Thought for the Week – Reverend Anne Richards
I wonder whether you watched the recent documentary about Hull’s Headscarf Revolutionaries on BBC4?
It powerfully tells the story of the women who campaigned for safety in the fishing industry after the horrors of what has become known as the ‘Triple Trawler Tragedy’. During January and February 1968, 68 men lost their lives, on board three trawlers which disappeared. Through interviews with family members and men who worked on the trawlers, the documentary provides insight into the extreme danger the men faced every time they went to sea, and the anxiety and anguish the women and children experienced every time the men left.
The Triple Trawler Tragedy was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is estimated that more than 6,000 trawlermen from Hull lost their lives between 1835 and 1980, and fishing was deemed the most dangerous occupation that anyone could have.
The impact on the fishing community was devastating, and after the Triple Trawler Tragedy, one particular woman, Lillian Bilocca (often referred to as Big Lil) got together with other women, to campaign for safer working conditions. In the face of strong opposition, Lillian Bilocca, Christine Jensen, Mary Denness and Yvonne Blenkinsop – the four women known as the “Headscarf Revolutionaries” – are estimated to have saved thousands of lives through their campaign.
In the culture of the time, of course women were very much expected to bring up the children and in this context, to be the Mother and the Father, so the passion and bravery of these women stands out as extraordinary and continues to be an inspiration for us. A reminder that leadership can come from anyone, anywhere, and often from the most surprising and unexpected places.
Never give up
Some years ago a few of us started a youth gospel choir in Hull. It became known as the Redemption Gospel Choir and over the years we worked with a lot of young people singing gospel music around Hull and further afield.
Those of us who started the gospel choir didn’t really know the first thing about gospel music, other than we liked it, and we knew our young people liked it and they aspired to sing gospel. So, we called in the experts. Over the course of a couple of years we had help from a couple of amazing gospel singers who taught us how to sing gospel. Or at least, how to facilitate our young people to sing gospel. Amongst the group there were a number of young people with fantastic voices, far better able to solo, and improvise than any of us as leaders were.
One of the ‘experts’ who came and worked with us a few times was a guy called Wayne Ellington. An amazingly talented singer – who also had a gift of bringing out the best in everyone else. He always managed to get the young people to shine, and the attention was rarely on him. It always surprised me that his day job was not music, and that he didn’t have a full time career in singing.
It was a real joy therefore, on Saturday evening to see 46 year old, life long singer Wayne, compete in the blind auditions on ‘The Voice’. He got two turns and has been taken under the wing of the legendary Tom Jones as his mentor. It was so good to see the hard work and perseverance over many years finally pay off, and for his talent to be thoroughly recognised.
An encouragement to never give up on our dreams and aspirations, however long they seem to take to be realised.
I wonder if you ever find yourself listening to thoughts or perhaps even what seems like voices in your head? What I mean by that is when your thoughts are really loud and disruptive. The thought that ‘I can’t’, or ‘I’m scared I’ll look ridiculous’, or some other self criticism that prevents you from being confident in who you are and what you’re trying to do. When we listen to those thoughts and allow them to become the strongest and loudest thoughts, we can find our self confidence and self-esteem is demolished.
There is a growing language of self compassion and self love which is something we perhaps need to hear from time to time. A friend of mine recently introduced to a little book of sayings by an author called Karen McMillen. She was a writer, teacher, consultant in organisational development and a volunteer chaplain in at Boulder Community Hospital in Colerado.
The book is called ‘When I loved myself enough’, and consequently each page is a saying based on this idea.
Here are a couple of examples:
When I loved myself enough… I stopped trying to banish the critical voices from head. Now I say, ‘Thank you for your views’ and they feel heard. End of discussion.
When I loved myself enough…I came to know my own goodness.
When I loved myself enough… I began taking the gift of life seriously and gratefully.
So, I wonder how you would complete the phrase ‘When I loved myself enough?’, and how can we bear this in mind in relation to our students?_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Power of Words
The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2018 which is this Saturday 27th January, is, ‘The Power of Words’. It’s a theme which invites us to think about how words are used for good and for evil. Words can be used to discriminate, dehumanise, and destroy people. Words have been used to help people resist, protest, document their experiences and survive. What power do our words have? What responsibility do we have to use the power of our words for good today?
