Open the Doors and Fill it with Life
Updated: Nov 14, 2018
When the founder of St Ethelburga's Centre, the Bishop of London Richard Chartres, was asked "How shall we begin this new work of reconciliation and peacemaking?", he replied "Open the doors and fill it with life."
Over the past 16 years, the team at St Ethelburga's has sought to do just that, understanding that the gift we had been given was to be shared with as many people as possible. The work of the centre has taken on many different forms, but our core values have remained the same:
1. Protection of the sacred
St Ethelburga's is one of London’s most enduring church buildings. An 800 year old church site, it has stood for centuries as consecrated ground. Now, surrounded on all sides by development works, skyscrapers, and the economically-driven activity of the City, St Ethelburga’s remains true to its ancient purpose and many of our projects continue to offer a space for connection with the sacred and with faith. As well as protecting the physical, St Ethelburga's recognises that there is an increasing need in our culture to cultivate and conserve our deepest values which respect people and the earth.
2. Faith and spirituality in action
The life of St Ethelburga was characterised by courageous action in the face of devastation. Ethelburga was a fearless and selfless leader. Her nunnery in Barking was celebrated for the devotion of its nuns, for their study of the Holy Scriptures, and for their service to the community. When the plague came to Barking, Ethelburga gave her nuns a choice: close the doors and pray, or open the doors and serve the community. They chose to serve, even knowing that many of them would die as a result. Ethelburga is our inspiration for putting spiritual values into action in challenging times, for bringing faith and action together as one. This is fundamental to all we do, and we draw on this story in particular, for our work with young leaders.
3. Collaborating across different faiths and cultures
The connection with other faiths was made as early as 1861, when Revd John Rodwell, a rector of St Ethelburga's, made the first reliable English translation of the Qur'an. Our Bedouin tent and Andalusian style peace garden came later in 2006, as a response to 9/11. The tent is welcoming to all, bringing Eastern architecture alongside the Western heritage of the church. It is a space without hierarchy where differing perspectives can be explored. Reflected in the fabric of our building, this theme of diverse narratives and belief systems co-existing fruitfully, side by side, is present within all our projects.
4. Opportunity in conflict
As we explored in yesterday's post, because of the history of the building, we believe that instead of trying to avoid conflict or it signifying the end of something, conflict can present an opportunity for transformation. It is by no means easy, but if we commit to a process of reconciliation, it can result in something once ruined being rebuilt into something beautiful. And like our building, it will bear the scars to tell the story.
Every day, the team at St Ethelburga's opens the doors to the church, the garden and the tent and fills them with life: with visitors from far away exploring the rich history, local business men and women craving a moment of peace in their busy days, newly arrived refugees seeking to building connections and new friendships, young adults testing their leadership skills, community groups investing into the diverse fabric of their neighbourhoods, guest speakers sharing reconciliation skills from around the world, and people from all faiths and none engaging with the critical questions of the day.
As one of the hosting centres, the Journey of Hope programme will allow participants to experience the work of St Ethelburga's up close. It is our vision that as people understand and experience reconciliation in action, they will become more confident to transform conflict in their own churches and communities. It starts with opening the doors...