A Blog about the Bishop's Certificate course, Week by Week
by Martin Jones, All Saints' Church, Sedgley.
24th March 2017
Sorry I haven't blogged recently about my Bishop's Certificate course.
It's absolutely not that the sessions haven't been interesting - they have.
This week we were studying the Eucharist - a session led by LLM Mary German.
I would really recommend the Certificate for anyone who wants to explore their faith - it is really detailed and searching, and the company of fellow Christians is part of the attraction.
They are all wonderful, interesting people with rich experience within their respective churches.
Tuesday 14th February 2017. Session 17 - Who Jesus Is.
This was a very fruitful session that enabled us to consider God's purpose in becoming human.
Had He remained aloof as a divine yet remote figure, we wouldn't have been able to engage with Him to the same extent as we do now.
He led a human life for 33 years, experiencing the ups and downs of everyday life.
Then he undertook His mission, which He knew would lead Him to death.
He then rose from the Dead to prove to us all that there is an existence beyond the grave.
We have a break over half term week, resuming on Tuesday 28th February 2017.
We have been given a date for the presentation of the Bishop's Certificate, Tuesday 7th November 2017 at 7.30pm at Worcester Cathedral.
Tuesday 7th February 2017: Session 16 - The Resurrection
Alas there's a long gap in my blog - I haven't put down my thoughts and experiences of the course since Christmas. I won't attempt to fill in details of the intervening sessions as we covered a lot of ground - instead I resume with the session on Tuesday 7th February 2017, which focussed on the Resurrection as it's recorded in the four Gospels.
Unfortunately we seemed to be missing one or two of our 'regulars' through illness and because of other commitments - I hope they return soon.
I did a lot of preparation - as I sometimes do, I copied and pasted the relevant passages identified in the course book from Bible Gateway website, and put them into a Word document, which I read throughly and then printed off the 12 pages to use in the session. This works pretty well and has the advantage that you don't have to scramble about to find the passage in your Bible on the night, which is in quite small print and difficult to read.
Mary German, LLM at St Mary's Oldswinford led this session (on her return from a lovely holiday in Burma!). Revd Stephen Agnew said our opening and closing prayers. The session was held in the lounge at the Rectory - my favoured venue as it's really comfortable and homely. I made straight for the comfy leather settee. Our usual venue The Coach House is also really nice - but slightly more formal!
We looked at the differeing accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospel. The Gospels were written for different audiences, which I didn't realise: there's a discussion about this here:
In brief though, Matthew was written for the Jews; Luke for the Gentiles; Mark for the Romans; and John, the last to be written, for everyone.
We mentioned 'Markan Priority': the hypothesis that the Gospel of Mark was the first-written of the three Synoptic Gospels and was used as a source by the other two (Matthew and Luke).
We also discussed 'Quelle':
There is a hypothesis that Matthew and Luke both drew from Mark, but also from a source of sayings of Jesus called 'Q' or 'Quelle' that don't appear in Mark.
Towards the end of our session we moved on to what I found the most interesting part -how vital is belief in the Resurrection to the Christian Faith?
The session next week is the last before half term: Session 17 - 'Who Jesus is'
Tuesday 13th December will be our final session before we break for Christmas. It will be on 'Exile and Future Hope' and will be led by Alex French.
Mary German, LLM at St Mary's Oldswinford, lights the candles for our Seder Passover meal.
Our Bishop's Certificate group met for a traditional Jewish Seder meal, in the dining room at St Mary's Rectory, Oldswinford.
I help myself to the hard boiled egg, symbolising the resilience of the Jews in the face of slavery and oppression.
6th December 2016. We enjoyed a Jewish Seder (Passover) meal together as a group - each element and ingredient is symbolic of the history of the Jewish nation.
Everyone brought an ingredient for the meal:
Matzah (Cream Crackers); Lamb bone; Haroset (Three apples, dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon. Sweet paste. Wine); Bitter herbs (horseradish); green vegetables (lettuce and parsley); bowl of salt water; wine; hard boiled eggs.
