Category Archives: Spirituality

Wild City Retreat at All Hallows

Wild City Retreats are led by our own Pippa Woodhams and on 22nd October there will be a Wild City Retreat celebrating Autumn. You can find more details on the LCI website

Maunday Thursday / Passover Meal

Maundy Thursday was an amazing evening of Jewishness, Jesus and Junk Food!

Our Jewish friend David Winston (with Heston as his sidekick) led us through a Passover meal; the ancient liturgy and symbols helped us to understand more deeply the ‘past’ of our Christian faith, and also the ‘present’ message of freedom and hope it offers in our modern world. This was especially poignant with our night shelter guests (fleeing homes in danger, longing for freedom and fullness of life) sharing the meal with us.

Then we had a wonderful (partly-kosher!) dinner courtesy of our Junk Food Café; our imam friend Adam taught us about wudhu (ritual washing before Muslim worship); and then David R-H led us reading John 13, saying our prayers and washing each other’s feet.

It was a very special and moving night. Jan said it was a deeply profound inter-faith experience and encounter; David Winston said it was like a big multi-culture-and-faith group hug 🙂

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What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

Leeds HOR Flyer

MONKeying around (or, Spiritual Disciplines for Daily Life)

St Francis of Assisi recognised that lots of people are keen to love and serve God in daily life – but not keen to live in a friary or convent! So he formed the Franciscan Third Order to complement the First Order (Friars Minor) and Second Order (Poor Clares).

This enabled anyone to follow Jesus in the Franciscan way, and commit their daily lives to intentional love, joy and humility.

If that sounds tempting – or you’d like to be more intentional about daily spirituality – this brilliant booklet is given to everyone exploring the Franciscan way of life…

chasing the wild goose


IDAHOBiT cross 2We have had a lot of positive comments about this cross made by Kerry at the IDAHOBiT 2015 event a few weeks ago, so here it is for everyone to see. Hope you can read it! Click on the cross for a larger version.



Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent

Drawn Together for Lent…

The meditation below, from Pippa, given at our Ash Wednesday service, kicks off our small group meetings weekly through Lent this year.

Come and celebrate God’s love and generosity and think about passing it on!   “Count your Blessings” with Christian Aid and make connections that count.   At this key moment of our community life, before Easter and a new chapter with our new priest, let’s be drawn together to prepare, pray and learn.  We will be following a series of Christian Aid reflections, linking international issues with similar themes relating to our own community.

7.00 in church: 

Tues 24th Feb; Thurs 5th March; Tues 10 March; Thurs19 March ; Tues 24th March.

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” Isaiah 10 -11

Isaiah 58, to me personally, is one of the most powerful passages of scripture.  It is one which moved me very directly, when I was a searching Christian student in my early twenties.  We were rather into piety in those days: looking for light, blessing, healing, guidance, the power of the Holy Spirit.  There was a backlash from the 1960s that any wiff of activism was a suspicious, liberal, “social gospel” – faith without power, and mere legalism.

Then one day I happened upon reading this passage from Isaiah 58, and it struck me like a thunderbolt, perhaps my first direct experience of God.  We were chasing the wrong goal, in looking for blessing without context or understanding of the nature of faith.  Here Isaiah presents a dynamic interaction between obedient service and experience of God. THIS is what God wants, and all these blessings will follow.  The result: homes are rebuilt as housing policy provides affordable housing for all; hungry people have food, intercepted or otherwise; oppression comes to an end; people are well clothed.

And for those who have enabled these things:  healing; glory; answered prayer; experiences of guidance; energy; springs of ongoing water and light.

Well, sometimes.  Sometimes it’s just a long hard exhausting slog.

Where are we now?   In PCC this week I was weeping over our government policy, when asylum organisations say that there will be no positive responses to requests for asylum until the election is over – we must be seen to achieve numbers for people deported.   This election is affecting my friends and my colleagues and possibly sending some of them to their deaths.     So I wept in PCC and end up exhausted, with many others.  Where do we go for solace and support in our work for justice?   Someone said, perhaps tears are the only rational response.

Where do we go?  Increasingly, I go out into the natural world, and I have had a fortunate opportunity to lead retreats over the last five months to enable others to do so.  To bring together the city, our personal stories, our worship with all its myths and festivals, and an acute observation of what is going on outdoors.   There is a deep disjuncture in our society between ourselves and the natural rhythms of the world, hard to perceive in the city.  This attitude is linked to our relationship with other people across the planet, as people as well as resources are seen for our “use”.

