Archbishop Welby said there had been “a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in worship” over the past 10 years, saying: “it’s been the most amazing thing to see the depth of worship growing and deepening.”
After reading from Acts 4: 32-37:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Archbishop Justin said:
Now, first of all, if you’ll excuse me being quite impolite, the trouble with New Wineskins is that they get older. I’m looking around. I look in the mirror. It’s a bit frightening. That may seem shocking and rude, but I’m afraid it’s true, and it is the pattern of all renewal in the Church. As they get older, they accumulate bits and pieces that attach to them; they get baggage.
Now, some of you may have heard this story, but it bears repeating because it’s true, and my apologies if you’ve heard it before. A friend of ours living in Paris, called John Moore – a very old friend, now ordained – used to travel a great deal, and particularly to the United States. We saw them in Paris after he’d just come back from a trip in the middle of winter, and he was telling us what had happened at Kennedy Airport, which is always pretty chaotic.
There’d been snow; the flights were late, everybody was bad-tempered. The person in front of him in the check-in queue was horrendously rude to the poor woman who was doing the check-ins. He didn’t like his seat; he didn’t like the fact the plane was late – it wasn’t her fault; he didn’t like the film that was going to be showed – it was the days when you just had one. He didn’t like anything, and he was really, really unpleasant.
John, who is always courteous; when he got to the front, said, “I am so sorry; I feel ashamed to be a passenger when other passengers treat you like that.” She obviously liked him, and she said, “Well, there’s bad news and good news, Sir. The bad news is that he’s on the same flight as you, going to Paris. The good news is I’ve sent his luggage to Tokyo.”
Now, there are a number of lessons there… One of which is always be polite when checking in on an aeroplane, but that wasn’t the one I was thinking of. But actually, with churches and with movements, there’s a point where we need someone who will do that for us. Because we accumulate baggage, and it pulls us down.
As someone once said to me, when things in the Church are not going well, or in bits of the Church historically, God does not repair; He renews. He doesn’t just stitch it up; He gives us something new. New Wine has been one of the great sources of renewal for the last 25 years. Or, if I were to put it less comfortably, a quarter of a century–it makes it sound longer.
So much has changed in that time. There is a genuine desire in New Wine to be at the front of the wave. There always has been. It’s been one of the characteristics; “If God is in it, we want to be on the front of it.” We have seen that, in our family and in the churches I’ve been in.
Anyone from Southam here? Say that again, I can’t… Oh, back there! Typical blooming Southam; they always sit at the back. That’s my parish church, that is; they’re great. Very nice to see you.
But when we came, 15 years ago, for year after year, we learned from here time and time again. And as a family, when we were working in churches where things were often relatively slow, we used to come here, and benefited hugely. Indeed, it was our lifeline, spiritually. Working in small churches, in places that some people think are far away from the great centres of life – they’re not, but some people think that – is a matter of step by step. To spend a week every year, as we did for 12 years, at New Wine, getting a fresh vision; being prayed for; learning; being part of the community, was wonderful.
Less wonderful was trench-foot; babies in buggies above the swirling floods; freezing cold; cooking under a gazebo – which leaked – and conducting family “discussions” in the kind of whisper that can be heard three tents away! Some of you know what I’m talking about.
But it was worth it. Far more than worth it. We remembered what God does, who He is, and by the grace of God found the courage to take risks and step out, and see change. But where now?
In these years, this quarter of a century, the world has been changing dramatically. Attitudes to women have changed, including our own, for the better. Listen to talks and comments from about 1990 and the cringe factor is often through the roof. So have a lot of other things. Above all, in this country, we find ourselves in a revolution of culture and expectation which challenges the churches at the heart of their being and understanding and values. That is nothing new, and whenever the world has mounted a great challenge to the Church, God has moved in renewal and revival. We may be pressed down, but we are always hopeful.
We expect great things, and we expect in the future, in this land, through the Church, greater things than in the past. As Jesus said, greater things than these, if we are obedient and responsive; if we’re on the front of the wave. Look back in history across Europe, at the history of God visiting and renewing His Church in times of change and crisis.