Stephen led the session - we followed a 'Haggadah' (script) for the meal and worked through this in detail, examining the significance of each part.
Alas I lost my way on the way to Singers' Hill Synagogue in Birmingham! - plus I wasn't feeling well so I turned back and did not attend the visit. However I have watched two Youtube videos about synagogues which has helped me keep up with this element of the course:
Session 8 - Tuesday 22nd November 2016
A very fruitful session on The Prophets, led by LLM Mary German. I did the opening and closing prayers (plagiarised from the internet, alas!).
We discussed the role of the prophets as providers of guidance and warning to kings and to the Jewish people.
We cast ourselves in the role of modern day prophets, speaking out on issues of concern.
Next week we visit Singers Hill synagogue in Birmingham, and the following week we have a Jewish Seder meal in the rectory.
Session 7 - Tuesday 15th November 2016
Our latest session was particularly fruitful, both in the study/preparation for it, and at our session itself.
It was mainly concerned with the tribulations of the Hebrews in the Wilderness, and the rites and customs that God handed down through Moses to ensure that the Jews remembered what God had done for them in freeing them from slavery in Egypt.
The Festival of Unleavened Bread and the Ritual of the Passover were both studied.
We were asked to elicit any lessons we can draw today from the slavery of the Jews in Exodus - ie examples of modern day slavery or oppression.
Next week (22/11/16) Mary will lead the session on The Prophets; the following week (29/11/16) we are visiting Singers Hill synagogue for a tour and Q and A.
On 6th December we will be sharing a Passover (Seder) Meal.
6TH SESSION - Tuesday 8th November 2016 - at the Coach House.
In preparation for Session 6, which is about Moses, each member of the group was asked to read a chapter of Exodus, then summarise its contents ready to tell the rest of the group - so we get an overview of the story.
I was asked to read Chapter 4, which relates how God endowed Moses with supernatural gifts/miracles to enable him to convince his fellow Isralites of his authority.
He also makes his brother Aaron, more gifted than he in oratory, his spokesman.
Together they convince the elders that they should be in charge when they return to Egypt.
In preparation I've read summaries of every chapter of Exodus - and it's fascinating to discover where many elements of the Jewish and Christian religion, as well as many common expressions in our language (eg 'Manna from Heaven') originate.
A minor detail of interest is the reference to 'The Wilderness of Sin' which was a real place near Mount Sinai - 'Sin' was a Moon God, a deity held in common by many tribes in the Middle East at that time. The Wilderness was a real geographical area - not a metaphorical description of desolation of the soul!
The session itself was extremely rewarding. Given the sheer weight of material in Exodus it was inevitable that we raced through it, just to cover everything.
The key areas were God's relationship with the Jews, the laws governing the Jews in the Wilderness, the Ten Commandments and the Old and New Covenants between God and the Jews.
A few of the group found great difficulty with the behaviour of God - which they didn't feel was in keeping with the common perception of Christianity.
However as a study of anthropology the whole account was fascinating - and has much resonance today.
The challenge and value is to discover the universal truths inherent in the texts.
5th session - Tuesday 1st November 2016.
Abraham and Sarah
This subject matter in this session is fundamental to three faiths - Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Once again we are challenged - as is the case with many biblical accounts - to come to terms with the facts as presented in the text.
Must we take the text literally - or must we search, with the help of the Holy Spirit - to educe some greater truths from seemingly impossible occurrences, rather than take the text literally , eg Abraham's great age when fathering Ishmael (86), Isaac (100), and his 175 years when dying?
The treatment of the slave girl/handmaid Hagar is problematic - she is ordered by God to return to Sarah and submit to her will - and punishment. Much has been written of this.
One of the fascinating areas of study is the Middle Eastern map and identifying the biblical towns and cities mentioned in the account of Abraham's travels - some remain the same, others have changed their names.
The notion of a spiritual journey is introduced to the course and we are invited to look at John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress as an exemplar of such a journey.
We discussed the concept and meaning of a Covenant between God and the Hebrews, and how this changed to a Covenant with all mankind in the New Testament.
