What do we pray for?

When we pray for people who are ill or bereaved it can be tempting to pray that God will be with them.  However, as Joan Chittister points out:

The Hasidim tell the story of the preacher who preached over and over, “Put God into your life; put God into your life.” But the holy rabbi of the village said, “Our task is not to put God into our lives. God is already there. Our task is simply to realize that.”

Instead I pray that people may know the presence of God in their lives.


After a long wait the Church of England has published new safeguarding procedures, and as a Diocese and Parish we are adopting them.  They are going to make our processes considerably more onerous, and I know that there are those in the Parish who don’t see why we have to follow them, but if we look at the recent history of the church nationally it is imperative that we protect children and vulnerable adults in church

If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Yesterday I spoke about this at one of our churches, expecting some push back, and received very little.  However, it is the church with the largest proportion of people in work, and of course safeguarding as we now know it has only been with us for fewer than 20 years, so for many in our other congregations safeguarding (and Health & Safety) has not formed a significant part of their working lives as it has for those still in work.

It will take us a while to work through all of our own procedures (what is done when and by whom) and it will no doubt impact how quickly we can do things, and some of the regular hirers of our halls.  However, the choice we have is in how we implement the new procedures – not whether we do – and that is right and proper.  There have been too many problems in the wider church to say that things were OK before, or that we can trust people.

We are still working out how this will all work, but if you have any concerns about this please do not hesitate to contact me.


How do you know your vocation?

Most of the clergy I know (and I know quite a lot [puzzle – one day I became really close friends with over 20 clergy – how?]) ran away from their call to ordination for varying lengths of time.  There were some really bizarre stories – Lesley thinks mine was one of the best – I went to a vocations event to prove I didn’t have a vocation – and look where that got me!

Joan Chittister writes:

The question, of course, is how do we recognize the Will of God? How do we tell the will of God from our own? How do we know when to resist the tide and confront the opposition and when to embrace the pain and accept the bitterness because “God wills it for us.” The answer lies in the fact that the Jesus who said “I have come not to do my own will but the will of the One who sent me” is also the Jesus who prayed in Gethsemane, “Let this chalice pass from me:” The will of God for us is what remains of a situation after we try without stint and pray without ceasing to change it.

(Answer – I was really good friends with over 20 people who became clergy on the same day!).

At our ordination, once we had arrived at the Cathedral we were told that was it – they were locking the door, and we were going to be ordained whether we liked it or not, and I know one very good priest who says they would have run away without that.

Finding our vocation (whether it is to ordination or something else) is not easy, it is not certain; we have to step out in faith and listen to the wisdom of others along the way, and then, when we own it there are times when we are still not sure; but there are other times when we are absolutely certain that we are where God wants us to be doing what God wants us to do.

Am I my brothers keeper?

This article made me wonder about the theology behind caring for others.

There is a long strand through the Bible about care for the stranger the widow and the orphan, and dealing unfairly is condemned in Amos.  It is perhaps easy to see the need for regulation to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  Who would choose to live in a fire trap, unless they either did not know, or could not afford anything else?  In either case it is an abuse of the figurative stranger, widow or orphan to let them.

However, we also have a God who gives us “free will”.  Where does this fit into the equation?  Whenever “free will” is invoked by politicians it is usually used to mean you can always earn more money to have what you want – and if you don’t earn it then it is your own fault – perhaps I caricature, but I fear not :(.  This is not the free will that God wants for us, nor is it caring for the stranger, the widow and the orphan.

Who are we thanking?

Yesterday we had a thanksgiving service for our stewardship campaign at which all the pledges were brought back.  People had been saying, particularly in one of the churches,  that they didn’t want to report what they already did because they didn’t do it for thanks, they did it as service.

And I agree – the for me the thanksgiving service is thanking God for all that he has given us – the gifts and skills with which to serve him, the opportunities to do so, and the things that he makes out of our meagre gifts.

Since we have been in the parish we have been trying to use the gifts that have been available, rather than coming up with a cunning plan and looking for people to carry it out.  It has meant that some things have ceased, but also that other things that we wouldn’t have dreamt of have begun.  We want everybody to discover their calling, and to find a way to exercise it – it does mean that we don’t know about everything that is going on – but that is a good thing.

But it also never does any harm to say thank you to people.

Tim Farron

Today I feel sorry for Tim Farron, and I feel sorry for our society.  I do not agree with his theology, but if it becomes impossible for people holding those views to take part in politics whilst also holding these views as well

I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.

then we are the poorer for it.  And if the following quote is true

Farron’s problem was not that his creed could never be squared with the policies of his party – there is a long and noble history of liberal Christianity. His problem was that the culture of contemporary liberalism is avowedly secular.

again we are diminished as a society.

