Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Back To School

This morning I went back to school!  I’d been invited in to talk to Year 3 (7&8 year olds) about ‘my job’ – part of their weekly RE lesson.

It’s always a little daunting to ‘walk in another person’s moccasins’ and be invited onto ‘their’ territory.  And that’s how it felt this morning.

I was welcomed to school by smiling faces in the office and asked to sign the visitors’ book and wear an identification lanyard around my neck. I was then shown into what is still, for me at least, hallowed and mysterious ground – ‘The Staff Room’.  As I walked into it this morning I ceased to be someone in my early fifties and regressed, once more, into a nervous student from Mrs Palmer’s class!

Staff Rooms are where ‘other’ people go – not me!  Well, I was made a cup of tea by a kind teacher who said ‘you look absolutely terrified’!  And I sat and observed teachers buzzing in and out looking at the two enormous white boards with all the daily notices written on them – it was obvious that no two days are quite the same with things being both added and subtracted from the published timetable. 

The noise outside in the playground was rising to a crescendo as more students were arriving the closer the clock got to 9am.  The School Secretary (who seemed to me to be a really important figure!) came in and gave the teachers a message from the Head – sounded a bit like a three line whip.  And then at 8.55am the place became deserted – an old fashioned school bell had been sounded outside and it was registration time – so all hands on deck.

I waited a little while and then wandered down the corridor arriving at the back of Year 3’s class at the prescribed time.  To my slight shock we waited a few minutes before a second Year 3 group joined us – now there were about sixty eager faces looking up at me. 

I showed them some objects – including a chalice.  I asked if they knew what a chalice was.  Back came two surprising answers: the first student thought it was a mini font and the second answer (which I admit made me chuckle inside) suggested it might be a ‘pulpit’!!

We looked at some slides of ‘what I do’ and then some dressing up using the various stoles I use in liturgical colours.  We ended with a PowerPoint story of the Lost Sheep.

It was such a privilege to be there – the group never stopped asking questions – and I realised, maybe a little too late, that dressing up gets them rather over excited!  All too quickly it was 10am and time for ‘Singing Assembly’.  As they made their way out various students came up to me and told me about their christening or the fact they knew the story of the Lost Sheep because, surprise surprise, they have it at ‘their’ church too! Lovely.

Last week at our COTHA Lent Course we were talking about vocations.  Well I have nothing but respect for those who have found their vocation in teaching.  Every day they help create the best of environments in which these young lives can explore and grow.

I won’t forget this morning but I’m glad, in a way, that I don’t have to go back to school tomorrow.  Neither, for that matter, will I forget the answer to one of my opening questions to Year 3: did anyone know a more common name for the clerical collar I was wearing?  Up went a hand from a boy half way back – ‘a dog lead’ he said!!  I think he'll go far!

With best wishes,


Thursday, 20 March 2014

Two nights out in London

This week, after an early supper, I’ve walked to the station and caught one of the evening trains to London on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

The first visit was a much anticipated one and the tickets were purchased back in December.  It was to the Gala Opening Concert to mark the re-instatement of the organ at the Southbank’s Royal Festival Hall.  I’ve been looking forward to this event for weeks yet came away somewhat disappointed and frustrated by a concert that, for me at least, never really took off.  Instead of selecting works at the more popular end of the repertoire the programmers opted instead for a more, how shall I put it, ‘obscure’ evening.  The premier of two works by Peter Maxwell Davies and John Tavener left me cold (actually that’s a somewhat toned down version of what I first wrote!).

I’m not sure what we do with disappointments and the frustrations, even anger, they can bring.  Thinking about it seems somehow appropriate in Lent because surely Jesus faced so many disappointing moments during his last journey to Jerusalem and throughout his final week in the city.

My second ‘night out’ was to Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church to listen to The Revd Dr. Helen Dare deliver the annual Baptist Union Whitley Lecture.  I’m not so sure I was quite looking forward to it as much as the previous night’s organ concert. was a super evening listening to an erudite minister talk about the way we cope with diversity in our congregations and how we might continue to ‘walk together’ even when holding different views and insights.  I came out sensing the whole evening had been a huge privilege.

So, it strikes me you never can tell!  Two evenings and in some ways they turned out ‘the wrong way round’!

