Who is responsible?

I have been talking to a number of people recently about faith matters, and have realised that I think that their faith development is their responsibility.  That may or may not appear obvious to you, but it strikes me that many clergy think that it is their responsibility.

In one instance we were talking about a church where the pastor was fed up with people coming late to the service so he ordered that the doors be locked, and latecomers not admitted (don’t worry St Mark’s – we aren’t going to do it); in a number of cases, someone was excluded for their behaviour.

My take on this is that they are responsible for their own behaviour (as are the others in the congregation, just in case these things are done “to encourage the others“), although I have a responsibility to walk alongside them (fellow pilgrims on the way) offering help and guidance and sharing where I am.

I expressed this to someone and they challenged me with Paul’s discipline of wayward Christians in his letters.  However, at least some of these were issues to do with community, and the breaking of it, rather than individual behaviour.

Yes, the incumbent is responsible for the cure of souls, but how to do it?  If you exclude someone from the congregation your chances of influencing them in any way are surely gone!

Faith and Vulnerability

As I have referred to before, each day I read an excerpt from a commentary on the Rule of Benedict.  I have been doing this for around 15 years, and it cycles 3 times a year, so that is a lot!

This morning for the first time I noticed:

The end of Benedictine spirituality is to develop a transparent personality. Dissimulation, half answers, vindictive attitudes, a false presentation of self are all barbs in the soul of the monastic. (my emphasis).

And last night Lesley and I had been talking to some people who are going to help us run something like the new St Martin’s in the Fields course.  (If you are local, watch this space – we are planning to run it in Advent).

Lesley and I took part in a session at Greenbelt, and one of the things that I picked up from it there was that one of the aims was to get people to say what they really thought, rather than what they thought they should say!

Having been involved in a number of confirmation type groups over the years, one of the things that I have noticed is that the more churched people are, the more they want to know what the vicar thinks, whereas the less churched want an open discussion where they are quite happy to share what they think – whether it reflects orthodox thinking or not.  A long time ago I used to follow a blog where one of the posts was about the writers ideal church it had something like:

  1. You can believe what you want (you will anyway, you just won’t tell me).

If you want to grow spiritually you have to be honest about where you are.  Too many people belong to churches where there are right and wrong beliefs, and if you hold wrong ones you are not welcome.  How can you grow in the faith in those circumstances?  Sometimes we go down a dead end and have to turn around, but that dead end may well have been helpful, but if we can’t admit that that is where we are then it is difficult to do the U turn.

What is the Vicar’s Role?

Of course the answer to this will depend on which vicar you ask and the context in which they are ministering!

In the ordination service it is described thus:

Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent. With their Bishop and fellow ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation. They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; they are to teach and to admonish, to feed and provide for his family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.

With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love. They are to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith. They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God. They are to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. They are to bless the people in God’s name. They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death. Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.

Not a lot there about running a small business (our parish has a turnover of c£100,000), and of course in some parishes the vicar doesn’t have to do this as there are people who can do it for them.  However, in others there aren’t.

Did you also notice the other two bits in there?

With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love.

they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith

Which for me asks the question what is the balance – how much does the vicar do, and how much do “all God’s people” do?

Where I was curate there was a very capable congregation and they ran the organisation, leaving the vicar to focus on the spiritual.  BUT, as I left there were four clergy and someone in training, and this for 1 church with 3 services a week.  I felt that this encouraged the congregation to leave the “spiritual stuff” to the clergy.  I think this is wrong; unless “all God’s people” join in the spiritual they will find it harder to grow in their faith.  If we all don’t step out of our comfort zone we will struggle to grow, and this applies spiritually as much as to any other area of life.

Who do Christians Support?

This post was sparked by this article.  I summarise, but it would appear that American Evangelicals support Donald Trump on the basis that my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

This approach seems to me very pragmatic, and not at all idealistic – and yet surely faith has to be idealistic or it is nothing?

Of course Christians can support many different points of view, and of course no leader is going to be perfect, and perhaps Trump is just more open about his flaws than other presidents; but… isn’t the issue that, if as stated in the article, American Evangelicals

generally agree with his economic plan of deregulation, lowering taxes, and keeping undocumented immigrants out.

and yet when I read the Bible I find a Jesus who

watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.


As you may have seen on other posts on this site, we are currently investigating joining Inclusive Church.  At Greenbelt this year the Sunday Communion was based around the idea that:

If we allow anyone to be excluded, either by accident or thoughtlessness or prejudice, we will see God less clearly.

The reading was by someone with CFS so bad that they could not leave their home, and so they gave it over the web.  The sermon by a 14-year-old with cerebral palsy using her voice synthesiser (described as like Stephen Hawking, but sounding better!).

