Category Archives: Lent Reflection

Self Control

It is a truism that the only thing you can control is yourself, and yet how often are our prayers for God to control someone else?  Reading this again today, it points out that it is through the pains and disappointments of life that we grow, rather than the joys.  At those times we see (if we allow ourselves to) the impact of our character on us, and have the opportunity to change it.

This is not self control in the sense of not eating the extra piece of chocolate, but instead in the sense of recognising our hang ups and finding ways to deal with them.

Far more difficult than not eating a piece of chocolate, but more in keeping with the spirit of Lent.  However, far harder to do as it requires us to experience pain or disappointment, something that most of us try to steer clear of, and something that we can’t always find to order.  However for many of us there may be past pains/disappointments that we haven’t yet processed, and which would form a good topic for Lenten reflection.

Makeovers Second Thoughts

Yesterday I posted my thoughts on makeovers.  Whilst I still stand by what I wrote then, today I want to add to it, because I think there is something about motivation that is worth exploring.

The Bishop of Gloucester started a campaign in 2016 called Liedentity which was looking at the impact pressures on body image were having on young people.

As a society we seem to becoming more concerned with image.  Not helped by the use of Photoshop.  If the purpose of a makeover is to “compete” with this then at one level I would want to say that it is unhealthy.  If we recognise that our identity comes from God, like Justin Welby, then striving to make ourselves something else isn’t helpful.  However, it is a tough ask to require people not to do things which will make it easier to find employment, or get paid more, or make them feel more confident.

The danger, perhaps, is if after all the effort it fails to have the desired impact.

Do looks Matter?

Strange things happen to vicars!  Today I got a call from a TV production company asking whether I would publicise their search for people to take part in a makeover TV programme (flyer above).  There have also been other times I have had similar requests from TV companies. I agreed to do so, and don’t regret it, but it did set me wondering about the current desire for makeovers.

With most questions of ethics there is a line somewhere that should not be crossed, but where does this lie when it comes to self presentation?  Or is there no line?

Might it be a question of taste, or might it be about intent?

When I started writing this blog I thought that there was a line, but as I write it I am finding it very difficult to draw it.

Take plastic surgery; my initial reaction was that there is a difference between someone who needs it because they have been badly burnt, and someone who wants to look prettier.  But now that seems like prejudice; why shouldn’t someone choose to look prettier?  I am finding it difficult to find a rule which differentiates one case from the other.  This is possibly because the only difference I can see between them is one of degree.

There are perhaps other arguments concerning the use of resources, but I suspect that most people would agree that there are some people who should receive this – so where is that line?

As part of my Lent discipline I am reading The Way to Love, and the passage I read today challenged me to see people, because only if I see the real person can I love them; if I do not see the real person then what I am loving is what I get from them, and when I stop getting whatever it is I will stop loving them.

Perhaps our attitude to makeovers is also about how well we see the person.

What is the heart of your faith?

I have written about this before, and will no doubt write about it again, but it is a subject that keeps returning in my reflections.

I believe that whatever questions we are asked, once we can no longer answer the mythical 2 year old’s “why”, we will each eventually come to a common answer for ourselves.  This works for people who have a faith, and for those who have none.

Not only do I think that we will reach that common answer for us, but that once we have discovered what that common answer is we can then predict our answer to many different issues of the day.

I also believe that it is this which causes so many of the differences between Christians.  For example, if at the heart we believe that “God loves everybody” that will lead to one set of conclusions, whereas if we start from “the Bible is the inspired word of God” it will lead to another.  I am not here saying that people who start from different places do not believe the words of the other place, just that which takes priority determines a number of outcomes.

So – what is at the heart of your faith?  If I were to keep asking why after every answer you give, what do you get when you no longer have an answer?

What is Church For?

I remember over 35 years ago challenging the Provost of Chelmsford Cathedral about the proposed re-ordering, renovation of the organ, and creation of a choir endowment.  This was a substantial amount of money (I can’t remember how much) and I questioned whether it would be better spent on the poor.  His response was that for some people it is the architecture or the music that first draw them to church; at the time I think I was content to let this past.

