22 December 2011

Moved by the music

I love music. Of many different kinds. I hate musical snobbery. I'm not a purist. But I love music.

I love being moved by the power of music. It's one of the things I love about the church. In some places, we have remembered the power of music to move people, and have continued to use it appropriately in church.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. Thanks to a Facebook post by Maggi Dawn earlier in the week, I came across this song by Sheffield band, Native and the Name. I was stunned. Stopped in my tracks. For me, the experience was reminiscent of the first time I heard Allegri's Miserere sung live, or Saint-Saens organ symphony performed at the Bridgewater in Manchester. It was like discovering the angelic voice of Kate Rusby earlier in the year, or wandering past the Greenbelt Mainstage in the summer and wondering who was making the superb music this time.

With Plain Song, I can't quite work out why I haven't already come across it before. Nick Park's video is beautiful, and it's creation to mark the release of the band's new album, is why it's come to my attention now. Anyway, I've discovered it now, and have followed the various twitter streams and Facebook pages to keep me up to date with the band. I will probably buy the album once we've got past the financial pinch-point of Christmas.

I know musical taste is a subjective thing, and my recommendation doesn't count for much. All I can say is that I like it a lot, so maybe you should give it a listen.

So that's it for procrastination. Back to the books.

18 December 2011

Most highly flavoured gravy

The title of the post says something about my irreverent sense of humour! In church this morning, we heard 'Gabriel's Message', one of my favourite advent carols. When we were in Lancaster, we sang it lots, partly because the celebration of Christmas in academic institutions tends to be a little premature for the rousing 'Yea Lord we greet thee...' type carols. So Gabriel's Message became a familiar friend; partly because it's quite easy to sing, even for a thrown-together choir. Most highly flavoured gravy' was the deliberate corruption thrown by a devious director into practices to try and raise a smile from a flagging choir. The risk was always that it might come out in the service we were rehearsing for.

The Church of England captures a range of views about the position of Mary in our religious life as Christians. I've never been persuaded beyond a 'dabble' with the rosary, and I've always been in church settings where Marian devotion is viewed with suspicion. That said, today's readings remind us of the important place of Mary in God's plan, and of her unimaginable trust in God, beautifully rendered later in the first chapter of Luke's gospel.

I don't suppose I'll ever be much more enthusiastic for Marian devotion in my own prayer life, but I'm reminded today of the richness and breadth of our tradition in the C of E.

17 December 2011

Christmas is coming, and I have time to write a blog post

Well it's been a while since my last post here. Its been a hectic end to the term at Westcott, and there has been little time to engage with anything apart from essays, reading and trying to keep sane. As always (regular readers will note the theme), the difficulty I find is in balancing the different aspects of life which seem to compete for the same time. I won't rehearse those particular issues again.

The Christmas vacation has truly started now, and I see, on various social media sources, that many of my colleagues have been hard at work with essays. I, on the other hand, have not. I've been winding down, and doing enjoyable things like visiting friends in Newent near Gloucester - seeing their new house, and visiting Gloucester Cathedral. And now North Norfolk, though we arrived to find that my Father-in-law had been cruelly attacked by a Christmas tree (long story), and had broken his left leg in 3 places. An efficient dose of NHS emergency care, and he's home now. Next week is a work week for me. My target is 10,000 words for the vacation, and I know that most of these need to be churned out next week.

Anyway, I thought I should write a post, as there are many things I want to say to the world. Here are my headlines, in brief:

Gareth Malone has upset the X Factor apple-cart by producing a worthy song for a Christmas number one. Let's hope the military wives choir last the distance! As I have said on this blog before (and here), I really rate Gareth Malone. His work is completely inspiring, and his TV shows are uplifting without being escapist. So if you haven't already bought the single, do it now and keep the production-line dross away from the top spot this Christmas.

Rev. has just come to an end again. I wish UK comedy seasons ran for more than half a dozen episodes, but even with only a handful of slots, Hollander, Wood et al have done it again. I loved the end of season scene, and the twists and turns in the plot. I loved the fact that they examined the peculiar notion of vocation from a number of different angles. Nigel's experiences will have been hauntingly familiar to large numbers of applicants to the priesthood. The archdeacon's character-shift will have been painfully close to the bone for a number of clerics, whilst twanging a nerve for the many ordinands who know that, as it stands, they are unlikely to be in the running for senior posts in their impending careers in the church. What Rev does best is to deal respectfully with the big issues in the church. Yes, it's comedy, but it's not simple victim comedy. It's thoughtful and situational comedy at its best. Like the first series, a slow burn, but of exceptional quality.

David Camoron has been spouting some opinions about the Christian-ness of Britain, and the mission of the church. Given his self confessed status as a "committed" but only "vaguely practising" Christian, I'm not sure anyone should pay attention to him. I'm not saying the church always gets it right, but I know that politicians rarely do. ++Rowan's Radio 2 pause for thought is where the church is, and where it ought to be. Alongside ordinary people in the mess of life. Of course, Dave has a right to say what he likes about the church, but I have a right not to listen.

UPDATE - For a more thorough and thoughtful analysis, see +Nick Baines' post here.

I think that's all for now. As I'm meant to be reading and writing next week, I predict there may be a few more posts on the way before Christmas.

9 November 2011

So tired

We've reached that point in the term when life seems hard. The mornings are dark, the evenings are dark. Even Cambridge has succumbed to a blanket of drizzle reminiscent of the greyest Lancaster days. Work is piling up around my ears: supervision essays, pastoral portfolio, dissertation, reading. It feels like everything else gets squeezed as a result. Family time, play time, prayer time, downtime. No time! 

And that's why I'm so tired. It's not the fact that LittleLanky isn't in a very settled sleep pattern at present (though that doesn't help), it's the fact that every minute of the day is accounted for, and nothing ever seems to get done. Justice can't be done to any given task, even if we stay up late every night to work on whatever thing is next in the list. We can barely wash and dry enough clothes to see us through the week.

I know that this will pass. It did at this time last year. 

It helps to have a clear purpose, and now my curacy is signed and sealed, that purpose is clearer than ever.

I'm taken back to our days of mountain biking in the Lake District, where hills are hills! On a really severe incline, you just have to push on. You concentrate on the next revolution of the pedals, and the next breath. You know that's all you can do. You can't turn back, you just have to put your head down and get on with it. That's where we are now. 

As advent approaches, and the exciting prospect of Christmas with a two year old becomes a reality, this grey time will be a memory, but for now it's real, and I felt I needed to record it here. I hope I haven't brought you all down too.

6 November 2011

Another milestone

Today in the Parish of St Mary Magdalene in Clitheroe, an announcement was made which referred to me.

I was named as the new curate of the parish, who will be taking up his post after ordination as a Deacon at the end of June next year (all being well).

Of course, this wasn't a surprise for me. We've been moving towards today's announcement for some time, and just had to wait for certain formalities before announcements could be made.

The church building (pictured above) is the Parish Church for the town (pictured below as seen from the slopes of Pendle (see the picture at the bottom for a view of Pendle from a neighbouring church)). Rather than tell you what I think about it (from a relatively short visit), you should probably take a look at the website I've linked in the first paragraph.

Both DrLanky and I are very happy about the news. Clitheroe is a lovely town, and the parish seems like a perfect fit for us. The Priest in charge of the parish is a former student of Westcott House, and we seem to get on very well. The only slightly troublesome thing is that he and I share Christian names, as do our wives! I suspect there will be a degree of confusion in PCC minutes, magazines, newspapers etc... All good fun!

One thing we don't know about yet concerns housing. As the parish has not had a curate in the last couple of years, there is no house for us yet. The Diocese plans to buy something for us, and we'll have to wait and see what they suggest. At least this way we know that a house will be bought with our needs in mind.

Today feels like a significant step to me. Of course coming away to theological college was a fairly significant step on a personal level, but until today I've been fairly anonymous. Today marks a significant milestone in my life and vocation as what our Principal would call a 'public Christian' - someone who represents Christ and the Church. Of course, that journey will have more significant steps to come (not least ordination), but today still feels significant. In a small market town in Lancashire, a number of people now know that we'll be there in the summer. I hope they're excited; I am.

31 October 2011

Helpful post about St Paul's

+Nick Baines has some wise words about the situation at St Paul's. He makes the point that the C of E is not the RC church. ++Rowan is not a Pope. Dioceses are our unit of authority, and even then, Cathedrals are different. This is a complex matter and +Nick explains it more eloquently than I can. Take a look here.

29 October 2011

Sermon for Simon and Jude, Westcott Chapel, 28-10-11

A few people have asked to have a copy of this and I figured the easiest way to get it around was to put it
up here. It's written for the voice, hence the short lines and odd punctuation. I make no apologies for this.

May I speak in the name of the Father, 
The Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I don’t know about you,
But I find names fascinating. 
I find it extraordinary that a name can carry so much meaning And yet so little meaning...
Both at the same time.

Let me explain...

When names stand alone for us,
When they so clearly refer to a particular person, 
They seem to embody the person they represent.

For example,
If someone mentions the name ‘Eleanor’,
There’s only one person who springs to mind for me. 
And there will be names for each of you,
which do the same thing.

People we know well
seem to inhabit their name,
It would seem wrong to call them anything else.
But sometimes the world gets a bit complicated...

Last weekend,
Late on Sunday,
After working my way through a stack of Luther reading, 
I diligently sent some questions raised by the reading,
as requested by the lecturer...
...Beth Phillips.

Now I said it was late in the day,
I think it was actually early in the next day,
And I did send my considerations and questions to Beth.
But a month or so ago,
The world of Westcott names changed,
And my brain, along with my email client,
Has not managed to adjust to the new world order... 
Beth Phillips (student) and Beth Phillips (Staff member).
Needless to say, confusion ensued.
And I feel I should offer apologies to Beth and to Beth, 
From the entire community.
It’s going to take a while for us to work this one out!

As we reflect on our Gospel reading today
We might imagine that having recruited his band of 12, 
Jesus might be having a bit of name confusion.
We are given a list of the names of Jesus’ chosen 12. 
His disciples.
But life must have been as confusing for Jesus and the disciples 
As it is for the Westcott community today.

We have Simon (who he named Peter)
And Simon (the zealot or the Cananaen)
Then at the end of the list, we have two Judases.
One connected to James,
Who we end up calling Jude...
so he doesn’t get confused with his notorious namesake. 
And the infamous Judas Iscariot.
I wonder if Jesus ever thought about swapping some of the disciples for more originally named replacements...
It would have made life easier.

Instead, Jesus and the writers of the Gospels... 
...add on distinguishing nicknames
or names of relatives.
To help us to know who is who.
Simon and Jude,
Who we celebrate today,
Are most definitely lesser-known amongst the disciples.
If their roll-call in Luke’s gospel is in order of favour or importance, 
We can definitely say that Simon and Jude are not ‘A list’ disciples.

In all of the gospel accounts,
Jude gets only one line of dialogue
Which we find in John’s Last Supper account.
His one moment in the limelight
comes and goes in the blink of an eye,
as he asks for Jesus to clarify an obscure pronouncement he’s just made about what’s going to happen next.

As you’d expect from disciples numbers 10 and 11,
With only Judas Iscariot in a lower position,
We don’t actually know very much about either Simon or Jude.
According to tradition,
Simon and Jude travelled widely in the days of the early church.
They are reported to have joined forces in Persia and Armenia,
and they were both martyred,
and you can pick your location depending on the tradition you prefer. 
The most gruesome account has Simon martyred by being sawn in half.

So here we are,
Celebrating the largely unknown lives of a couple of D list disciples, 
Who don’t really feature as individuals in the bible,
And who led apostolic lives that we don’t know much about.

It seems odd doesn’t it?!

But the thing that struck me as I prepared for today, 
Was that I identify with these two,
And I wonder if you do too.
Despite coming well down the list,
Jesus knows who Simon and Jude are.
Even if we don’t.

Jesus has chosen them to do his work.
He could have chosen others instead. 
He did choose others who had higher profiles, 
But he also chose Simon and Jude, 
And even though the Gospel writers record them at the bottom of the list, 
They’re still on the list.

So as we push through the remainder of this busy term at Westcott House,
Maybe we ought to be cheered by our celebration of these two inconspicuous Saints.
They didn’t seek the limelight.
They didn’t say much of great importance,
or we might expect it to have been reported in the gospels 
They got on with spreading the news of Jesus
It was enough for them that they were known by Jesus,
That they had been chosen by Jesus.

So when we start to obsess...
about the quality of the supervision essay we turned out in the wee small hours of the night,
Or we start to worry...
that we aren’t getting to grips with whichever theologian is causing us grief this week,
We ought to remember Simon and Jude.
We ought to remember that we are called just as they were. 
Whether we like it or not,
Whether we revel in the limelight, or run from it,

Names are a wonderful, 
if sometimes confusing thing, 
But Jesus knows each of our names,
He knows us as we are,
No crossed lines.
No misdirected mail.
He has deliberately chosen each of us
to make him known in our lives and in our vocations.
So as we consider our vocation and our formation for ministry, 
we thank God for all those who have gone before us,
for the many examples of faithful discipleship in our tradition, 
And particularly, today, for Simon and Jude.

21 October 2011

What a week!

Our tutor group has taken its turn to lead the worship in the community for the week. In our tutor group, there is a comparatively large number of new students in relation to continuing students. So this week has been a massive learning curve for many, and a busy week for all. Yesterday was a taste of my sundays for the rest of time; I started the day by arriving in college at 6:45 to set up for morning prayers which I led. In the afternoon I helped to rehearse the music group in an Iona based setting for the Eucharist. Then I rehearsed the congregation. Then we did the service. Then I officiated at compline. Then I went to bed! At least I didn't have a sermon to preach too. Oh yes, and we had a festal Eucharist for St Luke to deal with too. Don't get me wrong. It's been a really fulfilling week too. It's been odd to be the experienced practitioners helping out the new students, and it's been nice to see them grow in confidence over the space of just a few days. One really positive aspect of the term so far has been my (and DrLanky's) involvement in trying to do some children's church activities in the community. You can read more here, as DrLanky has started a blog to log her thoughts. We've wondered for ages about how best to involve children in the church, and the experimentation has begun.

16 October 2011

I should be reading Augustine...

...but I feel the need to write a blog post instead.

Blackburn Synod in Women Bishops Shocker
I was surprised to see the voting figures from Saturday's Diocesan Synod in my home diocese of Blackburn. As a diocese with a reputation for being conservative in this area, it was widely expected to be one of the few which voted against the legislation. In reality, the motion was passed in both the houses of laity and clergy. The bishops voted against, but the motion is carried anyway.

Most of the people I know are pleasantly surprised by this news, but there are also those who believe that this is the wrong decision for the church. I respectfully disagree with them, but they have a right to maintain their opinion in the same way I have a right to mine. I'm intrigued to see what happens next with those clergy and parishes who have not joined the ordinariate. Is this the straw that will break the back of the proverbial camel, or will we be able to continue to live in tension? I hope it's the latter.

All about Eve
This morning I was on the rota at my attachment parish to preach. We're in the middle of a series of sermons and house-group meetings on the subject of the women of the bible, and I guess I drew a fairly short straw with Eve. I don't have a very long history of sermon writing, but this was definitely the hardest one yet. With a regular lectionary sermon, you preach from the readings. You can go off-piste, but the idea is that you are inspired by the text. With this one, whilst there were readings chosen for the service, the subject matter was broad. And that's what made it hard. How do you fit 'Eve' in to a 5 minute sermon for 8am and a 8-10 minute sermon for 10am? If you'd like to check it out, you can. The Church of the Good Shepherd is thoroughly modern, and as such you can listen to my 10am version on the website.

All quiet on the curacy front
I'm waiting for word as to when I can formally announce the plans for my curacy, so I can't spill the beans here just yet. I can say that it is pretty much sorted, though. We will be returning to Lancashire at the end of the academic year, and I am delighted with the parish and incumbent suggested by the diocese. Just the small matter of completing a degree in theology now. And on that note, where did I put my Augustine reading?

28 September 2011

Sunny Lancashire?!

I write this blog post from the very sunny and warm north-west of England. We have come north to visit the parish proposed by my diocese as the one where I will serve the four years of my curacy. We arrived this afternoon and spent the afternoon and early evening with the vicar and his wife (who share the same Christian names as DrLanky and myself). In considering the offers of title parishes, we have been encouraged to follow our gut and look out for any warning signs. So far so good. My gut feeling is positive, and there are no warning signs so far. Tomorrow I'll meet with some more people in the parish and have some more time with the vicar, and I'm looking forward to that! The one thing I have to remind myself is that we are enjoying unusual weather for Lancashire (even in the height of summer), so we need to imagine the place shrouded in mist and drizzle with a steady westerly wind before we make any final decisions. Until we ge further along the line, I can't really give any more details here. As soon as I can, I will.

10 September 2011

Just hold your nerve

Lancashire have had an amazing season in the LV County Championship. An unusually pleasant (in weather terms) start to the summer meant that unlike in previous years, Lancashire have registered a mere two draws in their campaign. Only four losses and nine victories put them on a par with Warwickshire at the head of the table, separated only by three points. So it all comes down to the last fixture of the season. In many ways this is a good thing, but you could argue that Chapple's men should have sealed it earlier in the season. Now it's simply a matter of who holds their nerve next week. Batting and bowling points have never been so crucial, oh yes, and a win is fairly important too. Let's hope Kerrigan can continue his form following a match haul of 12 (with 9 for 51 in the second innings).

On a personal level, I feel I am being called to hold my nerve at present. I have been expecting correspondence from my sending diocese to inform me of the parish in which they think I should serve my title (4 years of assistant curacy working with an experienced Priest). I was told that I should know by the end of the first week in September, and it's now the 10th, and I'm still waiting. Now I know that there are a million possible reasons why I haven't heard anything, and I'm trying to see the bigger picture, but it's hard! I just have to hold my nerve for a little longer, and I'm sure it will all be fine. the frustrating thing is that I know it will be hard to get up to Lancashire for a visit in termtime, so I wanted to try and get that done now. The more days pass, the less likely it is that this will be possible... Hold your nerve... it will all be fine.

7 September 2011

Greenbelt, my faith and music

Back in the nineties, I was a Greenbelt regular. At that time, it was for the music, and for one band in particular, that I made the journey. I recall a number of very damp Northamptonshire weekends where we'd pitch up ridiculously early at mainstage so we could get a spot right at the front.

As I continued to do the Greenbelt thing, I also stumbled across John Bell and the Wild Goose Worship Group. I recall many late night events in cold tents where we were taught new and exciting music in multiple voice parts. This led to me going on a week long course run by John and his colleagues to teach people how to teach music to others).

In some way, these two small snapshots of my Greenbelt memory are quite telling in terms of where I am now. Many people think that Westcott students all fit neatly into an Anglo-Catholic shaped box, but like others, I find the truth is more complex and more interesting. Whilst Greenbelt has grown into a something of a phenomenon in the world of social justice, attracting names like Mark Thomas and Billy Bragg, when I started going it was all about the music (for me anyway). It was about modern and exciting Christian music from bands like Eden Burning, and it was about challenging the way I thought about music in church, through John Bell and his colleagues.

There was a big gap between my last Greenbelt in the nineties, and my return to GB11. Many things have changed: the venue, my circumstances (I had neither a wife nor a child the last time), the festival content, the quality of the loos... the list goes on. But for me, the important thing was still the music.

Going to GB11 with LittleLanky was a very different experience from GB in the nineties. We didn't actually get to many sessions over the weekend. What we did manage, though, was a Big Sing and Monday night at mainstage with Kate Rusby and Iain Archer (amongst distinguished others).

I suppose what I'm getting at (in a roundabout way) is that music is central to who I am as a Christian, and it isn't possible to fit me into a neat #choralevensongonlyplease Westcott shaped box (and the same is true for many of my colleagues). I'm intrigued about music and its role in my spirituality. I'm intrigued that I'm perfectly at home leading fairly charismatic worship with a guitar round my neck (albeit of dubious musical merit), I'm happy teaching songs from Africa and South America in parts and I'm comfortable directing a choir for a traditional Anglican choral service. There's something in all of those that speaks to me of God, and of worship. There's something that compels me to want to be involved! I seem to need all these and more!

I suppose that's what I like about Greenbelt. It allows me to be myself in a way that I haven't found elsewhere - even after a break of more than 10 years. It provides me with the unpigeonholeable selection of music that fleshes out my particular and peculiar faith.

The Cambridge Theological Federation could be a similar place for folk. It's a collection of people doing academic work in different branches of our complicated church. As well as institutions from pretty much all the major denominations in England, it also contains two theological colleges from the Church of England, each representing a different aspect of Anglicanism. Despite this diversity, we easily slip into a scary silo mentality. "They won't like that because they're from (insert name of institution)". Sometimes, these prejudices are born out in behaviour and conversation, but I sometimes wish we could get past the petty territorial nature of being human, and get onto the business of being a better church! Maybe if we spent more time worshipping together; understanding each other's spirituality by experiencing it, we might learn more.

Rediscovering Greenbelt has been great for me, and it has been wonderful to see DrLanky, LittleLanky and other friends of mine enjoying it too. I feel that it will become again for me what it seems to be for others; a special weekend in the year where much of the nonsense and conflict of life in the church is left outside. Where I can express the full complex and unfathomable diversity of my own faith in a safe, supportive and well resourced place.

4 September 2011


If this is how busy we are in the holidays, the end of the month is going to be hard! The new academic year starts on the 25th September, and whilst I'm looking forward to learning more and doing more theology, I'm not relishing the early starts and the essay deadlines.

The past few weeks have been filled with sorting, tidying and washing following the burglary that happened when we were in Sheringham on placement. Add to that the small matter of Greenbelt (with a toddler), and I don't think we're feeling rested from the summer.

On top of all that, we're currently waiting news from the Bishop about where we might be going next year. Many of my colleagues have started to hear about title parishes, and some have even visited and signed on the dotted line! I, however, have not heard anything. Apparently I will hear this week, and if not I should contact the Bishop's staff. Patience is a virtue; one I don't have in abundance.

20 August 2011

So this is Cambridge?!

The sermon given by our vice principal on Thursday identified this brief period of time as a rare bit of downtime in the life of a theological student; placements have mostly finished, the new academic year is still waiting at the horizon, so we have a short opportunity to stop.

For DrLanky and me, there has been little chance for any kind of stopping in over a year! This time last year, I had run out of annual leave and was working very hard to ensure I didn't leave any issues behind me at work. This meant long hours and a fair amount of stress, whilst trying to organise a house-move with a baby. Then September came, and I worked as late as I could before we moved. I finished work on the Friday, and we moved on the following Wednesday. Westcott term started on the Sunday!

With all the deadlines and the pressure of life in Cambridge, there has been zero chance of any decent relaxation, even in the 'holidays', and following the exams I went straight off to Sheringham for my 8 week placement. So life has been 'full on' for well over a year!

