Archdeacon Christopher writes…


In one of the terrible ironies of the twentieth century, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August – the Feast of the Transfiguration.  Some years later the Company of the Transfiguration was formed. It was, and I hope still is, a group of people scattered throughout the world, prompted by this grotesque coincidence, and bound together simply by a commitment to pray for peace and for the transfiguring of the world.

The strange story of the Transfiguration presents us with a challenge. Is transfiguration just a mountain-top experience for the favoured few, the three disciples who are with Jesus?  This privatised view of religion is reflected in Peter’s suggestion in the story of building three shelters, to contain the glory that has been revealed on the mountain, as if glory can be contained.  Or does transfiguration inform our view of the world, alerting us to that glory, wherever it is to be found?

This ambiguity is caught well in a poem by Edwin Muir, ‘The Transfiguration’, put into the mouth of one of the disciples, reflecting on the event many years later:

Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere?  Was the change in us alone,
And the enormous earth still left forlorn,
An exile or a prisoner?

‘Was the change in us alone…?’  Like Jesus, we are human and experience all the exhilaration and heartbreak of our humanity.  We do not know what lies in store for us or how we will change throughout our lives. Yet this is the essence of human liberty, that it is open to the future.  For it is not our limited vision which is important. What counts is God’s vision, which is truth and enfolds time, and God’s will, which is love and wisdom. The leap into the unknown, which we all take by virtue of our humanity, is an immense act of confidence and trust in the God who calls us. We are led out of ourselves to find ourselves. We are transfigured.

It is through this commitment to life – as the disciples become dimly aware on the Mount of Transfiguration – that God’s love comes into the world, which means that the change is not in us alone and that the earth is no longer a prisoner or an exile.  The world can be transfigured, too.

The Ven. Dr Christopher Cunliffe
Archdeacon of Derby

Bishop writes

  • Archdeacon Christopher writes…
    Archdeacon Christopher writes…


    Last Advent Sunday I had the privilege of being present at the inauguration of a new diocese.  I was in Angola, on my fourth visit, to join the celebrations as the diocese of Angola became a full diocese, having shown extraordinary growth both in numbers and its engagement with the pressing problems of Angolan society since it became a missionary diocese in 2002.

    The inauguration service lasted almost five hours and was attended by nearly three thousand people in a, mercifully air-conditioned, conference centre.  You can get an idea of the enthusiasm of the event from the fact that the Bishop of Angola was able to give an interview on national television during the offertory procession!

    The new diocese is ambitious in its aspirations. Land has been secured for the building of a new cathedral and diocesan office, as well as housing, the rent from which will provide an income stream. There are also plans to build a theological college.  As the diocese presently covers the whole of a country five times the size of the UK, with all the logistical problems involved, there is also an urgent need to multiply. The intention is to divide Angola into four dioceses within the next few years.

    The diocese is equally ambitious in its vision.  This is ‘To have Angolan society evangelised and restored to human dignity’.  We, in our rather timid church, have much to learn from this forthright statement.  For evangelisation and human dignity and flourishing are, or ought to be, inseparable. And it doesn’t really matter where you start. At a conference about the Angolan churches’ leadership in the campaign to eradicate malaria, we were reminded that the churches’ involvement in healthcare is good in itself, rather than a device to get people into church.

    The experience in Angola is that a church which engages fully and accurately with what people are most concerned about will grow.  People come to the church through God’s activity, rather than the other way around.

    Please pray for the diocese of Angola and for its continued growth. To say that the challenges it faces in that country are almost overwhelming would be an understatement.  But we can be inspired by the faith and courage of our brothers and sisters there as they continue to tackle them.

    The Venerable Christopher Cunliffe
    Archdeacon of Derby

    Key Facts about the Diocese of Angola

    • The Diocese was founded in 2002, but before that, from 1990, it was an Archdeaconry of Lebombo.
    • Bishop André Soares was ordained Bishop in September 2003.
    • In 2019, there were 205 congregations with nearly 150,000 members.
    • The Ven. Christopher Cunliffe serves as a trustee for MANNA (Mozambique and Angola Anglican Association).

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