On my first Sunday at Trinity - St John Church, in the Diocese of Long Island a little girl from the congregation gave me a dandelion after the morning service. It was a simple and beautiful gesture one which I found rather moving.This little act of kindness reminded me of a sermon preached by a Methodist Minister friend on hospitality. She recalled a situation witnessed years previously when a young woman passing a church had been drawn inside by the activity of people taking their Harvest offerings up to the altar. The young woman looked around for something to offer. Having no produce or foodstuffs she plucked some dandelions from the edge of the pavement, entered the church, walked to the altar and lay her offering down on the altar steps. The minister and his helpers continued to receive the congregation’s offerings creating a lovely display in front of the altar. The dandelions were ignored and left on the steps.A sad tale reminding us that a failure to give thanks for even the smallest of offerings can sometimes be caused by a lack of empathy, creativity or hospitality.Back in London after three months in Long Island I reflected on my time in the U.S. It had been a busy residency with lots of travelling, workshops, collaborative art projects, preaching, finally concluding with an exhibition. One of the most memorable experiences was being invited to the Annual gathering of the Unkechaug Tribe. The Chief Harry Wallace asked that I open the ceremony with a prayer/invocation, a great honour. I witnessed on the Poospatuck reservation an openness and acceptance of people which crossed boundaries of race, creed, and social status. A wonderful example of hospitality. Indeed during my time in Long Island I experienced much goodwill, hospitality and enthusiasm. I also felt supported in the ministry I led. The Diocese and the Mercer School of Theology along with the parish of Trinity - St John supported and funded the residency. My flights, my accomodation, studio space, expenses, materials were all provided and I received an honorarium. Similar to my residency in the Diocese of Ontario in 2014 I felt appreciated. People respected what I did, they understood it as ministry and responded positively.It isn’t always like this though. Self employed I seek commissions, work and funding to support myself in what I am called to – an art ministry. For me, being an artist and a priest is intrinscally linked, they are one and the same thing. Understandably not all people appreciate or respect this but there have been times unfortunately when I have come up against fellow clergy who have not only been openly dismissive and negative but also sometimes blatantly undermining. For example a fellow priest who commissioned me to write an icon for their parish became extremely indignant when contacted about payment particularly when asked why this was going to take six to seven weeks even though the finished (discounted) icon had been delivered two weeks previously. The same priest who also knew I sometimes live off each cheque and who in delaying payment was ultimately denying me the ability to pay my rent and buy food. Sadly this is not my only negative experience with regards payment! Thankfully though there is a law which protects the self employed which states invoices for work done must be paid in 30 days. However this still doesn't stop it happening. I have come to learn that when a poisonous dart is directed my way, a lack of professionalism or simple common courtesy, it motivates me to strive and move forward rather than be downtrodden and impacted by toxic behaviour particularly when it comes from other priests.Canon Mark Oakley once said to me, priesthood is not defined by parish ministry and he is right and yet I wonder if some parish clergy are not just creating their own little kingdoms where they can feel safe and wanted and in some cases superior. It is well known that some parish priests are highly dismissive of self-supporting priests like myself and that our ministries in their eyes are not valid. Bishop Richard upon hearing my musings responded, “of course some priests do make idols out of their parishes.”To temper all this I thank goodness for colleagues who have shown collegiality and encouragement over the years. The Bishop of London has been a wonderful support both morally and practically, directing commissions my way, writing references and letters of support, giving grants and even offering studio space in his home! Most of all it has been his words of encouragement that have meant the most. Then there are the colleauges and friends who have opened up their homes asking only for affordable sometimes, nominal rent. The priests and teachers, who have invited me to their parishes, Diocese, and schools to lead art workshops and residencies. I am incredibly grateful.In a months time I am flying to Australia where I have been invited by the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne, The Reverend Dr Andreas Loewe to lead an art residency as part of the Cathedral’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Part of the residency will be the chance to exhibit artwork I have created over the years, a little retrospective in a way. This will also be an opportunity to reflect on a ministry that has granted opportunities and taken me to places I would never have imagined. May I always be thankful for these opportunities, the hospitality and generosity I experience and for the spirit which these things are given, including the simple things, the little gifts, the dandelions.Episcopal Journal articleLiving Church article
This triptych commissioned by the Bishop of London, depicts three smiling women from the congregation of St John on Bethnal Green Church, seated around a table.
The women reflect the diverse nature of the congregation at St John's as well as the local East End community.
Each woman is a wife, mother, and grandmother, a person of faith and a committed hard working member of their church, something I wanted to celebrate. The three women also symbolise in part the important role of women – particularly older women – in the Church of England.
The opened hand of Mother Pearl is held out to greet the viewer to the table, a place of fellowship and hospitality while Mother Becky and Mother Miriam look on. What offering do you the viewer bring to the table? The stars on the table cloth symbolise the many descendants of Abraham. The colours the three women wear represent the Christian liturgical seasons and the gold leaf a belief in the 'sainthood of all believers.'
Prints of the 3 Mothers are available here
This icon was a challenge to write. Saint George's Bloomsbury a church designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor was reopened to the public in 2006 following a 5 year restoration. As part of the celebrations of reopening the Vicar and Church Council wanted to commission an icon which reflected the ministry of Saint George's in the heart of the West End. I visited the church on a number of occasions and met with church members to gain an understanding of life at Saint George's. Eventually a design was agreed.
In the icon there are a number of interesting components. Dressed rather casually rather than as a knight or soldier Saint George is riding his horse down Bloomsbury Way. At the bus stop outside the church Saint George encounters a dragon in the gutter. However he doesn't set out to kill this dragon but rather offers up a garland of flowers. The dragon in Christian art is a symbol of the enemy and something that needs to be destroyed but here Saint George seeks to meet with this strange creature and to learn from it. The stranger the other‚ the foreigner‚ the person of difference are boogeymen in the minds of many. In this icon hospitality and pastoral care are shown as an important part of Saint George's ministry. Whether it is shown to people living on the fringe of society, the homeless or the drinkers that meet on the steps of the church, hence the empty beer cans on the pavement, or to the Churches many visitors and tourists passing by, the Church wanted an icon that reflected an inclusive ministry. Even the news agents next door the finest purveyors of the latest VIZ comics‚ is included to show that Saint George Bloomsbury is found in the midst of one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse city's in the world. The dragon is not to be feared here but rather the powerful scary looking horse upon which Saint George rides. A symbol of faith upon which Christians are carried, when the reigns are loosened faith will take a believer to unknown places to experience new challenges and learn new lessons. Faith requires the faithful to be courageous and step outside his or her comfort zones. A frightening challenge indeed!