Monday, 14 September 2009

Back now.......

It's been a while since I've posted. More down to time and being bothered really. I made a resolution to try to post at least once a month and it seems it didn't take long for me to fail. There's a lot to catch up on!

Casting my mind back, in the dim and distant past I had a long holiday! I've only been back two weeks but it seems like a lifetime away. A fantastic time was had by all in our secluded rented house in the South of France. We chilled by the pool, saw some local sights, bought quite a bit of local wine, canoed on the Ceze river, swam in the river, ate in some nice local restaurants....that gives a bit of a flavour. I also decided to go to Mass in the local town one Sunday. That was a good experience as it was different to what I was used to. It seemed very rushed. With a sermon it didn't last longer than 45 minutes! There weren't any hymns and a few bits were sung, and with every Mass I've been to abroad, people seemed to wander in and out as they pleased. Some even just turned up to receive communion and then left! The good thing for me was that I found the time to take myself off to church.

We popped into Taize on the way home (had a disastrous night under canvas - I was freezing and as a result didn't get much sleep and therefore was quite ratty the next day). We went to Saturday evening prayer and on Sunday had a brief meeting with Brothers Parfait and Thomas. It was great to see them, albeit briefly. The format of the Saturday evening prayer had changed a little; I guess this is part of the ongoing review/change process that happens quite a bit in Taize and I sense a move in worship to a more monastic style.....

On our return I pretty much went straight back to my day job and my STETS work started at the same time. This current module 'Contexts for the Church in Mission' is very interesting as it is dealing with such issues as the church in the community/world - globalisation etc. Something that interests me enormously with my sales and marketing hat on; how does the church reconcile itself and move with the times in an ever changing world in terms of communication and technology? It has to, but at the same time maintaining its identity and not forgetting those who don't have and won't have such technology; we must constantly remind ourselves that it is only in the developed countries where such technology such as broadband, mobile phones etc are an affordable day to day item; whereas in some countries these are serious luxury items.

So, how does the church respond? I believe that today's society is looking for something outside of the materialistic, debt ridden, recession sliding country/world that we live in. The problem for the church is that others (and some dangerous others) seem to be getting there first. As a church we need to respond. I am involved in a church in the City of London that is entering a very exciting phase of its history. It dates back to pre-Great Fire but is somewhat tired. It needs a face-lift, re-vamp and re-launch. We are very lucky in we have a priest whose job is to do just that and we have some significant plans. We were talking today of creating a church and community around the church with a buzz - making the place feel alive, loved and lived in once again. Sure, it will take a lot of money to do so, but I also believe in the power of prayer and God will provide so that this church can shine as a beacon out into the city as a place where people can come.

We as a church much also change in respect of drawing people in. We must go out into the community to show non-church goers that we aren't 'strange' of 'odd' and just 'normal' people (well as normal as we can get). We must be part of the community, mingle, liaise, help, and be beacons. That way people will come to church when they know that their friends go there as well. Once we have these people in church we must welcome and make them feel at home, at ease, part of the family and furniture. If we have to explain what happens then let's do that (it might make us think about what we are doing as well). Let's see a revival in our churches. I'm convinced it's possible and pray each day for it.

And to finish off for now. My eldest son has just gone off to 'big' boarding school. He looks so small within such a large place. However, when dropping him off it didn't take long for him to be talking to others in the same boat, sharing with his fellow room-mates, finding out what they had in common etc. It will take him some time to settle in, but I'm sure once he does he will look like part of the furniture. His school has the most wonderful chapel and on first impression a great Chaplain. I look forward to further conversations with him.

Finally, today I was asked to be a Godfather to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law's son, Peter. I am honoured and privileged to be asked. I truly hope that I will live up to expectations and be a good Godfather. I now have two Godsons and a Goddaughter. They are all wonderful and I look forward to them developing into super children and well-rounded, happy adults.

Until next time.

Monday, 10 August 2009


I'm on holiday - for three whole weeks. A few days in and the weather has returned to be 'typical' British summer - grey clouds, not particularly warm, you get my drift! However, we have had a few days of good weather and we're off to the South of France on Friday where the weather is good and hopefully will continue to be so.

