Monday, 31 May 2010

Book of Common Prayer

Salisbury Cathedral

It's been a strange 10 days - one of highs and lows. Plunging the emotional depths as well as rising to as far as I can guess is heaven on earth. Most of which, I can't write about here and in the public domain (nothing sinister, trust me). Those close to me have been part of that and I praise God that I have such supportive family and friends.

Last weekend I was with my friends at STETS in Salisbury where, in the wonderful setting of the Cathedral Close, we had the most beautiful weather. The focus of the weekend was on the youth and young and my group was on the rota to lead evening worship, based on the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Initially, we thought that actually leading BCP evening prayer would be 'easy'; straight from the book, lifted off the page stuff, not really requiring too much thought. However, as we reflected, exchanged emails and unpacked it, it wasn't going to be so easy. How could we reflect something of the theme of the weekend in Evening Worship which used the rich language of the 17th Century; and language that the young of today certainly don't use.

Lots of people talk of the language of the BCP having it's place - but this talk being used negatively. However, I bet these are the same people that enjoy Shakespeare and the other rich traditions we have that date back. Why on earth shouldn't worship just be about the language of today? So (and I have to come clean here), I turned, as I so often do, to music. What could we do to enjoy the richness of the language but mix it with where we are today? That great juxtaposition of ancient and modern - and ensuring that people were able to reach God in this short act of worship.

I suggested a number of pieces of music to my group. We went through some stuff on my ipod. Listening carefully to words, music and the whole 'ambience' of songs. And these were secular songs, not religious. We then also decided that the place for the hymn would be taken by playing a piece of music. These were the pieces we chose:

1. Before the prayer

2. In place of a hymn

3. After the prayer

I think it worked well. And I hope those there were able, through both the music and the words to connect with God. The feedback was good. The only negative was that people couldn't make out the words - a bit of a downside, but I don't know how important that is in this context.

My conclusion? I've banked this one - and would very much like to try it with a group of young people and see what we can come up with at some time in the future.

and as a PS: next time I do this, I would also show the videos - they all connect and, in my view, having just watched them make the lyrics even more powerful.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


I'm in exile. Exile that is from my 'home' parish church. During this term, when those in the second year of my course are focusing on their placements, we are required to effectively stay away from our usual parish churches to focus on our placements and not be distracted by duties in our home parishes.

Ever since Easter and Easter School I have been at various churches and as a result haven't had to think about where I was going to worship on a Sunday. For three Sunday's I was in my placement parish, two in my In-Laws Parish and one Sunday at Easter School, so last weekend was the first time I had to put some thought into where we, as a family were going to worship. It actually surprised my as to how difficult it was to find a 'suitable' church.

Naturally, my first stop was the internet and a Google search for 'churches in Hampshire'. It returned a number of options but what generally disappointed me was the lack of general information; the Church of England website and their 'find a church' section wasn't up to much - a bit like a National Trust search in that there were very nice symbols to indicate whether the church had stained glass, parking, loos etc etc......but didn't give me an awful lot more. Those with a website link often didn't go through to a website at all......obviously the link needed updating.

Anyway, our aim was to go to the Garrison Church in Aldershot. However, I (or someone...perhaps their website) made a mistake (probably me) and we arrived to find that communion had been at 9am and that there was a veteran's service at 11am. We were stood outside at 9.45am. Bundling everyone back in the car and thinking on my feet (or seat more accurately), I headed for the new-ish estate on the other side of Fleet to worship there at their 10am service. I knew that it wouldn't be communion and that it was at one end of the tradition 'spectrum' to mine, but I wanted to go to church and got to church I would.

I had a bit of a shock on arrival. We were welcomed very warmly. However, in the main body of this wonderfully modern building people were sat around tables. I had a nervous twitch that went back to some worship I had experienced and had found very uncomfortable with last year. However, it wasn't anything untoward, but that the church, having been on the site for four years was re-examining it's mission and strategy and the best way of doing this was on a Sunday morning with the regular congregation. We participated as best we could, but I have to say it worked particularly well with prayers, a talk and songs wrapped around short group discussions. Hats off to them for that. I came away feeling well and truly refreshed from the worship.

We will return to the Church on the Heath. Probably for their communion service. But I would recommend it. It is in a lovely modern light and airy building. The congregation were welcoming and there was a true sense of community with worship involving young and old. Here's their website: It is also clear that the church is very involved in the community and it is refreshing to see.

Just as an aside, I was delighted when we sung one of my favourites...that always has an effect on me. Stuart Townend writes some great music and lyrics.....

