Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Palestine - And now helpful actions!

The killing of four Israeli settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron by Hamas gunmen raises the stakes and is designed to enflame into action Israeli hotheads.

This 'heroic operation' which saw four (unarmed) people in a car murdered shows exactly what the game is. We have voices which enflame and actions that encourage retaliation such that the conflict will continue, niggling away, until one side emerges triumphant.

Power is cut of by the Israelis and people die in Palestine. Rockets are fired to wind up the Israelis and get them to act wrongly and, of course, the Israelis never disappoint. Ships are stopped from bringing in certified relief and people are Palestinians react in the way Israel hopes they will. And, once again, Hamas never disappoints either.

In the death of one unborn innocent (one of the victims was pregnant) and four people the whole madness is brought, once again, into sharp focus.

The truth is that there are many Palestinians who oppose Abbas holding peace talks with Israel and Netanyahu has the same in reverse regarding Palestine and his freeze on building new settlements.

The only glimmer of hope is by the support that is growing for Netanyahu's position on settlements by some. The latest of these, following on from the art and acting world, being the academics from the West bank who have ceased working in settlements as a recognition of the damage the settlement building programmes has done to any potential peace in the region.

The building of settlements the other side of the 'green line' is one of the most provocative and damaging acts israel engages in and this must be addressed. International law has said that this building and settling is illegal and yet, as ever, Israel flaunts international law and continues to do as it pleases.

Prayer must be the only answer here because logic and generosity don't seem to be a feature of this sad and sorry saga.

And what, O Israel does the LORD require of you?




Monday, 30 August 2010

Painting our faces - the photo that proves it!

Here's what I saw that made me think there might be a bookshop in the shopping centre!

It does look like a bookshop, honest!

Fancy sending me to specsavers :)

Palestine - some helpful words?

Well, actually the answer has to be probably not!

On the back what appears to be an increase in settlement-building, something which Palestine views as both provocation and aggression in one act. It is, after all little more than a means of expansion and increasing occupation and Israel has committed itself on one hand to stop and yet still it continues.

Moving away from the obvious duplicity, we turn instead to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Chief Rabbi and a voice many listen to, has mentioned that it would be nice if "All the nasty people who hate Israel, like Abu Mazen (Abbas), vanish from our world" and concluded with the ancient Jewish blessing, "May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel."

Apart from the general condemnation regarding these words, Yosef has certainly handed his Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, little help in the forthcoming Washington talks.

And the problem is that many will hear in Yosef's words the reality of the Jewish position to Palestine and sadly, whilst Israel defends itself by pointing to a world who wants it eradicated, it seems Israel wants the same for others.

Now, those who watch Israel/Palestine will recognise Yosef to be a bit of a wally. His millenium words where he told Jews that it was, "Forbidden to be merciful to Arabs. to the point where he encouraged the use of missiles to 'annihilate the evil and damnable Arab'.

Provocation designed to make the hot-heads who fire rockets and break cease-fire agreements on the Palestinian side all too eager to make a point, and so win the day for Yosef.

Why, Oh LORD, do you allow such wicked men to prosper? Why, do they so often end up claiming to be working for you?

Religions do not cause wars, wicked and evil men with their own agendas do - and heres's more evidence of that.

Bring your peace to these nations - the prayer of all those of faith.

After school clubs - an opportunity

According to the charity 'Save the Children around 75% of the poorest families cannot afford to send their children to after school provision and it's not just the poorer families as two-thirds of those above the poverty lince can't afford them either!

One of the policies we have in the church I'm part of is that they never charge for any children's provision they provide. This includes Kid's Club (twice a week) and holiday provision for drama, art and craft, term-time dance and cheerleading clubs and more besides.

The general response to this is one of unbelief that any provision would be free and as a result we find ourselves to be a very popular place indeed.

Now before anyone assumes that this is a great way of 'conning' or 'bribing' people (especially kids) to come into church, I have to say that this is not the case. We seek to meet the needs of the community and are very aware that this does not translate into them coming to the church only the building that houses it.

As budgets are cut I reckon that the Church will find the opportunity to serve those in the community around them increases accordingly. Jesus came to be the servant of all and therefore we, like Him, should be looking to serve. People are always surprised when they hear that the age old 'Mums and Toddlers' provision doesn't bring in members - but it builds relationships and it scratches where the itch is and this is the reason it's a valid expression. If we do only because we think it will build our churches then we sell the Gospel short and condemn ourselves to disappointment.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Helps for drivers - No. 2

Headgear (cont'd)

Another indicator of potentially naff driving is the wearing of that ubiquitous 'chav wear', the baseball cap.

Often associated with straight through exhausts (loadsa noise, poor performance), flashy wheels and body styling (and speakers that make your ears thump), this species drives too fast, fails to judge relative speeds and probably is adorned with individualistic tattoos (just like ALL of his mates).

Quite a common breed indeed - five extra points if the girlfriend's name is Kylie!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Helps for drivers - No 1


One helpful indicator when spotting your naff driver has (since time immemorial) has been the flat cap or trilby! Spotting either of these is simple - they can be found on the head of the driver at the front of the three mile long procession. Often accompanied by a caravan behind the car (but not always).

The driver is usually in receipt of the State Pension (although not for much longer as legislation is changing)and might be mistaken for a Sunday driver.

