Hungry Chair – a fourth poem for Refugee Week

Hungry Chair is my fourth poem to mark Refugee Week – picking up the “chair” theme of inclusion from Nicola Davies’s poem I posted yesterday, The Day the War Came. A common response to the refugee crisis is “there isn’t any room” – sometimes there is an apology about it, but usually not. Once in a while someone will make room in their home, school or community. Hungry Chair, like The Day the War Came, is a poem which thanks and praises those who do make room.

Denel Kessler is the author of Hungry Chair. The principal she refers to is Maha Salim Al-Ashgar, Principal of Khawla Bint Tha’alba Elementary School for Girls, Jordan. The poem is a “thank you for showing the world what compassionate action looks like”. The Principal’s action challenges my lack of compassion. The video is well worth watching.

Hungry Chair

Let’s talk about heroes
the everyday kind
a Jordanian principal
at a school for girls
offering a simple solution
rather than slamming the door
in the faces of children
who have done nothing
to create the war
forcing the families to flee
or die in the hateful dust
clouding the world’s vision

the school is overcrowded
but when Syrian mothers beg
for their children to be taught
instead of saying     no room
the principal asks each girl
to bring a chair and she will
find room for one more
students walk to school
carrying multi-hued chairs
so many eager daughters
classrooms full beyond bursting
but the principal keeps her promise
none are turned away

a loving heart refusing
to be the lock on the gate
offering instead a key
a  mother’s simple wish
for her daughter to write her own name
becoming “maybe she will be a doctor”
a seven-year-old girl declaring
“I want to be smart”
the world begins anew
with open arms, willing minds
perched on the edge
of bright plastic chairs
asking only teach me

I am hungry to learn

I found The Hungry Chair here

What poem would you choose for Refugee Week?

The Day War Came – another poem for Refugee Week

I am posting a poem a day during Refugee Week. I have already posted Home by Warsan Shire and My Hazara People by Shukria Rezaei.

The Day War Came was written by Nicola Davies in 2016 when she heard that the British government was refusing to allow lone refugee children entry into the UK. Nicola Davies is a children’s author and zoologist. The poem has been published as a book with illustrations by Rebecca Cobb.

it is striking how many of these poems I have selected for Refugee Week are about children. Here the child’s safe space is undermined in a split second: the place where they belonged becomes lost to them and they have no choice other than to go on the run.

One person responded to this poem by drawing a chair – I suppose there is a real welcome in our phrase “draw up a chair”. That idea grew into parading #3000chairs across the internet for 3000 child refugees alone and fleeing “all kinds of ghastliness” to “make the people who voted to shrug their shoulders and throw those kids to the traffickers hang their heads in shame”. Posting this is my offer of a chair – but as well I asked Vincent to draw one up for me as my way of saying “refugees welcome”.

The day war came

The day war came there were flowers on the windowsill
and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.
My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose
and walked with me to school.

That morning I learned about volcanos,
I sang a song about how tadpoles turn at last to frogs
I made a picture of myself with wings.

Then just after lunch,
while I watched a cloud shaped like a dolphin,
war came.
At first, just like a spattering of hail
a voice of thunder …
then all smoke and fire and noise, that I didn’t understand.

It came across the playground.
It came into my teacher’s face.
It brought the roof down.
and turned my town to rubble.

I can’t say the words that tell you
about the blackened hole that has been my home.

All I can say is this:

war took everything

war took everyone

I was ragged, bloody, all alone.

I ran. Rode on the back of trucks, in buses;
walked over fields and roads and mountains,
in the cold, the mud and the rain;
on a boat that leaked and almost sank
and up a beach where babies lay face down in the sand.

I ran until I couldn’t run
until I reached a row of huts
and found a corner with a dirty blanket
and a door that rattled in the wind.

But war had followed me.
It was underneath my skin,
behind my eyes,
and in my dreams.
It had taken possession of my heart.