Returning to Cambridge a couple of weeks ago was meant to be the start of relaxation, but some inconsiderate burglars did their best to ensure a turbulent return! Thankfully, due to some hard work, we're now at the stage where the house is nearly back to normal, the sun is shining (occasionally), and the visit of friends over the last few days has meant we could enjoy Cambridge in a way we haven't done previously. Yesterday morning was spent wandering round the city with children in backpack carriers, eating and drinking, wandering through colleges with time on our hands. Bliss!

Today we go punting to celebrate the birthday of a Westcott colleague, and we're looking forward to picnicking at Grantchester. Hopefully the weather will hold.

Next week we turn our attention to a brief visit from friends (before greenbelt kicks off), and we'll have the opportunity for further exploration of the city.

For us, Cambridge hasn't been the utopian place we thought it might be. Our feelings about Cambridge are entangled with feelings about the difficulty of balancing Westcott life with family life; of missed opportunities and frustration at life. That's not to say we haven't enjoyed it here, but it's been hard. Maybe this opportunity to rest for a short while, and to enjoy being here, will help us to put things into perspective before the madness starts again.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

4 August 2011

Welcome home!

We arrived home on Tuesday after nearly a month away. We were greeted by the sight of a house turned upside down by burglars. Fortunately they didn't take too much; just the high value portable stuff; most of which was outdated and unused. The most frustrating bit is that they stole DrLanky's jewellery box which contained her engagement ring. Given our impending tenth wedding anniversary, the timing is sad. Hopefully the insurance company will fund a suitable anniversary present.

Anyway, I'll be off the blog for a bit while we get ourselves sorted out.

28 July 2011

Slowing down

As I reach the end of my final week on placement here in Sheringham, I can finally feel myself slowing down a bit. As I won't be on placement after Sunday, there's been no point in attending any funeral visits or meetings for future events. I've done a visit today with one more planned for this afternoon, then PCC this evening. Tomorrow morning I'll be joining a couple of people who take people with learning difficulties and mental problems round the shops. On Saturday I have a morning meeting, and then there's the small matter of preaching at the 10am service on Sunday. Then I'm done, apart from a review meeting with the incumbent of the parish to look at writing a report - that's on Monday after the placement has formally finished.

So there's more to come, but not quite at the manic pace of the first few days and weeks of the placement. Now I need to write some reflections on my placement for the PCC meeting this evening, along with constructively critical comments about the parish! Hmmm.

22 July 2011

For those in peril on the sea

Yesterday I was involved in the funeral of Don, who had been Merchant Navy man during the war. The service was a superb tribute to him and to all his comrades who worked to keep Britain's supply lines open despite the prowling U-Boats. The Sheringham Shantymen (several of whom had RNLI pagers on their belts) gave wonderfully moving renditions of a couple of traditional farewell sea shanties, and we sang 'the Naval hymn', from which the title of this post is taken.

Today was my day off, and following an afternoon of DIY labour in my father-in-law's house, we took a stroll along the sea front in the early evening. As we got to the sea front, I noticed that the sea was looking a little rough - too rough for swimming - then I saw three people in the water very close to one of the groynes. We soon realised one of the three was an RNLI lifeguard, who was doing his best to prevent the two teenagers from meeting a gruesome end. We watched as the lifeguard successfully got them round the groyne and onto the beach. At that point, the RNLI lifeboat, which had just been scrambled, roared onto the scene about a minute too late to offer assistance.

The lifeguard had rocketed along the seafront on his bike after getting the call. He'd gone straight into the water, despite the crashing waves, the strong currents and the jagged rocks. When he came out, he was clearly exhausted, but his first thought was to assess his patients and tend to their needs. If he hadn't been so quick to react, I think there would have been some significant injuries, and possibly deaths.

Two striking reminders in as many days of the importance of those whose calling is to protect people around our coasts. Don's favourite poem was read at the funeral yesterday, and it spoke of the unsung heroes of the merchant navy. I have long thought of the RNLI as contemporary unsung heroes, and that they should be state funded; what I witnessed today confirmed this for me.

20 July 2011

More news from the coast

It seems to have been some time since my last post, and as LittleLanky is fast asleep beside me and DrLanky is downstairs marking some OU coursework, I have a rare opportunity to blog.

The last few weeks have been busy in my placement. Since the Petertide ordinations and our mad dash to Lancashire, I have been worked hard in the parish. Funerals (and related visits), Weddings (plus rehearsals), Fabric committee meetings, extraordinary PCCs, sermons... plus the usual involvement in Sunday services - reading, deaconing, serving... you get the idea.

After six weeks in Sheringham it's starting to feel like we've done this particular experience now. I have a week and a half left on placement, and we've begun to psychologically adjust to going back to Cambridge. It's been good to be here, but we now want to go home.

Placements like this one are meant to do many things for the ordinands. Learning new things, having new experiences, seeing the reality of parish ministry etc. But the single biggest thing it's done for me is to point out that I really want to get into a curacy, and get on with ministry. I'm happy to embark upon a second year at theological college, and this blog will all too soon be overtaken by academic concerns, but my experience of parish life in Sheringham has got me excited about getting on with this priesthood malarkey. That's probably a good 'learning outcome'!

We should start to get the first clues about where I might be going for a curacy at some point in August. I seem to spend many of my rare idle moments impatiently speculating about where the bishops might want to put me. When that part of the process starts, I expect I will have to be quite tight-lipped until things are confirmed, so whilst I might have some news soon, I won't be able to post anything here for some time. The truth is, I just want to know! Patience is a virtue I haven't quite cracked.

On the positive side, test cricket returns tomorrow. The prospect of a climb to the top of the world test rankings, and a scrap with former England mastermind, Duncan Fletcher, are enough to get me skipping with excitement! Shame I have a funeral tomorrow afternoon, which given the distance from here to the crematorium will occupy me all afternoon. And we can't get Channel 5 here. Do they have an online catchup service?

7 July 2011

Crazy week!

It's been a bit of a crazy week!

We were back in Lancashire on the weekend to be at the ordination of Deacons in Blackburn Cathedral, where two Westcott students we're ordained. One of them has a blog here, and he's promised to update it as he starts his journey as a member of the clergy in Blackpool. The other Westcott ordinand has gone to be the new curate at the Priory in Lancaster - where the former was a parishioner before he went to Westcott. It's a small world; especially in the C of E.

Despite being further north in Sheringham than we would have been in Cambridge, it's a considerably longer journey up to the northwest from here. Undeterred, we set out for a weekend of late night travelling, disrupted sleeping patterns and sub-standard service station food. But it was all worth it. It was great to be back in Blackburn Cathedral, and to see lots of familiar faces. It was also good to see what will be happening to me (God willing) at the same time next year. The service was very good (though long) and the music was excellent. Mike Peatman was there, and I share some of his reservations about the use of choir-only mass settings for such services, though the choir and organist were on good form.

Seeing friends up at the front of the cathedral being ordained was described by DrLanky as 'surprisingly ordinary' when you bear in mind the significance of what was taking place. I think when you've done as much church as you do at theological college, there is something delightfully ordinary about the most significant of liturgical events; be they royal weddings or ordinations. Yet despite the ordinariness, there was a level of personal investment in what was going on; our friends were being ordained, and their families' lives would be forever changed by that event. That's where it gets a bit scary for next year.

On Sunday we managed to catch up with friends in Lancaster, and LittleLanky got to play in Violet and Ivy's paddling pool; complete with ingenious filling technology (a hose from the upstairs shower, with a long string connected to the electrical isolator). We had an impromptu barbecue, followed by Reflect at the chaplaincy.

We returned to the Norfolk coast late on Sunday night, and then I went straight back into my placement on Monday with a morning memorial service, and meetings in the afternoon. This was followed by an event to 'meet the curate' at St Peter's. Another reminder of what lies ahead of me at this time next year!

On Tuesday I preached at the Mothers' Union communion service on the theme of Mary Magdalene. Maybe I'll post the text if I get around to it. In the evening, the standing committee met, and I was present. It was a long meeting!

Then on Wednesday, DrLanky, LittleLanky and I went to the parish playgroup. LittleLanky loves it! In the afternoon, due to the unpredictable weather, we took LittleLanky for a swim at the local 'Tropical Leisure Pool'; she loved that too.

Today was BCP communion, some design and proofreading work in the parish office, some detective work with unidentified keys, and a deanery barbecue in Cromer this evening.

Tomorrow is my day off. We're going to London to see good friends who have just welcomed a baby girl into the world.

And to crown the week in a very satisfactory manner, I see on the BBC website that the News of the World is to close. It's a shame it's taken such a massive scandal to bring about the end of this ridiculous redtop, but I am nonetheless delighted at its demise. Can we get rid of any others at the same time?

27 June 2011

Judging books by covers

As I think I may have mentioned, sheringham has a few elderly inhabitants, and today I got to 'go solo' and visit 2 different couples who are longtime members of the church to which I am attached. It's very tempting to make assumptions about people before you've spoken to them properly, and it's easy to dismiss people on the basis of their age and infirmities. I'm sure I've done it in the past, though I make a conscious effort not to.

One of the conversations I had today was with a retired military man. We talked and talked, covering lots of varied ground from old testament source criticism, the new atheists, the use of military idiom in civvy life, local history to Greek philosophy... In the end, I was there for nearly 2 hours, and had a really nice time. I'm not sure if that's the aim of a pastoral visit!

My point is, though, that it's easy to forget that in our congregations, there are many elderly people who we neglect on an intellectual level, and who need to be cared for in more ways than just the physical ones. I know when I get out in to full time ministry that my time will be pressured, but I hope I can make space to do what I did today; to sit and talk with people who don't often get the opportunity to exercise their intellects in that way.

20 June 2011

Retired clergy - what do you think?

Sheringham is a retirement town of some note. Lots of people come here for family holidays for years, and when they get to retirement age, they decide to make the North Norfolk coast their home. This also means that the local churches have more retired clergy than the national average. At St Peter's there are two in the ministry team, and others who simply attend services.

Retired clergy are a gift in many ways, but their presence in parishes is not always positive. For one of my pastoral portfolio* pieces I am thinking of concentrating on retired clergy, and I wondered what you wonderful folk might think about the subject. I have lots of my own ideas, but would be interested to hear other viewpoints.

I'm interested in all perspectives on this matter, so feel free to chip in to the comments below with any of your thoughts, positive or negative, about retired clergy and their role in the church. I'd also be interested in any non C of E angles too.

*the pastoral portfolio is a double unit that all Westcott students have to take, and it includes 3 pieces of work based on one's pastoral experiences during training.

19 June 2011

Back to the coal face

We returned to sheringham last night after a mad dash to cambridge for the back end of leavers' week at Westcott, and for DrLanky to lead her OU tutorial in Chelmsford. Lots of miles, lots of jobs, lots of goodbyes.

Neither DrLanky nor I are very good at goodbyes. We tend to prefer to slip away from things like the leavers' party without having to get too emotional. The truth is, though, that whether you're there for all the hugs and kisses or not, the emotion is still present. In one year at Westcott, we've made some really good friends, some of whom have now left to do what they've trained for. It feels very right, and also very hard.

The good news is that there are many friends who will be at Westcott when we return for another year of madness, so the world isn't quite as scary as it was at this point last year.

So we're back in sheringham again, and today was full-on. I went to all three services at St Peter's, and ended up in the choir for the taize service, and canting the verses for a sung psalm. It was good to be there for pretty much the whole day, to see what it's really like for the parish priest who ends up involved in everything on a Sunday. I feel like, after today, I'm starting to become more known and integrated into parish life, and even in the short time I've been here, I'm starting to feel a sense of belonging.

Tomorrow kicks off with a diary meeting for the coming week. I know I have funerals to be involved with, and I'll be interested to see how they go. I'll keep you posted, so keep checking back for the next installment.

13 June 2011

An amazing privilege

Today's round of pre-funeral visiting has reinforced a view I already held about priesthood; the feeling of privilege at being allowed into people's lives at the most difficult of times.

I felt enormously privileged to be able to be with people as they planned the funerals of their loved ones. Both women we visited today were truly grateful for the visit from the parish priest and me. Watching my supervisor and the way he operated was truly educational, and I feel lucky to be working with him, but the real privilege was being permitted to be with people; not delivering pithy answers or platitudes, but simply being with them for a little while, and letting them know that they mattered to the church and to God.

One of the things that has stuck with me from the Pastoral Studies course I sat this year is that, as a culture, we have forgotten how to grieve. Today reminded me that a large part of the church's role in a place like Sheringham is to give people the support and the structures in which they can be allowed to grieve. I always knew funeral ministry was important; today just confirmed it for me.

The good thing about a 2 month placement is that with these, and probably the next few funeral visits I'm involved in, I will be able to be involved in the funeral itself. This is important for me as funerals have always been my emotional achilles heel (I'm a bit of a blubber when I get going). But as I get further into training, I feel like I'm starting to bring it all into a kind of professional perspective. That's not to say that I think I can turn off my feelings - I hope I'll always feel things deeply - but I think I'm starting to see what my role will be as a Priest. Just don't ask me to define it just yet.

12 June 2011

Seaside placement update

Today is Sunday, traditionally held to be the only day of the week when vicars actually do any work. Having been highlighted during the 10am service as 'our student on placement' and also as 'son in law of Fr Andrew', I had no shortage of people who wanted to talk to me over coffee. It's a peculiar thing I've noticed before in even the most lovely of churches; when you're identified as someone in a parish, you're suddenly inundated with greetings and interest.

I have been to many services at the church, as my father-in-law is a member of the ministry team. DrLanky is known to those who've been around since before she went off to uni, and I've always just been the husband-of and son-in-law-of someone else. I'm not saying I haven't been welcomed in the past, but I simply notice a difference in welcome when you're identified as someone.

The same thing happened at my attachment parish when I first arrived. People are perfectly civil and polite to you, but when they find out who you are, there's a queue of people who want to talk with you.

What would it be like if churches greeted everyone who we didn't recognise as if they were someone? Sure, some would run for the hills, but I'm guessing most would be flattered and affirmed. What do you think?

10 June 2011

Another world

So I've arrived in Sheringham to start my 'long' placement, and ironically, it's the first time I've been able to sit down and blog for ages. My incumbent has Friday as his day off, and as I'm shadowing him, it's my day off too. A day off? What's that?

In many respects, Norfolk is another world; even compared to the peculiar city of Cambridge. Time is slower here; people say hello to each other (that bit's like being back up north), and there are no motorways in this neck of the woods, so getting anywhere takes a while. The northern coast of Norfolk is a haven for retirement, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to come here. Having spent the last 12 years of my church life involved with a university chaplaincy, I felt a bit disconnected from real life; in particular, the end of life. My placement here will give me plenty of experience of working with the elderly, and I feel that's important.

As I read all the fuss about ++Rowan's recently espoused opinions, I find myself frustrated that I have not yet been able to track down a single copy of the New Statesman in Sheringham; I would actually like to read it for myself! Having visited 4 different sellers of newspapers and magazines, my prejudices have been reinforced. I'm in the Daily Mail belt, and I'll have to remember that as I get further into my placement. It will be interesting to see if the sermons on Sunday refer to ++Rowan.

Anyway, LittleLanky is stirring from her afternoon nap beside me. Time to do daddy duty. Stay tuned for further updates from the seaside.

31 May 2011

Strange times...

Exams are underway in Cambridge. I have 2 today, and a 1 each on Wednesday and Thursday. It's a long time since I sat exams, and so far, it seems I can still do it. Let's see what Greek has in store for us today.

