Wednesday, 28 April 2010


 I haven't really posted about my experiences of Easter School. I was, however, thinking earlier today of a conversation I was having with one of my fellow students at STETS about music within worship and how it is used. I'm a big music fan, with around 12,000 songs on my ipod which vary in genre greatly, from rock and pop to Orthodox chants.

During Easter School, the theme of which was 'Christian Anthropology: being human and a 'new creation''. The second year group shared responsibility for worship throughout the week which, it was stressed should be simple and based upon the five senses. There was a rich tapestry of worship, all quite brief, but for which a lot of thought and care had been taken in compiling. My group was to lead worship on Saturday and we had planned to use some music with it. Originally, the plan had been to use some classical music - some Easter Orthodox. Being the person with the ipod, it was left to me to choose something suitable.

As the week went on, I had in my head a particular song that I had desperately wanted to play, seemingly appropriate for the theme of the week. It was only, however, a few minutes before worship that I asked my group whether it was something that could be used during our worship. Potential to plunge plans into chaos!!!

Anyway, the group very kindly agreed. This is the track.....

We played it on a loop. However, this then begged the question as to what was 'right' to play during worship itself. Again, prior to my spanner in the works, we had chosen a classical piece. I didn't think it would be right. I suggested another option:

People entered the hall for worship with a spring in their step and moving into worship, I sensed that the right choice had been made. I believe people were able to engage with God within the music.

It does lead on to the question of whether Christians in liturgy should use secular music. I say "why not?" There are some caveats, however and those leading or constructing worship (would that be a liturgist?) do need to take into account a number of factors;

  •  one of the most important being the lyrics contained within the song (if there are lyrics). What do (or do they not) they say? There are plenty songs with sexist, anti-Christian lyrics or those that might just plain offend. That should be the first port of call before anything else is considered. 
  • where and when is the music being used? If there is more than one piece of music, do they blend in together are they are the same style? If not, ensure there is sufficient space between tracks
  • volume; if music is used in a meditative environment, ensure that it is loud enough but not so loud that it drowns out people's thoughts. Some music is great as people are entering church or the worship space - but consider what atmosphere that is being created; and what the worship is. 

I have always found music a way to connect with God in both quiet prayer but also in corporate worship. It doesn't suit everyone and I appreciate that it isn't too everyone's taste, but it can enrich our liturgy if used correctly. I would always say that enough thought and prayer has gone into selecting the 'right' music, try it!

Here's some more music that I have used in worship:

Monday, 26 April 2010

Placement: Final Week

Here I am, starting my final week on placement, the practical part. Once finished here I will have to start about to think about putting my thoughts in some sort of order for the written piece of work that I have to produce.

It's a very busy week, although I have some 'down' time today. It's nice to be back and continuing the routine of morning and evening prayer. The church was quiet again this morning with Fr Clive and I saying prayer together. We lit candles and prayed for those near and dear and in particular, Lawrence, who is at his BAP this week. May this part of his discernment lead him and those advising to a 'right' decision over his ministry. May God be with him over the next couple of days.

Yesterday was a great day. There were 15 Confirmation candidates with an additional number of baptisms for those either getting confirmed or their sibblings. The Bishop of Fulham, +John was presiding and it was interesting being his chaplain during the service and seeing the confirmation from a different angle! He was very good pastorally, seeking people out to talk to before the service, to reassure the candidates and then again after the service. He preached very well and it was a joy to watch so many being baptised and confirmed; of all ages.

Again, in the church hall, I had the chance to speak to a few people; those who were only here in support of a family member being confirmed, but also some of the regulars and in particular a couple who had only been to St Augustine's the week previously but were looking for a regular church to attend. Hopefully, they'll become regular members of St Augustine's.

As we headed back to the Vicarage after tidying up and putting various things away (I've learnt that the role of the Vicar covers many many tasks, including sweeping of floors and stacking of chairs), we relaxed and barbequeued, the food helped down with some very pleasant Bombadier. It was a mentally draining day, having to concentrate; not as much for me, though as for Fr Clive who had been planning the service for sometime and had the candidates to look after and watch over.

This week brings some pastoral visits, a tour of the local funeral director's behind the scenes workings, school masses, visit from the youth worker, lunch/dinner with parishioners and finally a visit to prison. I will continue to blog on my week.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Placement: Week Two

It was a very different week last week. Not as much 'impact' as I settled into parish life and the routine in Belvedere. Sunday was a great day mixing and socialising with the parish, as well as sampling some of the various dishes provided by people from different nationalities for the 'bring and share' lunch.

