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THE CLEWER INITIATIVE- Alastair Redfern

September 18, 2018

The Clewer Initiative in the Church of England is a project of primary mission based upon partnership with others. The values and methods for putting the victims of this evil crime at the centre of a co-ordinated response are highlighted by an examination of the work and teaching of T.T. Carter, and the founding of the Community of St John Baptist at Clewer in the nineteenth century. These lessons in Christian witness, church practice and partnership working offer ways of reaching out to those in such terrible need, and pointers for the meaning of mission today.

Alastair has passionately advocated the cause of modern slaves in the Houser of Lords and in the media.

There’s a gentle, generous anglo-catholicism here that is far removed from the dogmatic posturing one sees today.

Quotations:

The ‘Globalisation of Indifference’ is a phrase used by Pope Francis in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’. This document is a call to mission for the Church, and it also has a lot to say about the way we live in our modern world. Paragraphs 53 and 54 decry our focus on money and material goods when all around us inequality is rising.
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.”
This indifference means we are ignorant to the many people around us who are suffering. The victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are hidden in plain sight, they are in our communities, perhaps even in our churches, but we are blind to their situation. They need us to
see them, and speak out.

This unfolding narrative does not make the ‘fallen’ necessarily worse sinners than others, and there may be mitigating factors that are easily overlooked. Carter discerned the creation of conditions society that so increased the degree of vulnerability that such outcomes were almost inevitable. There was an urgent need to look at the structures, priorities and values of society, and not simply concentrate upon judging and reforming those who were its victims.

He raised the sharp question – is the sin that of those vulnerable people who are involved in such wicked activities as the commodification and abuse of sexuality, or is it the sin of the people who are using their money or their power to create this market and draw people into it?

Reason is the human capacity to share in the mind of God, and thus a resource indwelling the church, not an independent faculty in the individual.

The foundation of worship under the discipline of Scripture, Tradition and Reason was the key to being continually called to participate in the proper catholicity of the coming Kingdom. The measure being the inclusion of the excluded, rather than the clarification or crystallisation of one’s own ‘experience’ . This approach was vital to a serious attempt to fulfil the Lord’s call to the service of others as doulos, slave of the Kingdom

Too easily human beings can be tempted to reinforce the security of a small world built around the positives of immediate experience — and thus to live in ‘echo chambers’ where current thinking and practice is ever magnified, but never developed further. This tendency is enormously encouraged in our contemporary society through our ability to change channels, delete and highlight ‘likes’ or ‘friends’. By such means the ‘material’ that is the stuff of life becomes insulated from anything but a carefully controlled development — rather than open to radical critique, the recognition of the prevalence of sin and evil, and the openness to significant change.

The Limits of Desire

Carter explored these issues in his teaching about the Prodigal Son from Luke chapter 15 .4

The Prodigal centred all his resources upon reinforcing the experiences which seem to benefit his own life, despite some questioning reproach from the wider society. He indulged his own experience: it became the key guide to his behaviour and his values. In the terms of an earlier chapter, he pursued the passions of his own lust. The logic of this emphasis upon experience is that the individual will become totally isolated and alone — surrounded by others but disconnected from any common framework of values (Scripture), narrative (Tradition) or shared process of discernment (Reason). Values, narrative and thinking have all top be subsumed in the service of his own experience.

In this dark and lonely place, the place which is simply that of his own experience and its inevitable bankruptcy, Carter noted that the boy’s instinct is to call out for his Father. And when we call, as he had long taught, there is One more than ready to hear and respond. The Prodigal, faced by the limitations of the capacities of his own experience, is now glad to recognise that this ‘personal’ reference point is already embedded in a family, a culture, a set of potentially nourishing and caring relationships. Something that the Scriptures call a ‘household’ . In his case a household with a tradition of inclusive hospitality: “even the servants” are blessed by its workings. A household bound together by a more self-conscious participation in the presence and purposes of God (Reason).

Overcome in the Father’s Love ‑

The Prodigal was able to own the reality of sin, the presence of evil, as he composed his liturgy “Father I have sinned against you…” This step of humility, of calling out for mercy, moved him towards an encounter in which his fallenness and frailty are overwhelmed by the sheer generosity of the Father’s mercy. “Bring the best wine” — “kill the fatted calf”. He is not greeted by condemnation, but with a party. There is a clear underlying message — echoes of Jesus saying to the woman caught in adultery “I do not condemn you…. sin no more”. He is welcomed into the inclusive fellowship of the Kingdom community — a mixed household where the celebration is focussed on the new and better possibilities for which he has been made. The power of mercy turns the focus from his past towards his potential.

 

Carter coined a challenging phrase. He said that too much of Christian spirituality is about what he called ‘surface cleaning’ . He was an advocate of what we might call ‘deep cleansing’. This requires special resources and effort, and a regular regime. The call to move beyond ‘surface cleaning’ was a call to every disciple: it presupposed structures and disciplines which would inconvenience the comforts of self and established ways, so that there could be movement and significant engagement with the forces of corruption. The mystery of a gospel framed in death and resurrection is the mystery that despite the human instinct for life, we learn most deeply through loss. The instinct for life encourages accumulation — in material forms as much as in terms of knowledge and good practice.

 

Carter coined a challenging phrase. He said that too much of Christian spirituality is about what he called ‘surface cleaning’ .3 He was an advocate of what we might call ‘deep cleansing’. This requires special resources and effort, and a regular regime. The call to move beyond ‘surface cleaning’ was a call to every disciple: it presupposed structures and disciplines which would inconvenience the comforts of self and established ways, so that there could be movement and significant engagement with the forces of corruption. The mystery of a gospel framed in death and resurrection is the mystery that despite the human instinct for life, we learn most deeply through loss. The instinct for life encourages accumulation — in material forms as much as in terms of knowledge and good practice.

Mary Douglas a hundred years later, that fasting could be a more powerful form of teaching and building a common life than any amount of teaching or more tailored schemes of spiritual devotion. Fasting provided a taste of the desert in people’s everyday lives, amidst all the understandable efforts to keep any sense of lack at bay.

And for our encouragement and comfort, Carter recognised that short prayers are enough to keep the incense swirling – when we seem to struggle, he commended “filling up some of the vacant spaces with ejaculatory prayer” — breathing out our concerns and thanks in order to breathe in a far fuller presence and power. Such prayer invites us to participate in something that God is doing anyway. It challenges a long tradition of conscientious Christian anxiety about failing in our spiritual lives

Too often a scientific, empirical, evidence based society sees these classic Gospel resources as aids to experience, rather than forces to reshape and redefine the values and aspirations we seek to identify.

This goes back to his insistence upon the priority of building up the church to be the defining and refining site of catholicity expressed in a ‘holy’ communion. The measure is not human achievement, but reception of the Father’s connecting love, which comes from the gifts ministered by the church, but also through the voices of others, including the unnoticed and the unlikely.

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