We don’t have to look far into the media to read or hear about ongoing attitudes of discrimination expressed at the very highest levels of global power. Or think about how readily some people post on social media their inner-most thoughts, which might perhaps have been more helpful had they remained as concealed.
So this week, I encourage you to take a moment at some point, to reflect on not only the horrors of the past – initiated first by words and thoughts, and to reflect on how we might speak out to tackle discrimination in our time and our communities.
Years ago, my parents ran a youth club at their local church. It attracted about 60 young people a week into an evening of games and social activities. My Mum tells the story of a morning not long after I first started school, in the days when school dinners were 12p. She was about to give me my dinner money for the day, when she discovered her purse was completely empty. She was was certain it hadn’t been empty last time she used it. It would have to be an ‘IOU’ day.
A little later that morning, she was upstairs in the bathroom, bathing my toddler sister. The bathroom window was open, and suddenly, a face appeared at the window. One of the young people from the youth club had shinned up the side of the house onto the flat roof and had seemingly seen the open window as an opportunity. In her surprise, my Mum calmly asked him what he was doing. Somewhat creepily, he replied that he’d come to visit her. Hastily she shut the window and he scarpered. Mum rang the police and later that morning, she was told that the lad had been picked up and admitted to wandering in and taking the contents of Mum’s purse a couple of days previously, and the following day had popped in and taken a radio. Goodness knows what his intentions had been that morning. It turned out that the young person had also stolen a significant amount from his employer and therefore ended up serving a custodial sentence.
Sometimes trust is broken by the people we want to trust the most.
Stephen R Covey (1932-2012) was a well-known american educator. Also an author, businessman and keynote speaker. Perhaps best known for his book ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’ and a man who promoted what he labelled ‘The Character Ethic’.
One of the things he is quoted as saying is this:
Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most effective ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships. Stephen R Covey.
During this week perhaps we can reflect on our own character. What is our ‘character ethic’ as an academy? We promote our ‘TLC’ values daily, and we talk about them a lot with our students. But what does it look like and feel like in our daily efforts to live them out? Hopefully we can make sure we feel ‘glued together’ by good relationships found on trust.
The ending of one year and the beginning of a new one is always a good time to pause and reflect. It may be that we feel we are already too far into the new year now, and we’ve done all our pausing and reflecting for the time being. The practice of New Year Resolutions is not a new thing, historians reckon that this process of review and goal setting has been going for some 4,000 years. But for many of us we can be over ambitious, setting ourselves up for spectacular failure, and by Easter we can’t even remember what our New Year’s resolution was.
Over the years I have learnt to simplify my ambitions, to shorten my list of resolutions and to be a bit more specific about what I will or won’t do. I try to set one simple goal in the four areas of Physical, Mental, Spiritual and Emotional. I often find myself renewing the intentions I made last year, or perhaps trying to improve on something I didn’t do so well with last year. This may seem a bit self centred but I have learnt that self-care in these areas is an important part of development which enables us to better serve others.
Every year at this time I am also reminded of the preamble to a poem first spoken by George VI in his Christmas 1939 broadcast to the Empire. They were the preamble to an obscure poem, ‘God Knows’, written in 1908, but nobody was able to identify the poet. At midnight on Boxing Day that year, the BBC announced the author as Minnie Louise Haskins, a retired London School of Economics academic.
The first time I heard these words was in my teenage years, when I heard them set to music and had the opportunity to sing them. These are words which speak of hope – in uncertain times, confidence when things seem a little shaky, and light even in the darkest times.
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.” Minnie Louise Haskins
It’s 10 years since Archbishop Sentamu cut up his clerical collar live on national tv, as a powerful statement of his solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. He spoke about how his clerical collar was part of his identity as a clergyman, and how under Mugabe’s rule, the identity of the Zimbabwean people had been cut to pieces. Andrew Marr collected up the pieces and agreed to look after them until Mugabe was no longer in power. As you probably have noticed, he has not worn his collar since.