So, a simple choice this weekend - down in Salisbury with my STETs friends for a residential weekend. No need to choose where to worship on Sunday. Week after at with the boys...looks as if I'm just postponing choosing another church!

Angel flying too close to the ground

This is a song that I have recently downloaded onto my iPod. I love the lyrics, Beth Rowley's voice, the additional male voice and tune. It's a wonderful song and I wouldn't want to spoil it by adding anything further.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Back to Work

Well, I've been back at work now for just over a week. It was a shock. I deliberately went back on a Friday to ease myself in; apart from anything else, we had had an office move during my absence and as a result I had a new desk. I wanted to unpack in a leisurely fashion and get everything organised and sorted before getting into the week. Going back on a Friday enabled me to do that.

Reflecting back, my prior four weeks have been incredibly rich. A week of Easter School where some incredible friendships emerged and blossomed. It was where, as a year group, I think we discovered who might be within our support group in the year and indeed years to come. For some, this meant some very late nights drinking and putting the world (as well as the church) to rights. Was I one of these.....I wouldn't like to comment on that....!

The following three weeks on placement were rich and varied and I've blogged on those weeks. It all ended with a visit to HMP Belmarsh which rounded off my placement very nicely. It was especially nice as I was let out as well!

All wasn't over, though. I felt it important that I return for a Sunday to say my farewells to the congregation of St Augustine's. I also had the opportunity to preach. Once last chance to sit in the chancel with Fr Clive, MC and be part of the richness of worship at the church. I preached on the uncertainty of our future and how, whilst we try to create certainty we live in an uncertain world and that we need to trust in God more. It was a lovely Mass and chatting after to the congregation, many of whom had offered me their hospitality was a wonderful way to finish and say a temporary farewell.

Work has been difficult. I have gone from living in the vicarage, with a daily routine of prayer and worship (and time allowed in the day for this) to life once again as a commuter; the 12 hour day of almost 3 hours travel, sitting  at a desk staring at a screen, internal and external meetings, strategising, planning etc etc......I love my job, but I did feel a certain sense of bereavement being away from parish life. The time flew by and now actually seems like a long time ago.

This last week there's been a lot happening in the public eye. We've had an election (in case you hadn't noticed) and a government, as I type, hasn't yet been formed. I guess I'm not the only one who just wants the politicians to get on with it and decide who's going to run the country.

Then there is the publishing, by the Church of England, of the draft measure for the admitting of women to the episcopate. I've printed off the 142 page document and intend to read it. It's not going to change my view. I'm fully in favour of the move. However, what I dearly hope and pray for is that both sides of the debate can discuss, debate and pray over the move in a manner that befits us as Christians and that some of the hate and vitriol that we have seen up until now doesn't reappear. I know of some who seem to have a personal mission against ++Rowan and the Church of England as a whole (but are ordained within the CofE). This is a significant move for the church and it is my hope that there can be some very adult discussions about this.

Finally, I would like to share this video with you. It is a short interview with Brother Roger of Taize. In a little time, it speaks to me greatly.

Peter, do you love me? from Taizé on Vimeo.

Saturday, 1 May 2010


I've been using MSN Messenger to 'chat' with a good friend of mine. We were chatting away the other night, it was getting late and I was feeling tired after a long day in placement. My Placement Supervisor and I had said evening prayer, but I was actually, before turning in,wanting to pray. I wasn't sure about asking or how it would work but I asked...'shall we close the day with prayer'.....would it work via MSN?

We set some very basic groundrules.....that, for example, we wouldn't worry about spelling mistakes or bothering to correct them and just go with the flow. I chose some appropriate background music:

What came was a wonderful flowing of spontaneous prayer. Prayer for the day, our situations, families. I felt that it was a wonderful end to a busy day; also a new way of prayer. Prayer with someone else but on my own, in my own space, sharing that space in prayer. Simple, short, prayer, with music gently playing in the background.

I guess this is what would be called a 'Fresh Expression'? (not a big fan of the term myself - will blog on it one day)..........

It's something that was an important part of the day and I hope to be able to pray like this again. It's to be recommended.


I spent all day Thursday in prison. HMP Belmarsh to be precise. I've never been in a prison before and at 8.10am wasn't sure that I would be spending the day there. My Placement Supervisor had got in touch with the Chaplain and, as instructed, I turned up at 8am with Passport, Driving Licence and CRB to be told that 'I wasn't on the list'. On arriving, the Chaplain had forgotten to complete the paperwork. All was well, though, when he re-appeared 15 or so minutes later with the necessary forms. After completing the necessary (finger print scans, photos) I was going to be allowed in.

