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.