Broken Disturb

BrokenTonight we watched the last of the Lent series on Broken at Agapai. This has been one of the grittiest, real, challenging, anger inducing, tear rolling, deep discussion promoting Lent series I have ever been involved in.

A lot of this comes down to the power of the program, the skills of Paula Gooder as the writer; but the majority reason for why this has been a positive Lent course is down to the commitment of each member of the group in finding the time in incredibly busy lives  to watch the episode for an hour and then be willing to make themselves vulnerable in contributing and/or answering questions.

Tonight we chatted about how we had found the series … gritty, challenging, anger inducing … are all words that came to us as we sat around the table and shared food. I believe it has driven home to each of us, more as a reminder than a lesson, that as people of faith we can;’t help but be involved in our lives, in our communities and in our worlds. We also acknowledged that sometimes a ‘Christian response’ was not unique or obvious … as we considered hard hitting questions of how we would react, or the lengths we might go to, try and combat the effects of extreme poverty in our lives.

I have really valued getting together with this group of great, and not always agreeing, people …. we’ve had great discussions and ourselves. The series notes ended with this prayer attributed ti Francis Drake. It resonated with every one of us.

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Amen to that!


Ashing, Eating and Awesome

ashwednesdayToday has been a busy day, but one of those days where you feel good to be alive, thankful for beautiful friends and mindful of just the awesomeness of some of the things I find myself involved in.

The day started at our secondary school where I was asked to take an Ash Wednesday service. We offered ashes to the students …. and I was totally thrown to see so many, more than 100 in all, lining and waiting for me to ash their foreheads or hands while saying ‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return …’ The atmosphere in the hall was one of great dignity, respect and reverence. It was a complete privilege to be part of such a great event.

Following this I visited another one of our schools to work with the pupil faith team. We have just finished writing the school prayer (we being the whole school community but the students in the main) and today we were planning an assembly in which we plan to introduce the prayer to the ret of the school community. Again, I was in awe of the ideas that these amazing primary school students were putting together.

I then popped to Stanmore to see one of my best friends who is currently in hospital. Her bravery and determination was just beautiful to see. She is a real inspiration to many, myself included and today reminded me that good friends are like gold dust … and we really should make more time to appreciate those special meaningful friendships.

The day ended with Agapai where we ate together, prayed together, watched this short video together and then chatted about Ash Wednesday and Lent. The evening then drew to a close as it had started …. with me ashing the people of Agapai with the same words I used in the morning … ‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’

Those words have hit me in many different ways today …
Saying it to over 100 energetic full or promise 11 years olds this morning was incredibly moving and quite choking ….
Saying to to the old lady on the tube who requested them after she noticed my ashed forehead and dog collar gave me an opportunity to hear her story and her desire to ‘go home’
Saying them tonight at Agapai with people I am getting to know and admire in a great ways hit me as a concrete way of serving those around me
Saying them tonight, to myself, at the end of the day as I write and reflect …. causes me to challenge myself and ask what is this Lent going to mean to me, and how am I going to use my life from now on …. because …. one day I was formed from ash …. so it follows one day I will return.

Ashes to Go

AshestoGo2Tomorrow morning at 730 until 830am, Esther and myself from Holy Trinity Greenwich Peninsula will be robing and offering ‘ashes to go’ at the bus stop outside ‘the vicarage’. 

I’m not sure how this will go and I do not mind saying I am more than a little nervous as to the kind of reception we may receive. I hope some people will feel able to connect with something of their past. I hope some people will welcome the opportunity to pause and consider their humanity in the face of the Divine. I hope some people will be surprised to find the church at their bus stop. I hope some people find encouragement in knowing that their Creator has not forgotten them.

The palm crosses have been burned. Oil ahas been added and we will ash people at the bus stop while saying this simple prayer:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Go in peace. Amen.

We will also give those ashed and wanting to take something away a copy of this prayer and explanation which will be attached to the back of our postcard giving details of who we are. The explanation and prayer below come from the Ashes to Go website:

Almighty and merciful God, you hate nothing you have made, and forgive the sins of all who are penitent; create in us new and contrite hearts, so that when we turn to you and confess our sins and acknowledge our need, we may receive your full and perfect forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

Why “Ashes to Go”?
Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence. From the Middle Ages it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked in ash with the sign of the cross. The reminder that we are dust turns our attention to the creative power of God, and God’s ability to heal the brokenness in our lives when we offer that brokenness to God. That turning to God is the work of Lent, preparation for the celebration of Easter. We’re offering ashes on the street corner today because that reminder of need, humility, and healing shouldn’t be confined to a church building.

We probably need it more when we are in the middle of our daily business! The ashes we receive here are to remind us throughout the day of our need for God, and of God’s call to us.