As Tim Farron himself said:

I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.

You may say “so what”, but if as a church we are trying to find our way to good disagreement for ourselves should we not also desire it for society at large?

Of course people are entitled to vote for who they like, and parties have to adapt to that – but wouldn’t it be great if people were able to deal with the nuances of two conflicting beliefs in a candidate/leader and look at their record rather than the insinuations that are thrown at them?


Calling Something that it isn’t

You may think that this is about the political situation, but it isn’t!

Our Diocese are reviewing Parish Share, the way in which money is collected for ministry in the Diocese, and more widely (as a rich Diocese we give to the Central Church to redistribute to poorer dioceses).  It is not a comment on my view of the rights or wrongs of either the new scheme or the old; instead it is a complaint about the way that it is described.

The new proposal describes itself as being split in two, what you get and what you give, and it is this description that has annoyed me.  The what you get is to include the cost of Archdeacons (and there are no doubt plenty of jokes to be made here), curates training, and other elements which are thought to be for the benefit of the parish.  So far, so good.  However, these costs are going to be allocated on the basis of what is called “core clergy”, that is those paid by the diocese from Parish Share.  Sounds fair?  Except, employed clergy paid directly by a parish don’t count, employed youth workers don’t count, SSMs don’t count, OLMs don’t count, LLMs don’t count – and all of these have been trained and incur support costs.

The implications are that a parish with one incumbent, and a parish with one incumbent, an associate priest paid for by the parish, a youth worker, two SSMs and two LLMs will pay the same for what they get – even though they are “getting” very different levels of support.

This post is about the fact that it is called “what you get” – it isn’t, and calling it that is misleading.

Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”

Principle v Compromise?

This post has been prompted by the political situation in the UK, but it applies equally to the Scottish Episcopal Church who have just voted to allow gay weddings (this article was written before the vote was passed, but I found it a good explanation of what has been allowed).

As an Anglican it is perhaps not surprising that I believe in compromise, although what that compromise means is up for discussion.  There are some things that are NOT up for debate, but in the Church of England the nearest we have to a “confession” is the Declaration of Assent (scroll down), although not everyone interprets it in the same way.

The battle in the Church of England is different from that in the Conservative and Labour parties.  The Church of England believes in the Gamaliel principle, we allow people to hold opposing views until time helps us to reach a resolution, and during that time discussion, debate and prayer happen.  Yes, in the short term this can lead to compromise, but it is not a winner takes all 52/48.  It requires a 2/3 majority in Synod to change anything.  All of those holding opposing views are principled, it is just that they have reached opposing conclusions from their principles.  There are, of course, those in the Church of England who believe that they are right, and that those who are wrong should be made to agree with what is right, but that is a minority position – see the decision taken in Scotland.

In politics there will be people who agree to do things which are against their principles because they belong to a party which espouses one particular view.  Interestingly I can remember a time when the rigorous “on message” approach of political parties was less enforced, and differences of opinion were tolerated, with Jeremy Corbyn being an example; but with the exception of the Brexit referendum parties seem to want to force everyone to agree with their stated policy.

Perhaps for the good of the country we need MPs to stand up for what they believe, regardless of party affiliation.

Trinity as Relationship

Yesterday I decided to preach only half a sermon!  Sometimes at St Mark’s we do a short introduction, and then ask people to discuss it among themselves.  As last week someone told Lesley that they enjoy watching the clergy squirm on Trinity Sunday I decided to turn it round!

I introduced two ideas, the idea of Trinity as relationship, and the idea that we can only understand doctrine from our already existing relationship with God – that our relationship makes sense of doctrine, not the other way round.  Then I asked them to discuss “How does your experience of God speak to God as a God of relationship”.  They discussed this for a reasonable length of time (at least they talked to each other for a reasonable length of time).  At the end I asked whether anyone had anything that they wanted to share (the first time I had done that).  There were two lots of feedback.

First someone said that everybody’s experience of relationship with God was different (always good to know that – although perhaps not a surprise, after all everyone’s experience of relationship with anyone is different to everyone elses).

The second was that some people’s experience of church had been more hierarchical than relational, and that God had been called upon to maintain that hierarchy.

Isn’t it ironic that the Reformation led to removal of the mediation of the priest, and now some of the more conservative forms of Protestantism only allow that if you believe what they tell you!