An aid to identifying this species is the use of hand signals.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


As I have been perambulating along the A and M roads recently I have noticed that all the Noddy and boy-racer muppet drivers now appear to be behind the wheel of a BMW!

Foes this mean Ford have raised the price of the 'road warrior' (aka Muppet-mobile) Mondeo or has BMW lowered their prices to attract them away from Ford.

Either way, seems the dork in front is probably a BMW.

Vorsprung Dork Technic as they say :)

Painting our faces

And keeping our heads empty!

Walking through a shopping area (better known as a mawlh') o saw a stunning shop which looked, from a distance, like a bookshop. Rushing towards it, I realised that it was actually full of make-up, shampoo and the like!

Not a bookshop to be found - says it all :(

Monday, 23 August 2010

Lay Presidency

A few years back, in a diocesan synod, the question was asked, "Will we ever have lay presidency?" the response (from a grown-up) was, "No. We'll call them OLMs!"

Following on from the Sydney ruling regarding deacons and others being licenced to preside at communion, it appears that this (along with many other 'initiatives' are set to lower the bar and reduce the theological integrity of those who minister even more!

Mind you, if I read this one correctly it appears that those 'deacons' who have presided were ordained women and I get the feeling that there is an element of hypocrisy lurking within this story.

Mmmm - I wonder?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Blair's Blood Money?

The airwaves have been full of recriminations and accusations for former PM Tony Blair this week. The reason for this? Having written a book therm has had the audacity to donate the money (£4m to date) to the Royal British Legion.

Writing about Iraq and the deployment of British troops there, the man would have been condemned by many for making money out of the event. So he hasn'tade money from it and he's still condemned!

The RBL is sn excellent recipient for the money as it services the needs of all who have served on the British forces.

We should be celebrating the donation and the opportunity for welfare and support that all who have served that it brings.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Sunday Evening Services - RIP?

When I arrived at the church I serve there was but one service on a Sunday morning (two on the first Sunday) and that was it. The evenings were kept free for more important things (like the TV?). Nowhere was that stalwart services (and spelling mistake) 'Evensnog' to be found and people apparently just didn't come out to an evening service.

Then we decided to try something different on a Sunday evening. We added Taizé services, one of the members brought reflective prayer sessions into the building (and excellent they were too). Add to this Compline (which the people loved) and healing services, café church and other things and suddenly Sunday evenings were happening.

Let's be honest about this, happening in small numbers, but still they were happening. We were being Church and for some, this was their only opportunity to be so.

The reality is that if we do the services then the people will come. Slowly at first, but it gets better . . .

Monday, 16 August 2010

Family under pressure through drink and drugs

More than one hundred children contact ChildLine each week with concerns about parental drinking or drug use. Annual statistics relating to the service show almost six thousand (5,700) children rang in with concerns in the year ending March 2010. The total calls received exceeded one hundred and fifty thousand.

The NSPCC described these incidents as a "ticking timebomb" in the children's lives. Sadly, but not unexpected, abuse was often linked to the alcohol and substance abuse.

Another area for concern was that where the child became the carer, not just for sibling, but for parents too. I see a great deal of this in my working day and it's on the increase. I regularly come across situations where the child cares for the parent and know of one where the child was shopping and cooking for her siblings (until they were taken into care).

Although the calls relating to drink and alcohol are only about four percent of the total calls, the danger that this highlights in both providing a safe place for children and for the modelling that is taling place leaves me more than a little concerned.

This is an area where we (society) should be becoming more active and is an opportunity for Christians to serve their communities and help shape the future of young people. A recent local report stated that over 60% of children under the age of eight had had alcoholic drinks within the previous forty-eight hours.

Drink and drugs are an issue that will never go away, after all, they've always been with us. But we can, and must, do something about the impact of them on the lives of our children - the society's future depends on it.

But what and how? Where do we begin?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Let us now praise famous men . .

The BCP this morning made use of Ecclesiasticus 44 - a passage which today, a day when we remember the ending of the Japanese element of World War II, has import and great significance:

"let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies:
Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions:
Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing:
Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations:
All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.
There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.

And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.

With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out.

Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore."

Ecclesiastes (Sirach) is an interesting read and although the language uneasy in our modern tongue perhaps, still echoes valid sentiments.

As we go about our busyness today perhaps we might spare a thought for:

Those all those who remain from this conflict, especially the FEPOWs (Far East Prisoner's of War),

Those civillians who suffered and died during the conflict (remembering those who died as a result of the Atomic bombs which fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,

Those who have no graves to mark their having been.

Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore

We will remember them
Well worth a visit

Justice in jeopardy?

I am both saddened and disturbed to see that the Scottish government is seeking to scrap the law which prevents someone standing trial more than one for the same crime. I fear that it is not just the 'double jeopardy' law that is at risk here but an important piece of protection for the common man.

Being retrospective, the changes would mean that anyone who has been tried and found not guilty (or I assume the not proven which I believe `scottish law contains) could face a retrial.

The case that has brought this about is that of an already convicted killer, Angus Sinclair, who if the changes come about would stand trial a second time for what is known as the 'World's End' murders. Sinclair walked free (well free on these charges) from the court three years ago as the judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence that he had raped and murdered teenagers Christine Eadie and Helen Scott in 1977.

The police and the girl's families are convinced that Sinclair did the crime and welcome this move, seeing that it could bring a criminal to book as resolve the open cases.

