St Ethelburga’s exists because 25 years ago one man stood in the crater of a bomb blast and prayed. That man was Bishop Richard Chartres, the bomb was the infamous Bishopsgate bomb planted by the IRA, and the crater was the remains of a 12th century church, which must have stood as a reassuring symbol of familiarity to generations of city dwellers who walked by it every day, year in, year out. Until the bomb destroyed it.
In answer to his prayer, Bishop Chartres had a vision to reconstruct the building as a centre for peace. This is our founding story, which many of you will already know. And it’s a story that’s been very much with us as we step into our new roles as Co-Directors. As we write, Russian missiles are bombarding densely populated cities throughout Ukraine. At least 550 civilians have died, while up to two million have fled their homes.
Meanwhile, in the same week as the Russian invasion, the IPCC published its most recent report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. ‘Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation,’ its authors warn, ‘will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.’ If it had been published a week earlier, surely it would have seized the world’s attention with its warning that climate mitigation is no longer enough, and that adaptation is now urgently needed.
As we try to digest the enormity of these crises, we’re more than usually mindful that every time we come to work, we walk into a building that was resurrected from a bomb site. Whether it’s the shards of glass gathered after the blast and re-used in the stained glass window, or the fragments of stonework that are so poignantly incomplete: it’s as though the building is literally made out of the crude elements of violence and vision in equal measures. It offers us a template for how to be with the irresolvable complexities of our time. How can we respond to war and climate crisis all at once? How can we face into a future of compounding risk and walk towards it with our hearts open? How can we remember, amidst the swirling permacrisis, to root ourselves in a reverence for Earth? The building suggests a way we can hold these questions without reaching for false hopes or sliding into overwhelm. A way to hold what feels broken alongside the knowledge that renewal is always possible. We know we’re privileged to be the custodians of this space and of the story it tells. We look forward to welcoming you through its doors sometime soon.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2022, we’ll be continuing all of the programmes that you’ve come to expect from St Ethelburga’s. So you can look forward to new events on conflict transformation, community reconciliation, refugee inclusion, spiritual ecology, as well as more of our retreats that explore how to grow inner and outer resilience in uncertain times. We’ll also be developing two new strands of work. One programme explores how misinformation is being used as a tool for warfare and how peacemakers can counteract this. Another project will invite you to get your hands in the earth. In a new evolution of our spiritual ecology programme, we’ll be bringing teams of volunteers together to plant hedgerows along huge tracts of farmland. More on both of these soon!
We’re hugely grateful to everyone who’s a part of the wider St Ethelburga’s community. If there was ever a time that cried out for a network of people to gather for the sake of peace, it’s now. As we start this new phase, we’d love to hear from you about what you value in St Ethelburga’s work, so please do let us know by filling in this short questionnaire or dropping us a line.
We look forward to sharing this journey with you!
Clare and Tarot