space for questions

consumed by truthI attended a really great training day today run by Su Blanch from 3D Coaching. I have to ad

mit that I do have a tendency to be a bit critical when it comes to adult trainers (maybe that comes with doing some training myself?). Today, however, but right from the start I was focussed due Su’s method of delivery, content and style which were simply amazing.

We covered a lot of ground in quite a light but deep way. At the start of the day we were asked what would we need to have today so that we saw the day as a ‘success’. I don’t think that was Su’s language but it is my interpretation. I responded with something like, ‘at least one task for me to go away and me motivated to carry out as I could see the outcome would be for me to be more effective at what I do.’ I guess I have just been to too many training days where the stuff is inspiring but when I ask ‘so what’ there is nothing there.

Today was not like that, it was inspiring, and I have a ‘so what’ task so I am happy.

I was struck today by lots, but 3 questions in particular that Su threw out there. One was the question of what season is our church in. I considered this as the gathering and was surprised at where I ended up. Another was’ for this moment in time, what role do I need to take on?’ That’s a question that depends on context and is different in each one, but it is a question that until today I had not really focussed in on needing to be asked of myself regularly.

The final question that struck me was the ‘what will be different?’ question. After this conversation, action, experience, what will be different? The ‘so what’ of the day that I was so looking forward to.

What I have really loved about today is that I have come away with lots of questions. Helpful questions that I now need to give space to explore. First task from today … block out space in that diary to consider those questions.

For the time being … thanks Su and 3D coaching for a great day!

deliberately cracked

crackvase_litex3The retreat was an excellent time away.
Bishop James was fantastic in his teaching, which was based around 2 Corinthian chapters 2 – 6., and challenge. A really powerful time for me personally was on the last morning when in the context of a Eucharist, Bishop James prayed for each of us and then anointed us as we re-affirmed our ordination vows. This experience took me back to the roots of why I do what I do which was in itself a real personal challenge to me.

The most encouraging moment for me came when Bishop James reminded us that we hold our treasure, our ministry, within jars of clay (2 Cor 4:7-12). These jars are jars that would be picked up at a local market, poor quality, thin, designed for everyday use … maybe even cracked. These are not the good quality thick earthenware jugs that would be adorned with patterns and motifs. The bishop pointed out that Paul states figuratively that it is in these everyday poor quality clay jars that we carry the message of the gospel in. Paul was saying, and the bishop was reminding us, that Paul likens our lives to those poor quality jars. Jars made so thinly that you could see a candle shining through them.

That encourages me because a lot of the time I feel broken but don’t feel the need to be fixed, even though people sometimes want to fix me.
It encourages me because I know I am full of cracks and imperfections, but don’t feel a need to fill or glue them with something else, even though some may feel thats the right thing to do.
It encourages because I know I ain’t one of those pretty jars …. but God created me in the image of God all the same.

I’m encouraged because I have believed for some time that that my being broken and cracked and transparent is right. I believe this because I think that it may be through the cracks, the thin-ness and the transparency that the light of Christ shines through.

If I was perfect and my life was solid and sealed nothing would escape or leak of seep out from the imperfections. So …. I remain deliberately cracked because I believe I was deliberately created that way.


packed with disconnection

detail edenIt’s been a pretty packed week.
I could say there has been just a little too much trad stuff for my liking, but I have seen God work in the situations and am aware of the missional opportunities of all situations.

Regular readers will have probably worked that out … as when I’m packed and stressed this blog doesn’t happen. I hate that because, as a missioner I seriously need time to reflect if I am able to engage in a relevant way. This week has had little reflection, little opportunity to think about what I am doing, and there is no one to blame other than myself! I hate that even more than not having time to reflect.

Life is so much easier when you have someone to blame! Normally I am organised and plan in advance, but this past week with two training events to deliver, baptisms, pastoral visits, school and prison chaplaincy I have found myself meeting and desk bound as I simply took my eye of the ball! I was not organised, or prepared and so feel pretty much that I have lost a week.

Not only have i lost a week, but I have felt disconnected  packed with no space, but disconnected in my busy-ness. As the week progressed I have merely sat before God, with no words, but presenting myself. Today I have found words of Ghandi that have brought a smile:

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.