I walked and walked to try and drive war out of myself,
to try and find a place it hadn’t reached.
But war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street.
It was in the way the people didn’t smile and turned away.

I came to a school.
I looked in through the window.
They were learning all about volcanos
And drawing birds and singing.

I went inside. My footsteps echoed in the hall.
I pushed the door and faces turned towards me
but the teacher didn’t smile.
She said there is no room for you,
you see there is no chair for you to sit on,
you have to go away.

And then I understood that war had got here too.

I turned around and went back to the hut, the corner and the blanket
and crawled inside.
It seemed that war had taken all the world and all the people in it.

The door banged.
I thought it was the wind.
But a child’s voice spoke.
“I brought you this,” she said, “so you can come to school”.
It was a chair.
A chair for me to sit on and learn about volcanos, frogs and singing
And drive the war out of my heart.

She smiled and said:
“My friends have brought theirs too, so all the children here can come to school.”

Out of every hut a child came and we walked together
on a road all lined with chairs,
pushing back the war with every step.

Nicola Davies

van-gogh-chair-1888-89-the-chair-and-the-pipe-6252763

The Mother and Father of all Song: The Song of Songs

the_kiss_-_gustav_klimt_-_google_cultural_institute
The well known “The Kiss” (1907-08) by Gustav Klimt (in a garden, wrapped in gold)

I don’t count myself a “biblical scholar”. When I come to my daily reading from the Old Testament it is often as if I am reading the section for the first time. (Along with others I tend to tweet my naive responses with the #cLectio hashtag, here, here, here, here and here.) My current intrigue is with the Song of Songs, a tiny book of love poetry. And it is as if I am reading it for the first time. I guess it has always been a closed book to me – closed because of its reputation and the manner of its interpretation possibly as a consequence of its reputation. By reputation it is highly erotic and “saucy”. I’d prefer the description “absolutely delightful”. I wonder if a sense of embarrassment has led to its allegorical interpretations shared by synagogue and church which sees the poetry referring to the love of God for his people. Have such interpretations demeaned the text?

Some people will be surprised the Song of Songs is included in our scripture because there is no mention of God and the content is highly erotic. The Song of Songs is the title of the book. It is a superlative title indicating that this Song is very special. Colloquially we could say that this is the “mother and father of all song”. There are two speakers who are lovers. Later readers have named them Solomon (even David) and “the Shulammite” (someone from Jerusalem which translates as “the place of peace”). Allegorical interpreters have called one of the lovers “God” and the other “Israel” or “Church”. Personally I don’t see why we need to rush to their naming and I have preferred to leave them to themselves as two lovers. One of them, the maiden, has her confidantes. They are “daughters of Jerusalem”. They stand by. They have a view but no say. They stay as readers and celebrants. I have chosen to join them.

To me the couple are young lovers and with the Daughters of Jerusalem we are privileged to watch love building through them. My reading may have been influenced by Trevor Dennis (here is reason why we should reading him) who finds reason to call Adam and Eve children in his reading of Genesis. There are so many references to a garden in the Song of Songs that I couldn’t help going back to the Garden of Eden, to the boy and the girl we find in paradise. We have to be sorry the way they turned out (and the way they were turned out). I can’t help wondering whether The Song of Songs is dreaming a happy ending, building in love rather than falling in love.

In Imagining God Dennis imagines this “childs’ play”:

One hot afternoon Adam and Eve, unselfconsciously naked, sat on the bank of one of the rivers of Eden, dangling their feet in the water. Eve picked up a flat, round stone, stood up and flicked it in twelve graceful bounces right across to the other side.

‘Who taught you to do that?’ asked Adam.
‘God did.’
Adam turned towards God. ‘Did you really?’
‘Yes.’
‘Could you teach me?’
‘Of course. Watch.’