However, this leads to the question of whether the relief of physical poverty should take precedence over spiritual poverty or vice versa.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs clearly suggests that for an individual physical poverty has to be dealt with before spiritual poverty, but is this true for society?


The more I think about this the less sure I am.  I can see a case for saying that everybody should be raised up at the same rate, but I can also see a case for wondering whether, if some are raised further up the pyramid, it might speed up the rate at which others climb it.

Now, I accept that this is slightly different from the question about whether church money is better spent on churches or people, but not perhaps that much.

The other issue is where the money comes from; whether we like it or not there are large sums of money available for buildings which aren’t available for poor people (eg the Heritage Lottery Fund – whatever else you may think of that).

Different people respond to different issues in different ways.  I know of churches where people will give to the fabric fund rather than the general fund; and if any parish priest were to suggest closing a church…

For me the question boils down to whether it is effective (pragmatist that I am).  And I don’t know the answer to that.  Where do you stand?


How do people come to church?

Last night I watched the latest episode of Fleabag, where the title character goes to church because she fancies the priest, whilst not believing.

I wonder what your take on this is?  I am quite used to the fact that people initially come to church for all sorts of reasons and I don’t have a problem with it at all.

In fact I know a bishop and a priest who both started going to church for two reasons:

  1. To prove that it was all wrong
  2. Because they fancied other people who went

Having got there they discovered there was more to it and stayed.

Church is not a holy huddle for the perfect (OK, so I’m not a Calvinist), indeed my training incumbent used to say that every church should have a big notice over the door saying “sinners only”.  People come to church for all sorts of reasons and that is good.

What is Evangelism

Recently General Synod spent a good deal of time debating Evangelism – and what is not to like?  Well, a number of people were concerned that what was meant was too focused on getting the initial sale and not enough on repeat business (my words).  So here and here.

In any sales process there is a funnel – lots of people get fed in at the top but only a few  become customers.

Microsoft Word - The Purchase Funnel.docx

I used to work in a business which was looking for repeat customers.  It wasn’t a supermarket, but that is a good example.  The reason that supermarkets, and online ones in particular, are so keen to get you to buy from them is the potential for repeat business.  There are all sorts of incentives to buy from them again, from the explicit (money off vouchers on future purchases) to the implicit (you know your way round the physical or online store).

1.2 million people have done an Alpha course in the UK, but average Sunday attendance is about 722,000.  This isn’t knocking Alpha courses; we have the same problem in this parish – people come to a seekers course but drop off at varying stages through the process.

Most of the emphasis on Evangelism appears to be on getting people in the first place.  I would want to suggest that increasing the retention rate would be a better area of focus.  Something is drawing people in and they become enthusiastic, but they do not stay that way.

What is needed is a successful Beta course (there have been a number of attempts, some even called Beta Course!), but this appears to be a difficult nut to crack as they have existed for 15 years or more, but haven’t had the traction of Alpha.

What seems to me to be successful are the relationships built, but if you are running lots of the courses you need lots of people to build relationships – almost in an apprenticeship style.  Recruiting lots of apprentices when you don’t have the master craftsworkers to train them is surely a waste of time?

“Worship … needs to be the best it possibly can be” – Really?

worship is a unique one-off never to be repeated beautiful offering, and so needs to be the best it possibly can be

I recently saw this quote and initially found myself wanting to challenge it.  Having revisited it I find myself almost letting it off the hook because of the “possibly”.

My challenge to it is around the definition of “best it can possibly be”.  We used to have a diocesan advisor who used to say “if a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly”!  But of course the question is “whose definition of badly”?  Is it the accurate reading, the “proper” pronunciation and the audibility that make a reading the best it possibly can be?  Or is it someone prepared to step out in faith and offer the reading as best they can?

Is worship something performed “perfectly” by the few for the many or is it something that all of God’s people do for God?

There is probably no definitive answer to this (as with most things Anglican).