Once again, a determination to bring about 'justice' will, in my opinion, open the door for injustice in that having been tried and found 'not guilty', people will again find themselves in the dock again. Having already been the subject of a trial the seeds will be sown (thanks to publicity and the like) to ensure that the second time around (or third, fourth, . . .?) the desired outcome is achieved.

Surely the key is to have a procurator fiscal (or DPP) whose officers work with the police to bring about sound and correct prosecutions the first time. If the evidence is flimsy or insufficient then surely this needs to be worked on (not like the Midlands and their serious crime chappies used to though) and efforts made to ensure that the prosecution is solid - not keep coming back until the desired outcome appears.

Eight hundred years of good reason for this law about to vanish because of the desire for vengeance rather than justice perhaps?

Friday, 13 August 2010

In the presence of. . .

Heavenly things!

The Persieds were spectacular, the comet was stunning and the company over the week sublime.

It's so easy to forget how valued and prized some people are and the ability some have to lead by example is at times forgotten (or perhaps mislaid) and yet the gems on the skies and closer to home leave us changed just a little more.

I really need to tell those people I treasure that that is the case on a more regular basis. We live by the examples of others and hopefully live the same way for others.

Tell someone they're special today - tomorrow might be too late!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Clouds and things

Last night we were visited by friends and as we sat around the camp fire hoping to repeat the previous night's successes with the Perseids (we saw the comet Tuesday night)along came the clouds.

We knew that above our heads great things were happening and yet this reality was hidden by the local 'noise'. This morning as I thought and prayed about people and their issues and problems I started praying that the local 'noise' would cease.

How often we live as if the things unseen, unheard and unfelt are not their because we let our immediates (and those of others) cloud the truth?


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Free fireworks show

One of my (many) hobbies and interests happens to be astronomy. This time of the year offers the chance to see one of 'God's firework displays'- the Persieds.

The Persieds (a meteor shower that surrounds the Swift-Tuttle) can easily be seen and the peak of this year's activity is the 12/13th August (Thursday/Friday).

For those who know where the constellation. 'Perseus' is, this is where the source (AKA 'the radiant') is.

For those who don't do the astronomy thing, just look up for a few minutes when it's dark and you won't be disappointed. At peak activity you can have one every fifty seconds and with no moon it's more spectacular (as last night proved).

This year's activity is between the 23rd July and the 24th August - but things are best tonight and the Saturday as they diminish quite rapidly.

Have a look - it's spectacular.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Sitting on a train

And around me (the thirteen of us excepted) the travelling world is existing in its own little world. Everyone is plugged into their iPhone and listening to whatever it is that defines their personal world. That is until a cool chappie person gets on with his 'Stingray' monster wheeled bike and his personal music choice playing 'out loud'! How very dare he?

Well, I guess he dares because he can't be heard by anyone else - they're all living in sn exclusive world of their own expensive making. He, being young (and black) can only do the same by means of a naff, treble-rich, transistor radio.

Seems that living in our own space sometimes means we cross or even impinge on the realities (and space) of others! For many though, inhabiting our own space and living in our own choices means we live outside the lives of others too!

This is true of the faith spaces we create for ourselves. Makes me wonder whether I exist among others or with them?


Monday, 9 August 2010

A foretaste of heaven

Sitting around a camp fire, good cheese, good port and excellent friends is merely a foretaste of heaven.

It's great to be able to share theology and fellowship and putting aside differences (few) and bless one another.

Always good to thank God for friends and the blessing they bring in so many ways.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Its great being a Vicar, innit!

"Everyone respects yah. I always knew your life was bliss."
So says the character, Colin, as handcuffed and sitting in the rear of the police car, he and the Vicar are driven off.

I am amazed how the people from outside of any Church affiliation who have watched BBC Two's 'Vicar' see in the flawed and fallible (pathetic even at times) main character a man who they respect and who, for them, is someone to be admired.

No longer are Vicars weird and bumbling plater saints but, through this programme, they have become very human (just like them) people who struggle (just like them) who at the end of the day do what is right (just not like them).. Oddly, to wobble and yet continue and regain a straight(ish) line is something they understand and draw hope from and have respect for.

Funny isn't it?

Or as a lady who engaged me whilst I was clearing the myriad number of cans and bottles that collect in the garden so neatly summed it up. "He's a real person isn't he?"

I know many of us Christians, especially us dog collared Christians, might flinch and despair at the character. But I wonder whether there's more like him than we'd care to own up to, even in ourselves?

Here's an interesting little piece I came across recently from the Daily Mail (Thanks Rachel):

Strip bars, sessions in the pub, and a distinct dislike of bishops: The inner-city vicars who inspired BBC show Rev.

Television imitating life apparently.