The preparation for the course equally as rewarding as the meetings. We were again privileged to meet in the Rectory at St Mary's as the Emboidery Guild had their monthly meeting in our usual venue, the Coach House.
Next week we will be studying Moses - each person has been asked to read and summarise an extract.
4th session - October 18th 2016
This week we had some wonderful opening prayers that were very pertinent to us as a group.
We embarked on a study of Genesis 1 and 2 - examining the nature of God as evidenced in the passages. In the original Hebrew, two different words are used to describe Him - Elohim and Yahweh.
Elohim suggests God's role as supreme being and creator; whereas Yahweh is used to describe God's more direct interaction with and on behalf of the Jewish people.
We discussed how differering translations of individual Hebrew words could explain apparent discrepancies between the accounts in chapters 1 and 2.
We then considered what the use and value of the texts was, and is to us today.
Are they just the writings of an ancient people, seeking to explain the great mysteries of existence? There are similarities to be found in other Middle Eastern cultures of the day.
Are they merely elegant poetry? Or is there a deeper value to be derived that trancends our current state of scientific knowledge and illustrates the universal historic human condition and underlines our relationship with the eternal?
3rd session - October 11th 2016
Alas feeling unwell, so didn't attend this week!
2nd session - October 4th 2016
When we arrived we discovered that the Coach House was double booked with the local Needlework Guild!
Stephen asked us to go to the Rectory instead which proved to be an unexpected bonus. We met in his glorious living room and sat in beautiful leather chairs and among elegant furniture.
Alex French did the opening prayer. We were asked to look at a beautiful image and describe the feelings that the picture brought about in us.
In our second session we went round the room to remind ourselves of people's names, and gave everybody a nickname, ie mine was 'Meritorious' Martin.
In twos, we talked about how we pray - I suggested the 5 finger prayer that was in this month's All Saints' Parish Magazine.
We then moved and sat elsewhere to talk about key words and phrases that appealed to us in 1 Peter 1.
We concluded by looking at the various forms of Creed and the contexts in which they were created.
Next week I will be doing the opening and closing prayers.
1st session - September 27th 2016
This was our first meeting. We're based upstairs in the Coach House at St Mary's Old Swinford , which is owned by the church and used for parish meetings and arts activities.
There are 12 participants. We went round the table, introducing ourselves.
The course is entitled 'Exploring Christianity Together'. It will be led by Revd Stephen Agnew, Priest in Charge at St Mary's Old Swinford. It lasts 30 weeks and covers most parts of the Bible and elements of the Christian faith - there is a visit to a synagogue included too. We all received a folder containing the course content.
The labyrinth at Ely Cathedral.
In the first session we looked a labyrinth used as a metaphor for Christian life. At Chartres Cathedral as you come in through the Great West Door there is a labyrinth marked out on the floor. We discussed oyther labyrinths that we had encountered, such as a Morville near Much Wenlock, and at Ely Cathedral.
The labyrinth at the entrance of Ely Cathedral was installed in the 19th Century. If you walk the length of the labyrinth you will have walked the same distance as the height of the ceiling above. Walking a labyrinth is a spritual exercise from ancient times - its turns and twists mirror the journey of life, with God at its centre.
A labyrinth - while it is a long circuitous path, there are no dead ends or other entrance - there is only one way to the centre.
Although both maze and labyrinth depict a complex and confusing series of pathways, the two are different. A maze is a complex, branching (multicursal) puzzle that includes choices of path and direction, while a labyrinth is unicursal, i.e., has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the centre.
Our homework this week is to design a shield to represent important elements of our lives.
We are also looking at 1 Peter 1: 3-21 which restates the basics of Christian belief. We are asked to pick our 2-3 words or phrases that express important parts of our belief. The Bible passage is at the end of today's blog.
In next week's session we will be looking at the various declarations of faith/ creeds that have been written over time, eg Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed.
We are also asked to bring to the next session something we use that helps us in our prayers at present.
Bible reading for next week's session: