Wednesday, January 31, 2007

By the way

I just wanted to say, in case I've given a different impression recently(!) - and for the record - that I really love my work, and am very happy to be doing what I'm doing. I've just got a few issues that I need to work through...


Well the Brickyard's there to crucify anyone who will not learn
I climbed a mountain to qualify; I went flat through the turns
But I was down in the might-have-beens and an old pal good as died
And I sat down in Gasoline Alley and I cried.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Monday, January 29, 2007

Workload, priorities, vocation

After my Opus Dei post last week – which was really run off without much prior thought, as a form of ‘jottings’ – my friend MadPriest took me to task. I think it would be worth sharing our conversation, and wrap up with a few musings about where my sense of vocation is leading me at the moment. Tim very kindly answered my request to describe what he does here, and I’ll have a few comments on that as well.

MP said:
With all my love, my friend, I think you need to do something drastic about your work load and your prioritising. Everything seems back to front. You are off-loading your priestly tasks to the laity and taking on tasks that the laity should be doing. I know how a priest can get into such a position and it took a breakdown or rather the life readjustment I had to do to fix myself afterwards, for me to realise the stupidity of the expectations of modern priesthood. However, because of the old-fashioned nature of priesthood I was able to put my readjustments into effect without any problems from above.

I stick to 3 jobs as defined by the Ordinal. Preside, teach, visit. I got rid of all jobs outside of the parish, including at deanery level and never attend meetings or courses unless my people will definitely benefit from my attendance. I got rid of my need to be in charge, even if I thought I could do a better job. There is no reason why the local church leadership should not come from members of the laity. This even includes PCCs. Certainly people can be found to do most of the admin jobs and do it far better than someone trained mainly in the niceties of Biblical hermeneutics and church history. I stopped worrying about the Protestant work ethic. I don't care if I'm not busy. Nobody acknowledges the fact when you work all hours anyway.

All this leaves me with plenty of time to do do my pastoral work properly. Visiting, arranging funerals as if each one is a major society wedding, walking round the parish, talking to people in the street. And you know what Sam, everything still gets done and people believe I am the only priest in the neighbourhood who does his job, even though I am the laziest sod in the priesthood.

The only downside is that because I have found success by applying old paradigms (albeit, definitely in a contemporary context), I will never be "promoted," as most people with authority in the Church prefer writing books on "new ways of being Church."

You are a spiritual man, Sam - don't suffocate the spirit.

I responded:
At my clergy support group the other day (one afternoon a month; a very good thing) we were discussing the phrase 'incumbency drives out priesthood' - and it is precisely this which is the 'thing that I am working through', and provoking that last blog entry. In truth I've been working it through for quite some time, and whilst I very much hear (and am sympathetic) to what you're saying, there's a bit of it which might be damaging for me.

Let me explain a bit further. My training incumbent (I get the sense I'm talking about him rather a lot at the moment) was a celibate Anglo-Catholic, wonderful man, and he's now a Bishop. He was very much of the traditional mould in terms of training me, and there was one particular phrase which he shared which I am coming to see as a curse. Not a curse in general, or for every priest, but a curse for me. That phrase was 'spend your spare time visiting' - visiting was very much something that he emphasised.

Thing is, visiting and things like it take a particular form of energy, principally listening. And I am half deaf; listening on an extended basis (especially to 'chatter') I find incredibly draining, and I have a limited capacity for it (significantly less than your average person). Consequently I am faced with the struggle: what do I give my time to? The last year of my curacy was an interregnum, and where I had joined a team of four full time clergy, for that year I was on my own - and I tried my best to live up to the training I had received. It was also the year that my father died (and I took his funeral) and various other things accumulated to make me, for a time, leave the clergy completely. I burnt out. We took ourselves off as a family up to Alnwick and we spent a year just 'living', recuperating. I was not at all sure that I was going to go back into full time ministry; I hardly ever even went to church; I came very close to starting a PhD at Durham; yet in the end I did come to a resolution and a sense of peace: that a) I was called to parish ministry, but b) I had to work out for myself what it meant for ME to be a parish priest - not what being a parish priest was in general, but what sort of ministry is God specifically calling ME to - and that the model of ministry that I had been trained and formed for was not appropriate; that in fact, if I allowed that model to dominate who I was, that I would simply be repeatedly broken.

Which is, of course, a distinct strand in priestly identity - that we precisely ARE here to be broken, as Christ was broken, and that we must simply button our lips and get on with the job. What I am coming to realise is that this strand of understanding the ministry - call it the masochistic minister syndrome - is not of God, it has as much to do with a soulless institution breaking butterflies on the wheel. What I am now trying to work through is precisely what sort of shape my ministry is going to take.