There's little in the news recently, but a couple of things have caught my eye. The first is politics and the continuing wonderment at which I see the current government mis-manage this country. I fully acknowledge that I don't have the intellect of many of those in government, they seem, most of the time, to have the intelligence of donkeys in the way they treat us, the British electorate. The latest act to have my attention is that apparently Lord Mandelson is running the country whilst Gordon Brown is on holiday - although Mandelson is on holiday himself, courtesy, it appears, of another rich benefactor. Whilst I don't disagree with free holidays courtesy of 'friend's, I do think that if you are in the public eye (and especially in Government with the expenses scandal fresh in the mind) one has to be a little careful as to what is paid for, free etc etc. The worst thing of all is that this man has not been elected by anyone other than Gordon Brown and at best the Labour Party. So, we have someone running the country who is not elected, who has been booted out of the government in previous years for 'indiscretions', in charge. We are truly on a slippery slope with this government into an abyss. Heaven help us.......although I should add that I'm not sure who, at the present time, is capable of running the country.......but possibly the Tories would give it a damn good go.

A couple of other minor things' childcare for MPs paid for us, the taxpayer. My word, even more 'stuff' paid for by US for the government, as if they don't have enough. When will they get in the real world and do like the rest of us who work our backsides off to provide for our families. I can't expense things for the contents of my home, childcare etc etc; nor can the majority of the hardworking British public - why should they?

Sport. My beloved Harlequins is in a mess. I am trying to push this to the back of my mind but a reputation built up over the past 140 or so years is potentially in tatters because of the actions in a game that they were desperately trying to win - what price to win a game? What does this teach our youngsters? That winning is everything at all costs, whether done fairly or otherwise? I love rugby because of the gentlemanly way in which it is played, the fact that the players still address the referee as 'sir' etc etc. I am competitive and try to teach my children that winning is important - after all, you don't get ahead in working life by coming second ever. However, I certainly do not condone cheating and this little episode has come back to bite Quins in the backside. I truly hope that it gets sorted soon and Quins are left with a little bit of dignity.

Finally, my Brother-in-Law and Sister-in-Law have just become proud parents again. A lovely little boy called Peter. I pray that he may have a joyous, safe, healthy and good life; he is truly loved and will be wonderfully cared for. We all rejoiced in his birth.

And as a pps, in a few weeks I visit Taize for 24 hours. I am looking forward to taking from the little springtime and that I will be spiritually 'topped up' until I can get back there again.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Approaching forty!

This weekend I hit forty. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what my life has been so far!

Well, here I am, with a fantastic family (both close and extended), great home, good job, what I consider to be a strong and developing faith and training to be a self supporting priest.

It's not always been an easy time, but then I would challenge anyone who says their life has (may be there are those people out there). I don't remember huge amounts of my childhood as it was a tough one in respect of my school life and the bullies that didn't make my time at good schools an easy or enjoyable one. No-ones to blame and if I met those same bullies in the street today I would not hold it against them. Children can be very nasty and cruel and they get carried along on the waves of what everyone else is doing. But that's also not to condone it - if one of my children were bullied I would do whatever I could to stop it. Things have changed these days, though - bullying is recognised, I sense, more quickly.

I most definitely don't blame my parents - although I think they still have a sense that they could have done more. They couldn't. Simple as that. I think children are good at putting a brave face on things and hiding various things from their parents - and I am certain I did. I had a fantastic home life and I'm not aware of wanting for anything, although I do know that money wasn't plentiful. I do remember fantastic long family holidays in the summer (although the one in Northumbria wasn't good when it rained most days!).

Not surprisingly I got out of school almost as soon as I could. I wasn't a natural studier anyway. Into Insurance - nobody goes into insurance deliberately and I certainly didn't. But into a family firm working for a bit of a dragon who taught me so much; I grew up and, most importantly, was treated like an adult. That was when my life began.