What kind of challenge does that give to us?  How do we include those who cannot get to church?  I have only a partial answer, many churches will visit (and take communion) to those who are housebound, and at St Michael’s in Amersham on the Hill (and others I am sure) services are recorded and taken to the housebound.  However, I fear that these initiatives serve mostly those who were churchgoers and have become infirm – not those who have not so far engaged with church.

As I said, no real answers, but a real challenge.

Arts at St Mark’s

Well, we’ve now got a snazzy logo and a title for the festival!

This is an update on where we are with the Arts and Music festival at St Mark’s. However, as I’m writing this on the last day of August, for the October magazine, it’s likely that by the time you read this we’ll have extra publicity material with more details available.

Dates:            Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd October 2017.

The festival will be free. We will have buckets available for voluntary donations. Any donations on the Friday night will go towards the organ restoration fund. Any subsequent donations, after deduction of expenses, will go the parish general fund and the fabric fund, both of which need all the help they can get!


We’ll be setting up an art exhibition in the afternoon. In the evening there will be a concert starting at 7pm. We’ve sorted the acts now. We’ll have a couple of pieces on Emily (the pipe organ), songs to piano accompaniment, a rock band, a choral group and a rock-a-billy/country band.  There will be an interval and tea, coffee etc. half way through.


Workshops in the morning 10 – 12:30 and the afternoon 2 – 4:30. We’re still finalising the times and contents, but there will be a come-all-ye music workshop where musicians of any standard and any instrument are welcome to come along and join in. There will also be a singing workshop, run by Veronica (Nonny) Tabbush, an experienced choir leader who has organised choirs in Aldershot and Bordon. She presently lives in the Bristol area and runs choirs there.

There will definitely be painting and arts and crafts workshops, possibly with photography and stone masonry, but we’re still finalising the details here.

At the moment the schedule has to be finalised. Details will be available well in advance of the festival.

Saturday night ceilidh 7 – 10pm. This starts and finishes early as we have to get the church ready for services the following day. The band will be the one that plays for the annual Candlemas barn dance at St Georges, with Kris Lawrence as caller. There could also be a variable number of additional musicians, as those attending the workshop during the day will be welcome to sit in with us. We will also hopefully have a performance from the choir workshop and displays of art and photography generated during the day.


Service 11am. By this time we should have a highly decorated church as the output of the workshops will be on display! The service will be led by Lesley Shatwell. As she is a lay minister, it won’t be a communion service. However, it will be highly unusual, if not unique, in that it will be almost entirely a sung service, including the Gospel reading and sermon! We will make sure the melodies are accessible to all – no weird phrasing or unusual cadences designed to catch the uninitiated. It’s highly likely we’ll make any unfamiliar hymns etc. available as MP3 files before the event.

We will finish with a bring and share lunch. All welcome.

Bob Shatwell



The Second Curve

At Greenbelt we heard Charles Handy talk about the “second curve”, which is his theory that everything follows the shape of the curve above – initial investment where things get worse, followed by growth, followed by eventual decline.  He talks about the “Second Curve” as being a second of these curves superimposed and offset on the first before it reaches its peak – however, he also acknowledges that in most circumstances people do not know that they need to start the second curve until after the peak.  He told a story:

Many years ago he had been travelling around Wicklow en route to Avoca when he got lost. He paused to ask a local man walking his dog for directions. ‘You go down this small hill here and all the way up that big hill over there and on the far side of the hill you can see Davy’s Pub in the valley’.

‘And is Avoca near Davy’s Pub?’

‘No. A mile the Pub take a turn to the right and that’ll bring you straight to Avoca.’

So he set off, but after he saw Davy’s Pub there was no turn to the right.

One mile before the pub was before the brow of the hill!

This is all very well, but it struck me that this applies to business, and to making a success of things, but I don’t think it applies to the spiritual life.  Most theories of spiritual development have some form of disaster in them; the dark night of the soul, perplexity, the second half of life, Stage 4.  These rely on failure, on going over the hill and letting ourselves do so, rather than hanging on grimly by our finger tips.

I think the second curve is great if you want to continue the same life/journey, but if you want to grow and develop a new life (or even if you don’t) failure is a non optional part.

Stella’s Inclusive Church Sermon

I’m going to talk both generally and personally about inclusivity today – generally because there are some general principles and personally because we all perceive our lives and faith through our own, personal eyes.

So, to start personally, about 18 months ago I had not heard of Inclusive Church. I then came across an ‘Inclusive Church’ day being held at a church near Basingstoke and included it in a news bulletin for another diocese for whom I had recently started working. There was a complaint and the reason lay in the Inclusive Church statement of belief. “We believe in Inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

The complaint went to the powers that be and it was upheld. No mention of Inclusive Church please. The reason was the mention of sexuality.