God stood up, chose a stone carefully, kissed it, curled his finger round it, and, with a movement of his wrist too quick to catch, sent it spinning downstream. It went almost as far as Adam and Eve could see, then swung round in a tight circle and came speeding towards them again, till with one last bounce it skipped back into God’s hand. It had hit the water two hundred times, and had left two hundred circles spreading and entwining themselves upon the surface. From the middle of each circle a fish leaped, somersaulted, and splashed back into the river.

‘Now you try!’ said God. Adam pushed him into the water. God came to the surface a few yards out from the bank. ‘That was level ten, by the way,’ he called. ‘Eve’s only at level two at the moment, aren’t you Eve?’ ‘You were showing off, God,’ said Eve. ‘You’ll be walking on the water next!’ ‘That’s level twenty,’ laughed God, and promptly disappeared beneath the surface.

So it was once in Eden. So it can be still. So it is, on rare and precious occasions. But Adam and Eve complicated matters. They grew up to think flicking stones child’s play. They turned in upon themselves, and God remained out of sight, beneath the surface. They did not sit with him on the bank any more. Now and then, realizing their loneliness and overcome with sudden longing, they would gaze out across the water and see the ripples he left behind. But these were soon gone, and the water would resume its customary smoothness, as if nothing had happened, as if he had never been there.

There are so many beautiful images in this Love Song of Love Songs. It is spring time, a time for building love’s nest. The references to spring signify love that is young, lovers for whom relationship is a novel and delicious mystery.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in the land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”
Song of Songs 2:10-13

The song is soaked in pleasant images, images that are so sensual. They are images of body and bed, field and garden. The whole of creation seems to behind their love and a rich harvest is the outcome of their love. With the Daughters of Jerusalem and with the young lovers, we are allowed into a special world. For me, this is a creation story: the mother and father of so many love songs.

(And, of course, it reminded me of another garden, the strange meeting of two people there and the love that never goes cold between them.)

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb … As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).                           John 20:11-16

Love has created a world of its own – always has done, always will.

The text of the Song of Songs is laid out here.

St Brigid of Kildare and other patrons

4178568875_27d0904042_n
A Brigid cross

Today, February 1st, is the day St Brigid of Kildare is honoured and celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and in the Anglican Communion (today because it is the day that she died in 523).There isn’t a great deal known about Brigid and in recent times there has been debate as to whether she existed at all. Some have suggested that the name and characteristics of the goddess Brigid were attached to the saint.

In a way her historicity is immaterial. What matters is what people have made of her life and what her life has come to mean. There are plenty of stories about her charity, her faith, her wisdom and her healing powers – the sort of stories that make a saint. For example, she is credited with founding a school of art, including metalwork and illumination. She is said to have been sold by her parents into slavery. It is easy to understand why she has become patron saint of babies, children with abusive parents and printers. But she is also patron saint for blacksmiths, boatmen, brewers, cattle, chicken farmers, dairy maids, fugitives, mariners, nuns, poets, poor, sailors, scholars, travellers, watermen and Ireland!

It is this reach of her legend which interests me. That long list of those to whom she is “patron” is a list of those who come under her care. They become the people she entertained with God’s blessing in her life, whether her actual life or the life as it has come to be in culture. That long list represents an enormous reach in prayer and practice and is a measure of the extent of God’s embrace.

The honouring and celebration of saints are spread liberally through our calendar. They help to make us a people of thanksgiving, and they help to make us a people of prayer. From what we have made of Brigid our prayers can stretch from children in abusive homes to midwives, from boatmen to brewers, from sailors to scholars, from fugitives to poets. All of them are taken in by God. Normally I wouldn’t give them a second thought and would pass them by. But today, thank Brigid, I think again and remember the reach of God’s love, his particular intentions and his call for us to love like him.

The photo is by Amanda Slater, showing what is known as a Brigid cross. These crosses are traditionally made on February 1st. They are made from rushes or straw and hang in many kitchens as protection from fire and evil.