So …. in just around 12 hours I will be waking … and getting ready …. and becoming nervous … but then afterwards I hope to be able to say that many people felt blessed and encouraged by our presence. Being good news on The Peninsula is what we are about …. and part of that good news is serving and helping and blessing. If we achieve that as a church that would be cool! 

give it up

Just LoveThis is my second Lent blog post which also appears on the gathering facebook page for discussion.

The second chapter of the book looks at the urgent and patient. It looks at how vision takes time to develop. Interestingly it points out that Jesus spent the first 30 years of his ministry waiting … immersing himself in the life and experience of a carpenter in Nazareth. So … when God becomes human of all the things to do … God chooses to live as a carpenter in some chav town for 30 whole years before starting to do anything! Jesus spends around 90% of his earthly life being with people, and being present with some of the most marginalised and oppressed people in the earth.

I love this quote from Sam Wells:

‘Jesus spent a week in Jerusalem working for us, doing what we can’t do, achieving our salvation … He spent three years in Galilee working with us, calling us to follow him and work alongside him … But before he ever got into working with and working for, he spent 30 years in Nazareth being with us, setting aside his plans and strategies, and experiencing in his own body not just the exile and oppression of the children of Israel, but also the joy and sorrow of family and community life’                  

This waiting thing has been crucial to my ministry …. and I am totally sold out on that Jesus model of ‘getting under the skin’ of the community so that I am really able to work with people to see transformation in this town of Gillingham … rather than merely copy the mistakes of the past when well meaning people decided they knew what was needed and simply ended up doing things to the community.  I really believe that for any action to be authentic that it needs to be born in the cradle of this type of incarnational experience, immersed in the life and experiences of the area.

The passage used in this chapter is the passage I was asked to preach on at St marks on Sunday night. I shared on Sunday that in this particular bible passage that I thought Jesus was being tested to take the easy route by satan as he challenged his identity. A few words before this story  Jesus is baptised and God confirms how he is … and in this next chapter we see satan asking 3 question ‘if’ questions. If you are … if you are … if you are … I think what we are seeing here is a pretty clever attempt at some form of identity theft!


In all of these I think I see an underlying message …. without this help I cannot achieve my calling, without this I am hungry, without this I don’t have the access, without this I can’t win ….. without this …. I’m not good enough!


That is so amazingly relevant for us today … because we are constantly bombarded with adverts that deliberately and cruelly aim to get us to believe that we are not good enough while they play on our insecurities of inadequacy so that we really do start to believe that if I wear this deodorant, or drive that car, or use this makeup, or wear this clothing brand, or eat this yoghurt, or of I go on this diet that then …. I will … at last ….. thankfully become acceptable!


It’s rubbish! This message of our culture is just so horribly evil: it’s evil because it says you are never enough. Not skinny enough, smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough, rich enough … and because you are never enough ….  then you never deserve respect, love, or acceptance.

I mentioned that instead of giving in to those lies, Jesus chooses to return to and believe the words of God at his baptism at the end of the previous chapter… that he is beloved and well pleased with!

And so … I believe if we learn anything from this account about how to live out our lives, how to trust our creator, then it is to be found in returning to God and trusting that from God we will receive the ability and strength to help us.

I wonder, whether this Lent time we need to start to give up our false images of ourselves. Images that with each breath tell us … we are not good enough, we are not acceptable, we are not loved. Images that doubt that ‘well pleased and loved’ view of God.

So … gathering , and others, discuss …..

ash love

Just LoveLent for me this year started in my favourite school with some of my favourite people to work with, on the day of the week which if often one of the highlights, or favourites, of my week. I never wake up on a Wednesday and feel I don’t want to get out of the house … I can’t say that for everyday, but I guess who can!

For me, starting Lent in the real world, with real people who don’t necessarily do the God thing felt to be incredibly right and correct. I don’t use the ‘love’ word lightly because I firmly believe it describes an incredibly strong emotion. I also feel the word ‘love’ is overused and so has become devalued. It seems to me that if a person says that they ‘love’ everything then in reality they ‘love’ nothing. But … I love Wednesdays, and have done for the last year … as I get to hang out with some pretty incredible people.

Along with some people from the gathering I am following the Just Love Lent book from Church Urban Fund. I have committed to trying to write something with the gathering once a week using this book as  basis. This is this weeks posts and will appear on the gathering facebook page as well.

I have been challenged by some of what I have read in this weeks chapter. The first theme is ‘spiritual and embodied love’.

The book makes some pretty bold and challenging statements:

when we love we do not simply imitate God. We participate in God’s very life.

Our daily actions will form us more and more into‘ (actually the book says ‘should’ but I am not sure I hold with the should statement. I’m not sure I follow a Christ who ever tells me what I ‘Should’ do … instead I follow a Christ who loves me and marvels at what I do in response to that love – which is pretty amazing in itself as I do little! 