Strip bars, sessions in the pub, and a distinct dislike of bishops: The inner-city vicars who inspired BBC show Rev

Daily Mail (femail) article by Jenny Johnston

Call me old-fashioned, but there is something startling about conducting an interview with three vicars and finding that two of them use the F-word in the course of our conversation
That we cover such subjects as smoking, sex, nightclubs, tipples of choice and cigars in the first 20 minutes - with the subjects of transvestites and lap-dancing establishments yet to come - is another matter. 
To be fair, one member of this particular holy trinity does apologise for his language. Father Andrew Wickens - immediately identifiable as a relaxed sort of vicar, on account of his black jeans and natty waistcoat - is, after all, just retelling an anecdote that would seem a bit lame if he had used 'fiddlesticks' in the punchline instead. 
Britain's most irreverent vicars: The Reverend from Shoreditch Church, Paul Turp (middle) with Rev Andrew (right) and Rev Matthew
Britain's most irreverent vicars: The Reverend from Shoreditch Church, Paul Turp (middle) with Rev Andrew (right) and Rev Matthew

He is laughing about a recent encounter with a bride-to-be whose wedding he was to conduct. On her hen night she went to a nightclub, where Fr Andrew, as she would have known him, was too - on a night out with friends, and minus his dog collar. 
'Our eyes met as I walked from the bar struggling to carry three pints and a vodka and lime,' says the vicar of St Botolph's in Boston, Lincolnshire. There was this moment of recognition. 
But when the penny dropped, so did her drink. She gave this shriek, said, "Oh f***, it's the vicar", and her glass went crashing to the ground. We tend to get a lot of that sort of thing. Church-goers still don't expect to see their vicars having pints in nightclubs. I think mine still think that I live under a pew at the back of the church.' 
Oh, you have to laugh. Or do you? His colleagues' rather more liberal use of the Fword inspires a much more nervous sort of reaction. On the face of it, Fr Paul Turp isn't at all modern or trendy, and doesn't look like the sort of vicar who is likely to shock. 

He has been vicar of St Leonard's Church in London's Shoreditch - its bells famously featuring in the nursery rhyme Oranges And Lemons  -  for 27 years. 
Now, you'd be very naive to think that the life of an inner-city vicar these days revolves around garden fetes and afternoon tea. But still, who knew that there would be quite so much swearing involved? 
'I don't feel I have to take my dog collar off before I tell people to f*** off,' says Fr Paul, begging the question of why on earth any vicar would need to say such a thing to anyone. 
He explains that the last people to receive such a roasting were kids who were on the bonnet of his car. Harsh? Not when he explains what they were doing on said bonnet. 
We can't possibly say in a family newspaper, but he does, and, again, it's not the sort of word you ever expect to hear coming out of a vicar's mouth. 'See,' he says. 'If we told it as it really was, no one would believe us. It would certainly never get on the telly.' 
Little wonder the scriptwriters of a new BBC drama about the clergy 'sat scribbling furiously' when they shared a few pints with this lot. Fathers Paul and Andrew, and their colleague, Fr Matthew Catterick, were engaged as advisers on the comedy, Rev, which is being hailed as The Vicar Of Dibley for our age (meaning that it's about as far from The Vicar Of Dibley as you can get). 
Rev follows the fortunes of the Rev Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander), a well-intentioned and warm-hearted man of the cloth, who is posted to a crumbling inner-city parish peopled by drug addicts, weirdos and 'cassock chasers' who find his sermons arousing.

The Vicar Of Dibley for our age: Tom Hollander stars as Reverend Adam Smallbone - who has been promoted from a sleepy rural parish to a busy inner-city church
The Vicar Of Dibley for our age: Tom Hollander stars as Reverend Adam Smallbone in the BBC show

He's an imperfect sort of vicar - 'an anti-hero', volunteers Fr Matthew cheerily  -  who gets drunk, smokes, talks to God while sitting on the loo, and lies awake at night wondering if it is right to swear at his parishioners - all 20 of them.

Adam is, frankly, a lonely soul, a man adrift in a modern world that wasn't really designed for C of E vicars of the sort we might recognise. He has a wife, Alex (Peep Show's Olivia Colman) who works as a solicitor, doesn't even think of baking cake and has quite a lot of sexual fantasies that involve lifts. 
Given that these three vicars have told me that pretty much all the storylines have had their roots in reality, this is one that naturally raises eyebrows.

Fr Matthew of St Augustine's in Wembley, north-west London - the only one of these three who has a wife - goes a little pink and admits that the scriptwriters were 'extremely interested' in what his missus has to say about the lot of the modern vicar.

'The truth is that an awful lot of my colleagues are married to women who are lawyers and GPs. We only take home £20,000 a year, so you really need to have a high-earning wife if you are an inner-city vicar.'

So how true to life is Rev? Very, according to these three. Adam, the TV vicar, is pretty much all of them 'wrapped into one, flawed, character'. They all, they confess, like a drink. Fr Paul - clearly the most maverick of the lot - confesses that the scene where Adam visits a lap-dancing club came from him. 
'It's hard to maintain friendships when you do what we do. People want you to be their vicar, not their friend'
'Oh, yes, there is a very well run lap-dancing establishment just across the road here. I've been in there with my dog collar on, to save souls and raise money for the church at the same time. They're very generous with donations. Obviously, I try to avert my eyes.' 

When it comes to comedy material for Rev, it's clear that these three could tell stories to keep the scriptwriters going for ten series. They pretty much fall over each other to share their funeral stories. 

'When vicars get together, we inevitably try to outdo each other with funeral stories,' explains Fr Andrew, as Fr Paul launches into a lengthy exposition about a coffin 'which was actually leaking'. Then there's the one about the widow who spat at the coffin. 
'Then she said, "Good f***ing riddance, you miserable b******. Burn in Hell". I had some sympathy  -  the deceased was a dangerous man  -  but they don't teach you how to handle that one in theological college.' 

