Monday, 27 February 2017

Shadowing a priest in Scotland

That's a little snapshot of my week. I had such a good time. I've known the family for years, so it was good to be with friends and make new ones, and get away from work of course, but I also learnt a lot. I asked Alasdair if I could shadow him because staying with him and his family on previous occasions, I saw peripherally how his life as a priest was so different to the priests I know in central London.

The incident that set the idea in my mind was on his day off, answering the door in his pajamas and having to put on his wellies to go open up the church hall because whoever was supposed to hadn't! The vicar at the church where I work certainly wouldn't have cause to do that. It's good for me to see with my own eyes a situation I haven't really come across, namely a priest who is a radial point, the only full time person who ultimately looks after the church.

Also, his tradition is pretty Anglo-Catholic, and though my churches down in London are high enough to have robed servers and processions, Alasdair's Scottish Episcopal church is almost as far away from what I'm used to as the worship I experienced at the other end of the candle at Momentum or on Pentecost last summer, though not as high as my weekend with the Society of Catholic Priests. It's an important part of being in the Anglican Communion to understand the diversity of traditions held within it, and crucially it is in experiencing all these types of worship for myself that I am able to comprehend on a spiritual level that whilst my tastes and needs in liturgy and worship are different, God is in all of it.

So in doing thee's and thou's morning and evening prayer next door everyday, Mass both east facing and west facing (sometimes just the two of us), serving in cassock and cotta - I got my hands dirty in a way I didn't on the Catholic weekend away, plus Alasdair was very happy to answer my questions. Being with a priest who is not 'my' priest or just 'a' priest, but rather a friend, was a very useful space because (and this is also a mark of Alasdair's patience) I was able to push him to answer my questions further and defend anything I didn't understand or maybe didn't agree with, and also push back and challenge me.

That personal connection and staying with him and his family in the rectory was also able to give me insight into a priest as a whole, 'normal' person, that they talk about at vocation events, but is hard to actually understand in reality, to imagine a priest complexly, as the saying goes. At the same time, when off duty and in civvies, whilst not being the rector, even I as a friend and temporary member of his household could not shake an awareness of him being A Priest. That issue of perception is also often talked about at vocation events.

One thing I learnt about myself was I clarified why I don't like doing certain acts of kneeling in worship. I don't like kneeling to receive communion, and when I served on the Sunday in Scotland I had to genuflect, and boy, I did not like that either. It was as if, as my knee hit the marble, God winced. That kind of abasement is not part of our relationship. That's not to say I don't have a great reference for the Lord of the Universe, but you can have deep respect and show complete obedience without prostrating yourself. Sure, that's how some people show it, but I don't!

I'm also still processing something I 'learnt' in a way, but it's hard to articulate. It's something about being rooted in a place and how I don't feel called to that, at least not right away. I'm reminded of a sermon I heard about Psalm 84, and Hebrews 11 "They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one." I've written before how I don't feel like I have a 'home', but not in a bad way, because I look to making a home in God, and in a more tangible way, making a home where I find God in other people. I don't know, it just doesn't feel like that rootedness is part of my path ahead of me, til the distant future...

Anyway, I got away from my liberal urban bubble and also got to know some of the laity. They were all lovely and when I tagged along for home visits, everyone welcomed me in very gracefully. Sure I heard gossip and politics, but you get that everywhere there are people, and there was no maliciousness amongst the people I met. Talking to the theologian/CofS minister was also interesting to get away from Anglicanism and hear another story of vocation.

But against all that it was just a church serving God and creation. It is reassuring to feel the same undercurrent where ever two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, and to learn from people who are dedicated to God. As I said in the video, where ever I go, "it's still church".

Friday, 24 February 2017

Video: Gabriel Three and Leicester

Check out this post to see what Gabriel Collective is.

Gabriel Three vlog: London 10th December - Christmas

Gabriel Leicester vlog: Leicester 4th February - Love

Friday, 3 February 2017

Towards Ordained Ministry course: Session Two

This post details my experience of Session Two of the Towards Ordained Ministry course. See my previous post about session one to find out what the TOM course is.

I googled the speaker before this event, the Rector of St Bride's Fleet St, and I was looking forward to hearing from her as she seemed pretty awesome. Plus getting our teeth into the topic 'The Bible' from a priest's perspective was quite a fun prospect.

I wasn’t disappointed. She tackled what could have been quite a controversial topic very well, imparting wisdom without opinion in a very down to earth manner.

There were lots of anecdotes and five minute pauses for us to turn to our neighbours and discuss something before feeding back to the group.

She laid her cards down from the beginning, encouraging that diversity is good for our understanding, and we all need to engage with the Bible for ourselves. She also told us a little about herself and her church, including the titbit that the first newspaper was founded by a woman.

Her story
When she got into it, she started by taking us through the place scripture has had in her own journey. It started with Anglo-Catholic Sunday school and RE lessons being simply Bible stories, using the KJV, the version that is “like, what God actually said”, which of course was tough to read, especially without help. She “didn’t know how to read” the Bible.

