Poem of the Month – April

The poet Godfrey Rust writes about the Resurrection: ‘There is surely no more transforming moment in history! I’ve come to think that the heart of Easter was not about restoration from sin and failure, important though that is, but about sacrificial love leading to transformation into life of a kind that would never have been possible without it. God is love above all, and love changes everything – he chose this strange path because the greatest love has to sacrifice and risk everything – not to correct a mistake to get us back to a “perfect Eden” which may never have existed, but to bring about a new heaven and earth of a kind which could never have existed without such an act of sacrificial love. It seems that Mary was the first to see it!’

And here, reproduced with his permission, is his poem Mary:

And if you ask me what a Christian is
I’d say, not one who’s pure in word and deed,
or goes to all the Sunday services,
or says their prayers, or knows the proper creed,

but that one who would gladly give away
all that that they have now or have ever been
to stand between the dark tomb and the day
and know the moment of the Magdalene.



See more of his work at www.wordsout.co.uk

Poem of the Month – March

At the beginning of March in 1633, sorrow came to the people of Bemerton on the outskirts of Salisbury. Their rector George Herbert, a committed pastor who had not yet reached his 40th birthday, died of consumption.

Today, Herbert is remembered as one of the greatest devotional poets in the English language. Some of his verses (such as ‘Teach me my God and King’) have been set to music as hymn lyrics, but there are many more. Poetry was how Herbert expressed his faith and talked to God. His poems can be used as prayers in much the same way as the Psalms can.

This little poem – with its three stanzas focusing on Creator, Redeemer and Inspirer, has the title ‘Trinity Sunday’. But it is also a poem of penitence and longing to do better with God’s help. So it is equally appropriate for reading during Lent.


Lord, who hast formed me out of mud,
And hast redeemed me through thy blood,
And sanctified me to do good;

Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.

Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.



Herbert’s poems have helped many during times of difficulty and doubt. His earthly life was short, but his legacy is a long one.

George Herbert: A meditation for Lent


At the beginning of March in 1633, sorrow came to the people of Bemerton on the outskirts of Salisbury. Their rector George Herbert, a committed pastor who had not yet reached his 40th birthday, died of consumption.

Today, Herbert is remembered as one of the greatest devotional poets in the English language. Some of his verses (such as ‘Teach me my God and King’) have been set to music as hymn lyrics, but there are many more. Poetry was how Herbert expressed his faith and talked to God. His poems can be used as prayers in much the same way as the Psalms can.

This little poem – with its three stanzas focusing on Creator, Redeemer and Inspirer, has the title ‘Trinity Sunday’. But it is also a poem of penitence and longing to do better with God’s help. So it is equally appropriate for reading during Lent.


Lord, who hast formed me out of mud,
And hast redeemed me through thy blood,
And sanctified me to do good;

Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.

Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.


Herbert’s poems have helped many during times of difficulty and doubt. His earthly life was short, but his legacy is a long one.

The Oberammergau Passion Play 2022


The generally accepted story is that it all started in 1634, in a time of plague and war: the plague was the bubonic plague which spread through Germany between 1632 and 1640, and the war was the thirty years war, a long and bloody series of conflicts on the European mainland, finishing with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. In Oberammergau, a small village in Bavaria sheltered by mountains, at first there had been no cases of plague, as they took precautions by not allowing anyone to leave or enter their village.

This ruling was broken in September 1632 by Kaspar Schisler, who longed to be with his family and sneaked home into Oberammergau. Unfortunately, he was already infected by the plague and three days later he and his family were all dead, the village was infected and more than eighty died.

The people of Oberammergau gathered together and resolved that if God spared them further loss of life, they would every ten years put on a “Play of the Suffering Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Providentially, thereafter the town was spared further deaths and the first Passion Play was performed in 1634 in the cemetery of the village church. Here it continued till the 19 th century when it moved to the place where the passion theatre stands today.

There are strict criteria about who can take part and the play is performed only by people who live in or were born in the village. The actors do not wear wigs: everyone has to grow their hair and grow a beard if they are playing a man’s part; between performances you can see them going about their daily business in the village. From a population of 5000, about 1200 take part in the performance, of which about 100 have speaking parts.