And yet where Rev truly packs a punch is when the pathos soars above the comedy. All three nod in recognition at Adam's loneliness and frustration as he grapples with a seemingly impossible job. 'There's one storyline where he realises he has no friends,' says Fr Matthew. 
'I identified very much with that. It's hard to maintain friendships when you do what we do. People want you to be their vicar, not their friend, so you can end up surrounding yourself with other clergy, and it all becomes very churchy. Sometimes, you just want to go and have a pint. It can be a very lonely existence.' 

The idea for the programme came when Tom Hollander got talking to a family friend who found his congregation was suddenly, and bafflingly, swelled by young families.
All, it soon transpired, were hoping to secure a place for their children at the local C of E school, which had just been given a glowing Ofsted report, and they needed a church reference. All three of our vicars have been there. 

Britain's most talked about new TV show: (L to R) Simon Mcburney as Archdeacon, Miles Jupp as Nigel, Hollander as Adam, Olivia Colman as Alex, Ellen Thomas as Adoha and Steve Evets as Colin
Britain's most talked about new TV show: (L to R) Simon Mcburney as Archdeacon, Miles Jupp as Nigel, Hollander as Adam, Olivia Colman as Alex, Ellen Thomas as Adoha and Steve Evets as Colin

'The first time it happened, I was shocked,' admits Fr Paul. 'This lovely family with two girls attended the church for a year, so when they asked me to confirm that they were churchgoers, so the children could go to the church school, I was happy to oblige. 

Once they got in, though, they just stopped coming. Overnight. I was floored. I thought, "Am I that gullible? How did I not see that?" You have to become very good at assessing characters in this role, but it's easy to become cynical. Adam says a line like, "People always want something from you". That can be very true.' 

Rev is filmed at St Leonard's, one of the country's most bleakly beautiful buildings. Situated on the junction of two of London's busiest roads, it's steeped in history. Shakespeare is said to have worshipped here, but these days the flock is the homeless and drug addicts. Worshippers? Less so. You could fit half the East End of London into the church. 

To be honest, much of their account of what being a real-life vicar is like makes you wonder how the Church of England has stayed in existence. Fr Matthew says that of all his contemporaries from theological college, only half are still practising vicars because of the stresses involved.

'It's hard when you realise that you are lying awake worrying about stones, rather than souls. What we do shouldn't be about keeping the physical buildings going, but so much of it is, and Rev conveys that brilliantly.'

What it also does is shine a light on the 'politics' involved in being a vicar. These three squirm when I ask how the show has gone down with their archdeacons, given that the fictional archdeacon has more than an air of Peter Mandelson about him - and is equally unwelcome when he wafts in from his air-conditioned taxi, demanding exact bums-on-seats figures. 

'Ah yes. I did have an email from my retired archdeacon. He was disappointed, but I did stress to him that this was a comic invention,' says Fr Matthew. Not that much of an invention, though, says Fr Paul, who doesn't seem to much like archdeacons. 

'Luckily, in real life, archdeacons don't tend to just pop in. When they do come, it's a trauma, though. Mostly when you get the letter informing you of the visitation, you want to wet yourself.' 
'I don't think the public would accept something as sanitised as The Vicar Of Dibley. Things have changed'
Then there are the bishops. 'I don't like bishops,' he says, 'Every year you have to fill in forms, and in them my bishop is described as my line manager, which I loathe. Traditionally, one of the roles of the bishop is to provide pastoral care for his priests.
Well, I don't have a pastor, I don't have a friend. I could not just phone up my bishop and ask for help. My bishop is my manager. That's not right at all.' 

By now, Fr Paul has stopped making quips. He confesses that, a few years ago, the stresses of dealing with all of this - the bishop, the crumbling building, the drug addicts for whom he has assumed responsibility - brought him to the brink of a breakdown. 
The revelation makes Adam's fictional wobbles seem not so funny. 'I came very close to having clinical depression, where you get up in the morning and just want to face the wall,' he says.
'I didn't tell my superiors, of course, because I thought they would use it to get rid of me. And, luckily, I had parishioners who covered for me. But it made me appreciate what a struggle it can be.' 
Of course, the truth is that the modern-day clergy - for all their gilded 'more tea, vicar' reputations - see more of the real world than most of us. It was right here, outside St Leonard's doors, that a 'bloody great bomb' exploded on a double decker bus in 1995. Fr Paul dealt with the immediate fall-out, and the aftermath, in the form of ethnic tensions. 

In Boston, Fr Andrew led the funeral service for a 14-year-old boy who was stabbed by a classmate. Fr Matthew cites 9/11 as the reason why, in TV terms, Rev had to be 'much grittier than anything that has gone before. 'I don't think the public would accept something as sanitised as The Vicar Of Dibley. Things have changed,' he says. 'There are issues like how you deal with your Muslim neighbours that have to be addressed. I think Rev does this, with humour, yes, but also with a punch.' 
What's extraordinary, perhaps, is that all three of these vicars still love the job. 'Oh, it's difficult, and there are days when you want to kick the cat, and you do, but it's still a remarkable privilege to do it. You are with people at the best and worst of times,' says Fr Andrew. 

What do their parishoners make of their frankness, though? One of the most interesting questions posed by Rev is whether we actually want to regard our clergy as human. Do we want to know that our vicars swear and drink and have sex  -  sometimes even with women who don't bake cakes? 
'That's a very good question,' says Fr Paul. 'I'm not sure people do. But the fact is that we are human and it's only by being seen as human that we can actually make a difference.