She eventually went to evangelical bible studies “because they did them better.” Then in her first year of theological college, the academic biblical study was “dislocating” and exploded her assumptions of scripture and informed her use of it in worship. She said she was “so grateful to go through that process”, and though she had to rethink a lot, it “all came back together”, meaning the initial loss turned into a profound understanding of scripture.

“Critical engagement” is key, because the power of scripture is in its “complexity” so ask the hard questions! And don’t skirt round the difficult bits.

“Living Word of God”
At this point she gave three examples of how scripture can be to us the ‘living word’.

One, having a “verse collide with your life” which can do things like make you realise your own emotion, and “unlock a situation”, effecting the external circumstances.
Two, reading something can give new perspective to overcome an internal struggle or a new direction after the resolution of an internal struggle.
Three, for 29 years she had to give between 4 and 7 addresses a week, and only extremely rarely did not speak to the lectionary texts. Of course she came across the same texts over and over, but they “always spoke to me in new ways”, and the texts she had to work, pray and engage with most led to “cracking” sermons.

The Bible is “gloriously subversive”, like the fact that it tells us it’s always the least suitable, the least capable person who is chosen to do God’s work - the ancient Abram, the argumentative and stammering Moses, the persecuting Pharisee Paul. When she went on a tour of Paul’s route through Greece, it “hit me like a ton of bricks” that his experience had, at the time, felt like a failure, and only God could see the big picture that we now see, of the success story.

The subversive-ness is in the call to humanity in all our brokenness and frailty, and that like Paul we should rejoice even if all we see currently is bad – we follow the crucified Christ, so we know that suffering is part of ultimate success. The Bible shows us we  have to think differently about what results look like”.

“Scripture is baffling”
Here she briefly touched on the stuff a lot of us don’t like, such as God obliterating whole nations in the OT, or being told we must hate our families and no one is good, in the NT. Her advice on how to engage was to inhabit the challenging texts in our prayer life, which might shed some light; and she reiterated that academic engagement can inform scripture in liturgy.

Following on from that, she did point out that the Bible does need to be interpreted, because when reading it, we’re “juggling” lots of factors, and it can have a big impact – just look at women’s ministry. But we can’t be blinded by the divisions over scripture that are currently fashionable, because they have changed radically over time.

For example, in the 1590s, weddings rings were a passionate issue of contention because they weren’t in the Bible. She’s a very keen fan of Richard Hooker, often cited as the author of Anglican morality, and alongside Cranmer and BCP, is the closest we have to a founding father – point being when he was writing his defence of Anglicanism, it included a huge amount on the use of wedding rings.

Another debate ran around the use of anaesthesia in childbirth, as ‘the Bible clearly states’ that the pain is our punishment handed own from Eve. You see, the engagement with scripture is not and will not ever be static.

But that begs the question, who do you decide to listen to? Who has the authority to interpret the Bible? It is personal and one must have a direct relationship with it, but there is a risk that we aren’t always well-balanced and it’s not always the Spirit that inspires interpretation! It is crucial to experience scripture in community and share and listen to reflections with others.

What is it
In a rather backwards way, she ended with how to define the Bible. It’s has two parts and an apocrypha, it’s made up of many genres, it’s the story of a promise and its fulfilment, written by many authors over a period of more than 1000 years.

We need a balance of acknowledging the process of a “fluid collection” of scrolls being shaped into the book we now have vs the reality that we acknowledge it as the Word.

It’s also a “very, very dangerous” book, look at poor Tyndale and result of his translation into English.

Looking at the Gospels in particular – we need them all!:
Matthew – set pieces, Messianic, polished
Mark – reader does the work, rough edges
Luke – tabloid, about people, engaging, Holy Spirit, the poor
John – like stained glass– need to see it from inside, mysticism, Christ’s divinity

The actual question
Finally she turned to the vow that was the title given to her for this talk, from the Ordinal – “Do you accept the holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?” Going back to her favourite author Hooker, the Anglican understanding is not Catholic, who believe it is “not enough” for salvation, nor Puritan, who believe that it is the only source of guidance for everything not just salvation.

Its authority for an individual must come in two stages; first, one must simply trust, based on one’s heritage of tradition that acknowledges its authority; and then second, one must pray and study to discover its innate authority for oneself.


The previous session was 
Authority - Do you accept the discipline of this Church and give due respect to those in authority?
Future sessions will be:
Doctrine - [I will miss this one] Do you believe the doctrine of the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it, and in your ministry will you expound and teach it?
Ministry - Will you be a faithful servant in the household of God, after the example of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve?
Spirituality - Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith, and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel?
Mission - Will you lead Christ’s people in proclaiming his glorious gospel, so that the good news of salvation may be heard in every place?

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Towards Ordained Ministry course: Session One

A few nights ago I went to the first session of the London Diocese’s ‘Towards Ordained Ministry’ course. DDOs and college chaplains in the diocese refer candidates and potential candidates to this every year; it is another tool within the resources for discernment, but it lies in that in-between world of not quite being BAP prep but also being more intentional and sure than initial exploration events. Talks are based on the vows in the Ordinal in the context of ‘Pursuing your Vocation in the Diocese of London’.