It’s an amazingly hard hitting quote. In weeks like this, I hope, I am relieved that God can see what is in my heart … a desperate desire to see this place transformed … and that desire does not need words …. it simply needs space.


one step forward …

… and three steps back … is what I expected .. following yesterdays post

In my limited experience (I have only tried this stuff in one other place) after an experience like Monday, when things seem to be going well and you think you are making progress, this is quickly followed by a reality check whereby everything seems to come crashing in and you wonder again where things have got to. This is a normal stage of mission as people express, venture out, retract before trying again.

At this stage in Rochester 4 years ago people were still, in the main, not engaging with me and I often felt I was invisible. In many places in Gillingham that pattern has repeated itself. I think this is partly out of people being unsure of how to deal with the ‘dog collar’ thing as well as the fact that, in the main, many people like to be pretty private when out and about. It does remind me, however, that I soon learned four years ago that I have to be the instigator of any conversation … out of some old respect for the role i publicly do many are uncomfortable for a variety of reasons about talking to ‘a person of the cloth’. By instigating the conversation it is as if I am saying it is ok to talk …. not that I feel I need to, but it does seem that people assume a ‘professional’ person is simply too busy for them. This is pretty similar to what I experienced when I started in Rochester.

This is why I ventured out on Tuesday and today excepting the 1 step forward 3 steps back thing – but it never came. I went out expecting to have very quiet days with little engagement with people … but the opposite seems to have happened. If I’m honest I am kind of confused by that. Yesterday, for example, I was stopped in the High Street with a humourous friendly shout of ‘Oh, don’t speak then!’ This was the call of someone I spoke to a few days ago that wanted to talk more in the middle of the High Street.

For some reason people I have met once seem to be very open and very chatty. There are still hundreds in the High Street to whom I am invisible, which is not a surprise, but there are a handfull of people who are already starting to share their stories with me. That has come as a real surprise. I don’t know what it indicates or what this means for how I exercise my ministry … but it seemed worth making note of.

A possible cause could be due to the portfolio type ministry I have in the Gillingham area. In Rochester I was attached to the cathedral and the High Street… and that was it. In Gillingham I have this collection of stuff at St Marks, St Mary Magdalene, St Mary Island Church, St Mary Island School, governor at Brompton Academy, and the High Street. That means I have six or seven different places or opportunities to come into contact with people. I am visible in different types of spaces … professional spaces such as school, pastoral places of churches and social places of cafes. Some people come across me in 2 or 3 different spaces and I wonder if that is helping a relationship of trust to develop. I wonder …

I have, however, left those rose tinted specs locked in a  drawer somewhere. I still believe the 3 steps back stage will come … it just didn’t come yesterday and hasn’t come today.

a new day … a new week

Monday was a different day.
A while a go (when I was 18 .. so an age ago!) a good friend gave me a framed print of the saying ‘Today is the First day of the Rest of Your Life’.
Today has felt like that day.
A few things have contributed to this.
Today I cycled to GIllingham rather than drive and in some odd way felt more connected with my surroundings.
I cycled to morning prayer at St Mary Magdalene as I have become acutely aware of how I have missed this reflective/contemplative simple start with others to my day.
Today I loitered in 3 places and in each place there was some form of engagement or discussion.
In those places my coffee was being served before I had a chance to sit down … a possible sign of being welcomed maybe?
Monday was a new day … I wonder what will happen today.

reflecting on last week

Last week is over and in some ways I am glad. I actually started to write this post on saturday morning but found I was tol drained to think and so it has sat half written for the best part of three days.

As far as the week goes in some ways I wish I had achieved more. It’s been a fairly normal week with disappointments and joys, misreading of situations, expectations not materialising, and missed opportunities.

There have been some surreal moments too. On one occasion last week I was sat in a cafe only to find everyone in the cafe apart from me talking about God. There was a great in-depth conversation going on around me with talk of respect for each other, respect for beliefs, the ‘obviousness of God’… it was fascinating to listen to.

The prison continues to be emotionally draining. There is so much need in that place and I feel so inadequate to help … even more inadequate that I usually do and sometimes I wonder if I am helping at all.

In the High Street people have started to notice this ‘priest figure’ around and started to engage. I was asked to bless a baby and was taken aback as this couple shared their story on the High Street with all to hear.

