Category Archives: Church

Link – November 2018:
A Canine Pirate Kingdom?

My daughter was bought a little soft toy dog for her second birthday. It was wearing a stripy top, had a patch over one eye and a red bandanna emblazoned with the skull and cross-bones. Pirate Dog has sparked an interest in piratey things as much as anything can hold the attention of a two year old. She now has a pirate hat (or two), a pirate flag and loves to play ‘pirates’ which is basically climbing stuff, sliding down poles, and making a hook with a finger and going, “Arrrrr!” There’s been a lot of fun and enjoyment, beyond just playing with Pirate Dog, for her – and for her parents and grandparents, forced to join in.

A long time ago, a friend gave me a sign-up code for an online journalling site, saying, “I thought you might like to write a bit more.” I did indeed like writing a bit more – and, over the years, the things I have written have made people laugh, think, cry, ask questions, and (I hope) pointed them towards a more loving God than maybe they’d been expecting. That code led indirectly to me writing this column for the Link.

Towards the end of my time in junior school, I was bought a new translation of the Bible to replace the Good News Bible I’d had for the previous six years or so. The NIV was a more challenging read, which encouraged me to look at passages afresh and, if memory serves, was the first Bible I read through – from dark brown hard cover to dark brown hard cover. Eventually, at university, I would pass this Bible onto a friend who was in the early stages of coming to faith, and would eventually go onto to be ordained and introduce countless people to the news about Jesus contained in the Bible. Although we’ve both moved onto more up-to-date and accurate translations, that Bible served us both well as we grew into the faith we have today.

Jesus said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this…” and talked about small things that spread and grew: yeast, working its way through dough until a whole batch of loaves would rise; a mustard seed, growing into a massive tree that filled the sky. These were everyday images in the first century but are a little less commonplace today.

Maybe, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a soft toy, Pirate Dog, that was given to a girl, who played with it and around it, drawing in her parents their friends and their friends’ friends until the whole world was playing at being a pirate.

Maybe, The Kingdom of Heaven is like an invitation to write, and the words spread out through the world touching lives and inspiring everyone to write their own, better stories.

Maybe, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a book (The Book), passed from hand to hand, leaving wisdom in its wake and changing those who briefly give it a home.

What small thing could you do to start The Kingdom of Heaven filling the world?


This article originally appeared in Newcastle Diocese’s monthly newspaper the Link

Heading Ever Onward, Back to the Start

This morning’s Pentecost service saw us arrive at the end of three and a bit months of being “in season”. Hinged around the mysteries of Holy Week and Easter, Pentecost mirrors Ash Wednesday – with an anointing with sweet smelling oil instead of the imposition of ashes. We may be returning to dust but, in the meantime, we have work to be getting on with, places to go…

So, out into the wild places we go. For many of us, that will mean family, work, friends and leisure – it may be the same business as usual but hopefully the forty days of preparation and fifty days of celebration, topped off with a Spirit-filled encounter, will have changed us, setting up to go as God wants through this long, green, non-season towards the coming cold winter of Advent…

Maundy Thursday 2018 – How Does Your Garden Grow?

At this year’s Maundy Thursday service, things were a bit different.

For a start, I was serving as an acolyte rather than just attending – helping with candles and wine and water and assisting with the stripping of the church as the service ended and the Watch was beginning.

At St Peter’s, there’s a statue of Mary in a small tabernacle/grotto to one side of the church, in line with the low altar. There are votive candles before it and during the set up, I was asked to light one so that, should they wish, other members of the congregation could light another from it. As I stood there, making sure the flame took, I felt moved to apologise for what was about to happen – both later in the service and later in the weekend – it seemed entirely appropriate to express regret for what we (the people) were about to do in terms that suggested that Mary didn’t know what was coming…

The main service was held around the low altar, to better recreate the feeling of gathering around the table with Jesus at the Last Supper. This had the practical consequence that the Altar/Garden of Repose was moved to the high altar and all eyes were on this, as the church was stripped of all removable dressings. It felt a much more private thing to be involved with than I had expected.

As I carried Mary to the back of the church and into the vestry I experienced (very) mild panic as I couldn’t find anywhere to put her – on a chair and she wouldn’t balance, on one of the desks or tables and she’d be knocked off by the next passing elbow. I tucked her away as safely as I could manage, standing on the floor between a couple of banners, and felt very sorry for her, I apologised again, and told her to take care of herself.