The other strange thing is that the leavers in the House are beginning to, well, leave. It's been a privilege to study alongside some students in particular, and it will be very strange to see them go. It's peculiar that having worked in Higher Education for the last 10 years or so, I've become disconnected from the upheaval of student life. As a member of staff, you relish the summer vacation as a time to get some work done in peace and quiet. Now I'm in it again, I remember how weird it is to have such fleeting friendships. It's hard.

Anyway, once this week's done, we're off to Sheringham on placement. Then Greenbelt. Then it starts all over again.

24 May 2011

A quick brain-dump!

Apologies for the lack of blog activity of late. BTh exams start on Monday 30th (I have 5 papers in 4 days), so you can imagine that now is a time for strategic revision and a fair amount of panic! The resounding advice from revision seminars is to "answer the question". Fair point, and one I could have guessed before the seminars. The point the lecturers seem to miss is that for most of us, if we don't answer the question, it's not because we choose to ignore it; we genuinely can't answer the question properly with the revision we've done.

Anyway, enough moaning. Some reasons to be cheerful:

Blackburn Rovers are safe from relegation following a fantastic last day to the Premiership season. Blackpool looked like they might scrape a shock result against Man Utd, but alas, the seasiders are heading back down.

Lancashire are riding high in the cricket after a great LV result against Yorkshire, which came down to a Twenty20 style conclusion. They followed this with a rare performance in the Pro40 competition, which again, came down to the last over. For the time being, they are top in the LV County Championship. long may it continue. I wonder how much of this early promise is due to a drier than usual start to the season? Rain has often been the excuse for failure in recent years.

I've ordered a cassock. Boy, what a palaver! How many pleats Sir, would you like cuffs sir, and piping? How many buttons sir, Oooh, suits you sir! Anyway, hopefully it will arrive in time for my placement in Sheringham, which kicks off after exams are done.

There's a beer festival on Jesus Green this week! It would be better if it were next Friday, but beggars can't be choosers. There's a rumour of a Saturday visit - that might make a nice diversion from revision (hopefully not too large a diversion).

I think that's enough for now. I really need to get back to revising.

27 April 2011

I love it when a plan comes together*

*It's not often I am able to quote George Peppard's John 'Hannibal' Smith, but I thought this occasion was fitting.

I don't have time for a long post - 2 essays in 13 days, and a mountain of revision to start - but while I am excited, I thought I should write a quick post about my summer placement.

All ordinands at Westcott have to do a 'long placement' of 8 weeks in a parish setting. Most married students are placed in Cambridge during the summer, and this was the plan for me. However, an impromptu discussion with my father in law has resulted in another solution for me. The plan is that we will be going to Sheringham in Norfolk for June and July. I will work with the Priest at St Peter's, and DrLanky & LittleLanky will be able to spend lots of time with Dad/Grandad.

It's a relief to have something sorted, and to know the place I'll be going. It's a relief, also, to know that DrLanky will have plenty to do while I'm working.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

22 April 2011

Come on Lancashire!

I know we're only 2 games into the season, but what a start from Lancashire. An innings victory wrapped up inside 3 days at Aigburth against title hopefuls Somerset must be the cause of a few pints in Liverpool tonight!

Having said that, Lancashire have had good starts before. Lets hope they can keep it up this time.

20 April 2011

Oooh, I want some

Just a quick post to say that the clever people at moo.com have come up with these interestingly rounded business cards. They look very good, and I think I shall have to think of a reason to get some. I've used their standard moo cards in the past for publicity for services at the Chaplaincy in Lancaster, and the quality is amazing.

5 April 2011

Come on Stanley!

Accrington Stanley have had a great run of results lately:

Stanley 3 - 1 Southend
Stanley 3 - 1 Northampton
Stanley 4 - 0 Hereford
Aldershot 1 - 1 Stanley
Crewe 0 - 0 Stanley
Stanley 3 - 0 Port Vale
Stanley 3 - 1 Burton Albion

That's 7 without a loss, and some decent margins of victory. the important news is that after tonight's victory over Southend, they are now in a play-off spot. They just need to keep going now.

A few weeks ago, they had a number of games in hand compared to the teams around them in the table. As a follower of the team, i was doing the maths, and working out where they could be if they won all their games in hand. It almost never happens, but here they are, in a play-off spot.

Come on Stanley!

Common sense prevails in Lancaster

I've blogged before (here and here) about the application to install wind turbine(s) at Lancaster University (my former employer), and it finally appears that the council have approved a scheme, albeit reduced from the original plan for 2 turbines. In my humble opinion, this is great news, and a great example to other universities and public bodies.

As I prepare for ministry into the Church of England, which claims to care about God's earth, I am left wondering where I might find evidence of a similar example being set on renewable energy. Why can't we commit to at least auditing our estate, and looking at the energy saving opportunities? I'm not saying we ought to install solar panels on each and every church building (though that may be appropriate in some places), but we should at least have a plan.

If we have a plan, we should be telling people about it!

If we have a plan, someone please tell me where it is!

Shrinking the footprint seems a very noble enterprise, but where do I find evidence of it 'on the ground'?

I detect a ministerial soapbox in construction...

For further details of the Lancaster application, see here: Virtual Lancaster News Blog: Lancaster University gets go ahead for Wind Turbine

3 April 2011

Spring forward?

A fellow Ordinand at Westcott has reminded me that I haven't blogged in ages, and I actually have a lot to say.

The second term at Westcott has been as busy as the first. That's despite the fact that I had fewer contact hours per week; somehow it just seemed busier.

Partly, this was because I was involved in a couple of additional services in the college. One was an Iona style night prayer, and the other was a prayer and praise service where I was called upon to "play" my guitar. After many years in the complex and un-pigeon-hole-able world of ecumenical chaplaincy, these two occasions were right in the middle of my comfort zone, though not the guitar playing part. And it felt good!

The daily offices at Westcott can be wonderful, but they are, on the whole, fairly dry affairs. They also take me back nearly 15 years to when I was last a full part of a "normal" parish church. This is good but strange, so having a couple of opportunities to revert to my most recent type has been great. Many thanks are due to those involved in making them happen, and let's hope there are many more to come.

With the arrival of the easter vacation, I feel that, for the first time since arriving in Cambridge, I actually have enough time to be a father, a husband, and a reasonable student. Days contain walks into town and along the cam, work on greek translation, reading and planning for essays and impromptu socialising with our friends in the college. We're also getting on top of our housework for a change. Now I just need to add in some guitar practice, and life will be in perfect balance. All of this is aided by the dry Cambridge weather and an explosion of colour and beauty with the spring flowers and tree blossoms.

With Easter Monday, term time will return, and I'll sink beneath the waves until the exams are over in May, so I'd better enjoy the next few weeks. Maybe I'll blog a little more while I have the chance.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Harding Way,Cambridge,United Kingdom

28 February 2011


I think a lot about doubt. It's probably the philosopher in me. I am drawn to Descartes' first principles methodology (though I don't agree with where he goes from there), and I am comfortable(ish) with my own doubt.

It's nice, then, to see others taking the issue seriously. Mark Vernon has blogged about an upcoming BBC Radio programme on the subject, and I'll be listening (if I remember (Praise God for iPlayer)).

A couple of weeks ago, our exercise for preaching class was to write one page from the point of view of someone who is usually overlooked in the scriptures. See if you can guess who I chose:

Is it so wrong to want to see?
to touch?
For myself, I mean.
to see and touch, for myself.
I wouldn’t have minded if we’d all been in the same boat.
But I wasn’t there.
It sounds like it was amazing.
I wish I’d been there,
But I wasn’t.
Let’s be honest,
It’s fairly far fetched.
Dead people don’t tend to walk around and talk to folk.
If I believed everything people told me;
especially about Jesus;,
people would probably question my sanity.
I know I would.
But I saw him in the end.
And even though he had a go at me,
I’m glad I got to see and touch
For myself
Is that so wrong?