Monday's funeral visit was very different from the one a week before. Little had been prepared by the deceased family so the conversation was a test of Fr Clive's abilities to tease out snippets of information from the family. He did this particularly well and with sympathy. I'll be attending the funeral service at the crematorium this coming week. With the different dynamics of these visits, Fr Clive is particularly sensitive to each 'occasion' and seems very natural at his pastoral care. I guess that comes with years of practice, but he does seemed skilled at it. I have much to learn.

The visit to the local Church Secondary School was a particular highlight of the week. Taken on by the church after two schools were failing miserably and put into special measures, there was a merger and today, a number of years later there is a thriving, friendly school that produces good results and children. I think it was the first time I'd been in a secondary school since leaving mine (which at the time I was pleased to see the back of). Here was a school with its own chaplain, chapel and Christianity at the heart of the daily life. Why do we, as a society, seem to run away from 'public' Christianity and faith rather than embracing it? I don't have any answers here and now but the church must be doing something right when they can rescue a school from a dire state and develop it into one that people fight to get into. As many will know, I'm not a natural academic, but the gut feel I got from the school was one that was very proud of itself and achievements and that so much was driven by it being a church school. Good luck to them.

The biggest challenge of the week was the youth group. A new initiative. We had prepared for a game that looked very interesting and would help the children understand the importance of fair trade and ethical trade. However, we didn't have enough people - just 6 teenage lads who were full of energy and being typical teenagers! We took them for a runaround outside, but even so there didn't seem to be a diminishing of energy and I felt particularly sorry for Fr Clive as he tried to have a sensible conversation with them in church about the future of the youth group. Whether the group has a future, only time will tell.

Finally, this morning I learnt of the death of a friend of mine who was in Taize at the same time as me, many years ago - late 1980's. Mariusz, a Polish Permanant. I can't say that I've had any/much contact with Mariusz since we last saw each other in Taize, but I remember with great fondness of our time together, his wonderful humour, warm smile and warmth of friendship. Those were tough times for those from Eastern Europe, but there was a great communion of spirit and friendship. They had little material to to share, but this was not important in the sharing of themselves.

Whilst I can't, in 2010, claim to have known Mariusz. I have my memories and the commonality of our time together and therein lies my mourning for his passing. If, in the last 20 years, he was anything like he was in the time I knew him, he would have brought a great deal of joy, love, humour and friendship to those he knew.

I've posted this link on Facebook, but someone with a much better way with words and someone who knew Mariusz better than me has written the following........

Monday, 19 April 2010


I follow a number of marketing blogs; that being my 'day job'. I am fascinated at how and what the church can learn from methods and theory from secular society. We must not be closed to this and must move in taking the church of today forward and evangelising to a wider group. If secular theory and practise can help the church in its Mission, we must not be afraid of using it.

Seth Godin's is one I follow with interest. He's a leading exponent of 'Permission Marketing' and someone I really enjoy reading. Have a look at this.....a favourite marketing book of mine - can the church learn from this?

Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers 

He takes away some of the mystique of marketing and writes in a very engaging way. His blog is worth a read and taken in a church context might provoke some discussion/ideas!

Reflections on a week of placement

It's been a week of placement now and important to reflect back on it.

Belvedere is a foreign place to me. It's a strange context, one that I'm not familiar with. Out of my comfort zone. Part of the reason I chose it for my placement. A parish of about 6,000 which 'stretches' about a mile and a half of South-Thames urban sprawl. It's an interesting mix of run-down looking council flats to 20th Century semi-detached housing as well as having a good amount of green, open space.. The census of 2001 doesn't really reflect accurately the population today as there has been a significant immigrant population taking residence since. But it is a multi-ethnic parish. A richness of diversity. 

Looking back on my week, there has been a wide variety of experiences, from the Churches Together meeting, Wednesday experience of a home visit that shocked me (prior blog), a tour of the crematorium, a funeral visit, number of masses and morning and evening prayer.

I have enjoyed immensely the formality of morning and evening prayer in the church. Being next-door to the Vicarage has meant we have popped into the church and said prayer in the Lady Chapel, just the two of us and that has been powerful and important to me - very different from my private devotions that are said at home or work.......also a different format, taking the Catholic rite of prayer. I haven't quite got the hang of where what comes where, but I am sure by the end of next week I'll get the hang of it! 

