A Conflict of Biblical Proportions? Scripture and the First World War

The centenary of the First World War has provided an important opportunity to re-evaluate its impact on religious faith and life.  Westcott House is one of a number of partners participating in a new project examining the influence of the Bible during World War I, as well as how views of the Bible changed as a result of the conflict.

German Bible with bullet hole
German Bible with bullet hole (Photo: Professor Dr Gottfried Geiler)

The Bible’s significance for people who lived through World War I may seem, superficially, an unlikely subject, but its influence was considerable. Many of the generation who fought in the First World War had studied the Bible at school and were more familiar with its contents than most people now. As a result, Christian nations on both sides were able to use it as a source of inspiration, motivation and propaganda. At the same time, conscientious objectors could use its message of peace to defend their refusal to fight. Wherever people stood in relation to the war, the scriptures offered a fundamental resource that could help them make sense of what they were going through.

Canadian picture of Jesus at Firing Squad of mixed European Soldiers
‘The Deserter’: Jesus faces a firing squad of mixed European soldiers (image credit: Boardman Robinson, via Wikimedia Commons)

The research project, entitled “The Book And The Sword: The Bible In The Experience and Legacy of the Great War”, is drawing together theologians and historians from around the world to look at this understudied area and for the first time attempt to pull together many potentially fascinating threads into a coherent narrative. From the controversial sermons of Arthur Winnington-Ingram, Bishop of London; to General Allenby’s entry on foot into Jerusalem in 1917 in self-conscious imitation of Jesus; to the earnest debate among German theologians about whether or not the Old Testament really was bloodthirsty enough reading matter for the heroic German people; the project will aim to show how the Bible was a potent force that shaped many people’s wartime experience.

This Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project is being led by Andrew Mein, Senior Research Fellow in Biblical Studies at Westcott House, and by Nathan MacDonald, Lecturer in Hebrew Bible in the Divinity Faculty. You can see Nathan and Andrew interviewed about the project for our local TV channel, Cambridge TV, by following the link below.


A project like this is not only about the past. The First World War still looms large in our national self-consciousness, and is called to mind every year at Remembrancetide.  To look back at the way that faith and scripture worked for people a hundred years ago can help us reflect on our current practice: how did they hold together the seemingly impossible demands of national civic religion and the Christian witness for peace?

Soldiers hearing mass in the ruins of Cambrai cathedral, October 1918 © IWM (Q 9559)
Soldiers hearing mass in the ruins of Cambrai cathedral, October 1918 © IWM (Q 9559)

How might we draw on their experience to refresh our worship and preaching in a season that clergy often find challenging?  The Westcott Foundation will be offering an opportunity to explore these themes in a study on ‘Bible, War and Remembrance’ on Wednesday 5th October 2016, led by Andrew Mein, Nathan MacDonald, and Ally Barrett. Remembrancetide is challenging for those who lead worship and preach. How do we meet so many diverse needs and expectations? How do we both remember the past fallen and speak into the complexity of contemporary conflicts?  In this study day we will reflect on current practice of remembrance, and draw on the use of the Bible during 1914-18 to find new resources for theology and preaching.  Click here to email us and reserve a place at this study day or to find out more. 

In the mean time you can read more about the project here:


and here:


Stanley Spencer, Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing-Station at Smol, Macedonia, September
Stanley Spencer, Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing-Station at Smol, Macedonia, September, IWM ART 2268  http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/25132


The distinction of λόγος- A Sermon by Arwen Folkes.

A Sermon preached by Arwen Folkes, Ordinand, on 18th May 2016. 

