We were privileged for our Sion College morning on Shakespeare to be welcomed to the Globe Theatre lecture room, amidst their busy schedule of Shakespeare 400 events, and to welcome two exceptional speakers: Graham Holderness and Rowan Williams.
Dr Holderness is Professor of English at the University of Hertfordshire and one of Britain’s foremost Shakespearian scholars. His play ‘Wholly Writ’ was performed at the Globe and at Stratford and his new book on Shakespeare’s religion, The Faith of William Shakespeare, is to be published soon. In his lecture, Dr Holderness spoke about the religious views in Hamlet: heaven, hell and purgatory and particularly Calvin’s understanding of providence. He offered an in-depth reading of the play through this theme.
The morning was punctuated by Shakespeare’s own words performed by two actors, Christina Balmer and John Rowe (a former Horatio to Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet) who performed speeches from the plays and sonnets. Particularly moving was the death scene from Lear when Cordelia is reconciled to her father. There wasn’t a dry eye after that.
Rowan Williams academic work is well known to us but he is also a distinguished poet and his play, ‘Shakeshaft’, has just been performed, which tells the story of a meeting between Shakespeare and Edmund Campion. In his lecture Rowan focused on the later plays of Shakespeare, seeing in them the flowering of Shakespeare’s genius. He reflected on the nature of drama and human experience and in the ways in which it can draw us into a greater understanding of ourselves before God.
The morning ended with a conversation between Graham and Rowan about what they had said that morning and questions from the floor.
In October members met at the Indigo Room in the Soho Hotel for a seminar supper with the Reverend Canon Scott Gunn, Executive Director of the Forward Movement, part of the Episcopal Church in the States. Scott examined the scriptural and theological basis for engagement with social media. He went right back to the use of a codex over a scroll and pointed out that this was a technology choice which fundamentally changed how people read the Bible.
In a world of cynicism and deeply depressing news coverage, Scott saw a place for the church: 'There is an opportunity to offer a word of hope, grace and invitation and social media offers us the opportunity to do that'. Scott cautioned against the culture of 'nice', saying 'Jesus was never nice, he was relentlessly loving and kind and generous. But he wasn't 'nice'. He warned against false piety on social media and challenged people to be authentic online.
The Sion College book of Benefactors may be found in the Lambeth Palace Library. It gives details of all the donations given to Sion College for its upkeep, and for the expansion of its library. Daniel Mills, Rector of St Olave's Hart Street is familiar to those who have read the diary of Samuel Pepys. After the confusion of the great fire of London, just a few short years later, Samel Pepys is recorded in 1671 as a benefactor of the College.
"Samuel Pepys Esquire and
Secretary to the Lords
of the Admiralty, hath
upon the motion of Mr
Daniel Mills (ut supra)
given Twenty pounds
Anno MDC LXXI"
Ut Supra - as above. Daniel Mills is recorded as having given forty pounds in the record immediately preceding Pepys. These were very substantial sums. You can see what it would be worth today by using the Measuring Worth website https://www.measuringworth.com/ukcompare/
This was never going to be an easy trip. Having spent five years living in Rwanda from 1989-1994, the country is still stacked full of memories for me – both happy and desperately sad. Although I had visited on many occasions since 1994, this was nonetheless my first trip for over 9 years, and I was deeply aware that much would have changed – including me! On that previous visit I had no inkling that I was soon to follow in the footsteps of my late Rwandan husband, Charles, and train for ordination. So now here I was, about to begin my first incumbency, using part of my sabbatical to reconnect with the country that had been my home and the people who had been my family.