Thing is, I am still very new at all this - I'm only 3 1/2 years into my first incumbency, and most of those years have been taken up with working out which way is up! There is a lot which I am looking to divest myself of, and what I have said to the parish is that I am going to concentrate principally on 3 things (taken from Eugene Peterson): worship, teaching and spiritual direction. That latter, whilst most priests could incorporate it under the heading of 'visiting', I am going to do on a more formal basis, so that I can manage how much of my listening time gets used up with it. As for the wider pastoral task, there is the basic necessity of 'knowing and being known', but the 'farming of the parish' I do feel it essential to delegate - to a priest colleague, to the newly installed pastoral assistant, to a group of laity being trained up precisely to take it forward. The thing is, even if I wasn't half-deaf, I don't believe that I would be able to accomplish all the visiting required; as I am half-deaf, it seems to be a significant part of my vocation to enable this wider ministry to form.

But that phrase is what I am thinking about: "incumbency drives out priesthood". I'm called to be a priest; incumbency is simply the (presently) necessary context. What I need to negotiate, over the next couple of years, are the ways in which I can maximise the amount of time spent being the priest that God is calling me to be (which probably emphasises the teaching bit), and minimise the amount of time taken up with what is peripheral to that.

So I do agree with the thrust of what you're saying - especially about the Protestant Work Ethic and all the horrors associated with it - but in the end I suspect the priest I am meant to be is not the same as the priest that you are meant to be (or that most priests are meant to be). Which is all part of God's intention, I think. It sounds like you have got your priorities sorted - great, stick to your guns. But for the time being I'm going to stick to the motto I recently devised which is proving healing and helpful for me: "If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him."

MP responded:
…whatever you decide is a priest's job, don't say "peripheral" say "somebody else's problem" and ignore it. We are at war with the powers and dominions that are eating away at the time our people have for themselves (and for God). England is officially home to he most overworked population in Europe. I spend a lot of time telling people to stop, and enabling them to stop, and I do this out of pastoral/spiritual concern. Priests/Christians should be counter-cultural in this respect, so don't you think you should lead by example by showing people (like I do) that you can do a good job and still have a life. Although I quite fancy the idea of you spending another year in Alnwick it would probably be better for the propagation of the gospel if you didn't blow another gasket. Suggestion - do like I did. Get yourself a good secular occupational therapist and work on definitions.

I am quite passionate about this because the more idiots like you there are rushing about 24 hours a day the more difficult it is for me to enjoy a cushy life, and I only became a priest because I was fed up of working for a living.

I said:
I don't think we're disagreeing here.... I particularly agree with the counter-cultural 'in praise of idleness' approach. It's where I'm headed to, even if I'm not there yet. Our clergy support group is chaired by a secular therapist - and my spiritual director is a psychotherapist as well! All useful grist.

MP responded:
No. We would be disagreeing (in part) if we were talking about exactly what constitutes the priestly task but I'm not interested in that. I am seriously worried that you are doing far too much for your own good and therefore your parishioners good (whether they realise it or not). From you original post I can discern that there are probably some areas of work which you can pull back from. I found getting rid of whole areas of work and concentrating on whole areas of work worked for me. I would assume that central to your ministry, and fitting into the definition I apply very nicely, is teaching. If this is true, put that in the centre then work outwards with the next necessary task area until you reach 40 hours a week. YES. 40 hours. And don't forget that includes all prep including reading. If you make it 40 hours then when you go over that which you will it still won't be too harmful, whilst if you start off with 60 hours (which I reckon you're probably doing and more) when you go over you're heading straight for the breaking point - yours and your families.

I said:
Actually, that is precisely what I'm looking at. I've been reading this excellent little book by Gordon MacDonald called 'Ordering your private world', in which, amongst other things, he gives 'Four Laws of Unmanaged Time':

1. Unmanaged time flows towards weaknesses - in other words, if you can 'get by' with natural ability in some areas, without working at them, your time is spent on things which you have less natural ability in, so you precisely don't build on the specific gifts which God gives you.

2. Unmanaged time comes under the influence of dominant personalities in our world. Other people set the agenda for your life.

3. Unmanaged time is driven by emergencies, not priorities. (Obvious really)

4. Unmanaged time is given to things which provide public acclamation - we drift to where the applause is.

I've found this very helpful (especially #1).

40 hours though. I'll find that a bit difficult... I remember being taught that a priest should give the same number of hours per week as a church volunteer who also has a full time job, ie 40 hours plus an extra ten - so a priest should do at least 50 hours a week. I generally do 55+ (I kept a record at one point, when I was feeling guilty about not working hard enough. Strange but true.)

So yes, I am looking at putting the teaching element central in terms of my working hours, and stripping back much of the rest. But it'll take time to pull it together.

40 hours. That's a really, really attractive thought (see here) ..... This strange little voice within me has started jumping up and down grinning.....

Thing is, I'm learning to start from the assumption that the workload is, to all intents and purposes, infinite. Therefore, it must be managed from the other end, in order to find a sustainable way through.



That was where we left it, but I’ve been pondering it a lot in the last week, and had one or two conversations with my beloved as well. This thing about 40 hours is a real kicker, and it is digging away at me.