On Saturday I was at a national church conference in York, and the Archbishop spoke there. We were all wondering whether he might have put his collar back on, given the events of the last few days in Zimbabwe, but he hadn’t. Our curiosity was answered on Sunday however, when he appeared on the Andrew Marr Show again, and was handed back the envelope of the pieces of his dog collar. He spoke about how impossible it would be to simply stick it back together, and how the political work in Zimbabwe also needed not to be just a patch up job, but a fresh start, as he produced from his pocket, a brand new collar.
This prophetic action speaks of someone who is willing to stand up and be counted on matters of justice and human rights. And not to worry about what anyone thinks about it. I really find it inspiring and quite challenging. Would I be brave enough to do similar things?
I hope that amongst all that we educate our young people in, we are able to encourage a freedom and confidence to stand in solidarity with those who need it most, and the courage to stand up for justice and liberty even if it risks reputation.
What will our generation be remembered for?
It is 100 years ago today that my Great Grandad, Ernest Cotterell, died, whilst serving in the first world war. He was serving in a Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry and his name is to be found on the Jerusalem Memorial. He was 31 when he died in service as the troops were travelling towards Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Memorial commemorates 3,300 Commonwealth Service Men who died in Egypt or Palestine and have no known grave.
It’s strange because other than that, we know very little about Great Grandad Ernest. We don’t have any photos. But we found his name in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and knowing that he served in that way is of course inspiring and humbling. Perhaps that’s all we’ll ever know and all we need to know.
But it got me thinking… many of his generation will be remembered for giving their lives in service at the greatest cost possible. I wonder what our generation will be remembered for? Most of us will hopefully never be called upon to give of ourselves in ultimate sacrifice. It could be argued that we are now living in a time where for many, the preservation and serving of self is prioritised above all else and that to live lives of service is increasingly unlikely and unattractive. What will be the headlines of our generation when our great grand-children read about us in the future?
With ‘serve’ at the heart of our academy motto, we are challenged then to not only model lives of service ourselves, based on the christ-like model of self giving, but also to challenge our students to do the same.
Last year on Remembrance Sunday, for the first time ever, I attended the civic Act of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in the centre of Hull. Standing amongst the hundreds of people of all ages I was struck by how important the act of remembering continues to be for people from all walks of life. Veterans, people in active service, and cadets, were surrounded by family and friends, and civic representatives, as well as the church, and the general public, to carry out the annual act of Remembrance.
I found the whole occasion very moving, but the most pertinent moment was as we stood in silence together to remember the fallen from past generations and those more recent. I have stood in silence for as long as I can remember on Remembrance Sunday – usually in my local church. And it always moves me. But to stand amongst so many, in a public event, in the open air was even more powerful. As I observed people around me, I could see that many people of all ages were moved to tears by this moment of unity and poignancy.
We are now in the season of Remembrance and as we enter many supermarkets and other public places, poppies have replaced the overwhelming commercialism of Halloween. Young people together with the older generation are selling poppies on behalf of the British Legion. They continue the work of keeping memories alive in order that we would never allow conflict on such a vast and devastating scale to happen ever again.
This Friday in the academy we will do our part in keeping memories alive across the generations, as everyone will have the opportunity to take part in our Act of Remembrance. Students will lead us in a reflective time – including a two minute silence as we too stand together to remember the fallen.
We will remember them.
23rd October 2017
We have just spent the weekend at a family party in Cardiff, celebrating my aunty and uncle’s golden wedding anniversary. It was a lovely opportunity to catch up with many relatives and some of their children who we don’t see very often these days. Amongst them, my youngest cousin’s new born twin boys who are now seven weeks old – each weighing about 8lb.
My cousin and his wife were more than happy to share their bundles of joy, and these little boys must be the most hugged babies in Cardiff. It was great to spend a while simply holding one of these beautiful babies, and giving him his bottle. It’s a while since I last held a tiny baby, and couldn’t help reflecting on both how vulnerable and how incredible they are. And how trusting they are – without even being conscious of it. Pure goodness, not yet having experienced anything other than goodness, kindness and love in their very short lives. This vulnerability often brings out the best in others who naturally want to care.