I believe I have seen positive signs of the Kingdom of God present in the community of Gillingham. It is easy to knock the place, and it is very different to Rochester, but in my observing I have noticed …
in a cafe a young man rushing out of his seat in a cafe to open the door for an old lady who was struggling to open it herself
a young woman waiting patiently with a smile by the car door as her 3 year old daughter screamed at her for a full 10 minutes (if you frequent Gillingham you will understand why I draw attention to this as being ‘out of the norm’)
a person running down the High Street with a wallet in their hand to give to someone who had dropped it on the floor of a shop
these are encouraging signs of a community that does have compassiona and care for each other.

Real positives of the week were baptising three people yesterday. I baptised 2 children and one adult, who was the parent of one of the children baptised … so that qualifies as my first adult baptism. It was a delight to work with both sets of guests, one at 12 and the others at 2pm who were both very different ‘parties’ but both very spiritual in their outlook. I pray that I may come across some of these people again.

the gathering also met and went well and Nick got us thinking, and challenged us, about our role in caring for the world or making the world a better place … which was one of our original passions or desires as the gathering.

A mixed but interesting week and one in which I can start to sense some form of way forward … even if it’s only a little step!

4 years on …

On this weekend 4 years ago I was ordained in Rochester Cathedral. That experience holds as one of the most important and amazing days of my life, beaten only by our wedding day and being present at the births of my three children. The moment was captured by Peter, a good friend from Nailsea, in this sketch.

Four years have flown by, and it has been an amazing four years. The blog has been quiet this week as it has been, quite understandably, an emotional time as I started to leave. There were lots of people to say goodbye too and it has taken the best part of a week for me to catch up with everyone I needed to.

It has struck me that I have found the moving from this role to be particularly hard, uniquely so as, being a pioneer, I quite like change … thrive on it even! This toughness has caused me to reflect upon why leaving, in this instance, is proving to be quite a unique experience.

I need to say first, though, that I am in an odd situation that does not make a lot of sense. I am very excited, as well as daunted (as I was 4 years ago) about the new task in front of me. The thought of starting afresh in a new area is exciting and scary all together … but this time it is tinged with a massive sadness of leaving Rochester behind.

In my reflections I have wondered and have realised:
It’s not really about the city of Rochester, although it is very lovely and a wonderful place to work.
It’s not really about Rochester Cathedral, although it is a magnificent building and to start my ordained journey there has been the most amazing experience. I have done things there which I would never of had the chance to do elsewhere and not a day has passed when I have not realised how fortunate I was to be a curate at the cathedral.
It’s not about wetherspoons despite their massive choice of good real ale and cheap prices and the way they have welcomed and embraced pub theology.
Surprisingly it is not even about Deaf Cat which is by far the best coffee shop in Medway, probably the whole of te south east!

My sadness at moving has not been about any of these places  ….. it has been about the people I have spent my time with in these places, the people who have invited me into their lives and the people who I am incredibly lucky to now be able to call friends. It is these people that I will miss chatting with on a daily basis and it is these people who have had such a profound impact upon my life while I, in turn, have had the immense privilege of being able to listen and then share our dreams, our hopes and our struggles. Sometimes we have laughed together, sometimes we’ve cried together and other times we’ve got angry … and each was right in its time. Each of these friendships are very special to me and I will continue to treasure them massively. The only thing I can say is ‘thank you – you are amazing people!’.

But now, for me, the time has come when my focus must shift as my ministry and life look to be useful in a new part of God’s world. I move on taking special memories of special people and I thank God for those friends and experiences, and I look forward with expectation at how God will continue to bless us as I acknowledge again the sometimes gritty reality of Romero’s Long View…

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
more here

an olympic chaplain ….

It’s been am amazing week – but then you have probably guessed that by the lack of action here on SHP.

I am one of the volunteer chaplains at The Olympics covering a couple of venues. My role is to support and be available to the workforce and volunteers that are giving up their time to help ensure that ‘the games’ run smoothly. The days are quiet varied – although I am in the same venues the number of volunteers and shift patterns means I meet an come alongside a great variety of people.