Anyhow, a little bit on what Tim had to say. Tim wrote: “the four fundamental tasks to which God has called me are to pray, to love, to share the good news, and to make disciples and help them grow” – which I think is a great summary of our task. Some things I do differently to Tim on that score – I do much more ‘formal’ prayers than Tim, ie the Daily Office. I’m not 100% compliant (especially now I have a colleague or two to cover), but pretty much each morning and evening will find me in church saying the set prayers. Private prayers get squeezed to the margins a bit, but Ollie’s arrival has certainly helped, especially when he gets a long walk. The workload of the occasional offices has lessened significantly in the past year – I only had 22 funerals in 2006 for example – but it’s still significant (around 15 weddings and a few less baptisms). Of course, what I find really challenging – in other words, what I find really painful in the sense of careless wound exploring(!) was this that Tim said: “I have gradually accepted that the best way for me to touch the lives of these people is to be an old fashioned vicar and visit them.” Which is, of course, precisely the ‘George Herbert model’ which a) I was trained in, and b) I find tremendously attractive. It’s just that I experience it to be an overwhelmingly impossible task, which threatens both my physical health and my spiritual peace of mind. Hence ‘if you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him!’ Partly this may be due to the size of the responsibility, in that the decline in Anglican clergy numbers has led to absurdly large and complex parish sizes. Where George Herbert had the incumbency of a single village, with a population of 300 souls, and where, moreover, he had several full-time curates to assist him, my ‘cure’ presently consists of a little less than 10,000 souls; split amongst four separate parishes; where the combined electoral roll is just under 300; and where I am assisted, in week-day terms, by a (very good) house-for-duty colleague who works two days a week. There are many more people involved on Sunday duties, of course, who do absolutely essential things, across the eight or so services which take place each Sunday. Moreover, there is a wider ministry undertaken by all the Christians in the churches themselves, and like Tim, I do see that as an essential part of the work: “God calls all Christians to these tasks, and that’s a big part of my philosophy right up front: we pastors do full time what most Christians do part time, in order to help them do those things better.”

Bob Jackson, in his influential book ‘Hope for the Church’, describes different sized churches and the different forms of ministry required. This is his typology:

a) the family church (1 – 50 members); these are dominated by a handful of families and the pastor acts effectively as a local chaplain;
b) the pastoral church (50 – 150 members); here the minister is pastor to all the members of the church, and the relationship with the minister is key (for both growth and death);
c) the multiple-benefice church, which can combine a number of the above, in which the minister supports various lay members to plug their own gaps; and
d) the programme church (150 – 400 members) where there is team with specialisation, and the incumbent becomes more of a manager than a pastor, who “resources programmes, enables the ministry of others, gives dynamic vision & leads others in mission”.

The Mersea Benefice effectively includes all four! (One programme-size church, one pastoral church and two family churches, all in one multiple-benefice!!!)

Accepting that the pastoral has priority – and yet that it is impossible for me to carry it all out – I see an essential element as setting up a structure and environment within which the wider body can take forward this task. So: we now have a pastoral group, under the leadership of my clergy colleague and new pastoral assistant to precisely take forward the ministry of ‘drinking coffee’ which Tim describes. In addition, I am trying to encourage a ‘house-group’ ministry, which can provide the proper forum for relational growth, which, again, is moving forward.

One helpful analysis (for me) was the idea of a ‘spectrum of pastoral care’, rather like this: Prevention (eg teaching) -> Availability -> Casual contact -> Contact at church -> Home visits -> Counselling -> Crises. In parishes below a certain size the pastor can carry out all of these. What I conclude is that, beyond a certain size, the pastor has to specialise and choose which of those pastoral forms to carry out him or herself, and which need to be passed on to others. For me, it is the elements in the middle which I seek to encourage other members of the Body to take on, so that I can focus on the two extremes: teaching and spiritual direction. I also see availability as important. Just last week, for example, I was telephoned by someone who has been given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, and – naturally – wanted to have a chat. Thankfully, I am going to be able to go and see her tomorrow – but that can only happen when there is sufficient ‘give’ in the timetable.

Which comes back to the question of working hours, and available energy. I am envious that Tim can give six hours a week to his sermon! In a good week a sermon will get two hours, sometimes it’s significantly less. One of the main things I’ve been pondering this last week is MacDonald’s first law of unmanaged time, viz: unmanaged time will flow to weakness. He writes this: “Since I knew I could preach an acceptable sermon with a minimum of preparation, I was actually doing less than my best in the pulpit.”

Now that was a sentence which struck home!

It all comes back to the question of vocation, or, to modify what I wrote to MP, I have to work out for myself what it means for ME to be a parish priest - not what being a parish priest is in general, but what sort of ministry is God specifically calling ME to. The shape of that is going to take time to establish, but I think it is going to have much more dedicated time for teaching in it, especially through Bible studies and sermons. I keep pondering Neil’s argument that according to the Apostle Paul, a church pastor should possess 3 basic qualities:

1. Good Christian Character
2. Sound Doctrine
3. An Ability to Teach

I think the first element is a constant endeavour, rather than an achievement, but the rest of it seems right to me. In particular, I don’t think that pastoral responsibility can be divorced from sound doctrine – indeed, the pastoral work that we are called to do is, I believe, precisely about providing that sound doctrine, the ‘medicine of the gospel’.