‘No one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me’
~ Mk 9.38-40
May I speak in the name of….
When a business idea is born there almost always follows a process of strategic planning, writing a mission statement, and deciding who exactly it is for.  A brand or logo will then be designed to represent how the service or a product is to be understood by others.
Logos generally embody the values, definition, membership, appeal, and purpose of a concept. While some logos speak instantly others become significant as a service becomes more and more associated with it.
In particular, when it’s a logo for an activity, it often represents membership marking who belongs, and who doesn’t. It can become a badge of honour, a right to be earned or bought, and if particularly high-end the logo indicates a privilege.
In the first verse of this evenings Gospel it seems as though the ‘name of Jesus’ has come to inhabit the space of a logo; ‘We tried to stop them’ John says ‘because they were not following us’.
Stopped because they hadn’t earned the right to use the Jesus logo, because using the name of Jesus requires membership, earned rights, and followed tradition.
But, Jesus reclaims the right to decide who uses ‘his name’ and stops them in their tracks.
‘No, no, no’, he says, ‘my name is not a logo of membership … my name is the power of the λόγος of God’
Although linguistically similar, the term ‘λόγος’ is very different to the term ‘logo’. Where logo symbolizes an idea, logos is the idea; it includes the spark, the power, the movement, and the expression.
The second verse of tonight’s Gospel shows that Jesus himself believes his very name contains a power that transcends any mere linguistic representation. Within the very name of Jesus, there exists all that he says, does, breathes and becomes. The name is completely hallowed by his being and, he tells us, the one who uses it will find their purpose hallowed in return.
Such is the power of the name, such is the reach of the word, such is the λόγος of God … where humans use a logo to express the values of something, the λόγος frees humans to express the values of everything.
I wonder, therefore, how we facilitate the name of Jesus being known as logo or λόγος? The answer I think lies in being aware of the distinction.
A logo depends upon those who buy into it and creates exclusivity by placing parameters and definitions on who has the right to belong and use the brand. Indeed, legal structures exist to prosecute anyone deemed to have misrepresented the logo’s concept.
In contrast, the λόγος incorporates, builds, and integrates. It transforms, because it sees potential and nurtures it and it tries new things. As heard this evening it even works with those outside the tradition because it knows no bounds.
Where a logo says ‘yes’ but will frequently mean no, when the λόγος says yes, he really means it.
When we fully consider the name of Jesus Christ, I think we surely see that human boundaries are not the gospel message … because, the real message to be found is that the λόγος of God can gloriously and powerfully gift anyone who has experienced the call to use his name.
In the name of Jesus Christ.


What is the point?

A sermon preached by Rachel Revely, ordinand, on Tuesday 10 May 2016


Evening Prayer readings: Deuteronomy 31.14-29, 1 John 3.1-10

What… is… the… point? 
Now I am sure we have all thought that recently especially after midnight in the library. But that’s  also what I would be thinking if I were Moses in our first reading. What was the point? You spend nearly all your 120 years talking to non-flammable vegetation, risking sheep and limb dragging these people out of Egypt, wandering the desert for years, think of all the blisters, then what do you hear on your death bed after all your hard work “Soon you will lie down with your ancestors. Then this people will begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign Gods.”  … Excellent

I don’t know about all of you but I would be thinking what is the point? But not Moses. Although he is dying, and spoiler alert: his death takes all week.
Moses still cares about God, the people and his beliefs. Moses hears all the lord has to say and still witnesses to it. He preserves it as law and passes it down amongst all the tribes. Till the end Moses upholds the courage of his convictions. For me, Moses epitomises courage in the old testament, even though like many others he is a rather reluctant prophet but Moses is courageous and no matter the situation always witnesses to God.

Courage is crucial to our lives as Christians and in this Novena, we have been asked to pray especially today for the gift of courage. But what is courage some of us might say its the student who when faced with this  very question in an exam wrote: “this is” stood up and walked out.

Whilst others could say it is drinking the mystery ascension day cocktail in the bar. Courage comes in variety of forms. Courage is often something someone else has or needs, we can make it a facet of the other something distant and far away. We don’t need courage, why would we? Surely, we are safe! But that does not acknowledge that we are all given courage through the saving power of our God.
In our second reading John says that sin doesn’t have the power of fear over us because we know we God but this can appear like arrogance and starts to build up a dichotomy that if you sin you are not saved and if you are saved then you do not sin. However, we all know its not as simple as that. 
What I believe we see in our second reading is the courage of God that is imparted to us, through the cross. We do not and should not have courage in ourselves alone but have courage in ourselves through our saviour.  Jesus is the foundation of our faith. He is our stronghold in who we find courage and safety.
But in this week of prayer for evangelism and mission we cannot just rely on safety and ignore our God given courage. The nineteenth american theologian William Shedd once said “ships are safe in harbour but thats not what ships are for” and I think this analogy is true for us as well. We are not just supposed to sit in safety. Taking our gift of courage from God we could go out empowered by the gospel. This is part of God’s plan for us. We even hear it in our psalm for this evening “Send forth your strength O god and establish what you have wrought in us.” And what god has wrought in us is established through the power of his gospel. Moses died before he could cross the Jordan but he died as he lived being courageous and listening to God.  This is what we should all strive to do for the rest of our lives… 
Because fundamentally… that is the point.