First impressions were that it was very quite once inside. We walked through the yard where prisoners first arrive allow a walkway and into the Chaplaincy building. This all appeared very civilised. The Chaplaincy is made up of a few faiths - Muslim, Hindu and then a number of Christian denominations.

I met the team. A missionary who spends much of his time in Africa, and a couple of volunteers who live relatively nearby. The morning was going to be taken up with a bible study for beginners. They expected just over 30 prisoners to attend. The atmosphere was very calm and relaxed as we chatted and laid out the beautiful chapel for the session and to welcome the prisoners.

Prisoners wandered in. Some were dressed in their own clothes, some in the prison's regulation red-ish tracksuits and trainers. A whole mix of people, black and white, young and old. I wasn't told what I should or shouldn't say and as they all walked in, I received a handshake, friendly 'hello' and in some cases a little chat.

When everyone was in, worship began. New people were welcomed and introduced; as was I. For which I received a round of applause! Worship was very evangelical affair, with a number of rousing songs sung, and sung with great feeling and gusto. It was strange in many respects. I didn't at any stage at this point or in the afternoon feel threatened, in fact I felt very comfortable in amongst the prisoners. They all appeared to be very 'regular' people. At the end of worship, there was the opportunity for newcomers to give a commitment to Christ and a number ventured forward. At this point, I did feel uncomfortable. I was taken outside my comfort zone with the praying and summoning of the Holy Spirit to be upon these people. There was the speaking in tongues. As an Anglo-Catholic by tradition, I really didn't know what to think of this; and as I say, it made me feel uncomfortable. I'm not sure what it was, I couldn't pinpoint why I was uncomfortable. I sensed in some respects there was pressure, a pushing sense of something that 'had' to happen. I struggled with this.

After worship we had small group discussions and they were very open and I enjoyed them immensely and was able to provide some input. Just before midday the warders came in and finished the session. I was asked by a prisoner to pray with and for him. I wasn't expecting this, but did what I could and hope that he felt, through my prayers, God's love. All prisoners were searched before they returned to their cells.

The afternoon session was quite different. This was for those who were committed in their faith and had some biblical knowledge and would be a bible introduction looking at the story of David and Bathsheba. First, again, we had worship led by a couple of the prisoners. A prayer, a psalm and then into song.....I have to say I was very moved by this. The freedom of expression in their worship and prayer. Unaccompanied singing....lots of songs....but not watching the time. Again, I felt very comfortable in their presence. There was the sharing of a testimony. It was a good bible study with contributions from a good number (about 20 in total attended). One recited a passage from Romans - not just a short passage, but almost a chapter, with great feeling.

We were hurried to finish and this time I was asked to finish the session with prayer. I had to be quick and thinking on my feet prayed; it was a moment that, because I was asked with no warning hadn't time to think about it, but felt humbled that I had been asked.

I had spoken, during the two sessions with one young man, the individual who had recited the verse. I was struck by his faith, but also his peace; peace with the fact that he was in prison, that he had been there for 18months and was waiting to be sentenced; a sentence that was likely to be a long one.....but he acknowledged that he had to take what the court gave him, but he was at peace that he would have company if the form of his faith. I actually felt it quite a privilege to meet and talk with him.

The eye opener of the day was a wander onto one of the wings. The wing where prisoners were 'welcomed' to the prison. The cells, that housed up to three, were tiny. Smoking was allowed in the cells so with many there was a fog of cigarette smoke. The chaplain had a number of visits to make to prisoners who had asked to see her or there was concern about. The sights and sounds were something that I would struggle to describe; and I did feel vulnerable surrounded by these people. This provided more of the image of prison and prisoners that I had expected.

On reflecting on the day, it was one that I had no preconceived ideas about. I didn't know what to expect. Talking to the volunteers, they get used to waiting. Waiting at the gate for someone to come and get them to go to the chaplaincy. I don't 'do' waiting! So it was uncomfortable for me! Inside, but in the yards and in the chaplaincy, it felt quiet and peaceful. It was only on the wing were there was considerable noise. One of the strangest things for me was the lack of communication with the outside world. Mobile phones are not allowed inside the prison. So mine was left in the car. I had absolutely no contact with the outside. This slightly unnerved me and I felt as if I was missing something! Popping out at lunchtime, for 15 minutes I was able to catch up with friends/family. But time was limited. A quick text and that was it.

Here is a place where God is truly at work. The people I met were inside serving their time. I didn't feel at all like judging them. I felt welcomed by all and very warmly so. I enjoyed meeting them and in a couple instances truly humbled.

I am so glad I was able to see the inside of a prison. I thank my placement supervisor for arranging it and the Chaplaincy Team for a very warm welcome and putting up with me for the day.