It seems that this is what I am called to do. Teach the faith, ensure that the people are not destroyed from lack of knowledge. To accept that this is also a pastoral task, and not to become crippled by guilt and self-destructive about all the things which I am not doing, but to accept the particular vocation that God has given to me, and to develop the gifts that He has given me for that task.

After all, it is a task worthy of wholehearted commitment - to teach the faith. To concentrate on that - this is such a liberating prospect.


Kiss you off my lips
I don't need another tube of that dime store lipstick
Well I think I'm gonna buy me a brand new shade of man
Kiss you off my lips
It's standing room only for a piece of my pigment
So excuse me a minute while I supply demand
Kiss you off these lips of mine
Kiss you off for a custom shine
Pissed yours truly off this time
It's why I ain't just kissin' you I'm kissin' you off

Saturday, January 27, 2007

On the education of women

I would like my daughter to pursue her education as far as she is able.

To love God with all her mind.

There are those in this world who seek to prevent such things from happening.

Cromwell said: trust in God, and keep your gunpowder dry.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Rev Sam's thought for the day

Christianity is quite simple in the end. I think it has two stages:
1. You are convicted of your sin;
2. You accept the grace of God.
The consequence of these two things is 'love, joy, peace, gentleness, self-control...' etc etc. In particular, judgement of one another is abandoned - it is left up to God.

And obviously these things are more or less embedded in us, and we make mistakes etc etc. But this is the 'road map for holiness'.

Fundamentalism is formed when either of these two stages are ignored or belittled.

When 1. is put aside, then the self-righteous Pharisee is formed, and there are judgements left, right and centre.
When 2. is ignored, you get the fear-driven apocalypticism, like Left Behind, and you get the semi-fascist imposition of order, to prevent sin from happening.


For the last six weeks or so, one of my favourite blogs has seemed to be down (this one) - I just assumed the author was off doing some particularly intense research. Turns out it was just a computer bug of some sort, so I've just spent a little while catching up, and laughing out loud in long overdue fashion. I want to be Spider Jerusalem, but I think this man succeeds. See this one in particular...

I've been identified

Great book review here about 'crunchy cons':
Dreher spends a good portion of his book criticizing the holy reverence of the corporate-controlled "free market" that has hijacked modern conservatism, often at the expense of families, local communities, and the environment -- three priorities conservatives like Russell Kirk, whom the author evokes as one of his biggest philosophical influences, used to place the foremost value on: "The fundamental difference between crunchy conservatives and mainstream conservatives has to do with the place of the free market in society. Crunchy cons believe in the free market as an imperfect but just and effective means to the good society. When the market harms the good society, it should be reined in."

That's exactly what last week's Learning Church was arguing (not posted yet).


Why do you only read the Quranic verses of mercy and do not read the verses of killing? Quran says; kill, imprison! Why are you only clinging to the part that talks about mercy? Mercy is against God.
Khomeini speech 1981

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ponder these things

The weekend fisher has posted a very helpful list of Scriptural quotations, on a theme close to my heart: here.


He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Why do you persecute me?"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Opus Dei

This has nothing to do with the Da Vinci code or the catholic order - it's more that I wanted to make a list of all my official duties, as part of something else that I am working through at the moment. So it'll be revised on a regular basis. This list is not in order of priority.

1. Incumbency duties. Fundamentally this is about discerning God's will for four church communities; more mundanely these are the unavoidable administrative elements of my job. So: chairing four parish church councils; the associated committees (worship, teaching, communications, standing etc); regular meetings with wardens (eight of them!); all the paraphernalia associated with this.
2. Staff management. There is quite a team developing here, so as well as things like arranging the rota, this includes bilateral meetings on a regular basis with the various members of the team.
3. Worship. The leading and preparation of worship, especially at major feasts. This includes music, which varies in its demands on my time.
4. Pastoralia. I have lead pastoral responsibility for the parishioners; in practice much of this is now delegated, so I have more of an oversight role. I do see a handful of parishioners for spiritual conversations, this is a variable load.
5. Occasional offices. Baptisms, weddings and funerals.
6. Teaching. Including sermons, bible groups, confirmation classes and the Learning Church sequence.
7. Intercession and private devotions. Praying for the parish and for particular individuals within it; making sure I have enough spiritual fuel in my own tank.

8. Chair of Churches Together in Mersea
9. Warden of Ordinands for 3 deaneries
10. Tutor for ERMC


Though back into storyland giants have fled
and the knights are no more and the dragons are dead.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Windy walk this afternoon (see here for context). I thought I'd do a subdued piccie, as there will doubtless be lots of dramatic ones. Normally, after the tide has been in, the beach is completely smooth. This is what the wind does on a small scale.