So, a couple of stories…

Many years ago I used to attend Chelmsford Cathedral, usually the 9:30 Parish Eucharist.  One Sunday I didn’t get up in time, so instead went to the 11:00 Cathedral Eucharist, during which I said or sung very little.  Afterwards I asked the Provost about this and he said that the aim of that service was for the choir and clergy to do the worship giving us space to have our own meeting with God (I paraphrase somewhat, and as with all preachers it may not be what he said, but what I heard).

At one of our churches we have no rotas (not quite true, but almost) and as people come in they pick up a card on which is written a role in the service.  The president doesn’t know who has which card, and sometimes the person with the card isn’t quite sure when their bit comes.  A culture of collaboration has developed and at various points in the service a member of the congregation might join in – particularly during the sermon.

It strikes me that perhaps the first service suits introverts more, and the second extroverts.  What worried me about the quote was that it was privileging the first kind of worship over the second, but perhaps the second is “the best it possibly can be”.

Pragmatism or Principle?

Recently there has been much discussion about the decision not to invite the spouses of gay bishops to the Lambeth conference – I think there is a reasonably fair post from a more conservative perspective here.

A lot of this has focused on the apparent inconsistency of inviting the bishops, but not their spouses, and the majority of views that I have seen have either expressed the view that if you are inviting the bishops you should invite the spouses as if it is wrong to invite the spouses it is wrong to invite the bishops, or that if you aren’t inviting the spouses you shouldn’t invite the bishops for a similar reason.  Both then rail against the decision because it is placing pragmatism above principle (the Archbishop of Canterbury apparently having told one of these bishops that if their spouse were invited there would be no Lambeth conference).

What I wish to look at in this blog post is the assumption that Christianity is about holding a principled position on this issue or that.  The two great commandments:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Matthew 22:37-40

and numerous other quotes suggest that the most important thing about Christianity is love; love for God, love for neighbour, love for enemy.

If instead of assuming that we have to hold onto a principled position – and that our principle is more important than someone else, whose principled position leads them to the opposite conclusion, both then requiring those in authority to decide who is right – we assume that we have to love one another where does that lead us?

I have long thought that the 10 commandments, or the 613 laws of the Torah, are far easier to keep (ho ho) than the two great commandments because they are so black and white, and allow for little need of interpretation; whereas the two great commandments can leave lots of scope for ambiguity, and debate as to who has got it right.

I for one would have more sympathy for the decision if I thought that it came from the wrestling with the two Great Commandments, than if I thought it was a purely pragmatic attempt to get as many bishops to Lambeth as possible – even if the answer were the same!

Styles of Leadership

When I was a curate part of the training we were given was about styles of leadership, and again in industry our styles of leadership were tested for to see whether we fitted with the corporate culture.  There are many different models of leadership (and I will write in a minute about one), but my main argument is that to be healthy an organisation needs different styles represented in its leadership.

The model we were taught was one which separated leaders into:

Engineers – use strategies and visions to come up with plans which everyone is then expected to execute.


Gardeners – use trial and error, they plant something and see whether it works, and if it doesn’t they plant something else, or plant the first thing elsewhere as it may have been in the wrong place.


Surfers – spend time waxing their surfboard, so that when the big wave comes along they are ready to ride it.


Diplomats – use their connections to network and negotiate solutions – often behind the scenes.

In industry I had lots of experience working with Engineers, and discovered that one of the traits is an attachment to an idea.  They have started so they will finish – however bad an idea something is.  However, without that drive from the Engineer the others are less likely to get things done.

Why, you may ask, am I blogging about this in Lent on a church blog?  The reason is that I believe that the church is becoming monochrome in its leadership style.  Bishops are increasingly interested in defining strategies and visions, and are encouraging clergy to do the same.  If like me you believe that there is a place for multiple styles of leadership this is a concern.

It is also a concern in a religious setting, as with a solely Engineering focus there is a danger that we get caught up in today’s plans and visions, and without other leadership styles may lose sight of the main thing – God.

In industry a new meaning for the acronym FIFO was introduced – Fit In or …. leave.  For a denomination that was founded to allow for differences of opinion this is not an option, yet I see many who are hurt by the current emphasis.

I am sure that God can sort things out – but how long, O Lord?