'When I go out to remonstrate with some youths, they have to see that there is a real person under the garb. Otherwise, to them, I'm just a t*** in a strange robe who does weird things with bread and wine. And what use is that to anyone?'

Friday, 6 August 2010

Rev - Episode Six

The final episode of Rev was rather interesting in that the hero, Revd Smallbone, having been given a really rough review by a mystery worshipper went into a period of self-doubt and had a major 'wobble'.

Indeed such was this 'wobble' that instead of being out 'visiting' (as he'd told his hapless Reader he was going to do) instead he was found at home sitting in his boxers, smoking, drinking and (according to one of our parishioners, the act that went 'just too far') eating Pot Noodle!

Not only that but being forced to choose between cigarettes and Jaffa cakes (no contest as I see it!) he decides to pay for the cigarettes and steal the Jaffas! He compounded the effect of this pit of self-despair (and destruction?) by advising a caller who had rung over someone who was having trouble breathing to call a doctor and put his energies into trying to indulge in a bit of extra-marital endeavour with the head teacher of his CofE school.

This was an episode that moved me greatly. I recognised much from the actions and attitudes of colleagues who have, at times, struggled (and even fallen) and there were elements of burnout, stress, frustration and doubt. In fact, when Castle Vicarage came under siege regarding flowers, the cleric responded with some honest yet rather inappropriate language. Same too when the ever present Colin told him to be honest - the honesty wasn't the sort that he (or indeed others) really wanted to hear. Even the archdeacon came in for a bit of a pop from the depressed and gloomy Vicar (and he did so well  in this situation as he did when Colin was threatened with expulsion from the church building).

I felt the pain and saw the humanity and frailty that is so often just an inch away from the reality of ministry for us all. And I do mean 'us all' - we might not swear, smoke, get drunk, offend church members, attempt to indulge in extra-marital affairs or insult the archdeacon, but there is an element within this episode which I recognise in myself and just about every cleric I have met (at the wrong moment).

I found the man to be flawed, fallible and broken and just as I assumed that he was about to hit the rocks and that the man was heading for the door, Isaiah makes an appearance and he is reminded of his calling and his ordination. Faced with the bedside of a dying woman he realises that 'up for it or not' the need is there and the calling needs to be engaged with. Self and self-pity have to be put aside and the cost of discipleship, even for this flawed and fallen disciple, is denying self. If this is what the Clapham omnibus traveller sees in this comedy then some great service has been done. Saying the right thing and being the right person is not always what comes easily, certainly not all the time anyway!

I find in this man a different walk to mine in expression, outworking and living it and yet from it have learned something.

Not a lot of laughs this week - in fact to be honest this episode touched heart and brought tears. Not a man I might know and yet within all that was there the recognition that such a man, were this to be reality (which of course it isn't) would indeed be a brother. Perhaps an exercise in reality (for some I've met) and an opportunity for being humble, honest and sad wrapped in a sheet emblazoned with the word 'comedy'. What a way to finish the first series - felt like I'd been sitting in on a pastoral training seminar!

How would we deal with a brother (or sister) in such a situation? Where would the gentle correction of Galatians be applied and how would corrections, discipline and discipleship be brought to bear such that a ministry continued and those who had been touched were still privileged to be so?

Not so much a funny story but a reflection of a funny old calling perhaps (and the very real struggles some have keeping it on the road).


Caption Contest - 15

Here's one for you witty people out there!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Grave Times in the CofE

So begins the letter I have received from a number of bishops who oppose the addition of women to the episcopate. As I have often said, the concern here is (generally) related to ecclesiology rather than, as some silly people would have it, sexism or misogyny.

The issue of unity, especially Roman Catholic unity, is of paramount import here and as we, the CofE, are a reformed Catholic church, the links and relationships have a special place for some. What is sad is that there has been little or no generosity shown towards those who are Anglo catholic or conservative evangelicals and so exclusion by ignoring is to be the hallmark it seems.

I hear some who speak of redressing the situation women found themselves in for years as they were excluded - but when did Christian become a religion who were more concerned with 'settling scores' rather than turning cheeks?

I hear some who are fearful that adding women to the episcopate is to erode the structure and fidelity regarding God's word and will lead us to liberal mayhem (here they point to the Episcopalian church in the US).

Some have already left the parochial life of the CofE and have gone into other areas of work, secular and religious, whilst other will undoubtedly take up the path that leads to Rome and the Ordinariate.

The fifteen bishops state that whilst they are "United in their belief that the CofE is mistaken in its actions, " there is obvious some division over the response that should be taken regarding it.

Would that the Synod had passed the measure to give some charity and allow conscience to be respected - sadly, I am sure that had this been an issue on another side of the church's population this would have been the case.

Regardless of your vies, please pray for those who are struggling and seeing their home within the CofE taken away from them by law, and pray for charity and grace, for I see little of it in this area.

I have included the letter in the post preceding this.

An Open Letter from FiF Bishops

To the priests and deacons who signed the Open Letter
Dear Brothers and Sisters, July 2010
‘God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you, but I will tell you the good and proper way.’ (1 Samuel 12:23)

These are grave times in the Church of England especially for those of us unable in good conscience to accept that any particular church has the authority to admit women to the episcopate. While we certainly accept the good faith of those who wish to make this change believing it to be God’s will, we cannot rejoice with them, not least because of the disastrous cost to Catholic unity.