In the fifth century AD, the Western Roman Empire, which had stretched for half a millennium, from what is now the Balkans to Hadrian’s Wall, covering North Africa, fell to invading tribes from the east. The population of Western Europe may have dropped by as much as two thirds. The economy collapsed by perhaps 90 per cent or more. Peace evaporated; security disappeared, for nearly 1,000 years. It was the Dark Ages.
Into that time came one of the most extraordinary Christian leaders of all times: Benedict; Saint Benedict. He started a monastery. Didn’t go terribly well at first; the first one he started; after a few months, the monks found him a bit tough, so they tried to poison him. I just get hate mail, but then I’m no Benedict. He lived in a cave for a while, and then started another monastery. When he did that, he wrote a rule; the Rule of Saint Benedict; a rule for monks. You can get hold if it; it’s very easily got hold of. It’s about 40, 50 pages; quick read, and its first word is, “Listen”. Not listen to each other, not listen to him; listen to Jesus Christ. It’s all about getting to know Jesus and conform our lives to His.
The monasteries grew and spread. There were a few incidental benefits to what he did. He set a pattern of study, work and prayer, and more or less accidentally saved learning. He preserved western civilisation. They started the universities. They started hospitals and schools. They re-founded diplomacy and stopped wars. They renewed music and worship, and spread the gospel as evangelists across the whole of Europe in the most dangerous places imaginable. They built many of our cathedrals as monuments to a faithful God, who calls people back to Him. But they never tried to do that; that was accidental, it just sort of happened on the side. They tried to follow Jesus.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, there was another vast crisis. The papacy was in its most corrupt phase. The Arab armies had pushed north and conquered Spain. They pushed into the Balkans, and many thought they’d conquer the whole of Europe and wipe out the Christian faith. The human answer of the Crusades disgraced the gospel with its terrible cruelty. Then another extraordinary figure appeared: Francis. He called people to follow Christ in love and poverty. He challenged the invaders. He started new communities. He went to the headquarters of the invaders. He preached and he served, and the Church found new life.
We can go on. In the 16th century, God raised people up who translated the Bible in the face of the challenge of the Renaissance, which challenged our whole understanding of who God was. The Bible was translated into people’s own languages, and home groups were started. Although the Church got caught up in terrible scandals of war with each other, in His grace, God opened the way to another renewal.
There were bad moments. There’s a dungeon at Lambeth Palace. It’s currently unoccupied, but there’s always space. In it, William Tyndale was held. The rings are still attached to the walls to which he was chained. He translated the Bible into English and died for it. The Church found renewal.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Industrial Revolution swept away our social structures. Wesley came. He formed small groups that followed a method; the Methodists, and we saw the greatest revival in our history amongst the urban poor, and we did not have the revolution that France had.
There are a million more examples. We can be like the psalmist of Psalm 107, recounting the many disasters, and ending each one by saying, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress.” This is our song. A God who saves His people; a God who changes His world. We are His people, and we may be hard-pressed, but we are always hopeful.
Today, we face another crisis. As in the past, we cannot see the outcome. Like the apostles in Acts, Chapter 4, the passage we read was just after they had faced their first bout of serious persecution. They come back and report to the believers what had happened, and the believers turn in prayer. The Lord shakes the place where they are, and you get that extraordinary reading: “They were of one heart and mind; they held all in common.”
A few weeks ago, I sat in the House of Lords, listening to the debate on the same-sex marriage act. I took part; I spoke and voted against it, in case you wonder. I spoke against, and I voted against, but I listened, and I heard the roar of revolution.
It came not merely from those one would expect in favour of the bill, but from every side of the House; Conservative and Labour and Liberal and mixed; from every age; from every opinion. Those of us against the act were utterly crushed in the voting again and again and again. More people turned out to vote in the House of Lords than at any time since the Second World War, and they voted against any opportunity to defeat the bill.