In April 1994, I was running a community health programme and Charles was Archdeacon. Days before the genocide began I had left the country for a short holiday in Kenya but Charles had stayed behind. I never saw him again. He was abducted and presumed killed, like nearly one million of his fellow Rwandans – Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
In the aftermath of the genocide I set up a charitable trust to support Rwandans through further education in order to help rebuild their own country. One of the couples the trust supported – Elsie and Nicholas – hosted me during my visit. They are a mixed Tutsi / Hutu couple whose personal witness of love and forgiveness has had a profound impact on the many genocide widows and orphans with whom they work. www.ikirezi.com
Nicholas and Elsie live in the capital city, Kigali – a city that has changed profoundly over recent years, with huge investment from around the world. And confidence in the future is surely reflected in the bank interest rates – my savings account offers 7.5% interest! While in the city I visited Louis, a dear friend of nearly 30 years, and now Bishop of Kigali, and when back in my home village I was welcomed by Bishop Alexis, Bishop of Gahini, with whom I was able to discuss the possibility of a parish twinning. Following the genocide there has been a huge increase in the numbers of independent charismatic and prophetic churches around the country, perhaps partly because the reputations of both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches were tarnished during the genocide. As well as Anglican friends, I met with a friend who is a Catholic Priest, and another who is a pastor of a charismatic church so I was able to engage in interesting discussions on the state of the Church in Rwanda, and attitudes towards same-sex relationships.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial www.kgm.rw is a profoundly moving account of the history of Rwanda, and deeply personal for me, and I was encouraged to note that its emphasis was not at all on revenge or bitterness but rather on forgiveness and moving on. Here, as in so many other situations, I was able to connect at a deeper level with staff as I still have a good command of the local language (ikinyarwanda) and as a genocide widow myself (the only British genocide widow), I am very much accepted as belonging, rather than as a tourist.
Back in my home village of Gahini for a few days I spent many hours each day visiting old friends and catching up on their family news. It was deeply humbling to see how much it meant to them to receive me in their home, and their willingness to share the little resources they had with me. For example, one young man who is my godson – the son of a very poor single mother, whose twin brother died when they were eight years old – brought a huge tray of goat kebabs and fried cooking bananas. Many years ago I had given him a bicycle, which he has faithfully used to cycle far out into the hills each week to buy a goat, then sell it on to the local restaurant. With the money he has earned over the years he has built a small house for his mother, as well as one for himself and his wife, handicapped son and baby. Their courage in the face of huge adversity is deeply challenging.
From time to time in the coming years I hope very much to take a small group from my parish to visit Rwanda – to experience life in a country moving on after profound tragedy, to hear stories of forgiveness and to learn from the faith and generosity of the Rwandan Christians, and perhaps also to be able to share something of our Christian expression of inclusion and welcome. I am deeply grateful to Sion College for a generous grant that made this trip possible.
Despite a downpour which meant a change in venue from the Tavistock Hotel, the site of Virgina and Leonard Woolf's pre-war home, to the rather less conducive hotel round the corner, fellows and members were cheered by a highly lucid account by Dame Gillian Beer of the experience she had of reading the Waves by Virginia Woolf at different times of her life, and how her response to it had changed as she had grown and changed.
Dame Gillian unfolded the characters and the threads running through the novel and the importance of reading for the rhythm rather than the plot. She covered the unnuttered thoughts of the characters and drew us into contemplating our own internal monologues, and that of those we meet.
Questions afterwards ranged from the influence of Woolf on later writers, to the more basic issue of how to actually get through the novel in the first place.
Dame Gillian spoke of the brilliance of the writing and how it made her 'finger ends fizz'. It was clear that Dame Gillian's own brilliance in being able to enthuse us to read, re-read or attempt to read the Waves again, came from a lifetime of her love for literature and the glory of the English language.
Fellows and members of Sion College met at Ironmongers Hall on 19 April 2016 for the 384th Annual Feast.
The speaker was Mrs Caroline Chartres who spoke with great depth and wit on the importance of hospitality.
The College thanked Lady Brewer for her service to the Court as she stepped down as a Lay Fellow at the Annual General Meeting preceding the Feast, at which the Reverend Canon Dr Alison Joyce was elected to the Court as an Assistant.