MPhil Pathway Reflection

Dissertation: ‘Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and Anglican Identity, c.1860-1960’. Supervisor: Jeremy Morris

In the autumn of 1931, Mahatma Gandhi visited Cambridge. He was there to work with scholars exploring ideas about the future potential for India’s independence. Part of his trip included meeting Westcott ordinands. The Cambridge Daily News reported, ‘Very early on Sunday morning, at about 5.30, Mr Gandhi went for his usual walk, accompanied by Mr Andrews and some members of Westcott House. They went round the colleges by way of the streets and on the way back were able to go through Trinity to the Backs.’ This Mr. Andrews was Charles Freer Andrews (1871-1940), who was nicknamed ‘Christ’s Faithful Apostle’ by Gandhi and became one of his closest friends across their years working towards independence in India. Andrews, a complex priest with a theological outlook that embraced the diversity of Indian religious life alongside Christianity, was a formidable figure formed by the same college that continues to form priests now.

Like Andrews, all at Westcott are called to combine heart and mind with body and soul, and to be integrated and enlivened by learning for the sake of the Gospel. Driven by the same love of God, sent by the Spirit to serve Christ’s Church as best we can, and inspired to pray to our Father, crying Abba in our own way, silently or not so silently, in joy and in sorrow, sometimes frail and sometimes strong, we were called by the chapel bell with its promise in Greek. That chapel is a crucible, and the first time I realised the interconnectedness of the Divinity Faculty and daily immersion in Common Worship and the BCP, it was there on an ordinary morning. A tiny but vital epiphany that it all matters because it’s all connected. Westcott taught me how to pray, how to think theologically, how to rely on God more than I had before in all things, and how to sing Compline properly. It taught me that if I didn’t co-ordinate the afternoon prayer group I would never go, so I’d better volunteer to organise it for a while even though I loathe spreadsheets. All those things have become more important in parish life than I could have anticipated.

Greek was bewildering, and the chapel bell sometimes felt like a loud demand with its ring and its inscription, but I developed a love for both. The current Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral, Max Kramer, was my Greek teacher. He was excellent. I brought my youth group from church to visit Canterbury last summer. We got to the compass rose. He smiled at me and said ‘You studied Greek! What does it say?’ I raised my eyebrows, amongst this group of wonderful teenagers, started to laugh, and said I had genuinely no idea. Instantly forgiven (thanks, Max), we looked at it together and thought about what it meant, near the pulpit, next to the steps (uneven because of pilgrims’ progress upwards on their knees), close to

Christopher’s Whall’s monumental stained glass image of Christ in Gethsemane, and not far from the medieval stained glass image of Adam, reminding us that in our labours whatever they may be, we are all made in the image of God. It reads: Η ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΩΣΕΙ ΥΜΑΣ (‘The Truth Will Set You Free’). That’s true, it will. The Truth of God, the Truth of the Gospel, will do this; and that’s the reality of God’s grace even when you can’t remember any Greek.

Alongside learning about the macro and micro realities of the Church of England, Westcott led me further into the Anglican Communion, and taught me the crucial importance of ecumenism too. I have particularly good memories of sitting with Neil Thorogood, who was the Principal of Westminster College, talking about art and ministry. He recommended Kosuke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God. It helped me see things in a new way, and I recommend it to others now in my parish. Being at Westcott also meant chances to travel, trying to go at 3 miles an hour when visiting as many different iterations of Christianity as I could. I went to India to spend time with Monodeep Daniel and the Delhi Brotherhood. As we drove into an ‘unplanned neighbourhood’ to visit a Dalit Hindi-speaking church I vividly remember him saying ‘You are not here to be a tourist. I’ve brought you here because you are going to be a priest. Time to get out of the car.’ This trip was part of my motivation to write an MPhil essay about Samuel Azariah, the first Indian Anglican bishop.

I also travelled in Georgia with the Dean of Corpus Christi, James Buxton, as part of my two-year attachment in college. United by a love of Orthodox icons, monastic murals, powerful women saints (St Nino – absolute star in the ‘great cloud of witnesses’), and good wine, we also ended up on top of an arid hill to visit some ancient cave-chapels filled with sacred murals on the border of Azerbaijan. I’m terrified of heights, but it was worth it, even if I had to sing Dusty Springfield’s greatest hits to myself and not look down so I could get back to the bus in one piece. That trip also led to a conversation with the first woman bishop I’d ever met: The Rt Revd Rusudan Gotsiridze of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, whose activist work advocating for the rights of women and girls has brought her both positive and negative global attention. Her intelligence and pastoral wisdom shone out of her, combining heart and mind with attentive care.

Throughout my three years at Westcott, my academic pathway was a challenging rhythm of diverse ideas. I did Tripos and then an MPhil in Anglican Studies, matriculating at Jesus College. St Radegund appeared on my ember card with good reason. I asked for her help a lot. I relished both degrees and loved the challenge of supervisions even when I had no idea whether or not my essays made sense. The chance to think and pray at the same time was genuinely electrifying.

The opportunity to learn about Augustine, Paul, Dante, Gertrude of Helfta, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, Ezekiel, Abraham, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Samuel Azariah, Evelyn Underhill, and even Hooker and Cranmer….all of this, under the wise guidance of Janet Soskice, Robin Kirkpatrick, Malcolm Guite, and Jeremy Morris, was among the greatest gifts I could have received. Less formally, I also absorbed Eckhart’s wisdom on the wise recommendation of the Chaplain, Earl Collins. I am still learning what those gifts mean and how to handle them wisely in holy orders. I use these resources and tools all the time. In pastoral visiting, liturgies, sermons, spirituality, and engagement with social justice in the life of the parish, all of it – truly – has been grist to the mill. There is not one thing that’s been wasted. I wrote my Tripos dissertation on the Stations of the Cross and I find I’m doing a Stations project. I wrote my MPhil dissertation on the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, and am particularly attentive to eucharistic theology in my parish and what Communion means to parishioners and the community as a whole.

Finally, as all of these experiences are set within the notion of ‘pathway’ that underpins them, another set of gifts: one bleak day, I received a little envelope in my pidge. I opened it and carefully removed the contents. A postcard and a relic of St Peter Claver, a Jesuit who resisted injustice tirelessly for the Gospel, and treated everyone he met with profound dignity. I carry it with me all the time, next to my rosary made by Mother Cat Darkins (2015-18). The ruby-orange colour of the glass beads has been loved off, like the Skin Horse’s explanation of what it is to be Real in The Velveteen Rabbit, in many places along those decades. I pray that each person formed for priesthood grows in awareness of the Gift Giver. I pray that in each pathway, integrating study within the deepest truths of vocation, we can learn how to be real, because of the One who is Real.

The Rev’d Dr Ayla Lepine, Curate, Hampstead Parish Church, Diocese of London

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