Book launch of Reimagining Discipleship

Robert Cotton speaking from the pulpit used by Lewis Carroll

Robert Cotton speaking from the pulpit used by Lewis Carroll

Re-imagining Discipleship - Robert Cotton

Reimagining Discipleship – Robert Cotton

Following the anti-cuts rally last weekend Giles Fraser, former Canon-Chancellor at St Paul’s (the man who a year ago said St Paul’s in-the-Camp could remain) and now Priest-in-charge, St Mary, Newington, commented: Didn’t see one church banner on today’s march.

A damning indictment of the church today, and why many people see the church as an irrelevance. A church that grew out of a small Jewish sect led by a charismatic leader who did not hesitate to get his hands dirty, who walked among the poor, the diseased and disadvantaged.

I rarely set foot inside a church. Nay correction, I rarely attend a service, I am happy to set foot inside. The reason why is that I cannot stomach the hypocrisy. It is as though the world outside the church door does not exist.

It is not just the poverty and greed that sits cheek by jowl on their own doorstep that is ignored, they turn their faces away from what is happening in the Middle East, where Christians ask why do they ignore us in the West?

In Russia we have seen two members of Pussy Riot, having been sentenced to two years in a Stalinist-era show trial, for what was at worst a misdemeanour, now being sent to penal colonies, the modern day Gulags.

Jesus spoke out against the corruption in the Temple, the abuse of power and was crucified. Pussy Riot spoke out against the Mafia Monks of Moscow and get two years in a Gulag.

Had Giles Fraser been in St Mary’s in Guildford this evening for the book launch of Reimagining Discipleship he may have in part had an answer.

After offering everyone wine, which I thought was very generous, Canon Robert Cotton spoke from the pulpit, the very same pulpit from which Lewis Carroll delivered the occasional sermon.

Reimagining Discipleship is a book in three parts. It draws on anecdotes and his experience of being part of and working with communities in Guildford.

A sense of space. St Mary’s provides a sense of space, a safe space. As do in a different context the Street Angels who work on the streets of Guildford late at night until the early hours of the morning.

Shakespeare Guildford Company was given as a community group, the community plays, the community is the audience.

We cannot manage volunteers. We can only lead by example, inspire.

Robert is a very good speaker and it was a disappointment he did not speak for more than about ten minutes. He said he did not wish to say too much about his book, he would rather we went out and read, but in the meantime, please enjoy the wine, circulate and chat to each other.

I had an interesting conversation with the lady who was sitting next to me.

What Robert was embracing, was a cultural shift that is taking place. Two strands are coming together. One is the people who occupied St Paul’s in-the-Camp (and curiously church people were very heavily involved) who are seeking alternatives. The other is poor and disadvantaged who have no choice than to explore alternatives (something Robert would have seen and experienced in South Africa). We have a soft revolution, not a hard revolution, existing institutions are being hollowed out from within or rendered irrelevant.

St Mary’s was packed. Many times the number who attended the e-book debate at The Electric Theatre, and unlike the Electric Theatre, no childish prohibitions on taking pictures.

Robert kindly signed a copy of his book with a lovely dedication. I shall look forward to reading it.

We had a brief discussion on the possibility of two writers for next year, which if comes to fruition, will very much be the stars of the Book Festival.

Canon Robert Cotton is Rector of Holy Trinity and St Mary’s. An unusual parish as it has two churches.

The book launch of Reimagining Discipleship was one of the events of the Guildford Book Festival, an annual ten-day book festival in October that takes place in Guildford.

Earlier in the day I had spent a misty afternoon in Godalming. In the Parish Church I lit candles for Canon Andrew White (who is currently undergoing treatment in Holland), writer Paulo Coelho and my lovely Russian friend Lena.

On my way into Guildford I noticed Eden People were meeting at The Keystone. I would have liked to have gone along, but decided to go home. Somewhat depressing, no information put out for this meeting. Only last week, I had someone ask me when were Eden People next meeting at The Keystone. I said I did not know, as I had not heard anything lately, and I was in The Keystone that evening.

Passing through Aldershot Station, a very unpleasant incident, a man fell down the stairs and smashed his head on the ground, he was not moving, his head in a pool of blood.

Top Story in Publisher’s Daily (Wednesday 24 October 2012).

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