Yesterday's Sunday Mass was a highlight. I acted as Master of Ceremonies and sat beside Fr. Clive. It's a very different view of the church from behind the altar! It took me back to my days growing up in my parent's parish in Essex. A wonderful cloud of incense filled the church and the ceremony really did move me. I can't comment on my preaching, but this again was a new experience. Not the 15 minutes I am used to, but 6. Adapting for this was difficult and I had a moment of having a re-think on Saturday afternoon. not a good time to think about re-thinking a sermon. I preached on Jesus' commission to Peter and his question of Peter loving him. A very moving that I could picture happening quite clearly in my mind. People commented very positively after, so I was pleased with that. 

What I reflected on most and talked over with Fr Clive was how I felt the first time I attended Sunday Mass at St Augustine’s. I came here with the family and found the service and connecting with God difficult due to the nature of the liturgy – it went from one thing to another with nothing announced and as a result found it difficult to see how anyone new to the church would be able to connect as well. However, this last Sunday was different. I could see people connecting and entering into the mass with all their heart and soul and the importance of it to them. It was also the first time I had worn my new alb (photos next week)and felt strangely comfortable in it. The first time I had a sense of getting closer to ordination and being ready for it. The waiting is coming to an end.

The congregation is a mix of people from the area - a rich diversity represented. About 130 for mass, so a full church. I know that in speaking with Fr Clive and a few long standing members of his congregation the congregation has grown significantly from when he first came and there is clearly love for both the church and Fr Clive. There is a broad mix of black and white, young and old.....and it is encouraging. The church is certainly not dead in this neck of the woods! Although it has it's challenges, the main one being one of the mix of cultures and how the church 'is' in serving and providing service for the diversity of its congregation. This was discussed at the APCM that followed Mass.

After the APCM there was a bring and share lunch and a chance for me to get to know some of the parishioners better. They were wonderfully welcoming and I enjoyed chatting to a number of people. One conversation struck me of a young family who had been attending for only a couple of years. What was interesting was the articulation of their faith and what it was they liked about St Augustine's; their connection with God there and that in talking about his faith, people assumed he was evangelical.......but St Augustine's couldn't be more Catholic, really! In talking with the people from the church I was humbled as to what had been done here. As well as sampling an interesting mix of food.....including being told, quite firmly that I was to sample a Caribbean speciality of banana fritters........something I had never had before, along with some very spicy rice! I look forward to the goat curry this week (although I suspect the goat won't be as enthusiastic!). 

There was a true community spirit at the lunch and I look forward to continuing to get to know people within the parish over the next couple of weeks.

The rest of Sunday was spent relaxing and reflecting. So....onto another week.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Placement: Day Two

Due to my IT incompetence, this wasn't actually posted.....better late than never!

Wow! What a day. I can’t give huge detail about this morning, but it was an eye opening experience. I accompanied the Parish’s Pastoral Assistant on their sick communion round. Our first visit was the eye-opener.

I was told in advance that it might be best not to accept an offer of a drink and that there would be a nasty odour......what that was, I wasn’t prepared for. The door was opened in a fog of cigarette smoke and odour, but I was actually probably quite relieved as I could live with that as it probably disguised a number of other nasty smells. The only way I could describe the dwelling was something out of the reality programmes where one sees the local council go into a home that has been left to decay and people have lived in squalor. I’ve never seen anything like it. That and the three dogs, clearly well looked after, but allowed to use the floor as their toilet.

The invalid to whom we had come to administer to was chatty, but softly spoken and it was an effort to hear and understand. A space was made on the only available clear surface, his wheelchair and the pastoral assistant careful laid out a cloth, candle and the Blessed Sacrament. She passed him the service book and he found from his pouch his rustic cross which he clasped. It had clearly seen some use over the years. He then went into his own meditative space as the prayers began. I observed and prayed with them whilst fending off his very friendly dogs; with one, at one stage relieving itself in the hall.

Communion received, the small make-shift altar was packed away and sweeties doled out to the dogs. We departed, but not before one of them again left a ‘gift’.

I had not seen anything before like it and it shocked me. Here I was face to face with squalor and poverty. Posters of semi-clad young men adorned the bedroom walls. It was a sad state of affairs, but one that I was assured they had lived in for sometime, this couple (gay), who had been together for many years.
Beneath all of this, though, and away from the odour, Christ shone through in the bedridden man. He was a devoted servant of the church and through his sickness he was unable to continue this. He did, apparently get out, but I’m not sure how often. It brought it home to me that it would be Christ that would be more concerned in places like this than the predominantly white, middle class suburbs of my home-town. He was needed much more in this situation. The two elderly gents were welcoming, accepting, friendly and had a smile. If I was in that situation, would I be the same? I can’t say that I would be. There was real emotion in receiving the sacrament, it clearly meant much to him, this visit. I don’t have to do this every week. The church here does and I have immense respect for that faithfully witness to Christ in this community. I struggle with that ministry and I pray that I have the strength for it.