I worry about her – I know Jesus can take care of himself and chooses his path of suffering – Mary was only told about hers after she was well down the track. As Jesus was eating this final meal with his friends, was she there? Did she sense that the long foretold sword was about to pierce her soul?

I wonder how her story ends – the last mention of anything happening with her in the Bible has her at the foot of the cross, although she’s later mentioned in Acts as being with the disciples in an upper room.

Back at the foot of the cross, I wonder how she felt. Sorrow at her son’s plight? Anger with the authorities for doing this? Anger with Jesus because she knew he could “save himself” but chose not to? Bewilderment at being palmed off onto the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, when all she wanted was for him to be down off that cross and in her arms?

Did she ponder these things too and make the connections with the things she’d pondered at the start of Jesus’ life?

I wouldn’t say I was devoted to Mary, but it seems we’re becoming quite attached.

Newcastle Diocese Link Article – December 2017

Wiping the King of the Universe’s Bottom

Every year, thousands of words are written about what the incarnation means for us but comparatively few on what it might have meant for God.

A new, physical vulnerability. From the very beginning, Jesus had to rely entirely on his parents for everything – nappy changes, food, clothing, shelter – all of this is a very marked difference for the creator of everything, a being unbound by the space and time he had created, finding himself tightly wrapped in bandages. Jesus found himself prone to hunger, tiredness and disease (although, whilst there’s no record of Jesus being ill and his treatment of people suffering from infectious diseases showed that illness was not something he feared), and eventually being murdered by occupying forces at the behest of the religious leaders who thought they were doing his work.

A newfound ignorance. By the end of his ministry, Jesus knew that he was God  – “I and the Father are one.” But, had he always known or was it something he gradually came to realise over the years? (Perhaps beginning with the voice from heaven at his baptism.) I like to think that, despite the best of efforts of his parents to raise him as a normal child, there would have been occasional moments where a certain otherness began to make itself known – such as the time after a visit to the Temple when, his parents unaware, Jesus remained behind talking over weighty matters with the teachers of the law – he seems to have taken it in his stride “Where else would I be?” (a polite, first century, “Well, duh?!”) I wonder when Mary and Joseph first told Jesus about the strangeness surrounding his birth, the visitors, the gifts, the words of wise, old Simeon and Anna following his presentation at the Temple, the angels, and the dreams – and how often they’d talk it over, trying to make sense of it all.

A new set of relationships. We believe that God exists already in relationship amongst the three persons of the trinity – from that perfection to ‘normal’ human relationships with their pettiness, squabbling & jealousy. Again, having parents to look after and nurture him (previously having been the one who set up the universe and kept it running). We imagine he must have made friends as a child, the Bible says he had sisters and brothers and we know he considered his disciples to be friends, even knowing that they would desert him.

Newly subject to law. From the very start of the gospels, the presence of the earthly powers was part of the story, with the census taking the Holy Family back to Joseph’s ancestral home. They continued to feature heavily in the gospels, culminating in the  “Judge of all the Earth” submitting to the whims and judgements of petty tyrants and going to his death knowing that “all power in heaven and earth” had been given to him.

It has been said that all stories end in death if you follow them long enough but that’s not the case here – after the death, resurrection and, after that, the Ascension, when all this and more went back into the Godhead in a startling reverse of the incarnation – God to man and back again.

Newcastle Diocese Link Article – November 2017

Are We Nearly There Yet?


An Autumn Triduum

Towards the end of the church year, three days follow on, one from the other, forming a dim reflection of a very condensed Lent. On All Hallows’ Eve, there is chaos, carnival and celebration to parallel Mardis Gras – mocking and chasing away the powers of darkness, as opposed to using up all the soon-to-be-fasted-from produce from the house; All Saints Day, celebrates and looks to those who have gone before, and reflects on what can be learnt from their experiences; and on All Souls Day – we remember all those no longer with us, both saint & sinner, as Christ went down to the dead on Holy Saturday, leaving us looking back to the formerly-living until the seasons change and new life is ushered in.

These three days help clear the air and point us towards Advent – preparation for a time of preparation.