Nowadays almost half a million people come to the passion play, from all over the world.

I first read about the Passion Play in Oberammergau when I was in my teens. I had bought a first edition of Jerome K Jerome’s “Diary of Pilgrimage” where he described the journey to Oberammergau with wit and verve, echoing his most famous work “Three Men in a Boat” but struggled with his description of the Passion Play itself. He could not think what new he could say about a play which, in 1890 when he went, had already been performed for more than 250 years. It has now been performed for nearly four hundred years, and is performed at the turn of every decade, unless there is some disruption, as there was in 2020, with the Covid pandemic. Consequently, the play was postponed to 2022, its 42 nd season.

People come from all over the world, many come in parties, but there is a well organised Passion Play Office which offers local packages, booking patrons into local hotels for one or two nights, with all necessary meals and seats to attend the performance. We chose this option. We had planned to go in 2020, and were given priority in rebooking in 2022. This meant we could stay at our first-choice hotel (incidentally run by this season’s Pontius Pilate) and had great seats, in the 5000-seater theatre.

The whole village is geared for the play, with exhibitions, talks and a concert bookending the show. The play last 6 hours, in two three-hour sessions, with a long interval where the audience retreats to one of the many restaurants in the village, or in our case to our very well organised hotel.

The play itself has three intertwined staged elements, one is the narrative play, the second is a series of Old Testament tableaux and the third a sequence of chorales. The narrative play has evolved over the years, the story of course is the same: but its interpretation varies.

What moved me in the narrative play included the crowd scenes, the tensions amongst the council and the graphic and realist representation of the scourging and the crucifixion. The stage was huge, about 50 metres across, and crowds could be crowds, hundreds were on the stage, together with donkeys, sheep, goats, horses and camels. It seemed that all human life could be accommodated, amongst the actors was one woman in her nineties and a suckling babe in arms. One benefit of a partially open stage, was that pigeons when released as Jesus cleared the temple could fly harmlessly out to freedom.

There was clearly equivocation and division amongst the common people, and the council on their view of Jesus. On the council there were great supporters throughout, notably Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, as well as those hostile to Jesus. I found the scourging, the suicide of Judas and the crucifixion chilling, and almost too realistic. Though reflecting afterwards, the play as a whole filled in gaps which the gospels, as succinct accounts have to leave out.

The tableaux, provided a welcome respite from the dramatic sequence of the narrative, and linked old testament incidents and prophesy to the depiction of the passion. The chorales were beautiful and added greatly to the atmosphere and aura of the performance. Like the actors, the soloists were remarkably good, considering that they all were residents of Oberamergau.

The dialogue is, of course in German. Though learning German, we were greatly helped by the verbatim translation in to English with which we were provided. All in all, it was a delightful and enriching experience. Like Jerome K Jerome, in his account, we had made a complex journey to reach the village, train, bike and foot, we came with good friends, we were very well looked after in our hotel and we even had (resolved) uncertainty on our homeward journey! I would wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone: there are still some free places this season, otherwise you will have to wait till 2030, or if that is not possible 2034, when it will celebrate its four hundredth anniversary.

COP26 – standing up for climate justice

The conference is over and the real work is now beginning.Cathy Rhodes sent this report from Glasgow.


As soon as I heard that the United Nations Climate Change Conference was to be held in Glasgow, I knew I had to take this opportunity to be there in person: to listen, hear, march, learn and pray alongside so many other people. And, although the outcome of COP26 was disappointing to many, I am glad I made it there.

There was extensive reporting in the media before, during and after the event, with an overwhelming amount of information, jargon, facts and figures, emotion, passion and political negotiation. In all forms of the media there has been much to grasp and absorb before, during and after the conference. I hope this page will help you start to navigate the post COP26 world and discern what God is calling us to do, as Christians and church leaders, in this climate emergency on God’s created earth. Alongside reflections and images from my time at COP26, you will find information and a list of resources which I hope will be helpful.