If I stay here just a little bit longer,
If I stay here, won't you listen...?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The colour of my shirt

In the last year of my time at Westcott my training incumbent came to visit. In the middle of a good conversation we began to talk about shirt colour, as I was soon to invest in purchasing the clerical necessaries. I asked if it was possible to have a different colour than black – thinking principally of dark blue (which is what I now wear). With his customary grace my incumbent indicated gently that black was the only acceptable option…
The apparel of a bishop, priest, or deacon shall be suitable to his office; and, save for purposes of recreation and other justifiable reasons, shall be such as to be a sign and mark of his holy calling and ministry as well to others as to those committed to his spiritual charge. (Canon C27)

I attended a boarding school for seven years, from the age of eleven (this one). At one point I acquired a temporary nickname, ‘Jimmy’, due to a distinct facial resemblance to Jimmy Somerville.

This I did not appreciate, for Jimmy was gay, and within a boys boarding school, being gay was anathema.

There was one friend at the time who was a little odd, who didn’t quite fit in with the prevalent macho culture. The boys who were esteemed were the ones who displayed great biological prowess – on the sports field, through dominating a social hierarchy, or sexually. To be a ‘stud’ gave instant social kudos. Reflecting on that now I can see that mimetic rivalry was rampant.

My friend wasn’t very good at any of that, though he did have quite a waspish tongue, which helped. Sometimes. We victimised him in the way that boys do, with cruel ritual humiliations.


At Lambeth in 1998 the gathered stewards of our great mysteries came together and proclaimed a policy (full text here).

There were two aspects to this policy: first a recommitment to the traditional rejection of homosexuality; second, a commitment to listen to homosexuals. I have taken the second of these quite seriously – indeed, I had taken it seriously for quite some time before that conference. The church I attended in the 1990s (this one) was very gay-friendly (occasionally it was described as a ‘gay ghetto’!); I learned an awful lot there, and got to know a lot of gay people, both lay and clerical.

Every so often in the 1990’s, particularly when I was single, I would spend time wandering in Soho. I used to think of it as my ‘fugue state’. I would just wander around, spend time in the bookshops on Charing Cross Road, occasionally going into the cafes, going to the cinema a lot. It was a place where I could forget who I was for a while.

Soho was (obviously) very ‘gay’ – but not just in the homosexual sense. It was colourful and vibrant. I think the loss of the original meaning of the word ‘gay’ reflects a loss of a certain form of masculinity; and that men have suffered from that loss. There is a strong strand of male nature that is now repressed, for precisely the reasons that were dominant at my boarding school.

The repressed returns in various ways. Look at the way that footballers celebrate when they score.

Our communion has lost its way with regard to sexuality; hence the present crisis. We struggle with the legacies received from previous generations, from previous patterns of value. It is quite possible that this is the prelude to a creative resolution. I hope so.

The church has to be a gay church; otherwise it is failing to be a church.


Disordered sexuality is not an abstract concept for me; it is something with which I am intimately familiar. Yet God is never absent.

In the mid 1990s I had a painful split with a girlfriend, about whom I was rather serious. In the ensuing months I had a great deal of rage and jealousy running through me which – because I lacked the self-awareness to deal with such things at that time – led me into some very dark places, and some very damaging behaviour.

After one episode – an episode that, had it been recounted at school, would have led to a significant increase in my social standing, and have established me as a ‘real lad’ – God took a hand.

I have never been so terrified in my life.

It was made indisputably clear to me that I was rapidly walking down the path to hell, which was not a metaphor but something concretely real; that my life choices were destructive, both of myself and of others; and yet, in the midst of being convicted of my depravity and sin, God gave me a vision. Of presiding at the altar; of being ordained.

I did not welcome this. I resisted.

What could be less likely work for a ‘real lad’? Priesthood was for poofs.


One deeply attractive aspect of present day gay culture - and one that is most authentically Christian - is that it is, on the whole, a place of non-judgement, particularly with regard to sexual disorders. I imagine that a community which lives each day with the shout of condemnation from the worldly powers has learnt to be frugal with its own condemnation.

I met up with my school friend at this time. He had recently come out as a gay man, and we went for a drink in a bar just up from Leicester Square tube station.

I said sorry for the things I had done at school. He said he forgave me.


One of the most memorable sermons I heard at school – we had services every day, sermons twice a week – was by a minister who brought in a stereo, and played the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s a Sin’ to us. He was insistent that Christianity was misunderstood. It wasn’t about being negative, about repressing all of our instincts, and telling us that everything that we enjoyed was bad for us. Christianity was about embracing a fullness of life, that allowed us to be all that we can be.

Allowing us to become who we are.

For we are each loved by God, and we each have a vocation from Him.


At school – and strongly reinforced by the surrounding culture – boys are taught to ogle. This is the lust of the eyes. Boys in a boarding school have various ways in which to pass on this mimesis, out of the sight of disapproving housemasters. One friend in particular took great delight in his poster of a topless Linda Lusardi hidden on the back of his door, almost never seen by the staff.