PS. I asked John Bleazard, Rector of St Bridget’s West Kirby to contribute to this piece after being moved by what he was telling me about what is happening in his parish and other parishes he knows dedicated to St Bridget, or St Bride. I’m really grateful for this that he writes on how St Brigid’s tradition is kept alive. John writes:

Good to see you remembering Bridget on 1st February, David.

As rector of the 1,000 years-old St Bridget’s Church here in West Kirby, I find myself planning a patronal festival service each year and researching stories about her. Apparently she was once short of drink to offer proper hospitality to some guests, and so prayed over a bath full of dirty washing up water which happily then turned into beer. Hence Bridget becoming known as the patron saint of beer, and why of course, with that knowledge, we just had to organise a weekend beer festival here at St Bridget’s!

In my introductory notes for the patronal service order of service booklet this year, I wrote: “…it is said that Bridget was the keeper of a sacred flame in the church at Kildare that her nuns kept alight for 1,000 years. In the dark days of early February this notion of Bridget keeping an everlasting light has become entwined with that of Jesus being revealed as the light of all the nations at Candlemas, and also with the old Celtic festival of Imbolc that welcomes the return of light and warmth as Winter turns to Spring.

“Bridget is one of only a very few female saints from Celtic times, so her revered place is testimony to her outstanding leadership and holiness. It is said that when she was taking her vows as a nun a ring of fire appeared over her head. In awe of this, Bridget was ordained a bishop by mistake!”

Knowing this history, (or should I say, hagiography or is it legend?) about Bridget as a pioneer of women’s ministry in a man’s world, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the present day St Bridget’s church congregation have signed up as members of Inclusive Church and campaign for full and equal treatment of everyone within the church regardless of sex, sexuality, or other forms of discrimination.

What is more striking is how many other churches dedicated to St Bridget are also involved in the Inclusive Church movement – indeed I’m going to a meeting of Inclusive Churches next Saturday – where? St Bride’s, Liverpool of course!

How exactly does this patronage or influence remain down the centuries? Robert Warren in Healthy Churches Handbook talks about the angel of the church – and how we might better understand decision making processes and the outlooks of churches if we discovered more about the personality and identity of the church’s angel (or patron?) as first described in the letter to the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. The letters are addressed: “to the angel of the church in…”  Warren quotes from Walter Wink’s book, The Powers That Be, who says that “The angel of the church is the coincidence of what the church is – it’s personality – and what it is called to become – it’s vocation.” We at St Bridget’s need to look back at where we have come from, but also need to look forwards to what we are becoming.

I was very struck by what Revd Dr Peter McGrail of Liverpool Hope University said to us in his Patronal Festival sermon here at our service this year about the potential impact and legacy of St Bridget on how we make decisions in our church. Peter pointed out that Bridget is this ambiguous person with stories of the Christian Abbess of Kildare mingling with the Irish Goddess Briege. He asked: “Where does one stop and the other start?”

Maybe this ambiguous hagiography is one reason why St Bridget’s church was (and is) “…a melting pot of ideas, a liminal, threshold place where human thought and action is extended and broadened.” I would add, too, that maybe the influence of the parish dedication to St Bridget is why a whole range of different views on any given topic are represented among the congregation. If that is the case, then our decision making needs to recognise this diversity.

Peter McGrail concluded his sermon: “The challenge we face is how to engage with issues around … who is the “other” as we follow Jesus who … transgressed humanity’s deepest taboos with regard to the sacred, and who set in motion a radical refusal to be bound by the barriers that humans set against other humans. Perhaps a parish dedicated to St Bridget that in it’s origins straddled boundaries between peoples and traditions might offer some insights?”

What would Jesus do? What would Bridget say? What is St Bridget’s Church here in West Kirby call to be and become under the influence of our patron, Bridget?

John Bleazard, March 2017

 

So you want to be a sheep then: sermon notes for Christ the King (Sunday and church)

Sermon – Nov 23rd 2014

Christ the King, Birkenhead.

Christ the King Sunday

So you want to be a sheep, do you?