Let me be clear: popular opinion is not a cause for changing obedience to God. But let me be equally clear: an overwhelming change that affects the opinions of the majority of people, and especially of younger people – even those who come here and to similar events – is a revolution to which we must pay attention. Not to do so would be as foolish as Benedict pretending the Roman Empire still stood, or Wesley ignoring the Industrial Revolution and the urban poor.
The revolution is not only about sexuality. In other areas, there is a revolution in our economy, and the Church has responded faster and better than anyone else to this revolution. The latest economic outlook forecasts that government spending will be constrained for the next 50 years. World power is shifting. Our society looks different. Medicine gives new possibility. Science moves on ever more rapidly. What do Christians do? They are first to form food banks; first to educate children; first to set up hospices; to care for the poor and ministry with the poor, and that pleases the Spirit of God. We have shown and respond, and this great movement of New Wine has been at the forefront.
But did you notice something in that quick historical tour? That God moves through prayerful communities. People listened to the spirit; sought first the Kingdom; looked for intimacy with Christ. The US Army gave us the expression, “Collateral damage”, which means killing people you did not mean to target. People seeking Christ create collateral blessing. That means changing the world for the better in ways you could not have predicted.
When asked what my own priorities are, I start with renewal of prayer and communities of prayer; what, in the jargon, are called “Religious communities”. Communities that live with a rule in the sense that Wesley had one; Francis had one; Benedict had one. All over Europe, new communities of prayer are starting. They have women and men living together; they have families in them. They have women leading communities with Roman Catholic priests in them. They have communities that live together or just meet together for meals and sharing. Like the people we read about in the Acts, they often hold all in common. They bind themselves together for a few years; usually not for life. Above all, they seek first to know and love Jesus.
There has never been a renewal of the Church in Western Europe without a renewal of prayer and the life of religious communities; never. If we want to see things changed, it starts with prayer. It starts with a new spirit of prayer, using all the traditions, ancient and modern, of prayer. When it comes, it will be linked to what has gone before, but it will look different, because it is a new renewal for new times. God’s created community is perfectly designed for its time and place. It always comes from below; almost always. It comes from Christians seeking Christ, and is often – says I, looking at the one bishop. I can see from here – is often opposed by church leaders, and especially archbishops.
We must have a new movement of prayer, and I commit myself to opposing it, because that seems to work. We must have, out of that prayer, lives changed. The apostles went back and reported their persecution. The people prayed and they were shaken. Fear neither hindered their testimony nor caused them to become negative and inward-looking. They were more and more the people of good news. When the Church is real, people see the real Jesus.
The last few days have been astonishing, with this affair over the payday lenders. For a start, the positive comments have outweighed the negative, which, in the letters that come to me, is unusual. What people have commented on is a Church speaking for the poor. When the Church is real, people pay attention. Anne spoke about that very well and powerfully this morning. When we are what we should be; when we deal with issues of gossip and slander and hatred and power-seeking and put them aside.
What are we going to do about it? The change has to start with us. We have to be transparent; accountable; self-aware. It’s one of the reasons in recent weeks that I’ve spoken about safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. We cannot pretend that the Church has got it right. Everybody knows it hasn’t, so let’s stop pretending and be honest, and repent, and change, because people will see what is right.
Whatever our attitude to the sexuality issue; wherever we stand on this, we cannot pretend that throughout the Church, our attitude to gay people has always been right. We have not loved them as Christ loves us, and that is the benchmark. Some of us have. Many of you have, with great power. Many haven’t; let’s be honest. We are not saints, calling people – we are saints in one sense – but in the popular sense of people who don’t sin, we are not saints, calling people into a place away from the world. We are sinners, calling other sinners to know and love Jesus Christ.
Look what happens as a result to those believers. Having been a Jewish church, in a community that for 500 years had been locked into the belief that non-Jews were outside, they become a people that reaches out to gentiles and Samaritans; that draws them into fellowship with Christ, and this flows from lives lived in reconciliation, with God and with each other. Where diversity is accepted as the gift of God of infinite variety, confronting a world that likes uniform certainty. Our God has created a universe with more variety than all science will ever begin to scratch the surface of, and in our world, we like to put things in neat boxes.