I read Playboy for many years after leaving school. And despite your incredulous laughter, I do mean read, not just gaze at bare breasts. Pornography is very damaging; the damage it causes is hugely underrated. The problem is not the nudity, which is (can be) something holy. The problem is in the destruction of genuine intimacy, the abolition of relationship, and the stimulation of an appetite which is then not fed.

Bad love can only be redeemed by good love.


I resisted my vocation for two days and two sleepless nights. On the third day, at lunchtime, I went to my church, and knelt down, and accepted God’s will for me – but even then I said ‘please don’t make me celibate!’

Although accepting the vocation gave me a great sense of peace, and a significant feeling of slipping my bindings, it takes a long time to grow into a vocation. God is patient; it's an aspect of his mercy.

I left my job at the Civil Service and worked for a year as a caretaker, in the primary school attached to my church. One of my regular tasks was clearing up after the ‘accidents’ left by the children – either the vomit or the excrement left in unwelcome places.

I got quite good at this. I had a distinct system: plastic bag; paper to mop up the major part of the mess (to be placed in the plastic bag); mop and bucket to clean the floor afterwards; disinfectant. On a good day I could clear up a site in less than five minutes.

I never got angry with the children for this. What was the point? The children were learning how to conduct themselves, and control themselves. Ranting and raving about the messes being created would only have disfigured their souls.

It's the same now with changing nappies. You don't get hung up on the present moment - you preserve the end-point in your heart, and never let go of that sense of where your child is growing. That's what it means to have parental love.

Of course, God is no different in that respect.


I said that I resisted my vocation; the roots of sexual disorder took longer to deal with. Only two months after this experience I got involved with a girlfriend and, frankly, I was a complete shit. I was in no fit state to embark on a relationship; I made promises I couldn’t keep; I was precisely not strong enough to be her man.

And so, the car crashed.

One lunchtime, I was walking by the Thames, in the park behind the Houses of Parliament. The tide was high, and I watched some leaves float off. It was the one time in my life that I have seriously contemplated suicide.

What prevented me from jumping in was reflecting on a) my vocation, but b) more importantly, the week of silence that I had recently spent in Taize, where I had started to accept my vocation.

I accepted the promise, and the hope, and this was where I really began to believe in a God of grace. We are not saved by our own strength.

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of song
With nothing on my tongue
But Hallelujah


*Christopher wrote something very interesting the other day, amending Bishop Tutu: “Be nice to the straights, they need you to rediscover their humanity.”

I have found great insight and comfort from listening to the gay community, not least through understanding the Girardian perspective, and reading James Alison. In particular, his ‘Faith Beyond Resentment’ untied many of the knots within which I remained bound. His “The boys in the square” is haunting.

The problem with our communion is a lack of listening, despite Lambeth 1998. For all the criticisms hurled at Rowan, that is something that he has consistently insisted on.


When I was ordained, +Richard placed his hands on me and said 'Shine as a light in the world Sam'. We are not to hide away in the darkness. We are meant to be bright lights illuminating the world.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
So far as I can tell, to be gay is to shine.


The right ordering of our desire is at the heart of Christian faith, for our hearts remain restless until they rest in God. Once our desires are rightly ordered, then we become the people whom God is calling us to be.

At that point the pressures from society can be progressively withstood and then ignored. We shall be free to become who we are.

I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses.
I deal my own cards, sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.


After my father died, I inherited some rather colourful shirts. Bring out the peacock!

One day, I will have the nerve to wear one of these as my clerical shirt.

One day, churchmen will no longer be afraid of gay men.

Reordering the sanctuary

A discussion paper for West Mersea PCC

The Rector would like the PCC to consider reordering the sanctuary and chancel area within St Peter and St Paul’s church, principally through moving the altar from its present position at the East End, swapping places with the choir.

Theological context
Jesus said “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2.19). The New Covenant inaugurated in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection involved a replacement of the Temple with Jesus’ own body, most especially the celebration of the Eucharist – “This is my blood of the New Covenant”. This has many aspects, but one key element can be thought of as a replacement of a vertical form of worship with a horizontal one.

The temple was built according to very specific instructions, and a plan looks like this:

Temple worship is hierarchical – there is a steady ascension from the world of the profane to the Holy of Holies, and there is a corresponding stripping away of profane people – first the gentiles, then the women, then the non-priests, then finally only the High Priest is able to enter into the most holy place itself. This is what Jesus overturns.

In contrast to Temple worship, with its vertical hierarchy, the Eucharist is a horizontal form of worship, involving a gathering of the equally profane around a common table, to share in a common meal. Whilst there are still ‘priests’, these are not priests in the Temple sense – they are rather ‘presidents’, those whom the church has called out to a specialised rĂ´le in the worshipping life of the community. So an image of horizontal worship, in this sense, might be this:

“There am I in the midst of them.”

