Wednesday, 29 December 2010


My wife Annie reflects below on our visit today to Coventry......

We have just come back from an afternoon in Coventry – we thought we'd visit an exhibition on peace-making in the art gallery then go to the cathedral for evening prayer or our our own quiet prayer and reflection before heading home. It all seemed to be going according to plan, simple as it was: the bus and the train both ran on time, we enjoyed good conversation, spotted a friend on a video presentation in the exhibition and even found a vegan cafĂ©. It was dark, damp and foggy by the time we came to the cathedral at 4pm.

Much of my 20s and 30s revolved around Coventry and I have a jumble of memories of the cathedral, I was always particularly drawn to the Gethsemane Chapel and this was the place I imagined praying in this afternoon, in candlelight.

A sign pointed 'visitors ' 100 yards or so further away, to a large entrance, while a door to the left labelled for people wishing to pray was roped off. A third door – a middle way – opened onto the main body of the worship space, dominated by the Sutherland 'Christ in Glory,' which to be honest I never liked much. Barely over the thresh-hold, we were met by a robed verger (I assume it was a verger), who said, 'have you just come to look round?'

'No,' I said, 'we've come wanting to sit in quiet...' and with that, he directed us firmly to a side chapel on the left, 'you can go in there. People use that for quiet prayer.' Heavy laden in his voice was the implicit message, 'but you may not go wandering about anywhere else, because you have not paid. You have sneaked in, trying to get a free visit.'

Well, we obediently went to the chapel – it is dedicated to peace and unity I think, and was hung with paper cranes, but the candles were unlit; a bright spotlight glared from the wall, leaflets preached good causes and a piano sat closed. Something made me want to open it up and play it, but otherwise, my prayerfulness had transmuted into shocked and disappointed disillusionment, and I scribbled a poem on a piece of paper I found lying around,and left it on the piano for the verger.

Coming out of the chapel, we thought we might be able to join in an evensong service or use the service books ourselves to say evening prayer, and headed for another side-chapel. 'So are you having a look around now?' asked the verger, with more of the air of a bouncer than the guardian and host of a holy place.

'Why do you ask? Are you locking up?'

'No, but there is a charge for looking around …'

'but this is a place of worship, we have come here to pray...'

'Well it's not fair on the people who have paid to look round.'

I never got anywhere near the Gethsemane chapel but I could see its crown of thorns and the candlelight. It is a sad state of affairs that tourists are more welcome in the cathedral than people seeking holy ground to pray, and it's a shame to put a price either on prayer or on the possibility of sight-seers having a spiritually moving experience. What if I had been going through some crisis or for the first time had dared to enter a place of worship hoping to discover Jesus, or a welcome in his name, at least ? What a message to be giving out to the public, I felt like weeping with shame – this is my church.

The shock comes in the comparison I find myself making with the places of worship of other faiths. In any Gurudwara for example, I could pray in peace and receive a free meal too, gladly and graciously given. The regular worshippers stream in and out night and day,with their offerings of food and money to keep the place alive because it is a beautiful hub of community life, weaving together service, sharing, scripture and prayer. I don't see that energy in this cathedral,the money-pinching and cynical reception betrays a spiritual poverty, a material fear of making ends meet, a forgetting of the gospel message that renders this an unholy place concerned first with money, at best an art gallery with an interesting past. Next time I visit Coventry I will do better to say my prayers on a city-centre bench, surrounded by people and pigeons, and whatever the price is for an entry ticket to the cathedral, I'll spend on lunch for a Big Issue vendor.

Annie Heppenstall is an artist and author her books Reclaiming The Sealskin - Meditations in the Celtic Spirit and Wild Goose Chase are published by Iona Books. Her latest book The Healer's Tree - a series of reflections upon trees in the Bible and more - is due out in the Spring

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


I have not been posting much recently, I went to Israel/Palestine in the middle of November with a project organised by St Ethelburgha's Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. 12 folks 4 Jews, 4 Muslims and 4 Christians all with differing views about the Middle East exploring the context and each others faith tradition for 8 days. It was an amazing experience that I'm still processing. The group is meeting again in January and I hope to post on the experience soon, but it has been really challenging and thought provoking and a real privilage to have been asked to be involved in it.

Coupled with that I have been heading up the dialogues between representatives of the District with local Jewish and Muslim communities about the Methodist Report on Justice for Palestine and Israel - which is ongoing and similarly thought provoking and challenging.
I have also been involved with the Common Wealth Statement mentioned in a previous post, the statement has aroused a significant amount of attention in the right places both in the Church and in the anti-cuts movement.
Along with the more run of the mill stuff of preaching in the circuits, running and planning groups, courses and conferences in the District and at Queen's, there has not been a lot of time to blog at the moment. I hope to get back into regular weekly posting in the new year


This is a guest post by Afshaan Hena who campaigns with REPRIEVE

Reprieves Pakistan Police Torture Project

The reputation of legal action charity Reprieve is well known; their founding director Clive Stafford-Smith was, after all, one on the first attorneys to gain access to Guantanamo Bay. He fought for nine months to be able to represent those detained in the so called “War on Terror”. Reprieve's most notable clients have included Moazzam Begg and Binyam Mohammed. They continue with passion and dedication representing those in Guantanamo Bay and British citizens facing the death penalty abroad.

They have recently launched a new project, which is one the first of its kind, called the Pakistan Police Torture Project. Through their work fighting injustice around the world, they became aware of appalling stories of abuse at the hands of some police officers in the Pakistani Police force. Put simply, they wish to eradicate the use of torture in police detention in Pakistan by proving that it is indeed systemic and endemic. The evidence they gather will be used in three ways: to assist, prevent and reform.

The information they collect is used to assist those currently detained in Pakistan as a result of confessions extracted through torture, to prevent detention and further mistreatment of others following such confessions and to reform the police officers who are responsible for such abuse through public, political and legal intervention.

The inspiration for the project came from Reprieve clients Naheem Hussain and Rehan Zaman, where “confessions” were extracted from them after they were made to undergo severe and medieval forms of torture, from their fingernails being pulled out with pliers to undergoing excruciating reverse and inverse strappado.

As a Reprieve ‘fan’ on Facebook I became aware of this fascinating new project and made immediate contact to become involved. Since being on board the Project has published a number of articles (please go to the links below to read some of these articles):

The vast majority of British Pakistanis know, understand and have even suffered abuse at the hands of the Pakistani police. But the sheer depth of the problem relating to police abuse in Pakistan is unbeknownst to the majority of Britons. Bridging this gap of knowledge is just one of many aims and objectives of the Project.

Provided Reprieve gathers enough witness statements, they can aid the abolition of torture. This will primarily, but not exclusively, be in the form of obtaining a Supreme Court verdict which abolishes the use of evidence extracted through torture. This verdict can then be used as legal precedent, binding on each and every court below the Supreme Court. The Governments of Pakistan and Britain will also undoubtedly do more if Reprieve can prove what is common knowledge to most British Pakistanis – torture can be routine in Pakistani police stations.

The project has ambitions to make Pakistan a safer place for all Pakistanis, British Pakistanis included.

For years, Reprieve has scrutinised and often embarrassed the US and UK into changing their abhorrent ways in regards to the torture of innocents, the incarceration of innocents and the deaths of innocents. Over the past few years, Reprieve has expanded its worked in Pakistan because of the alarming rise in cases of torture. It also strives to represent 'disappeared prisoners' in the War on Terror but also those facing the death penalty in Pakistan.

To find out more about the Project, please go to:

If you are a victim or know of a victim, you can speak to, or confidentially and securely.