What is COP26?

COP stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’ and the twenty-sixth of these was the one hosted by the UK in Glasgow from 1st – 14th November 2021. Many believed it was the world’s last best chance to get runaway climate change under control. At the COP21 in Paris in 2015, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees. The ‘Paris Agreement’ means that, every five years, countries will set out plans on how much they would reduce their emissions as Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’.


What was achieved?

Jo Chamberlain, National Environment Officer for the Church of England, wrote a final summary, recording progress made alongside the severe disappointment and lament felt by many. Jo’s list of encouragements in the final text includes:

• Coal is mentioned for the first time in a COP agreement, and remained despite last
minute interventions to ‘phase down’ not ‘phase out’.

• There is a commitment to ending inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

• The Santiago Network is being activated, a mechanism for funding for Loss and Damage, with a commitment made to holding a process of dialogue.

• There is an increased commitment to funding for Adaptation.

• The Paris ‘rule book’ has been agreed, meaning there is agreement about how to account for carbon emissions reductions, so that pledges can be assessed and countries held to account.

• Countries agreed to come back yearly with new pledges, rather than every five years, until pledges are enough to keep temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But much more urgency is needed, especially progress on the following:

• The gap between change needed and agreements; the Carbon Action tracker calculates that the commitment keeps us to 2.4 degrees of global warming, a long way from the all-important 1.5 degrees.

• Keeping promises to the poorest and those least responsible for a changing climate. Terms of any new financing mechanisms for loss and damage are still being discussed, not yet agreed, and the pledge of $100bn annually for adaptation and mitigation has not yet been reached.

There has been disappointment that the COP was not as inclusive as it could have been: the voices of indigenous people and other marginalised groups were not fully heard. We cannot abandon the process, as the COP allows those most affected by climate change to directly confront the biggest emitters and speak of their experience. In the very last stages of the negotiations the whole deal was threatened by some countries pushing for weaker commitments, so others needed to compromise in order to ensure some form of agreement was reached. The Maldives issued this statement: ‘We are putting our homes on the line while other [nations] decide how quickly they want to act. The Maldives implores you to deliver the resources we need to address the crisis in small islands in time … This is a matter of survival.’


What has the Church of England said post COP26?

Graham Usher, the Church’s lead bishop for the environment, and Olivia Graham, Bishop of Reading, said: ‘At COP we called for keeping global warming to below 1.5 degrees, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and securing finance for the world's most vulnerable people who are already effected by climate breakdown … Negotiations always have some compromises and disappointments. These impact the world’s economically poorest the most…. The whole world needs to do more for climate justice. More quickly. More generously. More together. During its presidency year, the UK can be a key player. And this includes all of us within the Church of England. At Glasgow, the world glimpsed the possibility of a hopeful future. Hurting God’s creation and contributing to the suffering of God’s poorest people is not the ‘love God and your neighbour’ that Jesus commands of us. COP showed us the unity of purpose people of faith can bring. This encouragement should reignite in all of us hope for our future.’

There is more information about COP26 and the full statement at https://www.churchofengland.org



Some definitions


Adaptation: altering our behaviour, systems, ways of life, to protect our families, our economies, and the environment in which we live from the impacts of climate change. The more we reduce emissions right now, the easier it will be to adapt to the changes we can no longer avoid.

Mitigation: avoiding and reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to prevent the planet from warming to more extreme temperatures. Affecting rising temperatures takes decades, so we must adapt now to the change already upon us which will continue to affect us in the foreseeable future. It means transitioning from powering our world with fossil fuels to using clean, renewable energy. And we need to reverse deforestation and restore our natural habitats until we reach net-zero carbon emissions.

Loss and damage: impacts of climate change such as loss of life, livelihoods, ecosystems or cultural heritage which exceed the adaptive capacity of countries, communities and ecosystems. These include severe weather events, desertification and rising sea levels. Poor and vulnerable countries who did little to cause the climate crisis are asking the rich nations responsible for the vast majority of fossil fuels for loss and damage funding.