As we grow older, our vulnerability is often hidden by the layers of experience that life throws at us, yet most of us can still feel very vulnerable for all kinds of reasons, perhaps more like children on the inside. Following on from last week’s focus on mental health and well-being, it’s good to remind ourselves not only of our own need for kindness, but also that of those around us – young people and adults. To be vulnerable can sometimes be confused with being weak, but actually one person’s vulnerability can bring out another’s kindness and strength of character.
This week, let’s be mindful our own vulnerabilities, as we interact with others, who have their own vulnerabilities. Or in the words of St Paul:
‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you’.
Do not worry…
16th October 2017
For some strange reason, on Saturday, my car door on the driver’s side wouldn’t close properly. Now, I know it’s quite an old car so it’s bound to have things go wrong on it. But I found myself driving along, and thinking it was not only noisy, but also rather drafty. It wasn’t immediately obvious what was wrong with it, but when I reached my destination I spent a few minutes opening and closing the door. Nothing seemed to work. So I thought perhaps it would be more effective if I slammed it harder. After slamming it a few times it still didn’t make any difference. Then, all of a sudden, the door jammed shut completely and I couldn’t get out. I climbed through the passenger side and got out, walked round to the driver’s door and opened it no problem. And then closed it no problem. I began to wonder if I was the object of some kind of prank – or whether I had been transported into the set of a Mr Bean sketch.
The next day I went through exactly the same pantomime with the car – and it was only when I asked for help, and my husband applied WD40, the problem was solved.
Sometimes dealing with poor mental health can be a bit like that. We battle on with something we are struggling with, getting more irritated, frustrated or stressed with it – and over time it can of course become a greater problem than it was at the outset.
Last week included Mental Health Awareness Day on October 10th. This week in the academy we are having a focus on mental health and well being with our students on Thursday and Friday. For those of us who have experienced poor mental health at any point in our lives, (apparently 1 in 6 people in the last week according to the Mental Health Foundation, and 1 in 4 young people and children in our city) – we know that it’s a difficult and overwhelming experience that seems relentless and unconquerable. And the more we try to battle it – the more difficult it seems to get, and the more we can think we are losing our grip. Until we reach out for some help.
In my own experience, I have found prayer and stillness to be the best antidote to stress, anxiety and worry. Other things help too, including talking with someone – but it’s often been in the moment of trusting God and offering him the stuff that worries me most, that I reach a point of peace.
‘Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’.
The Wisdom House
9th October 2017
‘There’s a story of a land far away where the old people, before they died, wrote down a life lesson on a scroll. The scroll would be rolled up, and the villagers would keep them in a hut at the centre of the village.Once a year, the elders would gather everyone together and they would read those life lessons, not just to the young, but to those in later life too. They called that little hut The Wisdom House’
Rob Parsons: Care for the Family
This little story caught my eye recently and it got me thinking about where we look for wisdom, and indeed especially where our young people look for wisdom. And it’s no great surprise that most likely, the first port of call for collective wisdom will be the internet. The 21st Century virtual Wisdom House. In social networking there is groundswell of collective wisdom, often rooted in the pursuit of love, kindness and happiness, but it’s mixed in with a kedgeree of other stuff. The challenge to our young people is to have a discernment about the information they are receiving.
Whilst it may be a source of all kinds of knowledge and experience, there is of course a risk with the internet that it becomes the primary source of so called wisdom and that it is not balanced with any earthed wisdom from people who are known and trusted.
When I think of the people who have seemed wise and offered good counsel in my own life, they have invariably been people who are rooted and grounded in faith, and have a varied experience of life, often older than me, and as well, have a deep knowledge of scripture.
The bible is a great source of wisdom – both Old Testament and New Testament. The writer of Proverbs, King Solomon, says that wisdom and understanding are better than gold and silver.