Not long after that I discovered the Taize Community (see It changed my life; truly. I spent 18 months there at the age of 18 and it did remarkable things for me. I needed something to try to understand where my life was going. I thought it was going in the direction of the monastic life and the community, but it wasn't. I returned, and in another landmark of my life met Nikki just after my 21st birthday. Not sure whether it was love at first sight, but it wasn't far off! Engaged after 6 weeks and married 2 years later. 17 years ago this summer. We have had our challenges, but nothing serious. A glorious 17 years.

At that time I put myself forward for the ministry. I was 'conditionally recommended'. I had to do what was called the Aston Training Scheme. Whilst the idea of the course was good (to prepare those with little academic qualifications for theological college), those involved on the staff side lacked any pastoral skills and thought that, despite most students having full time jobs, Aston was the only thing in life that mattered. It was a tough 2 years of my (and Nikki's) life; and at the end to be non-recommended for training was a huge blow (to be told via letter as well wasn't particularly sensitive pastorally either). Anyway, life went on and we were expecting our first child.

Christopher was born in the September. Fit and healthy and he has continued to be - there have been the usual hospital trips for broken leg etc., but he's growing up to be a wonderful son. I'm not entirely sure where he gets his amazing intelligence from, though!

Life went on, I got a new job 10 years ago and have had various roles with my current firm, in recent years on the management side and it gives me a great deal of fulfillment. I also managed to obtain a post-graduate diploma in marketing management so proved to myself that I can do academia! Ever since I have been fascinated in sales and marketing.

Nikki and I managed, though not easily, to have two more boys to complete the family (together with a neurotic cat).

Anyway, a few years ago I sensed that my life in the church wasn't 'done'. I was being called to something. I was afraid after what Nikki and I had been through at the hands of Aston. I explored this through weeks in silent retreat in Taize. Through the last visit and at the guidance of my spiritual guide, Brother Thomas, I had to test the call again and started the 'discernment' process. I had a wonderful Director of Ordinands and went to a Bishops Advisory Panel last May and was recommended for training. A year later I am finishing my first year and had a thoroughly fulfilling 9 months of study and fellowship and look forward for more.

So, a snapshot of 40 years. A party will be had this weekend. Unfortunately a few dear people won't be there. My maternal grandfather, who died when I was 2 or 3 but for whom I, strangely, I guess have a great affection (a priest) and my grandmother who died when I was seven and whom I remember again with great affection - more clearly though. I will also be missing my Uncle and Aunt as my Aunt is having an op next week. Despite these absences, it is a great opportunity to have my wonderful family around me and drink a few glasses of wine.

On Sunday I have the privilege of leading worship at church. I shall look forward to that immensely. And look forward 2 years to when I will be an ordained minister. Time I am sure will whizz by, but just now it still seems like a while away. And I certainly don't feel 40. Life is good and I thank God daily for that and rejoice in everything he has blessed me with.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Reflections on almost a year at STETS

I haven't blogged for a little while - a flurry of activity when I first started and then.....nothing. I had this in draft, so I've decided I better finish it off!

As mentioned in my previous post, I've just finished the last weekend of the academic year on my training course for the Anglican Ministry. I thought I would drop some thoughts here as well as some achievements (achievements in my view only, of course!).

This time last year I had just had a 'recommendation' for training from my Bishop to train for three years at Salisbury, part-time and, all being well, to be ordained as a 'self supporting' or 'non-stipendiary' Minister in June 2011. I had also (rather crucially) been offered a place on STETS starting in September 2008.

The course, in my view very well structured, consists of 6 residential weekends and an Easter School a year, 6 academic modules each lasting 7 weeks and concluding with an assignment, three study days per annum and what I would call a 'pastoral' module that runs above this that involves me preaching, observing my congregation, undertaking listening exercises, etc. This work should take about 16 hours of my time in study per week.

I was going to say that I was a fresh-faced student last September; but I would be lying. I'm almost 40 so there's nothing fresh-faced about me. Maybe slightly weathered would be a better expression - although some may disagree and just say knackered! Anyway, in September 2008 I commenced my course, a Diploma in Theology in Christian Ministry and Mission. It was daunting to say the least. Along with 33 or so other ordinands we all turned up to our first weekend in September for 'Orientation'. We were let in gently.....just before the hard work begun!