Climate justice: the severe effects of global heating caused by industrialisation and emissions from wealthy countries are felt most by those who did least to cause them. Christians have been working alongside people of faith to speak of the need for Climate Justice, related fundamentally to Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbour. As Ruth Valerio says: our faith is rooted in the scriptures that tell us God is a God of Justice, who raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap (Psalm 113). We are created in God’s image, which affirms that all people are equal. So what does it mean to be and to act in the image of God? In order to reflect God, we must demonstrate that active concern for people who are living in poverty.



What can we do?


Act justly

On Saturday 6 November, we took to the streets of Glasgow as part of the faith bloc to join the COP26 Day of Action. We collected Christian Aid placards from the Sandyford Henderson Memorial Church where we saw a large image entitled ‘Same Storm, Different Boats’ by artist Geoff Thompson.


Cathy on the way to the March for Climate Justice.

Unlike poorer nations, larger richer nations have the resources to cope with and mitigate the effects of the climate storm. We are not all in the same boat. My placard quoted a favourite verse from Micah 6:7: ‘Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly’. As we marched, there was a repeated call and response: ‘What do we want? Climate Justice. When do we want it? Now’. It was wet and cold that day but the energy from those present was palpable. As the images show, people from many faith communities and organisations from the Quakers to CAFOD to Christian Aid and Tearfund joined in this call alongside thousands of marchers of all ages.

Different groups on the march

The Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) organised a Relay from the G7 in June in Cornwall to Glasgow for COP26, and members and friends of YCCN marched with us, along with their boat, ‘The Pilgrim’. The YCCN website has helpful information especially for young people who want to get involved. Also have a look at the Tearfund/Youthscape ‘Burning down the House’ report online for sobering insight into how young Christians feel the church is not doing enough to speak up on environmental issues. The voices of the younger generations, who will survive to reap the consequences of our action and inaction, are loud and clear on this.

The YCCN pilgrims with their banner

We also met with people from Islamic Relief UK, who called us over to stand with them and spoke of their belief in ‘treading lightly on the earth’. One of the main signs of hope from the whole of COP26 has been the unity and solidarity shown by faith groups calling for climate justice, and how this unity has given us a stronger voice. The government’s own faith groups toolkit recognises that ‘Representing over 80 per cent of the world’s population, faith, religion and belief groups have a unique perspective on climate change – in protecting the planet and supporting those on the front line of climate change – and a reach into communities around the world.’

With marchers from Islamic Relief

Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Movement, has helpful encouragement for us: ‘If we wait for governments to do it, it’ll be too late, and if we just act as individuals, it’ll be too little, but if we act as communities, it might just be enough.’


Eco Church

Becoming an Eco Church with A Rocha gives you a structure to work to in Worship and Teaching, Lifestyle, Land, Buildings and Community and Global Engagement. The last section encourages partnership working and lobbying our local politicians for change. It is really helpful to join this scheme for ideas small and large that churches and their congregations can take up. There are now 4000 Eco Churches in England and Wales! Search online for A Rocha Eco Church for information and resources, and to sign up to helpful mailings.



There are a number of resources and workshops around to help us as Christians understand the theology and thinking behind caring for God’s creation. Look at the websites below and seek out local and national courses too.



Christian Aid encouraged people to make prayer boats, some of which were sent to COP 26. I made a boat with the suggested prayer: ‘We pray for world leaders at COP26. Bless them with wisdom and a vision of hope. Give them determination to take strong action. Amen.’ If you have sharp eyes you can spot my little blue boat in the welcome sign at the top of this article, and in some of the other photos. It went everywhere with me when I was at COP26, including in my pocket on the march, and got rather soggy! But I have it now by my desk as a reminder of the prayers which rose up around the conference and the need to continue this. For Eco Church, praying for the environment and including it in worship is a vital part of the survey and there are many resources in the links below.

Cathy’s prayer boat has a rest


The future?