I felt I needed to find out more and look more deeply into what Inclusive Church did and that is one of the reasons why this sermon series has taken place and why we are thinking of joining Inclusive Church. We had Dianna Gwilliams, Dean of Guildford Cathedral and chair of trustees of Inclusive Church, to speak in the parish last month and she said that Inclusive Church encourages churches to look at who isn’t coming to the church and why. Is it because they are going elsewhere? That’s fine. We don’t want to take people from other churches. Is it because the signs are difficult to read if you have learning difficulties, is it because you are concerned that your children are too noisy, is it because you are worried you can’t put money into the collection plate, is it because you don’t feel welcome because of who you are?

Early in the series, Lesley challenged us at St Mark’s to think about times when we had felt excluded. We got into groups and I started talking about a group of people whom I knew from the local school who didn’t really want to come to church because of what I perceived to be social and economic reasons and how could we overcome this. A bit later I realised that I was talking about ‘them and us’, rather than about ‘us’. My very language – and attitude – was being exclusive. After all, we are all the body of Christ. It’s not a case of ‘us’ being a body and ‘them’ being another body. We are the body.

There are a series of books about the different groups that Inclusive Church is trying to be open to and in one of them – about poverty – it is suggested that just as if one part of your body is hurting you do not go ‘oh poor you’ but you give a yelp of pain, so if one part of the body of Christ is hurting then the whole body is affected.

So, if anyone is excluded whether unwittingly or – at times – deliberately, then the whole church is hurt. And I am not getting far with inclusion if I say ‘them’ rather than ‘us’.

So, what do we do?

We talk, we share, we listen. Again, in the book on poverty there was an example of a project – called ‘Listen Up’ – which had people acting as both interviewers and interviewees, so that they really shared and heard each other which helped everyone see things from other people’s perspectives, helped them do what Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

In doing this we will learn, we will be vulnerable and we will make mistakes. But we can acknowledge mistakes and move on. We can share more of our humanity if we are vulnerable.

So again, I am going to share something personal. My elder son is gay. That’s fine – and he gave me permission to speak about this, in fact saying that he wants people to know as much homophobia comes, he believes, from hiding when someone does not define themselves as straight.

He has felt, I believe, welcome in this parish, but he told me last week that he knows few gay people who wouldn’t come to church because of the prejudice, because of the damaging experiences they have had. He said that church, on the whole, does not feel like a safe place for a gay person and that having a safe space – a place where you can be yourself without fear – is vital.

What? Even in this parish? Aren’t we inclusive? Probably more so on some issues but not on others. I was really upset by the idea that many LGBT+ people would not want to come into a church, however inclusive it might be trying to be, because of past history. Maybe I should have known that. I wasn’t seeing the world through my son’s eyes, walking in his skin. What else don’t I realise? Who else feels like this? We can’t all know. I, for instance, don’t know a lot about disability or issues raised by ethnicity. I speak from my own pretty privileged background. I can only ask, we can only ask, and share and be prepared to be vulnerable. It may mean that others come forward and speak from their own experience, or feel able to come into the church, make their voices heard, become leaders.

And we will get it wrong. I may be getting some of this wrong. But I, we, will learn.

The other thing is that we can ask for forgiveness and ask for grace – God’s grace. Because this is the difference. What I have been saying in many ways could apply to a secular organisation but there is a difference. As the Inclusive Church statement of belief says: “We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ” – and Jesus Christ in his time on earth broke down barriers, was inclusive, welcomed the outsider, never cared what someone’s status was, never asked if Peter was educated or from a privileged economic background before telling him to ‘build my church’, never asked about sexuality –  and, the statement continues  believes in a church which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

These things can be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. It takes us being open and determined – conduits of the Holy Spirit.

Stella Wiseman



Good Disagreement

I may have blogged on this before, but we have just spent the weekend at Greenbelt, and one of the talks which attended was about this, and what it might mean.  For me the most interesting comment was that it depends on context.  The example given was that in academia it is good to talk with people who disagree with you, because the aim is a deeper understanding; whereas in politics the aim is to “do” something.  If what we are aiming at is deeper understanding then listening to people with differing views to our own is helpful.  If, however, we are trying to “do” something, and there are differing views on what to do (and in churches these can be strongly held and vastly differing) then reaching good disagreement is much harder.

Lesley and I were talking about this, and she said that in the latter circumstance there is research (a quick Google couldn’t find it) that says that people have a greater desire to be heard than to “win”, and that to get good disagreement on issues like that requires a good process which allows everyone to be heard.  I don’t disagree with that, but I am not sure that it leads to good disagreement when both preferences are held very strongly.

For me, this shed some light on the problems that the church is currently having – are we trying to deepen our understanding, or are we trying to do something?  The fact that we have such strong disagreements suggests to me that we are trying to do something. Perhaps we should be aiming for deeper understanding – although as an organisation we have to do things.


Serving the Villages North of Farnham: Badshot Lea, Hale, Heath End & Weybourne