Although this is a very basic feature of the New Covenant, it is fair to say that church history records a community which has largely ignored the nature of horizontal worship in favour of the hierarchical model. Hence the prevalence in churches of an altar at the East End. A reaction against this began with the Reformers, who sometimes brought the altar down into the nave itself, but beginning with Vatican II, there is now a substantial ecumenical consensus in favour of a more horizontal understanding of eucharistic worship. This can be seen where cathedrals have re-ordered their own sanctuaries. In St Paul’s Cathedral, for example, celebrations of the eucharist now take place beneath the great dome, in the centre of the cathedral, and the choir are behind the altar. This is what I am looking to establish here in West Mersea.

Logistical issues
As well as this fundamental theological point, there are two practical issues which concern me about our present arrangement, one minor, one major. The minor issue is that the president at the altar cannot see the main part of the lady chapel – and cannot be seen by them. That part of our community is therefore prevented from a full participation in what is happening at the Eucharist (‘Behold the Lamb of God’ doesn’t really work where the beholding is impossible). More crucially – and putting it bluntly – the choir get in the way! (This is not the fault of the choir, of course, it is a purely physical point.) I see two main issues – firstly, when people are at the altar rail to receive communion there is a severe bottle-neck on each side of the church as people have to either wait for a group of people to leave the altar rail, or else walk amongst people’s feet; secondly, people have to negotiate their way past the Director of Music as he conducts the choir from his position at the top of the steps. Each of these aspects I see as significant.

I therefore propose that we bring the altar forward from its present position, and move the choir to the rear of the church, to look something like this:
I see the choir being deployed facing directly West. This maximises the available space, and is acoustically the best option. A number of people have expressed a concern about ‘worshipping the choir’, but that is still applying the vertical model of worship to the arrangement. The whole point is that Christ is ‘in the midst’ of us. At the far East End, between the choir stalls, I see the Bishop’s chair being placed, signifying his role as the ‘ordinary’ of the church (ie the one with ultimate responsibility for our eucharistic worship – the Rector and other clergy operate ‘in his stead’).

Issues to consider
There are a number of detailed elements which need to be considered, as well as the major principle itself. Amongst others:
- how to distribute communion under the new arrangement;
- how to cater for those who wish to kneel to receive;
- whether to move the crucifix from its present position to one directly above the altar (which would be a powerful visual symbol of the nature of the eucharist itself);
- where to place the Rector’s and curate’s pews;
- whether the new arrangement would work for all services, thinking especially of funerals.
There are doubtless other aspects and details which PCC members may wish to raise.

I propose the following timetable:
- firstly, that in its February meeting the PCC agree that this is a suggestion worth exploring, and that we write to the Archdeacon requesting a temporary faculty covering an initial moving of the altar;
- secondly, that we move the altar as soon as possible, and ‘live with’ the arrangements for a period of three months. There will certainly be unforeseen aspects of the change that only become apparent after a change of use;
- thirdly, that we meet for a study day on a Saturday morning in the summer, with the wider congregation, to discuss our experience and to consider whether this is a path that we wish to pursue further;
- fourthly, if we do wish to pursue the rearrangement, that we then formally engage our architect to work up concrete proposals for the PCC to take forward.

(Being distributed to PCC members and ministers today.)


And what does the Lord require of you?
To do justice
To love kindness
And to walk humbly with your dog.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


These are not seahorses, they are lampposts with camera shake. As it was nigh-impossible to get a decent photo today, here is one from two afternoons ago, just to make up for it:

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Meaning of the 21st Century (James Martin)

This was a very interesting book, marred by one significant flaw - nothing about peak oil! However, since the author accepts the mainstream understanding of global warming, and the vital necessity of doing something about it, many of his ideas and proposals remain robust. The main argument is quite a simple one: humanity is approaching the 21st century in the way that a canoeist approaches rapids - the river is moving faster and faster, and the situation is more and more dangerous - but in the distance, through the canyon, lies a broad and placid river. The key question is whether humanity can navigate through the canyon to get to the other side.

I wish I had read this before starting my Learning Church sequence, as there is a wealth of compatible material. My qualms with Martin relate to a certain element of technological optimism (his area of strength) and a fairly superficial treatment of the ethical and religious aspects of what we are about to go through. On the whole, however, a book I would gladly recommend, especially to scientific/business people - he speaks their language.

There is a video/audio broadcast available here, with the man explaining his work.

But not today

(Stolen shamelessly from Post Secret.)


Getting there.
With my patience, that is...

Friday, January 12, 2007


I'm very annoyed with my camera.
The fault is undoubtedly my lack of patience.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Nada te turbe.

The Stockdale Paradox

Found in the comments at Winds of Change:
Jim Collins wrote a important book called "Good to Great", and in it he described a conversation he had with Admiral James Stockdale before he died (yes, Ross Perot's running mate).

Stockdale was one of the most decorated sailors in naval history. He was a naval aviator shot down over North Vietnam and held in POW camps for over 7 years. He organized the prisoners and kept men alive and sane, including himself. To escape being used as a propaganda tool, he mutilated his own head with a razor so they couldnt be put on film. When they tried to put a hat on him, he used a stool and his fists to destroy his own face. No-one has ever sacrificed more or endured more for his country than James Stockdale did.