Jo’s final message gave me hope: ‘We can build on the legacy of COP, which has increased concern about climate justice in our churches and communities. We can continue to speak out and hold our leaders to account. And be encouraged in our own efforts to cut our carbon emissions, and look after creation, that these actions are all part of wider movement for change.’ During the march in Glasgow, a rainbow suddenly appeared in the sky. We all cheered as we witnessed this sign of the hope we hold in God, our creator.



To find out more

Go to greenchristian.co.uk and click on COP26 for theological reflections and a downloadable slide show on ‘Why faith matters at COP26’.

At seasonofcreation.org click on full guide for ‘A celebration guide’ with ecumenical worship and prayer resources which are helpful at Creationtide and beyond, including as part of your Eco Church ‘Worship and Teaching’ survey.

USPG produces annual five-week Bible study courses; For Such a Time focuses on ideas of ecological justice through reflections from across the Anglican Communion https://www.uspg.org.uk/engage/support5/forsuchatime/lent-course-2021/

Previous courses include ‘All Things Are Possible’ looking at the Sustainable Development Goals https://issuu.com/uspg/docs/_issuu__all_things_are_possible/2 and ‘A Heart for Mission’ about the Anglican Five Marks of Mission

See also the reflection and advocacy guide Faith in a Changing Climate, offering stories for reflection and of action:
https://www.uspg.org.uk/engage/resources/faith-in-a- changing-climate/

Other useful sites are the Oxford Diocese Eco Hub, Church of England guidance and webinars and Green Anglicans. Search for Faith for the Climate to work together with other faith groups. Christian Aid and Tearfund have many resources on their websites. And WWF have an easy-to-use footprint tool.



Dr Cathy Rhodes is Diocesan Environment Officer (DEO) for Sheffield Diocese. She would like to thank Jo Chamberlain, National Environment Officer for the Church of England, for her considerable input into this article.

A slightly shorter version of this article is published in the Spring 2022 issue of Transforming Ministry magazine.

Healing a grieving nation

This article from Loss & HOPE gives some helpful advice for lay ministers seeking to bring light and hope to the bereaved.

In July 2020, Coop Funeralcare released a media report entitled ‘A Nation in Mourning’, reflecting on the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic following the first wave of infection.

It highlighted the shocking death toll, the personal tragedies of all those loved and lost, and the response of funeral industry professionals whose roles were radically changed almost overnight as restrictions on funerals came into force.

Along with all of that came the distressing forecast that the fall-out of the additional deaths in 2020 would result in a ‘grief pandemic’ to sweep the nation in the following months.

But of course, sadly, we now know that was to be only the beginning. As 2021 had barely begun, UK coronavirus-related deaths surpassed 100,000, a heartbreakingly high number of additional deaths to the usual 600,000 per annum.

Those of us engaged in funerals ministry will know how hard it has been supporting families while also having to restrict the number of mourners at funerals, knowing that those who were unable to attend were denied the opportunity to say a formal final goodbye to the person they loved.

An alarming number were unable to see or speak to them before they died. Many more were unable to share face-to-face chats and hugs at a wake, or visit and hug family and friends for the weeks and months afterwards. And receiving a pastoral visit from someone at the local church hasn’t been possible for large chunks of time.

The Revd Canon Yvonne Richmond Tulloch is the founder of AtaLoss.org, a charity which runs the UK’s bereavement signposting website. She says the pandemic restrictions have denied bereaved people the things that normally enable them to process their loss.

“Over the past 18 months many people will have put their grief on hold and for others the constant reminder of death will have opened up wounds of unprocessed grief from before. We’re now facing a ‘tsunami’ of grief,” explained Yvonne, adding that even before the pandemic, charities such as Cruse Bereavement Care had long waiting lists.

She continued: “With timely information and understanding support, most bereaved people can work through a journey that eventually brings them to a place of acceptance and peace. The AtaLoss.org website fulfils a vital, initial role in helping bereaved people to immediately find information and national services that are right for their needs.

“After that, they need to find lots of local, understanding care. That way, the more complex needs can be reserved for the specialists. In my experience, bereaved people welcome anyone who reaches out to help, even in the simplest of ways.”