25 February 2011

Vocation and the work-life balance

It's been an 'up and down' few weeks in the Lanky household. Term-time is flying by at a frightening pace, and it doesn't feel like there's time to stop and think. Indeed, this is my first blog post for some time. LittleLanky's teething extravaganza hasn't helped either.

Over the last few days, there have been heated discussions in the Lanky household. Some might call them arguments. The topic, in the broadest sense, has been to do with 'work-life balance'. This is a term that is common in public and private employment sectors, but it hasn't made it's way into the church; certainly not into the realm of theological training. Maybe that's for good reason. In one sense, the binary opposition of 'work' and 'life' is out of step with talk of an all encompassing vocation. But the intention of those who speak of work-life balance is for the enhanced wellbeing of workers, whether or not they happen to be Priests (even trainees). The intention is to recognise that to be healthy and productive in all areas of life, you need to have multiple dimensions; other places. They acknowledge that if we spend all of our time in one place, we start to find life hard, and burnout becomes a reality (recent Lancaster folk might recall Chris Bonington's 3 legged stool metaphor from Graduation speeches).

I've seen the worst cases in previous jobs. My bosses have all been driven, career minded individuals. They've achieved great things, but I look at them and ask 'where's the balance'? Where's the attention to the other?

I see it here in Cambridge too. Living in community (to whatever extent) constrains the possibility of experiencing anything 'other'. Every hour is filled with something. Especially with a family, there's barely time to do the basics, let alone to experience the culture of Cambridge. If I get an hour here or there, I feel like I should be using it to learn the aorist endings in Greek, or prepare for one of many essays.

Of course, for me, there is an 'other'. Having DrLanky and LittleLanky in Cambridge with me forces me to exit the Westcott/Cambridge bubble on a very frequent basis, and that helps to keep me sane. But just lately, that Cambridge/Westcott bubble has seemed to expand at the expense of my family. Hence the heated debates.

Of course, it's not binary. 'Home' or 'Westcott'.
It's more like a Venn diagram, as DrLanky makes a massive effort to be part of the community here. But it's still hard; a balancing act.

And I know it will be hard when I get out into parish life; if anyone else tells me that its to prepare me for parish life, they are likely to get a smack in the mouth (en agape, of course).

Through all of this, I keep coming back to some words of advice offered by our Principal in my first week at Westcott. 'God doesn't call us to conflicting vocations'. These are wise words, and have become my mantra. My family, and my activity outside of the bubble is a valid part of my vocation. They are not a 'bolt-on'. My vocation is to be the person God calls me to be. That includes being a father, a husband, a friend and a priest (in no particular order). My job is to balance the mess of priorities, and to trust that my calling is to live my entire vocation. Not just one bit of it.

Of course, it's easy to say all of that... In reality, I'm a work in progress, just like anyone else. I still want to do well in my degree, but I don't it to be at the expense of being a good father, husband and friend.

14 February 2011

Too busy? Take on a new hobby

I know it might sound counter intuitive, but it's what a few of us Westcott ordinands have done. Three of us have got together to try a group approach to learning the guitar (ukelele in one case).

Now, I have a couple of guitars (along with a bundle of unfulfilled rock star ambitions), and I know a few chords and the basic technique, so we met last week for our first bash. Amazingly, despite the busy-ness of life here, it provided a wonderfully normal release from the hectic daily grind. Concentrating on something that isn't theology, but concentrating nonetheless, was good!

We made a sound - I can't say it was the most fluent playing, but it was musical; and it was a start! Alas, this week's schedule means that we may not all be able to meet up, but it already feels like we're going somewhere.

I suppose my point isn't musical, it's simply that however busy we are, maybe we need to find some time in the week to do something different from the norm; something that stretches our minds in a different direction. For a professional guitarist, maybe that would be reading theology.

26 January 2011

All the fun of the (tat) fair

Today at Westcott, a further supplier of clerical wear came to peddle their wares. This one was a company called Cross Designs, who seem to be trying to carve a niche in clerical fashions for women (they also do lots of men's stuff).

This and the previous visit (tat fair) we've had (from J&M) have made me aware that I'm nowhere near ready to start considering things like this just now. In conversation with a few people, it became clear to me that I actually know the reason for this hesitation.

My church background is very mixed! Bog-standard broad church (but a bit high) upbringing, followed by many years in an ecumenical and multi-faith chaplaincy. This has left me with a bit of a confused identity in terms of my place in the CofE; I know I'm part of it, but I'm not sure I fit in any of the pre-existing boxes. The thing I realised today, is that what you wear as a Priest can say a lot, to some people, about where on the church's diverse spectrum of churchmanship*  they should place you. What kind of collar do you wear? Cotta or surplice? Clerical hoodie or biretta (or both)? Black or coloured shirt? 39 buttons on your cassock or just enough for the articles you agree with? The choices are almost endless!

Not only is the breadth of choice bewildering, it's also intimidating. What will I be saying to others about myself by choosing only black clerical shirts? This is probably what I'll do, but it's purely aesthetic on my part - I like black, and I don't like the other colours typically used for clerical shirts.

The good news is that apart form a black cassock, I don't need to think about this much more until next year. Hopefully by then I'll know what I'm doing.

*Should that be 'churchpersonship'? Not sure it's a real word.

23 January 2011

Tom Hollander and James Wood visit Westcott House

As you may have picked up from facebook posts and Twitter activity (yes I'm now tweeting), Westcott House hosted a visit from the principal creators of the acclaimed BBC2 comedy, Rev.

Tom Hollander and James Wood had been to Westcott before to talk with some of the people here before writing the second series of the show, and they were persuaded to return to spend some time with the students. Last week, the appointed time came, and they packed out the Westcott lecture room as they told us about the evolution of the show, and took questions from a bunch of eager ordinands.

As the nominated techie in the House I was able to record the session, but I'm not yet sure about what we can do with the audio. If and when it goes public, I'll make sure I post a link to the page on this blog.

The session was really interesting. Both Hollander and Wood are sympathetic and knowledgeable when it comes to the church. It was clear from what they said that they didn't set out to create a particular kind of show with stereotyped caricatures (like Dibley or Fr. Ted). Instead, they sought to try to portray real characters, and to let the humour remain gentle and authentic. We were told that the majority of jokes came straight from the mouths of the many clerical consultants they spoke to, rather than the writing team.

One interesting aspect of the questions that came from the floor was that we seemed to be interested in their opinions about the church, and what we might do differently. I think this was on the basis that they are articulate and critical whilst being sympathetic to the church and its people. This line of questioning was interesting in itself, but their answers were interesting too. They spoke of the tension between preserving the mystery and beauty of the church's traditions and making the liturgy accessible to newcomers. It was a very intelligent discussion!

My question to the pair revealed my interest in film and media. I asked what other TV had inspired them in their creation of Rev. We had heard much about what they didn't want to do (Dibley, Fr. Ted etc), but we hadn't heard which influences did find their way into the show. The most interesting answer to my question (which caused a small pause and some head-scratching) was from James Wood. He cited an American show called Nurse Jackie, which I've never seen. I will now seek it out.

We also heard that the DVD of the first season will probably be available after the second season has aired. They didn't know why, but I suspect it's a marketing decision to ensure a bigger sales impact when they release it. Anyhow, you can buy it on iTunes if you're desperate to see it.

The main thing I took away from the session was an increased admiration for the team of creators. Whether you like the show or not, you have to appreciate the effort and skill they put in to researching the show. Like many others, I am looking forward to the next season, and to finding out what intelligence they have managed to glean from their visits to Westcott House.

Now I really need to do some work on my Greek before classes start tomorrow.