I love the concept, but am having a challenge getting my head around that first quote. When we love, say the writers,  … we don’t just follow God’s example, but we actually become part of God. Jesus showed us how to love, and he leaves a manifesto in Matthew 5. When we join in this kind of love, it is then that we join in God’s own life. 

The chapter ends with a challenging question… ‘how do we embody God’s love faithfully and generously?’

So … how do we …. comments?

end hunger fast

logo_invertIm quite open about my views of the church I am ordained in. I love and hold to the frustration of St Augustine when he says ‘the church is a whore, but she’s our mother’.

I love the church … I’m convinced that the church is ‘of Christ’ …but sometimes she (that’s the church in case any of you sensitive types out there just thought I alluded to a feminine Christ figure!) frustrates the hell out of me. But today … after my sadness earlier in the week I am incredibly proud to be part of the Anglican set up.

It’s an amazing step, and such a right step, to see the Bishops letter signed by 27 Anglican bishops, challenging the government on the horrible reality of poverty in our country. The letter starts; ‘Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry’ before then mentioning ‘one in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children’. That tugs a heart string … I have met some of those mothers in Gillingham High Street … mums that would love to work, but there are no jobs, mums that want the best for their children, and put themselves last.

‘There is an acute moral imperative to act’ is the challenge the bishops give … and indeed there is. The bishops are taking a great step by going public like this. Some will roll out the old saying of ‘church should keep out of politics’ (In fact that was tweeted to me only last week by a prospective MP candidate!) but that betrays a lack of understanding of the gospels, and in particular the political figure of Christ. Christ tells stories to illustrate that our role in society is to stand up for, and help, the poor and those in need … not to ignore, stay silent or walk by on the other side.

The letter comes as part of the End Hunger Fast campaign which headlines with more shocking figures … ‘half a million people used food banks last year … while 5500 were admitted to hospital for malnutrition’. The campaign calls for a national fasting day on April 4th as one way of showing the government we, as a nation, want to see change.

In addition Church Urban Fund has put together this guide to the welfare reforms which outlines the changes and the consequences of them.

The time has come for the government, for Cameron and Clegg in particular, to stand up, admit this is not working, and act …. as Bishop Steven Cottrell says: ‘it’s scandalous in our society that we should need a single food bank, yet along hundreds of them’.

Lets join and pray and act with the aim of never needing a food bank again!

ponder …

imgresIn my continued mode of trying to walk and not run, I am finding some advice from Richard Rohr, that sounds so simple, to be quite unsettling, challenging and provocative:

When you encounter a truly sacred text, the first questions are not: Did this literally happen just as it states? How can I be saved? What is the right thing for me to do? What is the dogmatic pronouncement here? Does my church agree with this? Who is right and who is wrong here? These are largely ego questions, I am afraid. They are questions that try to secure your position, not questions that help you go on a spiritual path of faith and trust. They constrict you, whereas the purpose of The Sacred is to expand you. I know these are the first questions that come to our mind because that is where we usually live—inside of our mental ego. They are the questions we were trained to ask, because everybody else asks them, unfortunately!

Having read sacred text, I would invite you to ponder these questions:

  1. What is God doing here?
  2. What does this say about who God is?
  3. What does this say about how I can then relate to such a God?

On the face of it those questions are simple and safe questions. Ss I have pondered them well, however, they are amazingly demanding and, on occasions, mind blowing. As we get ever closer to Holy Week I am wondering what such questions will bring up in the richness of the stories before us.


Dust – promise or curse?

imageIt blows down dry streets in eddies, dead. It gathers in corners. It forms into rich earth, and out of it sprout tiny seeds. It compacts into warm and rich clay, which can be cut and slammed and shaped by hands and wheel into pots, and bowls and little figures of stout women and tiny men. It blows in the stellar winds in furthest space. It is dust.

My thinking was challenged on Ash Wednesday with this beautifully written post over on the Thinking Anglicans website. Today I was challenged again as we visited a tin mine where, essentially tin ‘dust’ is transformed into something of use. I guess i have aways considered the negative and penitential side of dust, rather than the potential. Go read more here

a bench of bishops

One of the highlights of being on placement at St Stephens over Lent ans been the Lent course planned by the Chatham Deanery of churches. On 5 successive Wednesday evenings they managed to get a bishop to speak as follows:

Bishop James Rochester: empowering mission relevant to our society and culture
Bishop Stephen Venner: how does war enable or disable mission?
Bishop Brian Tonbridge: What can we learn about mission from other countries?
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali: Mission to those with other faiths and none
Bishop Michael Turnbull: A Church of England kind of mission.