What’s happening in FEBRUARY?  It’s gloomy, people get Seasonal Affective Disorder. New life is coming but it’s still hidden.  Lent sees Carnival in many parts of the world, on Shrove Tuesday, just before Lent begins. Carnival seems good to release emotion.  “It’s as if, before the discipline and order of Lent, the untamed pageantry of our unconscious souls must be let loose. Carnival costumes often contained opposites like dressing up as our shadow-selves, or the part we do not reveal.  Both Lent and carnival are about looking at the un-named, which wells up within us. At carnival we let it go into the streets for a day, with feasting and play and relaxed rules, and during Lent we bring it before the loving gaze of God.” (Tess Ward)

On our Wild City Retreats we have been looking at the Celtic Tree Calendar:   “The tree that the Celts associated with February is willow.  Known as the Queen of the waters, the willow is the most feminine of trees. It’s Celtic name, Saile, means to leap or let go, which is why leap year falls in February.  Willow calls on us to make this leap, but the only way is to release feeling, cut ties that bind us to past ways of being or thinking. As we do so, life changes and we surge ahead.” (Tess Ward again)

Willow has strength and flexibility, it makes cricket bats.   It has stupendous energy and regenerativity.  Cut a bit and stick in the ground and it will grow.   Fast!   Lots of schools have made beautiful living sculptures from it.   But it is also the tree of grief the weeping willow, associated with water.  “There we hung up our lyres. “

So, in our Ash Wednesday service, I bought in some curly willow from our garden. The bright chequered cloth of carnival was covered with paper, and the willow branch surrounded with chunky sticks of burnt willow, transformed by fire into: Charcoal.   A reference to the ash with which our foreheads were marked in the following Eucharist.  Burnt, transformed.  Natural growth, tempered with fire into something creative.

We were all asked to walk round the table draw a line round the vase of willow, to symbolise our journey this Lent.  Thick and thin lines, broken bits, interactions with other lines, smudges: willow and grief transformed and shared.  One simple line each, but it all merged together and we had made a drawing.  Drawn Together.  You can see this in church.  Perhaps it will be changed again before Lent is over.

Sometimes the calling we receive from God is to pour ourselves out, to be changed, to be transformed through fire.  Grief has been called the river of tears which washes us on down river to the new place we are meant to be.    Lamentation is a true response to injustices we are called to respond to.  But there is hope, we are all part of the wider cycles of nature, resurrection, growth and loving service.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;  when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rea guard. THEN you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and God will say, HERE I AM.” Isaiah 58 6-9


Faith in Dark Places

Faith in Dark Places

Wild City Retreats

A new group, led by our very own Pippa Woodhams, will be beginning to explore our relationship with the natural world, in creative, experiential ways. These explorations are being called “Wild City Retreats”.

If you are interested in learning more then visit the Leeds Church Institute website or talk to Pippa. The first “retreat” will be on Saturday 11th October.


Notes from Steve’s Remembrance Day Sermon

Dying to self / preparedness to die

I’ve been thinking about war. And those go to war for whatever reason: duty fear vengeance love rage patriotism compassion; and whether they are fighting for self, family, friends, country, religion, politics, or whatever.

And my thinking about war raises lots of uncomfortable questions:

We often speak of Jesus preparedness and even his willingness to die to die for the whole world, but how do we respond to men and women today who are prepared to die for others? Pity? Awe? Rage? Apathy?

And we who hate war – what do we feel about those in the forces who go off to fight on our behalf – or at least at the behest of our elected leaders?

And what do we feel for those innocent parties – referred to as ‘collateral’ when they are killed accidentally by a bomb or a shell or when a child is blown to pieces by a cluster bomb they’ve picked up thinking it’s a plaything.

And how do we respond emotionally to those who say that sometimes war is the last, least wanted and universally abhorred but only option in certain circumstances? How do we reconcile the evils of war with sometimes needing to combat and destroy monstrous evil in the world?

Is war ALWAYS wrong/evil? Yes, I hear myself reply. But it also seems to me that when we speak of war we are speaking of where war is conceived – in the human heart; and so is the human heart always wrong/evil? This time I hear my reply is NO! The human heart may be weak and prone to sin but human life even in all its frailty may never be wholly right but is not always wrong and evil… it may be where wrong emanates from but it’s also where love and compassion reside….

In the past I have spoken on occasions such as this and talked about selfless acts of compassion and bravery – like the crew of the little fishing boat deliberately sailing their boat beneath the blazing Piper Alpha gas platform in the North Sea , putting their own lives at risk to rescue a man clinging to one of the support pillars.

Or the story of bravest soldier of the first world war, as he came to be known: In the first world war, soldiers were digging a tunnel to undermine the German trenches. It caved in and trapped them but rescuers dug a narrow tunnel to them everyone crawled out except one lad who was too badly injured to crawl. It was then that one of his comrades, a 43 year-old ex-miner called William Hackett refused to leave and stayed with him while the others all escaped so he wouldn’t die alone in the cold and dark. Before the others could dig their way through again, the tunnel collapsed completely and both died and are entombed there together to this day. William Hackett was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

But today I want to look at us and how we remember acts of selfless courage but link that selflessness to our own behaviour.