I have met loads of people, had loads of conversations, been surprised, been humbled and found myself in some amazing situations and places. Some of these I will share a little more of after the Olympics have concluded. In every conversation or encounter I have had (and there have probably been over 50 already) people are really ‘touched’ or ‘intrigued’ that there is a chaplain on site for them. Everyone has been pleasantly surprised rather than suspicious and we are quickly being seen as a support to people.

One particular highlight of last week was being one of the lucky people to attend the rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium. It was stunning … I can say that now as we are past Friday and you have all seen it. I came away thinking ‘Danny Boyle is a genius’. The sound, smell and atmosphere did not really relay that well through a TV screen but it was still exciting to watch at home.

The next two weeks I will be continuing as a chaplain at the Olympics and really can’t believe how cool and exciting this role is. The role is rewarding, I love meeting new people and being a listening ear and being … well … a chaplain to them … and for the next two weeks I’m part of the Olympic Family! Wow!!!

so … Rob … what are you doing next?

This post has taken a while to write … the blog has been quiet as I have thought hard and done stuff ‘behind the scenes’ about the immediate way forward and even more so on how to communicate that to friends who regularly read this blog.

It probably will not come as a surprise to many of you that read here that I am still convinced of my calling as a pioneer;  to work with but outside the church and beyond in a way that enables me to meet with people outside the walls of the church. I believe in th church, but also believe the church needs to be working differently to reach and support different groups of people. I think that’s called ‘one size does not fit all’.

A few years ago, after Mission Shaped Church report was published I responded to what I believe was a call from God to consider ordination with a view to being a pioneer minister rather than the more traditional route of parish priest. Being creative, working with people in fresh ways to investigate more about faith and to look for opportunities of how to work together and journey together rather than avoid each other … these are things that I have realise energise and excite me.

As a pioneer, my desire has not been so much to share my faith, although that has happened, or to try and convince people of my faith, although that seems to have happened as well, but more to try and be a positive influence, to give opportunities for questions, and to be a blessing to those that I have come across. I have a great desire to be good news in my community, to encourage and to support when its been possible. In short, I have tried to be a friend to people.

I now seems like ages ago that I started doing this ‘pioneering stuff’ with some trepidation as I knew no one. Four years down the line I find that I have made some good friends in the Rochester High Street area. I have learned lots from these people and have grown to love and respect them as the good bunch of people they are – but now is not the time to talk about that stuff …. that will come later in September when I move on from Rochester.

In September it will be with some sadness that I leave Rochester and the cathedral as my curacy comes to an end. Curacies in the Church of England are always a maximum of 4 years … and I have let this run its full course. My last Sunday at the cathedral will be on 2nd September, while my last day as pioneer curate in Rochester will be on Wednesday 5th September. That still sounds a little way off but I guess this will come quickly as between now and then I have a 3 week Olympic chaplaincy and a 10 day holiday in the diary.

My role as a pioneer in Rochester was to develop a new way of being church for people that don’t currently go to church. the gathering is a group of people who are traveling together and exploring faith together. I believe we are some form of new monastic community and we consider how we live our lives. We are at an early stage in our life together as we move towards becoming a ‘church’. Over the last 3 or so years we have met in various places and learned lots together about journeying and faith and inclusivity. This group is slowly growing as we pick up others on the way who are asking the same sorts of questions that we are …. those being more about how we live out faith rather than what each individual believes in detail. This means the community holds together people that don’t agree on some issues … and that is a good thing.

As we started to talk about what happens next after my curacy it soon became clear that the diocese only really has the resources to offer me parish ministry next. (I think a number of dioceses are in the same position). The diocese looked at parishes which would suit a pioneer and we considered some, and the opportunities were quite exciting. After much prayer and discussion, though, we felt we could only move to a parish if we could move the gathering there as well. This has not been possible due to distances involved away from Medway.

So … as we feel God is calling us to carry on what we have started and continue travelling with the gathering we (me/my family/the bishop)  have made the decision that I will become an SSM (self supporting minister) pioneer minister / priest missioner in Gillingham from September and accountable to local people. Obviously it is a risk to give up a whole salary, but I guess this is what ‘living by faith’ and ‘following your convictions’ is all about.