For all that I’m glad this evening to be leaving the Oyster card behind and instead walk to church for the third session of our Lent Course on the film The King’s Speech.

Best wishes,


Thursday, 13 March 2014

I agree with Angela!

We often think of ‘Wilderness’ during Lent – being in difficult places and facing tough options.

Well in a way The Church can be a tough place to be and contemplating its future could send any of us into something of a ‘wilderness mindset’. 

Over the last four weeks the Church Times has done exactly that with a series on the ‘health’ of The Church of England.  Its diagnosis is that Anglican life in this country is very ‘poorly’ – certainly unlikely to survive in its current form for more than the next two decades.

But then none of us are.  We now have a missing three generations in most of our congregations whatever their denominational labels.

A natural reaction to all this is angst and guilt.  Neither is particularly helpful.  We are anxious that a community we love and through which we have been nurtured appears to be dwindling and guilty with the idea that if only we had tried something ‘different’ maybe the future would look more upbeat.

Some churches or authors promote formulas for growth.  To ‘get them in’ we must sing more songs, dress down and become informal.

Such strategies are not to be overly caricatured because they have often been implemented prayerfully and with great sincerity.

Yet there is no guarantee in any of this.  Only the other week I preached at a church which has seen significant numerical and inter-generational growth over the last decade – there wasn’t a suit, hymnbook or organ in the building! Yet in recent years, through youngsters and families moving away through natural circumstances, their numbers have begun to decline. 

That’s why I’m so grateful to a column written by Angela Tilby, Canon of Christchurch, Oxford, from The Church Times of 21st February 2014.

Reflecting on her newspaper’s CofE health check series she wrote:

The Church’s current drive for growth seems obvious to those who accept the stark paradox of either growth or extinction; but the growth strategy does not seem to be under-pinned by any conviction other than that of keeping the institutional Church in existence.

What matters more is whether the Christian faith is true.  If it is true, it is worth our deepest commitment, loyalty and passion; if not, however useful it may be, we might as well give up, and pour its resources into social services.

That gets a loud ‘Amen’ from me – words I feel I need to hear whenever I look at the future and sense the challenge of ‘Wilderness’.

Actually, for the most part, I’ve stopped looking into the crystal ball attempting to predict the future of my own church community.  Instead I’m committed in seeking to be as authentic as possible in this place and for this time.  I do that because I believe this calling, this ministry, this community; this search for truth is quite simply ‘worth it’!

Best wishes,


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

A Great Sermon!

I’ve just watched a recording of our nation’s Memorial Service to Nelson Mandela held at Westminster Abbey last Monday – a really uplifting and moving occasion.

Many aspects of the Abbey service hit the spot – not least the rhythmic singing of the Soweto Gospel Choir, the beautiful prayers led by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the down to earth and humorous tribute by veteran Anti-apartheid campaigner Peter Hain.

However, for me, the most poignant moment was the splendid and grace-filled sermon of Desmond Tutu.  After so many words already spoken at the service I wondered what more this iconic prelate could say as his small, slightly crouching body ascended the pulpit. I need not have been concerned!

The former Archbishop of Cape Town chided the politicians of the past who stood on the sidelines whilst South Africa struggled and thanked – and no one says ‘thank you’ more sincerely than Desmond Tutu – thanked all those ordinary people who through the 70’s and 80’s and early 90’s campaigned for a totally politically inclusive South Africa.

Yet the thrust of his tribute – which by now was very much a sermon – was the theme that although Mandela entered his prison years as an angry young man he emerged from them  magnanimous – a leader ready to exemplify and strive for ‘reconciliation’.  This was the style of Madiba’s Presidency and Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission – all part of the story why South Africa has become a Rainbow Nation rather than an institutionally divided one.

With his eyes closed and his voice now no more than a whisper, this gracious servant of God, Desmond Tutu, concluded his wonderful sermon by reminding us that every single person on earth has the capacity for GOODNESS.

I love sermons!  I love the power, gentleness, provocation and encouragement that words can bring!  I love the touch of The Spirit on them and their ability to move us to both celebrate and strive for all that is best about living and loving.

So today, on this first day of Lent, I give thanks to God for the life of President Mandela and the words of Archbishop Tutu – both touching our hearts with the love and grace of God.

With best wishes,


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