This afternoon we visited the local crematorium and had a ‘back stage’ tour. Absolutely fascinating how things happen behind the closing of the curtain. Saw how everything went on, as well as the humour the team have.
The day ended with my Placement Supervisor and me saying evening prayer together in the quiet of the Lady Chapel in church. A great way to end the working day. 

Monday, 12 April 2010


Tomorrow I go off to my placement. It's a three week stint living and observing the work of the Anglican Church in Belvedere, North Kent. I am excited about it, but at the same time nervous - at the end of my time there I must look inward and reflect on things theological, anthropological and sociological and come up with some words on a page that reflected my time in Belvedere.

I will be in the safe hands of Fr Clive Jones, incumbent of St Augustine of Canterbury Church (link here; It's a very different parish to my own, that being St Mary, Eversley (link here;, my home church being rural with a congregation and worship that befits it. St Augustine's is Anglo-Catholic, a tradition that I grew up in, but in a very different sociological area, with a church school and, I understand, much poverty. It will, I am sure, be an illuminating experience. I ask that for those reading this, they offer me up in their prayers during this time.

Now for some packing. Mustn't forget my Missal.

Blogging again

I've just got back from Easter School. Remarkably, this is my second of three and it seems that my Ordination date edges ever closer, despite being over a year away. There were a number of elements that make Easter School a very special place to be; Theology, Spirituality and Sociality (is there such a word?). It is clear that the STETS staff spend a lot of time and thought in preparing each and every school and therefore I feel a duty to make the most of it from a learning perspective.

I stand in awe of academics and always have. My tough time at school and departure at 16 for the working life did nothing to aid my academic ability. I'm not a 'high performer' from an academic standpoint and at the moment, whilst juggling work and study, am happy for marks anywhere above the 50% mark. I would love to be able to aim higher, but there has to be a time, work, life, family balance - and I do remind myself that study doesn't come easily or naturally to me. However, I often find the subject matter fascinating and I've learnt so much in my time on STETS. I am also proving to myself that I'm no thicky!

There are, however, still lectures where I sit back and listen and the content appears to come toward me and pass over like a vapour; what on earth did that mean, or was about? Then there are the questions asked of the lecturer at the end from students - where did they get questions like those, clearly grasping the contents of the lecture, they can dissect the pieces and then ask a suitably academic question. I feel very humble and at times unworthy in those situations.

Spiritually, Easter School is a bit of a funny place to be. On site, being held at a school, there is not a separate chapel - it's in the main hall where one end is a stage and the other, in a recess, an altar and chapel area. The seats are hard and uncomfortable and the floor's certainly one that you wouldn't want to kneel on. We grab worship within the programme in 15/20 minute moments, put together lovingly by the second-year group. Each says something about the small group that put it together. This is then followed by a bible study.....I'm not sure how I felt spiritually after the week, although the final act of worship, presided over by the wonderful Philip Seddon was a moment of emotional high but also sadness as we all then went our separate ways.

Finally, the social side of Easter School for me was an immense high. The weekends at Sarum are great in themselves for the social element but somewhat limited. This Easter School, though, we have had 18 months getting to know each other already and so the friendships developed further. I think we are getting to the stage now where we are developing circles of friends who we see as being there in our future ministries - certainly it is that way for me. I'm not deliberately missing people out, but STETS is a wonderfully diverse group of individuals and as a result I won't get on with everyone and there will be those who don't get on with me; that has to be an accepted part of my three years study. However, there are those who I have come to know and I feel now know me well. It's not a great number, but those are the people I will turn to to share my inner most thoughts and feelings both now and in the future; and I am sure I will need it. The week was a wonderful experience socially. Yes, I drank too much and yes, I was in bed far too late (every night), but throughout the week I laughed more than I have done in the past 18months and was able to fully relax and be myself and found new friendships being shaped.

The difficulty coming home from the week is bonding once again with the family. They’ve not experienced the week and all its ups and downs. Nikki, my wife, has been away with the children to my parents but has not had the same experience as me. How do I convey the week to the family without boring them to tears? I think that is a process that doesn't actually take place in the immediacy of returning but over the course of the next few weeks.......

But of course, I haven't returned to normality, I have my placement to think about and viewing first hand the work of the church in community. More to follow.