Annual Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Written by Philip Murray, Ordinand. 
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Lk 1:38
On entering the Shrine Church at Walsingham, pilgrims come immediately to the Annunciation Altar. There, in bright white and Marian blue, that tremendous moment at the beginning of the Incarnation is depicted in still simplicity. The Angel Gabriel kneels in petition; the Blessed Virgin Mary sits in quiet humility; the Father looks on expectedly, surrounded by the heavenly host who wait in nervous excitement on her word. “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum” pilgrims read on the Altar—the angel’s first voicing of those words uttered by countless Christians ever since. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee”. And on reading these words, pilgrims can’t help but think of Mary’s reply: the proper prayer of all who, like her, seek to follow her Son: “be it unto me according to thy word”.

These words, of course, have a particular significance for those preparing to take Holy Orders in the Church. Mary’s unhesitating acceptance of God’s call on her life, her complete self-giving in service of God’s plan for his creation, is the ideal that guides all of us in formation for the diaconate and priesthood. It was appropriate, then, that the Annunciation Altar was where pilgrims from the House gathered at the beginning of our pilgrimage to the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The pilgrimage was, in a sense, already well under way. We had made the not-very-long journey across the Fens, the many verses of the Walsingham Pilgrim Hymn sung with gusto on the bus (Ave! Ave! Ave Maria! still rings in our ears). We’d visited the Slipper Chapel at the Roman Catholic Shrine, and availed ourselves of the plenary indulgence offered to all pilgrims crossing through the Mercy Door during this year’s Jubilee of Mercy. We’d walked the Holy Mile to the Anglican Shrine, many of the braver members of the House barefooted. But it was at the Annunciation Altar, as S. Luke’s account of the Annunciation was read, that our spiritual pilgrimage got properly underway.

Walsingham is a microcosm of the Church, a place where a myriad of individual Christian vocations are woven together into something that supports and guides all those seeking to follow Christ: the Lady Richeldis de Faverches, asked by the Blessed Virgin Mary almost a millennium ago to build a replica of our Lord’s childhood home; Fr Alfred Hope Patten, called to rebuild the shrine in the 1920s and 30s after its destruction during the Reformation; the priests and deacons who have ministered at the shrine from that time since, singing the Mass and offering pilgrims the healing waters of the well. And so our pilgrimage to Walsingham gave us the opportunity to bask in this same spiritual atmosphere, as we sought to draw closer to God for guidance and support in our formation. In the Holy House we were reminded of the humility of Christ; at Mass we were shown once again of his generous, sacrificial giving; in Benediction we dwelt on his on-going presence in the world; at the waters of the well, we were shown the healing that only faith in Christ can bring. All of these are things that we, as men and women who—God willing—will one day be ordained, will be expected to model, as we serve as a reflection of Christ in the communities to which we’re sent.

Walsingham, then, is chiefly a place of vocation: the vocation of Mary, who’s unwavering Yes to God forms the very basis of our faith; the vocations of all Christians who’ve made pilgrimage to Walsingham, aided by the prayers and example of Mary, Mother and Model of Vocations as they seek to follow her Son. As we came away from the Shrine, we too were refreshed in our own vocations. Through a day of prayer, communion and frivolity, we were made more able to say, with Mary, “be it unto me according to thy word”.

And you know the way to the place where I am going. – A Sermon for St Phillip and St James

Sermon preached by Ayla Lepine, ordinand at Festal Eucharist for SS Philip and James