Our concerns are not only about sacramental assurance though that is of profound importance. If the legislation now proposed passes, it will not provide room for our tradition to grow and flourish. We will be dependent on a Code of Practice yet to be written, and sadly our experience of the last almost twenty years must make us wonder whether even such an inadequate provision will be honoured in the long term.

Neither the Report of the Revision Committee nor the legislation itself shows a proper understanding of our reservations, however carefully these have been presented through the consultation process and in the College and House of bishops. It remains a deep disappointment to us that the Church at large did not engage with the excellent Rochester Report and paid scant attention to the Consecrated Women report sponsored by Forward in Faith.

We must now accept that a majority of members of the Church of England believe it right to proceed with the ordination of women as bishops, and that a significant percentage of those in authority will not encourage or embrace with enthusiasm the traditional integrity or vocations within it. Nor is it their intention or desire to create a structure which genuinely allows the possibility of a flourishing mission beyond this generation.

However, the closeness of the vote on the Archbishops’ amendment for co ordinate jurisdiction, concerns though there are about its adequacy, suggest at least a measure of disquiet in the majority about proceeding without a provision acceptable to traditionalists. The Catholic group fought valiantly on the floor of synod and we are grateful for that, and while many in the Church and press are speaking as if the legislation is now passed, final Synodical approval is still some way off.

Whatever happens in the Synod, there are some Anglo Catholics, including in our own number, who are already looking at, indeed are resolved to join the Ordinariate as the place where they can find a home in which to live and proclaim their Christian faith, in communion with the Holy Father, yet retaining something of the blessings they have known and experienced in the Anglican tradition. Of course the Ordinariate is a new thing, and not all of us are trailblazers or can imagine what it might be like. Some will undoubtedly want to wait and see how that initiative develops before making a decision.

Yet others will make their individual submission and find their future as Roman Catholics.

Were the present proposals not to be substantially amended or defeated, many more of us will need to consider seriously these options.

A number will remain, perhaps even reluctantly because of personal circumstances, family loyalties, even financial necessity, but with a deep sense of unease about the long term future, an unease that is surely well founded. There are faithful Catholic clergy and lay people, though deeply opposed to the likely Synodical decision who cannot currently imagine themselves being anywhere else but within the Church of England. They wonder how they can stay, yet cannot imagine leaving their much loved church and parish. They do not want to be forced out of the Church they love and will persevere where they are, whatever the theological or ecclesiological ambiguities, and seek God’s blessing on all they do.

Those who are not actively seeking a home elsewhere must work to defeat the currently proposed legislation. It is essential that traditionalists engage in the debate and discussion in their diocese and are active in the election process for the next quinquennium of the General Synod when the two thirds majority in each House will be required if the legislation is to pass. Whatever our individual futures, and however disheartened we might feel, the Church of England needs strong catholic hearts and voices.

The text quoted at the beginning of this letter was the one used by John Keble in his famous Assize sermon, often regarded as the starting point of the Oxford Movement. It seems remarkably apposite, and gives a clue to an appropriate attitude of heart for this process: prayerful and gracious, but clear.

We are all bishops united in our belief that the Church of England is mistaken in its actions. However, we must be honest and say we are not united as to how we should respond to these developments.

Nevertheless we are clear that each of the possibilities we have outlined has its own integrity and is to be honoured. We are resolved to respect the decisions made by laity, bishops, priests and deacons of our integrity, and call on you to do the same. It would be a sad and destructive thing indeed if we allowed our unhappiness and wondering to drift into unguarded or uncharitable criticism of those who in good conscience take a different path from our own. We must assume the best motives in one another, and where there are partings let them be with tears and the best wishes of Godspeed.

You will we hope know of the clergy meetings in both provinces to take place in late September when there will be opportunities for discussion and an exchange of views about the future. Be assured of our prayers as you reflect about how best to respond to the challenges which face us, and we ask your prayers for us too as we seek to be faithful to the Lord, and to the Faith once delivered.

Please share the contents of this letter with your people, and indeed with any who might be interested to know of it.

The Rt Revd John Hind, Bishop of Chichester
The Rt Revd Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Europe
The Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn
The Rt Revd Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough
The Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley
The Rt Revd John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham
The Rt Revd Peter Wheatley, Bishop of Edmonton
The Rt Revd John Goddard, Bishop of Burnley
The Rt Revd Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet
The Rt Revd Tony Robinson , Bishop of Pontefract
The Rt Revd John Ford, Bishop of Plymouth
The Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham
The Rt Revd Martin Warner, Bishop of Whitby
The Rt Revd Robert Ladds
The Rt Revd Lindsay Urwin OGS

Monday, 2 August 2010

Sarah's Law - some thoughts

Having recently been drawn into discussion regarding 'Sarah's Law' I thought i'd muse over my feelings (positive and negative) regarding it.

Generally I don't regard this as a positive way forward for a number of reasons. What it does do, for me, is to highlight the fact that those who should know, should know, and should make sure that they know and act correctly regarding that information and the management of people who have been placed on the sex offender's register.

Remembering the outcome when morons, confusing the words paediatrician and paedophile, daubed the home of a paediatrician in Newport with the word Paedo, driving her form home and job, a few years back I have concerns about putting information like this into the public domain. The potential of informing a few but fuelling many is too great and has the potential to become something for the vigilante types among us rather than bring about added levels of protection for our children.