If we’re honest, we’re not always good, as people, at reconciliation, except with people with whom we agree. Or to be accurate in my case, who agree with me. We look carefully, and we see someone, and we say, “Well, yes, he’s alright, Fred. But actually his analysis isn’t quite the same as mine, so actually he’s outside.”
We forget. We forget that my sister, my brother, is never my enemy. We’re told to love our enemies. We’re told to love our neighbour, and we’re told to love each other. If anyone can spot the cracks, let me know, because I haven’t found anyone who can fall through them yet.
Jesus prayed that we might be one. He says this in John: 17 in the last seven verses, nine times, “So that the world may know”. Do we want the world to know who Jesus is? Then we need to be a reconciled people, who reconcile the world. We are reconciled to Christ. We need to be overwhelmed by reconciliation, converted and converting others. Because Jesus died for us when we were His enemies.
Let me give you an example. In 2002, there were riots in a city in northern Nigeria called Kaduna. I went at the end of them; I was working in that kind of work, and in that area. They were huge riots; several thousand dead. I met a number of clergy who’d been caught up in them; who’d lost friends and family and churches. One of them was particularly bitter. He used to preach a sermon in the ruins of his church, teaching people how to disassemble, clean and reassemble an AK47, rather than preaching from the Bible. Probably got more attention than I do, but still not a good thing. He came to the meetings that we had on reconciliation embittered, reasonably. God touched his heart. It took several months; through the scriptures, God spoke to him.
He went to the local imam, and found out where their baker was of the Muslim community, and his community started buying their bread there. The imam came and said, “Why are you doing this? How can we help?” He said, “Well, you can stop people coming round the ruins of our church from your community and lobbing petrol bombs through the ruined windows on Sunday morning, because it sort of disrupts the service. The imam said, “Well… We’ll do that if you come on Friday and stop your lot doing that to our mosque.”
They started there; started with buying bread; stopping attacking each other. Two years later, in that small part of Kaduna, they were digging a new sewage system together. Still arguing furiously, but not killing each other. The reconciled people had overflowed with such miraculous reconciliation that their enemies were able to work with them.
That is the Church that people recognise; a church that overflows. I think one of the things that worries me most is the remorseless power of negative religion in this country. The more we harp on the negative and fail to show love for one-another, and for Jesus Christ, to proclaim service to the poor; ministry to the poor, the more we give in to those who oppose the gospel.
I saw – you probably saw it yourself – a YouGov opinion poll a few weeks ago. 58 per cent of people under 25 didn’t say they opposed the church, or faith; they said it was completely irrelevant. Opposition is one thing; indifference is far more dangerous. That kept me awake at night. “Who cares what these people think?” was their attitude.
So thirdly, my priority – first: prayer and renewal of the religious life; secondly, reconciliation, within the church and overflowing into the world around us; and lastly, making new disciples. If we are to grow the Church numerically; if we are to find life in all its fullness for many of our fellow citizens, we must be the people who show hope in the face of death; steadfastness in suffering, because we overflow with the good news of Jesus to those around us.
A friend of mine is gravely ill at the moment. He’s younger than me. He’s a church leader. He has children, and a probably inoperable cancer. In his hospital ward, nurses come to sit with him, because they say it is the most peaceful place in the hospital. He is winning people to faith in Christ, not through any words, but because he is overflowing with the presence of Christ.
Living Christians make new disciples because in all circumstances, the spirit spills over the edge of their lives. We need evangelists, witnesses, ordinary people, talking and living out of the knowledge of God. God is faithful. He always has been, and He always will be. He will hear our prayer and see our need, and bring what is required.
New Wine has done much; has been a great channel of the grace of God; has changed and trained two generations of leaders. But we are in a time of revolution, and we need another revolution in the Church. What it looks like, I do not know, but I want to be in it. What it feels like is Jesus-centred, fire-filled, peace-proclaiming, disciple-creating, and the Church word for this revolution is revival.
Let us stand for prayer.