‘And you know the way to the place where I am going.’
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our reading from John’s gospel this morning begins with something that that seems pleasant. Be comforted. Relax. Everything is fine. Is it? It’s perplexing that each time it appears in scripture it seems to be a signal to do exactly the opposite of what these words from God’s mouth are telling us to do. Jesus says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ That ‘fear not’ language that so regularly punctuates the Old and the New Testament is, certainly, a compassionate gesture towards the promise of calm, safety, and salvation. It also appears, again and again, where it is evident that the hearers are terrified, anxious, and urgently and blindly searching for any answers that will provide layers of insulation against a truth that is hard to hear, or that might be beyond what these listeners think that they can stand.
If you find you are deeply anxious about something – or perhaps a long list of things – one of the least helpful responses to receive is ‘don’t worry about it’. Not because it wouldn’t be good to be freed from anxiety, but because this may strike us as an impossible thing to do. Worse, that reaction might come across as a diminishment of the turmoil we’re experiencing. Often, behind that unhelpful ‘don’t worry about it’, is something far better – the assertion that you and your anxieties are cared for, that you count, that your confidante believes have ample strength, through faith and through hope, to keep going. Sometimes anxiety can be so paralysing that it simply stops us from being able to listen at all.
Jesus tells his friends that they are welcome guests in their Father’s house, and Jesus puts this across with logic, with care, with the promise that he and his disciples will ultimately not be parted. ‘I will take you to myself’ is a truly intimate phrase. I will not let you go. I will hold you close. A place for you, where you count and where you are free from the trouble that cloaks you so thickly you are unable to see, to hear, even to breathe…..a place for you is waiting. Prepared. So trust, Jesus says. Please, trust. ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’, Jesus concludes. We are moving towards the Passion narratives in this chapter – Jesus and his disciples have been traveling together a while, knowing one another better, learning all they can from the Son of God they follow as their Lord, as we do, faltering sometimes, trying to listen, trying to put one foot in front of the other, as we continue – tragically – to let our hearts be troubled.
How do the disciples react to Jesus’ assurance that they know the way to their Father’s house, because, indeed, by following Christ, they are already stepping within its threshold. Thomas contradicts Jesus: ‘we do not know the way.’ Jesus explains – you do know the way, I am the way, you have seen the Father. Philip ignores Jesus: ‘Lord, show us the Father’, and what’s more, Philip, as we so often are because we’re so wrapped up in ourselves and so unwilling to accept the utter love God has already shown us…Philip says the disciples won’t be satisfied until they’ve seen the Father. Jesus gets annoyed. ‘you still don’t know? Still don’t see? Still won’t believe?’

Today the Church celebrates saints Philip and James. They followed, they accepted God’s call. They faltered, they misunderstood, they struggled to see how and why God loved them so much. May we, like Philip, James, and Christ’s apostles, follow our Lord, who has prepared a place for each of us, if we would only turn, if we would only trust that we know the way. Amen.

Easter Term Opening Eucharist Sermon

Easter Term Opening Eucharist – Monday 18 April 2016

Sermon preached by The Rev’d Dr Will Lamb, Vice-Principal

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10.10)
+In the name of the Father…
When I was first ordained as a Deacon, I remember having to learn the Exsultet, the Easter Song of Praise. As you will be aware, the Exsultet is sung at the Easter Vigil on Easter Eve or early in the morning on Easter Day. It takes some practising. And I remember learning it and singing it again and again during Holy Week, determined to get it right. But I also remember feeling slightly awkward singing these words as we journeyed through Holy Week – surely I should wait until after Good Friday before singing this Easter Song of Praise. ‘Rejoice, heavenly choirs! Sing choirs of angels! Exult all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ our King is Risen!’
Surely I needed to enter into the depths of the tragedy and dereliction of Good Friday before rushing too quickly to the resurrection. I needed to stand steadfastly at the foot of the cross. And with the pious intensity of youth, surely what I needed to ensure was that my Holy Week was really grim.
And yet, John the Evangelist subverts all that. Life can be grim enough, and he reminds us that Jesus came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly.
We should not lose sight of the fact that if the gospel is good news, then it is quite simply life-giving. Yes, in the course of ministry we may well find ourselves standing alongside others on Calvary, not because we choose to be there but because God has called us there. The important thing to remember is that God shows in Jesus that he loves us so much that he wants us to rise up and to become fully alive. He calls us out of the tomb we carry within us.
To live life to the full, to share in life abundantly, is not to ignore the reality of human experience and human suffering, but it does mark a refusal to be overwhelmed by suffering and the deadliness of death. 
Baron von Hugel, a lay Roman Catholic, had come originally from Austria and lived in London from the end of the nineteenth century onwards. There he developed a ministry as a spiritual director and a great authority on the mystical tradition. If you’ve ever come across his letters to his niece, you will have some inkling of his wisdom and judgement of character, above all his sense of humour.