We in this country, unlike others around the world even today, are not often called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. Our sacrifices are more often made with regard to our money, our time or our energy in some way and these ways are very important – but they are, in a sense, ‘external’ – they don’t necessarily always touch the inner person…

But what about those times when we find ourselves in conflict, not with an enemy on a battlefield, but when we find ourselves at odds with someone else?

In most conflicts, it seems to me, there are those who want to control, punish, even eliminate others, whether in war or a playground argument, and if we are serious when we talk about creating a better world, the thing we need to give up and surrender is often more to do with our need to be right, our desire to win at all costs – in other words, our pride.

Sometimes it’s brave soldiers like William Hackett that show us the way; sometimes it’s children: In Marcus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’, set in the Nazi era, a young Jewish German girl is sent to southern Germany for supposed safety. During a Hitler Youth rally there is a stampede and she hears her name being called. She looks around and on the ground she sees the boy from her school who has been taunting and humiliating her since she arrived in the town. His ankle is smashed and bleeding from the stampede. She might have laughed at his misfortune but she sees, not a spiteful boy but ‘a wounded animal’ needing care and protection and she immediately goes to him and helps him. Compassion overcomes fear and retribution.

In Keith Hebden’s book ‘Seeking Justice’ he lists the things we need to do to create a just and compassionate world:

Create the future – not just complaining or protesting the past or the present

Love one another – not hating /ignoring/being apathetic towards others

Integrate the self – not just going through the motions externally without engaging the heart and the head and the hands

Initiate the engagement – not waiting for someone else to move first

Consent to loss – not insisting on winning every argument every time

Die to self – not ‘surviving at all costs’ or ‘making sure you end up top dog’ or living by a ‘don’t let them get away with it’ mentality

Dying or living, in these terms, means making a decision about life in a way that dares to say, “I may live (conquer/win/be top dog/look clever but if the cost of that is someone else’s pain, someone else’s unhappiness, someone else’s losing face, what kind of life is it that I truly gain?” What was it Jesus said? “Those who wish to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it”

The fishermen, the soldier, – if they had failed to act on their compassion, if they had ‘tried to save their life’ what kind of life would they have been in effect choosing, I wonder?

Today we remember those who for whatever reason, in whatever circumstances, laid down their lives or had them cruelly taken away for the good of whoever – or no-one – (which is what Jesus meant, of course, when he talked about losing ones life ‘For his sake’)

In countries around the world people are dying for their faith (or at the hands of those who think they are killing in the name of God ) – whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish or whatever. I pray that none of you ever have to make that supreme sacrifice in the same way.

But dare we resolve, out of nothing else but selfless love and compassion, to die to self, be prepared to die, whether physically or figuratively, for the good of the other, seeing all people as children of God, as indeed we are – and therefore in that sense, not enemies but friends. If we can only do that, how much it could change our understanding of the words of Jesus in John 15.13:

“Greater love has no one than this – that they lay down their life for their friends…”

Steve’s sermon notes for 20th Oct


Genesis 32.22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3.14 – 4.5
Luke 18.1-8

· Firstly a few words about the readings today and how they are partly at least about prayer and the need to be persistent in prayer:

Psalm 121 asks “Where does my help come from?” and the answer – “From God who made heaven and earth. If you like, a pre-requisite to prayer, knowing who you’re praying to;

· Genesis 32: Jacob at the Jabbok – “Bless me” – grabbing hold of God – even if you don’t know at the time that it is God; being bold, persistent, risking even being rude or selfish. Wrestling with ‘God’, or your conscience, or fate, or your demons… God as a help is in all…..

· 2 Tim 3.14-4.5: Scripture is there as a help … “proclaim the message: people will look elsewhere than God , so carry out your ministry fully – do the work of an evangelist… (meaning tell teach tend transform treasure – 5 MARKS OF MISSION) live out the gospel. To be persistent in these is also a form of practical praying.

· Luke 18.1-8 The judge has no fear of God or respect for people. If he could ultimately grant the woman justice, how much more will a loving God give justice to those who cry out to God day and night. Also an encouragement to those in difficulties – and an encouragement to be faithful in prayer for ourselves and others.

But as well as the traditional exposition of the readings for today I want to talk about a related issue: justice and how we respond to issues of justice today.

Last week Jack preached a great sermon on Jesus healing of the 10 lepers and used the nine lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus, as alternative models for discipleship.

In his sermon he asked the controversial question, “Can the touch of Jesus become what seems to be not a blessing but a curse?”