And Lesser Fleas To Bite ‘Em…

Every year, it gets earlier. It was mid-September when I saw this year’s first complaint about how early in the year people could be seen complaining about Christmas getting earlier every year. It seems that we live in a perpetual state of complaint and irritation – like children asking “are we nearly there yet?” before the car has gone further than the end of the road – always Advent but never Christmas…

Janus, One Month Too Soon

The two-faced Roman God, for whom the first month of the year is named, looks back to the past and forward to the future. Advent is both a time to prepare for the jubilation of Christmas, looking back and celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that the incarnation means for all of us, and also a time to look forward – to Christ’s coming again – and think about the changes we should be making in our own lives to get ready for his return, it’s about much more than decorations and presents.

Are We Nearly There Yet?

Not really. But the oil and the tyres have been checked, the bags have been packed and everybody’s in the car. We’ve made it past the edge of town and, if we read it correctly, this autumnal triduum will point us in the right direction. Look out Advent, here we come!

Newcastle Diocese Link Article – October 2017

Playing Hide and Seek with God

Have you ever seen a Godly Play presentation of the Parable of the Good Shepherd?

In it (as I remember it told), the parable is slightly expanded to provide more opportunity for reflection and identification with the flock rather than the shepherd, who is is presented quite faithfully in terms of the original Gospel story – more or less strictly in terms of what he does and says. We see one sheep gradually fall behind, get lost, trapped and eventually rescued when the shepherd realises that it’s missing. Reflective questions are asked about how both the ninety-nine non-lost sheep and the single lost sheep might feel, what they’d be thinking, and what may have led the individual sheep to become lost in the first place.

I sat and watched and listened as the single sheep fell behind and found myself identifying a desire to have a bit of space to myself and dreading the impending “being found”. The idea of an inescapable God became terrifying – and the identification quickly went from “gone astray sheep” to “criminal miscreant, on the run from an inexorable, hard boiled gum shoe”. Old, comforting standards like Psalm 139 (“If I make my bed in the depths, you are there”) now added to the claustrophobia and, rather than coming away with a fresh appreciation of the titular Good Shepherd, I left the session a scared and shaken sheep on the run.

Putting the boot on the other foot…

In the first book of Kings, a scared, shaken, and on-the-run Elijah encounters God on Mount Horeb. The Lord has already spoken to him and told him to look out for a further encounter. As God is approaching, in quick succession, a mighty wind, an earthquake, and an impressive-looking fire go before the terrified prophet. But God isn’t in any of these phenomena – choosing instead to reveal himself in a gentle whisper. Admittedly, the gentle whisper says some terrifying things.

Following the resurrection, Jesus revealed himself in several surprising situations: in the Garden of Gethsemane, to Mary who had mistaken him for the gardener; on the Emmaus Road, to Cleopas and his travelling companion who failed to recognise him until he shared a meal and broke bread with them; and to a locked room full of disciples, hiding from the authorities.

More recently, one Maundy Thursday, following the stripping of the altar (and indeed the whole of the front of the church, including the host from the aumbry – leaving it bare and dark with no visible signs of God’s presence), I went to the front, to the place where God no longer was meant to be and knelt at the rail, expecting and hoping to experience some of the emptiness and desolation felt by Jesus. Instead there was a sense of God being there already, welcoming me, and a feeling that the desperate, long forgotten game of hide and seek was over. For now.

Mini-brae

candles
This evening, because Ros hadn’t been able to make it to any of the Good Friday services, we read through Mark’s passion narrative – lit by seven little candles surrounding a taller candle in the centre of the table and the back-light of the phone we were using to display the text.

At each point that things became noticeably worse for Jesus we blew out a candle until, at the point of his final breath, we blew out the tall candle. Once the centurion had made his proclamation, we turned off the phone and sat for a while in the darkness.

Things We Kiss In Church

Every year, on Good Friday, during the Liturgy of the Day, our congregation processes to the front of the church and kiss the crucifix (that has just been carried forward) – in an act of veneration.

Every week, the gospel is kissed as soon as it has been read – in an act of reverence.

Every week, the priest kisses the altar – in an act of veneration.

Last night, during our Maundy Thursday service, my right foot was kissed as part of the foot-washing re-enactment – there must have been something else going on.

Update on “The Process” – I met with the DDO today

I met with the DDO this afternoon and he fed back the feedback from the reports from the interviews.

It was largely positive but it looks like there may be a slight delay in getting the ball rolling – there seems to be a bit of a shortfall on the “Leadership and Collaboration” criterion. To make this up will take time that will take us past the last BAP that would give me a chance of starting training in the autumn.

I’ll be speaking to the bishop in a week or so and will have more idea of what to expect at that time – but it seems that, if all goes well, we’ll be ready to go in autumn 2016.