Do you remember PE at school – when teams were picked. “Pick me”. We prayed didn’t we that we wouldn’t be the last person chosen. There are two teams in today’s gospel (Matthew 25:31-end). On the one hand there are Sheep, and there are Goats on the other. The Sheep are the winning team, the Goats are the losers – although the team looks anything other than a winning team.  The Sheep are promoted by the Son of Man – they have a podium position. The Goats are relegated and put out of business.

Who do we want to play for: the Sheep or the Goats?

But then, there are good sheep and bad sheep, according to our OT reading (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24). Ezekiel explains how we can tell them apart when he talks about God’s way of judging them apart. The fat sheep are accused of being violent, abusive and non-caring within their community, pushing their way around. “You pushed”, God says. “You pushed with flank and shoulder. You butted at all the weak animals with all your horns until you got your own way and had it all for yourself. You scattered them far and wide.”

Ezekiel is one of the “lean sheep”, pushed around, butted and scattered – forced into exile.

His complaint rings true through all ages. There always seem to be people who behave like this, like bad sheep. Back then, Ezekiel’s people have been scattered far and wide in a way that reminds us of what happens in our world today, when so many people are dislodged from their families, forced to flee their homes, communities, work and livelihood.

For Ezekiel and his fellow exiles, the problem has been poor leadership (the leaders are referred to as shepherds). The leaders have only been interested in themselves, feeding themselves at the expense of the people, failing to provide any welfare or benefit system. The sick were ignored. The injured were ignored – and the leaders ruled with a rod of iron. That is why the people were scattered. Ezekiel and his fellow exiles had no choice. They had to go. That is largely the case today as well. The villagers under attack by Islamic State have no choice but to flee. The victims of domestic violence who pluck up the courage to leave their situation say “we had no choice, we had to get out”, and others who can’t leave also say “we had no choice, there was nowhere to go.”

Life should have been uncomplicated for them. They should have led settled lives in straightforward communities, in close contact with parents, grandparents and grandchildren. Instead their lives were disrupted.

The calamity of weak and/or violent leadership catches up with people so quickly, at all levels of our lives. It’s the national tragedies which catch our eye in the news – but the tragedies are lived out small in our workplaces, in the playground (bullying) and in our homes (we are used to hearing about domestic abuse, elder abuse and child abuse). The victims are the lean sheep, pushed around, butted, battered, scattered, unfairly and cruelly treated.

We know what happens to them:

to the children who are neglected, who go unheard, who deserve better.

  • Some of our children are treated so badly – maybe their parents caring only for themselves in the manner of the bad shepherds that Ezekiel riles against. Some of the children manage to run away – scatter – and we all know that there are many adults preying on vulnerable youngsters. Why should they be denied a home? Why should they be denied safety? Why should they be denied care? These lambs deserve the care of a good shepherd – by their very nature. Any different and the natural order of things is turned upside down.
  • to those who become refugees, clinging desparately to their identities, crossing boundaries into lives where they’re still not wanted forced to do work which really was beneath their dignity. The skills of doctors being wasted as they become cleaners. Fully trained nurses having to take any job they could find – zero hours contracts. The dream is somewhere safe to escape to – somewhere you’ll be wanted for what you can offer, but then discover that you’re fenced in from making the border crossing. Some become desparate – casting out to sea with a vague hope that they might make it, but fearful of other wild creatures who lurk in the deep

There is a charity called Eaves which runs the Poppy Project. They report Ellie’s story (which I didn’t use in the sermon):

When Ellie, 32, describes the first part of her life, she races through the disturbing details in a neutral tone; the problems she experienced as a child and a young woman are not what makes her angry. She grew up in a slum outside Kampala in Uganda. She was sent to live with another family when she was seven and sexually abused by the head of the household; when she turned 15, she was forced to marry him. He was violent, so when a neighbour offered to help her escape to a new life abroad, she agreed.