This is how they put it:
“Here is a great opportunity
-to explore and learn more of your vocation to the ordained ministry
-to get to know others from different traditions than your own
-to hear speakers who themselves have been along this road
-to share in discussion and prayer”

I’ve got to be honest, it’s the first time I’ve felt positive about the Diocese’ vocation resources; it’s such a shame that they don’t manage to support people earlier in the process as well as this course supports people who are further along.

Richard Chartres
Anyway, the first session was a corker. The theme was Authority, based on the vow to “accept the discipline of this Church and give due respect to those in authority” and we were honoured to be addressed by The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dr Richard Chartres, outgoing Bishop of London.

All my experiences of Bishop Richard – my confirmation, a drinks reception at his residence, several Easter Vigil services at St Paul’s – have confirmed his reputation as a wise and caring yet competent man, and this session was no exception. It was a privilege to hear him speak, with eloquence, wisdom and humility, and a smattering of humour, as well as get a chance to talk to him in the relaxed mingling beforehand. He asked where I had come from and when I said St Martin’s, his follow-up was “Ah, which part of the empire?” which shows you a little of our reputation within the city.

I knew one other pastoral assistant there, from our Area PA support group, and he and I chatted with three girls sitting next to us, two from slightly higher churches and one from a very much lower church.

He spoke for about an hour, so I’m going to just summarise my notes, but I didn’t write everything down, just the things that struck me, though hopefully I’ll be able to convey a flavour of his talk.


In his introduction, he talked of balancing a need to ‘listen profoundly to colleagues’ whilst also being aware of the danger that ‘heavy structure’ (like endless committees) can be a huge ‘energy drainer’.

His talk was then structured in three parts. The first was the root of being ‘one holy, catholic, and apostolic church’, and the importance of the Church of England’s identity as part of its authority. We have never denied that there are other parts of the ‘1HCAC’ and often, if not quite adapted to, at least encouraged local expression of faith (subtext being: remember we’re not Catholics, homogenising and exclusivist).

Ecumenism is now framed in a context of looking forward to the ‘great and coming’ church of the Kingdom, but the CofE has the privilege of being able to reach in any direction and touch the whole spectrum of ‘church’.

One of my favourite points he made was that the clergy must not just be collaborative, but instead ‘conjunctive’, not just making joint-efforts but genuinely joining and combining. Because we are fundamentally and intentionally not sectarian, we must look for allies in the mission on the ‘shared passion’ simply for the Lord Jesus Christ.

An ‘assent on worship’. This was an interesting section which touched on the fundamental difference between Christian and Muslim understandings of God. Whilst in Islam they submit to a Supreme Will, Christians reach out to an Almighty Love. The key is the transforming truth of the Trinity, for our communion is not static but dynamic, as God’s true nature is. From ‘Adam where are you?’ through ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ through ‘Mary!’ to the climax of the Incarnation itself, it is into dynamic relationship that we are called. Bishop Richard advocated the BCP as a ‘balanced and simple diet of scripture-based worship’...

…which led nicely into the authority of scripture and the creeds. A wonderful phrase he used about
scripture was the importance of ‘hearing the whole symphony’ rather than extracting ‘bleeding gobbets’ to rely on and 'bash each other over the head' with. ‘Spacious inhabiting of scripture’ is important, within a ‘community of interpretation’. Crucially this includes the writers of the Creeds, that though long-dead, using the Creeds is a way of reading scripture not just with our contemporaries but also our predecessors, who deserve as much respectful deep listening as anyone alive now.

This leads us into being able to, as Common Worship puts it ‘proclaim [the faith] afresh in each generation’. Bishop Richard emphasised the importance of having a presence on modern platforms, and inhabiting the ‘territory of the 92%’ ie. the population of London that does not engage in Christianity. He advocated creativity as crucial to success in this.

After his talk, there was a time for questions. The first was ‘When did you discover your vocation?’ and his immediate response was ‘After I was ordained’. He explained that it was only once he was a deacon working in a parish that he found his vocation in doing the ‘ordinary work and being admitted to the tragedy behind every face’. He also pointed out that it was necessary to have healthy distance between the role and your own person – do not assimilate.

He also returned to ecumenism, which he said works when we look to the whole community and as conjunctive allies, looking in that same direction together. He warned of the trouble in the future (that we will inherit as the next generation of clergy) and condemned schism as ‘obstinately metaphysical’ especially in the context that for the under 30s, church is becoming ‘post-denominational’. He went on to lament the ‘ignorance of Christian grammar’ in the country.


Future sessions will be:

- The Bible - Do you accept the holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?
- Doctrine - Do you believe the doctrine of the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it, and in your ministry will you expound and teach it?
- Ministry - Will you be a faithful servant in the household of God, after the example of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve?
- Spirituality - Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith, and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel?
- Mission - Will you lead Christ’s people in proclaiming his glorious gospel, so that the good news of salvation may be heard in every place?