In that collection we have two former bishops of Rochester, the current and Suffragen bishops of Rochester and the Bishop for the Armed Forces … the deanery did well at getting them together! A you would expect the quality of the speaking has been excellent and thought provoking.  If there was one bishop missing, I would have liked to see Bishop Graham Cray with some title like ‘mission for new times’ … but in a way many of them approached that from their individual perspectives.

Rather than write after each bishop I have decided to wait and pull out one thought from each as I look back over Lent:

Bishop James took the text of Jeremiah 29 and challenges us to settle in the places we are called to. He implied many long to be moved from where they are and hold back … but we are encouraged by Jeremiah’s words to the exiles to put down roots and really become parts of our communities.
Bishop Stephen  took a line on warfare now being very complicated and so ministry and mission being complicated to; with Jesus demanding we love our enemies as well as our friends. This could demand that Christians could be in places and positions that could be both dangerous geographically and unpopular sociologically.
Bishop Brian got us thinking about worship and mission being two sides of the same coin, asking ‘is worship mission?’ and ‘is mission worship?’ It’s a great question as many seem to concentrate on one to the detriment of others.
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali  challenged us in how we balance the hospitality and embassy sides of our faith; that is how we welcome people and how we go out to people.he underlined this by reminding us that the Abrahamic call to be a blessing to others still stood! In response to some comments he reminded us that on this earth there is no God vacuum – God is everywhere and can be found everywhere!
Bishop Michael Turnbull finished the series by talking about the importance of people and their stories and that our beliefs should be seen as a framework om which our faith grows, using a plant growing on a trellis as an image. I liked this image as it showed that the plant (faith) grows around the framework (belief) in different ways and even beyond the framework leaving loose ends. To hear a mature and respected bishop say he still had ‘loose ends of faith’ or doubt but still had  firm faith is pretty encouraging!

As I said it has been a good 6 Wednesday evenings which has given us loads to think about. They all challenge me but I guess most are those thoughts to put down roots, to be a blessing, and notice God is all situations are the things that spoke to me the most.

days 7,8,9 …. rooted in the community

I guess I am getting into the swing of things at St. Stephens and learning names and understanding how they do things. Yesterday I presided at a mid week Eucharist which surprised me with an attendance of 10 people, which is quite a lot more than I see when I preside at the mid week eucharists in the cathedral. I compare only because I find it interesting to observe and learn what draws people to such a service at 10am on a Wednesday morning.

Most of the people there yesterday were retired in some capacity and the service is clearly important to them. Some were moving next to visiting some homes in the parish with the magazine so our closing words of ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ were said with immediate practical application.

Yesterday ended with atending the Lent course. The Chatham churches are getting together every Wednesday evening over Lent and have managed to get a different bishop each night to talk on a topic. Last night Bishop James spoke to the title, ‘Empowering Mission relevant to our society and culture’. I was encouraged by what I heard.

Bishop James spoke widely around the term ‘empowering mission‘. What empowers mission was an early question and ‘the Holy Spirit’ was an early answer. He then turned the term around and asked how does mission empower people because he believed mission, if it is mission, is about transforming lives and not just saving souls as Jesus makes pretty clear in John 10:10. I wanted to shout a loud front row Pentecostal yes to that … but you will be glad to know I kept my Anglican calm dignity in the back row by nodding slowly but surely!

Bishop James ended his talk by referring to Jeremiah chapter 29 and these word which were written to exiles that, I presume, wanted to escape their exile:
build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters – that you may be increased there and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in it’s peace, you will have peace. (vv5-8)

Sometimes we can feel as exiles where we are; but our role and calling is not to moan but to settle and to be a blessing. As Bishop James said, we need to be rooted in the places we are, listening to the heartbeat of our communities and responding appropriately.

I love that statement and I agree with it wholeheartedly. That is what I am attempting to do in the St Stephen’s parish but it takes a lot longer than 6 weeks to tune in. To be rooted in a place takes time and sometimes it does not happen at all …. but when it does relationships flourish and people of a place become very special. After 20 years of living and working in a variety of ways in the community of Medway I feel like roots are developing and growing well. I can sense and hear the heartbeat and, in my case, pioneering is about the responding appropriately. It takes that long to establish roots in a place which is why I am fighting to stay locally in my next role.

People ask am I moving, can I move and will I move … I could, there are opportunities both in this diocese and others …. but I don’t think I can as I, well we as a family,  passionately feel called to serve the people of Medway, to seek the welfare of the people of Medway, to pray for peace for the people of Medway. When I first came here from Weymouth in 1987 I hated Medway with a passion and could not wait to return to the West Country …. we worked for Holy Trinity Nailsea for 4 years but we came back, believing God called us back here. I can say I have built my house here, I am planting my garden (remember my allotment!) … and I’ve even ‘taken’ (not my word!) a wife and beget sons and a daughter here. As I consider this passage what other response can I make?

I will seek the peace of this city … and in that peace I hope that I will fine mine.