The Old Testament reading for this Sunday is the story of Jacob at the ford of the river Jabbok wrestling with a strange figure all night. At daybreak Jacob receives a wound to his hip from the figure (who Jacob takes to be God ) who then proceeds to bless him. I found myself thinking, what kind of a message this was… That God can strike hurtfully one moment and then proceed to give a blessing (and then only after much pressing).

That of course is to view these things in very black-and-white terms and there are times and situations when we need to let go of our either-or mentality and see beyond such thinking for the ways in which seeming curses, injustices, disappointments, and so on might, when looked at through the lens of the grace of God, actually bear the seeds of blessing.

In the bible, examples might be Abram’s wife Sarai’s inability to bear children – it was this in part that led to God’s covenant with Abraham and the promise of descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore.

Or the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt which in the end led to freedom in the promised land… ?

And of course God can and does bring good things out of bad but it strikes me that if we start to justify bad stuff by looking at it in retrospect, in the light of good stuff that happens later on, we can get dangerously close to condoning almost anything – and worse, giving the chilling message to those who suffer dreadful poverty or illness or torture in the here-and-now, that one day it’ll all be put right … and in doing so we discount their suffering in the present moment and demonstrate our inability to really empathise with those who suffer.

Back to the gospel story of the woman and the unjust judge:

It seems to me it’s all too easy to judge and to condemn those who may well be guilty as hell; those who absolutely brought it on themselves … but are they not, like us, people for whom Jesus Christ lived and died as he did and shouldn’t that make a difference in how we treat each other, regardless of how good or bad we see other people as??

I watched The da Vinci Code the other night (again) and in amongst all the sifting through clues and codes and things, there was one particular line spoken by a character who turns out unexpectedly to be a baddie: “We tend to see what we look for”

Cue the gorilla in the basketball game! – This is a set-up where people are asked to watch a video of a basketball game between a black-shirted team and a white -shirted team and (on some pretext to with research or similar) asked to count the moves made by the white-shirts. Afterwards when they’ve all answered what they thought was the point of the video clip, the audience is asked if they noticed the gorilla moving amongst the players. People don’t believe it but on re-playing the clip, there, walking nonchalantly through the basketball players, is a man in a gorilla suit. And not one person notices him! We see what we look for – in that case what we are told to look for; and our subconscious mind blanks out everything else!

Is it possible I wonder, that the woman in the gospel story recognised perhaps at an sub-conscious level, something good, potentially, (even something of God, maybe) in the unjust judge? That vestigial bit of him that, though hidden by his bruised and cynical humanity still resembled the God in whose image he was made? Could it have been this that made her persevere in complaining and giving him no peace? Or maybe it was just her plain need for justice. It is just a story Jesus made up, anyhow. BUT:

The important question that I think needs asking is, What do we look for in other people?

· A target for our desire to avenge another’s suffering?

· An excuse to punish someone for an injustice done to us?

· Someone to help perpetuate and provide the pay-off in the self-destructive games we play and replay throughout our lives if we’re not careful?

· Someone to make me feel better about myself, by comparison?

· Other….

Because if we are looking for these, even unwittingly, we are liable to completely miss the hurt child of fifty-something whose selfish, arrogant or hurtful behaviour is hurting him-or herself – behaviour that may be an unwitting cry for help to get out of the pit that they can’t climb out of by themselves. So when I say I am strongly in favour of justice and especially social justice, which is often about finding justice for other people, what exactly do I mean? What am I after?

1. What is ‘just ‘according to the law (Which law? Whose interpretation of the law? Mine?)

2. What I’d like to happen to others (good things – blessings – to those I see as good people; punishment or shame – cursings – to those I see as bad)?

Ø We’re not told what the woman’s case was about; all we know on that score is that she ‘wanted justice’– compare the story of the King and the thief (The king granted the thief, having been found guilty, a boon; he asked for justice, to which the king replied, “Then you shall hang; if you had asked for mercy, mercy is what I would have given you.”) The Christian message contains includes the idea that justice -real justice- cannot be divorced from mercy: “Justice and peace have kissed (or embraced) each other – they have become enmeshed…

Ø So the demand – or even the request for justice is one we should take very seriously and think very carefully about and remember that we are called by the merciful God to show mercy too. And what we expect in terms of justice, for ourselves or others, may be very different from the expectations, the needs, or the desires, of others.

Ø Finally, Jacob says in the old testament reading, “I have seen God face-to face” – and later sways to Esau, “Truly your face is the face of God”. If the face of God can be seen in those who have, or might, cause us pain, let us determine always look for the face of God in the face of every person we meet – whoever they are ‘just or unjust’. We may be surprised at the blessings that ensue.