For me, it didn't get off to a great start! I rather threw myself in; studying evenings, and both days of the weekend. After about three weeks, Nikki (my wife) sat me down and told me essentially that something had to give and we (I) needed to find a way to do the required hours, but not so that she or my sons didn't see me. We agreed that I would study on Sundays but Saturdays were out; these would be family days. This works very well now. I read on the train for a couple of hours each day, do some study at home in the evenings and spend hours in the study on a Sunday. By doing that I can get the work done. Some modules are 'easier' than others, though!

I didn't think it would be any different, but I am enjoying it. I have a great group of fellow students, a very supportive &Co group (a small group of students brought together to support each other and share the work of worship, duties etc at weekends), a great Training Minister (my Incumbent) and very patient tutor! I seem to be keeping up and have had OK marks for three assignments. I would love to do more work on my assignments but I would then have to find some more hours!

Now finishing this, I've just had my first year's assessment and am trying to write my final assignment of the year - this blog is delaying that as I don't have any inspiration for it! Bu as I look back over the year I have been so blessed. Everyone, from my family, home parish, fellow students, tutor and staff have been hugely supportive. I am counting down to my ordination - 100 weeks from this coming Saturday (and that's 12 assignments, 12 residential weekends and two Easter Schools)! But I can't be let loose into the community! But also all the learning along the way, both in the next two years but also in the years of my ministry. And to truly discover where God will take me.....who knows where?

I'm going to be posting again tonight, but don't want to get too many subjects mixed into one!

The beauty of the countryside

This weekend I've been down in Salisbury with my fellow students on STETS (Southern Theological Education and Training Scheme) for the last weekend of our first year together. I think to an individual we questioned where the year had gone - one Easter School, 6 residential weekends, a few study days, five modules and assignments and more than 20 tutorials.....time has truly flown! I will write about that more later.

What I really wanted to reflect on was the weekend and the wonderful experience I had at the hands of the community in the Chalke Valley; 13 Parishes with 9 PCC's! Quite a handful. However, I think that we felt (I did, anyway), a real sense of community and togetherness with the people we met who spoke with real pride and positivity of their community and how it had really grown. I am sure there are 'issues' and everyday challenges to be faced, but it seemed that they were able to face them as a community. I was also struck with the true partnership and relationship between the URC Minister and the CofE Team Rector; I think that much of the success of the ministry will be down to this relationship working well.

The valley was truly an area of beauty. It coincided with a new album I bought on Friday by Sarah McLachlan; Ordinary Miracle (not a new album, just one that caught my eye), called Rarities, B-sides and other stuff. Listening to the words of the first track really talked to me; is it a contradiction to refer to an 'ordinary' miracle - not in the words of this song; everyday occurrences that are truly miracles, but things that we consider ordinary and perhaps take for granted. Lyrics below:

It's not that unusual
When everything is beautiful
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

The sky knows when it's time to snow
Don't need to teach a seed to grow
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

Life is like a gift, they say
Wrapped up for you everyday
Open up, and find a way
To give some of your own

Isn't remarkable?
Like everytime a raindrop falls
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

The birds in winter have their fling
And always make it home by spring
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

When you wake up everyday
Please don't throw your dreams away
Hold them close to your heart
'Cause we are all a part

Of the ordinary miracle

Ordinary miracle

Do you want to see a miracle

It seems so exceptional
That things just turn out after all
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

The sun comes out and shines some bright
And disappears again at night
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

Wonderful words that really struck a chord in the light of this weekend. The villages of the Chalke Valley might be living in an 'ordinary miracle' but we mustn't take places like this for granted.

Added later...I've just discovered this song is from the film 'Charlotte's Web'. Link below (if it works):

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Do nothing....

Today, like many Thursdays, I went to the church across the road from my office for the weekly communion service. It's in a church that's pre-Great Fire, where Handel played the organ (still in place - the organ that is, not Handel!), with a most magnificent stained glass window above the High Altar. a magnificent building that whilst a little tired still shows the splendour of it's age - and there are ambitious plans to make it great again!