Yvonne and senior colleagues working in funerals ministry in the Church of England say that churches are ideally placed to offer bereavement support because they’re located in every community and because we’re called, as Christians, to reach out to the hurting and needy. Funerals are also a part of most churches’ core ministry, so collectively, churches across the UK are coming into constant contact with many thousands of grieving families every week.

The Revd Canon Sandra Millar, the national Church of England’s Head of Welcome & Life Events, says that for many church leaders and those who are active in their church, reaching out with care to those who are grieving can be one of the most important expressions of their faith.

She said: “It might be as simple as sending a message, offering practical help, or taking time to listen. But often, we rely on the fact that those who want some support will actually ask for it, whereas now might be the moment when we need to be more proactive – for example by putting up a poster reminding the whole community that this is what we do. That’s why we’ve made posters available to churches to put up which invite people to ‘Just Ask’.*

Recent research for the Church of England showed that fewer than half the population realise that they can access a church for funerals and bereavement support, yet nearly two thirds of them think that a church should and could be a place where they find help.

This might be through special services in times of remembering, but Sandra advises that personal contacts and relationships with people from within the church, along with appropriate spaces for expressing grief, (which might be indoor, outdoor, or online), matter just as much.

Reader Kate Bradshaw has also found a sad lack of knowledge about what the church can offer, and she believes part of the answer is building a good working relationship with local funeral directors.

She explained: “Funeral directors may not always recognise when a family would benefit from a faith-based funeral, and they also want celebrants who are available to them at short notice. Raising our profile with local funeral directors as professional, capable, caring and available funeral celebrants has never been so important.”

She believes churches will need to find ways to help people feel that the person who died has been properly acknowledged and taken into God’s care, even if they aren’t regular churchgoers. Following up with people after a funeral, regardless of where it took place, and checking in with a friendly ‘how are you’ phone call, is a simple way for those deeper conversations to start.

Yvonne agrees. She passionately believes bereavement care is important to implement as part of all that a church can offer. Yvonne’s faith in this led to the creation of a coalition of Christian organisations called Loss & HOPE (www.lossandhope.org), launched in 2020 specifically to equip churches with information, advice and training to support those who are bereaved and to share ideas.

Yvonne points out that churches can adapt the level of support they offer according to their resources and time. Sharing the AtaLoss.org website at funerals, on parish websites and other communications is a basic way of supporting bereaved families and takes little time and effort.

For ministers wanting to offer longer term support and to help them build lasting relationships with people in their parish, the Loss & HOPE team are encouraging churches to run The Bereavement Journey, a self-help series of films and discussion groups for anyone bereaved with all the resources and training needed to make it easy to run online or in person. This is encouraged to provide a UK wide church response to the pandemic and includes an optional session on faith which, along with wider church support, can open the door to continued engagement with church.

For anyone wanting more information, advice or training in offering bereavement support, the following websites will help.

www.lossandhope.org – to help equip church ministers with bereavement support ideas and skills.
Email: admin@lossandhope.org.

www.ataloss.org – the UK’s central hub of services and information offering immediate help to the bereaved and directing to appropriate national and local support. Posters and contact cards can be ordered, as well as journals for supporting young people through loss and ‘Remembering Someone’ grieving badges as gifts.

www.thebereavementjourney.org – a 6 session self-help series of films and discussion for people bereaved in any circumstance, available to be run face-to-face or online.

www.churchsupporthub.org/funerals – to help churches with all aspects of funerals ministry. Several free downloads are available to help people who are unable to attend a funeral.

www.churchprinthub.org/funerals – free and paid-for resources to help churches support bereaved families on the day of the funeral and long afterwards. * The ‘Just Ask’ posters mentioned above can be found on this site.

www.churchofengland.org/funerals – refer families and funeral directors to these pages to help them understand what churches offer around the time of a funeral and beyond.

A longer version of this article can be found in the Summer 2021 issue of Transforming Ministry magazine. Subscribers can access back issues of all magazines published since the beginning of 2016.

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