Collins interviewed Stockdale about his survival, and he asked him an interesting question: who didn't survive and why:

"I didn’t say anything for many minutes, and we continued the slow walk toward the faculty club, Stockdale limping and arc-swinging his stiff leg that had never fully recovered from repeated torture. Finally, after about a hundred meters of silence, I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say,‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Another long pause, and more walking. Then he turned to me and said, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

To this day, I carry a mental image of Stockdale admonishing the optimists: “We’re not getting out by Christmas; deal with it!”

We must confront the most brutal realities and carry on with faith nonetheless. This is now known as the Stockdale Paradox, but it has been faced in every war by every people at one time or another. We are facing it now.

We must confront the most brutal realities and carry on with faith nonetheless. Precisely.

A surprising amount of movement

Beyond even this, our geographical and archaeological investigations have shown that the Christian religion is highly culturally conditioned, and the advent of historical criticism of the Biblical texts has shown the evolution of belief in Jesus as the Christ. In sum, the traditional Christian claims concerning the uniqueness, centrality and divinity of Jesus have been deconstructed. In the form that they have existed, from c.100AD through to c.1750 AD, they are no longer tenable. Using the language of idolatry, the Christian church has been progressively stripped of its attachment to idols, the idols of institutional authority and rational primacy. Instead of seeking certainty in God, the Church has succumbed to the desire to find certainty in worldly matters, in dogmas and institutions. In this situation there is a classic Christian course that the Church must follow. It must confess its sin, repent, and turn around once more, demonstrating through a renewed commitment to the life shown in Christ that it can truly incarnate the love of God that was demonstrated in Jesus. If it does not, the judgement that God has already shown upon it will prove terminal.

I wrote that a little while before I was first ordained. It's intriguing just how far I have come (I came in through the liberal door). Sentences two and three I now find quite shocking. The rest I still agree with, pretty much.


Please sir won't you give me an answer?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Surprisingly good; but perhaps I'm just a football addict. Particularly enjoyed the footage of the Northumbrian coast, including, if I'm not mistaken, Newbiggin by the sea, to where I once almost moved. One of the most beautiful places in the country anyhow.

Leviticus, Cranmer and Anglican Interpretation

Note to self: go back and read this slowly. It's very good.


Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Best contemporary theology

Patrik tagged me with an impossible meme: "Name three (or more) theological works from the last 25 years (1981-2006) that you consider important and worthy to be included on a list of the most important works of theology of that last 25 years (in no particular order)."

It's impossible because you would have to be installed as a polymath to try and do it justice (maybe we should ask our front bench of bishops? I'm sure Tom and Rowan could do the question justice).

This is my attempt at an answer:

1. The Darkness of God, Denys Turner
2. At the Origins of Modern Atheism, Michael Buckley
3. Theology and Social Theory, John Milbank

The list reflects my own interests: mysticism and philosophy of religion.


How can we engender civilised discourse between people with profound disagreements?


I submitted my 'Misplacing the Apocalypse' post to the Energy Bulletin site, and was delighted that it got published. Gave a large boost to the site-traffic, and also provoked a discussion at The Oil Drum. Most of which has made me think about starting to write something more specific, to respond to some criticisms, but I think I'll wait until the Learning Church sequence is done (the talks will be turned into a book this summer).

However, I am most appreciative that the post has now been translated into French!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Yes it's too late baby now it's too late, though we really did try to make it...

A simple thought: the time to act to pre-empt all the various catastrophes looming was in the 1970's - after the publication of things like Silent Spring and the original Limits to Growth report.

There is nothing that we can now do to prevent hitting the wall. The issue is no longer that of trying to prevent what is coming (and therefore appealing to people in this way - "do this because it will save the world", which is wrong on all sorts of levels). The issue is about building arks - sowing the seeds that will flourish after the fire has burned away most of the above ground foliage. That is the pitch now: do this, because this will survive the coming catastrophe. Be a part of the future. Do not be a part of the time that is passing. Be a part of the wave of the future. Reach out to future generations; be one of those remembered with gratitude. Unlike Tony Blair. Idiot.

As I say: a simple thought.

Dawkins disembowelled (again)

These questions are difficult and might well merit extended discussion between scientific and religious thinkers. But if such discussions are to be worthwhile, they will have to take place at a far higher level of sophistication than Richard Dawkins seems either willing or able to muster.

(HT Bryan Appleyard. Again. That man has had a disturbingly large influence on my thought.)

The Corpse Bride

Wonderful. I love Tim Burton.

24 Series Five

Excellent - better than series four in many ways. Some annoying bits, especially the gratuitous despatch of newly introduced characters for no plot-driven reason (I'm thinking particularly of the bank manager) but on the whole this was great. I'm looking forward to season six, now that I have caught up with broadcast transmissions....


And I came to believe in a power much higher than I.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Flushed away

This one will remain in the memory, not for any great merit of the film - though it was fine - but because I took eldest to the cinema for the first time.


What would Jesus drive?
(thanks Ian!)