22 January 2011

Even more intensive

The second intensive course I was allocated, and which took place at the beginning of last week, was entitled 'Christian responses to eastern faiths'. It provided views of Buddhism, Sikhism and Hindu and was highly illuminating! The classroom element of the course was useful, but haphazard. It was frustrating that whilst the course leader was knowledgable and likeable, the organisation of the course wasn't the best, and some of the delivery was below par. The highlight of the course, though, was the trip to Leicester (unlikely as it may sound). We visited places of worship of each of the faiths mentioned above, and I found much of the day truly inspiring.

For me there were two big highlights:

The visit to the Hindu temple was great. We were allowed to sit in on an act of worship, and were given the opportunity to ask lots of questions afterwards. Maybe it was just the man who we were talking to, but he was incredibly open to us. We were told that this is a hallmark of Hinduism, and whilst I don't hold to some of the pluralist principles we were told about, I really appreciated the spirit of openness and cooperation we were shown. It gave me genuine hope in the value of interfaith dialogue, and made me very humble about the respect accorded by many to my own faith.

The second highlight was when we visited the Sikh Gudwara. What an example of how to serve the community! We were given a great welcome and an interesting tour of the centre (in a former factory building). Again, we sat in on worship, and we were also invited to share in a meal. In the Gudwara, and in many others like it, Langar is a shared meal which is free, and available to anyone every day. My reaction at the time and now is 'why aren't we doing this?' Not because we should just copy what other people are doing, but because it is a genuinely good thing to do. So much of the Gospel story is set against a backdrop of hospitality and meals. If we don't think that Jesus was a cynical marketeer engaging in a fresh expressions experiment based on dining experiences, we can probably assume that he recognised that food and hospitality were (and are) central to the human life. He didn't feed the five thousand (however he did it) in order to tempt them all to sit through an Alpha presentation; he did it because he thought they were hungry, and he was concerned for their welfare. This should be our motivation for our work in the community. There shouldn't be a cynical subplot of conversion or profile-raising when we set about this type of work. We should do it out of love for our neighbour, whoever that might be, and whatever their religion. Of course, that doesn't mean we can't do mission or evangelism, but we ought to be clear about why we do each of the things we do.

So whilst I might not be converting to any eastern faith anytime soon, I think there are things we can learn if we are prepared to talk to people from other cultures and faiths. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to learn about these other faiths, and my eyes have been opened.

14 January 2011


Today is day three of January 'Intensives' here in the Cambridge Theological Federation. This is where we take a week, before the Cambridge term starts, to dive into a couple of topics in depth. My selections are Science, Religion and the Environment (day 3 today) and Christian responses to Eastern Faiths, which starts on Monday. So far, so good!

The first intensive has been run by the Faraday Institute, and has been led by a number of high profile scientific Christians (or Christian scientists). I enjoyed the abstract nature of the first few sessions - how do science and religion interact - it's stuff I've read a lot about, and am interested in on a philosophical level.

The real challenge has come with the discussion of environmental issues, though. I don't know how many of you have seen the Al Gore film, an inconvenient truth, but the last few sessions have contained more than their fair share of 'tipping points' and graphs going off the scale. I won't beat you with the details - you probably know them!

It would have been easy to come away feeling down and dejected; there's no chance of turning it round now, so why bother. But the good thing, for me, has been the way in which the speakers have led us into a positive mindset. I've been inspired by the people we've heard to think again about the environment, and ways in which I can make a difference. And there's a realisation that as a trainee for Christian leadership, I can maybe make more of a difference than some other people. Hmmm. Watch out congregations, I'm coming to 'Green' you.

Before I wander over to St Edmund's for day 3, I must also note the birth of William to two of our good friends in Lancaster. Welcome to the world, sorry we've messed it up before you got here! We'll try to sort it out as much as we can, but it's likely you'll have to help out with that too (when you're a bit bigger).

6 January 2011

Obituaries in brief

RIP Pete Postlethwaite - An absolute giant of the British acting world has died. He had a presence on screen that was unmistakable, along with a wonderfully expressive voice. I suppose the role that stands out most in my mind is Danny from Brassed Off; a classic role in a classic film.

RIP HMV - DrLanky and I wandered past the Cambridge branch of HMV just the other day, and we wondered who actually buys stuff from there anymore. We certainly don't, when we can usually buy the same products much cheaper on-line. Anyway, it seems that the recession has bitten the cute little dog in the behind, and they are set to close a number of stores. This is a sad sign of the times, and I wonder how long it will be before the company is forced to fold its entire high street operation (remember Woolworths?).

RIP Australian cricket - for now anyway! I've been very impressed by the manner in which the England team have attacked the latest Ashes series. I just hope they don't take their eye of the ball when they resume today to finish the job. I do have something to say about some comments recently made by KP, but I'll save them for another post.

RIP Liverpool FC - After a complete hammering from Blackburn Rovers last night, this must surely be the end for Roy Hodgson.

RIP Paul Collingwood - no he's not dead, but he's retiring from Test cricket - a bold and commendable decision. Rather than try to play himself back into form with the bat, he's accepted that now might be the time to move on and to make way for someone else. What a mature point of view! And what a player. I think we can safely call him the most remarkable fielder of his generation, raking some of the most ridiculous catches you've ever seen. He's also been there when it counts with bat and ball. Thanks for the memories Colly. Google 'collingwood catch' and see some glorious fielding.

And finally, RIP Gerry Rafferty - I can't say I know more than two of his songs, but they are both crackers! From what I've read since his death, it seems that he struggled with the fame brought through his musical talent, and that's a real shame. At least with a musician, a powerful legacy is left for us to remember.

4 January 2011

Trouble at 'mill

All signs from Ewood Park since the recent takeover point to a naive understanding of football on the part of the new owners. I'm no expert, but first sacking Sam Allardyce, then making a bid for Ronaldinho, seems to suggest that they think there are quick and easy ways to buy progress in the Premership.

Big Sam may not have been everyone's sup of tea, but he would have kept them in the league whilst they thought about long term strategy. Maybe they do need someone different, but why make the change now?

The bid for Ronaldinho just makes me chuckle. If he does go to Ewood, I predict his performances will be poor, and he'll leave within a season.

Why can't people who are bringing money into the game just wait a while and take an educated approach to growth and change, rather  than throwing their weight and money around in the hope of quick results?

3 January 2011

New Year Reflections

Being afflicted with the awful 'man-flu' that seems to be doing the rounds, I have become quite accustomed to the pros and cons of the different 'treatments' on the market. Clearly, nothing really helps man-flu, we just have to soldier on like martyrs until our bodies fight their way back to fitness, but there are several things that make man-flu a bit more bearable. One of these is Vicks VapoRub. A marvellous yet dubious substance, which reputedly has remarkable effects when applied to the feet of children (children who have colds, not just random children). Anyway, it also works on 33 year-old ordinands when applied to their chest and neck region before bed-time. Why on earth am I telling you this? Well, it's a cautionary tale really. I learnt the hard way, last night, that one should not rub one's eyes after applying Vicks VapoRub unless one has also washed ones hands quite thoroughly. One's eyeball felt like it was burning for a few minutes, and one was not amused! On the plus side, it did help me to breath more easily.

The Christmas holidays are fest slipping away now, and I'm conscious that I've failed to do any academic work so far (with only a week to go). At the same time though, after such a hard Michaelmas term, I think I needed a mental rest. We were very busy over the vacation, so a sustained physical rest has not been possible, but I think the mental space was more what I needed. I spent some time the other day putting the new term's timetable into iCal so I turn up at the right places at the right times, and I was greatly encouraged. Although Wednesday mornings are still somehow ridiculously ridiculous, the general picture is of fewer lectures and more space. This is good news, and I knew it would be like this from my course choices, but seeing it on the screen is heartwarming!

I suppose my New Year's Resolution is the same as it always is; to make sure I use the spaces in the timetable wisely, and try to keep up with the flow. I'll add another one too; to update the blog more often this year. Happy New Year.