He met many of the leading theologians of his day, including Cardinal Newman, and Fr Henri Huvelin, one of the great spiritual directors of his day and who exercised a profound influence on Charles de Foucauld. In his little book, The Life of Prayer, he writes this: ‘I used to wonder in my conversation with John Henry Newman, how one so good and who had made so many sacrifices to God, could be so… depressing.  And again twenty years later, I used to marvel contrariwise, in my conversation with the Abbé Huvelin, how one more melancholy in natural temperament than even Newman himself, and one physically ill in ways and degrees in which Newman never was, could so radiate spiritual joy and expansion as, in very truth, the Abbé did.’  
What does it mean to radiate this kind of spiritual joy?
It is a joy which finds its strength and confidence in the hope of the resurrection. I remember once a priest telling me that Christian ministry demands a very high doctrine of death and resurrection. In other words, the ministry of a priest is shaped by the Easter mystery. These fifty days, which culminate in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, should be a time when we seek to explore the depths of that mystery.
And I want to suggest to you that the discovery of the kind of spiritual joy that von Hugel describes lies in cultivating two things: and I want to invite you to ponder these two things as we begin a new term.
The first is about grace – and grace is about recognising that everything we are and everything we have and everything we ever will be is simply given to us as a gift. We may think that we can earn status or friendship or love by good works – but the truth is that God acknowledges each of us as a beloved child, as a source of delight to him, and that is not earned but given to us. The whole drama of salvation, everything we have celebrated at Holy Week and Easter, is given freely to us.
And do not underestimate the transforming power of grace. Here we begin to understand the real depths of the generosity of God. Grace is transforming  because it presents us with a challenge. And the challenge is whether we can find it in ourselves to be generous in our dealings with one another, just as God is generous to us. I promise you that you will never regret being kind or generous in your dealings with another human being. There is joy in generosity. There is joy in kindness.
The second thing is about prayer – it is no accident that von Hugel offers these reflections about joy in the context of a discussion about prayer.
A few years ago, I found myself in a conversation with a Carthusian monk, who had spent over ten years in silent contemplation at the Grande Chartreuse, high in the Chartreuse Mountains in south-eastern France. This kind and gentle monk had been on quite a journey and he was responding to a call to be a priest in the Church of England. He had been on a series of parish placements to become more familiar with parish life. I was interested to learn something of his impressions of the parish. He spoke animatedly of the role of the laity, of outreach and mission in the local community, and of the sometimes frantic busyness that characterized the parishes he visited, and then he looked a little puzzled and he turned to me and he asked me this profound, unsettling and yet simple question: ‘When do you adore God? When do you adore God?’
Westcott House Chapel
One of the regular puzzles about life at Westcott is its frantic pace, the busyness of each working day, packing so much in, classes, placements, tutorials, meetings… In some respects it mirrors the busyness of parish life. And yet when the bell rings, everything stops. We are called here to offer prayer and praise to the God of Life.

In these times of prayer, the Risen Christ comes to us, the Risen Christ gives himself to us. We learn to rediscover the reality of his grace and mercy again and again and again. And this is the source of all our joy. Whether we come to the altar tired or doubtful or sad or just messed up, or whether we come to it bursting with laughter and energy, it is the same constant Christ who gives himself into our lives in order that he might draw us more fully into his. And it is here that we discover again and again the One who is our resurrection and our life.

Re-imagining Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Re-Imagining Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Wednesday 4th May 2016, 10am-4pm
Westcott House, Cambridge

Forgiveness and Reconciliation are not only two major themes of Christian faith and the life of the church, but also of the world and for humanity.


Re-imagining forgiveness and reconciliation is a one-day event facilitated by the Revd Dr Stephen Cherry, Dean of King’s College Chapel and author of Healing Agony (Continuum, 2012), and Dr Elizabeth Phillips, Tutor in Theology and Ethics at Westcott House and author of Political Theology (Continuum, 2012).

Morning sessions will focus on forgiveness and reconciliation in the life and teachings of Jesus, including discussion of a contemporary parish-based case study. One theme of these sessions will be the relationship between reconciliation and justice; afternoon sessions will further explore this theme in relation to the pressing problems of, and various Christian approaches to, racism.handshake

You can find more information and a booking form on the Westcott House website.
The cost is £35 per person, which includes lunch, teas and coffees.