So, a challenge for us all could be about how we harness our collective wisdom and share it with our students, when opportunities present themselves. But also to reflect upon our own sources of wisdom in the first place, that we might also be a 21st Century Wisdom House.
2nd October 2017
Recently, I have found myself compelled by a BBC series called ‘Saving Lives at Sea’. It is a documentary about the work of the RNLI. Lifeboat crews around the UK have filmed their responses to their call-outs over a number of years and the programme follows their sometimes hair-raising journies of rescue – as they save life after life, often in pretty treacherous conditions.
What is striking, is firstly that these people are all volunteers, who at the sound of their bleeper, down tools from whatever they are doing and get themselves to the lifeboat station as fast as they can. They then risk their own lives as they venture into dangerous circumstances in order bring others to safety, no matter what time of day or night.
Secondly, what struck me, is their lack of judgement or condemnation about the people or on some occasions, animals, they rescue. As an observer, it’s easy to watch and see that the problem could have been avoided, at least in some circumstances. People who are rescued are often people who have taken what might seem to you and I, foolish risks. And yet the Lifeboat Crew keep the main thing as the main thing – to rescue and save life.
It seems to take a certain type of person to do this work – they display a selflessness, which is second to none, and a determination to save lives no matter what.
Within our academy motto, the second word is ‘serve’ and of course is rooted in the example of Jesus encouraging his disciples to firstly allow him to wash their feet, and secondly to wash one another’s feet. But perhaps if we want to see some 21st Century examples of what it is to be Christ-Like in serving others – then perhaps the example of our lifeboat crews is a good place to look.
Looking in the mirror
19th September 2017
It has been a great privilege to have been recruiting, interviewing and selecting our Yr 11 students who applied to be part of our Student Leadership Team. What struck me was the commitment, determination and courage that it takes for a young person to put themselves forward for something like this.
It was both wonderful and encouraging to hear what they had to say, about themselves and about our academy. One of them named a previous Head Girl who had inspired her to apply, because she really looked up to her and saw her as a role model. All of them are keen to help the younger students both with their work but also with other things. The majority of them spoke highly of their teachers, and the support they get with their learning, as well as all the other support which is available to them. The Archie Family was mentioned and one or two of them commented on what a great atmosphere we have here in this academy.
The other thing that was so positive was that they all had good ideas that they want to bring forward for the benefit of the whole academy. Ideas to change some things for the better for every student.
They really were inspiring to meet and they are young people who will be brilliant advocates for the academy and role models for the rest of our students.
I’m sharing this because it’s good to hear what our students are thinking about our academy. It’s a bit like holding up a mirror, standing back and taking a look at the reflection. And on this occasion we can be pleased with what we see. Very pleased indeed.
11th September 2017
I don’t know about you, but one of the things I have been doing during the holidays is what some might say is rather selfish. I have been deliberately looking after me! And I feel so good for it.
The first two weeks of the holidays involved sleeping 10 hours a night. By the end of the second week I started to consider doing some exercise. Those of you who know me well, will know that exercise really hasn’t been my thing.
I was the kid who hid in the bushes on the school cross-country course so I only had to do the circuit once instead of twice! (I only got away with that once!) And the one who was always picked last for teams in PE!
However, with a certain birthday ending in a zero creeping onto the horizon, I knew action had to be taken – and I really feel good having started doing some exercise. I have the additional motivation of an NHS Couch to 5K app which is helping me along. The question is, how to maintain this, once the business of term begins again. And that is one of my personal challenges for this year.
At the heart of the Christian ethos of this academy is the Christian belief that every child is precious, and loved by God – and therefore totally worth investing in, believing in, and loving, to become the best they can possibly be.
But actually, that belief is about every human being – so that includes you and me as well. And at the beginning of this year, as your Chaplain I want to encourage you to remember to look after yourself – body, mind and soul. One of the books I read during my silent retreat this summer was about Sabbath – the practice of taking time regularly to recharge our batteries and do things which give us life, alongside some of the things that drain us.
You see, taking care of ourselves, will enable us to better take care of those around us – and that will help us to continue building a great community here at Archbishop Sentamu Academy.