Perhaps it's part of the dangerous play and the fear of strangers that has become part of our societal psyche that is being fed here. As a parent, I too have these fears and yet am aware that the danger is small, probably smaller than we have been encouraged to believe, and is more often than not closer to home rather than strangers!

It says something rather concern-making about our society when a person is encouraged to check on a new partner to make sure that they aren't a paedophile. In the old days people became sure of the person they were going to live with because there was a period of time getting to know them and their background and the like! Sadly though, this is no longer the case as the relationships and muli-fathered family units I happen across clearly demonstrate.

I have encountered situations where people using the 'paedophile' route to hit back at the person who has replaced them (as a totally destroyed home not far from here bears witness) in a relationship. The potential for adding to this is only increased by 'Sarah's Law'. Of course, even without it the whispers and accusations will continue but anything that helps fuel them is no help at all. Obviously the 'there's no smoke without fire' is at times a very dangerous adage.

The 'right' to check on the background of people who might come into regular contact with their kids wouldn't be so bad if the information was restricted but I have been told about person who was'being checked out' by a parent and if they told me I'm assuming they've told others too. This is an obvious means of starting rumours and putting innocent people into the frame.

I have been told that people asking will be instructed to keep the outcome of the enquiries to themselves - but I doubt that this will be enforceable or maintained and this does make it a vigilante or smear attack charter. Quoting the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), Sir Hugh Orde, who thinks that it would be, "Realistic to assume that people would keep information to themselves." What planet does the man live on, certainly not the one I'm inhabiting!

Some have tried to sell me this scheme on the grounds that it brings a 'positive' in that parents can check on people who might have unsupervised access to their kids. I was under the impression that no one who has not had a CRB check could have unsupervised access to children. If this is not the case, what purpose do the thirty plus CRB disclosures I've had done over the past few years say and what merit do they have (I have my views on this - but that's for another day!)?

As far as I am aware, no one has access to my children (supervised or unsupervised) without having a CRB check - so this must (should?) be a rather fallacious 'positive'.

Keeping our children safe is what should be happening by the way the register is managed and maintained and by the vigilance of parents and others in responsibility.

Having been involved with situations where sex offenders were 'lost' and where checks and reporting protocols were allowed to slip through administrative pressures such that people who were a danger were allowed to vanish back into society, sadly at times to act against children (and vulnerable adults too), I see a need for proper management and not this misplaced disclosure. Selling it on the grounds that it might save one child is understandable but not if by using it one innocent adult life is lost and this, through the action of self-appointed vigilantes has been, and probably will again, be the case.

Rev - Please Sir I want some more!

I have to say that as the end of the series approaches I am one of those who hopes that we will see a second series of Rev.

Thanks to iPlayer I have managed to see all five and have enjoyed the issues and the reality that appears and find that laughing at the Revd Smallbone and his situations is very much a case of laughing at myself. I am obviously not alone as I now find myself addressed as 'vicarge'!

Devoid of the banal (yet always amusing) slapstick of Dibley and far away (temporally and societally) from the Derek Nimmo 'Gas and Gaiters' gem we have something that is well written and intelligent to boot and this is obviously a good formula as some two million people watch it. Apparently it's BBC Two's highest rated new comedy and has had even bigger audiences than Big Brother(whatever that is!). Even Rowan likes it!

We have the funny side of life that is ministry with its struggles, the ever-present need to maintain our integrity and the reality of prayerful and thoughtful ministry all lumped into one. As one who thinks that the daily office is an essential and yet struggle when it becomes merely observance rather than relationship, I love Smallbone's encounters with God. The 'Oh God, any chance of a bit of a hand down?" coupled with a the perpetual naivety few of us would wish to own up to.

Please Auntie (Beeb) I want some more!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Church is merely People!

Following on the Anne Rice affair for the final thought I have to echo the thoughts of a commentator of this blog. Anne appears to say that whilst she wants to remove herself from being a Christian yet wishes to continue to follow Christ.

I don't see a problem with this in that this is what many people attempt to do, but have to add the reality that those who seek to walk the path of Christ and follow in His footsteps on their own rarely (I'd say never but I'm sure someone would prove me wrong) manage to remain Christian in anything but name.

A general rule: We cannot be Christians in isolation.

Once we meet with others we become 'Church' and so, regardless of denomination or name, to walk alone is folly and fails but to be 'Church' is the way to live as Christ calls us.

Once we do this we need to ensure that the walk we make corporately is sound and is Christ's teachings and not the whims of the bigger mouths or the loudest voices. This means that once we have decided to be Church with others, we need to ensure that the body (that is the believers) and sound and being led soundly. This is where shopping for a church comes in = never accept a church as Church until you've made sure that is it sound and trustworthy.

Once we meet as Church then we should be helped to keep our walk straight. This might mean being disciplined and as we are taught (and corrected if necessary) we become more like Christ and become disciples (and discipled). If one finds a church where 'anything (or everything) is acceptable' it probably ain't 'proper Church'.

So there it is - hopefully the lady will continue her walk with Christ, realise that the Christian world has as many dodgy, flawed, fallen and pretty disgusting types as the world that (largely) seeks to ignore it and will carry on growing and emulating Christ.