I won’t pretend all things are hunk dory … I’m excited by a new start (as any pioneer would be), but I will be sad at missing some great people and I don’t mind admitting that I’m pretty scared as well about starting again and trusting God with our finances. Even as I write it I sound like some religious fanatic … but yes I really do believe God will provide …. and if I’m honest I hope I will still be able to say the same in December!

If you are the praying type, maybe you could pray for us. As you pray maybe you could consider as well if you could support us. I am currently looking for people to support us both in money and prayer. If you wish to consider supporting in that way and want to know more detail please read the letter here and we can go from there.

So … that’s my update …. its a time for me to look ahead and start to dream what might be … hopefully I will keep bumping into some of you … so, that’s my update … see you around!

totally present

Today was a good day. Today I joined people at CMS and was the speaker at today’s Pioneer Witness.  The website explains this as ‘‘Pioneer Witness’ is a unique learning opportunity where Pioneers will share their stories face-to-face and give us the chance to question, listen and learn.’

I enjoyed the experience of sharing my story and answering peoples questions … but the session has also resulted in myself having a chance to question to listen and to learn and not only from the other people there!

As I planned for this session I was plunged back into remembering what is was like in the early days. It seems such a while ago and it is really difficult to believe the extent of loneliness I experienced and the real hardship of stuff in the early days when I used to sit i places and feel uncomfortable or ill at ease due to the reactions of others. I quoted the following from my training journal from the first few months which made up the content of my first year assignment which outlined a series of ‘exchanges’ between myself and God:

Dear God, Thank you for calling me to this role. Today, however, I have an issue. I got home and Sarah asked me ‘What have you done today?’ This may seem a perfectly innocent question, and indeed it was, but it has plunged me into quite a cloud of uncertainty. When I  attempt to answer Sarah’s question I have nothing to offer. The answer is quite plainly ‘nothing’. I have sat in Wetherspoons in Rochester with my dog collar on and waited to see what will happen. Today, nothing happened. Much of the time ‘nothing’ happens. I arrive, I order my coffee, I sit in a comfy sofa and I wait.  God, I have been doing this for months and I am starting to wonder what it is that I am waiting for! I feel disorientated, confused and have no purpose. I feel lonely, anonymous and have been rebuffed and ridiculed. I feel as if I am in a new country as everything around me has changed. 

The pain of those few months is fairly evident in that short statement. I have thought for a while that no one really talkes about the pain and struggle of starting up … the nothingness of ministry and the vacuum that can be created by simply waiting. People like to share the good stuff, the exciting stuff and the stuff that makes ‘pioneer ministry’ seem exciting and sexy …. and yet a lot of what we do is the simple hard graft of work and ministry that everyone else does. A difference might be that pioneers are misunderstood that bit more! Maybe I should write a book about all this stuff!

I also shared today that in those early days while struggling with waiting that I came across Vanstone’s ‘The Stature of Waiting‘ which had a lot of good stuff in it, notably for me at the time these words about waiting:
‘Waiting can be the most poignant of all human experiences – the experience which, above all others, strips you of affection and self deception and reveals to you the reality of your needs your values and yourself.’
The waiting was very necessary to my ministry with the people I came across.  During the waiting I do believe I learned more about myself and my values. I realised in great pain how I need to work with others and not just because it is a good idea but because I NEED to work with others. The waiting also revealed to me the masks of titles that I had allowed myself to hide behind … titles of jobs, titles within YFC and titles within the church. Waiting helped me discover more about the Rob that God had created …. as well as learn more about this new community I was placed within.

After talking for a little while we had around 40 minutes of questions, all of which helped me to think more, i concluded with a quote from John Taylor’s Primal Vision. Seriously if you have not read this book, which I believe is a classic book that should be read by everyone interested in mission, then you need to do so. Taylor writes from the perspective of believing that we should listen and learn from the indigenous culture while seeing ourselves as guests. I read this quote regulalrly to challenge and question myself and can even tell you this quote is on page 136. I leave this with you in the hope it may challenge and be a support to you in the way it has to me, and may we be delivered from that air of professionalism that renders us ‘not all there’:

‘The Christian has nothing to offer unless he offers to be present, really and totally present, really and totally in the present. The failure of so many professional Christians has been that they are not all there.’