As I walk in every week, I draw in a wonderful waft of incence and enjoy this sanctuary from the hum-drum of my daily working life. Taking time out to communicate with God.

Today the sermon (short as befits a lunchtime service for City and other workers on their lunch break), we were introduced to 'doing nothing' and there was a little plug for Bishop Stephen Cottrell's book 'Do nothing to change your life'. I am dreadful at remembering fully what the text of sermons generally are, but this one really struck a chord. How often do we (me, actually) really stop and do nothing? Whether that nothing is for me, God, the family etc. The blurb on Amazon quotes Isaiah; 'In returning and rest you shall be saved.' (Is. 30:15). How true this is. I know that God is with me in the workplace, actually with me 24/7. However, when do I stop, do nothing and just 'be'. I was going to say (write) probably, but there's no probably about it; I don't do this anywhere enough. Not to self; from now on, think about doing nothing, just 'being' and through this God will shine through.

Tomorrow I have the dreaded visit to the dentist. I haven't been for ages - years actually. Much brushing of teeth leading up to this visit. I'm sure it doesn't do any good, but it helps me feel better! Fingers crossed there won't be anything terminal!

After the dentist something much more pleasant, off to lunch with my wife at the restaurant where I am having my 40th birthday celebrations next month. Great to spend some quality time with my wife before I go off to a residential weekend in beautiful Salisbury to learn all about Rural Church. Looking forward to everything that's happening after the dentist!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Fresh Expressions

I already feel like an inadequate blogger. Having spent a while reading other people's blogs, they seem thoughtful, well written and full of insight. It rather puts me off writing anything at all, but I thought I would give it a go as one has to start somewhere!

So, here goes!

A couple of weeks ago I was at a service under the banner 'Fresh Expressions'. I had, of course, heard of the expression and 'movement' (it probably shouldn't be called that, but I can't think of another word for it right now). I had, to be honest, a very blinkered view of 'Fresh Expressions'; that it was something from the charismatic wing of the Anglican Church and that under the banner of Fresh Expressions there was an encouraging of break away groups from the mainstream and established church; possibly using excuses to do so along the way. In my view parishes should be able to adapt and provide worship and ways to God without the need to do this under the banner of 'Fresh Expressions'; it should be something we do as church in a community.

My experience, I think very much down to my preconceived ideas didn't do anything for me; in fact exactly the opposite; I needed to take the air after and go for a walk to burn off some angst. However, I felt it important to talk it through with my Vicar to really dig a bit into what Fresh Expressions truly was - and apart from anything else, dump on him my angst. We talked and I did some research. My incumbent lent me a DVD to watch.

A revelation! My eyes were opened! I still feel uncomfortable with anything termed 'Fresh Expression' and seeing it as a seperate entity to the mainstream church as I feel that it perhaps encourages people to breakaway from the church in the community rather than encourage people finding new ways to be part of church in the community. However, there are some truly great things happening that involve people taking the Gospel and church to a wider congregation. Street Pastors, Cafe Church, Church in sports halls etc etc.....I found the DVD both moving and encouraging. But.......I still have an issue with the term and there being a seperate 'entity' that is called 'Fresh Expressions'; after all, should church in itself be a fresh expression? I am called, I believe to be a fresh expression, to evangelise, to practice mission in the community and find ways to take God to the wider world. Do I need to do this under a banner, under a title? No I don't.

It got me thinking, which is always a dangerous thing! How do I take church to people who don't experience church on a Sunday (or any other time)? My mind is buzzing and there are a number of things that I am now thinking through to put in place.

So, my preconceived ideas about Fresh Expressions were totally misguided. I am sorry for that. I now look at it in a totally different light. I still have an issue with how it is perceived, but for one am now understanding of it and will seek to create some Fresh Expressions.

I would strongly recommend 'Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition' (ed. Steven Croft & Ian Mobsby, Canterbury Press). As an Anglo-Catholic this also gave some great perspectives on Fresh Expressions.