She was taken by plane to the UK with a group of six other women. Ellie thought that she was going to work as a cleaner, but on the day she arrived, she was driven to the home of a white man who told her she would have to work as a prostitute to pay back her debts for the passport and air travel. For two years she was locked in a house with the other women, and periodically driven to customers’ homes.

She only escaped when a sympathetic client gave her £60 and explained how to get to London. In London, she met a man who allowed her to stay with him, but who quickly began to ask for sex in exchange for shelter. One night when he was violently abusive, she called the police.

This is the moment, in a life story of unmitigated misfortune, when you might expect that things would begin to improve. However, it marked the beginning of a new wave of difficulty, and this is where she begins to get angry. She was taken to hospital, but not treated; later the police took her to a police station, where she was fingerprinted and told she had no visa. Since she had only been given a passport to hold for a few seconds when she passed border control at the airport, she knew nothing about visas.

“They were asking each other: ‘Did she come here legally or illegally?’ The way they were talking was very intimidating. They didn’t ask about the attack. They were more interested in why I was staying in the country without a visa.” The man who hit her was not arrested, but she was taken to Yarl’s Wood detention centre. “I’d never been in detention before. It felt like a prison: being locked up, eating your food at certain times, sleeping at certain times. Most of the time you can’t go outside; you can barely see daylight.”

The other inmates laughed at her when they found out she had called the police, and told her she was stupid to have expected them to help her. She was quickly put on suicide watch because she told staff that she would kill herself rather than be deported back to a country where she would be in danger from her husband and her traffickers. “They wouldn’t let me buy tinned food in case I took the tin and cut myself; they watched me while I showered in case I hanged myself,” she says. For a while she regretted having escaped from her trafficker, and thought returning to her existence as a sex slave might be preferable.

It was only when she was in Yarl’s Wood that she realised she had been trafficked. “So many of the women I met in detention had been trafficked. I don’t think the police who interviewed me knew about trafficking. They were more interested in catching someone for being an illegal migrant than in helping someone who has called for help. All they were talking about was deporting me,” she says.

It was only when a sympathetic guard suggested that she put her name down for legal aid that she was put in touch with Eaves. Her asylum claim on the grounds of trafficking was rejected initially, but with Eaves’ help, this was overturned.

She wishes there was greater awareness of trafficking throughout the system. If border staff had been on the lookout for people-trafficking when she arrived in the UK, she would have been prevented from coming into the country. “If they had stopped me on the border, I would have been so much happier; I wouldn’t have done all the bad things that I was made to do. But I came here and I was turned into a prostitute.”

She is calm when we speak; very articulate and very angry about what has happened to her. “Putting trafficked people in prison – that is the worst part of it. You have gone through bad times, and then you find yourself in detention, told you are going to be deported back to the traffickers. That man is still there and he is still bringing in women. That’s why I’m so upset.”

Pushed around, butted, battered and scattered. In exile with a longing for the care of something like a good shepherd.

Tuesday is White Ribbon Day – a day for men to pledge to “never commit, condone or remain silent or remain silent about men’s violence against women” – tantamount to a commitment to playing a proper part in home, family and community.

Good sheep don’t push their way round. Good sheep aren’t selfish. Good sheep aren’t frightening.

Good sheep have good shepherds who they follow. The people of God have had many shepherds. Some have been good, many of them have been bad (Ezekiel is speaking from experience). Ezekiel looks forward to the time when the bad shepherd has had his day, looking forward to the time of good shepherding when the scattered sheep will be gathered in good grazing land.

Jesus shows himself as the good shepherd. It is how he describes himself as the good shepherd, and that is why he is interested in the sheep. His place is with them, not with the goats. At times, at the worst of times, his sheep look awful – and no wonder, because they are the ones pushed around, butted and scattered. They are hungry, thirsty, naked and sick. They are strangers and prisoners. Good sheep who have responded to the shepherd’s call.

If we are sheep, how do we play our part amongst them? Do we act big or play gentle? Are we one of them, or are we acting the goat?

Acknowledgements:

>Two wonderful people

> Easter Day at St Andrew’s Tarvin was “daffodil Sunday” – presumably because of the association between spring, new life and resurrection. It didn’t take us long to realise that the daffodil is the flower of the meadows of the Greek underworld. The asphodel (daffodil) meadows is the region where the dead were supposed to spend eternity. A river runs through these elysian meadows. To the far side of the river those whose lives were neither good not bad were ferried. In the crossing identity was drained away and they emerged into the meadows peopled by those who were neither one thing nor another. (A further place – Tartarus – was for the evil and treacherous.

Two wonderful people we know have died in the last week. Brenda Stride I did not know well. Jen Murray I have known for nearly 30 years. It was speaking to her family that prompted the thought on the daffodil and the elysian fields as the destination for both of them.

Both Jen and Brenda have been local heroes here in Ellesmere Port. Both have given their lives for children. Brenda has spent her life working with pre-school children: Jen’s teaching career has been in three local schools – John Street, Sutton Green and Stanlaw Abbey on Stanney Grange. She was Head at Stanlaw from 1974 to 1991 (I was working the same patch – a 70’s housing estate – ’83-’93). What was remarkable about Jen was her passion for life and for others. She was a wonderful host which showed itself in the school she helped to create at Stanlaw. Appreciating Jen’s work, her friend and advisor, Vernon Hale, commented on the beauty and optimism of the place (this was at a time of really high unemployment in the community). The school was a real oasis of calm (aka a “beacon”) in which, as Vernon wrote, the children had the opportunity to “experiment”, “speculate” and “create”.

The commitment of both Brenda and Jen spans many decades. They have loved hundreds of local children and had a real impact on their families. I wonder at the impact that these two lives have had on Ellesmere Port and the communities that make up this town so low on self-esteem. It would be good to know whether such passion does shape lives and inspire others. I am sure it has done for many. In the end we have to leave them to stroll the elysian fields – on the side of the river where everybody is somebody. For us, consolation is the satisfaction of having been entertained by hearts and minds big enough to embrace all those in their world with love, and the knowledge that they in turn are entertained at the heart of God’s glory.

We have David C Laurie to thank for the photo.

And here’s Sting singing of those elysian fields of gold:

The Winton Train


Wow. The Winton Train arrives at Liverpool Street Station today – with passengers rescued from Prague 70 years ago – the train will be met by the person who masterminded the rescue – Nicholas Winton (pictured). Nicholas Winton is 100 years old.


Altogether he managed to rescue 669 children transporting them by train from Prague to Lon don. Most of them were Jewish children who otherwise would have become victims of the holocaust. They have become known as the Winton Children – and that family of 669 has now become a family of 5000. This was part of the Kindertransport rescue mission which began a few days after Kristallnacht (1938) when some British Jewish leaders petitioned the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, to accept unaccompanied Jewish children from Europe to protect them from Nazism. Six million Jews were killed in the holocaust. A quarter of them were children.

Dagmar Simova is one of the Winton Children on the train. Her response to the question of what it felt like to be once again being on a train from Prague is on the Winton Train Project’s blog: “My mother, father and grandfather came to the station with me. We all wept. This time my husband and daughter came to see me off. When we waved, suddenly it struck me. I was looking at them, but again I saw those three.”

Nicholas Winton never mentioned anything about this. It only became known 50 years later when his wife, Elizabeth, came across some papers when she was cleaning out their attic.

People like Nicholas Winton are honoured in a memorial park in Prague called the Orchard of Saviours. It celebrates all who helped Jewish children at great cost to themselves. Four types of apple trees have been planted and the refurbished fountain has been named after Sir Nicholas Winton.

The Winton Train Project hopes to despatch another Winton Train with young people and their artworks inspired by goodness bound for other European cities, and that it become a tradition to commemorate the resilient determination of people to believe in goodness and actively take part in a common future.